Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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The G-20 Picks Pittsburgh for Massive 2009 Summit This Fall

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  July 11 / 09

Zack Gross

Over the past several months, Pittsburgh’s professional NFL football and NHL hockey teams, the Steelers and the Penguins, have captured their respective league championships.  And now, after a quarter-century process of remaking its economy and becoming known for its green industries, Pittsburgh has been chosen to host the September 2009 G-20 Summit, a meeting of the world’s largest players and regional representatives. 

It is said that President Barack Obama chose Pittsburgh for this event to showcase how the 250-year-old city, which lost 250,000 steel-related jobs in the 1980s, has been able to rebound and now boasts an unemployment rate one point lower than the US national average, with a new jobs strategy that includes health care and robotics. 

The Convention Centre where much of the G-20 discussions will take place was completed in 2003, and has been endorsed by the US Green Building Council, as it is lit largely with the use of skylights, uses recycled hand towels, and cycles water from fountains into the toilet system.  Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh is led by a youthful 30-year-old mayor.

The previous G-20 Summit took place in April in London.  A strong statement was made at that meeting about climate change and its effects on the world’s poor. 

World economic superpower G-8 leaders will have met this past week (Wednesday) in Italy, followed by a discussion, chaired by Obama, with representatives of “emerging” economies such as China, India and Brazil (Thursday) on the environment.  Following that, Obama flies to Ghana (Friday) to make a major announcement on aid to African development. 

On the negative side of the ledger, the British charity Action Aid contends that only half of the G-8’s 2008 $10 billion pledge has actually been disbursed, at a time when the world economy and increased food prices puts hundreds of millions of people at risk.  As well, India and China are slow to commit to emissions reductions.  Both say that cutbacks in industry will lead to greater unemployment and poverty in their countries, and a greater chance of social upheaval.  They leave it to richer nations to take the lead.

Brazil, meanwhile, has signed on to cutting emissions, and political heavyweights such as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair from Great Britain are championing  wealthy nations putting sizable  funding into helping Africa adapt to climate change to avoid large scale hunger. 

Blair has complimented the US administration for bringing a new attitude to the table, and believes that even the foot-draggers will sign on by the time the United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in December.  A group of 22 leading climate scientists has written to the G-8, calling for policies that would see global emission peak by 2020 and shrink by at least 50% by 2050.

“Unless the burden of poverty in developing nations is alleviated by significant financial support for mitigation, adaptation, and the reduction of deforestation, the ability of developing countries to pursue sustainable development is likely to diminish, to the economic and environmental detriment of all,” the scientists also said.

The British charity Oxfam has just published a series of reports on the affects of climate change on agriculture after carrying out studies in fifteen developing countries. 

In Uganda, East Africa, a climate that once offered annual abundant rainfall has changed to one of four years of drought.  Classic to climate change theory, our weather has become erratic, with shorter but more violent rains, more frequent and stronger winds, dry spells and fluctuating temperatures. 

Sub-Saharan Africa will see corn yields, which 250 million people depend upon, decrease by 15% over the next decade, says Oxfam’s climate change adviser. 

Not only malnutrition, but also conflict will result from harvest shortfalls and lack of water for humans and cattle.  Meanwhile, as rice yields decline by up to 50% in the Philippines as temperatures rise, yields will increase in China as lower temperatures begin to rise - disaster for one country, bounty for another.

Oxfam recommends funding to help poorer countries and their farmers build dams to capture and distribute water, to switch to drought-tolerant seeds and farming methods, and move to alternative sources of energy, such as bio-gas and solar, to avoid cutting down more trees for firewood. 

The Oxfam report says that “the world’s agricultural potential is less than 60% exploited.  There is still enough land to feed everyone” but new methods and technologies are needed to address new challenges and realities.

Many of these discussions and initiatives will continue to play out over the summer, and culminate in Pittsburgh in the fall.  Let’s hope that a city that has inspired a nation with its green economy and never-say-die attitude can do the same with world leaders who have been long on negotiation and promises, but have come up short on action on climate change and hunger.

Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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