The G7 media centre – a German sausage factory of news
By Charlie Skelton, reported in The Guardian
With few protesters to film, reporters and camera crews regurgitate the processed, pre-packaged output of a slick PR machine
The media centre at the Elmau G7 summit in Germany.
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News of a protest spread like wildfire: head to the square outside the Garmisch train station! It’s all about to kick off!
When I arrived, the square was a heaving mass of bodies: photographers, film crews, radio presenters, police, more police, and about seventeen bemused protesters.
A man in a slightly amusing Bavarian hat cycled up to the throng, and the photographers pounced on him. At last! Some colour from the G7. A man’s slightly funny hat. That’ll do. They snapped away – dropping to one knee, like they learned in camera school, trying to fit an alp or two in the frame.
The reality is there are 3,000 accredited journalists here in Germany to cover the G7 meeting, and there simply aren’t enough protesters to go around. Fortunately, what the G7 lacks in protesters, it more than makes up for in buffets.
The G7 press centre is basically an enormous buffet with giant open-plan office attached. It’s been set up in the Olympic ice skating arena, which has been fitted out with briefing rooms, ISDN lines, delegation offices and hundreds of workstations.
There are G7 goodie bags and branded balloons. Branded cashew nuts. Branded breath mints. And, of course, there’s the food hall.
The only thing bigger than the security operation in Garmisch is the catering operation for the journalists. It’s immense. A constant schnitzel-stuffed Bavarian feast boasting rare roasts, mixed pickles and “international ham”, whatever that is.
Free flagons of beer, wine on tap, and a serving staff so attentive that I had two lederhosened hands reach for my empty stein before it had reached the table. The carvery here has its own sausage station, with steaming heaps of wurst. The menu, as you might imagine, is fairly sausage-heavy, as are the journalists by now after two days of solid buffet action.
After a feed, bloated journalists digest their schnitzels on plump bean bags in the cavernous relaxation room, a giant gazebo with table football, two cocktail bars, and a row of big screen televisions showing exciting footage from the G7 for reporters to doze in front of.
The buffet is amazing, but the truth is there’s not a single good reason why any of us are here
“We want to give journalists the best possible conditions for good work and good broadcasting,” a government spokesperson told me. “That’s what it’s all about.” And the German government has certainly achieved this. They’ve made it incredibly easy.
They even provide lots of lovely footage and photos from the summit, shared out between news outlets so journalists (in the absence of protesters) have something to build their reports around.
And this is what I find unsettling about all the set-up here in Garmisch. The conditions are too good. It’s all been made too easy for the journalists. I suspect that if a story is this easy to get, it’s not worth getting.
I watched some of the raw footage from the Schloss, the cheery Bavarian meet-and-greet, and you could see headset organisers shoving cameramen around, and pushing extras into the back of shots. It was live theatre, orchestrated to within an inch of its life.
Then packaged up and handed out to the world’s press, who gulp it down with barely a chew. In its essence, the G7 is just a giant press release, with extra sausages.
Now I know the buffet is amazing, but the truth is there’s not a single good reason why any of us are here. It would be far quicker, and involve fewer taxpayer-funded cocktail bars, simply to email all the clips, photos and information to whoever wanted them.
That’s what I find so surreal about this amazing press centre. It doesn’t need to be here. No one needs to be here. I don’t need to be here.
In fact, I’m leaving now to head 26km south to the Bilderberg policy summit, where the head of Nato, the prime ministers of Holland, Finland and Belgium, the president of Austria, and the chancellor of the exchequer will be meeting for three days with the heads of HSBC, Shell, BP and Deutsche Bank.
It’s every bit as important as the G7. Some would say more so. But because it’s a little bit tricky to report on, with nothing except a skeletal agenda handed out, no footage or photos given to the press, the number of mainstream journalists reporting from the event will drop from 3,000 to about 11.
G7 fossil fuel pledge is a diplomatic coup for Germany’s ‘climate chancellor’, From the Guardian
Persuading climate recalcitrant such as Japan and Canada to sign up for phasing out fossil fuels by 2100 is a significant achievement by Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a news conference during the G7 summit at the Elmau Castle near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, on June 8, 2015.
Monday 8 June 2015 13.46 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 9 June 2015 09.29 EDT
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The plan outlined by the G7 on Monday to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century is, for some member countries, not quite as ambitious as it sounds.
The US is already committed to an 83% cut in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2050, and the UK has set its own cuts of 80% on 1990 levels by the middle of the century.
But the agreement of the leaders of Japan and Canada, who are viewed as climate recalcitrant, is seen as a diplomatic coup for Angela Merkel, one of the longest-running players in international climate negotiations.
As environment minister in 1995, Merkel brokered a precursor to the Kyoto protocol and was dubbed the “climate chancellor” by German media early in her premiership, before financial crisis pushed her green agenda backwards.
“This does push countries, and certainly a country like Canada or Japan. I think they are not currently on a decarbonisation pathway so this definitely does pull them more into that pathway,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate programme at the World Resources Institute.
“The fact that you’ve got a group who have different positions in the negotiations to come together on some of these issues is significant and somewhat surprising.”
The announcement was warmly welcomed environment groups. “Angela Merkel took the G7 by the scruff of the neck,” said Ruth Davis a political advisor to Greenpeace and a senior associate at E3G.
Morgan praised the momentum that appears to be developing among the world’s leaders for climate action.
“Politically, the most important shift is that chancellor Merkel is back on climate change. This was not an easy negotiation. She did not have to put climate change on the agenda here. But she did,” she said.
Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever, said Merkel had made a “big play”.
“It’s more aggressive than you would have expected. That’s been helped a lot by the US démarche with China and the growing signs are that China is probably going to do better than a lot of people are expected,” he said.
He said that outside the numbers, the G7’s primary function was to send signals to other countries and to markets and that the announcement today would shift things significantly.
“Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal. You’re going to shift the needle of interest in the investing community away from oil and gas and towards renewables, storage and energy efficiency. And I think that’s further than probably the oil companies had anticipated,” said Burke.
May Boeve, executive director of campaign group 350.org, agreed: “The G7 is sending a signal that the world must move away from fossil fuels, and investors should take notice.”
However, analysts were divided over whether the G7’s decarbonisation commitment would be enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
“Deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century,” read the agreed text, signed by the leaders of Germany, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan.
Morgan said a target of zero fossil fuels by 2100 would not keepwarming below 2C, the level agreed by governments , unless sharp cuts happen earlier in the century.
“It totally depends on the pace of the decarbonisation. You either need to be there by 2050 for CO2 and a bit later for all greenhouse gases if you want a high chance of staying below 2C. If you’re up for a 66% chance then you can go longer out into the century,” she said.
Rodney Boyd, a policy analyst at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, disagreed and said if countries can meet the 70% target by 2050 it would give “an excellent chance to keep to a 2C world”.
“The feasible emissions pathway to keep the world on track for the 2C [target] needs to look roughly like this: around 35-42 GtCO2e in 2030, 20 Gt in 2050, zero by end of century,” he said. This equates to 14-29% reductions by 2030 and 60% by 2050, against 2010 levels.
A total phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050 was momentarily on the table at last year’s UN climate conference in Lima, but swiftly disappeared.
The G7 text called for as-close-as-possible to a 70% reduction on 2010 emissions by 2050. But it also allowed for mechanisms that “increased ambition over time”. Morgan said this introduction of a mechanism to “ratchet up” targets might be the most important paragraph of the document and was “fundamental to keeping 2C within sight”.
Burke noted that decarbonisation probably didn’t mean the total abnegation of fossil fuels. The world can still burn a few gigatonnes of carbon per year and remain carbon neutral by relying on natural uptake of carbon. He said the reality of the phase out would probably allow for gas being burned for heat and carbon-fuelled planes.
Royal Dutch Shell referred the Guardian to their CEO Ben van Beurden’s recent podcast interview with the newspaper in which he said: “I think we will get to the point where we have zero emissions by the end of the century, definitely, I am a firm believer in that, but even then some of the hydrocarbons that we will use and the emissions that will come from it will simply be mitigated rather than not produced.”
Boyd said the costs to the global economy of the phase out were hard to calculate. However, he said the total infrastructure costs required to keep the global economy running until 2030 would be around $90 trillion.
“Interestingly, this is similar for both the low-carbon transition (with many added benefits) or the continuation of high-carbon unsustainable route,” he said.