Long, urgent to-do list for G-7

After a day spent discussing Ukraine, leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) advanced industrial nations got down to discussing climate change, the issue that host Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had flagged as a key topic.

Her guests, who did not include the Russian leader - not invited because of his bad behaviour in the Crimea - duly agreed that the world should move away from using fossil fuels by century's end.

They also pledged to try to achieve, by 2050, up to a 70 per cent reduction of 2010 emission levels in the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming. The G-7 can now take this common position to the broader conference on climate change set for end-November, when developing nations like China and India join the table.

That meeting will not come a moment too soon, given the undiminished appetite for fossil fuels in the developing world. The International Energy Agency last week said India will pass Japan in oil consumption this month.

The good news is that the cost of solar power is tumbling by the year and new technologies are emerging that could help the world scale back its dependence on fossil fuels like oil. If the developed world is generous with sharing technology, the prospects of a clean-energy future will get better.

Less optimistic is the outlook on another issue the G-7 meeting focused on - terrorism - particularly the virulent brand promoted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since its 2010 massacre in a Baghdad church, ISIS has pursued a deliberate policy of polarising communities. In the last two years, it has spread its apocalyptic ideology with unprecedented brutality.

By looting, employing oil sales and extorting (it is said to have grabbed US$675 million or S$910 million from banks alone in 2014), ISIS has emerged as a hybrid of extremism, terrorism and criminal enterprise.

The US, which has cobbled a coalition against ISIS after vastly underestimating its strength initially, now acknowledges the task may take decades. Indeed, while the G-7 promised to "continue to act fast and decisively", it is clear no one has a clear plan.

In a desperate gamble, Jordan in February was persuaded to release Al-Qaeda's intellectual godfather, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is fiercely against ISIS.

Last week, the world marked two events of significance to the Middle East: the first anniversary of the fall of the Iraqi city of Mosul to ISIS, and the death in prison of Tariq Aziz, key deputy to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Distasteful as their methods had been, Saddam and his Libyan counterpart Muammar Gaddafi had kept the region in check from the darkest forces sweeping the land. Now, it is time to get on with the job, urgently.

This article was first published on June 16, 2015.
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