The Heat Is Online

G-8 Vows to Halve Current Emissions by 2050

G-8 Leaders Pledge to Cut Emissions in Half by 2050

The New York Times, July 9, 2008

 

RUSUTSU, Japan -- Pledging to "move toward a low-carbon society," leaders of the world's richest nations endorsed Tuesday the idea of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, but from current levels rather than 1990's, as had been proposed.

 

And they refused to set a short-term target for reducing the gases that scientists agree are warming the planet.

 

The declaration by the so-called Group of Eight -- the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia -- came under intense criticism from environmentalists, who called it a missed opportunity and said it ignores the urgent need to cut emissions more rapidly.

 

But European leaders, who have long pressed President Bush to adopt a more aggressive stance on climate change, said they were pleased with the agreement, and cast it as an important step toward laying the groundwork for a binding international treaty, to be negotiated in Copenhagen in 2009.

 

"This is a strong signal to citizens around the world," the president of the European Commission, José Manual Barroso, told reporters at a news conference near here. "The science is clear, the economic case for action is stronger than ever. Now we need to go the extra mile to secure an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen."

 

The climate change document was among a series of communiqués the Group of Eight leaders issued Tuesday, the second day of their three-day gathering on the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. In addition to global warming, they tackled food security, the global economy and aid to Africa at the meeting, which is being held in a mountain-top hotel under the gaze of 21,000 police officers guarding against potential protesters.

 

On food security, the leaders said they were "deeply concerned that the steep rise in food prices"  could push "millions more back into poverty." On the global economy, the leaders insisted they "remain positive," but conceded financial markets face "serious strains."

On aid to Africa, they agreed to monitor their own progress, a victory for President Bush, who has complained countries are not living up to a 2005 promise to double development assistance by 2010. But advocates said the Africa communiqué rolled back important past commitments on health and education.

 

It was climate change that drew the most attention. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan, the meeting's host, made addressing global warming a high priority for the meeting, just as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany did last year, when she was the host to the G-8 gathering at Heiligendamm.

 

In a brief appearance with Mr. Bush before the agreement was announced, Mrs. Merkel said she was "very satisfied" with the leaders' progress.

 

Environmentalists were harshly critical. Phil Clapp, an expert in climate change at the Pew Environmental Group who is here monitoring the talks, said the language adopted at Heiligendamm had been significantly weakened.

 

He said the reduction goal was "extremely weak" because of its starting point at current emission levels. Last year, the G-8 leaders proposed a starting point of 1990 emission levels. "The science shows that we have to reduce 80 to 90 percent from current levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," Mr. Clapp said.

 

Another American climate change expert who is here in Japan for the meeting, Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the communiqué "a missed opportunity," adding, "What was needed was a clear signal that the world's major industrialized countries would provide real leadership in cutting their own emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2020."

 

The feelings of advocates were perhaps best summed up in a full-page advertisement in Tuesday's Financial Times placed by Avaaz.org, an international online advocacy group. The ad showed the faces of Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada pasted onto the cutesy Japanese character branded Hello Kitty.

 

"Hello Kiddies," the headline read. "Be a Grown-Up. Set 2020 climate targets now."

 

Cutting emissions in half is just first step in curtailing warming, climate experts have long said, because the main greenhouse gas generated by human activities, carbon dioxide, can persist for a century or more in the atmosphere once released.

 

As long as more is being emitted than the oceans or plants can absorb, its concentration will rise. Such natural sinks only soak up about half of today's annual output of about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide. And fuel emissions are projected to rise relentlessly, driven by fast-expanding economies in Asia. On Wednesday, the Group of Eight will take up the climate control issue again, this time with the so-called "Outreach Five" leaders of developing nations, including China and India.

 

Mr. Bush has insisted that no climate change agreement is workable without the participation of the so-called "major economies" --  others call them "major emitters" --  particularly China and India.

In a victory for Mr. Bush, the declaration issued on Tuesday adopts that line of thinking, as well as the White House contention that fighting global warming will require advances in clean technology as well as conservation.

 

The White House was pleased. "These are significant advances over the collective thinking," said Dan Price, Mr. Bush's deputy national security adviser and the lead American negotiator here.

 

"It has always been the case that a long-term goal is one that must be shared," said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "So what the G-8 has offered today is a G-8 view of what that goal could be and should be but that can only occur with the agreement of all the other parties."

 

Some advocacy groups called it a wasted opportunity and inadequate to meet the challenge of global warming, reflecting their argument that deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions should be enforced more rapidly.

 

Kumi Naidoo, a leader of an alliance called the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, said in a telephone interview from Japan that the G-8 action was "significantly too slow for us," calling the G-8 negotiations "a battle of words which underscores a lack of political will." He took particular issue with the White House, saying Mr. Bush had "really held back the negotiation, passing the buck to China and India and not accepting that climate change is a catastrophe that the industrialized countries have caused."

 

Another environmental campaigning group, WWF, said in a statement:"The G-8 are responsible for 62 percent of the carbon dioxide accumulated in the Earth's atmosphere, which makes them the main culprit of climate change and the biggest part of the problem."

 

But the major emitters that are not part of the G-8 -- China , India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil -- sounded skeptical. Their leaders were meeting in Sapporo , about two hours from here, on Tuesday, to prepare for Wednesday's session. They have been pressing for the industrialized nations to commit to a short-term goal, and issued their own communiqué, saying it is "essential that developed

countries take the lead."

 

The South African minister of environmental affairs, Marthinius van Schalkwyk, issued a blistering statement criticizing the Group of Eight's climate change declaration, calling it a concession to "the lowest common denominator" and "regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change."