Climate talks end in a weak consensus

Posted: 9 July 2005

Author: John Rowley

As many had feared, the much heralded statement on climate change by the G8 industrialised nations, announced yesterday, is something of a damp squib. It sets out no specific plan or timetable for action to deal with the problem. And it contains no mandatory emissions target for greenhouse gases that environmentalists had demanded. It does, however, reach a consensus that the problem is real and needs action and it opens the way for future talks involving both developing countries and the United States.

It accepts that human activities contribute "in large part" to increases in these gases and says that global warming is a "serious long-term challenge" for the entire planet. It also says the nations promised to act "with resolve and urgency" to reduce the gas emissions thought responsible.

But Lord May, President of the Britain's prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, said the agreement reached in Scotland, to open a dialogue on the subject was not nearly enough.

"At the heart of the communiqué is a disappointing failure by leaders of the G8 unequivocally to recognise the urgency with which we must address the global threat of climate change" he said.

"Make no mistake, the science already justifies reversing - not merely slowing - the global growth of greenhouse emissions. Further delays will make the G8's avowed commitment in this communiqué to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change extremely difficult."

Four objectives

British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who hosted the meeting and put the item on the G8 agenda alongside Africa, acknowledged that the disagreement over the Kyoto Protocol on climate change had not been resolved, and tacitly acknowledged that much ground had been given in reaching a consensus which included the United States.

"My fear...was that if it was impossible to bring America into the consensus we will never ensure that the huge emerging economies, particularly those of India and China are part of the dialogue" he said.

The United States has been isolated from the rest of he G8 countries in its refusal to sign up to legally binding targets, as agreed a Kyoto. It fears it will lose competitive advantage and prefers to rely on new carbon cutting technologies and the transfer lf these to developing counties.

Mr Blair said his four objectives had been met - a statement affirming the scientific evidence that climate change is caused by human activity; an agreement to tackle the problem urgently; a resolution to attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and a move to put in place "a pathway to a new dialogue" when the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

Renewable energy

The G8 agreed to begin this dialogue with a meeting in London in November to set out detailsof how to put the agreement into practice. A progress report is due to follow during Japan's presidency of the group in 2008.

In the meantime the World Bank and other banks are to be asked to step up their financing of renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar power, to poor nations. Developing countries are also to be drawn into a dialogue on steps to replace the Kyoto Protocol once it expires in 2012, and to try to involve the US in this process. However, environmental groups fear that the US administration may reverse its position on further talks post-2012, nearer the time.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth called the outcome of the talks 'very disappointing'. "The G8 have delivered nothing new here and the text conveys no sense of the scale or urgency of the challenge. The action plan, without any targets or timetables, will deliver very little to reduce emissions or to roll out renewables to the scale required."

He did,however, say that "Tony Blair was right to prioritise climate change at the G8. Even if there was no progress here , there has been a big impact on public awareness and that will make it easier to achieve more in future talks".

Lord Browne, chief executive of BP, echoed this view. He said: "It's pretty remarkable that climate change was on the G8 agenda, and it raised the profile of the issue. I think it is a great piece of progress". He described the communiqué as "a beachhead on which you can go forward".

Environmetnal NGOs are now gearing up for the next round of talks on the Kyoto Protocol which take place in Montreal, Canada in December.