G8 climate target 'completely inadequate'

Posted: 9 July 2008

Just how difficult it will be to agree on specific global action to tackle climate change by the time of the Copenhagen climate summit next year, has been made clear by the G8 talks which ended in Hokkaido, Japan, today. John Rowley reports.

After the vague agreement by the eight rich member countries yesterday that the world should aim to cut C02 emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, a further session with eight other rising economic powers, including China, India and Brazil, resulted only in agreement on a 'shared vision' to make 'deep cuts' in greenhouse gas emissions, with no specific timescale or targets.

Paper mill in Sweden. © WWF-Canon/Edward Parker
Paper mill in Sweden. © WWF-Canon/Edward Parker
The EU's Emissions Trading Directive will cap CO2 emissions from a range of industrial sectors, including paper manufacturers such as this paper mill in Sweden.© WWF-Canon/Edward Parker
India and China dismissed the rich nations' global 50 per cent target, since it included no commitment for the developed countries, which have created most of the problem and still emit far higher emissions per person than countries that are now in the process of developing, to take a lead in cutting back on emissions. They would like to see cuts in these countries of 80 to 90 per cent by 2050.

Officials at the conference apparently took some comfort in the fact that the United States had joined in the G8 consensus and that the talks had finally been widened to include the 16 countries which create 80 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Jim Connaughton, chairman of President Bush's Council of Environmental Quality, told the Associated Press that the agreement "will give us greater confidence and commitments as we go to next year". And Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the G8 leaders had demonstrated they were serious about tackling climate change.

"It is the very first time ever that leaders of the major economies have got down to vigorous discussions on a broad range of climate-change-related issues, and I believe that the leaders have shown strong political will," the BBC reports him saying.

Too little too late

He was speaking after G8 talks had extended to include China, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa, later joined by the leaders of Indonesia, South Korea and Australia, to talk specifically about climate change.

Reaction to the outcome of the talks from development agencies and environmental groups alike was highly critical. A spokesman for the WWF's Global Climate Initiative called the G8 statement 'pretty pathetic'. While Oxfam said the G8 agreement on a 2050 emissions target 'was quite simply a case of 'too little, too late'.

Big CO2 emitters
Big CO2 emitters
Big CO2 emitters. ©BBC
Friends of the Earth said it demonstrated a lack of leadership by the world's richest nations - who are responsible for around two thirds of the pollution in the atmosphere. The environmental campaign group is concerned that the target:

  • Doesn't set a baseline year from which the cuts will be measured. It says that 1990 should be used - the same year used in the UN's Kyoto climate treaty. [In fact, when the question was raised, the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, repotedly told journalists that the cuts would be measured from 'current levels' - worth far less than if they were measured from 1990.]

  • Sets no mid-term targets for cutting emissions. It wants the G8 nations to set tough targets for cutting emissions by 2020.

  • The G8 statement implies that action by the world's most powerful countries is dependent on action from developing countries. Friends of the earth believes rich nations are responsible for most of the climate-changing pollution in the atmosphere and therefore have a moral duty to take the lead in tackling the climate problem.

Back to 1992

FOE's climate campaigner Tom Picken said: "This announcement is an elaborate smokescreen to try to fool the world into thinking that the G8 nations are showing international leadership on climate change. Setting a vague target for 42 years' time is utterly ineffectual in the fact of the global catastrophe we all face."

Friends of the Earth International Vice Chair Tony Juniper said: "This is a very disappointing finale. The G8 have delivered nothing new here and the text conveys no sense of the scale or urgency of the challenge. Bush appears to have effectively stalled all progress. The action plan, without any targets or timetables, will deliver very little to reduce emissions, or to roll out renewables to the scale required."

G8 countries currently represent 45 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, but have just 13 per cent of the world's population.

The plan of action issued as part of the statement contains no targets, timetables or committed funding to address the challenge of climate change, he said. While there are initiatives on renewable power, energy efficiency and a clean energy mix, they lack specific detail.

The G8 has also come in for criticism for supporting a plan that would allow the World Bank to take control of funds to tackle climate change - a move which, environmental groups say, could undermine UN negotiations currently underway and further indebt poor countries through loans to address climate change impacts.

Five of the world's biggest emerging economies have said the G8 should increase its targets to more than 80 per cent by 2050.

Commenting on the agreement, the BBC website's environment correspondent, Richard Black, said "the joint statement, in fact, is exactly what leaders of nearly 200 countries signed up to in the original UN climate change convention agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit.

"If re-stating a 16-year-old commitment is progress, then this is clearly a success."

Friends of the Earth's new handbook, 'How can I stop climate change?' is a guide to improving the quality of life for people and the planet. It is available for £14.99 at www.foe.co.uk/shop