Critics Spurn G8 Statement on Climate Change

  • Published on July 9th, 2008

g8 leaders discuss climate change at annual meeting in Japan[social_buttons]In a joint communiqué on the Environment and Climate Change, The Group of 8 (G8) has agreed to work toward a goal of cutting the worldwide emissions that cause global warming by at least 50 percent by 2050. The G8, which includes Canada, the United States, Japan, Russia, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, also said it is committed to the successful conclusion of United Nations-run negotiations designed to provide global emissions-reduction targets after the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012.
A little short on substance, or “teeth”, the G8 statement indicated that developed and developing countries would need to make much sharper cuts in emissions to head off the most pressing effects of global warming. Also, the agreement does not stipulate a baseline year to measure the extent of emissions reductions needed to reach the goal of 50 percent cuts by 2050. This is a departure from Kyoto and earlier agreements that had set 1990 as the baseline for future cuts.

A growing rift between rich and poor nations

A day after the release of the communiqué from the world’s eight largest economies, another document was produced by the leaders of the fast-growing and less-developed countries, who were invited by their G8 counterparts. The special session, as well as the document produced in that session merely showcased a widening rift over the best approach to slash greenhouse gases

The five main developing nations — China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, who together represent 42 percent of the world’s population — issued a statement explaining their split with the G8 over its emissions-reduction goals. They said they rejected the notion that all should share in the 50-percent target, since it is wealthier countries that have created most of the environmental up to now.

“It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” said the statement.

South Africa’s minister of environmental affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, issued a seething critique of the statement, calling it a concession to “the lowest common denominator” and expressing concern that it “may, in effect, be a regression from what is required to make meaningful change.

In the New York Times, Andy Revkin writes:

“In exchange for agreeing to the ’50 by 2050′ language, Mr. Bush got what he has sought as his price for joining an international accord. And that is a statement from the rest of the Group of 8 that developing nations like China and India, which have not accepted mandatory caps on carbon emissions, must be a part of any climate change treaty.”

Added to a growing list of the discontented on Wednesday, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) voiced concern for the soft targets in the document. When asked by German radio if the agreement concluded Tuesday at the G8 summit in Japan was a success and would halt climate change, Achim Steiner replied, “No way.

“I think the G8 delivered what it could. But in terms of what the world needs, what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has asked for and what is necessary in view of the Copenhagen meeting in 2009 the results fall short,” he said in a statement.

group of 8 meets in hokkaido, signs climate change agreement

White House claims victory

But despite criticism from rightly skeptical environmentalists, the Bush administration is claiming that the communiqué is a huge diplomatic success.

“The G-8 is giving a lot, but the G-8 is also suggesting that others need to be part of that equation,” said James L. Connaughton, Mr. Bush’s top environmental adviser. Connaughton is quite optimistic that more high-level diplomatic agreements could bring substantive cuts in carbon emissions. He said that the strategy going forward would be to:

“[B]uild on the success of a major agreement that we reached last year under the Montreal Protocol, which is the treaty that deals with ozone-depleting substances, where we got China and India and other developing countries to join with the developed countries to phase out what are called HCFCs… That one agreement alone will reduce more greenhouse gases than the Kyoto Protocol.”

Is President Bush placing another bet on “Only history will be the judge of that”? Perhaps. But Yvo de Boer, who leads United Nations negotiations to forge a new climate change treaty, also challenged Bush’s optimistic assessment of the meetings.

“I don’t find the outcome very significant,” de Boer told The Associated Press in an interview in the Netherlands. He said the target for reducing carbon emissions by 2050 mentioned no base line, was not legally binding and was open to vastly different interpretations.

Other Posts on the Politics of Climate Change:

Photo: 1.; 2. ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.