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CLIMATE CHANGE: US, Russian Reticence Leaves Loophole in G8 Deal

Julio Godoy

HEILIGENDAMM, Germany, Jun 7 2007 (IPS) - The agreement reached by the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised countries on halving greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 is only a rhetorical breakthrough, for the United States and Russia only accept “to consider seriously” to join the other group members in the effort.

 Credit: Alan Lodge/Indymedia UK

Credit: Alan Lodge/Indymedia UK

After discussing the reduction of emissions that contribute to climate change in the first session of the summit Thursday morning, the heads of government of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States said in a joint statement that they were committed to taking “strong and early action” to tackle global warming.

Although the host of the G8 summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement “a good result”, and “a step forward” on forestalling global warming, the deal has a big loophole.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin agreed only to “seriously consider the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050,” according to the statement. “We commit to achieving these goals,” the paper adds.

By so doing, both governments leave open a door to escape the principle of cutting their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50 percent by 2050.

The emissions target was set with the goal of restricting a global temperature increase to two Celsius degrees. This maximum rise has been estimated by the environmental scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the highest acceptable to avoid the most dangerous disruptions in the Earth’s climate.

Worst still, as Chancellor Merkel admitted, “None of the (G8) documents are binding.” However, she added, “I can very well live with this compromise.”

“In terms of targets, we agreed on clear language… that recognises that (rises in) carbon dioxide emissions must first be stopped and then followed by substantial reductions,” Merkel said in a press conference, immediately after the first round of debates on Thursday.

The joint G8 declaration says, “We take note of and are concerned about the recent IPCC reports (which) concluded both, that global temperatures are rising, that this is caused largely by human activities and, in addition, that for increases in global average temperature, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems, e.g. water and food supply.”

The half-hearted U.S. position on the agreement can be seen as a concession president Bush made to Merkel, who has been at the centre of heavy criticism for what it is seen as a naïve preparation by her government for the three-day summit at this Baltic seaside resort.

Before the summit, the German government, in charge of setting the meeting’s agenda, had announced that at Heiligendamm “Great importance will be attributed to the subject of energy efficiency. New impetus for global climate protection and common international efforts after 2012 (post-Kyoto) will play an important role.”

But, after it became clear that Washington would not accept a binding cap on GHG reductions, the German government tried to reduce expectations for the summit.

A classified public relations strategy, formulated by close aides to Merkel three weeks ago, said that “The German public opinion expects that the summit will be a success on environmental protection… The summit will be seen as a failure if no convincing results (on this matter) can be reached.”

According to the paper, Chancellor Merkel went so far as to demand that in the weeks prior to the summit an effort to “reduce… the expectations on environmental protection and energy efficiency.”

In a way, Bush helped, both with his opposition to binding caps on emissions, and by announcing an own plan, which calls on the leading 15 emitters – led by the United States, and including the giants of the developing world, such as China, and India – to agree by the end of next year on cuts beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol on GHG emissions expires.

Both positions have been widely interpreted as attempts to boycott an agreement at Heiligendamm.

However, under pressure, Bush has now at least publicly accepted that an international agreement to reduce emissions must be worked out under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and that this agreement must be a prolongation of the Kyoto Protocol.

So far, the U.S. government is the only G8 member not to have ratified Kyoto. Developing countries, including major polluters China and India, are not included in the treaty’s emissions reduction targets, while the industrialised countries agreed to reduce by the year 2012 their GHG emissions by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels.

“We are deadly earnest about getting something done. The U.S. will be actively involved, if not taking the lead, in a post-Kyoto framework,” Bush said in Heiligendamm.

Environmental experts believe that Bush is only agreeing to this ambiguous compromise, as to avoid further isolation and criticism. Tobias Muenchmeyer, climate change expert at the non-governmental organisation Greenpeace, told IPS, “The target of reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2050 is crucial and must be maintained, or otherwise world temperatures will rise more than two Celsius degrees.”

Friends of the Earth International climate change campaigner Yuri Onodera said: “We have already seen many empty promises by G8 leaders over the past years but there has not been much real action, so we urge G8 leaders to act now and cut their greenhouse gas emissions drastically and immediately.”

“The U.S. administration, which continuously obstructed the fight against climate change, did not manage to prevent world leaders here from pledging that they will take multilateral action,” he added. Onodera noted that G8 countries, which represent just 13 percent of the world’s population, are responsible for around 43 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Even Bush’s closest ally, British Prime Minister Anthony Blair, conceded that it was unrealistic to expect precisely to achieve an agreement between the G8 and the five strongest emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) on that target.

“What you won’t get, and there was never any question of this, here and now, amongst the G8 plus the five strongest emerging developing countries, is the 50 percent,” Blair admitted. “What’s important is to get an agreement that there should be such a target, and that’s the sort of ballpark we are talking about.”

Now, it is the UNFCCC’s turn, with a major conference on climate change to take place in Bali, Indonesia, in December, to flesh out the vague agreement of Heiligendamm, and to formulate an international binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, starting 2012.

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