Big polluters seek to break climate deadlock ahead of G8

Major economies tried yesterday (7 July) to bridge the divide between rich and poor nations over 2050 goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions at a last-minute meeting before an expanded G8 summit in Italy.

Representatives of the world’s 17 largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters held an emergency meeting in Rome to try to devise a declaration for leaders that could be a building block for a new UN climate pact, due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December. 

“We want to prepare in the best way possible the outcome of the G8 […] in view of an ambitious climate change agreement in Copenhagen,” said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, who was at the meeting. 

The 17 countries in the Major Economies Forum (MEF), which account for 80% of world emissions, are split over whether to set a target for halving world emissions by 2050, in line with a “vision” adopted by the rich G8 nations at a summit in Japan last year. 

China, India and many other developing nations say rich nations are to blame for most emissions from burning greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution, and must set deep 2020 goals for cutting their own emissions before asking for help. 

India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has said it opposes a MEF goal of halving world emissions by 2050, arguing that developing nations need to be able to burn fossil fuels to help escape poverty. 

If the deadlock persists, US President Barack Obama, who launched the MEF to pave the way for a UN deal, would end the 9 July meeting – part of the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy – with just a “chair’s summary” rather than a statement agreed by all 17 MEF leaders. 

Trapped between aspiration and willingness 

A 30 June MEF draft said: “We support an aspirational global goal of reducing global emissions by 50% by 2050, with developed countries reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050.” The Rome meeting was called after little progress at a MEF meeting in Mexico last month. 

Italy, France and Britain on Monday (6 July) called on major developing nations to sign up for the goal of halving emissions as a way of showing willingness to combat climate change. China has recently overtaken the United States as the world’s top emitter. 

A separate climate draft for the G8, dated 24 June, indicated progress towards setting a target of limiting the rise in world temperature to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. 

The European Union views 2C as a threshold for “dangerous” climate changes such as rising sea levels, ever more heatwaves, floods, droughts and extinctions. The United States, Russia, Canada and Japan have not signed up for such a target at the G8. 

The G8 draft said “global emissions should peak by 2020 and then be substantially reduced to limit the average increases in global temperature to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels”.

Environmental groups welcome draft

“At last the G8 is recognising 2C. The wording should have been much stronger, but still: it is in,” said Tobias Muenchmeyer of Greenpeace. Separately, 22 leading climate scientists called in a letter for the summit to set a global peak in emissions by 2020 and a cut of at least 50% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. 

EU urged to agree on finance

Speaking at Humboldt University in Berlin on Monday (6 July), Commissioner Dimas said the 27-nation bloc was “ready to finance performance-based actions that will be duly monitored, reported and verified”. 

However, the commissioner did not give a figure that the EU would be willing to pay to help developing countries adopt climate change measures. Still, he called on international negotiators not to postpone action over the global economic slowdown. 

“We cannot put climate change on hold and wait for the good times to return,” Dimas said, noting that a global agreement to pay 1% of GDP now to fight climate change would save up to 20% of economic growth in the longer term.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Next December in Copenhagen, governments from 192 countries will attempt to thrash out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol next December in Copenhagen amid growing signals from scientists that global warming is occurring more quickly than expected. 

At EU level, the European Commission presented proposals in January for approval by the 27 members of the EU. The proposals urged emerging economies such as China and India to take on their fair share of responsibility by agreeing to limit emissions growth by 15-30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020 (EURACTIV 29/01/09). 

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