A “Successful” G8 on Climate?

At a press conference with Prime Minister Fukuda of Japan before the start of this year’s Group of Eight (G8) meeting on July 6, President Bush stated “this one is going to be a success”.   Perhaps that was an admission that the past seven summits haven’t been such successes, at least not on reducing global warming pollution.  And judging from the preparations for this one, there’s little reason to expect a success this time either. 

At their last meeting in Germany, the G8 leaders met together with the leaders of five of the largest and fastest developing countries (the so-called “Plus 5”) and put climate change high on the agenda.  In their final statement, the G8 leaders agreed to “consider seriously…at least a halving of global emissions by 2050”.  Hopes were further raised by a breakthrough in Bali, where developed and developing countries agreed on the key elements for negotiating the next climate agreement, for the years after 2012, in Copenhagen in December 2009.   

So at this year’s meeting of the G8 and a separate meeting of the Major Economies Meeting (with seven developing countries and the G8 countries plus other major developed countries), will the leaders make progress toward that post-2012 climate change agreement? 

Short of a surprise ending, the short answer is no.  Prime Minister Fukuda wanted G8 countries to commit to a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050.  But as Reuters is reporting, President Bush insists “Washington will only set targets if big emerging economies such as China are on board as well”. A typical abdication of leadership from the Bush administration.     

But at a preparatory meeting last month in Seoul, China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea put on the table a specific reduction commitment.  For the first time, these countries proposed to set a target for reducing global emissions over the long-term (by 2050) and to establish the fair shares of responsibility between developed and developing countries in the near-term (by 2020).  What they proposed for the first time is a package deal that includes:

  • A commitment to cut  global emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050,
  • Developed countries would commit to cut their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and
  • Developing countries would commit to make a “significant deviation from the baseline” by 2020 (i.e., slow the growth of their emissions in the near-term).   

This last phrase is the exact wording of the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), based upon different equity assessments of how emissions reduction efforts could be shared between developed and developing countries (Box 13.7 of the Working Group III report)—more on developing country efforts in later entries.                                      

“Significant deviation” may not seem at first blush like a major breakthrough—especially as the term has not yet been reduced to specific numbers.  But it is the first time that major developing countries were willing to commit to a global long-term target and to spell out a near-term commitment for themselves.   

In my past private conversations with developing country climate negotiators, they have been unwilling to commit to a long-term target out of fear that when the global emissions pie was divided up between developed and developing countries, their share would be too small.  The current developed countries had already eaten up a large share of the global emissions pie before the countries that are now rapidly industrializing got started.  Developing country negotiators were unwilling to risk getting stuck with an unreasonably small share of what’s left of that pie – one that would block their aspirations to pull another billion people out of poverty.  (For really useful information on historic emissions, see the World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicator Tool.)  

But in Seoul developing countries offered a global deal, agreeing to take action themselves provided the developed countries bear their fair share.  

Sounds quite a bit like what President Bush has been demanding, no?  Sure, there’s room for negotiation on the numbers proposed for developed countries, and on what numbers would equal a “significant deviation.”  

But instead of negotiating, the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia rejected this proposal.  As a result, the G8 statement and leader’s statement from the Major Economies Meeting to be released on July 9th will likely say nothing significant about emissions targets for developed and developing countries.  It is unlikely that the climate change statement this year will be any advance over the one from the last G8.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow, when the G8 leaders discuss climate change, and the next day, when they sit down with leaders of developing countries, to know for sure.  But don’t hold your breath for “success.”

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Director, International program

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