Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

G8 Talks Offer Glimmer Of Hope For Climate Deal

Reuters in Toyako – Updated on Jul 11, 2008

If this year’s G8 summit achieved anything, it was to reinforce two truisms: the problems of the age, such as global warming, are extraordinarily complex and the Group of Eight alone cannot resolve them.

Viewed in that light, it was always unrealistic to expect the G8 to pull a rabbit out of the hat and miraculously settle the summit’s main issue – how to curb greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet to dangerously high levels.

As such, it is a good bet that next year’s meeting will rehash the same arguments on climate change that dominated the three days of talks that ended on Wednesday on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

That is especially the case as the next G8 summit, in Italy, will be a year closer to the December 2009 UN conference in Copenhagen that, negotiators hope, will agree on a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012. Why show your hand before you have to?

But that does not mean this summit was a waste of time. The main job of the G8 is to send out strong political signals, not to sign deals. So Japan’s taxpayers will have to wait for Copenhagen to see whether the 60 billion yen (HK$4.36 billion) their government stumped up to stage the summit was well spent.

“An expression of strong political will from 16 leaders – this will surely be a strong force to push UN negotiations forward,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said.

True, the G8’s commitment to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 fell short of what green activists wanted. But they were never going to be satisfied.

True, G8 leaders did not set numerical interim goals that would convince voters they might be serious about meeting targets decades hence when they will be out of office.

And true, eight other big polluters invited to the last day of the talks – adding up to the 16 to which Mr Fukuda referred – did not sign up for the aspirational 2050 goal.

But politics is the art of the possible, and analysts said getting US President George W. Bush to back the mid-century target marked a tangible success for the summit host.

“You can say it’s a problem, a challenge or a reality of the international political landscape that we have, that these talks have to sometimes work on the lowest common denominator. And the lowest common denominator in the G8 is the United States,” said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s environment minister.

With Washington having budged and with the G8 agreeing that it needs to set ambitious mid-term goals for emission cuts, the outline of a deal in Copenhagen is taking shape.

Rich countries would shoulder most of the burden of cutting carbon pollution, while developing countries would make less ambitious commitments and would get a lot of financial and technological aid from the west to help them meet their goals. Sketching the contours of a Copenhagen consensus is not to minimise the political obstacles that will have to be overcome.

Even in one-party states, leaders are loath to make promises that might imperil growth. “China’s central task now is to develop the economy and make life better for the people,” President Hu Jintao said. China relies on coal for more than 70 per cent of its energy.

Poorer countries have genuine concerns that they will take longer to escape poverty if they are forced to curb pollution.

“The imperative for our accelerated growth is even more urgent when we consider the disproportionate impact of climate change on us as a developing country,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

Trading off growth today for uncertain benefits tomorrow is hard enough for any one country. When more than 100 nations are involved, the task is next to impossible: witness the seven long years of haggling in the World Trade Organisation to try to agree to a new round of tariff cuts and market-opening measures.

And the G8 is not about to wither away, with Japan, the US and Germany opposed to revamping the group’s membership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *