Tokyo, Japan: Group of Eight (G-8) leaders on Tuesday pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% by 2050, while leaving each country to pursue its own path in tackling pollution blamed for global warming.
The declaration at the G-8 summit in Toyako, Japan, included a promise to share the “vision” of a low-carbon economy with less developed nations, embracing calls by US President George W. Bush that countries such as China and India be included in any climate accord.
Indian experts have reservations over the target, given that the declaration does not specify base levels from which the emissions are to be reduced by half. The European Union and environmental activists have suggested that 1990 be adopted as the base year.
South African President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before the start of the G-5 meeting, on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit in Sapporo, Japan (Photo by: Atul Yadav/PTI)
The agreement is “meaningless” without a mention of the starting point to measure the cuts, R.K. Pachauri, a member of the PM’s council on climate change and director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute, said at a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. Also, focusing on a long-term goal as far away as 2050 distracts from the mid-term goal of 2020, which Kyoto protocol signatories have to abide by. “All this seems hogwash, another way to take focus away from developed countries meeting their 2020 targets,” said a key Indian official, who did not wish to be identified.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s environment minister, called the G-8 road map “an empty slogan without substance.”
Backing for the 2050 timeline was a surprise after Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, the host for the meetings, started the summit by casting a doubt on whether the G-8 would venture beyond last year’s promise to “consider seriously” the target.
“All the countries have their separate agendas,” Fukuda said. “We were able to overcome these differences to come to this agreement.”
Failure to make the cuts by the deadline would lead to a worldwide temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, triggering floods in coastal regions and exacerbating droughts, UN climate experts warn.
Attending the last G-8 summit, Bush moved further away from the position he took at the start of his presidency eight years ago, when he expressed scepticism about scientific evidence of global warming and concern that setting fixed targets would harm the US economy.
Advocacy groups detected Bush’s handwriting on the statement, saying the G-8 could easily wriggle out of the goals it set and force developing countries to shoulder too much of the burden of combating the global temperature rise.
“At this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G-8 leaders will be long forgotten,” Oxfam policy adviser Antonio Hill said in a statement.
The US, the world’s largest economy, has been the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, trailed closely by China. Russia and India also rank among the globe’s biggest polluters.
Bush endorsed talks to draw up a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 climate-change agreement that he pulled the US out of in 2001, as long as they include China and India. Global negotiators face a 2009 deadline to replace Kyoto, which expires in 2012.
Cinching that deal will fall to a new US administration likely to be more committed to fighting global warming. Both candidates for the White House, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, favour limits on greenhouse gases and back European-style cap-and-trade systems to give businesses an incentive to reduce pollution.
Bush achieved his goal of having other industrial nations recognize the need to integrate developing economies with efforts to address climate change, said Dan Price, the president’s international economics adviser.
“There was recognition by the G-8, and it’s reflected in the declaration, that all major economies, developed and developing must commit to meaningful mid-term mitigation actions,” Price told reporters.
Tuesday’s statement by the G-8—the US, Japan, Germany, Italy, Britain, France, Canada and Russia—also bowed to European demands for medium-term targets to make the call to action by 2050 more credible.
“This is a strong signal,” European Commission president Jose Barroso said in a statement in Toyako. “The science is clear, the economic case for action is stronger than ever.”
Barroso said he expects the rest of the world to adopt shorter-range goals similar to the 27-nation European Union’s target of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020.
In parallel to the G-8 summit, the leaders of five less advanced economies—China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa—were meeting in nearby Sapporo to coordinate their views on climate change. The two groups will get together tomorrow, along with the leaders of Australia, Indonesia and South Korea.
Padmaparna Ghosh of Mint and Bloomberg’s Toko Sekiguchi, Catherine Dodge and Roger Runningen in Toyako, contributed to this story.