G-8 emissions agreement fails to include developing nations

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 8, 2009 

L'AQUILA, Italy — President Barack Obama and leaders of seven other world economic powers agreed Wednesday to broad goals for reducing global warming, but they stopped well short of measures that environmentalists call critical to stopping the problem and also failed to get developing nations such as China and India to go along.

The Group of Eight industrial democracies agreed to a statement setting the goal of holding global warming to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — by 2020, as measured since the dawn of the industrial age in 1900.

They also set a long-range target of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases that cause warming by 50 percent worldwide and by 80 percent among industrialized nations by 2050.

Obama and the other leaders, however, didn't discuss prominent proposals urging a timetable for quicker emission cuts by 2020.

And they acknowledged that their draft declaration for a larger meeting Thursday, when China, India and other developing nations will join the G-8 leaders, will not include any targets for emissions cuts. The eight economic powers at the table Wednesday were Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the U.S.

At a dinner Wednesday evening, the eight leaders turned to other issues, including Iran's recent election, North Korea's drive for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Among talking points at the dinner:

_ White House aides said there was unanimous agreement — including Russian President Medvedev — of concern about Iran.

_ Obama announced that he'll host a summit of 25 to 30 nations in Washington in early March 2010 on the spread of nuclear weapons.

Global warming, however, dominated the day's discussions.

White House aides said the G-8 agreements marked important progress toward the broad target of an international treaty to cut emissions.

"They pledged to confront the challenges of climate change and committed to seek an ambitious global agreement" later this year in Copenhagen, Denmark, said Michael Froman, the White House deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

"They agreed to join with other countries to achieve a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050 and a goal of 80 percent reduction by developed countries by 2050. They referred to the two-degree Centigrade as being an important benchmark for their efforts."

Environmentalists lauded their recognition of the 2-degree goal, but said the leaders fell woefully short of what's needed to meet it.

"This was a missed opportunity," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The G-8 countries are not putting a credible target on the table."

Scientists believe the 2-degree Celsius limit — which global warming is already near to hitting — is critical, and that any additional warming beyond that would have grave environmental consequences.

"The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable," said a joint statement from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, along with counterpart agencies from around the world. "Limiting global warming to 2 degrees (Celsius) would require a very rapid worldwide implementation of all currently available low carbon technologies."

The National Academy of Sciences also urged that the international community to commit to cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

The G-8 agreed a year ago to set a target of a 50 percent cut by 2050, but didn't stipulate whether the cut would be measured from 1990, or from the much higher levels in 2005. The leaders hedged again Wednesday, saying that the non-binding cuts would be measured against "1990 or later years," Froman said.

Environmentalists say the long-term goal is good, but that faster cuts are critical. They pressed for a statement urging cuts by 2020, but came away empty-handed.

"If the 2 degree target is not going to turn into an empty promise, they have to tell us how much they'll reduce emissions by 2020," said Kathrin Gutmann, the head of policy at the World Wildlife Fund's Global Climate Initiative.

White House aides said the administration hasn't given up on seeking international agreement on quicker reductions.

"It's still a work in progress, but we don't think that that's something that is off the table," said Todd Stern, Obama's special envoy on climate change. "The action with respect to Copenhagen is going to be much more about midterm action, about stuff that's happening 2020, 2025, and that kind of thing."

Obama and the other G-8 leaders also have failed to prod developing nations to endorse any targets for emission cuts. White House aides said a Thursday meeting of 17 nations including India likely would adopt the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but not to any targets for emissions cuts.

"Without consent from China and India, any further discussions will not lead anywhere," said Arkady Dvorkovich, a top aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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