A load of hot air?

Consensus without commitment on climate change is the result of this year’s group of eight summit in Hokkaido, Japan.

A message from the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukudo, on the G8 website states: “Global warming is a huge challenge, and humanity has no time to lose. The international community must urgently strengthen efforts to resolve this issue.”

Fine words indeed, but how have the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations decided to approach this challenge?

Agreement has been made to adopt a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by the year 2050. Now read that sentence again. Sounds pretty vague doesn’t it?

The G8 communiqué states how the countries will “consider and adopt” a goal of “achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050,” with ‘commitments’ being ‘reaffirmed’ to take ‘strong leadership’ by setting ‘mid-term’ and ‘long-term’ goals in the ‘recognition’ that something needs to be done.

Responding to the communiqué Greenpeace executive director, Stephen Tindale, said: "The scientific community has given an unequivocal signal that urgent and radical action is needed to cut emissions and stabilise the climate. The G8 communiqué has failed to acknowledge this warning. This has left the G8 leaders treading water on this crucial issue.”

Writing recently in the Guardian Tony Juniper unravels why the G8’s agreement on climate change is a cautious one. What is perhaps most crucial is the issue of the baseline date to which the proposed 2050 reductions are to be measured against. Will they be set to the 1990 level (the baseline outlined by the Kyoto Protocol), or 2000, 2007 or 2010 levels?

At a summit press conference a tentative question was asked on the base year to which reductions will be matched and whether any discussion on that had taken place.

Ambassador Tsuruoka’s response was pithy: “First of all there was no discussion on the base year, so a very clear-cut answer to your question is just that.”

Tsuruoka added: “On the long-term goal there has not been a discussion that this ought to be a legally-binding target and therefore no need for specificity of the nature of commitment. This is more of a political vision that the G8 as a whole is now trying to engage the rest of the world in and therefore there was no particular recognition that we need to put this in a sense of identifying a base year."

Meanwhile the major developing countries – China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa – are asking the G8 countries to do more and show strong leadership in combating climate change.

The G8 countries contain 13% of the world’s population yet pump out two-thirds of the pollution driving climate change.

Consensus on tackling climate change is under duress from issues of time (or lack of it) and international agreement, suggesting visions need to be met with action if the challenge is to be faced head on.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008

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