G8 leaders' climate change plan gets frosty reception

Wed, Jul 9, 2008, 01:00

G8:LEADERS OF the world's richest countries offered hope on climate change yesterday with the announcement of a highly ambiguous "shared vision" to halve global CO2 emissions by 2050.

The deal, worked out after tense all-night talks, was immediately condemned by environmentalists who say it does not go far enough, but Group of Eight (G8) host Japan hailed it as a milestone.

"This is a very important and significant step," said Japanese government spokesman Koji Tsuruoka last night. "The world must now take this agreement forward."

Japan said it wanted a cut of 60-80 per cent in emissions by mid-century going into the three-day G8 summit, which is taking place in a secluded hilltop hotel in the north of the country.

Britain and the EU have already pledged cuts of 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, but the US has so far rejected such demands.

Climate change specialists want steeper cuts of 25-40 per cent by 2020 and labelled yesterday's deal "a fudge". "We need meaningful, binding targets, not fine words," said Daniel Mittler, spokesman for Greenpeace International. "This agreement looks promising but it is full of weasel words."

Charity group Oxfam said the deal gave the world a 50/50 chance of climate meltdown. "At this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G8 leaders will be long forgotten."

Yesterday's draft communique says the G8 countries "seek to share the goal of achieving at least 50 per cent reduction by 2050", an advance on the wording of last year's document, which promised only to "seriously consider" the move.

However, it sidestepped several crucial but contentious issues, including the base year for pledges to slash greenhouse gases and specific midterm targets for cuts.

Climate change campaigners believe the 2050 target is worthless without a tighter timetable to tackle the problem. Many said the deal was a retreat from last year's UN climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, which committed to a midterm goal of 25-40 per cent.

"The cost of including the US in today's agreement was pulling back from Bali," said Tony Durham of anti-poverty campaigner ActionAid International. "That's not much of a deal."

Fudging on the starting date for cuts also had many observers scratching their heads. Britain and other EU members believe that any agreement on climate change should abide by a pledge made under the Kyoto climate protocol to begin from 1990.

Japan's prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, said yesterday, however, that the baseline for cuts was 2008, a statement later apparently contradicted by spokesman Mr Tsuruoka. "The issue of baselines was not discussed," he insisted last night. "These discussions should be taken up by the UN."

On day two of the summit, the G8 leaders - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States - also discussed the gathering economic storm, dodging the word "recession" but noting that the world was "facing uncertainty, and downside risks persist".

A statement released after the morning sessions expressed "serious concern" at rocketing global prices for food and fuel, and called for more investment in oil production, new technologies and alternative energies.

The summit also reaffirmed pledges of $50 billion (€31.9 billion) extra in annual aid to poorer countries by the end of the decade, including $25 billion to Africa.

Irish activist Bob Geldof has led criticism of the G8 for falling well short of targets set in 2005 at the Gleneagles summit. In a statement last night, Geldof, who is in Japan for the summit, welcomed the pledges. "The plain fact remains that there was a political contract in 2005 of deep seriousness. This summit meeting has recognised that, even though some of us might feel it's a little late."

As the G8 summit heads into its final day, many believe it is also preparing to demand tougher UN action against Zimbabwe following a violent, disputed election that returned president Robert Mugabe to power.

On Monday, African countries invited to "outreach" sessions cautioned against sanctions on Zimbabwe, saying they could worsen the situation there.

"We should bear in mind the possibility that Mugabe will retire in a few years' time," said one representative, according to a Japanese spokesman.

Japanese sources confirmed that the leaders have discussed but failed to agree on expanding the G8 to include China and India.

The sources said "one leader" favoured allowing the two nations - collectively home to one-third of the planet's population - to sit at the G8 table, but "three others" said it would complicate discussions.

Germany is known to favour expanding the group but Japan and the US are against the move.

China, India and other developing nations will join the G8 talks today.