G8 climate deal in danger of collapse


G8:Leaders have failed to agree numerical or mid-term targets for cuts, writes David McNeillin Hokkaido

A CLIMATE change deal pledging a goal of halving global CO2 emissions by mid-century was in danger of collapse last night hours after it was announced at the annual Group of Eight summit, in northern Japan.

Leaders from 16 major economies failed to agree on numerical or mid-term targets for the goal, but papered over the cracks by recommending a "common but differentiated" approach to achieving "deep cuts" in greenhouse emissions.

The G8 pledge has come under withering fire from environmentalists, who say it fudges on the key issues and forces developing nations to shoulder most of the burden on carbon-cutting.

RK Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned that the G8 nations must "get off the backs of India and China".

South Africa's environment minister called the G8 goal an "empty slogan". Leaders of the so-called G5 group - India, China, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil - want an 80 per cent cut, starting with a medium-term target of a 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Yesterday they met the G8 leaders on the final day of the summit after releasing a statement demanding that richer countries "take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emission reductions".

Developed nations must take "into account historical responsibility and respective capacities as a fair and just approach", the five said.

The G8, G5 and Australia, Indonesia and South Korea are collectively responsible for about 80 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases.

Key differences have also emerged on when the cuts should start, with the EU supporting a base year of 1990, but Japan apparently favouring 2005 or 2008.

At a wrap-up press conference yesterday afternoon, Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda rejected G5 accusations that differences of interpretation among the richest nations made a "mockery" of the climate change deal. "Our view is that the cuts should be from the current period," he said. "There is no confusion."

Greenpeace International said the baseline issue was sidelined during discussion "because there are so many disagreements" on when the cuts should begin.

"A 50 per cent cut to 2050 from today's level is at least 20 per cent less than a cut from 1990," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International's climate expert.

"They're pretending that they have made a step forward on the global target but because they haven't committed to anything meaningful, that propaganda lie is crumbling around them."

Developing economies have made it clear they will agree to sharp cuts only if the G8 countries first sign up to 2020 cuts recommended by the UN International Panel on Climate Change.

But Mr Fukuda called the climate discussions "a success" because all parties "including the US" had signed up to the 2050 goal.

"It is the very first time ever that leaders of the major economies have got down to vigorous discussions on a broad range of climate change-related issues, and I believe that the leaders have shown strong political will," he said. "I believe we have contributed to building momentum for UN negotiations.''

British prime minister Gordon Brown also put a positive spin on the G8 pledge. "This is the summit that for the first time has committed itself as the G8 to a target for 2050 if an international agreement can be met. This is real progress on climate change and we've taken things a very big step forward."

Climate dominated the largest G8 grouping in history, but the economy and Africa were also high on the agenda.

On poverty reduction, praise for reiterating key pledges to boost aid to poor countries by $50 billion (€32 billion) was overshadowed by sharp criticism over the G8's failure to deliver on existing pledges.

Campaigners said that even if met, the pledges are no longer adequate to deal with the deterioration in global conditions since Gleneagles in 2005.

"The increase in food prices by 30 to 54 per cent has had a devastating effect, especially on women and children trying to survive on less than a dollar a day," said Global Call to Action Against Poverty. "Millions more people are being pushed into poverty."

Mr Fukuda's final summary of the meeting warned of looming economic problems but said the leaders were "strongly committed" to globalisation and free trade. "We reaffirmed our commitment to resist protectionist pressures and expressed our strong will to work toward the conclusion of an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive WTO Doha agreement," he said.

The Doha negotiations have stalled on the issue of trade barriers and economic liberalisation, particularly of agriculture. Critics say current rules favour rich countries and are increasing the spread of poverty and inequality.