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G8 leaders fight over agreement on climate change

A fierce battle is under way this weekend to rescue a proposed global climate agreement in time for the Group of Eight (G8) summit in a fortnight’s time in Germany, after sources close to the talks said Washington appeared to be edging away from outright rejection of moves to halt rising world temperatures.

It follows the international furore that on Saturday greeted the leaking of the United States negotiating position, which appeared to rule out utterly any hope of achieving a breakthrough on a comprehensive climate deal before British Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves office at the end of next month.

But as the US came under fire for notes scribbled on a draft communiqué leaked to Greenpeace suggesting it was preparing to torpedo a five-point deal, sources close to the negotiations reported the US position appeared to be shifting after new negotiations on Thursday and Friday.

It also emerged that it was not only the US that was posting strong objections to the wording of the communiqué, but Russia as well, while India and China had also expressed their own reservations.

It had been hoped that the five-point agreement, which is being negotiated under Germany’s presidency of the G8, would set out the key principles to allow progress in the United Nations for a treaty to replace the Kyoto agreement when it runs out.

Following last week’s so-called ”sherpa” negotiations in the German town of Heiligendamm between officials, there was broad agreement on three of the five points covering the development of new technologies to combat global warming, measures to help countries adapt and new measures to fight deforestation.

The toughest battle, however, has focused on the first two points — on the establishment of a stabilisation goal that would tie signatories to a commitment to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius and the establishment of a global carbon-trading market, both of which the US rejects.

It was this approach that led an unnamed US negotiator to scrawl in red ink on a draft, understood to come from an earlier round of negotiations: ”The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple ‘red lines’ in terms of what we simply cannot agree to.”

Moving position

According to sources close to last week’s talks, however, the US position appears to have begun moving since those notes were written. Although the US is understood to be objecting to a German proposal to cut greenhouse-gas emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2050, sources say there are alternative ways of reaching agreement on the principle of a global stabilisation target.

”[US President] George Bush has said he wants to be part of the solution,” said one source familiar with the talks. ”They are not sitting in their armchair on the side but in the trenches fighting for their position. It does not feel like an outright rejection as was suggested yesterday, but a negotiation. A tough negotiation. Nothing has been deleted. That means it is still up for grabs. It is not impossible to see the US agreeing to all five points.”

One possibility now confronting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be chairing the summit in Heiligendamm, is that she replicates Blair’s brinkmanship at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, which persuaded the Bush administration to sign up to a communiqué accepting the reality of global warming and committing to the ”urgency of substantial cuts” in carbon emissions.

John Coequyt, US energy policy specialist at Greenpeace, responsible for the leak, said: ”Tony Blair backed up the Bush administration in some really important ways and America has never repaid him. On climate change we have really hung him out to dry.

”The Americans are pursuing a policy on climate change which is really quite pathetic.” — Guardian Unlimited Â

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Peter Beaumont
Guest Author

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