G8 environment ministers: Halve emissions by 2050

Environment ministers from the G8 rich nations on Monday urged their leaders to set a global target to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a small but vital step in the fight against climate change.

But they stopped short of suggesting specific interim targets ahead of 2050, a key demand of developing countries in tough United Nations-led talks to forge a new treaty on global warming by the end of next year.

Germany’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Matthias Machnig, said the ministers had sent an important signal to their leaders on the direction in which talks needed to go.

“We made a step here today, a small one, but a very important one,” he told a joint news conference.

About 190 nations have agreed to negotiate by the end of 2009 a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 37 advanced nations to cut emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.

But wide gaps exist inside the G8 and between rich and poorer nations over how to share the burden for fighting the climate change that causes droughts, rising seas and more severe storms.

Ministers from the Group of Eight and major emerging countries had sought in weekend talks in western Japan to build momentum ahead of a July summit in Toyako, northern Japan.

The G8 agreed last year in Germany to consider halving global emissions by mid-century, a proposal favoured by Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan and Canada but opposed so far by the United States and Russia.

“On climate change, we strongly expressed the will to try to come to an agreement at the Toyako summit [in July] so we can have a target of at least halving emissions by 2050,” Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita told a news conference.

“To halve emissions, advanced countries should exercise leadership to achieve major cuts.”

Emerging and developing countries want the G8 to take the lead by setting numerical targets for emissions cuts by 2020, a stance also backed by the European Union.

Who goes first?

“As for mid-term targets, it is necessary to set effective targets and advanced countries should lead the way,” Kamoshita said, but he added it might not be appropriate to specify numbers now and added that developing countries with rapidly increasing emissions also needed to curtail their increases.

How far G8 leaders will be able to go in July, when they get together with leaders from big emerging countries, is still in some doubt given that the United States insists that major emerging economies like China and India help curb emissions.

“For these goals to have meaning, we need to include not just the G8 countries but all countries that have significant emissions,” said Scott Fulton, deputy head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Bickering over who goes first raises the danger that the planet will run out of time, said British Environment Minister Hilary Benn.

“If we play who goes first, we are sunk,” he told Reuters in an interview, noting that US climate change policy was likely to change after a new president is elected in November.

Some environmental activists said the ministers had made progress—but not very much.

“We’re at the point where there needs to be a very ambitious message out of the G8 summit for international talks on climate change to move forward,” said Mika Obayashi of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO.

“So in that sense, this meeting was just a quarter of a step forward. They didn’t specify where they would set targets in the long-term, nor did they go beyond saying that mid-term targets should be effective.”

The G8 ministers also stressed the need for funds to help developing countries adapt to climate change and limit their emissions.

But they said private sector investments were needed in addition to government funds to pay for efforts that top UN climate negotiator said would require “hundreds of billions of dollars a year” would be needed over the longer term.

“Finance will help to unlock contributions from developing and emerging economies to solving the problem, without which we can’t do it for reasons of the science and the maths,” Benn said. - Reuters


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