10 july 2009

Climate change deal eludes big nations

By Guy Dinmore in L’Aquila and Fiona Harvey in London, Financial Times July 9 2009

Leaders of the world’s 16 biggest polluting countries on Thursday night failed to agree on targets and funding to cut greenhouse gases, setting the stage for recriminations between rich and poor nations.

A sombre Barack Obama, US president, who chaired the meeting of the Major Economies Forum in Italy, said he acknowledged that progress would not be easy and that it would be “no small task” to bridge the differences.

The MEF countries, which produce 80 per cent of global emissions, agreed that the world should not heat up more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. But India and China resisted a push from the G8 developed nations to set a target of reducing emissions by an overall average of 50 per cent by 2050.

Leaders must “fight the temptation towards cynicism”, Mr Obama said, calling climate change the defining challenge of his generation and acknowledging that the US had a much higher per capita carbon footprint.

“No one nation is responsible. No one nation can address it alone,” he said, noting that he had to “wrestle” politically with the issue in the US and that a global recession made it harder for all countries to get on board.

However, Ed Miliband, UK secretary of state for energy and climate, told the Financial Times that a pledge by developed nations to limit global warming to less than 2ºC “significantly increases the chances of success at Copenhagen”.

NGOs and environmental activists were dismayed at the outcome, calling it a missed opportunity that risked undermining the UN conference in Copenhagen in December, which must set a climate change programme to replace the Kyoto framework expiring in 2012.

“The blame lies squarely with the G8,” said Anantha Guruswamy of Greenpeace. “The blame game will start. The EU and others are blaming India and China and then there will be a harsh pushback.”

While the G8 club of rich nations agreed on Wednesday in what Mr Obama described as a “historic consensus” to cut their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, they failed to set near-term goals. They also refused to commit themselves to the huge funding required – estimated by experts at some $150bn (€107bn, £92bn) a year – to help developing countries adapt to climate change and cut their own emissions. Mr Obama only said that the MEF had agreed to a “substantial increase” in contributions to poor countries.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, who will chair the Copenhagen meting, was quoted as saying the G8 summit had “missed a unique opportunity”.

China in particular wanted assurances from the G8 that intellectual property rights would be relaxed so it could benefit from new technologies to take a lead in clean energy markets.

Joanne Green, head of policy for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, said the 2ºC limit agreed by MEF was “forward movement but it is woefully inadequate compared to what is needed”.

Climatico, a network of climate change experts, said that, to limit temperature rises to 2ºC, emissions needed to peak in the next 10-15 years. It said the US Senate was the best hope for breaking the impasse by giving Mr Obama a strong cap-and-trade bill.


Q&A: Greenhouse gas emissions cuts are the next hot topic

What are rich and poor countries fighting about?
Rich countries are committed to substantial cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but poor countries – chiefly China and India – have been reluctant to sign up to emissions targets.

This is because they see a global target on emissions as a bargaining chip to be played later in talks on climate change. The talks are set to culminate at a conference in Copenhagen in December where governments will try to forge a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.

What have countries agreed to?
The G8 has agreed to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. A wider grouping, known as the Major Economies Forum – made up of the world’s 16 biggest emitters plus the EU and Denmark, as host of the Copenhagen conference – has agreed to hold global temperature rises to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Is this good?
It is a big step forward. Previously, developed countries had only agreed a target of halving global emissions by 2050. And this is the first time the 2°C target has been adopted in a major international forum.

Why is 2°C so important?
An increase in temperatures of 2°C is widely regarded by climate scientists as the limit of safety. Beyond that, the effects of climate change – floods, droughts, sea level rises and crop failures – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible. Scientists base their estimates on studies of the earth’s past climate.

Where’s the catch?
The G8 was hoping that the developing countries would agree a general global target of halving emissions by 2050. But China and India refused without concrete promises on financing from rich to poor countries to help them tackle emissions and cope with the effects of climate change.

Also making promises for 40 years’ time is easy but fulfilling them is another matter. For a meaningful agreement, countries would also have to set a mid-term target for emissions, preferably involving hefty cuts by 2020.

What else needs to be done?
Emissions need to be cut. An aim of holding the world to 2°C of warming is rather vague, not least because once emitted, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades. Stopping warming at 2°C would be hard to judge accurately and could only be measured retrospectively.

Where do we go from here?
Copenhagen. There are a series of meetings, including another of world leaders, before December, but many important issues – financing, mid-term emissions cuts, what to do about forests – are likely to remain unresolved until the conference.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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