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Why Global Warming Has Brought The G8 To Boiling Point

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the cost of tackling the problem was reasonable and the technology for achieving it was already within reach. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Richard Ingham
Paris (AFP) Jun 05, 2007
In 2004, climate change did not even rate a mention in the summary of the Group of Eight (G8) summit at Sea Island, Georgia. Today, it is the issue that may make or break the rich nations' get-together in Heiligendamm, Germany. Summit host German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces an unenviable choice. She can insist that the summit endorse an ambitious plan for tackling greenhouse gases, although to do so would dangerously isolate President George W. Bush.

Or she can climb down and submit to a fudge that will badly damage her standing at home and across Europe.

This potential crisis has been brewing for months, driven by science and public opinion, say seasoned watchers of the climate debate.

"The public knows climate change is here, now, and is demanding political leaders to lead by example," Hans Verolme of environmental group WWF told AFP. "Expectations are high."

Here's why climate change is now such a big deal:

-- AN ESCALATING THREAT: This year, the UN's top scientific panel declared climate change was already on the march and the effects would be harsh and, for poor, vulnerable countries, potentially catastrophic.

Contrary to climate skeptics who say reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would cripple the global economy, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the cost of tackling the problem was reasonable and the technology for achieving it was already within reach.

Limiting the overall warming since pre-industrial times to 2.0-2.8 C (3.6-5.0 F) would cost less than 0.12 percentage points of annual world GDP growth in 2030, it said.

-- HARDENING OPINION: Global warming ranks among the biggest concerns in opinion polls in developed countries.

Awareness is acute in Europe, the world's most environmentally-sensitive continent. On the heels of the IPCC review, the 27-nation European Union (EU) vowed to cut its emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. And it threw down the gauntlet to the United States, offering to deepen this cut to 30 percent if other major polluters followed suit.

Japan last month called for the world to halve emissions by 2050 -- a goal that Merkel wants to enshrine in the G8 communique, along with a maximum target for warming of 2 C (3.6 F) over 1990. Both figures have been bluntly rejected by US negotiators.

-- TIME RUNNING OUT FOR KYOTO: Europe has been looking to the G8 to revive the sickly Kyoto Protocol process.

Negotiations for a successor to Kyoto after the emissions-cutting treaty expires in 2012 take place in Bali, Indonesia, this December. The task is to coax emissions pledges from big developing countries which are becoming major polluters in their own right.

China -- the world's No. 2 emitter -- and India have rejected any idea that they be locked into binding targets, which at present only apply to rich countries. To do so, they argue, will hamper their rise from poverty.

Just as important for post-2012 Kyoto will be to cajole the United States back into the international club.

Unless Bush has a change of heart, the best hope will be a bridge between Kyoto members and the United States, for instance in linked programmes that help the carbon cleanup.

-- BUSH UNDER PRESSURE: Al Gore's climate docu-movie, legal and regulatory moves on carbon pollution by California and northeastern US states, last year's Democratic victory in Congress: all add to pressure on a president already weakened by Iraq.

Last week, facing a drubbing at the G8, Bush took to the offensive with his own climate plan.

The United States and up to 14 other big emitters would agree by the end of next year "a long-term global goal" for reducing greenhouse gases.

Critics say Bush's plan lacks key details, such as the scale and speed of the cuts, and the essential component of mandatory caps is absent. Bush has not spelt out whether his plan is intended to be a substitute for Kyoto or the hoped-for link to it.

But green groups see a wily ploy.

They say Bush first seeks to defuse the political bomb waiting for him at Heiligendamm and, ultimately, destroy the Kyoto process through delay and confusion.

"Bush's idea of initiating new, parallel talks between just a few countries is nothing but an effort to derail the ongoing talks" in the UN framework, said Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIEED) in London.

earlier related report
G8 cannot afford to ignore emerging economies
Berlin (AFP) Jun 5 - China and India once waited for crumbs from the table of the world's wealthiest nations but at the G8 summit in Germany this week the two rapidly growing economies will be dining as near equals.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the heads of the Group of Eight nations to the northern German resort of Heiligendamm on Wednesday, they will be joined by the leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

The G8 leaders will especially want to hear what Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have to say on the vexed issues of climate change and world trade.

Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, said the Group of Eight "are being forced to recognise the new emerging powers."

"A lot of international economic reports -- by Goldman Sachs and others -- say the Chinese economy definitely and the Indian economy possibly will overtake that of the United States quite soon.

"So the invites to India, China, Brazil etc are a recognition of that global clout. It is also a recognition of the fact that the West will have to share power with new emerging centres."

The so-called G8 plus five process formally began at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair invited the heads of the five emerging economies to participate in the talks.

With a combined population of 2.4 billion people, China and India are huge, export-hungry markets for the world's biggest exporters such as Germany.

And as their burgeoning economies consume ever more coal and natural resources, any future global agreement on limiting global warming would be fatally flawed without their participation.

China's stunning economic growth has been achieved at a terrible cost to its environment.

On Monday it unveiled its long-awaited national strategy for addressing climate change but insisted its economic development must come first.

Crucially, Beijing also insisted it would not commit to any caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Merkel on the other hand has vowed to use the summit to urge her G8 counterparts to sign up to mandatory limits on emissions.

China's position is clear -- the developed world must help it to cut pollution.

"The consequences of restricting the development of developing nations will be much more serious than the consequences of global warming," Ma Kai, China's top economic planner, told journalists on Monday.

In a briefing on the G8 summit last week, Beijing however dismissed the suggestion that, mindful of its growing economic muscle, it will block initiatives at the summit.

"I don't think China will be a Mr No at the G8. We want to be a Mr Cooperation or Mr Partnership," an official said.

"As far as China is concerned, we are a developing country and will be for a fairly long time to come.

"But we hope in the future our cooperation with the G8 can be institutionalised and regular."

The other members of the "plus five" group have other agendas to pursue.

For Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a face-to-face meeting is promised in Heiligendamm with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

South African President Thabo Mbeki meanwhile prepared for his summit trip with talks last week in Pretoria with Blair.

The wealthiest nations, Blair said, must make good on the promises they made at Gleneagles to massively increase aid to Africa.

Uday Bhaskar, an independent Indian analyst, said the fact that the G8 was making space at the negotiating table for the newcomers is a formal recognition that the current G8 lineup -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- fails to reflect the direction in which the world is moving.

"The emerging hexagon of relevant powers of this century are the US, the EU and Japan at level one and Russia, China and India on level two," he said.

"The invitation (to the emerging economies) is a formal acknowledgement of that."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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