Hokkaido G8 Summit & Climate Change:G8 + O5 + MEM16 = 0

The best part of the G8 Summit that concluded on July 9 was the picture postcard setting of the mountain resort of Toyako (near Lake Toya hence Toya-ko) in Hokkaido, Japan. Those who expected the Summit to take any meaningful steps forward on one its main agendas, Climate Change, must have been disappointed. Others like this writer and readers of these columns who have followed each agonizing act of the global climate negotiations theatre, and the antics of all the actors on stage, would have been better prepared for the tragic-comic farce perpetrated in Toyako. No prizes for guessing who stage-managed the whole show: the US led by George W. Bush.

The Summit itself was the largest G8 conclave ever with 14 non-G8 countries as special invitees for different sessions over three days, including the Major Economies Meeting (MEM) on the final day, and a budget of over US$ 750 million to discuss poverty in Africa and to pretend to be dealing with the worst, and if commensurate action is not taken urgently, maybe the last, ecological crisis of our Planet.

Pre-Summit material put out by the G8 claimed the Summit would discuss the “full range of issues” relating to climate change. The Summit aimed to be “an important platform to firm up commitments” made at the Bali Conference in December 2007 and perhaps even come up with “a framework that will ensure participation by the United States and China, the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitters”, the former never having joined the Climate Treaty or committed itself to any binding targets to reduce emissions using the latter, and India, as excuses.

The previous G8 Summit at Heiligendamm in Germany in July 2007, also attended by the O5 or five so-called outreach countries or major developing countries China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, had tried to move the developed countries to undertake urgent action to combat climate change. Under pressure from the hosts, Germany, and other EU nations to declare substantial cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but strongly resisted by the US and allies Canada and Japan, the Heiligendamm Summit could only state they would “consider seriously” cutting emissions by 50% of its 1990 levels by 2050.

In Hokkaido, the EU was looking to more forward from Heiligendamm and was pushing to change “consider” to “agree”, but to no avail. Some thought US President Bush, who has of late been showing signs of backing off the notorious climate change denying and rejectionist US position, may go further this time. But again, no joy.

Hollow goal  Some sections of the international media, including in India, breathlessly proclaimed success and announced that the G8 had agreed to cut emissions by 50% by 2050. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some people all the time, but not all people all the time! On the contrary, the declaration of the G8, meeting alone without the outreach countries, said nothing of the kind and contained many pointers to the US having forced a major shift towards its position.

The G8 Summit Document only stated that the G8 “shared the vision of… the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050”. If this sounds similar to the goal set by the IPCC, look again. IPCC/AR4 states that, in order to meet the requisite goal of restricting atmospheric GHG concentrations to a maximum of around 450ppm by 2030 (from today’s dangerously high level of about 425ppm), global emissions “should decline before 2015 and be further reduced to less than 50 percent of today’s emissions by 2050” (emphasis added), the G8 conveniently ignoring the former clause which would require immediate action and stiff near-term targets.

Very few seemed to note either that the statement mentioned no baseline year unlike the Kyoto Protocol’s 1990 baseline, or even unlike G8 Heiligendamm or the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC/AR4), the Stern Report or any other serious report on climate change. Did the G8 want the world to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 1990 levels or present levels? Surely this was not a casual lapse, with the G8 being delightfully vague. As one critic put it, humanity is running out of time to be vague on climate change.

But there was much more devil in the details to follow.

While carelessly declaring global emission reduction goals, the G8 refused to specify any quantitative targets for themselves or for developed countries as a whole.  IPCC/AR4 calls for “developed countries as a group… to reduce their emissions significantly by 2020 (10-40 percent below 1990 levels) and to still lower levels by 2050 (40-95 percent)” even for “low to medium stabilization levels.” With this in view the EU had supported a UN draft at Bali calling for developed countries to adopt a target of 25-40% reductions by 2030, and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso echoed this call prior to the Toyako Summit. But the US refused to go along once again, supported by Canada and, despite pre-Summit bravado by the host, even by Japan whose official opening presentation only projected a reduction of 14% by Japan by 2030!

All to no avail. G8 leaders made polite noises with a US spokesman saying it represented “substantial progress”, British PM Gordon Brown calling it “major progress” and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel terming it “a significant step forward.” Surely progressing from “considering seriously” to a “shared vision” in 12 months would be shameful even for the slowest snail! Many environmental groups and scientists described the G8 statement “pathetic”.

Shift to US Position    

But worse was to come, again not noted by many commentators. Even this vague “vision” was made conditional upon major developing countries joining in the efforts!

The very opening paragraph of the G8 Statement called for “enhanced commitments or actions by all major economies”, a euphemism for major developing countries as made clear by the “Major Economies Meeting” or MEM slated for the last day of the Summit in which the O5 and some other nations were to participate. It then went on to explicitly state that the challenge of reducing global emissions by 50% could be met “only by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies”. While paying lip service to the Kyoto principle of common but differentiated responsibilities by recognizing that “what the major developed economies do will differ from what major developing economies do”, the G8 statement emphasizes and makes explicit its new, common position that “all major economies will need to commit to meaningful mitigation actions to be bound in the international agreement to be negotiated by the end of 2009 (emphases added throughout).”

This insistence by the G8 not only that major developing countries contribute to emissions reductions but also that these be binding commitments in the post-2012 Treaty, as hitherto applicable only to developed countries, marks a completely new turn to the global negotiations and a pronounced shift in the position of the EU and many other developed nations towards the US position. Whereas the Europeans have for many years been going along with US blackmailing tactics in climate negotiations in the belief that any consensus with the US was better than completely isolating it and represented some shift by the US towards a middle ground, the new consensus now finds them in the lap of the US.

That the US was pushing for such a position at Toyako was clear from G8 pre-Summit pronouncements by President Bush himself. At a joint press conference with Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda, Bush said he was prepared to be “constructive” in discussions on climate change but insisted that “any agreement depended upon the participation of China and India”, with both men insisting that China agree to binding cuts in the post-2012 phase. Bush said: “I’ve always advocated there needs to be common understanding and that starts with a goal… [However] I am also realistic enough to tell you that, if China and India don’t share the same aspiration, we’re not going to solve the problem.”

Getting the G8 to agree with this US position, dramatically shifting the terms of the global negotiations in the lead-up to Copenhagen 2009 when the new Treaty is to be finalized, represents a clear victory for the US. No wonder that Chief Environmental Policy advisor to the President, James L. Connaughton, told the Voice of America on July 8 that the G8 Statement “aligns with President Bush’s demand that growing economies such as India and China agree to take part in the reductions.”

Developing Countries Stance The O5 group of developing countries slammed the G8 statement and called for rich nations to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050 with an intermediate target of 25-40% by 2020. “It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emission reductions”, said the joint statement by the O5.

“Responsibility shouldn’t fall on developing countries for what is an [undeniable] responsibility of developed nations,” said Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

South Africa’s environment minister Marthinaus van Schalkwyk was highly critical. “While the statement may appear as a movement forward, we are concerned that it may, in effect, be a regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change. To be meaningful and credible, a long-term goal must be… underpinned by ambitious mid-term targets and actions,” he said. “Just to say reduction in emissions by 50 percent in our view is an empty slogan without substance.”

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat who, readers of these columns may recall, was reduced to tears by US intransigence and machinations at Bali, warned against the negative impact of the absence of “any kind of language on where G8 nations want their emissions to be in 2020 and I think that is critical to making progress in the [on-going global] negotiations.” And beleagured EC President Barroso agreed that before calling upon developing countries to take action, the G-8 nations must reach agreement among themselves and avoid taking the approach that ”I will do nothing unless you do it first,” which he called a ”vicious circle.”

Regrettably, the Major Economies Meeting (MEM) held on the last day of the Summit that brought together the G8, the O5 and three other countries, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia, resulted in yet another forced consensus that did not frontally confront the new G8 position and the potential conflicts it posed with the developing countries. No doubt the “Declaration of Leaders at the Meeting of Major Economies on Energy Security and Climate Change” on July 9 did not include any emission reduction commitments for developing countries, but nor did it mention deep cuts required from the developed nations. The Declaration was a polite document which sought not to offend anyone but, in the process, allowed the G8 to get away with its do-nothing and burden-passing posture by pretending to have reached “common understandings in this Declaration [that] will help advance the work of the international community so it is possible to reach an agreed outcome by the end of 2009”. Really?

The Declaration affirms support for “a long-term global goal for emission reductions” as the G8 put forward, but without any language that suggested targeted cuts for rich nations except to obliquely “urge that serious consideration be given in particular to ambitious IPCC scenarios.” It keeps repeating the same formulation in “recognizing that deep cuts in global emissions will be necessary” and that “it would be desirable for the Parties to adopt in the negotiations under the Convention a long-term global goal for reducing global emissions” only adding that this should be done “taking into account the principle of equity.”

In listing various areas of cooperative action between these “major economies”, the Declaration makes various vague promises but avoids what could be contentious or even troubling issues such as activation and augmentation of the Adaptation Fund for developing countries, especially least developed countries and island states, technology transfer or IPRs in climate-related technologies. In the end, a please-all document that says nothing.

India    India’s role in the entire proceedings is obscure.

There was no official statement made or released to the international press by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or by the Indian delegation.

There were some reports in mainly Indian publications that the PM had intervened at the MEM to categorically reject the notion of India accepting emission reduction commitments and deplore the lack of achievements of even the low Kyoto targets by the developed countries. Some newspapers have reported the PM as saying that, despite its shortcomings, the consensus document represents forward movement in global climate negotiations.

Maybe one should not look too closely at the PM’s contribution at Toyako, or at India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change which, as reported last week, was perhaps meant only as a declaration of good intent rather than a substantive policy. Nor should one have expected Dr.Singh to take on Bush and the G8 on climate change. After all, the PM had gone to the G8 Summit with a different agenda altogether, to garner support for the nuclear deal, and could not risk spoiling the atmospherics. For his part, Bush must have left Toyako happy: he came hoping for some legacy, any legacy. With a pro-US shift in the climate negotiations, he may even have got close to two!