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A “Successful” G8 on Climate?

Jake Schmidt

Posted July 7, 2008

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At a press conference with Prime Minister Fukuda of Japan before the start of this year’s Group of Eight (G8) meeting on July 6, President Bush stated “this one is going to be a success”.   Perhaps that was an admission that the past seven summits haven’t been such successes, at least not on reducing global warming pollution.  And judging from the preparations for this one, there’s little reason to expect a success this time either. 

At their last meeting in Germany, the G8 leaders met together with the leaders of five of the largest and fastest developing countries (the so-called “Plus 5”) and put climate change high on the agenda.  In their final statement, the G8 leaders agreed to “consider seriously…at least a halving of global emissions by 2050”.  Hopes were further raised by a breakthrough in Bali, where developed and developing countries agreed on the key elements for negotiating the next climate agreement, for the years after 2012, in Copenhagen in December 2009.   

So at this year’s meeting of the G8 and a separate meeting of the Major Economies Meeting (with seven developing countries and the G8 countries plus other major developed countries), will the leaders make progress toward that post-2012 climate change agreement? 

Short of a surprise ending, the short answer is no.  Prime Minister Fukuda wanted G8 countries to commit to a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050.  But as Reuters is reporting, President Bush insists “Washington will only set targets if big emerging economies such as China are on board as well”. A typical abdication of leadership from the Bush administration.     

But at a preparatory meeting last month in Seoul, China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea put on the table a specific reduction commitment.  For the first time, these countries proposed to set a target for reducing global emissions over the long-term (by 2050) and to establish the fair shares of responsibility between developed and developing countries in the near-term (by 2020).  What they proposed for the first time is a package deal that includes:

  • A commitment to cut  global emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050,
  • Developed countries would commit to cut their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and
  • Developing countries would commit to make a “significant deviation from the baseline” by 2020 (i.e., slow the growth of their emissions in the near-term).   

This last phrase is the exact wording of the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), based upon different equity assessments of how emissions reduction efforts could be shared between developed and developing countries (Box 13.7 of the Working Group III report)—more on developing country efforts in later entries.                                      

“Significant deviation” may not seem at first blush like a major breakthrough—especially as the term has not yet been reduced to specific numbers.  But it is the first time that major developing countries were willing to commit to a global long-term target and to spell out a near-term commitment for themselves.   

In my past private conversations with developing country climate negotiators, they have been unwilling to commit to a long-term target out of fear that when the global emissions pie was divided up between developed and developing countries, their share would be too small.  The current developed countries had already eaten up a large share of the global emissions pie before the countries that are now rapidly industrializing got started.  Developing country negotiators were unwilling to risk getting stuck with an unreasonably small share of what’s left of that pie – one that would block their aspirations to pull another billion people out of poverty.  (For really useful information on historic emissions, see the World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicator Tool.)  

But in Seoul developing countries offered a global deal, agreeing to take action themselves provided the developed countries bear their fair share.  

Sounds quite a bit like what President Bush has been demanding, no?  Sure, there’s room for negotiation on the numbers proposed for developed countries, and on what numbers would equal a “significant deviation.”  

But instead of negotiating, the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia rejected this proposal.  As a result, the G8 statement and leader’s statement from the Major Economies Meeting to be released on July 9th will likely say nothing significant about emissions targets for developed and developing countries.  It is unlikely that the climate change statement this year will be any advance over the one from the last G8.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow, when the G8 leaders discuss climate change, and the next day, when they sit down with leaders of developing countries, to know for sure.  But don’t hold your breath for “success.”

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Dan TroutmanJul 7 2008 10:16 PM

Since the world's largest CO2 emitter (China) isn't a member of G8, it's silly to even consider any G8 environmental plans relevant.

Aubrey MeyerJul 8 2008 03:12 AM

It is reported this morning [800708 0800 GMT] that G8 *have* agreed the global 50% cut in GHG emissions by 2050, and the *Angela Merkel* for e.g. is *well-pleased*.

She re-stablished Contraction and Convergence C&C at last year's G8 which contained a commitment to the equalization of per capita emissions globally by that date.

This C&C forumula has been endorsed many times since then, the latest being the Garnaut Report to the Australian Government: -

Ross Garnaut’s latest Climate Report to the Australian Government is the longest and strongest C&C endorsement ever published by serious government source.

Not only does he comprehensively make the case for C&C as ‘pragmatic’ [noting recent converts to it], he takes on the arguments of C&C’s critics . . .


Full Report at: -

Full C&C section at: -


"The per capita approach is generally referred to as ‘contraction and convergence’ (Global Commons Institute 2000) and has figured in the international debate for some time. It has been promoted by India and has been discussed favourably in Germany and the United Kingdom (German Advisory Council on Global Change 2003; UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 2000). Recent reports have shown increasing support for this approach internationally: see, for example, Stern (2008) and the Commission on Growth and Development (2008).

Under contraction and convergence, each country would start out with emissions entitlements equal to its current emissions levels, and then over time converge to equal per capita entitlements, while the overall global budget contracts to accommodate the stabilisation objective. This means that emissions entitlements per capita decrease for countries above the global average, and increase (albeit typically at a slower
rate than unconstrained emissions growth) in countries below the global average per capita level. Importantly, emissions entitlements would be tradable between countries, allowing actual emissions to differ from the contraction and convergence trajectory.

The per capita approach addresses the international equity issue transparently: slower convergence (a later date at which per capita emissions entitlements are equalised) favours emitters that are above the global per capita average at the starting point, while faster convergence gives more emissions rights to low per capita emitters. The convergence date is the main equity lever in such a scheme."

As has been pointed out again and again in Europe, C&C and the Byrd Hagel Resolution elide on the point of inclusivity and equity.

The Climate Quad: Geopolitics, Tactics and Quick Hits A Presentation to the Council for Multilateral Business Diplomacy
Sofitel Brussels Europe Hotel, Brussels 18th June 2008
By Tom Spencer - Vice Chairman, Institute for Environmental Security



"There is a Quad in the Climate Change negotiations of much more significance than the WTO Quad. Success requires a deal between the USA, China, India and the EU. Not surprisingly this reflects the current state of geopolitics, where all the major powers are re-assessing their foreign policy in the light of the emergence of a multi-polar world. A world in which the security of energy supplies and the impact of climate change on security are key building blocks.

I believe that an agreement amongst the Quad is possible around the principle of “Contraction and Convergence”. It is important to recall that the American insistence on India and China accepting targets was not always merely a negotiating tactic. The idea of per capita equity in the Contraction and Convergence analysis of the Global Commons Institute was seriously discussed in all four capitals in the mid-nineties. It is often forgotten that the Byrd-Hagel Resolution of the US Senate took place before Kyoto and majored on the involvement of India and China. The 94 – 0 vote was not a rejection of the Protocol. Rather it was a statement of the obvious that rapid progress on climate change could only be made after a deal with India and China."

Jake SchmidtJul 8 2008 04:22 PM

Dan you make a good point about which countries are actually involved in the G8 and are they right ones. That is partly why Germany and, at this meeting, Japan has involved the "Plus 5" (China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, and South Africa). This is especially relevant for climate change as you note. As I discussed in my commentary from today, they actually released a statement for the G8 that signalled what they would be willing to do. It was a pretty strong statement and worth a read as it will come back up in the future debates.

So while it is still a G8 meeting, the major industrializing nations have also played a more active role in the process. There is even talk of expanding the G8 to officially include them, but I don't know if that will materialize.

Jake SchmidtJul 8 2008 04:43 PM

Thanks for pointing at that the Garnaut review refers to the Contraction & Convergence report--I haven't read Garnaut's review yet but it is in my "to read pile".

Worth reading the Plus 5 countries statement which basically takes some language from the IPCC which evaluated the range of equity considerations in the literature (Contraction & Convergence was one).

The Byrd-Hagel decision has been taken out of context recently and lest we forget it was a long time ago. Somewhere I heard a speech from Sen. Byrd where he was highlighting how he wasn't actually saying what many people say the resolution states. If anybody has that speech feel free to post it. Also, worth reading the recent Biden-Lugar Resolution (Senate Resolution 30). A version of this was to be voted on as a part of the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner debate. They had 18 co-sponsors and over 50 Senators had signalled they would vote for if it came to a vote.

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