Climate change and G8 summit

Climate change and G8 summit

The G8 summit has delivered precious little on climate change for the developing countries even as the developed countries have hailed the consensus on the 2°C limit on global warming as a major achievement.

From the perspective of the international negotiations on climate change, the most significant outcome of the recently concluded G8 Summit at L’Aquila, Italy, was the acknowledgement in the declaration of the essential scientific fact that global average temperature above pre-industrialisation levels should not exceed 2°Celsius. This has at least brought the United States, a non-signatory to the Kyoto Protocol in spite of being the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, on board. Hopefully, it will now undertake emission reductions at Copenhagen for the Protocols second commitment period beyond 2012.

However, the Waxman-Merkey Bill (H.R. 2454), recently passed by the House of Representatives, may belie that hope. The very weak caps that it proposes on U.S. domestic GHG emissions by 2050 (17 per cent of 2005 levels, which are themselves about 17 per cent above the UNFCCC baseline of 1990 levels) are a matter of concern. From the perspective of developing countries, however, there are other serious issues that emerge from the various declarations at the Summit. The unwarranted controversy around India signing the Major Economies Forum (MEF) declaration (see The Hindu, July 28) has had the unfortunate effect of the more substantive issues being ignored.

For instance, even as it endorses a global emissions reduction by 50 per cent by 2050, the G8 declaration is totally non-specific about targets for the developed countries (the Annex-1 countries). The espoused reduction by 2050 is only by 80 per cent and that too is non-committal as it speaks only of supporting such a goal. This is significantly lesser than the 85 per cent global cut from the 2000 levels (equivalent to over 90 per cent cut for the Annex-1 countries) that the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for.

More pertinently, the base year has been deliberately left ambiguous. This is significant because world emissions have grown by about 1.1 per cent every year during the 1990s and by about 3 per cent a year from 2000-08. Further, while the IPCC calls for peaking by 2015 and the G8 declaration speaks of peaking as soon as possible, there is no indication of the peaking year. Even as it mentions robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions, it has not even specified what mid-term is, let alone targets for it.

According to a recent paper in Nature by Malte Meinhausen and others, with a 50 per cent reduction in global GHG emissions by 2050 (from the 1990 levels), there is a 12-45 per cent probability of exceeding the 2°C warming. An illustrative plausible scenario predicts a 29 per cent chance of exceeding 2°C. A 50 per cent cut from 2000 or present levels would, obviously, mean a higher probability of exceeding 2°C.

For the scenarios considered, the papers method yields a 53-87 per cent probability of overshooting the 2 limit if the global emissions in 2020 are still more than 25 per cent above the 2000 levels. To contain the warming under 2°C with 75 per cent chance, the estimated emission budget till 2050 is 1000 giga (billion) tonnes of CO{-2} and the world has already emitted nearly 284 Gt during 2000-06. The danger of the worlds emissions exceeding the 2000 levels by 25 per cent in 2020 thus remains real unless the Annex-1 countries adopt drastic reduction targets for 2020 and 2050.

Indeed, the G8s failure in stating its mid-term emission targets shows its lack of seriousness in reducing emissions. This failure elicited criticism from none other than the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. Much more, he said in his statement on July 9, needs to be done if governments are to seal the deal on a new climate agreement in Copenhagen. Welcoming the agreement by the G8 on its goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, he added: For this to be credible, however, we need ambitious mid-term targets [of 25-40 per cent below the 1990 levels], and clear baselines … It is disappointing to note that thus far, the mid-term targets announced by the developed countries [of 10-15 per cent] … are not in this range. In fact, the G5 declaration had demanded a 40 per cent cut by 2020 from the 1990 levels.

Also, the approach to achieve the ambitious target of reducing the developed countries emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is largely through market mechanisms despite the serious imperfections in them. This agenda is elaborated in Para 69 of the statement: We support flexible, economically sound market-based approach to emission reductions … With a view to … facilitate action under the global post-2012 agreement, we commit to … Support the development, reform and enhancement of project, programmatic and policy-based offset mechanisms, including Kyoto Protocols Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) … [and] Work with others to further develop market mechanisms under the Copenhagen agreement to possibly including sectoral trading and sectoral crediting mechanisms, to enhance the participation of emerging economies and developing countries in the market ...

Taking as an illustrative example the proposals mooted by the U.K. to meet the G8 target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, George Monbiot of The Guardian strongly criticised the proposed offset-based emission reductions. Apparently, under its new policy on carbon reduction, the U.K. proposes to meet half of this commitment through offsets. That is, it would reduce domestic emissions only by 40 per cent. If all the Annex-1 countries were to buy reductions to this extent from the developing countries, the latter would end up cutting their current emissions by 60 per cent while the former cut only by 40 per cent, he pointed out. Further, the last part of the above quote is, in fact, indicative of an attempt to push sectoral efficiency and energy intensity (carbon footprint) standards and establish new mechanisms of sectoral carbon credits and trading in them.

Unfortunately, given the visible tendency in China and India to seek maximum monetary inflows through the CDM, and the undue importance India is giving to domestic trading in credits under its mitigation programmes, the G5 declaration has refrained from emphasising the inadequacy of market mechanisms and rejecting the idea of sectoral norms. Considering that the G5 declaration was issued a day before such a position could have pre-empted the G8 statement in this regard. The MEF declaration to which G5 is a party, in fact, has gone further to actually endorse this faulty premise. It says: Financing to address climate change will derive from multiple sources, including public and private funds and carbon markets (emphasis added).

There is also an element of contradiction in the various declarations from the perspective of the developing countries. Take for instance the burden sharing principle of the UNFCCC (Art. 4.7), namely access to and transfer of low-carbon and other renewable technologies, financing and capacity building. While the G5 declaration has stressed this, there is no firm commitment in this regard in the declarations involving the G8. More importantly, in none of the declarations to which the G5 is a party, including the G5 Declaration on Trade, has the key issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), which has proved to be the key barrier to the availability and transfer of technologies relevant to climate change, has been flagged. On the contrary, the G8 declaration says: [W]e stress the role of an efficient system of IPRs to foster innovation.

While, surprisingly, the MEF declaration does not refer to the WTO, both the G5 and the G8+G5 declarations have endorsed the WTO regime and reaffirmed their commitment to maintain and promote open markets and reject all protectionist measures in trade and investment that are incongruous to the WTO. This would, in particular, imply acceptance of the TRIPS regime even for low-carbon and renewable energy technologies.

As regards the issue of financing mitigation measures in developing countries, the G5 declaration says: [W]e express our interest in continuing to consider proposal to establish international financing arrangements, including Mexicos Green Fund [MGF] proposal and to set financing goals so that developed countries will contribute a set percentage of their annual GDP, in addition to their contributions to ODA, among others, to ensure adequate, predictable and continuous financial resources …

But in the G8s response there are only platitudes. Its declaration, in particular, mentions the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Banks Climate Investment Funds as the only appropriate funding instruments. The MEF, on the other hand, has only agreed to further consider proposals for … international funding arrangements, including the MGF. In sum, therefore, the G8 Summit has delivered precious little on climate change for the developing countries even as the developed countries have hailed the consensus on the 2°C limit as a major achievement.

The G8 summit has delivered precious little on climate change for the developing countries even as the developed countries have hailed the consensus on the 2°C limit as a major achievement.

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