HEILIGENDAMM, Germany: Leaders of the G8 nations agreed yesterday to pursue major cuts to dangerous greenhouse gas pollution and said they would seriously consider the goal of halving emissions by 2050.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the G8 presidency, said she was “very, very satisfied” with the agreement but acknowledged it was a compromise that fell short of her hopes for a binding deal.
“The very best we could achieve has been achieved,” Merkel said, adding that the accord paved the way for talks beginning in Bali in December to find a successor to the UN-backed Kyoto Protocol on capping carbon emissions that expires in 2012.
“Major step forward”
U.S. President George W. Bush had said from the start of the summit Wednesday that he would not accept any mandatory targets on curbing pollution that did not bring developing nations such as China and India on board.
Now, Merkel said the declaration showed there was now no doubt among the world’s biggest polluters about the link between carbon emissions and global warming and that they had committed to take action.
“What is of the greatest importance is that all of this will take place in the framework of a U.N. process,” she said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the pledge as a “major, major step forward” while new French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the accord marked “unexpected” progress in the fight against global warming.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed the “commitment to a multilateral process within the UN framework” and the UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, said U.S. willingness to now join the post-Kyoto process marked “a very clear shift.”
But environmental groups dismissed the pledge as hollow and blamed Bush for blocking mandatory limits on emissions.
“The deal is clearly not enough to prevent dangerous climate change,” said Daniel Mittler, climate policy advisor of Greenpeace, adding that G8 states needed to cut their emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 to avoid catastrophic global warming.
The final declaration laid out the goal of “strong and early action” to stop global greenhouse gas emissions from rising. This would be “followed by substantial global emissions reductions.”
“We will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050,” it said. “We commit to achieving these goals and invite the major emerging economies to join us in this endeavour.”
Merkel said the deal would allow national environmental ministers to begin negotiating immediately with the goal of wrapping up the U.N. talks on a post-Kyoto pact by the end of 2009.
“Now the way is clear for everyone to say we need such binding accords and these pledges cannot just be made by industrialised nations,” she said.
Getting developing nations onboard
Blair, attending his last G8 summit before he steps down this month, said that developing nations such as China and India, which were exempt from emission targets under Kyoto, were now called upon to join the process.
“The possibility is here… of getting a global deal on climate change with substantial cuts on emissions, with everyone in the deal, which is the only way that we’re going to get the radical action on the climate that we need,” he said.
Sarkozy, who backed Merkel’s goal for a binding agreement, said the deal was better than predicted by most in the run-up to the summit. “It is quite unexpected when you consider where we started.”
Merkel had piled the pressure on the United States, as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, to join a process to keep the planet from overheating.
Bush surprised many last week by offering a proposal in which the U.S. and up to 14 other big emitters would agree by the end of next year “a long-term global goal” for reducing greenhouse gases.
He sharply rejected accusations that Washington was doing nothing to tackle climate change, telling reporters that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions had declined in the last year despite the fact that the economy had grown.
“We are taking steps necessary to be good stewards of the environment and at the same time advance technologies,” he said.
The meeting of the G8 – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States – at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm ends today.