Bush signs G8 deal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

guardian.co.uk | George Bush today paved the way for his successor in the White House to strike an historic deal on climate change when he finally signed up to a G8 statement vowing “to consider and adopt” a target of at least a 50% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.


It is the first time Bush has committed the US to a long-term target, and represents a big shift in the US position as Barack Obama and John McCain fight for the presidency. But the deal, agreed at the G8 summit in northern Japan, was immediately rejected by the big five emerging economies, including China and India because they believe it does not go far enough.

Leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa will meet with Bush and other G8 leaders at the summit where they will demand more concerted action from the developed world.

In a statement tonight, the five nations, after meeting at a separate summit in Japan, said: “It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emission reductions.”

They want the G8 countries to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. They are also concerned that the deal fails to set milestone interim targets for the coming decades and does not make clear the scale of the cuts to be expected from the developed and developing world.

Mexico, Brazil, China, India and South Africa also urged all developed countries to commit themselves to absolute emission reductions based on a medium-term target of a 25% to 40% cut below 1990 levels by 2020.

The G8 is making an offer to provide up to $150bn (£76bn) in public and private investment over the next three years to help them grow economically while using green technology.

Despite the tough statement from the emerging economies, Gordon Brown said the deal marked “major progress” and British officials claimed the deal opened the way for agreement next year under UN auspices at Copenhagen on a new long-term framework on climate change, replacing the flawed agreement struck at Kyoto in 1997.

They pointed out that Obama was already committed to an 80% cut in US carbon emissions and McCain to a 60% reduction. Both candidates’ commitments would be sufficient to meet the US required contribution for a worldwide cut of 50%, seen as the minimum to avert catastrophic climate change.

Green groups slammed the deal, although they privately acknowledged that Bush has shifted his position substantially from a time when he denied the science of climate change.

Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner, Tom Picken, accused G8 leaders of an “elaborate smokescreen” to try to fool the world they were showing international leadership on global warming.

“Setting a vague target for 42 years’ time is utterly ineffectual in the fact of the global catastrophe we all face. Urgent action is needed to tackle climate change and spiralling energy prices caused by our addiction to increasingly expensive and insecure fossil fuels.”

The EU commission said any mention of mid-term goals was an advance from last year when the G8 agreed only to “seriously consider” a goal of halving emissions by mid-century.

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate change secretariat, said the G8 deal had positive elements, but warned: “What I find lacking is any kind of language on where industrialised nations, G8 nations, want their emissions to be in 2020 and I think that is critical to making progress in the negotiations.”

US sources said huge challenges remained including an agreed framework to measure carbon reductions, a mechanism to drive down carbon emissions such as an international carbon trading scheme, the scale of the contributions to be required from differing developing countries, and whether targets could be set on economic sectors instead of countries. Populous developing countries such as India claim their per capita emisisons are tiny in comparison with the US. Methods also have to be found to bring aviation and maritime emissions within the scheme.

British officials were pleased that there will also be a new push to set international benchmarks on biofuels, a move that could require US corn producers to scale back on production for biofuels.

Oxfam described the deal as little more than a stalling tactic. They claimed much of the money from the multilateral banks was simply transferred from aid programmes.

Environmental campaign group WWF said: “The G8 are responsible for 62% of the carbon dioxide accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere, which makes them the main culprit of climate change and the biggest part of the problem.”

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South African minister of environmental affairs and tourism, said: “As it is expressed in the G8 statement, the long term goal is an empty slogan. To be meaningful and credible, a long-term goal must have a base year, it must be underpinned by ambitious mid-term targets and actions.”