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by Julio Godoy

Bush Rejects Plan to set Limits on Greenhouse Gas

(IPS) -- The Group of Eight industrialized countries has decided to halve greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, but U.S. and Russian leaders weakened the breakthrough by issuing a major caveat.

Rather than agreeing to the goal itself, President Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin agreed to "consider" joining the other group members in the effort.

After discussing the reduction of emissions that contribute to climate change in the first session of the summit Thursday morning, the heads of government of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States said in a joint statement that they were committed to taking "strong and early action" to tackle global warming.

Although the host of the G-8 summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement "a good result," and "a step forward" on forestalling global warming, the deal has a big loophole.

Bush and Putin agreed only to "seriously consider the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050," according to the statement. "We commit to achieving these goals," the paper adds.

By so doing, both governments leave open a door to escape the principle of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2050.

The emissions target was set with the goal of restricting a global temperature increase to two Celsius degrees. This maximum rise has been estimated by the environmental scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the highest acceptable to avoid the most dangerous disruptions in the Earth's climate.

Worse still, as Chancellor Merkel admitted, "None of the [G-8] documents are binding." However, she added, "I can very well live with this compromise."

"In terms of targets, we agreed on clear language ... that recognizes that [rises in] carbon dioxide emissions must first be stopped and then followed by substantial reductions," Merkel said in a press conference, immediately after the first round of debates on Thursday.

The joint G-8 declaration says, "We take note of and are concerned about the recent IPCC reports, [which concluded] that global temperatures are rising, that this is caused largely by human activities and, in addition, that for increases in global average temperature, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems, e.g. water and food supply."

The half-hearted U.S. position on the agreement can be seen as a concession that Bush made to Merkel, who has been at the center of heavy criticism for what has been described as a na•ve preparation by her government for the three-day summit at this Baltic seaside resort.

Before the summit, the German government, which was in charge of setting the meeting's agenda, had announced that at Heiligendamm "Great importance will be attributed to the subject of energy efficiency. New impetus for global climate protection and common international efforts after 2012 will play an important role."

After it became clear that Washington would not accept a binding cap on greenhouse gas reductions, however, the German government tried to reduce expectations for the summit.

A classified public relations strategy, formulated by close aides to Merkel three weeks ago, said, "The German public opinion expects that the summit will be a success on environmental protection. ... The summit will be seen as a failure if no convincing results can be reached."

According to the paper, Chancellor Merkel went so far as to demand an effort to "reduce ... the expectations on environmental protection and energy efficiency," in the weeks prior to the summit.

In a way, Bush helped, both with his opposition to binding caps on emissions, and by announcing his own plan, which calls on the leading 15 emitters -- led by the United States, and including the giants of the developing world, such as China, and India -- to agree by the end of next year on cuts beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions expires.

Both positions have been widely interpreted as attempts to boycott an agreement at Heiligendamm.

However, under pressure, Bush has now at least publicly accepted that an international agreement to reduce emissions must be worked out under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and that this agreement must be a prolongation of the Kyoto Protocol.

So far, the U.S. government is the only G-8 member not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries, including major polluters China and India, are not included in the treaty's emissions reduction targets, while the industrialized countries agreed to reduce by the year 2012 their emissions by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels.

"We are deadly earnest about getting something done. The U.S. will be actively involved, if not taking the lead, in a post-Kyoto framework," Bush said in Heiligendamm.

Environmental experts believe that Bush is only agreeing to this ambiguous compromise in order to avoid further isolation and criticism. Tobias Muenchmeyer, climate change expert at the nongovernmental organization Greenpeace, said, "The target of reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2050 is crucial and must be maintained, or otherwise world temperatures will rise more than 2 Celsius degrees."

Friends of the Earth International climate change campaigner Yuri Onodera said, "We have already seen many empty promises by G-8 leaders over the past years but there has not been much real action, so we urge G-8 leaders to act now and cut their greenhouse gas emissions drastically and immediately."

"The U.S. administration, which continuously obstructed the fight against climate change, did not manage to prevent world leaders here from pledging that they will take multilateral action," he added. Onodera noted that G-8 countries, which represent just 13 percent of the world's population, are responsible for around 43 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Even Bush's closest ally, British Prime Minister Anthony Blair, conceded that it was unrealistic to expect precisely to achieve an agreement between the G-8 and the five strongest emerging economies -- Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa -- on that target.

"What you won't get, and there was never any question of this, here and now, amongst the G-8 plus the five strongest emerging developing countries, is the 50 percent," Blair admitted. "What's important is to get an agreement that there should be such a target, and that's the sort of ballpark we are talking about."

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place in Bali, Indonesia, in December. Leaders hope the convention will provide an opportunity to flesh out the vague agreement of Heiligendamm and to formulate an international binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol from 2012 onward.

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Albion Monitor   June 8, 2007   (

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