Agreement on climate pact steals G8 summit show

Discussions on the environment between the G8 nations were considered a success for agreeing to finalise the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Other environmental issues received short shrift at the conference of the richest seven nations and Russia in Trieste, Italy, from 2-4 March, as environment ministers finally agreed to broker an agreement on how to arrive at cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average 5.2% over 1990 levels by 2008-12 at talks in Bonn in July. Environmentalists and many governments had expressed doubt that commitment could be achieved, especially from the new US Administration of George W. Bush, who has questioned the existence of global warming, since a breakdown of talks at the COP6.

“We commit ourselves…to strive to reach agreement on outstanding political issues and to ensure in a cost-effective manner the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol,” said a joint statement from the G8 environment ministers. “A successful outcome at [Bonn] is necessary to allow early entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. For most countries this means no later than 2002.” At present, no G8 country has ratified the Kyoto agreement.

There was also movement on the key sticking point of COP6, the use of “flexible mechanisms” to arrive at emissions cuts. Whereas the European Union had insisted on a the vast majority of cuts to me made to domestic emissions, the G8’s United States, Canada, Japan and Russia had called for carbon ‘sinks’ in developing nations as count as national GHG emissions. “We commit to take the lead by strengthening and implementing national programmes and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” and “we confirm that the use of the Kyoto mechanisms will be supplemental to domestic actions,” the joint statement said, appearing to concede to EU wishes.

While the United States has still not said what its exact position is on global warming or on its agreed cuts of 7% of GHG emissions agreed at Kyoto, the nation’s representatives said it would not go back on its word. “The president has said global climate change is the greatest environmental challenge that we face and that we must recognise that and take steps to move forward,” the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christy Whitman, reportedly said.

Environmental groups were happy with the G8’s statements on Kyoto. “The position outlined by Whitman is at least a lot better than we could have expected listening to candidate Bush,” said Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. “There are still going to be forces in the administration that will want to gut the whole [Kyoto agreement]… but the optimist in me says there is reason to be positive.”

“The bridge has been built amongst the world’s greatest polluters to pave the way for the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol this summer,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF’s Climate Change Campaign. “Ministers have sent a clear message that they hear the warnings of scientists and are ready to act”.

However many continue to express doubt over how the G8 can adhere to its Kyoto commitments when Canada , Australia, and even the EU appear to be so far off their target cuts in GHGs.

The Kyoto announcement also overshadowed discussion of other environmental issues. Friends of the Earth staged a protest over what it calls the failed G8 policy on failure to decommission nuclear power plants in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the role of the much criticised export credit agencies (ECAs), accused of backing environmentally unfriendly projects, was mentioned at Trieste, but decisions were put off until a full G8 summit in Genoa in July. The G8 also said that its task force of senior business people looking at ways of boosting renewable energies will report its findings in Genoa.

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