G8: What Was Achieved?
Climate change was on the agenda at last week's G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. The sound bites seem promising, but was anything really achieved? Will we get a replacement for Kyoto? Are America on board? Are the world's leaders taking bold action?
The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8), Stephen Harper (Canada), Nicolas Sarkozy (France), Angela Merkel (Germany), Romano Prodi (Italy), Shinzo Abe (Japan), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Tony Blair (United Kingdom) and George W. Bush (United States of America) met to discuss major international issues. The G8 represents about 65% of the world economy and about 45% of greenhouse gas emissions, so any consensus on the subject of climate change can potentially carry a great deal of weight.
On the face of it, very little appears to have been achieved in regards to climate change, apart from a loose promise to consider cutting greenhouse gasses, the promotion of energy efficiency and the reduction of deforestation. On the plus side, there does seem to be a consensus among the eight nations that emission cuts are needed.
A 38 page report entitled "Growth And Responsibility in the World Economy" was one of 14 reports published during the summit, of which 14 pages was dedicated to the subject of climate change. The full report can be downloaded in PDF format from the G8 Heiligendamm website (here) and the section on climate change can be read here.
No Promise to Cut Emissions
It is difficult to find any firm promises within the report to suggest that the G8 countries are collectively committing themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the heading of "Fighting Climate Change", the first paragraph appears to promise to "consider" reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
"We are therefore committed to taking strong and early action to tackle climate change in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Taking into account the scientific knowledge as represented in the recent IPCC reports, global greenhouse gas emissions must stop rising, followed by substantial global emission reductions. In setting a global goal for emissions reductions in the process we have agreed today involving all major emitters, 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."
Note that they do not give any details of what they mean by "strong" and "early" in the first sentence. Nor do they state the extent of climate change that they consider to be "dangerous anthropogenic interference". Many had hoped that the USA, Canada, Japan and Russia would agree with the European Union that a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperature should be considered the maximum safe level, but this does not appear to have been agreed within the G8.
George Bush On Board?
Probably the most significant development in the lead up to the G8 summit is the fact that George W. Bush now appears to have admitted that humans are contributing to climate change. In its joint statement, this appears to be something that all the G8 nations agree on, but it suggests that compulsory greenhouse gas emission cuts could be resisted in favor of continued economic growth:
"We firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy security. Tackling climate change is the shared responsibility of all, and can and must be undertaken in a way that supports growth, in developing, emerging and industrialised economies, while avoiding economic distortions."
Reducing and, eventually, halting deforestation, particularly in tropical regions, was suggested as a way to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions:
"We are determined to assist in reducing emissions from deforestation, especially in developing countries. Reducing, and in the long term halting deforestation provides a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and toward conserving biological diversity, promoting sustainable forest management and enhancing security of livelihoods."
However, with the surge in interest of biofuels, reducing deforestation might be a very difficult task.
The G8 appears to be keen on promoting energy efficiency measures:
"The global potential for saving energy is huge. According to the International Energy Agency, successfully implemented energy efficiency policies could contribute to 80% of avoided greenhouse gases while substantially increasing security of supply."
Out of all the topics listed to help avert serious climate change, this could be one that the G8 governments favor. Energy security may turn out to be a bigger motivating factor to decarbonise the global energy system than climate change, and improving energy efficiency is the cheapest way to do this.
The G8 members are clearly aware of the impact that transportation has, and will have, on climate. However, their vision appears to lack clear direction, with several oil-fuel replacements suggested as alternatives.
"Today there are 600 million motor vehicles around the globe, a figure which is projected to double by 2020. With this in mind, we will... work to increase energy efficiency in the transport sector. To this end we will ask our governments to foster a large number of possible measures and various instruments that can clearly reduce energy demand and CO2 emissions in the transport sector, including inter alia innovative engine concepts, alternative fuels, city planning measures, public transport, best possible inter-linkage of transport methods, increase the share of alternative fuels and energy carriers (biofuels, hydrogen, LPG/CNG, electricity, hybrid, etc.) in total fuel consumption; fuel diversification, for example synthetic and cellulosic biofuels and CO2-free hydrogen, particularly in combination with the fuel cell, will be decisive in reducing transport CO2 emissions, provided that second generation biofuel technologies become commercially available."
Again, improving the energy efficiency of existing carbon-based energy systems appears to be favored over investment in renewable energy sources:
"Over the next 25 years, fossil fuels will remain the world's dominant source of energy. Making power generation more efficient, climate friendly and sustainable is therefore crucial.
"Current innovations in power station design bear significant saving potential. Therefore, we will
- ·stimulate investments in high efficient power plants and grids and promote refurbishment of existing ones by an appropriate national policy framework. By this we aim to increase average power plant efficiencies in each of our countries.
- ·continue and expand national and international research and development efforts to further advance modern power station technologies, with the aim of achieving higher efficiency levels
- ·adopt instruments and measures to significantly increase the share of combined heat and power (CHP) in the generation of electricity."
Carbon capture and storage was the only new technology listed. This is of particular note as there is not a single working, commercial example of the technology anywhere in the world today.
"In recognition of the increasingly urgent needs to achieve longer term greenhouse gas abatement, we will work on accelerating development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS)"
The summit was largely described as a failure by environmental and scientific publications. Friends of the Earth stated on their website that, "G8 leaders meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany made some progress under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel but failed to commit to serious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions."
"G8 nations so far failed to take their historical responsibilities seriously and pay the ecological debt they owe to the people in poorer countries who are suffering from the consequences of the current unsustainable development model."
Greenpeace appear to have given the summit the most negative review. Greenpeace UK director John Sauven said:
"George Bush's final gift to Blair falls short of what was needed to protect the climate. An agreement without targets is barely worth the paper it's written on."
The Full Report
A full transcription of the part of the report relating to climate change, energy efficiency and energy security can be found on the next page. The full report can be downloaded from the G8 Heiligendamm website.
Photo Credit: German Federal Government/Gebhardt