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World: Expert Sees Little New In G8 Climate Agreement

Are the targets Bush and Merkel set likely to be met? (official site) June 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel had high praise for the compromise agreement on climate change reached at the Group of Eight (G8) summit on June 7. But with no binding targets, and only a commitment to "seriously consider" future greenhouse-gas emissions cuts, does the deal amount to much? RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten asked David Stevenson, of the University of Edinburgh's Institute of Atmospheric And Environmental Science, for an expert's view.

RFE/RL: What's your assessment of the deal? Do you share Chancellor Angela Merkel's view that it is a "huge success?"

David Stevenson: It's a step in the right direction. But obviously, it could be seen as just hollow words if there isn't any real action.
"It's really quite crucial that the agreement has to be within a United Nations framework that is inclusive of everybody."

RFE/RL: One of the reasons Chancellor Merkel said she was happy about the deal is because, in her words, it means all the G8 countries -- including the United States -- have agreed to work within the UN framework for achieving emissions cuts beyond Kyoto. But U.S. President George W. Bush, with his proposal to convene a meeting of the world's top 15 global polluters, seemed to propose an alternate mechanism. Is it clear to you how the two processes would fit together?

Stevenson: It's certainly not clear to me. The obvious place to have these negotiations is within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is what set up the Kyoto Protocol. So it looks a little bit as if the Americans are trying to confuse the issue by trying to have bilateral agreements or external agreements to that. And it's really quite crucial that the agreement has to be within a United Nations framework that is inclusive of everybody.

What is the next step for the United Nations framework?

There's a meeting coming up in December [in Bali, Indonesia] that is the next meeting of the convention and that will be the place where we should start to set up the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. So really, that will be where hard targets have to be drawn from everybody, including the Americans and including the Chinese as well, of course.

RFE/RL: President Bush said at the G8 summit that any deal on reducing global carbon-dioxide emissions would make little sense without China, which was not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, but is now the world's second-largest carbon-dioxide producer. Do you agree and is there any way China could accept drastic emissions reductions in the near future?

Stevenson: One of the big issues, I think, is that the Chinese economy is growing massively and that is really on the basis of their manufacturing industries. So many of the things that we are using in the Western world are now manufactured in China for economic reasons -- because of their very much lower wages and so on. Now really the [carbon-dioxide] emissions that are producing those are in many ways the responsibility of the Western world because they're using the end-product. So again, that complicates how you draw up the agreement and in some ways it should be based perhaps on the end-product user rather than on the actual emissions.

RFE/RL: Germany and the EU are promoting a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 -- compared to 1990 levels. That is very dramatic. But reports say many European states are not even meeting their much more modest Kyoto commitment to reduce emissions by some 5 percent, by 2012. Is that true?

Stevenson: Very few countries in Europe are on target to meet their Kyoto commitments. Several of them, I think, are almost guaranteed not to meet them [even] if they really [take] some serious [steps] in the next two to three years. And even the countries that are likely to meet them, like Britain, are really only meeting them for alternative reasons, I would say, to a strong commitment to doing something about climate change. Britain is meeting its commitments mainly because over the last two decades it's essentially closed down the coal industry and is now using lots of gas for power generation. And that is slightly more efficient, in terms of [carbon-dioxide] production. And that was really a political decision about coal mines and energy use a long time ago.

RFE/RL: So is the 50 percent reduction target just a European political fantasy?

That target really comes from the climate science, which is saying that if you want to limit [carbon-dioxide] levels in the atmosphere to a point where you are likely to only get a warming of only 2 to 2.5 degrees, then you need these rapid cuts. Now it's a very different question as to whether they are achievable. They are achievable according to many scientists who have looked at how you can control emissions, but only really if you have ways of really dramatically changing human behavior and really target every sector that is emitting greenhouse gases, worldwide as well.

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