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G8 Summit Ends With Climate Agreement

George Bush, Dmitry Medvedev, and Angela Merkel at the G8 summit
As the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries wraps up on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, the leaders have achieved a new consensus on trying to cut greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by the year 2050.

The resolution was just one of the developments at a summit that covered wide-ranging issues from climate change to rising energy and food prices to the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

U.S. President George W. Bush summed up the progress of the three-day meeting upon its conclusion. "Our goal was to make progress in five key areas: confronting climate change, reinforcing our commitment to the successful Doha agreement, fighting disease in Africa, ensuring that the G8 nations are accountable for their commitments, and addressing the challenges of high food and energy prices. I am pleased to report that we have had significant success in all of them," Bush said.

But the summit may be remembered for just one thing -- as the moment when the world’s most powerful leaders finally reached a united position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The G8’s agreement on a goal of "50 by 2050," a 50 percent reduction by the year 2050, marks the first time that Washington has backed an explicit long-term target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As such, it represents a dramatic change for Bush, who for years downplayed the threat of global warming but in 2005 agreed that human activities are a major cause of climate change.

Yet the G8 resolution is still far from ending the many differences among the group’s members over how to proceed.

One unresolved issue is whether the 50 percent reduction by 2050 would use this year’s emission levels as the baseline for calculating reduction amounts. The issue is important because U.S. emissions, for example, are now 20 percent higher than they were in 1990, the baseline year set during the world’s last major push to deal with emissions -- the Kyoto Accord.

At the same time, European leaders continue to favor more immediate deadlines for reducing emissions than do their other G8 partners. The EU aims to cut its own emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Still, if differences remain among the G8 states, the resolution has landmark importance for also insisting that major developing countries be brought into any final global climate treaty. That is in response to Washington’s argument that China and India must accept emission caps if the United States does, despite all three countries’ previous refusal to do so.

Long-Term Goals

Five of the world’s fastest developing states met in Japan alongside the G8 meeting and issued their own declaration in response to the new G8 position.

The countries – China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa – pledged to work toward a “long-term global goal for emission reductions” but did not commit to any timetable. They also called on the G8 to offer them financial assistance to reduce emissions.

Many observers now hope that this week’s events will at least give new momentum to climate change negotiations after years of stagnation following the troubled Kyoto Accord. A next round of UN-led negotiations is scheduled to be held in Copenhagen next year.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed that hope in comments to reporters. "Countries today understand the danger of the current [climate] processes and they are beginning to move from general discussions about the need to address climate issues to making concrete decisions," Medvedev said. "Naturally, each country has its own situation and its own economic development. Nevertheless, this subject did not leave anyone indifferent today."

Beyond climate change, the G8 summit also discussed rising energy and food prices. The G8 leaders noted in their summit resolution that “we are determined to continuously take appropriate actions, individually and collectively, to ensure stability and growth in our economies and globally.” The statement gave no specific details.

The summit also addressed the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has reconfirmed himself in office following a vote that the UN has refused to recognize.

The G8 summit resolution stated that “we do not accept the legitimacy of any government that does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.” The G8 leaders also promised to take “further steps” including financial and other measures “against those individuals responsible for the violence” in Zimbabwe.

Compiled from agency reports