Fiona Harvey G8 agrees stiff emissions targets – but will the rest of the world?

Cuts of 80 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: it sounds like a lot, and it is. This was the target agreed by the G8 on Wednesday.

They also resolved to try to hold global temperature rises to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, which scientists regard as the limit of safety – the first time such a target has been formally adopted in a leading international forum.

The 80 per cent cuts will only apply to developed countries but the G8 wants the rest of the world to rally round and provide the extra cuts needed to ensure that global emissions fall by half by 2050.

That, at least, was the plan. But the major emerging economies aren’t playing along.

China and India are refusing sign up to the 50 per cent cuts by 2050.

They are meeting the G8 today as part of the Major Economies Forum. The MEF brings together 16 of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitting countries, along with the EU and Denmark, which is invited because it is the host of the Copenhagen conference in December at which (they hope) a successor to Kyoto protocol will be hammered out.

The idea is that the MEF will bring about more progress than has yet been managed at the UN because it will be a meeting of leaders, not the environment ministers who meet for the UN negotiations.

But it will feed into the UN negotiations.

China and India are not playing along because they want more concessions before they sign up to a global emissions target – even one as far away as 2050.

They want assurances on financing from the rich to the poor world to help pay for emissions cuts and for the measures needed to adapt to climate change.

And they want rich countries to agree more ambitious mid-term targets on emissions, of up to 40 per cent by 2020.

These concessions will not be forthcoming this week, and so the goal of halving of emissions by 2050 will have to be dropped from the MEF text.

People in the talks say China and India want to keep the prospect of signing up to a global emissions goal by 2050 as a bargaining chip, which they will not play until later in the talks.

But another reason is that they do not want to give away key concessions at such a forum. The G8 is a rich men’s club and the eight other countries making up the MEF are there as guests.

Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, said the developing countries which attended were made to feel that they were being asked to sit on “folding chairs”.

So China and India may well want to keep the real negotiations to a more conducive forum, the UN.

Emissions baseline fudge

One more interesting point re the G8 communique: the baseline for measuring emissions cuts. The document refers to cuts of 80 per cent in emissions by 2050 compared with emissions levels in “1990 or more recent years”.

“Or more recent years” indeed!

Well, if that isn’t a devious fudge, what is?

Related links:

What age will the G8 be in 2050? (FT Energy Source, 08/07/09)
G8 update: oil price and climate commitments both elusive (FT Energy Source, 08/07/09)
The climate change guide to the G8 (FT Energy Source, 06/07/09)
What’s my baseline? (FT Energy Source, 05/05/09)