U.S. Joins G-8 Plan To Halve Emissions

Top on the agenda for the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in Japan, North Korea's nuclear weapons program, soaring oil and food prices, and climate change.
By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

RUSUTSU, Japan, July 9 -- The United States for the first time joined the major industrialized countries Tuesday in committing to try to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. President Bush immediately began promoting the plan with skeptical developing country leaders who would be crucial to its success.

After months of negotiations, Bush agreed, along with other leaders of the Group of Eight countries gathered here, to a joint communique that declares the countries will "consider and adopt" reductions of at least 50 percent as part of a new U.N. treaty to be negotiated in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. The step was the most recent sign of a gradual shift in Bush's approach to combating global warming.

The leaders said they expect developing countries such as China and India, which are also major greenhouse-gas polluters, to promise "meaningful" actions to reduce emissions. That has been a key objective for Bush but could also be an obstacle for the plan: Those countries have said repeatedly that the industrialized world, as the biggest polluter, must take the lead and bear the greatest burden.

Bush and G-8 leaders met Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the heads of other developing countries, hoping to come to some kind of agreement on a joint way forward on climate change.

The 17 countries issued a statement calling global warming "one of the great global challenges of our time," and pledged to back a United Nations effort to conclude new climate pact by 2009. But deep differences between the two groups remain.

In addition to the 2050 pledge, the G-8 leaders also promised in the communique to make cuts in emissions in the "midterm," though they did not set specific numerical targets.

The communique's language drew the disapproval of many environmental groups, which said the targets were weak or ambiguous. They accused the summit leaders of not addressing fundamental differences among themselves on matters such as speed and method, resulting in a plan with little real meaning.

The G-8 leaders "have failed the world again," Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International's climate expert, said in a statement. "While the Arctic is melting, the G-8 are postponing action. Instead of climate protection, the world got nothing but flowery words."

The environmental minister of South Africa, one of several developing countries whose support on climate change is being courted, called the long-term goal an "empty slogan" and took a veiled shot at the United States. "We know very well that there are many countries in the G-8 grouping that share our ambitious expectations, and therefore it is regrettable that the lowest common denominator in the G-8 determined the level of ambition," said the minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Other people who follow the issue closely, including Europeans who have criticized Bush's approach, saw significance in the move by a president who came to office questioning the science and impact of climate change and, until now, had refused to commit to any numerical goal.

At the last G-8 summit, in Germany a year ago, the United States alone refused to adopt the 50 percent target. While the White House has since said Bush would accept binding midterm targets as long as the developing world went along, European officials called it important that he agreed to place the language in the G-8 communique.

"I think that President Bush has moved considerably over the past one to two years," said Jos Delbeke, a top environmental official at the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company