Climate Change Key Issue for This Year's G8 Summit

WASHINGTON, DC, February 21, 2007 (ENS) - Senior legislators from the world's eight largest industrialized countries and five key emerging economies are shaping their policy statements on global warming in advance of this year's G8 Summit in June at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, Germany. Germany currently holds the Presidency of the G8 group of nations.

For two days last week, the lawmakers convened in the U.S. Congress for the Legislators Forum on Climate Change and Energy Security.

The forum was part of the G8+5 Climate Change Legislators Dialogue in which more than 80 legislators and government officials from the 20 largest energy consuming countries participated.

The participation of five emerging economies - China, India, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil - is important because they are some of the greatest greenhouse gas polluters, and their involvement in reducing emissions is crucial to success in limiting global warming.

They joined representatives of the G8 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Leaders from the private sector and civil society also joined the discussion, along with U.S. Senators and Representatives from both political parties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the forum, saying in a video message, "The impact of climate change affects industrialized countries and emerging economies to the same extent. Protecting our economic future through innovation, energy efficiency and renewable energies is a global challenge."


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo courtesy G8)
"There is, therefore, a good chance that we will finally find a common basis for global climate protection," the chancellor said. "I have made this one of the priorities of the German EU and G8 Presidencies."

"I'll be looking for fundamental answers on how we can prevent global warming of the Earth's atmosphere from rising more than 2C Celsius and how we can guarantee our energy supplies in the long term," she said.

The EU wants to limit global warming to no more than 2C above the temperature in pre-industrial times.

Beyond the 2C increase, scientists suggest there is a tipping point beyond which they predict catastrophic environmental and economic events such as the loss of 95 percent of coral reefs, irreversible damage to the worlds major forests, and sea level rise that threatens human life, property, and whole societies.

But the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released earlier this month warned that temperatures might rise far further.

Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.6C since the late 19th century, and about 0.3C over the past 25 years.

Chancellor Merkel said that at the upcoming G8 Summit she wants to highlight three elements of a climate strategy - a global and ambitious increase in energy efficiency, renewable energies and CO2-free power plants, and efficient economic incentives through a global carbon market.

The Legislators Forum on Climate Change ended Thursday with a statement endorsed by all participants and sent to Chancellor Merkel. They called for greenhouse gas emissions targets to be set by 2009 for the period after the current Kyoto Protocol targets expire in 2012.

The protocol is an international agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.

"In order to ensure that the long term goal is met," the Legislators Forum said in its statement, "we urge G8 and +5 governments when they meet at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, to agree on the key elements of a post-2012 framework and to urge that global negotiations on such a framework be launched at the Bali meeting of the UNFCCC in November, to be concluded by 2009."


The Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, where the G8 Summit will take place June 6 to 8, 2007 (Photo by Thomas Grundner courtesy G8)
All of the G8 countries, with the exception of the United States, are legally bound under the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change by an average of 5.2 percent by 2012. But no emissions targets have been agreed upon after that date.

The announcement by legislators from the top polluting countries in the world that negotiations for the next round of emission cuts should end no later than 2009 is a positive development in the battle to slow global warming, said the global conservation organization WWF.

"The EU should decide at its spring Council meeting March 89, 2007 to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020," WWF said.

That percentage is right on point with the intentions of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch.

Environment Commissionioner Stavros Dimas said today in a speech to the European Trade Union Confederation in Brussels, "In order to stay within the 2 degrees limit, the group of developed countries must reduce its emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and between 60 and 80 percent by 2050.

EU Environment Ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday adopted conclusions on the EUs objectives for the future of international climate change action. These stress the urgent need for a global agreement on emission reductions, so as to avoid any gap when the Kyoto Protocol targets expire in 2012.

The ministers supported a target of emissions cuts to 20 percent below their 1990 levels and said that could be pushed to 30 percent below 1990 levels if other industrial countries sign on to a global effort.

The key is the willingness of the +5 governments, some of the most populous and polluting countries in the world, to cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Legislators Forum said it expects the G8 and +5 governments to identify, at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, "a measurable long-term goal to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere."

"Our belief is that this goal should be to stabilize concentrations at a level between 450 and 550 parts per million of CO2 equivalent," they said, "while recognizing that meeting the EU's 2 degrees Celsius target would require stabilization at the lower end of this range."

"To achieve this goal we will need a combination of a binding UN framework signed up to by all the major economies, together with bilateral and multilateral partnerships, recognizing the responsibility of developed countries to lead," the legislators said.

Limiting greenhouse gas emissions now will be less costly than doing so later, the legislators acknowledged.

"The World Bank estimates that adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change will require an additional US$10-40 billion per year," the Forum statement says. "If we do not act now to reduce emissions, this figure will increase dramatically and there will be severe impacts on public health and the availability of critical resources, including water."

"Adaptation needs to be mainstreamed into development policies and should be linked to overseas development aid and supported by integrated financial mechanisms," the legislators said.

"Energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions," they said.


U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe says legislators must lead the response to climate change. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, is co-chair of the International Climate Change Taskforce. In her speech to the Legislators' Forum Snowe said, "I believe we are witnessing a sea-change in acceptance of the reality of global warming; the issue has intensified not only environmentally but also politically and, as such, has dramatically changed the prospect for passing climate change legislation substantially for the better."

"We have unquestionably reached scientific critical mass," Snowe said, "the question now is can we gather the political critical mass?"

For more information about the 2007 G8 Summit click here.