G8 + 5 Environment Ministers Confer on Climate, Biodiversity

POTSDAM, Germany, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - The environment ministers of the eight leading industrialized countries, the G8, have wound up two days of consultation focused on ways to preserve biological diversity and combat climate change.

At the invitation of German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who chairs the G8 group this year, the environment ministers of the five major newly industrializing countries - China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa took part for the first time in this annual ministerial meeting.

The 13 ministers agreed on a "Potsdam Initiative" on biodiversity that would calculate the economic costs from dwindling species, said Gabriel.

The study would be like the Stern Review on climate change, Gabriel told a news conference tonight, referring to the report issued by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern last October that estimated the economic costs of global warming.


German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel is hosting this year's meeting of the G8 environment ministers. (Photo courtesy German Bundestag)
Minister Gabriel said, "The Potsdam meeting offers a great opportunity to make real progress for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. This group of participants brings together the generators of some two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions and the users of about three-quarters of the biological capacity of the Earth."

Improving understanding and trust between industrial nations and emerging economies is one of the goals of the meeting of G8 environment ministers.

Gabriel said, "No major decisions can be expected." The Potsdam meeting is designed to prepare the ground for decisions that will be taken at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm and at the Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Bali.

2007 is a decisive year for international climate protection as the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol is due to end in 2012. The ministers will discuss ways to launch comprehensive negotiations at the UN climate summit due to take place at the end of this year in Indonesia.

Breaking through a low-key security barrier, Greenpeace activists aboard the sailboat Beluga II and eight Zodiac inflatables sailed up the Havel river beside the Cecilienhof chateau where the ministers were meeting and unfurled banners demanding urgent action against global warming.


Greenpeace activists urge G8 climate action today at Potsdam. (Photo by Daniel Rosenthal courtesy Greenpeace Germany)
Joerg Feddern of Greenpeace Germany approached the chateau entrance where, under police escort, he sought to hand a petition to Gabriel.

"The prominent industrial nations are miles away from the obligatory Kyoto goals," said Feddern. "If something does not happen fast, we are steering directly into climatic disaster."

During the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, German Chancellor Angela Merkel aims to get the G8 to adopt an ambitious climate protection agreement. This is seen as a precondition for further international negotiations on a post-2012 climate regime.

Minister Gabriel said, "The international climate negotiations urgently need fresh political impetus to cope with this task the task of the century. We engaged in frank debate in Potsdam on the obstacles which have impeded progress up to now and the avenues by which to remove them."

In 2002, the European Union has agreed to stem the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Three years before the set date, the international community remains far from that goal.

"If we want still to achieve the target we set ourselves, we will need to step up our efforts considerably," Gabriel said. "The G8 states have the greatest economic capacity and are the largest consumers of biological resources. They thus bear a special responsibility to safeguard our natural life-support systems by taking resolute action now."

In May 2008 Germany will host the next world summit on biodiversity. A priority goal is to generate much greater public awareness worldwide about the consequences of species loss.

The Environment Ministers Meeting is expected to agree upon joint initiatives in a range of fields conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, science, patterns of consumption and production, and financing.

Germany holds the G8 presidency this year along with the presidency of the European Union. The outcomes of the Environment Ministers Meeting will feed into preparations for the G8 summit of heads of state and government due to take place from June 6 to 8 in Heiligendamm, Germany.


British Environment Minister David Miliband (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The United Kingdom and South Africa today agreed to jointly tackle key international sustainable development issues, including climate change.

UK Environment Secretary David Miliband and South African Environment Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus Van Schalkwyk signed a joint statement establishing the UK-South Africa High-Level Dialogue on Sustainable Development, including a Working Group on Climate Change.

The signing, which took place in Potsdam on the margins of the G8 Environment Ministers meeting, will lead to cooperation on a range of sustainable development issues, including climate change, environmental enforcement and mainstreaming sustainable development.

"None of us can solve the challenge of sustainable development alone," said Miliband. "We are all part of the problem and so we all need to be part of the solution. In particular, we need a shift towards a greener, lower carbon global economy."

The agreement aims to provide a framework for cross-governmental collaboration on both sides and for contacts between stakeholders in each country.

The South Africa pact completes the series of five partnerships the UK has built with emerging economies China, India, Brazil and Mexico to deliver international sustainable development commitments.

Initial collaboration includes a Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded water governance project, to be implemented by the England and Wales Environment Agency.

The project will improve access to water for the poor and disadvantaged to water resources, and represents a UK government commitment of over 200,000.

Van Schalkwyk

South African Environment Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Minister Van Schalkwyk said, "South Africa and the UK will use this joint working program as a platform for practical cooperation in order to advance our sustainable development and climate change policies and actions. The challenges are immense and this partnership will assist us to find and implement solutions."

"We are determined to use this platform to address sustainable development in all three of its dimensions: ecological, economic and social," Van Schalkwyk said.

The Working Group on Climate Change has already agreed to undertake joint research work on possible forms of long term global action on climate change.

The key themes in the UK-South Africa Sustainable Development Dialogue are:

Under the mainstreaming sustainable development theme, both governments may look at collaboration on natural resource protection and sustainable management, sustainable communities and engaging the private sector and financial institutions.

The G8 states are Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United States and Russia. For the first time in Potsdam, the world's major emerging economies, Brazil, Mexico, China, India and South Africa are at the negotiating table.