Obama and G-8 leaders agree on climate target
L’AQUILA, Italy – President Barack Obama joined other leaders of the industrialized world Wednesday in backing new targets for battling global warming. But the wealthy nations were unable to persuade leaders of developing countries to commit to reductions of their own, and their cooperation is critical to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
White House officials confirmed that Obama agreed to language supporting a goal of keeping the world’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The agreement by the Group of Eight industrialized nations, meeting in Italy, marks a significant step in efforts to limit greenhouse gases blamed for the world’s rising temperature. The G-8 previously had not been able to agree on that temperature limit as a political goal.
It remains only a target, however, and it is far from clear that it will be met, especially as China, India and other rapidly industrializing nations generate and consume more energy from coal and other sources.
Climate change experts say the 2-degree threshold wouldn’t eliminate the risk of runaway climate change but would reduce it. Even a slight increase in average temperatures could wreak havoc on farmers around the globe, as seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields, scientists say. The G-8 leaders also agreed to a goal of having industrialized nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. It would be part of a worldwide goal of a 50 percent cut in such gases from all nations, rich and poor.
James Connaughton, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush, said the G8 agreement goes a step further than a deal struck at a meeting last year in Japan by assigning a specific goal to industrialized nations. Developing countries back then balked at agreeing to a 50 percent worldwide reduction come 2050.
“This would appear to be a good-faith attempt to assure the developing countries that the developed countries will bear a greater proportion of the task,” Connaughton said in an interview. White House adviser Mike Froman said the administration supports the new nonbinding goals. He said the starting point for the targeted reduction could be as early as 1990.
However, the two goals will not be included in a declaration from a broader group that includes poor and developing nations that are wary about the potential impact of such reductions on emerging economies, Froman said. Administration officials said they were hopeful of bringing along the developing nations in coming months.
Opponents say such sharp reductions in carbon emissions would hamper businesses and industries.
The Department of Energy in 2008 completed a study for the Bush White House in 2008 that showed if industrialized countries slashed their emissions by 80 percent, that would require developing countries to cut their future emissions by 65 percent to meet the worldwide target.
G-8 leaders also agreed that the global economy is too shaky to begin rolling back massive fiscal stimulus plans right now.
The leaders said in a statement that they “note some signs of stabilization” but continued to stress the difficult outlook instead of concerns over debt and high spending.
“The economic situation remains uncertain and significant risks remain to economic and financial stability,” their statement read. “We will take, individually and collectively, the necessary steps to return the global economy to a strong, stable and sustainable growth path.”
The leaders did commit to prepare exit strategies from the “unprecedented and concerted action” that has been taken to boost growth through government spending, low interest rates, and expansive monetary policy. Germany, worried about running up crippling debt, has pressed for spending restraint, while other major economies like Britain, Japan and the United States can’t rule out the need to pump in more money.
The measures include continuing the countries’ stimulus packages while keeping inflation under control, a particular German concern, while also ensuring that banks have enough cash to keep lending.
In the meantime, the nations will prepare exit strategies, with the help of the International Monetary Fund, which will vary from country to country as the measures themselves have, the draft said.
The leaders gathered Wednesday in the quake-devastated central Italian city of L’Aquila. Over dinner, they planned to turn their attention to world security issues ranging from Iran to North Korea.
Italian host Premier Silvio Berlusconi, welcomed the leaders, many of whom arrived at the summit in electric cars bearing their nation’s flag. Obama strolled into the summit site for the first G-8 meeting of his presidency.
The abrupt return home of Chinese President Hu Jintao after ethnic tensions soared in China’s western Xingjiang territory could weaken trust-building discussions on making further progress on climate change.
China is among five developing market economies — along with Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa — who are participating in the summit for the fifth straight year, joining the talks on Thursday to discuss bringing them on board, aid and development. Also joining are nine African nations and a forum on climate change. The summit also will include a discussion on ways to expand the Group of Eight even further amid growing sentiment that world’s most-industrialized nations can no longer claim leadership on the global political and economic agenda.
Obama signed an $787 billion economic stimulus bill in February, but experts say only about 15 percent of that has made its way into the economy so far — creating a debate between the wait-and-see camp and economists who urge another stimulus, arguing the recession proved to be deeper and more devastating than originally believed. The document also calls for a rapid conclusion to the stalled Doha trade round, but failed to set a deadline. G-8 leaders will discuss this with other leaders tomorrow, the statement said.