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Optimism, concern and uncertainty flow from G8 climate deal

By Anne Chaon (Agence France Press) - June 8, 2007

The G8 deal on global warming has prompted hopes that the perilous deadlock on climate change can be broken at last, but mingled with them are lingering doubts and uncertainty.

The Group of Eight (G8) summit in this German seaside resort on Thursday committed itself to the vague goal of “substantial” cuts in global carbon emissions and vowed to “seriously consider” Europe’s aim of halving this pollution by 2050.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted the accord fell short of her vision of an agreement for a 50-percent emissions cut and a maximum temperature rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but she nevertheless hailed it as a success.

For green groups, the deal was mainly toothless and their familiar demon, US President George W. Bush, was to blame.

Other opinion, though, is more nuanced.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told AFP the most important development had nothing to do with the squabble over specified targets.

Instead, he pointed to part of the summit declaration that could breathe life into the flagging effort to build a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the UNFCCC treaty for cutting greenhouse gases.

The declaration is “everything I had hoped for,” he said.

“It very clearly calls for a launch of negotiations in Bali in December of this year, it calls for conclusion of negotiations in 2009 in order to have a post-2012 climate change regime in place under the auspices of the UN,” de Boer said.

“Very recently, (Washington) indicated that it was too early, it was premature to begin negotiations on a post-2012 climate change regime, so that’s a very clear shift.”

The post-Kyoto process has been badly damaged by the US abandonment of Kyoto and its future clouded further last week when Bush unveiled his own emissions initiative, gathering the world’s major polluters.

Kyoto’s champions denounced this as a ploy aimed at subverting the UN process and promoting worthless voluntary emissions cuts rather than the mandatory cuts which are the cornerstone of the present treaty.

By agreeing in Heiligendamm that the US initiative was only part of a “dialogue” that would be part of the UNFCCC arena, Bush has defused any such threat, said de Boer.

The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Claude Mandil, said Bush had won points because of his insistence that major developing economies such as India and China, which are now becoming massive polluters in their own right, must be drawn more tightly into the emissions-cutting fold.

“The American position is the right one because the negotiations must include everyone,” Mandil told AFP.

But in many respects, the Kyoto conundrum is still a circle waiting to be squared.

The next step will be to see how the big emerging economies react to what has happened at the rich nations’ club.

They may be reassured by the commitment to the UNFCCC process, as the UN arena offers stronger guarantees of access to clean technology and to funds to cope with the impacts of climate change than any smaller, voluntary forum.

But there is no sign yet that they will join rich countries in making pledges of targeted emissions cuts, which is one of Bush’s main objections to the present Kyoto format.

Indeed, Chinese President Hu Jintao set down a marker before he joined the G8 nations for talks on Friday, saying industrialised countries bore historic responsibility for global warming and had more capacity for dealing with its outcome.

“We should urge developed countries to meet their commitments and provide more assistance for developing countries, write off or reduce their debts and increase investment in and technology transfer to them,” Hu said.