Half Measures On Climate Action

President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference at the end of the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, Friday, July 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Kim Carstensen heads the Global Climate Initiative at WWF International

The most exciting thing about this week's G8 meeting in l'Aquila in the hot and sunny mountains of Italy was that it managed to say something new and important.

Contrary to last year's summit in Japan, G8 leaders at this year's summit managed to produce two pieces of news on climate change: First they acknowledged the scientific view that global temperature increases should be limited to two degrees Celsius. Secondly they agreed that the developed countries should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 per cent or more by 2050. G8 leaders have never agreed on this before.

If the leaders are serious about what they agreed - and I wouldn't dream of suggesting that they are not - this sets a new, clear direction for the international efforts to combat climate change.

The reference to the science on 2 degrees limit indicates that science must be the basis for where we set our level of ambition on climate change. And the agreement to reduce emissions by 80 per cent in 2050 puts us into the right order of magnitude. WWF would like to see even higher ambitions that would further limit the disruption to our climate system, but this is an important new starting point, and it creates a common, global language on what we are aiming for.

And this was not limited to the developed countries in the G8. Thursday, the same agreement on limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees was also reached in the Major Economies Forum, meaning that developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa, are now part of this new, global language. Like all countries, they have felt the impacts of climate change and they do not want to miss the narrow window of opportunity available for limiting future damage. They agree on the ambition to limit warming to 2 degrees, and they know of course that there is no way that we can achieve it, without serious climate action on their part as well.

So all the important players agree what the game is we are playing. That's important! Why is it then that I'm only half excited?

My main concern is that the G8 leaders still haven't said much about how they will translate this long-term, principle agreement into the immediate action needed to fulfill the vision. As a group, they have not committed to anything near the level of emissions reductions needed in the short and mid-term. And they have presented very few ideas on what funding they are going to contribute to African countries and other developing countries for adaptation to climate change and for climate action and emissions reductions. What they are offering to the poorest countries in the world, is a little bit like a rich friend's postcard from a 5 star resort saying: I wish you were here.

However, in a surprise move on Thursday, President Obama presented an idea that may help resolve this issue. He got the heads of state at the Major
Economies forum to ask their Finance Minister, or Secretary of Treasury, to come up with ideas on finance for developing countries and to report back to the upcoming G20 meeting in Pittsburg in September. So now we have a process and a timeline that may help us break one of the major deadlocks in the global negotiations on climate change. All eyes will now be on Pittsburgh.

There was also some progress on technology, which is another of the key building blocks in the climate negotiations. The Major Economies Forum agreed to double public funding for research and development of green technologies. They also agreed to a series of country-led initiatives on specific technologies like solar power, smart grid, energy efficiency and advanced vehicles. By November, we will have proposals for roadmaps and action plans for these technologies, and if done well, they can become very important for a global climate agreement.

Progress is still not fast enough but the positive steps on long term vision and on finance and technology in the Major Economies Forum mean that an ambitious global climate deal in Copenhagen is still mission possible.

By Kim Carstensen
Special to