11 July 2005

Most important move on the environment since Kyoto

The agreement at Gleneagles by China, India and other leading developing nations to start talking to the G8 countries about their greenhouse gas emissions is the most important step to counter climate change since the signing of the Kyoto protocol in December 1997.

It means the crucial problem of the large amounts of carbon dioxide these emergent economies will emit over the coming decades is at last being formally addressed by the world community. Until yesterday, it was not being addressed at all. It was a glaring and perilous hole in international climate policy.

Look beyond the loud protests of the environmental pressure groups at the outcome of the talks on climate. Protesting is their job, and an essential one; it drives the issue forward and ensures that governments can never relax.

But the failed agenda that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wide Fund for Nature and others were complaining of - that the US has still not agreed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions - was the green groups' own agenda, not the British Government's. Tony Blair never remotely saw this meeting as an occasion where George Bush would rejoin the Kyoto protocol.

He had three different ambitions, which, to a lesser or greater degree, were realised. There was a joint statement that the climate change threat was serious enough for countries to act to cut down their CO2 emissions (not nearly as strong as it might have been, but at least it was unanimous); a G8-wide programme for adopting clean energy technology; and the beginning of the dialogue with the leading developing nations.

The last one matters most. The great gap in the Kyoto treaty is that the developing nations are not obliged to adopt targets to cut their CO2 (as the industrialised countries are), although in 20 years they will be the biggest CO2 emitters.

The dialogue Mr Blair has engineered, to begin with a meeting in London in November, will not be talking about formal targets either; but it will talk about the technological advances that could help these countries continue their economic growth, with much reduced CO2 emissions.

Such a process is essential, as without it the CO2 cuts made by the G8 nations will be overwhelmed by Chinese and Indian emissions; and yesterday at Gleneagles it was set in motion. To describe that as a failure, you need to have a very unrealistic concept of what constitutes success.

Source: news.independent.co.uk


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