Wednesday, July 8, 2009

International Impasse

The countries at the G-8 summit in Italy and the members of the Major Economies Forum reaffirmed their commitments to mitigate climate change, it is clear that there are still substantial disagreements. The perception in the media is that these events were a failure, because of the disagreements, both within the G8 and within the MEF. Taking a longer view, however, it should be clear that today’s events were a significant step forward, with targets that are much more ambitious than anything thought possible earlier this year. Peter Baker, of the New York Times reports:

…negotiators for the world’s 17 leading polluters dropped a proposal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by midcentury, and emissions from the most advanced economies by 80 percent. But both the G-8 and the developing countries agreed to set a goal of stopping world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels.

However, negotiators did agree to limit temperature rises to fewer than 2 degrees Celsius. Bradford Plumber, at The New Republic has more. In addition to the impasse on emission targets, the negotiators failed to agree on what the baseline year for calculating emission targets is. The G-8 summit document states:

As part of this, we also support a goal of developed countries reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80% or more by 2050 compared to 1990 or more recent years. Consistent with this ambitious long-term objective, we will undertake robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions, taking into account that baselines may vary and that efforts need to be comparable. (italics mine)

By leaving open the option for the baseline year to be 1990 or any year after, then countries could cut their emissions percentage based off a year where their economies were strong. Russia, using 1990 as a baseline year for calculating carbon emissions under its new climate change plan, would actually increase emissions by 2.5% and still be 10-15% under its 1990 levels since its economy crashed in 1992. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the US House of Representatives just passed, uses 2005 as a base year for calculating emissions. Depending on the baseline year, the percentages of their emissions countries have to cut can vary. Failing to resolve this key dispute increases pressure on negotiators at Copenhagen this December and throws another roadblock to a consensus on cutting emissions.

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