G8 Countries Building Consensus on Addressing Climate Change

Washington – The leaders of major industrial countries are narrowing their differences on climate-change policy and moving toward a plan that eventually will set targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. government’s top environmental adviser.

“I think you're going to see a strong commitment of these leaders to a process for establishing a long-term goal, long-term vision for substantial reductions in greenhouse gases,” James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said.

Briefing reporters on the first day of the June 6-8 Group of Eight (G8) leaders’ meeting, Connaughton said industrialized countries have achieved a “remarkable” degree of consensus on a long-term strategy for addressing climate change but differ slightly on mid-term tactics.

He said that that the G8 leaders, meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany,  are poised to make a strong commitment on an “accelerated process” leading to a long-term plan for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists believe contribute to global climate change.

The G8 nations are the Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia.

Connaughton said the most likely outcome of G8 discussions will be an agreement on a way forward on global warming that would contribute to the broader U.N. effort on climate change. That agreement would address such issues as a post-Kyoto arrangement on greenhouse gas emissions and the participation of nations that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases in the process leading to the establishment of a long-term goal, he said. 

The Kyoto Protocol is an amendment to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases. The United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol due to concerns it could constrain economic growth and will achieve little because it does not include countries in the developing world such as China and India that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases.

Connaughton said the G8 countries have “slightly” different views on long-term goals of a global-warming mitigation strategy. But disagreements are limited to “one or two of the metrics,” he added, and “even there, there is a process that we’re putting in place to see if we can find common ground.”

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, supported by her European Union partners, has pushed the G8 to commit to limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius during the 21st century, according to news reports. This would require achieving, by 2050, a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels.

Connaughton said the United States “is not prepared to adopt that proposal” because it has not concluded a process to establish its own long-term reduction goal. Several climate-change bills proposed in the U.S. Senate differ on mid-term and long-term reduction goals as well as on measures designed to achieve them.

Expressing his bewilderment about media’s “fixation” on one point of disagreement among a hundred agreed targets in the weeks leading to the G8 summit, Connaughton said the media has missed the “unparalleled” commonalities between the United States and European Union have achieved in the past five years.

“You’re … losing the forest for one tree,” he told reporters.


As to mid-term plans to mitigate climate change, Connaughton said, the Bush administration believes such plans need to reflect individual nations’ characteristics and conditions because different countries have different strengths and opportunities to address global warming - “there is no one-size-fits-all to this.” However, national plans should establish paths to a common global strategy, Connaughton said.

He said discussions on a global, long-term strategy and related emission-reduction goals must involve large emerging market countries if such a strategy is to succeed. China, India, Brazil and South Africa are among the countries projected to be responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

Unless those countries agree to support a “collectively stated” goal, “all we’re going to be doing is moving greenhouse gases around the world,” Connaughton said. In such a scenario, energy-intensive, heavily emitting industries will move from the countries with binding emission limits to countries without such limits, he said.

President Bush has proposed to invite 10 to 15 of the nations with the largest quantities of emissions to discuss establishing a new international framework to address global climate change when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Under the Bush proposal, by the end of 2008, the countries would set a long-term global goal for reducing emissions. (See related article.)

Connaughton said the near-term, low-cost reductions in emissions in the developed world are important but are likely to become “inconsequential” in the long-term if major industrialized countries do not develop and share with developing nations clean technologies for power generation and transportation.

“Anything we do near-term on efficiency will be overwhelmed by the rise of the coal-based power generation in China and India” and other countries, he said.

Counnaughton said the United States favors an approach to global warming that would involve addressing emissions based on major industrial classifications with a significant involvement by the private sector and nongovernmental groups.

He said a similar strategy has been successful in addressing ozone depletion.

Under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, a 1987 international agreement to which the United States is a party, production and consumption of compounds that deplete ozone in the stratosphere - chlorofluorocarbons, halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform – has been nearly eliminated.

“I think you can expect the same kind of progress when we look at greenhouse gases,” he said.

A transcript of Connaughton’s remarks is available on the White House Web site.

For additional information on U.S. policies, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.