G8 Agree on 50% GHG Reduction Goal

At the close of the 2008 G8 Summit on July 9, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the leaders of eight of the world’s leading economic powers had made substantive progress on several critical economic, political, and environmental issues.

“There is a new consensus on climate change,” Harper said. “The United States and Russia have joined with us this year, and now all G8 countries agree on the goal of a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Moreover, G8 leaders have also accepted our longstanding argument that the post-2012 global climate change framework must include all major emitters.”

G8 leaders also participated in the Major Economies Meeting which allowed for a constructive discussion between major developed and developing economies that will help lay the groundwork for a post-2012 global framework on climate change.

The Toyako, Japan, Summit also addressed aid for Africa, energy security, and food aid.

What climate change progress has been made?

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released a report examining the progress of each of the G8 countries toward addressing climate change.

The report, "G8 Climate Scorecards 2008," shows the United States can make substantial progress on the climate front by improving energy efficiency and increasing research and development funding for energy programs.

The scorecards report ranks the G8 countries – United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Russia – on quantitative indicators such as emissions trends since 1990 and progress toward each country's emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol. The report evaluates performance in three specific policy areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and development of carbon markets. It also examines the climate and energy policies of five emerging economies: China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa.

The United States receives the lowest ranking, just below Canada and Russia, while the United Kingdom ranks highest, with France and Germany in second- and third-place, respectively. The scorecards report was prepared by Ecofys, an independent consulting firm, and was commissioned by WWF and Allianz SE, an international financial services provider.

"It's still not too late for the current administration to take meaningful action on climate change," said Richard Moss, Ph.D., vice president for climate change at WWF. "This report illuminates a path toward greatly reduced emissions following the administration's own stated goals of improving energy efficiency and ramping up investment in the research and development of new, clean, low carbon energy technologies. These are areas where the administration itself has indicated a need for faster progress. But by its own admission, the administration has lagged on these two fronts."

While the U.S. lags far behind many of its allies in reducing emissions, it has made notable advances. Last year, President George W. Bush signed into law legislation that will require vehicles sold in the United States to be more fuel efficient and issued an executive order directing federal agencies to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. Congress has created new programs to promote the development of low-carbon energy options and has begun a serious debate on climate change legislation while the two leading candidates for president, Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both support strong national climate change legislation.

At the same time, many state and local governments have been showing strong leadership. Many U.S. cities and states have adopted emissions reduction targets and many state governments have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require a certain amount of the state's electricity to be generated from low-carbon energy sources. Several states have also formed regional carbon trading compacts that demonstrate, on a smaller scale, the potential of a national cap-and-trade program.

Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, though, will require national legislation that puts a price on carbon and an international treaty that will create a framework for reducing global emissions, Moss said. "The next administration will need to move swiftly on passing domestic legislation and negotiating a new global treaty. The current administration can support those efforts by investing in energy efficiency and energy R&D, which will greatly reduce emissions and at the same time strengthen our economy by spurring new innovation and creating green collar jobs."

Each Country's Scorecard

1. United Kingdom – The UK's emissions already register below its Kyoto target, largely due to a transition from coal to gas in the 1990s. The decrease in emissions, though, has leveled off since 2000 and emissions are expected to rise further. The strong national climate debate has led to innovative national policies although improvements should still be made in transportation and building energy efficiency.

2. France – Emissions rates in France are relatively low for an industrialized country, partially due to a high share of nuclear energy. Emissions have been roughly stable since 1990. France's ambitious long-term emissions targets still need to be implemented. France could strengthen its efforts in the building and transportation sectors and pursue a more ambitious program in the electricity sector.

3. Germany – Germany's emissions declined from 1990 to 2000, partly due to the economic downturn in East Germany but also due to national policies. Emissions have since stabilized. Germany earns the highest score of the G8 countries on renewable energy. However, the country's electricity sector is still quite dependent on coal and lignite. If no immediate measures are implemented, the country is expected to miss its Kyoto target.

4. Italy – Italy's emissions have increased steadily and are well above its Kyoto target. However, the country has implemented a few key measures that have begun reducing emissions.

5. Japan – Japan has relatively low emissions compared to the average of industrialized nations, largely due to high energy efficiency and its use of nuclear power. However, absolute emissions are increasing, and no mandatory emissions reduction mechanisms are in place. The lack of such policies has led to Japan's relatively low ranking.

6. Russia – Russia ranks above the United States and Canada because of declining absolute emissions in the early 1990s and a large share of natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than coal. Since 1999, emissions have increased steadily, and there are few policies in place to curb them.

7. Canada – Canada has very high per capita emissions and its trend in total emissions is steadily increasing. A plan to curb emissions has been developed but has yet to be implemented. Canada will miss its Kyoto target.

8. United States – The United States is the largest emitter among the G8 countries and has the highest per capita emissions rate of any nation. Its total emissions are rising, due to the country's heavy reliance on coal and oil. The United States has not ratified Kyoto and has not implemented national legislation to curb emissions. However, substantial progress has been taking place at the state level and the next administration will likely show much stronger leadership on climate change.

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