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Steve Howard

15 July 2005
Steve Howard

The 2005 Gleneagles summit placed climate change, along with Africa, at the head of the G8 agenda. With the 'group of eight' countries accounting for over 65% of global GDP and 47% of the world's {CO2} emissions - and with the additional presence of five leading developing countries taking this to nearly three quarters of global emissions - what its leaders had to say could not have been more important for global warming. Dr. Steve Howard, The Climate Group's CEO, gives his reaction to last week's events.

Was the G8 a success or failure for climate change?

Reporting on the summit's outcomes has been mixed and for good reason - there are two distinct realities for the issue. There is the scientific reality, which tells us that climate change is happening, that it is man-made and that urgent action is required to address it. This science dictates that governments should set aggressive targets and timetables for greenhouse gas emissions to peak and then decline in order to avoid dramatic changes to our climate. Undoubtedly, the G8 fell far short of progress measured against this reality.

But if we take a step back and consider the political reality, the Gleneagles outcome is perhaps not quite the failure that it has been portrayed as. We have a US administration which has made it a point of principle to reject the Kyoto Protocol and any other meaningful attempts to cap emissions. We also have Italy now 18% adrift of its Kyoto target and with tackling climate change far from the top of its President's to do list. Furthermore, the German government is fighting for its domestic survival and Russia reportedly only reluctantly ratified Kyoto in return for concessions on WTO membership. Given this reality, having the G8 leaders committing themselves to taking urgent action -albeit without concrete targets - was a significant achievement.

What do the discussions around climate change and the final communiqué signal to the wider political and business communities?

The G8, for the first time, invited to the table the major developing nations, and these nations made their own strong call to action in a parallel statement. This is an important development that needs to be built on over further summits and at other negotiations.

Beyond the gates of Gleneagles, businesses and their investors are becoming increasingly aware of the potential impacts of a changing climate and the need to constrain carbon pollution. Prime Minister Blair's January trip to Davos to address the world's major businesses kicked off a process which led to forty multi-nationals calling for targets and timetables for emissions reduction and regulations to back this up. What the business community needs now is the certainty of a policy framework for the future that they can work within.

Going forward, what should the role of the G8 be on this issue?

As the G8 process continues its dialogue through the year the group should look to the growing number of companies, local governments and other institutions that are cutting carbon emissions, saving money, increasing shareholder value and driving the new low-carbon economy at an impressive pace. For example, six companies - IBM, DuPont, BT (British Telecom), Alcan UK, NorskeCanada and Bayer - have each reduced emissions by at least 60% since the early 1990s, collectively saving more than US$4 billion in the process.

The US administration has made a reluctant step towards multilateral action. It could take some confidence from the positive action taking place by organisations across the US. California recently announced the most ambitious state-wide target yet - agreeing to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. Similar actions by states such as New York, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Connecticut have commanded widespread support from voters and corporate America. This week 50 US mayors from Seattle to Chicago are gathered in Salt Lake City to decide what they can do to tackle this issue. Cities and states are the laboratories of democracy. They are showing that decisive action is possible, and that moving towards a low carbon economy can create jobs and save money. In the same way, US companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Starbucks, Timberland, Duke Energy, General Electric and JP Morgan have also led by taking positive action on a national basis.

President Bush may take some persuading to move further from his current position. However, pressure on him to do so is entirely legitimate. If he were to change, it would be not just a positive move in the global interest, but one which reflected the rapidly-building consensus among the US public, policy and business communities.

The G8 dialogue on climate is just beginning. It could boost international negotiations - crucial since discussions over the follow-on to the Kyoto Protocol - which ends in 2012 - begin in Montreal later this year.

Tony Blair should be congratulated for his leadership in putting climate change at the top of the G8 agenda. We have a long way to go before the political and scientific realities mesh, but unless risks are taken and discussions like this take place now we will never get there.

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