Published online 9 July 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.947


Developing nations reject G8 climate agreement

Moving targets dog greenhouse-gas deal.

Developing nations led by China and India have rejected a proposal by G8 (Group of Eight) leaders to tackle climate change.

The plan, outlined at this week’s G8 meeting in Toyako on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, would see greenhouse-gas emissions cut by 50% by 2050.

Factory in OhioG8 nations are jointly responsible for 62% of global greenhouse gas emissionsPunchstock

The G8 leaders, representing most of the world’s biggest economies, insist that the proposal is a success. Speaking in Japan, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was the “first summit where a target for carbon reduction has been agreed by every member”, and called it a “major step forward”.

But in a statement issued yesterday, Mexico, Brazil, China, India and South Africa insisted that G8 nations, jointly responsible for 62% of global emissions, should cut their own emissions by more than 80% by 2050. Clearer, near-term goals are also a must if developing nations are to sign up to a global deal, they added.

“This seems to be a reasonable expectation on the part of emerging economies such as China and India,” says climate scientist Martin Parry, co-chair of the most recent assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The G8 plan has also been widely criticized for ducking the issue of whether the intended 50% cut is legally binding, and how it would be shared between rich and poor nations.

Shifting goalposts

The G8 was even ambiguous on how much carbon it actually intends to cut. “The 2050 goal is surrounded by a considerable lack of clarity”, says United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer.

Under the Kyoto Protocol (the existing international treaty on climate change), the targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions are judged against a historical baseline of levels in 1990. But at a press conference in Hokkaido today, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said, “Our view is 50% of the current situation, and this hasn’t changed.”

Emissions have risen from about 40 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (or its equivalents) released per annum in 1990 to current levels of about 55 gigatonnes, making the baseline year a crucial factor in the extent to which efforts will succeed in averting dangerous climate change.

“Politicians can play all of the numbers games they want but the atmosphere doesn’t care about percentage reductions. It cares about absolute emissions,” says Alden Meyer, environmental expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit group based in Washington DC.

Clean technology boost

During the 3-day meeting in Toyako, G8 leaders also pledged US$117 billion of private and public money to fund clean technology in developing countries through climate investment funds to be administered by the World Bank. The summit also supported deployment of large-scale projects to demonstrate the feasibility of carbon capture and storage, committing $10 billion annually in government funded research and development "over the next several years".

Despite the lack of clarity on targets, hopes remain high for reaching a global deal by the end of 2009, when the world must agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. “G8 nations are committed, developing nations are committed,” says de Boer. “We’re hoping that the landscape will shift dramatically next year when there is another US president. I think we can get it done with enough political will and trust among major countries,” adds Meyer. 

For the latest from the G8 meeting, visit

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