KOBE — Environment ministers from the Group of Eight countries meeting Sunday in Kobe apparently sidestepped the major issue of setting midterm greenhouse-gas reduction targets for 2020 due to a divide between developing and industrialized countries over specific targets.
Scientists believe 2020 is a key deadline in avoiding a potentially disastrous rise in world temperatures.
“On a midterm target (for emissions), this is the most difficult issue. We can’t say we went much further than restating the positions of many countries so far,” said Jos Delbeke, deputy director general for environment of the European Commission.
On the second day of the three-day meet, the G8 environment chiefs and representatives from 10 major emitters outside the G8 framework, including China, India and Brazil, remained unable to bridge their differences over binding midterm targets.
Developing countries, many of which oppose a new environmental treaty that would commit them to specific reduction goals, called on developed countries to first take the lead and cut their own emissions by a substantial margin.
South Africa called on developed countries to follow the Fourth Assessment Report released last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which calls for global reductions of between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020. India and Brazil also stressed the importance of commitments by developed countries.
U.S. delegates, meanwhile, said if any midterm goal is set, it must be realistic.
Given the divide, participants in Kobe instead agreed that long-term goals for 2050 should be “aspirational, nonbinding and ambitious.”
Japanese officials apparently tried to put an emphasis on what was agreed, rather than what was not, saying there was understanding among the delegates that it was important to set long-term goals, and to reduce emissions by half by 2050 as Japan has proposed.
The agreement, which contrasts sharply with a concrete and substantial outcome demanded by environmental NGOs from around the world, will be reflected in a final declaration to be released Monday. In other words, the environment chiefs effectively shelved key decisions on midterm targets until the G8 leaders summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, in July.
Even Japan’s argument for the sectoral approach, where industries commit to reducing emissions by a certain amount, appeared somewhat watered down.
Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said the sectoral approach to cutting greenhouse gases is just one method that can be used when countries set their overall reduction goals.
“The sectoral approach is not a specific target for each sector. It is simply one barometer of measurement to be used when a country calculates its overall reduction target,” Kamoshita said.
His statement was made after some at the conference expressed concern and confusion over what Japan means by the sectoral approach.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in an interview Saturday evening with The Japan Times that it was unclear, exactly, what Tokyo has in mind with the approach.
At a news conference in the evening, de Boer said Japan had shown it was clear the sectoral approach was not a substitute for national targets.
“What (Kamoshita) clearly indicated today was that Japan is firmly committed to national targets. Japan sees sectoral analysis as a useful way of comparing the different countries,” de Boer said.
Japan is hoping to secure the agreement of the other G-8 environment ministers for a long-term goal on greenhouse gas emissions. The Cool Earth Initiative, announced by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
At Sunday morning’s session, Kamoshita sought the support from the other environment ministers for Fukuda’s more detailed followup plan, to be unveiled at the G-8 leaders summit in Hokkaido in July, that is expected to set even higher long-term emissions targets for developed countries.
Japan is currently discussing a proposal that would commit developed countries to reducing their emissions between 60 percent and 80 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.
But as host of this year’s G-8, Japan is also facing pressure at the Kobe meeting to take the lead in setting midterm reduction targets, which are far more controversial among both G-8 member countries and developing nations.
Kamoshita told delegates Sunday that when the G-8 leaders meet in Toyako, they should agree to push for emission reductions from all countries over the next 10 to 20 years.
“Developed countries should take the lead in emissions reductions, and identify their fair and equitable quantified national targets so that global greenhouse gas emissions would peak within the next 10 to 20 years,” he said.
Additional reporting by Shihoko Nagayama