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G8 targets not ambitious enough

16 July 2009

Missed opportunities and half-measures marked a lack-lustre G8, comments Paul Cook of Tearfund, who attended it

In the frame: Pope Benedict greets President Obama during their private meeting at the Vatican, on Friday, after the G8 summit in L’Aquila REUTERS

In the frame: Pope Benedict greets President Obama during their private meeting at the Vatican, on Friday, after the G8 summit in L’Aquila REUTERS

IN A YEAR that could be the most significant we have ever seen for sealing an ambitious deal on climate change, those who work with the world’s poorest communities were hoping that the G8 would blaze a trail that would take us to December’s climate summit in Copenhagen in a strong position.

But despite glimmers of hope, this year’s G8 missed vital opportunities to tackle poverty and injustice.

The summit tackled a wide range of issues including the global eco­nomic crisis, food security, and poverty in Africa. World leaders pledged $20 billion to food security over the next three years.

Development agencies, including Tearfund, welcomed the move as a step in the right direction, as long as the money is in addition to that already committed to international aid. But they urged world leaders to dig deeper and commit $30 billion every year for at least the next five years. They argue that the additional money would help farmers to pro­duce and buy enough food without being jeopardised by droughts, floods, or spikes in food prices.

At the summit, the G8 and the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (a group of 17 countries that are responsible for 80 per cent of global carbon emissions) agreed that average global temperature rises should not exceed more than two degrees.

We saw the US clear the way for what Gordon Brown called a “historic agreement”: the recognition that rich countries should cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Advising caution when welcoming this announcement, Tearfund’s head of public policy, Laura Webster, said: “These laudable intentions are un­der­mined by a complete failure by G8 nations to put strong, scientific emissions-reductions targets on the table for 2020. These should be at least 40 per cent cuts on 1990 levels. Unless they are prepared to do so, any two-degree goal will be fatally under­mined.”

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, echoed this concern, saying that leaders had not gone far enough, and should also set carbon-emissions targets for the year 2020. He said that, while the G8 agreement was welcome, its leaders also needed to establish an ambitious mid-term target for emis­sions cuts.

But progress on much-needed fund­ing to enable developing coun­tries to respond to climate change — $150 billion a year, in addition to Overseas Development Assistance — simply did not happen.

World leaders did not sign up to a proposed Global Framework for Action to reverse the injustice that denies one in eight people clean water, and 2.5 billion people access to a decent lavatory.

Instead, we heard a vague reference to a plan of action by the end of the year. This was disappointing to agencies such as Tearfund, par­-ticularly because the Italian govern­ment had given assurances that it wanted to make water and sanitation a priority.

Next year, the G8 moves to Canada, where the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, recently described it as “an institution with a proven record of moving agendas forward, of drawing attention to overlooked issues, and, most importantly, of being able to mobilise resources to meet global challenges”.

I wish we could have seen more of these qualities this year, but, once again, it feels as though rich countries have made some token gestures, while poor countries have gone home empty-handed.


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