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Analytical Studies

Hokkaido Analysis

Assessment of the
2008 G8's Climate Change Performance

John Kirton, Director, G8 Research Group
9 July 2008

On the centrepiece priority of climate change Toyako produced an A level performance. It affirmed a new set of norms that put in place alternative architecture for controlling carbon of far more prospective effectiveness than the fundamentally flawed and failed Kyoto regime. The G8 agreed that all major carbon polluters must control their carbon, that all G8 members, now including the United States and Russia would do so, and that their long term goal was a reduction of at least 50% of emissions by 2050. It declared that midterm targets and national plans were needed, and that the bottom-up sectoral approach pioneered by Japan was a useful tool. They boldly bound themselves to a far reaching midterm target, with the words: “…we acknowledged our leadership role and each of us will implement ambitious economy-wide mid-term goals in order to achieve absolute emissions reductions…” These bold directions and decisions were reinforced by several specific medium- and short-term actions. In the mid term, the summit identified energy efficiency, clean energy, national goals, renewable energy and clean coal by 2020, through the broad deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology by that time. In the short term it specified the aviation, maritime, sustainable biofuel sectors, a nuclear energy infrastructure initiative and 20 CCS demonstration plants by 2010.

To provide incentives for the other major carbon polluters to agree to and support this architecture and action plan, the G8 offered abundant finance and technology transfer, trade liberation, sinks, 3R measures and dialogue. On finance the G8 promised scaled up assistance support for disaster risk reduction, $10 billion in R&D with $6 billion so far for the Climate Investment Funds, more for the Global Environmental Facility and a reminder it was providing more than $100 billion by 2010 to the CEIF. On trade it offered free trade in carbon-reducing products, services and remanufactured goods. On sinks it supported REDD, legal logging, forest fire protection and biodiversity co-benefits.

The major developing countries responded, in partnership under the MEM, with just enough commitments on their part to put the new G8-pioneered architecture firmly in place. They said clearly “we will do more” and “will continue to improve our policies and our performance.” They further pledged to control their own carbon with the words “developing major economies will pursue … nationally appropriate mitigation actions … with a view to achieving a deviation from business as usual emissions.” They thus made a politically binding commitment to control their own carbon, just as the G8 had asked.

To give life to these commitments, the developing economies through the MEM declaration promised several actions that were highly compatible with the G8’s plan in both the short and medium term. In the short term up to 2012, they endorsed the sectoral approach and improving efficiency through it and promised to “improve significantly energy efficiency.” In the medium term they emphasized how sinks could help stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and identified deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires, forest governance and land use and its change. For the long term they supported a “shared vision” of co-operative action with a “global goal for emissions reductions.” They bluntly affirmed “deep cuts in global emissions will be necessary” and urged “serious consideration” of “ambitious IPCC scenarios.”

Most broadly the MEM endorsed an agenda that was highly compatible iwt that of the G8. There was a similar convergence on the basic principles in both. There were only three major differences: the MEM’s emphasis on the UN process; on financing, technology transfer and capacity building; a refusal to identify “at least 50% by 2050” as the long-term goal for themselves.

Amidst this major movement there were some missed opportunities in controlling climate change. First there was only a small step to endorse nuclear energy as a critical zero-emission source. Second, there was no effort to end the use of carbon-saturated coal, beyond the endorsement of the experimental, unproven technology of CCS. Third, there were no specific measures to stimulate renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro, although second-generation biofuels got a verbal boost. Fourth, energy conservation and the need to reduce received only a passing nod. Criticism came from some that G8 leaders were making their 50-2050 commitment from different base years, rather than the Europeans’ Kyoto favourite of 1990. This criticism had little merit. There was no scientific rationale for 1990. The increase in emissions between 1990 and 2008 was much smaller than the BAU increase in the 42 years from 2008 to 2050. The promise of “at least 50%” meant in Japan’s case a 60-80% reduction, with the additional cut more than compensating for the 1990 to 2008 change. And there was never any chance that the U.S. or O5 would accept 1990 as the new base year for themselves.

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