Environment Forum

Wagging the dog

July 11, 2008

The G5 is growing up.

Invited by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the 2005 Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles as diplomatic window dressing to show the global scope of climate change, Mexico, India, China, South Africa and Brazil were kept on the sidelines and told what they had agreed to after the event.

Two years later at Heiligendamm in Germany they got the same treatment, being invited into the main meeting and handed the final G8 plus five statement.

This year in Hokkaido, Japan, they finally bit back, calling themselves the G5, issuing their own statement and challenging their rich northern neighbours to do far more on tackling the global warming crisis.

Not only that, but the G5 has also agreed to hold its own regular meetings, carving out its own climate agenda and challenging the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Russia, Japan and Italy to do far more than agree the world should cut carbon emissions by 50 percent — from an undecided base year — by 2050.

“In the climate change perspective it is the last time that the G5 could be regarded as the G8′s former colonies whose interests are subjected or subservient to that of the rich countries. The G5 and the developing countries more and more will decide for themselves,” South African environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Friday on a brief stop-over in London on his way back from the summit.

“The G5 put forward a view on long-term commitments and targets and mid-term targets and a base year, 100 percent united on its proposal. On the other side you had the G8 bringing forward a very vague proposal that basically represents the lowest common denominator in their ranks — basically the U.S.

“With regard to climate change I have no doubt that this last week equalled the playing field between developed and developing countries,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk, an ardent environmental advocate and champion of the developing nations, said the rich world which had created the climate crisis had to cut carbon emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 and 80-95 percent by 2050 — a target that is in another universe from current G8 aspirations.

For their part the developing world would agree to commit to a relative cut in emissions by deviating below business-as-usual projections. That is far short of what the United States in particular has been calling for.

The next 18 months leading up to the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen which is supposed to decide a successor to the Kyoto Protocol should be a fascinating and probably bruising time in global climate diplomacy. The tail is starting to wag the dog.

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