Debate: what would you tell the G8?

As world leaders meet in Japan, scientists, business leaders and campaign groups are calling on governments to urgently address climate change. What practical measures would you ask the major economies to take? Sam Geall begins the debate.

All eyes are on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, this week as leaders from the world’s major industrialised countries take part in a summit at which climate change will be high on the agenda.

Meeting in Germany last year, the Group of Eight (G8) leaders – from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – agreed to “seriously consider” a goal of halving global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. They also committed to negotiate a new international deal on slowing climate change beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

With these agreements in mind, the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon urged the G8 leaders last week to address the “triple crisis” of climate change, poverty and rising food prices at the meeting. But will they hear his call? And will the G8 listen to the appeals of scientists, business leaders and environmentalists?

Green groups say the world’s leading economies are lagging in their progress on climate change. None are on target to reduce their emissions enough to avoid an unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change, a recent report from WWF and financial services company Allianz warned. Even the United Kingdom – the G8 country the report ranked first for its progress on climate change – was criticised for its very small share of renewable energy and unambitious targets on emissions reduction.

So, what can the leading economies do to address an increasingly urgent global threat? Last week almost 100 heads of major companies released a set of suggestions. In the CEO Climate Policy Recommendations to G8 Leaders a group of business leaders call for a new global deal built on the foundations of the Kyoto Protocol. They urge a pragmatic and market-oriented approach based on clear international commitments and sectoral agreements. Rich countries will have to take the lead and demonstrate strong cuts in emissions, they say, proposing a policy framework that includes a renewed emphasis on adaptation and technology transfer to developing countries.

The CEOs say:

“A market for carbon is necessary but not sufficient to promote the rapid development, demonstration and wide deployment of clean technologies. While emissions and other mitigation commitments will help draw low-carbon technologies into the marketplace, other policy measures are also needed to stimulate markets, to ensure broader deployment of and equitable access to best available clean energy and GHG [greenhouse-gas] mitigation technologies, and to promote the development, deployment of new and close-to-market clean energy and GHG mitigation technologies. Such measures include:

  • Government procurement targets for clean technology, services and products
  • Rolling performance standards for services and products that can work with other policy measures to promote the turnover of old technologies
  • Removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers
  • Development of incentives to encourage wider uptake of clean energy technologies such as purchase power agreements, mandatory targets, removal of import duties, development of common standards and green certificates
  • International agreements to protect the rights of technology owners, in order to sustain and broaden investments in clean technology innovation
  • Support for international multi-industry and multi-research centre initiatives to undertake shared investigations into the new knowledge and breakthrough technologies we still need
  • Stronger public-private coordination and funding to help potentially transformational technologies to market, including partnerships for large-scale demonstration projects

It is not only business leaders who have appealed to the G8. A recent joint statement from scientists in the G8 countries and five leading emerging economies – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa – presented world leaders with a list of recommendations. One key suggestion from the group of major scientific academies, which included the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society in the UK, was the development and deployment of technology to bury greenhouse-gas emissions from coal burning power plants.

They write:

“The development of a low carbon society means not merely the replacement of energy sources with less carbon intensive ones, but energy conservation as well. Sustainable consumption requires fundamental changes in all sectors and levels of society, including energy-saving housing, low-carbon transportation and more efficient industrial processes.


The transition to a low carbon society requires: setting standards; designing economic instruments and promoting energy efficiency across all sectors; encouraging changes in individual behaviour; strengthening technology transfer to enable leapfrogging to cleaner and more efficient technologies; and investing strongly in carbon-removing technologies and low-carbon energy resources: nuclear power, solar energy, hydroelectricity and other renewable energy sources.


Technologies should be developed and deployed for carbon capture, storage and sequestration (CCS), particularly for emissions from coal which will continue to be a primary energy source for the next 50 years for power and other industrial processes. G8+5 economies can take the lead globally to further develop CCS technologies. This will involve governments and industry working collaboratively to develop the financial and regulatory conditions needed to move CCS forward and international coordination in the development of demonstration plants.

Given the time-lags inherent in the global energy system, actions need to be taken now to reach the desired target by 2050. Whilst the developed world should take the lead and encourage technology transfer and collaboration with developing world partners, it is also an issue where the developing and emerging economies can and must make a significant contribution.”

Environmentalists will no doubt agree that a low-carbon development path must be found. But not everyone will concur with the scientists’ proposed solutions. Take CCS, for example. It is still a largely untested technology and could prove a risky wager. So far, it appears to be prohibitively energy-intensive, and some campaigners even call it a dangerous distraction, instead favouring advances in renewable sources and greater energy efficiency.

On chinadialogue we’re asking: what would you say to the G8 leaders? What recommendations would you make to reduce the impacts and the extent of global warming? Which suggestions would you keep – and which would go straight in the bin? Leave your comments and suggestions on the forum.


Sam Geall is deputy editor of chinadialogue

Homepage photo by Richard Brand