World leaders from the G8 group of nations attend a round-table discussion during their summit in L’Aquila, Italy. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Barack Obama said today there was still time to overcome cynicism and close the gap with developing powers on climate change, after slow progress towards an agreement on how to cut carbon emissions across the planet.
World leaders are racing to meet a deadline of December when the UN climate talks in Copenhagen are due to conclude a crucial deal designed to set a carbon cutting framework to cover 2012-2050. At a meeting in L’Aquila, the G5 group of emerging economies – Brazil, India, China, Mexico and South Africa – refused to back a specific target for developing countries to cut emissions.
In a small step forward yesterday 17 industrialised and developing countries, which account for about 80% of global emissions, agreed to set an aspiration that world temperatures should not rise by more than 2C on pre-industrial levels. It is the first time India, China and the US have agreed to such a goal.
Obama said: “We have made a good start, but I am the first to admit that progress is not going to be easy … every nation in this planet is at risk, but just as more than one nation is responsible for climate change no one nation can solve it alone.
“Developing nations want to make sure they do not have to sacrifice their aspirations for development and higher living standards, yet with most of the projected growth in emissions coming from these countries their active participation is a prerequisite to a solution.
“Developed countries like mine have a historic responsibility to take the lead with our much larger carbon footprint per capita. I know that in the past the US has sometimes failed to meet its responsibilities so let me make it clear those days are over.”
Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said: “Now we have the 2C goal, that can act as a yardstick to drive up ambition, which is what we need to do over the next six months.”
But Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, criticised all sides for not being more ambitious. The world had to agree a long-term target, a cut of at least 50% by 2050, he said. “But more importantly, the leaders of industrialised countries should agree on a mid-term target.”
On Wednesday the G8 industrialised nations committed to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050, the first time the US, Canada and Russia had agreed to such an ambitious target. But the G8 balked at setting interim targets for 2020, partly because of Obama’s belief that he would undermine support in the US Congress for his climate change bill if he went for tough short term targets.
Obama hit another obstacle yesterday when Democratic leaders in the Senate, under criticism from Republicans for trying to rush through sweeping reforms, abandoned plans to produce a first draft of the bill before the summer recess in August.