Kobe saw discussion but no accord

Environment chiefs do manage to take stand against plastic bags


KOBE — Group of Eight environment ministers held their weekend summit in Kobe hoping, in vain, to emerge with a strong commitment by developed nations to agree on greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2020.

They had also hoped their message would influence the July G8 summit in Hokkaido and provide momentum in the global quest to forge a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement by December 2009.

Instead, the ministers emerged with a document saying reducing the use of disposable plastic bags and other consumer products is a good idea.

“The purpose of the G8 environment ministers summit is not to negotiate agreements. The purpose is to provide a forum for discussion,” Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said at the beginning of the conference.

He added that he was happy the ministers agreed to a line in the chairman’s summary about efforts by Japan and other economies to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags.

The emphasis at the summit was to avoid delicate subjects like midterm emissions-reduction targets, said Scott Fulton, an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To that extent, focusing on gestures that are less grand and politically difficult may indeed be useful, a word used over and over again by those ministers disappointed at the outcome.

Plastic bags aside, the outcome was not without potentially positive outcomes on a larger scale, at least on the political and diplomatic fronts.

The long-term goal of at least halving global emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 received a degree of unprecedented support and was welcomed by all developed and developing countries present at the Kobe conference.

Scientifically, however, the decision looks less grand.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most prominent body of global warming experts, warned last year that developed countries should cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 80 percent and 95 percent by 2050 if they want to prevent a global warming catastrophe.

More significantly, perhaps, for Japan’s efforts to play a leading role in formulating a new climate change treaty is that for the first time it clarified its position to the international community on the sectoral approach.

Japan clearly stated that its idea of greenhouse gas reduction targets for different industrial sectors was not a substitute for nationally binding targets, as some feared, but instead one method of calculating what those national targets should be.

On midterm goals, the ministers noted the importance of concluding negotiations by December 2009 on a post-2012 framework in line with the Bali Action Plan, which, in the footnotes, recommends greenhouse gas reductions of between 25 percent and 40 percent for developed countries by 2020.

The ministers also called for effective midterm targets that take into account the IPCC findings.

For their part, the 2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO (nongovernmental organization) Forum, the umbrella organization for NGOs involved with the July G8 summit, gave the Kobe meeting mixed reviews.

They were disappointed that the ministers did not go further and include specific mention of the Bali targets, although they welcomed the general mention of the need for midterm targets.

It remains to be seen if the midterm targets in the Kobe statement, which marked the first time since the Bali conference that the G8 has officially mentioned such goals, will be agreed on by the leaders in Hokkaido.

Japan had to walk a fine line when drafting the language of the chairman’s summary, as the United States and other countries remain opposed to any midterm targets that do not include the major emitting economies.

As expected, the agenda item that proved the least controversial, and therefore the most welcomed by the G8 ministers, was the “3R” agenda of promoting reducing, reusing and recycling.

This includes eliminating the use of plastic bags, part of an overall effort to promote environmentally sound waste management techniques in both developed and developing countries.