Breaking the Climate Deadlock

LONDON – On July 9, the leaders of the world’s largest economies will meet in L’Aquila, Italy, at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) to discuss progress towards a new global climate agreement. In six months, a deal is supposed to be struck in Copenhagen, so the MEF meeting comes at a vital moment. When many of the same leaders met in April to address the economic crisis, they rightly pledged to do “whatever is necessary.” The same spirit needs to animate the L’Aquila meeting.

There is enormous good will to do so. The new US administration is supporting strong American action. China is setting ambitious targets for reducing energy intensity and making massive investments in renewable energy. India has put forward its own action plan. Europe has set a goal of cutting emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 if there is an ambitious global agreement. Japan has published its proposals for major carbon reductions. Across the world, commitments are forthcoming.

But practical challenges remain. What is being asked is that global emissions be less than half their 1990 levels by 2050, having peaked before 2020. Since emissions from the developing countries are on the whole lower than those of the developed world – and will need to continue to rise in the short-term as they maintain economic growth and address poverty – it has been proposed that developed countries cut emissions by at least 80% relative to 1990 by 2050, with major steps towards this goal over the next decade.

Developing countries will also need to play their part, significantly slowing and peaking emissions growth in the coming decades. For the US, such commitments would mean cutting emissions to around one-tenth of today’s per capita level, while for China it would mean creating a new low-carbon model of economic development. For all countries, this is a major challenge – a revolution that implies a huge shift in policy.