Climate change will be a hot topic at next week's G8 summit, but the prospect for any significant agreements looks low, experts say.
The global problem of rising temperatures, widely thought to be caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, has played a substantial role at previous G8 summits.
This year, though, the issue has gained increased prominence as countries gear up for a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol. The international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is set to expire in 2012, and the United Nations is leading a series of meetings to draft a new treaty. World leaders hope to reach a consensus by the end of 2009, leaving two years for ratification and implementation.
With the deadline for a new treaty drawing near, G8 leaders will be focusing on ways to find consensus on the controversial topic when they meet in Hokkaido, Japan, on Monday. However, the likelihood they will do so is slim, said William Bumpers, head of the Global Climate Change Practice Group at Baker Botts, an international law firm.
"I don't expect to see any substantive agreement that moves the countries toward a post-Kyoto regime," Bumpers told United Press International. "There could be an overarching agreement about the level of (emissions) reductions countries should meet in the mid to long term."
Even this is unlikely, though, given the looming change in the U.S. administration as President Bush prepares to leave office, Bumpers said.
"I'm a little bit skeptical that the Europeans will be willing to sign onto an agreement … when they know they're likely to get a more stringent agreement with the new administration," he said.
White House personnel, though, say this attitude is not the prevailing one.
"Some leaders want to make sure that real agreements are reached before President Bush leaves office," said Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman. "We're optimistic that a lot of good will come out of this summit."
One of the roadblocks in reaching an agreement is the disparity in opinions over what an adequate target should look like. While the European G8 countries -- Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom -- have largely embraced stringent emissions reductions goals, some of the other countries are not as eager to sign agreements, particularly before knowing which countries will be included, said Michael Levi, project director for the Independent Task Force on Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think tank.
"The Bush administration is simply too wary to sign up for hard numbers without the commitment of developing countries," Levi said. "Russia … may be even more wary than the U.S. to sign onto reduction targets, and they're a major player" in the climate-change issue.
Developing countries will play a big role in determining the nature of any agreement, and China and India will both be at the summit as part of a major economies meeting orchestrated by the Bush administration.
Countries like the United States are concerned that if emerging economies like China and India are given free rein on emissions while the developed world takes drastic measures to reduce theirs, it will lead to economic troubles for most of the world and a negligible change in global emissions.
However, developing countries have fewer resources and struggling economies, making it more difficult for them to increase their GDP while reducing emissions.
This dilemma can be solved through technology assistance funds, Bush said Wednesday at a news briefing.
"A lot of the developing world says, 'well, it's unfair; the developed world gets to develop and we don't,'" Bush said. "Our attitude about that is, why don't we set up a technology fund -- make it easier for people to be able to afford the new technologies that nations like ours and others will bring to the marketplace."
As part of an initiative to make green technology available to developing countries, Bush announced in January he will commit $2 billion over the next three years to a new international clean energy technology fund.
The World Bank has also seized onto this idea, announcing Wednesday the creation of two Climate Investment Funds: the Clean Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund. The first will provide monetary assistance for green energy projects in developing countries and the second will assist in adaptation efforts.
The Bank's initial goal is to provide $5 billion over the next three years. The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan have all publicly announced they will contribute to the funds, and World Bank representatives said they hope other countries will sign up at next week's summit.
Programs like this will be essential if world leaders hope to include developing countries in an agreement, said Roger Morier, communications adviser for the World Bank Group's Sustainable Development Network.
"They will … enable developing countries to acquire the technology and experience to move more quickly to a low-carbon growth trajectory," Morier told UPI. "Also, the CIF will help some of the world's poorest countries, the ones most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the least capable of responding, to better understand the likely short-term impacts of climate change."