Climate Change Experts Call on G20 Members to Commit to Action

• Last-ditch effort to gain specific promises at G20 • Leaked communique all but ignores green issues

A last-ditch effort is being made to insert clearer green commitments into the global economic recovery package. The move comes amid fears amongst some British government officials that the G20 summit is in danger of missing a unique opportunity to prevent the world from being locked into irreversible and catastrophic climate change.

Gordon Brown yesterday promised that a commitment to tackle the environment will be one of the five tests of the communique due to be released following the summit on Thursday, adding "there were long hours of hard negotiations ahead".

Number 10 counselled caution insisting that the main climate change event of the year will be at Copenhagen in December, when the UN hopes to reach a global deal to replace the Kyoto agreement.

The draft G20 communique leaked at the weekend makes only the smallest reference to climate change, and appears to be vague on the subject of how green the $2tn (PS1.4tn) stimulus package agreed by world leaders should be.

This provoked the eminent climatologist James Hansen, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to tell the Guardian: "If this is the best they can do, then their 'planet in peril' rhetoric is probably just that - empty rhetoric."

Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also voiced concern about the limited commitment to a low-carbon economy: "I think it [low-carbon recovery] deserves a higher profile. Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right. I haven't heard anything that suggests the green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda."

He added: "It would be a missed opportunity while they're talking about the economy not to talk about how to transform it to low carbon."

Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group, which works with major businesses and governments to promote a low-carbon economy, said: "What is lacking from the statement as a whole is timetables, targets and amounts. It lacks specifics on anything."

Some senior British officials privately believe the framing of the G20 stimulus package to ensure it has a large green element will be as decisive in the battle against climate change as the outcome of the UN talks on climate change in Copenhagen.

British ministerial sources insisted last night that there will be no mention in the communique of what proportion of the new jobs stimulated by the economic recovery package will be low-carbon roles. They suggested that any mention of green jobs might be seen as a form of covert protectionism by some members of the G20.

British officials said yesterday they regard it as essential that during the summit China gets a clear message from countries such as South Africa, Mexico, France, Germany, Britain and the US that they are all committed to tackling climate change and that China will not be put at a disadvantage if it shapes a low-carbon recovery.

Lord Stern, the government's former climate change adviser, yesterday tried to increase the pressure on the G20 by arguing that the worst recession since the 1930s gave the world the opportunity to lay the foundations for growth over several decades, based on low-carbon technology and energy efficiency.

He said the argument that the first priority was to deal with the current economic crisis and postpone action on climate change was "wrong and should be confronted".

He called for the G20 leaders to send out a signal that the "difficult" work of getting the specifics of a deal in place needed to be done. "This is an opportunity to have a green recovery that lays the foundations of growth for the next two to three decades."

A report by HSBC found that the US, Europe, China and South Korea lead global "green" spending plans after committing $300bn-$500bn to boost low-carbon technologies under wider plans to boost the global economy.

Green spend accounts for about 15% of the total economic spending of $2tn-$3tn.

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