Climate change pressure mounts

New climate-change commitments from China and Japan have ratcheted up pressure on Canada and other countries to put money and measures on the table at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH — New climate-change commitments from China and Japan have ratcheted up pressure on Canada and other countries to put money and measures on the table at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined other leaders of rich and emerging market economies Thursday following ground-shifting talks on climate change in at the United Nations in New York.

The host of the Pittsburgh meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama, has seen his carbon cap-and-trade commitment stall. Harper and the other leaders will be watching to see whether Obama will make some kind of firm commitment on greenhouse gases to reciprocate the goodwill shown by the Asian powers.

“I think there will be pressure on President Obama to deliver something at the G20 on financing climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries,” said Dale Marshall, the climate-change policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Harper has tied Canada’s climate-change plan to Obama’s in an effort to arrive at a common North American initiative on greenhouse gas reduction, but neither country has a clear plan. Ottawa has made it clear that any Canadian contribution to help developing countries with climate change would come mainly from selling permits to corporations to participate in a cap-and-trade system that has yet to be set up.

At the G8 summit in July, Obama made a point of telling other countries they should be prepared to deliver something at the Pittsburgh summit, Marshall said.

“But there’s also pressure because everyone knows this is the missing piece that can get the (climate change) talks moving again.”

China announced in a statement this week at a summit in New York that it would scale back growth in its emissions. Earlier this month, Japan’s new prime minister committed to cut its emissions substantially. That commitment was followed up this week with a promise to help pay for climate-change initiatives in developing countries.

But the G20 has yet to make good on earlier promises that leaders will create a substantial climate-change fund for poor countries. International organizations have said that the developing world needs at least $150 billion a year to get to a point where they could start cutting emissions, and the G20 is nowhere near committing that amount.

“Without the financial and technological support, we will not see poorer countries in the developing world come forward with their own commitments,” Marshall said.

Summit-watchers speculated that Obama may offer to cut subsidies on fossil fuels at the Pittsburgh meeting, but such a gesture would only be a start toward more meaningful commitments leading up to the Copenhagen climate-change conference in December, said Andrew Cooper, associate director of the Centre of International Governance Innovation.

In Pittsburgh, there’s an air of hope.

Instead of the antagonistic corporation-bashing protests that have dominated the streets of other summit locations, the biggest public event surrounding the G20 summit so far has been a rally and concert led by the steelworkers’ union arguing for green jobs. That agenda plays into the leaders’ climate-change talks as well as their plans to bolster the global economy.

“We can have a clean environment and great jobs in this country, if we get it right,” Dan Onorato, from the Allegheny County Executive, told 1,000 people at the Wednesday night rally. “It takes co-operation and it takes public policy.”

More radical protests were being organized Thursday in hope of disrupting the summit, but they’ll be met by many of the 4,000 police officers and national guard on hand. Police made 14 arrests Wednesday — mainly Greenpeace activists rappelling off a bridge — but protests have been small and peaceful to date.

The G20 leaders are meeting for the third time in less than a year, mainly to resolve the global financial crisis. They hope to reach an agreement at the summit on how best to slowly remove huge stimulus packages that have underpinned the fragile economic recovery.

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