Emerging economies back action on climate change, but set no targets

Posted in Other | 10-Jul-08 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Leaders of the Group of 8 and major economies posing for a family photo in Windsor Hotel Toya Resort in Hokkaido, Japan.

TOYAKO, Japan: The world's biggest polluters agreed on Wednesday on the need for "deep cuts" in greenhouse gas emissions, but differences between developed and emerging economies kept them from setting specific targets.

Climate change has been the most contentious topic at this year's Group of 8 summit in Japan, where the heads of big emerging economies were invited to join on the third and final day. The expanded group comprised China, India, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea.

The statement by leaders of the 16 countries, including the top emitters China and the United States, came a day after the Group of 8 rich nations endorsed a target of halving global emissions by 2050 while stressing they could not achieve that goal alone.

The statement on Tuesday papered over deep gaps, with the United States opposed to committing to firm targets without assurances big emerging economies will act too.

Developing countries, along with the European Union and green groups, say rich countries must take the lead and specify interim targets for how to reach the mid-century goal, which scientists say is the minimum needed to prevent dangerous global warming.

The European Commission's president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the meeting on Wednesday had been constructive.

"We have to get real," Barroso said in a statement. "It is quite wrong to see this in terms of a confrontation between developed and developing countries. Of course we accept the lion's share of responsibility but this is a global challenge, which requires a global response."

But environmentalists immediately criticized the agreement, which represented no changes from an earlier draft agreed on in late June by negotiators from the same countries in Seoul.

"It's the stalemate we've had for a while," Kim Carstensen, director of the WWF's global climate initiative, told Reuters.

"Given the lack of willingness to move forward, particularly by the U.S., it hasn't been possible to break that."

Climate experts are skeptical that any significant advance on steps to combat global warming can be made until a new U.S. president comes to office in January 2009.

On Wednesday, the 16 countries' leaders agreed major developed economies would set mid-term goals, but set out no specific numbers. The group also said poorer countries would act to rein in rapid growth in their emissions.

The stance of emerging nations is important. The Group of 8 nations emit about 40 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. China and India together emit about 25 percent of the total, a proportion that is rising as their coal-fueled economies boom.

"China is a developing country and is in the process of industrialization and modernization," the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency quoted President Hu Jintao as saying.

"People's living standards are still not high, and China's core task at present is developing its economy and improving people's welfare."