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Effort to cut global warming built on ifs

Bush joins a G-8 offer to halve emissions by 2050, but developing states reject the terms.

July 09, 2008|Don Lee and Margot Roosevelt | Times Staff Writers

RUSUTSU, JAPAN — For the first time, the Bush administration on Tuesday joined other wealthy nations in an offer to halve their global warming emissions by mid-century.

But the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations failed today to secure the support of China, India and other fast-rising countries for the declaration on greenhouse gases, suggesting continued struggles between the two groups in forging a new international treaty on global warming.

President Bush, prodded by Japan and other G-8 nations, agreed to the target of a 50% cut in emissions by 2050. The declaration made it clear, however, that any binding treaty would have to apply to developed and developing nations alike.

Early today, after meeting on the last day of the G-8 summit here, the leaders of the G-8 and eight other countries invited to the gathering issued a joint statement indicating that all the parties agreed there was a need for a long-term target for emissions reductions. But China, India and three other emerging nations, known as the Group of 5, did not agree to the specific targets set out by Bush and the other leaders.

Analysts said those five developing countries were not willing to go that far unless the United States and other G-8 nations -- which they hold responsible for the accumulation of carbon levels in the atmosphere over decades -- made specific and deeper commitments on reducing emissions.

The failure to agree means real negotiations will come later as they hope to reach a binding treaty by 2009 under the auspices of the United Nations.

"It's a small step, but real progress will have to wait for the next [U.S.] president," said Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group in Washington, who was here monitoring developments.

Environmental groups and other analysts heaped criticism on the G-8 declaration, saying it was vague and lacked crucial numerical commitments to reducing carbon gases.

The five-page declaration -- endorsed by the U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Russia -- promised "ambitious economy-wide" measures to slash emissions by 2020. It asked "all major economies," including emerging nations, to be bound by a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 global warming agreement, which is expected to be negotiated in Copenhagen by December 2009.

And it promised billions of dollars in clean-energy efforts aimed at helping developing nations create a "low-carbon society." In exchange, the document asserted, developing nations would be expected to undertake "meaningful mitigation actions."

No sooner had the G-8 issued its pledge Tuesday than leaders of the Group of 5 -- China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa -- meeting in Sapporo, about 100 miles from the remote G-8 summit site in northern Japan, called on the richer nations to dramatically ratchet up their commitment.

The G-8 nations, the five said in a joint declaration, should reduce their economy-wide emissions below a 1990 baseline by 25% to 40% in the next 12 years, and by 80% to 95% by mid-century. "It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emissions reductions," the developing countries said.

The G-8 declaration called for emissions reductions of "at least" half by 2050. At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the host of the summit, said the 50% cuts would be from current levels. That would represent a far smaller drop since emissions have risen considerably in the last two decades.

"What was needed was a clear signal that the world's major industrialized countries would provide real leadership in cutting their own emissions of heat-trapping gases between now and 2020," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Mass.

Instead, he said, the G-8 statement underscored the sharp divide between Bush and the group's European leaders, who have urged tougher global warming measures.

"It's a missed opportunity," Meyer said. "This is basically kicking the can down the road."

The G-8 did not consult with developing nations in drafting its declaration, according to Bush administration officials. But they sought to portray the G-8 declaration as an olive branch tendered toward skeptical developing nations that believe that the industrial nations caused the climate crisis through excessive emissions over the last century, and are now trying to limit the poorer nations' industrial growth. "This declaration represents a significant advance on prior discussions," said Dan Price, assistant to the president for international economic affairs, adding that the two groups have moved "beyond many of the artificial as well as divisive distinctions of the past."

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