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G8 Environment Ministers Endorse Greenhouse Gas Cuts By 2050, Fail To Agree On 2020 Target

Kobe, Japan May 26 ‑ By Joseph Coleman, Associated Press

Environment chiefs from top industrial countries pledged "strong political will" Monday toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, declaring that developed nations should take the lead in battling global warming.  The statement by ministers from the Group of Eight nations, however, stopped short of pledging firm commitments for mid‑century or a midterm goal for 2020, which many countries argue are crucial to saving the planet from environmental crisis provoked by rising temperatures.

The joint communique, aimed at setting the stage for decisive action at the G8 summit in Toyako, Japan in July, also recognized rich nations' obligation to provide technology and financing to help developing countries battle global warming.  "The major outcome was on climate change: We strongly expressed the will to come to agreement at Toyako so we can halve emissions by 2050," Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said. "Advanced nations should show leadership to reach this goal."  The statement cited the need for global gas emissions to peak within the next 10 to 20 years, and it called on developing countries with rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions to work to curb the rate of increase.

The ministers, however, made no mention of a scientific recommendation that rich countries make reductions of between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid the worst effects of warming. European nations, the U.N. climate chief, and environmentalists had clamored in Kobe for progress toward such a reduction pledge by G8 countries, arguing that failure could endanger U.N.‑led talks aimed at concluding a new climate change pact by the end of 2009.  "Without a mandatory midterm target for developing countries, it will be very difficult to get agreement" by that deadline, said Matthias Machnig, the delegate from Germany. Still, he conceded that ministers in Kobe had "made a step here today ‑ a small one, but an important one."

The European Union has pledged a 20 percent emissions reduction by 2020, and has offered to raise it to 30 percent if other nations sign on. The United States, however, has not committed to a midterm goal, demanding commitments from top developing countries such as China first. Japan has also not yet set a 2020 target.  Kamoshita and Scott Fulton, deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, argued that it was premature for them to set midterm targets, and they said such commitments should be the result of negotiations leading to the climate pact in 2009.  "At this point, I'm not sure if it's appropriate for us to cite specific figures," Fulton said.

The United States is the only major industrialized country not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol global warming pact, which commits 37 nations to cutting emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Washington has argued that the pact would hurt its economy, and is unfair because it does not obligate developing nations to also cut emissions.

During a news conference after the concluding meeting, divisions were apparent between Germany and the United States. Machnig forcefully described Germany's commitment to cutting gases by 40 percent by 2020, several times turning in Fulton's direction as he spoke.  Fulton, who also called for commitments from heavily polluting emerging economies, defended U.S. action on climate change, citing billions of dollars spent on research into global warming and other anti‑warming steps.  "We've not been sitting on our hands by any means," he said.

The ministers also nodded to developing nations' demands for help in financing and technology transfer to become more energy efficient, grow their economies more cleanly, and adapt to changes wrought by warming, such as rising sea levels.

The meeting in Kobe took place amid fears by some that the momentum was draining from the U.N.‑led talks on a new climate pact to take over when Kyoto's first phase expires in 2012. U.N. climate chief  Yvo de Boer said rich nations needed to set national targets as a clear signal to businesses, rather than global goals.  "If you're a businessman or woman in any country of the world and you're about to build a $500 million power plant, then a global goal doesn't tell you what investment choice to make," he said. "But if you know the country that you're in plans to reduce emissions by `X' percent by 2020, you're going to want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Updated: 2016/06/30

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