No Consensus on Climate Change Goals Between G8 Countries, Poor Nations

By Nicole Winfield | July 8, 2009 | 11:56 AM EDT

Greenpeace activists are seen in a net below a banner hanging from the structure of a coal-fired power plant in Brindisi, southern Italy, Wednesday, July 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Max Frigione)

L'Aquila, Italy (AP) - The Group of Eight industrialized economies failed to reach agreement with developing nations Wednesday over the goal of halving levels of heat-trapping carbon emissions in four decades, according to officials following the talks.
Negotiators were trying instead to reach agreement on the more modest goal of keeping the world's average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the officials said.
The White House declined to comment on whether it would sign on a statement referring to the 2-degree threshold. The G-8 has previously refused to adopt that temperature limit as a political goal.
Climate change experts say the 2-degree threshold, which has been embraced by the European Union and some developing countries, wouldn't eliminate the risk of runaway climate change but would minimize it. Even a slight increase in average temperatures will wreak havoc on farmers around the globe, as seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields, most scientists agree.
The G-8 summit opened Wednesday with the leaders of the United States, Britain France, Italy, Germany and Japan discussing a host of issues, from climate change to North Korean nuclear nonproliferation.
They will be joined Thursday for a deeper discussion on climate change with the 17-member Major Economies Forum, which includes China, which has overtaken the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter, and India, which is close behind. Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea and the European Union also are in that club of the world's major polluters.
The climate discussions at L'Aquila come ahead of a crucial December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the United Nations aims to conclude a new, worldwide climate pact.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told ARD radio that the forum countries, which met Tuesday night, had said "'we accept the two-degree limit.'"
But Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists who is following the negotiations, said early drafts of the forum statements had included language pledging a 50 percent global reduction in emissions by 2050 and 80 percent reduction by industrialized countries. That language has since been stripped out, he said, replaced by aims to reach agreement before the Copenhagen summit.
The emerging countries have been upset that the industrialized G-8 hasn't been forthcoming on pledges of financing and transferring technology to the developing world, and are refusing to commit to specific targets until financing commitments are made by the G-8, said Meyer and Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA.
A panel of U.N. scientists has said industrial countries must together cut carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees above preindustrial levels 150 years ago. Any rise beyond that would increase the risks of catastrophic climate changes affecting millions of predominantly poor people.
At their last summit in Japan a year ago, the G-8 committed to reducing carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. But the vague statement did not specify which year it would take as a base line. U.N. scientists have used 1990 as the starting point, but the United States and Japan are using 2005 levels.
The difference is significant: Since 1990, U.S. emissions have risen 23 percent. Disagreement over which start date persists, G-8 delegation members said Wednesday.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill imposing the first U.S. limits on greenhouse gases, eventually leading to an 80 percent reduction by mid-century by putting a price on each ton of climate-altering pollution. The Senate is to discuss similar action, but compromises in the bill are expected.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to comment when asked whether President Barack Obama would support a statement limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius. Instead, he stressed the administration's commitment to fighting climate change by pointing to the bill's passage by the House.
"Success for us is going to be getting something through Congress and to his desk that puts in place a system, market-based system, that lessens the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. That's going to be the true of measure of things," Gibbs said.
Associated Press reporters Charles Babington and Emma Vandore in L'Aquila contributed to this report.
The Group of Eight industrialized economies failed to reach agreement with developing nations Wednesday over the goal of halving levels of heat-trapping carbon emissions in four decades, according to officials following the talks.