G8 climate change failure could hurt U.N.-led talks

1/07/2008 - 15:53

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - G8 leaders have a 50-50 chance of agreeing next week on a global goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, a Japanese foreign ministry official said, adding that failure could hurt U.N.-led climate talks.

Leaders meet for the July 7-9 Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, northern Japan, and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda hopes to build momentum for talks on a global emissions framework before the Kyoto Protocol's first phase ends in 2012.

Fukuda also needs a diplomatic success to bolster his weak ratings at home, where speculation persists that his party might try to replace him before an election due by late next year.

G8 leaders agreed last year in Heiligendamm, Germany, to seriously consider a global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Climate campaigners say this year's summit should go further by endorsing that goal and linking it to bold shorter-term targets for developed countries.

But divisions among the United States, Europe and Japan have raised doubts about how much the leaders can achieve next week.

"You need the leaders to exert a robust political message to the world which will be driving progress in the U.N. negotiations," Koji Tsuruoka, director-general for global issues at Japan's foreign ministry, told Reuters in an interview.

Tsuruoka said a G8 failure to act would unintentionally send a negative message to the U.N. negotiations.

"The stakes are very high," he said, adding that the chances of agreement were 50-50.

"Of course, the G8 will act responsibly by trying to move beyond the G8 understanding at Heiligendamm," he said. "Whether that's achievable or not depends on how the leaders will conduct discussions in Hokkaido."

Last December, 190 countries agreed in Bali on a two-year U.N.-led negotiating process to forge a successor to the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions. Those talks are meant to conclude in Copenhagen in December 2009.


NGOs want the G8 to agree on a 2050 goal, commit to ambitious interim targets to cut emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020, and help fund clean technology transfer to poorer countries.

"If there is no 2050 target mentioned, then this would be an enormous step backwards ... and would be politically very unacceptable," Gordon Shepherd, director of international policy at WWF International, told reporters.

Europe wants the G8 to commit to a long-term goal of cutting the emissions that cause global warming by 50 percent from 1990 levels by mid-century. Japan is urging that the leaders agree to a common vision of halving emissions by mid-century, without specifying a base year, Tsuruoka said.

But the United States says it will only commit to targets if emerging economies such as China and India are on board and says mid-term goals are not on the table in Hokkaido.

Leaders of emerging economies including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa will join the G8 for talks on climate on July 9 in a grouping known as the Major Economies Meeting, which Washington says should be the main forum for climate talks.

"The U.S. position is very firm. A global issue requires a global response," Tsuruoka said. "It's a very simple, clear position, and it is very difficult to disagree with that."

But he added he had not given up hope of a positive outcome.

"There is no need for us to be pessimistic because we have a common understanding that climate change is a very serious, global issue that the leaders will have to discuss," he said.

(Editing by Rodney Joyce and David Fogarty)

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