Better, but not enough

TOYAKO, Japan - The Group of Eight major powers agreed yesterday to at least halve global carbon emissions by 2050. Its leaders hailed this as a step forward, but developing nations demanded they do much more.

TOYAKO, Japan - The Group of Eight major powers agreed yesterday to at least halve global carbon emissions by 2050. Its leaders hailed this as a step forward, but developing nations demanded they do much more.

After two days in the mountain resort of Toyako, leaders of the world's eight most powerful economies also voiced concern about soaring oil and food prices, and pledged to speed up aid to Africa.

But the most contentious issue before them was climate change, with US President George Bush standing firm on his stance that developing countries must take action before rich nations would budge.

The G8 leaders - the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US - said they shared a "vision" of reducing emissions by at least 50percent by 2050.

Last year's summit in Germany had agreed only to "seriously consider" cuts in the greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for heating up the planet.

The G8 said they would each set their own interim targets for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions for a still unspecified amount of time after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations expire in 2012. But in a nod to Bush, they also called on major developing nations to cut emissions.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had pleaded for the summit not to backtrack on earlier pledges on global warming, which UN scientists warn could put entire species at risk unless it is curbed by later this century.

"It's been a long road getting here. We had some very tough negotiations," Fukuda said.

But the G8 leaders can expect another difficult round of talks today when they are joined by leaders of developing countries. Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and three other leaders of developing nations met in the nearby city of Sapporo yesterday and urged that rich countries cut emissions by 25percent to 40percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Singh and Hu said climate negotiations must be held "in a fair and equitable way which does not affect development and growth in developing countries".

South Africa's Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk questioned whether the G8 had truly moved forward.

"We are concerned that it may, in effect, be a regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change," he said.

Kim Carstensen, head of the WWF's Global Climate Initiative, said: "If after a year's work all you have is a 'shared vision' instead of 'seriously considering,' it's pretty pathetic."

Daniel Mittler, a climate change expert at Greenpeace International, said "instead of action, the world got flowery words".

"The Texas oilman has once again prevented the G8 from undergoing the energy revolution it needs. Bush is a lame duck, so who cares what he thinks about 2050?" he said.

The US is the only major industrial nation to shun the Kyoto Protocol. Bush argues it is unfair because it makes no demands of growing emerging economies such as China and India.

In another area of contention, the G8 set a five-year time frame to commit about R462billion to Africa to help fight HIV-Aids, malaria and TB.

The UK had pushed for a more ambitious commitment of a few years, but Canada initially resisted any timetable. - Sapa-AFP

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