stalemate over climate change

TOYAKO - The Group of Eight leaders patched together a deal to fight climate change at a summit that wound up yesterday, but failed to convince big emerging economies that rich countries were doing enough.

Climate change was the most contentious topic at this year's G8 summit in Japan, which also tackled political problems from the crisis in Zimbabwe to worsening security in Afghanistan as well as soaring food and oil prices and poverty in Africa.

"There's been no huge breakthrough at this particular meeting, it is one step along the road," said Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who attended a climate change meeting yesterday where the G8 leaders were joined by eight more big polluters.

But bickering between rich and poorer countries kept most emerging economies from signing on to a goal of at least halving global emissions by 2050.

Nor did the broader group come up with specific numbers for the interim targets they agreed advanced countries should set.

But European Union (EU) leader Jose Manuel Barroso said that to focus on the divisions would be missing the point.

"It is quite wrong to see this in terms of a confrontation between developed and developing countries," he said.

"Of course, we accept the lion's share of responsibility but this is a global challenge, which requires a global response."

The leaders of Japan, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the United States had embraced the 2050 goal a day earlier, but stressed their countries could not do it alone. The rich countries had to paper over deep gaps just to get their own climate change deal, with Europe and Japan urging bolder action while the US opposed promising firm targets without assurances big emerging economies will act too.

US President George W Bush said "significant progress" was made on climate change at the summit, while Japan and the EU also lauded the outcome.

But environmentalists saw nothing to cheer about.

"It's the stalemate we've had for a while," Kim Carstensen, director of the WWF's global climate initiative, told Reuters.

Many are sceptical about any significant new steps being made to combat global warming until a new US president comes to office in January 2009.

It was a view shared by South Africa, one of five big emerging economies collectively called the G5.

"Until there's a change in the position of the US, South Africa's feeling is that it will be very difficult for the G5 to move forward because they will always be forced to work on that level of the lowest common denominator," Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk told reporters.

Developing countries, along with the EU and green groups, say rich countries must take the lead and specify interim targets for how to reach the mid-century goal, which scientists say is the minimum needed to prevent dangerous global warming.

But leaders of the G8 countries agreed to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe's leaders because of violence during the widely condemned re-election of President Robert Mugabe. - Reuters