updated 9/11/2006 11:38:53 AM ET 2006-09-11T15:38:53

European and Asian leaders pledged Monday to set new carbon dioxide emissions targets that go beyond those now set for 2012 under the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol.

But they set no firm targets now, bowing to Asian reluctance to do so.

The two regions, with a total population of 2.4 billion, are major energy consumers. With Asia’s energy demand soaring — pushing up oil prices — Europe is eager to promote renewable energies and energy efficient technologies to cut overall consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“The choices we make today will affect the whole world tomorrow,” Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said after leading three days of talks.

In a joint declaration, the 25 EU and 13 Asian leaders said they were determined to respond to climate change with international cooperation. They set no targets but each side pledged to do its best, a setback for the Europeans who had hoped for tougher action by their Asian counterparts, notably China.

Developing countries have “legitimate priority needs” to use economic growth to lift their people out of poverty, the joint statement said.

Europe and Asia promised to share low carbon “cleaner and climate-friendly” technologies, “without overlooking any relevant option, be it existing or new” — which includes nuclear power.

“We are committed to enhancing energy efficiency and scaling up new and renewable energy, adapted to local circumstances,” they said.

But in the longer term, the only real answers are technological breakthroughs, they agreed.

Leaders promised to push this forward, by working with international financing and development institutions to encourage investment in clean energy.

Finland, the host of the summit, asserted at the opening of the meeting that climate change and energy security were “at the heart” of the ASEM, or Asia-Europe, meeting. However, they also acknowledged their talks were not designed to set binding targets, merely to discuss views ahead of more serious talks elsewhere.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted the climate change discussions as “fruitful.”

“In comparison to 10 years ago, now all countries recognize that climate change is an important issue, that we must continue Kyoto, that the time after 2012 must be in our sights and that we must do everything possible to improve energy efficiency and, at the same time, facilitate economic growth,” she told reporters.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol commits 35 industrialized nations to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to an average 5 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-12. But Kyoto did not cover such industrializing giants as China and India, and did not prescribe emission reductions beyond 2012.

At the annual U.N. climate conference in November 2005 in Montreal, the Kyoto nations agreed to begin what is expected to be at least two years of talks on a post-2012 regime. At the same time, European and other governments will step up efforts to draw the United States, which rejected the Kyoto accord, back into the framework of mandatory cuts in carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions blamed for global warming.

A broad scientific consensus agrees that these gases accumulating in the atmosphere, byproducts of automobile engines, power plants and other fossil fuel-burning industries, contributed significantly to the past century’s global temperature rise of 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Continued warming is melting glaciers worldwide, shrinking the Arctic ice cap and heating up the oceans, raising sea levels, scientists say. They predict major climate disruptions in coming decades.

The United States is the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, and the Clinton administration was instrumental in negotiating the treaty protocol initialed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan — a pact the Senate subsequently refused to ratify.

When President Bush rejected Kyoto outright after taking office in 2001, he said its mandatory energy cuts would harm the U.S. economy, and he complained that major developing countries were not covered.

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