IMAGE: Group of Eight leaders
Fred Chartrand  /  AP
Group of Eight leaders gather Thursday in Heiligendamm, Germany.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/7/2007 7:55:02 PM ET 2007-06-07T23:55:02

Group of Eight leaders on Thursday agreed on a plan calling for "substantial cuts" to greenhouse gas emissions, but the compromise with President Bush left France's leader wishing a stronger stand had been taken.

The leaders failed to overcome U.S. resistance to committing to specific numerical targets to curb global warming, but did refer to the European Union goal of cutting emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

"In terms of targets, we agreed on clear language ... that recognizes that (rises in) CO2 emissions must first be stopped and then followed by substantial cuts," German Chancellor and G-8 host Angela Merkel told reporters.

The summit text confirmed that the world's leading industrialized nations would act to stem the rise in global warming gases, followed by "substantial" reductions — the most serious commitment to date by the United States, the world's largest carbon emitter.

Leaders also vowed to pursue a new global climate deal by 2009 that would extend and broaden the U.N.-brokered Kyoto Protocol.

Bush had resisted attempts by Merkel to set a firm goal for cuts needed to combat a warming that most scientists say risks raising sea levels and causing more droughts and floods.

But she secured a partial victory by securing an inclusion of the 2050 target in the text.

"In setting a global goal for emissions reductions in the process we have agreed today involving all major emitters, we will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050." the leaders said in the statement, which was posted on the G-8 Web site. "We commit to achieving these goals and invite the major emerging economies to join us in this endeavor."

The European Union believes 50 percent cuts are needed to ensure that global temperatures do not rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century above pre-industrial levels, a threshold it says could trigger "dangerous" changes.

Experts have said that would require a global reduction in emissions of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Instead of fixed cuts, Bush last week proposed having the 15 top emitters meet and set a long-term goal whereby each nation decides itself how much to do toward it.

French leader, expert wanted more
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was less enthusiastic than Merkel. "If you want me to say that we could have done better then, yes. I want to speak frankly," he told reporters.

And a leading climate researcher said G-8 leaders should have agreed to a fixed target.

Slideshow: G-8 heats up "Agreeing on a numerical target" would have been "a significant first step," said Neil Adger of Britain's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. "Not taking that first step is going to condemn us to a lot of pain and suffering in terms of the impacts of climate change."

Environmental groups agreed with them.

"Chancellor Merkel and (British) Prime Minister Blair are trying to portray this as a strong agreement," said Phil Clapp, head of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust. "But President Bush didn't give them an inch. The best they could get from him was a statement that their 50 percent by 2050 emissions reduction proposal would be 'seriously considered.' That's a pretty tiny landmark."

"This is clearly not enough to prevent dangerous climate change," added Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace. "But we welcome that there is a now a serious mandate to start talks on an extension of the Kyoto Protocol."

That treaty set binding targets for industrial countries to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases believed to cause global warming. The United States signed the treaty but did not ratify it because China and India were not included.

Merkel called the decision a "huge success," saying it came after many rounds of talks and negotiations on climate change.

"No one can escape this political declaration. It is an enormous step forward," she added.

All parties agreed the process should take place within the United Nations framework and will begin with a meeting of environment ministers at a U.N. climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

"We acknowledge that the U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change," the leaders said in their statement.

It was unclear how much binding weight the declaration would carry since it is up to G-8 leaders to keep the promises they make.

Blair: 'Major, major step'
Also speaking to reporters,Blair was asked if there was "wiggle room" in the declaration.

"There isn't going to be an agreement until there's an agreement that has America and China in it," he said. "However, there is now a process to lead to that agreement and at its heart is a commitment to a substantial cut."

"What does substantial mean? That serious consideration is given to the halving of emissions by 2050," Blair said.

Still, Blair called the deal "a major, major step forward."

This year's Group of Eight gathering is being held under tight security, with Heiligendamm sealed off by a seven-mile, razor wire-topped fence. Thousands of police have been deployed across the northern German region.

Protests continued Thursday on the second day of the summit, as demonstrators continued to block roads leading to Heiligendamm and police again resorted to firing water cannons to scatter them.

Offshore, Greenpeace activists led police on a boat chase, with one boatload briefly spilling its contents into the Baltic.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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