IMAGE: ACTIVISTS DRESS UP AS G-8 LEADERS
Itsuo Inouye  /  AP
Activists with the international relief group Oxfam dressed as the G-8 leaders Tuesday in Sapporo, Japan — using ballons to represent how much carbon dioxide each nation emits.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/8/2008 4:51:09 PM ET 2008-07-08T20:51:09

A broad pledge by President Bush and other Group of Eight leaders to work towards halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 didn't impress environmentalists, but it could put pressure on emerging economies like China and India to follow suit.

The G-8 agreement on Tuesday did not bind nations or even provide much detail, and environmentalists called the effort too slow and too uncertain.

But the G-8 nations now want the leaders of eight fast-growing countries to adopt a "shared vision" of tackling global warming in U.N. negotiations due to conclude in Copenhagen in December 2009.

That shared vision endorses Bush's insistence that fast-developing countries must join in the effort by making significant emissions reductions.

"There has been major progress on the climate change agenda beyond what people thought possible a few months ago," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at the G-8 summit here.

"For the first time the G-8 has said we will adopt at least a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 as part of a worldwide agreement that we hope to get in Copenhagen," he said.

The U.N.-led talks aim to create a new framework for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

WWF: G-8 stance 'pathetic'
But the G-8 accord fell far short of demands by some developing countries and environmentalists pushing for deeper cuts by 2050 and a firm signal from wealthy countries on what they are willing to do on the much tougher midterm goal of cutting emissions by 2020.

"To be meaningful and credible, a long-term goal must have a base year, it must be underpinned by ambitious midterm targets and actions," said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. "As it is expressed in the G-8 statement, the long-term goal is an empty slogan."

Critics also said the agreement was a timid advance on last year's G-8 summit commitment in Heiligendamm, Germany, to seriously consider the 2050 goal of halving emissions by mid-century.

Video: Summit stand "This is a complete failure of responsibility. They haven't moved forward at all. They've ducked the responsibility of adopting clear mid-term targets and even the 2050 target is not a single thing more than what we got in Heiligendamm," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International's political adviser.

Environmental group WWF called the G-8 stance "pathetic."

And Atonio Hill, a spokesman for Oxfam International, a confederation of organizations that work on climate change, poverty and other causes, said that "at this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G-8 leaders will be long forgotten. The G-8's endorsement of a tepid 50-by-50 climate goal leaves us with a 50-50 chance of a climate meltdown."

The G-8 did not specify a base year for its proposed 50 percent cut, and the actual emissions reductions and the effect on the environment could vary hugely depending on what is eventually decided. Reductions from 2005 levels, for instance, would be far less than from 1990 levels, as in the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

'Group of Five' not impressed
The cool reaction of a group of five developing countries also suggested that hard bargaining was in store.

China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil have called on rich nations to slash their carbon emissions by 80-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and make cuts of 25-40 percent by 2020.

Leaders from the Group of Five will join the G-8 leaders on Wednesday, the last day of the annual G-8 summit in a so-called Major Economies Meeting that Australia, Indonesia and South Korea will also attend.

The G-5's stance is important. The G-8 nations — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Germany, Russia, Italy and Canada — emit about 40 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. But China and India together emit about 25 percent of the total, a proportion that is rising as their coal-fueled economies boom.

Washington in particular has said a global climate deal is impossible unless China and India make sacrifices. But the G-5 not only failed to make an offer of its own after a coordinating meeting on Tuesday but said the ball was still in the G-8's court.

"It's not we who are not on board. We've got a more ambitious package. Now we need the U.S. to get on board. It's going to be two years of tough negotiations," said a Group of Five diplomat who declined to be identified.

Given the positions that have been staked out, a Japanese official said the Wednesday meeting was unlikely to get down to specific targets for emission cuts.

"We do not expect our final statement to touch on numerical targets that include the emerging economies," he said.

Beyond Kyoto and 2012
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was essential to set a long-term goal for global greenhouse emissions by 2050. He said the world cannot afford to wait until 2009, when nations are planning to try to conclude a new global warming treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when its first phase expires in 2012.

The United States has never ratified the Kyoto treaty, with Bush complaining that it puts too much of a burden on the U.S. and other developed countries to reduce emissions while developing giants such as China and India are given a freer rein to pollute even as they vigorously compete with America around the world.

Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that "it has always been the case that a long-term goal is one that must be shared."

"So what the G-8 has offered today is a G-8 view of what that goal could be and should be, but that can only occur with the agreement of all the other parties," he added, referring to nearly 200 countries involved in U.N. talks.

The G-8 agreement — and the praise it elicited among European countries usually more ambitious on climate change — reflected a desire to avoid shortcomings of the 1997 Kyoto accord.

Kyoto, while considered by many a worthy first step, has also been seen as flawed by its failure to commit developing countries like China to emissions controls, prompting the U.S. refusal to ratify it. In addition, many countries with reduction commitments, such as Japan and Canada, are falling seriously behind.

The G-8 accord split some of the differences between Bush and other G-8 members.

Japan and European members have been pressing for setting a long-term goal of a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse emissions by 2050.

Other members, including the U.S., Russia and Canada, have been less enthusiastic about such a target. Bush has long said that China and India and other big, growing economies must share in the pain in reaching such a goal.

The Europeans have pushed harder for rich countries to reinvigorate talks by making unilateral commitments. Germany, for instance, has pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by 30 percent if other countries join the effort.

Bush will leave office next January, and both major candidates to succeed him have said they are willing to go further in cutting back American emissions.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: G-8 explainer

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