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G-8 Summit Highlights Disparities About Global Warming


This week's summit of advanced economy leaders in Japan produced first steps toward a global climate agreement. However, it also spotlighted gaps on the issue both between rich and poor nations and between the world's biggest polluters and several nations who are rapidly catching up. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Hokkaido, Japan.

Tradition and policy prohibit the host country of the so-called "G-8" summit from naming specific leaders when briefing the media about summit discussions. However, Japanese Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Kazuo Kodama could easily have been citing the leaders of India or China in the week's key climate meeting.

"One leader mentioned that, 'We have a great many people living in poverty," said Kodama. "We cannot accept measures that would hinder our economic growth.'"

That is the key dilemma leaders of the richest nations in the world confronted this week in seeking support among leaders of emerging economies for their "vision" to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by the year 2050.

Rich nations have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity using fossil fuels and have been the biggest emitters of carbon pollution from the past. China and India's emerging economies, and the more than two billion people living in them, stand to become the biggest emitters of the future.

There is wide agreement any deal on reducing the carbon emissions that cause global warming is doomed to fail without emerging economies on board. However, with hundreds of millions of people living in abject poverty, China and India say the immediate need for basic human services, like sanitation, outweighs concerns about carbon emissions. They say the rich nations that made the carbon mess should take bold action first to start cleaning it up.

This week's 50 percent reduction pledge is vague about how to start that cleanup. It does not specify a base year for calculating the 50 percent, nor does it include any numerical reduction targets.

Ben Wikler represents the non-governmental advocacy group, Avaaz.org. He says the G-8 leaders had a major opportunity, but "blew it."

"What the G-8 could have done is to seize leadership and say, 'hey, world. Let's take this thing on. Here's some numbers we're going to go at. The rich countries are going to do their part, come along with us.'"

Max Lawson, a policy advisor for Oxfam International, agrees the deal is weak, but says the fact the United States signed on is significant.

"Three or four years ago, President Bush was saying global warming didn't exist. So, in relation to that, we have seen quite a lot of movement. But in relation to what's needed, it's way, way, off the mark," said Lawson.

Lawson says the United States emits about four times more carbon, per capita, than China. Alden Meyer is an environmental specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says rich nations are wrong to shift the burden for global warming onto developing countries.

"China, for example, has fuel economy standards for new vehicles in place today that are stronger than the ones [the U.S.] Congress adopted for 2020," said Meyer. "So, there's a lot happening in these countries that belies the rhetoric that they're doing nothing and just sitting back."

Scientists warn the threat of global warming is urgent and that aggressive and specific cuts in emissions are needed long before 2050 to curb its negative effects on world weather patterns and food production. They suggest 80-95 percent cuts by 2050 and 25 to 40 percent cuts by 2020.

This week's agreement states that shorter range cuts are needed, but leaves the specifics up for interpretation by individual countries.

Some observers are criticizing the G-8 as ineffective in dealing with climate change. Philip Clapp, with the American-based Pew Environmental Group, disagrees, saying the annual gathering still has a role to play.

"The decisions that have to be made in re-engineering the entire world's energy economy are not decisions that can be taken by environment ministers," said Clapp. "The G-8 [meeting] is the only time that world leaders get together and look each other in the eye and recognize that they have to address global problems. And, they have to address them together."

Still, the lack of specificity in this week's climate vision means the hard talk about targets is left for future meetings, especially a United Nations-led climate agreement conference scheduled for late next year.

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