G8 makes scant progress to Copenhagen climate pact

Thu Jul 9, 2009 3:58pm EDT

Leaders stand for a family photo before a dinner at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Leaders stand for a family photo before a dinner at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, July 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

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L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - A G8 summit made scant progress toward a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in December with some nations back-pedaling on promises of new action even before the end of a meeting in Italy.

"This hasn't given me a huge rush of adrenalin," said Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate change official, of climate decisions by the G8 summit and a 17-member climate forum of major emitters including China and India.

"Generally this is careful but useful step forward toward Copenhagen...I'm still confident that the deal can be done," he said of the U.N. pact due to be agreed in mid-December.

Among disappointments, the G8 failed to persuade China and India and other developing nations to sign up for a goal of halving world emissions by 2050.

Among progress, rich and poor nations acknowledged that temperature rises should be limited to 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) -- a goal that would force deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions if followed through. And G8 nations set a new goal of cutting their overall emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

"Enough was not achieved...but a new guidance post was inserted," said Jennifer Morgan of the London-based E3G think-tank, referring to the 2 Celsius target.

She said the 2 Celsius goal implied a need for a shift to "action rather than just dithering and avoiding decisions."

But the focus of talks on a new U.N. deal is on 2020 cuts in emissions by developed nations and ways to raise tens of billions of dollars in new funds to help poor nations combat droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

De Boer said he understood a refusal by developing nations to sign up for the G8 goal to halve world emissions by 2050.

Asking for action before the rich came up with funding plans and set goals for their own 2020 emissions cuts "was like jumping out of a plane and being assured that you are going to get a parachute on the way down," he said.

And cracks appeared even in the G8 deal to seek cuts of 80 percent by developed nations by 2050.

A Russian official said the 80 percent goal was unachievable for Russia. And Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the goal was aspirational and fit Canada's target of cutting emissions by 60 to 70 percent below 2006 levels by 2080.

GOOD START

The arrival of President Barack Obama at the White House, promising more action than President George W. Bush, has helped the atmosphere.

"We made a good start, but I am the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy," Obama said, adding that recession was a complicating factor.

"And I think that one of the things we're going to have to do is fight the temptation toward cynicism, to feel that the problem is so immense that somehow we cannot make significant strides," he said.

"This is an important step," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the 2 Celsius goal. She added: "We still have a lot to do."

In Washington, Obama's push for quick action by Congress on climate change legislation suffered a setback on Thursday when the U.S. Senate committee leading the drive delayed work on the bill until September.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer said, however, that the delay from a previous self-imposed deadline of early August for finishing writing a bill did not mean that legislation would not be possible in 2009.

Environmentalists expressed concern that time was running out for a Copenhagen deal.

"I'm worried that we have negotiations that are very complex -- it will be difficult to reach the final agreement before Copenhagen. But I think we do have time," said Kim Carstensen of WWF International.

The biggest events planned are two summits in September -- one at U.N. headquarters in New York and a G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Obama said that finance ministers would look into climate financing and report back to Pittsburgh.

"Obama's announcement (of a report by finance ministers)....is quite significant," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

And apart from summits, there are three rounds of U.N. negotiations among senior officials before Copenhagen -- in Bonn in August, Bangkok in late September and Barcelona in November.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Janet McBride)

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