Climate breakthrough unlikely at G8 summit -UK envoy

TOKYO, June 26 (Reuters) - G8 rich nations and major emerging economies probably won't achieve a big breakthrough in talks on global warming in Japan next month, Britain's climate envoy said on Thursday, echoing other forecasts for modest progress at best.

Climate change is a key topic for the July 8 Group of Eight leaders' summit as well as an expanded meeting the next day with heads of eight other major economies including China and India.

But doubts persist as to whether and how far the leaders will be able to go beyond an agreement reached at last year's summit in Germany, where they said they would seriously consider a global goal of halving the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"The very fact that that conversation is taking place is helpful because we need to build a sense of common purpose among the people who are leading our economies," said Britain's special representative for climate change, John Ashton.,

"But at the same time, I think we should be careful not to expect too much of the conversations," he told a news conference.

"We're not going to have a major breakthrough in the global effort on climate change because the conditions at the moment are not conducive. We're still in the process of building the political consensus that we need to have."

Last December, 190 countries agreed on a two-year U.N.-led negotiating process to forge a successor to the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions, talks that will culminate in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The Kyoto pact's first phase obliges many industrialised nations to curb emissions between 2008-12 but excludes developing nations. The goal for the next stage is to bind all nations to emissions cuts.

Big emerging economies such as China and India want rich nations to take bold steps first, including setting midterm targets for reducing emissions by 2020 or 2030, a step already taken by the European Union.

But Washington insists it will only agree to binding targets if big emerging emitters also come on board, and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said earlier this month that the G8 was not the right forum for agreeing on midterm targets.

"I would look for a very strong signal that the industrialised economies are in 'follow me' mode. We're not saying we'll only do this if China and India do it," Ashton said.

"That's an absurd proposition. If you want China and India to do it quickly, then you have to have the confidence to continue leading the way," he added.

Ashton also said he expected the "beginning of a sense that we have a shared goal, a long-term goal," to emerge at the summit but added: "We're still some way from having agreement on that." (Editing by Hugh Lawson)