Climate talks advance, but split on 2050 goals

PARIS (Reuters) - Major economies made progress in defining the building blocks of a new U.N. deal to fight climate change on Friday but ended split over whether to set a goal of halving world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Smoke billows from a factory on the outskirts of Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning province in this May 4, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer

The U.S.-led meeting of 17 nations accounting for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, ended with common ground on sharing clean technologies, financing and possible sectoral emissions goals for industries such as steel or cement.

“In my view we have made significant progress,” Daniel Price, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, told reporters after two days of talks including China, Russia, India and the European Union.

The talks shifted to a more positive mood after opening with criticisms of President George W. Bush for setting only a 2025 ceiling for halting a rise in U.S. emissions when other rich nations have set 1990 caps under the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol.

“People are understanding each other better on a number of topics,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, who called progress “substantive” in work on a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed by the end of 2009.

Deep divisions remained about whether to set a goal of halving global emissions by 2050, favored by the European Union, Japan and Canada as part of a fight against warming that may bring more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas.

Developing nations said they would not sign up to such a goal at a planned summit of leaders of the 17 major economies on July 9 in Japan unless Washington did far more to curb emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels.

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“I would be very surprised if there are specific numbers by July because the rest of the world is waiting...for that strong enough signal from the U.S.,” South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said.


Trying to break deadlock, delegates agreed to have two more meetings of experts to prepare for the July meeting, to be held on the sidelines of a July 7-9 Group of Eight summit.

The United States said it was still “seriously considering” whether to adopt a goal of halving world emissions by 2050 and that new technologies such as clean coal or new biofuels could cut emissions in coming decades.

Japan’s Koji Tsuruoka, a senior foreign ministry official, said Tokyo would prefer all 17 nations to agree a 50 percent cut by 2050 rather than just the G8. Developing nations also want more aid and technology before committing themselves to curbs.

France said that South Africa presented studies suggesting it would cost the world up to $200 billion a year to curb greenhouse gases and between $30 and $60 billion a year to adapt to effects such as droughts or rising seas.

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Many delegates at the meeting, the third since September in a series launched by Bush amid skepticism abroad about his environmental record, said they were starting to look to the next U.S. president who will take office in January 2009.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all favor tougher goals than Bush for curbing greenhouse gases.

Industrialized nations apart from the United States have agreed to consider cuts in emissions of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 as part of a new U.N. climate treaty to succeed the existing Kyoto Protocol.

U.S. and EU greenhouse gas emissions fell in 2006, according to data submitted to the United Nations, bucking a rising global trend. U.S. emissions fell by 1.3 percent and EU emissions by 0.3 percent.

The Paris talks group the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. The European Commission, current EU president Slovenia and the United Nations were also attending.

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