April 24, 2009 / 2:41 PM / 10 years ago

G8 and poor nations vow to tackle species loss

SYRACUSE, Italy (Reuters) - Environment ministers from major rich and developing nations signed a deal on Friday to try to slow species loss, but failed to make progress in crucial climate change talks despite U.S. pledges of commitment.

Almost every country in the world in 2002 agreed to a “significant reduction” in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but scientists say extinctions are gathering pace.

The Group of Eight (G8) industrial countries and major developing economies, meeting on the island of Sicily, signed a charter pledging to tackle deforestation, trade in illegal wildlife, and to boost research into the rate of species loss.

“We set objectives on biodiversity for 2010 ... but unfortunately we have all recognized they have not been met,” said Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo, who hosted the summit.

“We are all convinced of the urgency ... of intervening to safeguard our biodiversity.”

By some calculations extinction rates are running at 1,000 times their natural pace, due to human influence. Three species disappear every hour, according to U.N. figures.

The Syracuse Charter emphasized the economic value of biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. It was adopted after Washington dropped opposition to a reference to the future need to pay for the use of wildlife, such as plants employed in medical and scientific research, delegates said.

The meeting in Syracuse had generated excitement as it was the first ministerial summit involving the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has reversed his predecessor’s opposition to an international deal to cut carbon emissions.

Rich and poor nations are embarking on complex negotiations to clinch a deal on carbon emissions in December in Copenhagen, with developing countries calling on the West to make steep cuts and pay billions of dollars a year for clean fuel technology.

U.S. URGED TO TAKE FIRST STEP

Obama has promised to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas output to 1990 levels by 2020. Developing nations welcomed the positive U.S. approach at Syracuse but expressed disappointment Washington did not take the first step in negotiations.

“If the U.S. does not say clearly what it wants, then we cannot move forward,” said Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

“Developing countries, like China, are willing to make cuts, I believe, but there is a climate of mistrust ... The U.S. has still not put anything concrete on the table.”

G8 countries have suggested $100 billion a year be put aside globally to help poorer nations adapt to a low-carbon technology and face the effects of climate change, but Brazil has said that at least twice this amount is required, Minc said.

Obama has asked Congress to approve a cap-and-trade law to address climate change and is to host a summit of leaders from the 17 largest carbon emitting nations in Washington next week.

The Syracuse meeting grouped for the first time ministers from Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, South Africa and Sweden, in an effort to forge a broad consensus. The Czech Republic was also present as the rotating head of the European Union.

The United Nations has set a goal of halving emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming to below 2 degrees centigrade, but has not set a base year for the comparison.

“We need to see the U.S. go further ... both in terms of its own emission reduction target and what it is going to contribute to emissions reductions targets and adaptation overseas,” said Kim Carstensen, director of the WWF’s global climate initiative.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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