SYRACUSE, Italy (Reuters) - The top U.S. climate change official brought a “message of hope” to a summit of environment ministers from rich and poor nations on Wednesday, saying Washington was committed to curbing greenhouse gases.
Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the Group of Eight (G8) industrial countries and major developing nations that U.S. President Barack Obama was willing to work tirelessly toward a deal on global warming.
“I bring from President Obama his message of hope, his message of change, his message of common purpose for the environment,” Jackson said in her first visit overseas.
“The U.S. government now fully acknowledges the urgency and complexity of climate change challenges,” she told a news conference at the three-day meeting, which ends on Friday.
The remarks from Jackson, who said she received a “warm welcome” from other delegates, marked a clean break with the former administration of George W. Bush which refused to sign up to the 1997 Kyoto protocol, binding rich nations to carbon cuts.
Obama, who has asked Congress to approve a cap-and-trade law to address climate change, is due to host a meeting of leaders from the 16 largest carbon emitting nations in Washington next week, part of efforts to clinch an international agreement in Copenhagen in December to extend the Kyoto deal beyond 2012.
Obama has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Washington favored a greater role for coal technology and renewable energy, Jackson said, but needed to resolve issues related to waste before decisively pursuing nuclear energy.
“I am hopeful and the president is hopeful that we are on the verge of opening a clean energy economy,” she said. “Certainly those with interests vested in the status quo will come up with horror stories to try to hold us back.”
Around 1,000 anti-globalisation and environmental demonstrators marched in Syracuse on Thursday under the banner “No G8,” but tight security meant they could not pass close to the castle where ministers were putting the final touches to an agreement to slow the global losses of biodiversity.
The “Syracuse Charter” aims to supplement an existing deal to “significantly reduce” biodiversity losses by 2010, which was signed by nearly 190 countries in 2002 but had little impact.
By some calculations, extinction rates are running at 1,000 times their natural pace due to man’s influence: three species disappear every hour and between 18,000 and 55,000 species a year, according to U.N. figures.
The Charter, under the slogan “Biodiversity is Business,” aims to employ the environment as a tool for development.
“Defending biodiversity can play a key role in the battle against climate change and the reduction of the gap between the world’s North and South,” said Italian Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo, without giving further details.
The G8 meeting grouped for the first time nine developing economies, including Brazil, India and China — by some calculations the world’s largest carbon producer — in an effort to forge a worldwide consensus. Many delegates called for these economies to also make explicit commitments to cut emissions.
The United Nations has set a goal of halving emissions by 2050, but has not set a base year for the comparison.
“Big, emerging economies which are growing rapidly and consuming energy, like China or India, must pay a certain share of the reduction in carbon dioxide. Without them the proposal to cut emissions by half by 2050 will be impossible,” Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency, told Reuters.
Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Ralph Boulton