- Katharine Murphy, Toyako, Japan
- The Age, July 10, 2008
CHINA, India and other major developing nations have rejected a push by the world's richest countries for them to commit to firm targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
In a setback for international climate negotiations, the emerging giants of the world economy yesterday refused to endorse a statement by the Group of Eight wealthy nations in which they proclaimed a "shared vision" to at least halve emissions by 2050.
The so-called "Group of Five" developing economies - China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa - say rich nations must take the lead on emissions cuts, as they were historically responsible for climate change.
"Until there's a change in the decision of the United States, South Africa finds it very difficult for the G5 to move forward," South African Environment Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk said after talks at the Japanese mountain resort of Toyako.
In closed-door negotiations involving the G8 nations and leaders from eight other countries, only Australia, Indonesia and South Korea backed the G8 position on climate change.
A communique from the meeting reaffirmed that rich countries such as the US and Australia had an obligation to do more than other countries.
There was also common acknowledgement of the need for action on climate change, which was seen as a sign of progress ahead of critical talks in Copenhagen next year on a new deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
But the stand-off between the wealthy and developing nations remained, prompting green groups to dub yesterday's "Major Economies Meeting" of 16 countries a "major embarrassment meeting" for the G8.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joined the summit yesterday at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to help bridge the divide between the US and China.
In his allotted six minutes on the stage, Mr Rudd told the leaders Australia wanted to see a "grand bargain" - a "new grand consensus between developed and developing countries so that we can act together to bring down greenhouse gas emissions in order to save the planet".
"Together we, the world's largest economies, are responsible for 80% of our planet's greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "So together we are the ones who shoulder the hard decisions to provide for the planet's future."
Later, Mr Rudd said real political leadership was required before the Copenhagen meeting. "The buck stops with us," Mr Rudd told reporters. While the day's discussions had been "useful", he said, it was only "one step forward in what's going to be a difficult process".
Yesterday's polite words, but effective deadlock, followed Tuesday's resolution by the G8 nations - the US, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan and Canada - to aim to at least halve the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Tuesday's G8 statement also emphasised that the climate change treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol would need to contain commitments for all major economies, including developing nations, to reduce emissions.
But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday his country's first priority was spurring economic growth to eradicate dire poverty, and that it could not even consider quantitative restrictions on emissions.
"The imperative for our accelerated growth is even more urgent when we consider the disproportionate impact of climate change on us as a developing country," Mr Singh said.
India had "little choice but to devote even more and huge resources to adaption in critical areas of food security, public health and management of scarce water resources," he said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said China took climate change seriously and that developing countries should make whatever contribution they could.
But Mr Hu said the onus had to be on rich countries. "Developed countries should make explicit commitments to continue to take the lead in emissions reductions," Mr Hu said.
Mr Rudd acknowledged the sensitivities of developing countries by saying they had to show only "measurable and verifiable actions" in the new global deal.
Environmentalists blamed the US for the stalled negotiations, and said leadership must come from well-off nations. "The ball remains in the G8 court and countries like China and India are rightly insisting on rich nations to set ambitious targets," said Kim Carstensen, director of the WWF global climate initiative.
"Some rich nations get lost in tactics and seem to forget that the survival of people and nature crucially depends on their leadership," he said.
Greenpeace said the meeting was a useless diversion from taking real action. "Because of the G8's abject failure to commit to anything meaningful, there could be no move forward," said spokesman Daniel Mittler.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday's deal meant the G8 had made a commitment on cutting emissions, but emerging economies had not. "The United States is making a commitment, firmly and absolutely, with the condition imposed by their Congress that China and India also take action in a differentiated way," he said.
Failure to resolve the deadlock in Japan means the main game has shifted to Copenhagen in 2009. The major economies will gather again to negotiate at next year's G8 meeting.
Mr Rudd left Japan last night and today begins an official visit to Malaysia.
With AFP, REUTERS