Vexed by economy, G8 agrees vacuous deal on climate change

Troubled by the impact of spiralling oil prices on the world economy, Group of Eight (G8) leaders meeting in Japan on Tuesday trumpeted a landmark deal to cut global emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, reported dpa.

But the '50/50' agreement, which has yet to be sealed, was quickly lambasted by environmentalists as virtually meaningless.

Meeting for the second day at a luxury mountain resort overlooking Lake Toyako, in the northern island of Hokkaido, the heads of state and government of the world's seven richest countries plus Russia turned their minds to the global economic slowdown, spiralling food and oil prices and the need to boost aid to Africa.

But they were also under intense pressure to make real progress on the climate change front.

Having failed to agree on medium-term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they issued a statement saying they would "consider and adopt" the goal of achieving "at least (a) 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050."

Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Union's executive body, the European Commission, said he was "very happy about the results of the G8 on climate change."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they had made "clear progress."

But pressure groups said the leaders were merely burying their heads in the sand.

"While the Arctic is melting, the G8 are postponing action. Instead of climate protection, the world got nothing but flowery words," said Greenpeace's Daniel Mittler.

Mittler's concerns were not wide off the mark.

Not only does the deal still need to be endorsed by the rest of the world, possibly at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen next year, it also doesn't contain a base year on which to measure the cuts.

This is because no agreement was reached among the G8 leaders.

While the EU had suggested using 1990 as a base, Canada called for a much more recent date, while host Japan made no suggestions at all.

Moreover, Russia said it would sign up to the deal, but only if it was not legally binding.

"It's unprecedented and it is quite unrealistic that one government should take responsibility for something 42 years ahead," said Alexander Pankin, a Russian foreign ministry official.

As Ben Wikler of AVAAZ.org, a pressure group, noted, by the time 2050 comes US President George W Bush will be 104 and Japan's premier, Yasuo Fukuda, will be 114.

G8 leaders had previously turned their attention to the economy, warning that spiralling oil prices posed a serious threat to future growth.

"We have strong concerns about the sharp rise in oil prices, which poses risks to the global economy," they said in a statement.

The leaders further stressed that the surge in food prices had "serious implications for the most vulnerable" while also adding to "global inflationary pressure."

On oil, they agreed to hold a special energy forum that should focus on energy efficiency and new technologies.

Other proposed solutions included boosting short-term production and refining capacities and greater market transparency to avoid speculation. On the demand side, countries should reduce their dependance on hydrocarbons and improve energy efficiency, they said.

Meanwhile, they warned that high food prices risked pushing millions more people back into poverty and called on other donors to increase their contributions to the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).

A promise to stick to their pledge to raise by 25 billion dollars the level of annual aid they give to Africa by 2010, meanwhile, was slammed by non-governmental organizations as too little too late.

On the issue of Zimbabwe, Russia opposed new sanctions against the regime of President Robert Mugabe.

There were also a series of blunders and diplomatic incidents.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy risked offending the hosting nation by refusing to hold a bilateral meeting with Fukuda, while the US delegation was forced to apologize after distributing an unflattering biography of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

G8 leaders were to hold their final round of talks on Wednesday, when they were also due to meet the leaders of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa - the so-called G5. dpa nr sc

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