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G-8 to take up climate change

Europe, Japan, US, and developing nations are divided over how to handle greenhouse-gas emissions.

The international squabble over climate change – who's to blame and how to deal with it – is coming to a boil as many of the major players prepare to meet in Germany next week.

In essence, Europe and Japan want stricter controls on greenhouse gases and a faster timetable for reducing them. Major developing countries, China and India, say advanced Western industrialized nations need to make the first cuts; and the United States increasingly looks like the Lone Ranger as it resists diplomatic efforts to join in a coordinated plan to battle global warming.

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The differences became apparent earlier this week when the environmental group Greenpeace leaked documents "showing the United States has raised serious new objections to a proposed global warming declaration" for next week's Group of Eight summit, according to the French press service AFP.

Germany is hosting the G-8 meeting in Heiligendamm June 6-8. The G-8 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, and the United States, with the 27-nation European Union (EU) participating as well.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to secure a major climate change deal, including agreement to slow the rise in average temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius, a cut in global greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and an increase in energy efficiency in power generation and transportation of 20 percent by 2020, the BBC reported.

But the US has raised objections to a draft communique prepared for the summit, reports the BBC and other news sources, quoting documents first released by Greenpeace.

"The changes strike out entire sentences and significantly reduce the certainty with which the statement addresses climate change," reports the BBC. In red ink, American negotiators wrote:

"The US still has serious, fundamental concerns about this draft statement…. The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses 'multiple red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to…. We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position."

China and India have joined the US in opposing strict international agreements to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, following a meeting this week with EU officials in Hamburg, Germany, as reported by AFP:

"Our position is that we are a developing nation, and climate change is not the doing of developing countries, though every country has to do what it can to help the environment....
"China's greenhouse emission per capita is lower than in the developed world, and we still have a substantial number of people living below the poverty line, so we have to strike a balance between development and protecting the environment."

China is not a member of the G-8 but was invited to the summit along with Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa.

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India's statements on the subject echo China's. Pradipto Ghosh, India's environment secretary, was quoted May 28 by the Press Trust of India news agency as saying

"Legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse impacts on GDP growth of developing countries, including India. [Plans to cut greenhouse gases could also have] serious implications for our poverty-alleviation programs. This is not the path we want to pursue."

African countries will not be directly involved in next week's G-8 discussions on global warming. But their interests are being voiced by Oxfam, the British aid and relief organization.

Rich countries are obliged to help developing countries adapt to climate change, Oxfam asserts – an effort that could cost at least $50 billion a year, reported Britain's Financial Times. Said Oxfam senior researcher Kate Raworth:

"This is not about aid, it is about the world's biggest and richest polluters covering the costs forced upon those who are most vulnerable.... Developing countries cannot and should not be expected to foot the bill for the impact of rich countries' emissions."

Beginning with its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the US has resisted international controls on its energy production and use – particularly as they relate to climate change. The US has aired two chief objections: that major developing countries (including China) are wrongly exempted from its targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gases and that the Kyoto agreement would harm the US economy.

US officials voiced those concerns this week in Darwin, Australia, where representatives of the 21 Pacific Rim countries making up the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum met to plan the group's summit in September, where climate change will be a key issue. Said US Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell, as quoted by the Associated Press:

"Each country brings its own unique circumstances, its own assets, its limitations.... A strong economy is the key enabler to addressing the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions."

Along with the US, Australia (the fourth-largest coal producer in the world) has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. At the Darwin meeting, the two countries said they want to discuss ways to develop clean technologies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions before any carbon-reduction schemes are considered. Said Australian Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane:

"Once we know how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the challenge will then be to have those technologies employed and to set targets."