Obama’s climate challenge at G8

Rallying rich and developing nations alike, United States President Barack Obama wants the world’s top polluters to keep driving toward a deal to halt global warming.

Nearing six months on the job, Obama has some momentum: a new agreement among developed and emerging nations to cap rising global temperatures, plus goodwill from his peers for repositioning the United States as an aggressive player in the debate.

Yet when Obama helps lead a gathering of the world’s major economies in Italy on Thursday, he will run smack into the same old problem: Neither the wealthy nor the developing countries think the other side is doing enough. And only when the pollution emitters work together on a binding plan will a climate strategy work, experts say.

Even victory came with a setback on Wednesday. The G8 nations set a goal of cutting all greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, but developing nations refused to go along.

Confronting global warming — a trend scientists say could unleash devastating droughts, floods and disease if left unchecked — is a dominant theme again at this year’s G8 summit of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Obama will take part in discussions all day on the climate and a host of economic issues, and the number of countries represented at the table will just keep growing.

First, the traditional industrialised powers will expand their forum to other strategic economies: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, plus a special invitee, Egypt.

Obama will then help lead a forum of major economies that includes Australia, Indonesia and South Korea. Together with the US the represented countries account for about 80% of the emissions of the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

The results of this week’s meeting will be a pivotal marker of what could happen in talks in Copenhagen in December, when the United Nations tries to conclude a new worldwide climate deal.

”This will also be an opportunity for the president and the other leaders to discuss what they can do collectively to add political momentum to the negotiations,” Mike Froman, a national security aide leading the administration’s G8 efforts, said ahead of Thursday’s events.

The two blocs — the richest countries and the fastest growing ones — did strike an important agreement on Wednesday. Their unified position now is that global temperature should be kept from rising by more than 2° Celsius.

That’s the point at which the Earth’s climate system would fall into perilous instability, according to the United Nations’ chief panel on climate change.

The US and the other G8 nations set a new goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 80% or more by 2050, part of their global goal of a 50% cut.

More steps by developed and developing countries will be announced on Thursday, Froman said. But the emerging countries are refusing to commit to specific reduction targets.

They are upset that the industrialised G8 has not been forthcoming on either midterm emissions reductions — well before 2050 — or pledges of financing and transferring technology to the developing world. And they worry that major reductions could hamper their economies.

”Support from the G8 is only the first step in what is likely to be a long and difficult process,” said Guy Caruso, a senior adviser for the energy and national security programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.

”The Major Economies Forum recognises this reality,” he said. ”The bottom line is that the industrialised countries will need to provide the incentives to the emerging economies.”

Obama began his agenda on Thursday by meeting with Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and urging him to use his influence to try to move Iran away from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama noted Brazil’s close trading ties with Iran and told Da Silva that the relationship between Brazil and Iran offers a unique opportunity to reiterate the G8’s stance on Iran.

The leaders meeting in Italy have said Iran must not seek to create nuclear weapons and must loosen restrictions on its news media.

Obama and Da Silva met for 30 minutes before joining other world leaders at the three-day summit. Iran was not invited to the summit.

The Da Silva meeting was a late addition. It came during the slot when Obama was to have met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who returned home to deal with an outbreak of ethnic violence.

Hu’s departure is seen by analysts as weakening the chances that the US and other G8 countries can advance climate talks at this summit with China and a few of its close peers. –Sapa

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