19 March 2007

G8 Climate Consensus Emerging, US Odd Man Out

POTSDAM, Germany - A consensus on the need to protect the world's environment is emerging among rich and developing nations, but the United States remains at odds with other countries on key points, Germany said on Saturday.

Environment ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations, and officials from leading developing countries, were meeting to prepare for a June G8 summit where they plan to discuss specific targets for protecting the environment.

"On two issues, the United States were the only ones who spoke against consensus," German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting, which he chaired on behalf of Germany's G8 presidency.

Gabriel said the US remained opposed to a global carbon emissions trading scheme like the one used in the European Union and rejected the idea that industrialised nations should help achieve a "balance of interests" between developing countries' need for economic growth and environmental protection.

"We find this regrettable," Gabriel said, adding "I would have been disappointed if I'd expected something different."

The June summit of G8 nations -- Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia -- will take place in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put climate change at the top of the agenda for this year's summit, which will also be attended by the developing nations that were in Potsdam -- China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.


Japanese Environment Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi said ministers did not discuss specific targets for a possible agreement to replace the UN's Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. However, he said the summit would have to tackle targets.

The United States has been criticised for pulling out of the Protocol in 2001 and Wakabayashi said any post-Kyoto agreement with specific targets would "have to involve the US, China, India and other developing countries."

Canadian Environment Minister John Baird echoed this view in a conference call with reporters after the meeting.

But developing states like China cite the US position as a reason for their refusal to accept reduction targets.

Chinese Environment Minister Xie Zhenhua said he used the G8 meeting to call on industrialised states to transfer top environmental protection technology to developing countries to help them combat climate change.

"People have been talking about technology transfers but this hasn't happened," Xie said.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said progress had been achieved at the meeting, and noted a consensus on causes of global warming.

The Bush administration, which for years questioned the reliability of scientific findings showing man-made pollution was causing the planet's warming, has shifted its stance.

Washington now backs conclusions in a UN report last month which said mankind was to blame for global warming and predicted more droughts and heatwaves and a slow rise in sea levels.

"There is a strong consensus on the science," de Boer said. "We can now put behind us the period when science was called into question."

Greenpeace analyst Tobias Muenchmeyer criticised the meeting, saying the ministers "failed to send a signal to their leaders about the urgency of the climate change issue." (Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa)

Story by Louis Charbonneau