By David Fogarty
Climate change is high on the agenda for the G8 nations meeting at a luxury hotel on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido from Monday to Wednesday. But green groups fear the summit will end in failure by not committing to a pledge to slash emissions by 2050.
Leaders from China, India, Brazil, Australia and other big carbon polluters will also meet G8 members during a separate gathering of what is known as the Major Economies Meeting.
"Let's agree a clear-cut 50 percent reduction by 2050. And let's agree on the principle of a midterm (target)," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in Hokkaido on Monday, adding the meeting would be a success if these points were agreed by the G8.
"If we agree among ourselves (in the G8), then we are in a much better position for discussions with our Chinese partners and others."
China and India, whose rapidly growing economies produce about a quarter of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions, have refused to commit to fixed targets to curb emissions unless rich nations, and particularly the United States, do so.
Developing nations also want more financial aid and transfer of clean energy technology and a commitment from rich nations to a midterm target to cut emissions. The G8 emits about 40 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas pollution, about half of that alone coming from the United States.
President George W. Bush has refused to back any fixed numerical targets to cut emissions unless developing nations agree to binding commitments to curb their carbon pollution.
Green groups have low expectations of an about-face from the Bush administration at this year's G8 and say the bloc hasn't made progress in fighting climate change over the past year.
At the G8 summit in Germany last year, leaders agreed to "seriously consider" cuts of "at least" 50 percent by 2050.
"It will not be good, it will not be enough if the G8 countries just decide to reduce by 50 percent in 2050. They must state 'at least', and they must say something that urges them to action before 2050," Kim Carstensen of global environment group WWF told reporters in Hokkaido.
"We should definitely look for wording around a midterm target. A midterm target would be in 2020, which should be in a range of 25-40 percent reductions for industrialized countries," said Carstensen, director of WWF's Global Climate Initiative, referring to the U.N. climate panel's goal for rich nations.
Barroso was doubtful a numerical target for 2020 would be set.
"But I hope we can reach agreement on the need to have a midterm target," he said.
The Major Economies Meeting group last month backed the need for a long-term global goal for reducing emissions and for major developed economies to set their own midterm goals.
"Just committing to 50 percent by 2050 would be a false answer. If there is no 'at least' in there it means the governments commit themselves to not doing enough," Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace told reporters in Hokkaido.
"Bush continues to be backwards and is in fact insulting the world by saying China and India need to act first before we in the United States are willing a make a further small step," he added.
A top Bush official wouldn't say if a target of 2050 would be in the final G8 text.
"We have indicated already that we will give serious consideration to 50 by 50," James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters at the G8.
"We have been pushing hard, and we think we've made good progress, so hopefully the declaration will reflect this, on the need for common systems of measurement," he said.
"We need to understand that a tonne reduced in China is the same tonne as a tonne reduced in Japan as a tonne reduced in America, and right now in a number of areas we don't have that confidence," he said.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and William Schomberg; Editing by Hugh Lawson)