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G8 Leaders Agree on Halving Emissions by 2050

TOYAKO - The Group of Eight major powers agreed Tuesday to at least halve global carbon emissions by 2050, in what leaders hailed as a breakthrough but environmentalists called toothless.

After a night of tough negotiations in the Japanese mountain resort of Toyako, leaders of the world's eight most powerful economies agreed to toughen language on the most contentious issue among them.

US President George W. Bush had previously rejected any statement beyond saying that the major economies would "seriously consider" cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for heating up the planet.

The leaders of the G8 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- said they shared a "vision" of reducing emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050.

But in a nod to Bush, the G8 leaders also called on major developing nations to join them in cutting emissions, something the US leader has insisted is necessary.

"In our view, and in the view of the leaders in the room, this represents substantial progress from last year," said Dan Price, Bush's assistant for international economic affairs.

The G8 nations also said they would each set their own interim targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions for a still unspecified amount of time after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations expire in 2012.

"We acknowledge our leadership role and each of us will implement ambitious economy-wide mid-term goals in order to achieve absolute emissions reductions," the joint statement said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had pleaded for this year's summit not to backtrack on earlier pledges on global warming, which UN scientists warn could put entire species at risk unless it is curbed by later this century.

"It's been a long road getting here. We had some very tough negotiations," Fukuda told reporters.

But he said the hard part was not yet over, with the G8 set to meet Wednesday in an extended session on climate change with leaders of major developing nations including China, India and Indonesia.

"This was a first step. Eventually we have to find a framework in which everybody can participate," Fukuda said.

The Group of Eight powersdiscussed biofuels , with concern growing that the rise in their use is helping to drive world food prices higher and add to global warming.

Biofuels, derived from organic materials such as palm oil and sugar beet, were once seen as a promising way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming by cutting the use of fossil fuels.

But experts have warned that current biofuels policy could push up grain prices and cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings.

But environmentalists said the progress was far too little to gloat about.

"If after a year's work all you have is a 'shared vision' instead of 'seriously considering,' it's pretty pathetic," said Kim Carstensen, head of the WWF's Global Climate Initiative.

Daniel Mittler, a climate change expert at Greenpeace International, said that "instead of action, the world got flowery words."

"The Texas oilman has once again prevented the G8 from undergoing the energy revolution it needs," Mittler said. "Bush is a lame duck, so who cares what he thinks about 2050?"

The United States is the only major industrial nation to shun the Kyoto Protocol. Bush argues that it is unfair because it makes no demands of growing emerging economies such as China and India.

But both major candidates to succeed Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama, have pledged stronger action on global warming, including forcing domestic industry to cut emissions in the world's largest economy.

The United States and major developing countries agreed at a UN-backed conference in Bali in December to reach a new treaty by the end of 2009 for the post-Kyoto period starting in 2013.

Alden Meyer, policy director for the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said that Bush was wrong to pressure China and India to do more on climate change.

"It wasn't China and India, it was the United States that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table in Bali," Meyer said. "So for President Bush to still be saying this is really arrogant."

Climate change has been the most contentious issue at the G8 summit, where leaders are also discussing African development and the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

The G8 leaders issued a statement warning that soaring oil and food prices pose a "serious challenge" to world economic growth and calling for boosted crude oil production capacity.

"The world economy is now facing uncertainty and downside risks persist," the group said in a joint statement.

The leaders warned on Tuesday that soaring oil and food prices pose a "serious challenge" to world economic growth, calling for boosted crude production capacity.

"The world economy is now facing uncertainty and downside risks persist," the G8 said in a joint statement.

"We express our strong concern about elevated commodity prices, especially of oil and food, since they pose a serious challenge to stable growth worldwide, have serious implications for the most vulnerable and increase global inflationary pressure," the statement said.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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