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G-8 Nations Clash On How Much To Cut Emissions

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Leaders of the world's richest nations say they finally agree on global warming, and they're still facing criticism. The leaders known as the Group of 8 - the U.S., Canada, Japan and the biggest powers of Europe - say they want to cut greenhouse emissions. They want to cut them in half by the year 2050. But as they wrapped up a summit today, that plan faced dissent from developing nations. They say it doesn't go far enough or fast enough.

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NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from the summit in Japan.

ANTHONY KUHN: On the final day of the G8 Summit, leaders of eight developed and eight developing nations met and issued a joint statement. It pledged to combat climate change and advance United Nations negotiations on global warming. The statement set no hard deadlines or numerical targets. Still, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called it an important outcome of the summit.

Prime Minister YASUO FUKUDA (Japan): (Through translator) The expression of a strong political will by the leaders of 16 countries, necessarily, I believe it will become a strong momentum to promote the U.N. negotiations.

KUHN: But the developed and developing nations disagreed over the G8's proposal to cut 50 percent of emissions by 2050. A climate expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Alden Meyer, says that there were major problems with the G8 statement.

Mr. ALDEN MEYER (Climate Expert, Union of Concerned Scientists): It wasn't an actual commitment by the industrialized countries to try to meet that goal. It was a commitment to share their vision of such a goal with the major developing countries and see if they want to play.

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KUHN: Yesterday, the eight developing countries, which include China, India and Brazil, said that the G8 suggestion of a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050 wasn't enough. They proposed 80 to 95 percent cuts by 2050, and 25 to 40 percent cuts by 2020. Alden Meyer says that targets for 2020, which the G8 failed to agree on, are in some ways more important than goals for 2050.

Mr. MEYER: What really is the focus from a political point of view is what happens over the next 10 years and what decisions politicians make now that aren't getting the right kind of signals to business and consumers about the investments they make, the consumption choices they make and how much pollution they put into the atmosphere.

KUHN: Developing nations want G8 countries to take the lead in cutting emissions. Chinese President Hu Jintao said here today that his country was doing what it could to cut pollution, but a lot of its emissions resulted from economic development needed to ensure people's basic subsistence.

Environmental campaigners generally agree. Max Lawson is a policy adviser for Oxfam International.

Mr. MAX LAWSON (Policy Adviser, Oxfam International): The average American citizen still emits four times more carbon than the average Chinese person. And also, the mess was made by rich countries, so it's their responsibility to clean it up. They've got to act first, and they've got to act fast.

KUHN: Kumi Naidoo, co-chair of the group Global Call to Action Against Poverty, said the G8 was showing a poor record of meeting its own targets, both in aid to Africa and climate change.

Mr. KUMI NAIDOO (Co-Chair, Global Call to Action Against Poverty): If we go with the G8's targets that have been agreed vaguely, we could be looking at a situation in 2050 with - in significant parts of the world the impact of climate change would have been completely irreversible.

KUHN: Many observers are now waiting to see if a new U.S. administration, either under John McCain or Barack Obama, will move the U.S.'s position closer to that of the European Union and developing nations.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Rusutsu, Japan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.