July 9, 2008

Industrial Countries Agree to Cut Greenhouse Gases

By Paul Wiseman

RUSUTSU, Japan -- The world's richest countries agreed Tuesday to support a 50% reduction in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 -- but environmentalists and developing countries denounced the move as a mushy compromise that would do little to stop global warming.

The South African environmental minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, dismissed the long-term emissions goal as "an empty slogan without substance." The Group of Eight industrialized nations set the goal at their annual summit here on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The 50% target is non-binding and "falls below what is scientifically required to stabilize the atmosphere at a relatively safe level," van Schalkwyk said.

Japan, for instance, has already pledged to cut emissions by as much as 80% by 2050. The G-8 communique didn't include a base year; so it was unclear whether emissions would be cut from 1990 or 2008 or another year's levels.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the summit's host, had pushed the G-8 to approve the 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. President Bush resisted agreeing to cuts unless rising economic powers (and big polluters) such as China and India signed on, too.

To get a deal, the United States moved its position slightly. At last year's summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, the G-8 merely agreed to "consider seriously" a 50% cut by 2050 -- words that reflected U.S. ambivalence. This year, G-8 nations agreed to "share" the "vision" of cutting emissions in half. White House aide Dan Price, deputy national security adviser, said the agreement "represents substantial progress from last year."

Alden Meyer, policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists environmental group, saw the pact as little more than an attempt to save face for host Fukuda: "Everyone is saying: Let's not kick up a fuss and ruin Prime Minister Fukuda's summit. Let's kick the can down the road."

A meaningful agreement, Meyer says, awaits a new U.S. president. Bush refused to go along with European demands for binding emissions targets. "President Bush and the Europeans just have a totally different worldview," he said. "Whether it's President McCain or President Obama, he will be more in sync with the Europeans." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>