G8 agrees to "historic" climate deal

But commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent is overshadowed by continuing stand-off with emerging powers

Climate change negotiations at the world leaders' summit in Italy move into a crucial phase today as the G8 group of industrialised nations attempt to secure support from developing economies for new global emissions targets designed to limit temperature rises to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

As widely anticipated, the members of the G8 yesterday agreed for the first time to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 as part of efforts to cut global emissions in half by the same date.

The final communiqué left considerable room for interpretation as to how the targets should be calculated, agreeing that the base line would be set at "1990 or more later years", and ruling only that efforts to curb emissions amongst rich nations "must be comparable".

The issue of where to set the base line for emission targets has become increasingly contentious with the US and Japan facing criticism for calculating emission targets based on a 2005 base line, as opposed to the more widely adopted 1990 starting date. Meanwhile, Russia has exploited the 1990 base line, agreed under the Kyoto Accord at a time when its carbon emissions were far higher, to justify recent increases in its emissions.

However, despite the fudged targets UK prime minister Gordon Brown hailed the communiqué as an "historic" breakthrough that should provide renewed impetus to the UN-backed Copenhagen negotiations.

"Today we have laid the foundations for a Copenhagen deal that is ambitious, fair and effective," he said. "The world has now agreed that the scientific evidence is compelling and the G8 countries have agreed that developed countries will reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050."

Attention now turns to emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil who today join a meeting of the 17-nation Major Economies Forum chaired by US president Barack Obama.

Obama is hoping to secure a similar deal with MEF members that would see them agree to limit temperature rises to two degrees and sign up to a global target to cut emissions by 50 per cent by mid-century.

But insiders are now warning that a deal remains unlikely after China, India and Brazil signaled that they would resist calls to sign up to any binding targets, unless rich nations commit to clearer targets and provide more details on how they plan to fund the transfer of clean technologies to the developing world.

According to Reuters' reports, a draft statement prepared ahead of the MEF meeting has dropped any reference to the 50 per cent emissions targets, but retains a commitment to limit temperature rises to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

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