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July 8th, 2008:

Midnight Oil Burns Over Climate Rift

Reuters in Toyako – Updated on Jul 08, 2008

World leaders head into the second day of the G8 summit preoccupied with soaring food and oil prices, and deeply divided over how to tackle climate change.

Senior officials from the Group of Eight rich nations were meeting late into the night in Japan to thrash out wording that would allow President George W. Bush today to put aside deep misgivings and sign on to a global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

He is under strong pressure from Japan and Europe, but says he will not back a numerical target unless big polluters including China and India agree to binding commitments to curb their carbon pollution.

A face-saving statement that goes beyond last year’s summit pledge in Germany to “seriously consider” cuts of 50 per cent is especially important for Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who has made climate change the centrepiece of the talks.

“This is really our bottom line. I think the prime minister believes that at this summit somehow he will be able to convince President Bush to accept some kind of consensus formula,” said Japanese foreign ministry official Kazuo Kodama.

Global warming ties into other big themes at the three-day meeting, at a plush mountain-top hotel on the northern island of Hokkaido, with police protection of 21,000 officers.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended yesterday’s talks, said the drive to reach eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the UN General Assembly to reduce world poverty by 2015 was being hampered by global warming.

He urged the grouping to send a strong political signal by setting a long-term goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, backed by intermediate targets that would set market forces in train to reduce energy consumption.

“We tend to think of climate change as something in the future. It is not. We see now, most of all in Africa, that drought and changing weather patterns are compounding the challenges we face in attaining the MDGs,” Mr Ban said.

The G8 will set out its positions on climate change, aid to Africa, rising food prices and the global economy in statements to be issued today.

Citing a final draft of the G8 statement, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said the leaders would highlight risks to the world economy and label rising food and oil prices a “serious threat”.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi raised the spectre that oil, which hit a record high of US$145.85 a barrel last week, could keep climbing and renewed Italy’s call for higher margin requirements on futures markets to deter speculative buyers.

“There are fears oil prices could increase further. Some people fear they could reach US$200,” he said.

Higher prices are taking a heavy toll on the world’s poor. A World Bank study issued last week said up to 105 million people could drop below the poverty line because of food price rises, including 30 million in Africa.

“How we respond to this double jeopardy of soaring food and oil prices is a test of the global system’s commitment to help the most vulnerable,” World Bank president Robert Zoellick said.

To help cushion the blow, officials said the grouping would unveil a series of measures to help Africa, especially its farmers, and would affirm its commitment to double aid to the world’s poorest continent to US$25 billion a year by 2010.

Leaders are also set today to finalise a statement on the crisis in Zimbabwe after a violent election that extended President Robert Mugabe’s 28-year rule. G8 leaders condemned the poll yesterday. “There’s growing support for sanctions against the Mugabe regime being stepped up,” British leader Gordon Brown said.