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Analysis

Leaders pledge 'deep cuts'

Nearly everyone had something to cheer about Wednesday after the major industrial powers and a big group of emerging nations pledged to pursue "deep cuts" in emissions of heat-trapping gases in coming decades.

President Bush, who had insisted that any commitment to combat global warming must involve growing economies as well as the rich nations, recruited China and India to the table and received rare accolades from some environmentalists for doing so.

The developing countries received a promise that the rich countries would take the lead in curbing emissions. And environmentalists said the agreements renewed chances of reviving two ailing climate pacts, the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But behind the congratulatory speeches Wednesday, some experts said, was a more sobering reality. The documents issued by the participating countries had very few of the concrete goals needed to keep greenhouse gases from growing at their torrid pace, they said.

The statement by the industrialized Group of 8 pledged to "move toward a carbon-free society" by seeking to cut worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases in half by 2050. But the statement did not say whether that baseline would be emissions at 1990 levels, or the less ambitious baseline of current levels, already 25 percent higher.

Mentions of mandatory restrictions on emissions were carefully framed. Caps or taxes were endorsed where "national circumstances" made those acceptable. The statement urged nations to set "midterm, aspirational goals for energy efficiency."

There were new commitments to demonstrate that carbon dioxide from coal combustion could be captured, compressed and stashed permanently underground. But experts have said that that process would have to work at the scale of billions of tons of carbon dioxide a year within a decade or two to avert a huge rise in carbon dioxide concentrations, while proposed projects are all measured in millions of tons.

The Group of 8 statement also pledged to increase aid to help developing countries improve energy efficiency or cut their vulnerability to climate risk. But developing countries have noted that in the past those pledges have gone unfilled.

Gwyn Prins, an expert on climate policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was there for discussions preceding the formal talks and noted that current concerns about energy security were already clearly interfering with discussions aimed at climate stability.

One day, in particular, he said, was "gloriously incoherent." At a meeting in the morning, participants focused on finding ways to reduce gas prices, he said, while a session that afternoon focused on raising them through caps or taxes on fossil fuels.

Leaders pledge 'deep cuts' 07/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 3:30pm]
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