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G-8 as climate change forum: baby steps

Leaders agreed that warming must be stopped, but few specifics were reached on how to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

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China, India, and Brazil, however, could not agree to the 50-to-80-percent reduction in emissions targets by 2050 set out last year. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, agreed that halting climate change is a global responsibility but said his nation could not accept targets that would result in "perpetuating poverty."

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Brazil's climate negotiator Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado threw down a challenge to G-8 nations to commit to "intermediate goals" in reduction – something the US has not yet achieved, though a climate bill is pending in Congress – in order for the rest of the world to accept the "credibility" of the effort.

The leading G-8 nations agreed that world temperatures that are heating up due to carbon and other gases released by the increased industrialization across the planet should not be allowed to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius.

"After a long struggle, all of the G-8 nations have finally accepted the 2-degree goal," said German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Will emerging nations get financial assistance?

The US role in throwing its weight behind the 2-degree reduction in global warming set an affirmative context for the Pittsburgh and Copenhagen meetings, analysts said. However without short- and mid-term targets in greenhouse-gas reduction, the 2-degree target could end up being illusory.

Going forward, the central dynamic in climate change reduction is likely to be between Beijing and Washington – and solving the issue of financial assistance to emerging nations willing to commit to targets.

"If China agrees," Mr. Hermisson argues, "it will be very difficult for India and Brazil not to."

The US Senate has before it a major piece of legislation, "The American Clean Energy and Security Act," sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts and Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California. The bill would require a 17 percent reduction of gases by 2020 – and offers some $600 million in clean-energy technology support. The bill, supported by the Obama administration, passed the House with less of a margin than expected – and may face a tough fight in the Senate.