Group of Eight negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on climate change that will be put to their leaders on Tuesday, sources familiar with the talks said, potentially resolving the
stickiest issue at their summit.
A statement that goes beyond last year's G8 summit pledge to "seriously consider" carbon emissions cuts of 50 percent by 2050 is especially important for Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who has made climate change the centrepiece of the talks.
But efforts to clinch a deal have been hampered by deep differences within the G8. Details of the agreement, expected to be unveiled later on Tuesday, were not immediately available.
Senior officials from the Group of Eight rich nations met late into the night in Japan to thrash out wording that would allow President George W. Bush to put aside deep misgivings and sign on to a global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.
Bush 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.
The statement on climate change is also likely to highlight agreements to develop new technologies and provide funds to help poor countries limit greenhouse gas emissions. But activists were wary of prospects for real progress until a new U.S. president takes office next year.
"It's a little bit of a kabuki play," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Everyone is just waiting for the next president to see how that changes things."
Food, Fuel, Climate
Global warming ties into other big themes at the three-day meeting at a plush mountain-top hotel on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, where 21,000 police have been mobilized to protect the leaders.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended talks on Monday with African leaders, said the drive to reach eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. General Assembly to reduce world poverty by 2015 was being directly hampered by global warming.
He urged the G8 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.
The G8 will set out its positions on climate change, aid to Africa, rising food prices and the global economy in a raft of statements due to be issued later on Tuesday.
Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said on Monday that the leaders' communique would highlight downside risks to the world economy and label rising food and oil prices a "serious threat".
The higher price of oil, which hit a record high of $145.85 a barrel last week, is taking a particularly 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 due to the leap in food prices, 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. "It is a test we cannot afford to fail," he told reporters.
To help cushion the blow, officials said the G8 would unveil a series of measures to help Africa, especially its farmers, and would affirm its commitment to double aid to give $50 billion extra in aid by 2010, with half to go to the world's poorest continent.
The summit wraps up on Wednesday with a Major Economies Meeting comprising the G8 and eight other big greenhouse gas-emitting countries, including India and China and Australia.