Big Economies Agree To Global Warming Accord

G-8 summit leaders have pledged to combat global warming. For the first time, the United States has joined European countries in seeking to keep average temperatures from climbing more than two degrees celsius above their pre-industrial levels. The leaders were less specific about plans to achieve that goal over the next 10 years or so. Some environmentalists complain the group hasn't gone far enough.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

For the first time, the U.S. and European nations have agreed on how far they're willing to let global warming go. It's an effort to measure progress against climate change.

MONTAGNE: Few scientists doubt that global temperatures are already rising and people put more carbon in the atmosphere everyday. The question for governments is how far they let this go. How much to let the average global temperature climb?

INSKEEP: Trying to hold the global temperature too low makes the effort more costly.

MONTAGNE: Letting it climb too high increases the effects on the climate.

INSKEEP: So now, leading western nations agreed on a temperature limit, although they were less specific on how they plan to get there.

NPR's Scott Horsley is covering the summit of western leaders in Italy.

SCOTT HORSLEY: When it comes to climate change, two degrees no longer separates the G-8 nations. In years past, the U.S. balked at setting a ceiling on how high global temperatures could go, but Deputy National Security Advisor, Mike Froman, says the U.S. now agrees with the European Union, that the limit should be two degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The other G-8 members have also signed on - Russia, Canada, and Japan.

Mr. MIKE FROMAN (Deputy National Security Advisor): There is a broad scientific view, that that's a benchmark that we should try to stay below and there are increasingly serious projected impacts, droughts, and storms, and sea level, and all of the whole panoply of disasters, and less than that, that flow from climate change.

HORSLEY: The major industrial countries agreed yesterday to try to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades, while cutting world-wide emissions in half. Big developing countries like China and India have not agreed to similar targets, but Froman argues that's not a problem.

Mr. FROMAN: I think by the time these meetings are over, you'll see that there has been a significant step forward in dealing with the climate change issues and in support of the U.N. negotiations towards Copenhagen.

HORSLEY: Copenhagen will host the next big round of international climate talks in December. And it's become something of a rallying cry for environmentalists, who want to see more progress before then. Watching from the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Antonio Hill of Oxfam was puzzled that the big industrial countries would approve the two degree ceiling, but not set out firm guidelines for cutting greenhouse gases in the next decade.

Mr. ANTONIO HILL (Senior Policy Advisor on Climate Change, Oxfam): They agree that we need to stop cooking the planet, but they haven't actually taken the steps to avoid that catastrophe.

HORSLEY: Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists is also worried that wealthy nations aren't doing more to help poor countries cut their production of greenhouse gases. Meyer believes that's why developing countries have been reluctant to set limits of their own.

Mr. ALDEN MEYER (Director of Strategy & Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists): Overall this was a tremendous missed opportunity by the G-8 to start to build trust and momentum, but we're calling on the leaders to keep working on this. They still have time to pick up the ball and move it forward, but time is running out.

HORSLEY: On his way to the G-8 summit, aboard Air Force One yesterday, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested that the U.S. is already setting a good example for the rest of the world with the Energy and Climate Bill that passed the U.S. House last week.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): The biggest thing that surrounds all of this has been related to global warming and climate change are the big steps that the House took only a week or so ago, taking bold action against forces that are changing the temperature and the environment of our planet.

HORSLEY: But over the next decade or so, the House bill would cut greenhouse gases in the U.S. by a relatively modest four percent compared in 1990 levels. And with Republicans and some Democrats warning of its economic price tag, the measure passed by only a very narrow margin. The Union of Concerned Scientists' Meyer suspects the pitched battle for the climate bill has forced Mr. Obama to lower his sites while negotiating with other G-8 leaders.

Mr. MEYER: That's clearly having an impact on what the Obama administration feels they can put forward in these discussions. They feel somewhat constrained by the political situation in Congress.

HORSLEY: Meyer wants Mr. Obama to take a harder line against global warming, but he concedes that even as he is negotiating here in Italy, the president can not ignore the political challenges back home.

Mr. MEYER: No one wants to repeat the experience of Kyoto, where the U.S. administration negotiated a treaty with no congressional backing and then walked away from the table. No one wants that. I think there's more the administration can do to mobilize public support and pressure on the Congress to be more ambitious.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will act as chairman today, when China, India, and other fast growing countries join the G-8 for an expanded ground of climate talks.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Rome.

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