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In L'Aquila, Italy today, President Obama chaired a meeting of leaders representing two very different groups. On one side, the G-8 industrialized countries, on the other, nearly a dozen developing nations. They were trying to agree on common targets in the effort to reduce global warming. The president reported substantial progress, but the two groups failed to agree on one crucial point: setting limits for carbon emissions.
From L'Aquila, NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama called climate change the defining challenge of our time. And with rising temperatures already melting ice sheets and swelling oceans, he said, it's a problem that cannot be ignored.
President BARACK OBAMA: Every nation on this planet is at risk. And just as no one nation is responsible for climate change, no one nation can address it alone.
HORSLEY: Yesterday, the major industrial nations that make up the G-8 agreed to collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by mid-century. Today, the talks turned to developing nations such as India, China and Brazil. Those countries joined the G-8 in saying global temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than two degrees Celsius.
But without more help from wealthy countries, they refused to commit to limiting their own greenhouse gases. Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists says without that cooperation, no effort to fight climate change can succeed.
Mr. ALDEN MEYER (Union of Concerned Scientists): Even if we totally eliminate carbon emissions in the north by 2050, there needs to be a substantial reduction from business as usual by the remaining developing countries of the world. To achieve that, they need the financing and the technology assistance to grow their economies in a sustainable way.
HORSLEY: A draft proposal that would've provided developing countries with $400 million to cut emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change was dropped from the final declaration at today's meeting. Meyer says without that kind of funding from rich countries, the developing world is reluctant to sign on.
Mr. MEYER: They don't have confidence based on this meeting and the last year and a half of opportunities that have been missed by the G-8 countries, they don't want to be on the hook with no support to help achieve it.
HORSLEY: Administration officials say there's still time to negotiate cuts in developing countries' greenhouse gases before a UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December. They acknowledge that may require both technical and financial support. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough says the Obama administration has made finding cleaner forms of energy a top priority.
Mr. DENIS MCDONOUGH (Deputy National Security Advisor): And I think our challenge is to be the first country to not only green our own economy here, but also to lead the way on green exports to countries like India and China that want to see the kind of low carbon growth that is only going to come with new innovation.
HORSLEY: President Obama said this week's talks in Italy have produced a good start in the fight against global warming, but he acknowledged that fight won't be easy. Climate change legislation in the U.S. only narrowly passed the House last week, and it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Pres. OBAMA: We can either shape our future or we can let events shape it for us. We can fall back on the stale debates and old divisions, or we can decide to move forward and meet this challenge together. I think it's clear from our progress today which path is preferable and which path we have chosen.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says because the problem of climate change is largely manmade, people have the power to solve it. The question, he said, is whether they have the courage to do so.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, L'Aquila, Italy.
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