KOBE, Japan (AFP) — Environment ministers from the world's richest nations and a clutch of fast-growing economies began talks here Saturday to try to bridge their differences on how to tackle global warming.
Japan, home to the landmark Kyoto Protocol, hopes to use the three days of meetings to shape the course of negotiations on a new climate treaty on curbing global warming, eyeing a breakthrough when it hosts the July 7-9 G8 summit.
"This G8 environment meeting is not a place to negotiate," said Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita in his opening speech.
"I hope we ministers responsible for the global environment will come to common recognition on issues that need to be given directions for the future."
Japan hopes to use its chairmanship of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations to give clearer direction to drafting a post-Kyoto treaty by the end of 2009.
Ministers and officials from the G8 nations along with countries including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Australia, South Korea and South Africa have gathered here to try and pave the way to an agreement.
"Truth is, we have to face up to these very hard realities," said British Environment Minister Hilary Benn.
"The cost of acting now will be much less than the cost of delaying the actions later on."
But ministers gathered here saw wide gaps in positions, particularly between wealthy nations and an outreach group of developing countries that began taking part in climate talks only after the last summit in Germany.
"China asked for the G8 summit to reflect the positions of the outreach countries," said a Japanese environment ministry official who attended the closed-door afternoon session.
He also said some countries including India called for "balanced discussions," urging restraint in the rush to adopt biofuels amid global food shortages.
Ahead of the meeting, international aid group Oxfam voiced concern on the increasing use of biofuels by developed nations.
"In the midst of a global food crisis, it's unacceptable for the rich world to burn food while the poor risk starvation," Oxfam campaigner Takumo Yamada said in a statement.
"There is mounting scientific evidence that biofuel mandates are actually accelerating climate change. A serious rethink of policies is needed," Yamada said.
The Kyoto Protocol's obligations for rich nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming expire at the end of 2012. UN scientists warn that climate change could put millions of people at risk by century's end.
Leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States agreed at the G8 summit last year in Germany to set a non-binding goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
However, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has warned wealthy nations are shirking their duty to take a strong lead in fighting global warming.
"We really need a push now from G8 countries to show leadership. I am not seeing this push yet," the UN's top climate official said in an interview with AFP on Friday in Paris.
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