PARIS (AFP) — Wealthy nations are shirking their duty to take a strong lead in fighting global warming, the UN's top climate official said Friday, a day ahead of a G8 meeting of environment ministers in Kobe, Japan.
"We really need a push now from G8 countries to show leadership," said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Industrialised nations must show how they intend to engage major developing economies such as China, India and Brazil "to ensure that we really have a long-term climate agreement" by the December 2009 deadline set in hard-fought UN negotiations in Bali last December, he told AFP in an interview.
"I am not seeing this push yet," he said.
Reaching a consensus on medium- and long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gases ahead of the G8 summit in July, also taking place in Japan, would be "very difficult", he predicted.
De Boer, in an unusual expression of frustration, was notably concerned that Europe was softening is landmark commitments to cut greenhouse gases, thus sending the wrong signal to developing nations.
"The whole world gave a standing ovation when Europe announced last year its willingness to reduce its emissions by 20 percent, and perhaps by 30 percent of others join in," he said.
"But now this position is under a lot of pressure, especially from European Union industries," he said.
Multinationals from the cement, power, steel and petrochemical sectors have threatened to move operations outside Europe unless a plan to sell carbon emission permits -- a cornerstone of EU plans to curb climate change -- are scrapped.
The United States and Japan, de Boer said, have focused too much on fixing a long-range objective for 2050 and industry-by-industry goals for slashing harmful gases.
"If you are a businessman planning an investment, you probably want to know more about where governments intend to go in 2020 rather than the middle of the century," he said.
"We need a clear indication on how much they intend to reduce their emissions in the medium term, and not just by 2050," he added.
The administration of George W. Bush and some other advanced-economy nations has balked at making mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases until developing nations such as China -- the world's second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide -- take on firm commitments as well.
These rapidly industrialising nations counter that advanced economies are largely responsible for CO2 emissions over the last two centuries, and that per capita emissions remain far lower in the developing world.
De Boer also chided Japan for sending mixed signals on how it intends to tackling global warming.
"I hear the prime minister (Yasuo Fukuda) is still very much committed to national reduction targets for Japan, but at the same time I hear other Japanese representatives talking about the fact that a sectorial approach would be better," he said.
Industry-wide voluntary agreements to cut carbon emissions are laudable but cannot replace binding national commitments if the world is to escape the most severe consequences of global warming, de Boer has said.
The environment meeting this weekend in Japan is critical, he added, because it is the last before world leaders from G8 nations -- Japan, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada and the United States -- meet in July, when they are expected to make a key declaration on global warming.
What they say will give a clear indication to developing nations "where they want their emissions to be in 2050," the UN negotiator said.
De Boer also expressed skepticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's idea of establishing a carbon tax on all goods coming into the European Union from countries that have not committed to reducing CO2 emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
"Saying at the beginning of a relationship what you intend to do if the relationship goes wrong is not the best thing to build confidence," he said, noting that the effort to include developing nations in a long-term solution to climate change has only recently gathered momentum.
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