Tony Blair on Saturday urged the world's heaviest polluters including the United States, China and India to agree to binding emissions cuts, saying failure to act on global warming would be "unforgivably irresponsible."
But disagreements were out in the open as the former British prime minister took on his new role as a mediator trying to help all sides meet a deadline to draft a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol by the end of next year.
"We have reached the critical moment for the decision on climate change," Blair told a meeting of senior officials from the world's top 20 greenhouse gas emitters in suburban Tokyo.
"Even on the mildest application of precautionary principles, failure to act on climate change now would be deeply and unforgivably irresponsible," he said.
Blair as premier launched the Group of 20 environment initiative in hopes of fostering a dialogue that included both the United States, the main opponent of Kyoto, and emerging economies that have no obligations under the pact.
But some 190 nations agreed at a conference in December in Bali to work together on a follow-up treaty to Kyoto, whose obligations on slashing carbon emissions blamed for global warming expire in 2012.
Indian climate official Ajay Mathur questioned the motives of 20-nation meetings, a forum embraced by US President George W Bush's administration, which notes that the countries account for 80 per cent of global emissions.
"We are completely against" the concept, Mathur said.
"India, for example, has an emission of one tonne per capita. The US is 20 tonnes per capita. So I have no idea why India should be a major emitter," he told reporters.
Developing nations argued that rich nations should commit to steeper cuts in gas emissions and provide emerging economies with financial and technological support on fighting climate change, according to environmentalists who attended the closed-door talks.
The weekend meeting is meant to pave the way for the next negotiations on Kyoto's successor later this month in Bangkok as well as July's summit of the Group of Eight wealthy nations on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Last year's summit of the Group of Eight – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States – agreed to seriously consider a target of 50 per cent cuts in emissions by 2050.
But there was no binding commitment and the base year for the reductions was ambiguous.
"The question now is, can we take it further? Can we agree on a binding global target of at least a 50 per cent cut in emissions? Can we spell out the principles of a deal?" Blair said.
UN climate experts have recommended steep cuts in emissions to at least lessen the momentum of global warming, warning that rising temperatures spell devastating consequences for the ecosystem.
The United States argues that Kyoto is unfair by making no demands of fast-growing emitters such as China and India. But all major candidates vying to succeed Bush next year have promised to take stronger action against global warming.
Japan, which lags behind in meeting its own Kyoto targets, has been lukewarm on EU-led calls to set further broad binding targets for each nation and has advocated establishing energy efficiency goals for every industry.
Akira Amari, Japan's trade minister, seemed to acknowledge that developing nations were skeptical about Tokyo's position.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to correct misunderstandings over our proposal," he said as he opened a meeting with Chinese delegate Xie Zhenhua.
Blair, who will head to China and India after the weekend talks, said both rich and developing nations had to move forward on global warming.
"The emissions in the richer nations will have to fall close to zero and those in the poorer countries will have to, over time, fall as they industrialise," Blair said. (AFP)
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