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President Bush hailed Tuesday’s climate change statement by G8 leaders as “significant progress” on global warming, while environmental and humanitarian groups criticized it as too little and too late.

A broad statement setting a goal halving carbon emissions by 2050 is a step forward for Bush, whose rejection of the Kyoto Protocol shortly after taking office has been a sticking point ever since for the world’s eight richest countries known as the Group of Eight. The president has even questioned scientific assertions that global warming poses a significant threat.

“We are committed to avoiding the most serious consequences of climate change and determined to achieve the stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of global greenhouse gases,” G8 leaders said this week in Japan. “Achieving this objective will only be possible through common determination of all major economies, over an appropriate time frame, to slow, stop and reverse global growth of emissions and move towards a low-carbon society.”

“In order to address climate change, all major economies must be at the table,” Bush told reporters after the meeting, “and that’s what took place today.”

But Bush said he would go along with the agreement only if China and India do likewise. Those two nations are not formally part of the G8 Summit–which includes the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia–but they, along with six other developing nations were invited as guests.

China and India insist that wealthy nations must take the lead in reducing emissions, arguing that they need to grow quickly to fight poverty among their large populations and that per capita their citizens use less energy than those in other countries, setting up an impasse between East and West.

Still, it was the first time ever for all 16 countries responsible for 80 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to sit down together.

The United Nations’ top climate official said the statement had positive elements but lacked mid-term goals for cutting pollution in developed nations by 2020, an important omission.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change called it a “positive step but far short of a solution.”

“More important than the long-term goal is actually getting the job started, and there the G8 again failed to deliver,” Claussen said. “Endorsing the use of economy-wide goals to achieve absolute emission reductions is a step forward for President Bush. But what is needed–and what is missing–is a clear declaration by the industrialized powers that they are ready to negotiate strong, binding mid-term targets. That is the kind of leadership it will take to get all the major economies on board an effective, sustained global effort.”

Peter Grant of Tearfund, a Christian relief and development organization in Great Britain, called the statement “very disappointing.”

“The G8 are crawling forward on emissions cuts at a time when giant leaps and bounds are needed,” Grant said. “Climate change is not a thing of the future–it’s already happening and hitting the world’s poorest communities the hardest. G8 leaders owe it to them to do much more to address the devastating effects of climate change.”

Five countries–China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico–criticized the G8 commitment as not going far enough. Rather than halving global emissions by 2050, the G5 urged developed nations to cut emissions more ambitiously–25 percent to 40 percent by 2020, followed by 80 percent to 95 percent by mid-century. Those numbers are in line with recommendations by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Daniel Mittler, political adviser to Greenpeace International, called the G8 proposal “nothing but flowery words.”

“If this is a step forward, we will never prevent climate chaos in time,” Mittler said in a blog. “The only good news from this summit is that it is Bush’s last.”

Prior to the summit, senior leaders of different faiths from Religions for Peace, the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition, called on G8 governments to take bold action on both violent conflict and climate change.

“We must draw attention to the link between the health of the environment and war,” said Leonid Kishkovsky, moderator of Religions for Peace. “In addition to killing people, disrupting the lives of entire societies and thwarting development, war destroys the ecosystem.”

The group called on G8 governments to reduce defense expenditures and use those saved expenditures to establish an Earth Fund dedicated to environmental protection.

Daniel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, also linked global warming to the current world food crisis.

“Human actions that are driven by greed have created poverty, hunger and climate change,” Kobia said. “Humanity must be challenged to overcome its greed.”

The Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement to fight global warming, went into effect in 2005 and expires in 2012. A new treaty is expected by then, but observers say it will have little impact if the U.S. isn’t on board.

Vice President Al Gore was a main participant in putting the treaty together in 1997. President Bill Clinton signed the agreement in 1997, but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed by 141 nations, including all European and all other developed industrial nations except the U.S. and Australia. Bush pulled the U.S. out in 2001, dismissing the accords as too costly and unrealistic.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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