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Climate negotiations stagnate at G8

Expected agreement falls through as countries disagree over how cuts should be allocated.

Activists of charity organization Oxfam, wearing masks of the G8 heads of state U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, perform in downtown Rome July 8, 2009. G8 leaders have failed to get emerging powers to agree climate change goals for 2050 and conclusions from their summit will not directly refer to a sensitive debate about the domination of the dollar. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

ROME — The ground seems to have fallen out from under climate negotiations being conducted on the margins of the G8 summit.

Representatives from 17 of the world’s most polluting countries who met Wednesday were expected to agree to halve their contribution to global warming by 2050, with richer countries committing to steeper cuts. The economies gathered account for 80 percent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But China and India are said to have balked at joining the global effort to combat climate change unless industrialized countries pledged faster and deeper emissions cuts.

According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the host of the meeting, definitive cuts faced “strong resistance” from the Chinese delegation.

The stalemate is a step backward for efforts to forge a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol in Denmark later this year. It illustrates the major challenge in crafting the global compact: deciding who is responsible for what cuts.

Barring a diplomatic breakthrough when heads of state meet this week in the earthquake-struck city of L'Aquila, officials are likely to agree only that global warming shouldn’t be allowed to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F), the point beyond which many fear the Earth will begun to undergo physical changes — such as the warming of the oceans or the melting of arctic permafrost — that would perpetuate global warming.

What they can’t agree on is how to stop that from happening.

Even going into negotiations this week, officials hadn’t decided what any potential cuts would be measured against. United Nations scientists working for the International Panel on Climate Change use global emissions in 1990 as a base level.

Washington and Tokyo, however, have been measuring proposed cuts against 2005 levels. During the interval between the two dates, emissions in the U.S. grew by 23 percent, which has significant implications for the ultimate target.