World's top polluters in final round of climate talks

SYRACUSE, Italy, April 24, 2009 (AFP) - Environment ministers of the world's top polluters entered a final round of climate change talks Friday with agreement expected on stemming the loss of biodiversity.

The three days of talks in Sicily, buoyed by a sea change in US environmental policy, have also found new momentum towards a landmark deal to fight global warming at the end of the year.

US delegate Lisa Jackson said Thursday she brought a "message of hope" from US President Barack Obama, who already boasts having made more progress on US energy policy in his first three months in office than the United States has seen in 30 years.

"It's a good feeling to know that the world is waiting to welcome the US to the table and is not too frustrated by the lack of leadership in the past," Jackson told reporters.

Jackson, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, will address Friday's talks on the environment's impact on children's health.

Demonstrators march in the streets of Siracusa to protest against a G8 environment ministers meeting taking place in the Sicilian town on April 23. US "zeal" to reverse years of disengagement on environmental issues has spurred optimism for a landmark deal on global warming later this year, delegates to Group of Eight climate change talks said. (AFP photo)

The 'G8-Plus' talks bring together the environment ministers from Group of Eight members Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States and their counterparts from Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea.

The meeting is among several forums on the way to UN talks in Copenhagen in December aimed at sealing an international pact for curbing greenhouse gases beyond 2012.

That is when the Kyoto Treaty -- rejected by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush -- is set to expire and be replaced by the Copenhagen deal.

The Bush administration maintained that Kyoto would be too costly for US businesses to implement and called on developing countries to do more.

Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik, who met Obama in Prague earlier this month, said Thursday: "We are on the way to Copenhagen.

"President Obama told me that their chief negotiator Todd Stern will go to Copenhagen with the strongest possible mandate," said Bursik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
Overall, the G8 countries are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's carbon gas emissions.

The delegates to the Syracuse talks were set Friday to sign up to new commitments to stopping biodiversity loss even with resources hit hard by the global financial crisis.

The "Syracuse Charter" will spell out ways to reinforce and extend goals for 2010 that were set in 2002.

Climate change is a growing threat to biodiversity at a time when a quarter of all animal and plant species may be at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Delegates will pledge in the Syracuse Charter "to ensure that the current deep economic crisis does not translate into a reduction in resources for the protection of biodiversity," according to a draft obtained by AFP.

Noting that the global financial crisis is spurring major infrastructure projects to create employment, a set of guidelines for delegates to the talks warned that such investments "are the main cause of negative effects on the natural environment."

The cost of bailing out financial institutions during the economic meltdown, while huge, pales in comparison to the lost value caused every year by ecological damage to the environment, experts say.

Source: AFP

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