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G8 summit gets off to rough start

Hu's exit damages climate talks as emerging economies challenge the industrialized powers

by Jun Hongo

ROME — With the relevance of the Group of Eight being challenged by emerging powers, the G8 leaders got down to business Wednesday addressing climate change and what their next move might be when and if the global recession subsides.

But the launch of the three-day G8 summit in L’Aquila was spoiled even before it began, with Chinese President Hu Jintao returning home to get a handle on the ethnic riots tearing apart the restive city of Urumqi in the northwest.

A shadow also grew over the climate change issue as chances appeared slim that the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, or MEF, would be able to hammer out long-term greenhouse gas emissions cuts, Japanese diplomatic sources said.

The key multinational emissions forum was to meet Thursday on the sidelines of the summit in the Italian mountain town.

The sources said MEF preparatory negotiations failed to bridge the gap between members of the industrialized and developing countries, effectively dashing hopes of achieving a substantial agreement.

Hu’s absence exacerbated the MEF discord, the sources said.

An initially prepared MEF draft declaration pledged a global emissions reduction of 50 percent by 2050, with industrialized countries promising an 80 percent cut in the same time frame, they said.

The 17-member MEF was established in March under the initiative of U.S. President Barack Obama to complete the groundwork for forging a new international carbon-capping framework to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Along with the G8, major greenhouse gas emitters China, India and Brazil are also members of the MEF.

Despite the forum’s apparent inability to produce tangible results, the G8 was nevertheless expected to issue a joint statement on climate change later in the day, in addition to discussing the global economy, the sources said.

The eight leaders were expected to share views on how not to jeopardize the “green shoots” of recovery being seen in some areas, as well as “exit strategies” for reversing the heavy fiscal stimulus that many countries embraced to revive their economies, the sources said, adding that how to stave off global unemployment was also on the agenda.

During a working dinner, the G8 was expected to focus on political matters, including domestic unrest in Iran and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, who agreed Tuesday to reduce the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, were expected to lead the discussion on global denuclearization.

For Prime Minister Taro Aso, denuclearization and how to end North Korea’s nuclear threat are expected to be key concerns.

Earlier this month, Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo listed five key themes for this year’s summit: Iran, North Korea, global denuclearization, the Middle East peace process and the war in Afghanistan.

The L’Aquila summit concludes Friday after assistance to Africa is discussed. But with emerging economic powers like Brazil and India being kept outside the discussion framework, critics say any talks held within the G-8 alone are incapable of resolving global economic issues.

In that sense, the Thursday meeting with the emerging powers will have more relevance than the G-8 itself, they said.

But Japanese officials defended the G-8 framework, saying its agreements are still influential in forming the base for discussions with other economic powers.

The G-8 includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, France and Russia.

Information from Kyodo added

L’Aquila aid pledged

Staff report

ROME — Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday pledged financial and technological support to help L’Aquila, the Italian city hosting the Group of Eight summit, recover from the damage it suffered in a recent devastating earthquake, the Foreign Ministry said.

During a bilateral meeting held on the eve of the G-8 summit, Aso and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, shared their concerns over North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear ambitions and vowed to cooperate through the G-8 framework to censure them.

Aso said Tokyo will assist in funding the construction of a gymnasium with Japanese earthquake resistance technology and also pledged to dispatch specialists to help restore damaged cultural assets.

Buildings in the central Italian city were reduced to rubble following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in April that killed nearly 300.