20080526 russian japanese british and canadian delegation 18
Left to right, the heads of the Russian, Japanese, British and Canadian delegations at the G8 environment ministers meeting in Kobe. - 


TESS VIGELAND: Today, environment ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by mid-century.

The announcement came after a three-day meeting in Japan and represents a major breakthrough for negotiations on a new international climate treaty.

But, as it often goes with these things, there's a sticking point. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.

SAM EATON: The thinking goes like this: It's not so hard for a politician to agree on huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 simply because it's so far away. None of the politicians throwing their weight behind the agreement will still be around when it goes into effect. It's the shorter-term goals -- the ones that serve as a roadmap for getting there -- that threaten to stall the talks.

Dan Kammen is a climate policy expert at UC Berkeley.

DAN KAMMEN: The fear of a 2020 target is you have to act now. You would have to not only get the clean-energy technologies up and running, but relatively soon there's going to have to be a price for carbon and that's really where the rubber hits the road. That's where this is going to have a financial cost.

Last year, the U.N. launched negotiations for a new international climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. This weekend's meeting was aimed at smoothing the way for more decisive action at July's G8 summit in Japan, but it also created a path for more economic cooperation between industrialized nations and the developing world. The U.S., Britain and Japan announced a new $5.5 billion fund to help poor nations develop clean technologies.

Berkeley's Dan Kammen says that's important because its one of the fastest ways to reduce emissions.

KAMMEN: It takes only a matter of months to a year to install a wind farm or solar thermal plants whereas it takes many years, sometimes a decade, to get some of the biggest industrial facilities installed.

And Kammen says there's an added bonus for the countries donating the funds: it's their clean-tech firms that are likely to get the business.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam