The Group of Eight leaders including President George W. Bush cited a goal of a 50 percent cut by 2050.
This fell short of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hope for consensus on mandatory greenhouse gas reductions, but just being open to the idea is further than the Bush Administration has gone before, reports Axelrod.
European leaders hailed the deal as progress in the wrangling between Europe and the United States over global warming, with the Europeans pushing mandatory cuts and the U.S. resisting.
Merkel, who shepherded the deal as chair of the G-8 summit in this seaside resort in northern Germany, called it "very great progress and an excellent result." With Bush resisting concrete cuts, it had appeared Merkel's summit would fall short of her goal of a substantial deal on climate change.
"We agree that we need reduction goals — and obligatory reduction goals," she said.
But the language of the declaration appeared to be well short of a full commitment. It called for the countries to "seriously consider" following the European Union, Japan and Canada in seeking to halve emissions by 2050.
Merkel, who has made climate change the centerpiece of Germany's G-8 leadership, had lobbied fellow leaders on the issue for months. The G-8 is Germany, the United States, Russia, Britain, Italy, France, Canada and Japan.
"No one can escape this political declaration; it is an enormous step forward," she told reporters.
"The agreement is a major advance for greenhouse gas emissions reduction because it bridged the very large gap between the Bush Administration's proposal of no targets and the European Union interest in setting specific guidelines," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N., "and while there is skepticism because the agreement does not go as far as the Kyoto Protocol would have, it represents a reversal in the U.S. position toward finding common ground on global warming."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked if there was "wiggle room." He said the final result would depend on upcoming U.N. climate change negotiations.
"However, there is now a process to lead to that agreement, and at its heart is a commitment to a substantial cut," he said. "What does substantial mean? That serious consideration is given to the halving of emissions by 2050."
Blair called the deal "a major, major step forward."
But Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for the advocacy group Environmental Defense, said the summit hadn't agreed on a 50 percent cut — only on a call for all major emitters to seriously consider that option.
"Importantly, they have agreed to negotiate a new agreement under the UN Framework Convention — bound by the obligation to avert dangerous climate change," she said. "But it may be that the president is simply kicking the can down the road to the next administration to get the job done."
Petsonk said the key to getting an agreement in these new talks will be for the United States to impose a mandatory national cap on its own greenhouse gas emissions, without which other nations would be reluctant to join along. "All eyes are on Congress now. If America wants to lead, it's clear that Congress will have to do it," she said.
On the first full day of the summit, Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed their dispute over a U.S. proposal to put a missile defense system in eastern Europe. Bush also waxed nostalgic about this last summit with friend and Iraq war ally Blair, who leaves office June 27.
"I'm sad about that," Bush said.
The meeting also produced an unexpected proposal from Putin, who said he would drop his opposition to the U.S. missile defense system if it made use of a Russian-leased radar station in Azerbaijan. Currently the plan is to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to guard against a potential future threat from Iran.
Bush did not mention Putin's proposal, saying only that Putin had made "some interesting suggestions." The two agreed to continue discussing the issue during talks next month at the Bush family vacation home in Maine.
On climate change, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the ideas in the G-8 declaration were in the proposal the president issued last week. Bush called for having the top 15 polluters meet to set a long-term goal for reducing harmful emissions, and decide for themselves how much to do toward meeting it.
"The president made clear last week that he accepted the principle of a long-term goal," Hadley said during a telephone briefing with reporters. "I think it's very consistent with some ideas that the president had last week, but it was also consistent with ideas that have been advanced by others."
The document endorses the U.N. framework for climate change talks, a key demand from Merkel. But it did not commit to Merkel's target under which global temperatures would be allowed to increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before being brought back down.
Experts say the 50 percent emissions reduction is needed to meet that goal.
Bush has opposed mandatory cuts and maintains that developing nations such as China, India and Brazil must be included. He also says economic growth cannot be sacrificed for progress on climate change, and stresses cleaner technology and biofuels as ways to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which generate the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming.
Climate talks will begin within the U.N. framework with a meeting of environment ministers at a U.N. climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December.
The conference will seek to come up with a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrial countries to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. signed the treaty but did not ratify it because it did not apply to developing countries such as China and India.
The top U.N. climate official said the agreement was "very important progress" because it committed the countries to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by 2009.
"The important thing is to get the negotiations going, rather than to decide what the outcome is going to be," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"I know Chancellor Merkel is declaring victory, but in fact President Bush has shut the door in the faces of the other seven leaders at the table," said Philip Clapp, president of the U.S.-based National Environmental Trust, pointing to the "seriously consider" phrase.
"That is a far cry from the United States having signed up to any such reductions," he said.
Clapp said the agreement showed progress among the other countries in reaching a consensus that could be taken up by the next U.S. president after Bush leaves office in January 2009.
Outside the summit site, protests continued.
Police used water cannons to turn back thousands of demonstrators who rushed the seven-mile fence surrounding the summit site, and police boats chased inflatable boats from the environmental group Greenpeace that entered the security zone on the Baltic Sea.