EU leaders greet new strategy with caution

Britain welcomed US President George W. Bush's climate change announcement as “a huge step forward”, but the European Commission and Germany, host of next week’s G8 summit, reacted more cautiously.

Speaking on a visit to South Africa, British prime minister Tony Blair told Sky News: “This is what we have been working for all the way through because the important thing is we need a deal in which America as well as China and India – in which all these countries are involved for the first time – and a deal that's about cutting these dangerous emissions. Obviously it's a big step forward.”

Mr Blair said the announcement “sets the right framework for next week's meeting. I think the important thing is, for the first time, America's saying it wants to be part of a global deal. If America's not part of this agreement nothing's going to happen.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel called Mr Bush’s comments an ”important statement in the build-up to the [G8] Heiligendamm summit”. Her G8 envoy Bernd Pfaffenbach made clear, however that Germany firmly rejected the US idea of emissions negotiations outside the United Nations procedures.

“That is crossing a red line for us,” he said.

A senior official said the US had already floated the proposal in tense negotiations over the summit’s climate communiqué and that Ms Merkel had dismissed it as unacceptable.

As G8 chair, Berlin wants members to agree on an emission-reduction goal now and to take this pledge to the next UN climate conference in Bali in December to be used as a basis to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto treaty.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said the US had “crossed the Rubicon” in accepting the threat of climate change but was still not fully facing up to its responsibilities. Mr Barroso told the Financial Times the US dependence on technology to tackle the problem would only work if Washington signed up to a global system of “measurable, binding, enforceable targets”.

He said Europeans were looking to 2009 – after Mr Bush leaves office – for a “major breakthrough” in developing a new system for fighting climate change when the Kyoto agreement expires in 2012.

Separately, Germany is set to increase development aid by at least €3bn for the period of 2008 to 2011.

Ms Merkel is set to announce on Friday an increase in its aid budget by €750m a year for four years from 2008. Ms Merkel will also announce in an interview with Bild newspaper that she expects to increase aid by a further €350m a year from 2009 onwards using revenues raised from the auctioning of carbon credits sold to German companies that emit greenhouse gases.

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