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G8 ministers meet to consider ways to aid environment and economy

Delegates from the Group of Eight and emerging nations, including China, India and Brazil, gathered in Sicily on Wednesday for three days of talks on how to combat climate change at a time of deep economic crisis.

Montage of wind turbines and a falling stock curve

Politicians are exploring ways to fight climate change without hurting the economy

At a time when nations around the world are spending billions in stimulus packages, environment ministers from leading industrialized and developing nations met to discuss how combatting climate change could contribute to economic growth.

The meeting's host, Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo, said she hoped the three-day gathering in Syracuse, Sicily, will reinforce rich nations' commitment to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and help spread low-carbon technology to developing countries.

"Syracuse could be the starting point for a grand alliance between North and South, one marked by technology and embracing both the environment and development," Prestigiacomo said.

Industrial chimneys spewing smoke

The world's major polluting countries are taking part in the talks

The Syracuse talks bring together the countries that produce more than 40 percent of the world's carbon gas emissions and come ahead of a larger climate meeting next week in Washington, where 17 nations are to take part.

How to finance green technologies and share the financial burden of stopping climate change at a time of global recession are two of the key issues being discussed in Syracuse.

The transfer of environmentally friendly technology will be particularly important during a time of economic crisis because economies in industrialized countries are already cash-strapped, Reimund Schwarze, an economist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, told Deutsche Welle.

"The will be some form of technology transfer to developing nations," he said, adding that the loosening of laws concerning intellectual property could be part of a larger package of measures to help developing nations fight climate change.

Some estimates suggest investments totaling a mind-boggling 232 trillion euros (US $300 trillion) may be needed between now and 2050 to prevent the planet's temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) - a threshold, which many experts say could trigger dangerous changes to the planet's ecological balance.

Crunch year for environment

The United Nations' top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, warned that 2009 is a "crunch year in the international climate change negotiations, and it is critical that the G8 countries again show political resolve to tackle climate change."

A Chinese cyclist riding near cars on a fog-filled road

Many in the West say pollution in developing countries cannot be ignored

The US administration is likely to be subjected to particular attention as President Barack Obama has said that fighting global warming would be a top priority and that the "US is now ready to lead" the fight against climate change.

Disagreement remains on what emissions-reduction targets should be set for developed and emerging nations. While industrialized countries have said they would shoulder a larger burden, they still want China, India, Brazil and other major polluters to commit to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

While the year of environmental talks will culminate in December's climate conference in Copenhagen, which will be tasked with finding a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it would be a mistake to fashion climate policy based on this year's needs, Schwarze said.

"Fighting climate change is a long-term effort and it should not be structured by the immediate needs of the economy," he said. "The financial crisis will hopefully be forgotten in a few years, fighting climate change is a long-term necessity."

The meeting in Sicily was being attended by G8 members Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States and was extended to China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, Australia, South Korea and Egypt. The European Commission, the Czech presidency of the EU and Denmark, as host of the Convention on Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, were also invited to the discussions.

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