China and India have rejected calls from G8 leaders for them to make deep cuts in their carbon emissions.
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The refusal of developing nations to sign up to a climate change deal overshadowed an agreement between rich nations to limit the rise in global average temperatures.
G8 leaders meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, agreed for the first time to work to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius.
The summit also agreed that developed economies should aim to cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The agreement will force G8 economies to make significant changes in the way they operate to meeting that target.
Gordon Brown hailed the G8 statement on climate change as "historic" and a precursor to global climate change talks in Copenhagen in December.
"We have laid the foundations for a Copenhagen deal that is effective," he said.
But the deal was marred by the failure of fast-growing Asian nations to sign up. The G8 had wanted them to agree to cut their carbon output by 50 per cent in the same time.
However, the 50 per cent carbon targets faced resistance from India and China, which argued that the targets would hamper their economic growth.
"For any long-term goals there have to be credible midterm goals in the range of 25-40 per cent," said Dinesh Patnaik, an Indian climate policy negotiator.
And the proposal received a further blow when, within hours of his boss, Dmitry Medvedev, apparently signing the deal, the Russian President’s top economic aide said found the emissions target set for developed countries “unacceptable and likely unattainable”.
“We won’t sacrifice economic growth for the sake of emission reduction,”Arkady Dvorkovich said.
Greenpeace accused G8 leaders of "watering down climate ambitions" while other green groups complained there were no earlier targets for cutting emissions by 2020.
The G8 leaders will formally debate climate change on Thursday with the leaders of China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, the so-called "plus five" economies.
As well as resisting the 50 per cent target, those countries have not yet signed up to the two degree Celsius limit on global warming.
Mr Brown admitted winning that acceptance was the real measure of success on climate change policy. He said: "That's the test of whether we're making progress."
However, G8 officials admitted that the climate change talks would be complicated by the absence of China's President Hu Jintao, who has returned home early because of violence in Xinjiang.
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