The dispute, which sets President Bill Clinton against Tony Blair and the other European Union leaders, could threaten the international agreement on climate change painfully reached between nearly 150 countries at Kyoto, in Japan, last December. An hour has been set aside tomorrow morning specifically for the G8 heads of government to discuss it.
Their differences became clear yesterday when Michael Meacher, the environment minister, warned that the Americans, the world's biggest emitters of the principal gas causing the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide (C02), must not be able to buy their way completely out of the CO2 cuts they agreed to at Kyoto.
The Americans are seeking to do this through the system of internationally tradeable emissions permits discussed at the Kyoto meeting, which allows countries that have easily met their obligations to cut greenhouse gases to sell off the surplus to other nations as "permits to pollute". Some Eastern European countries whose economies have collapsed, such as Russia, will have massive notional "pollution surpluses" under the treaty.
The US wants to be able to meet all the cuts it has promised by buying up permits, so that "reductions" in its CO2 output would be merely on paper, while its factories and motor vehicles continued pumping out exhaust gases at an undiminished rate.
Britain and the countries of the EU will not accept this, Mr Meacher made clear yesterday, and will be pressing for at least 50 per cent of the US's promised CO2 cuts to be real rather than paper reductions.
He pointed out that the US had 4 per cent of the world's population and 25 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. "That cannot continue," he said.
Addressing a meeting on climate change and the G8 summit at the House of Commons, Mr Meacher said: "It is certainly our view in Europe that there should be a limit on the proportion of cuts that countries can achieve through emissions trading, although I know this is challenged in America." The limit should be not more than 50 per cent, he said, and the countries of the EU would be proposing this formally at a meeting next month.
In the meantime, he said, it would be raised at this weekend's G8 meeting, adding: "I am sure that the European heads of government will be pressing the point."
Mr Meacher was given backing from his Tory predecessor as environment minister, John Gummer, who said: "You cannot expect developing countries to come on board if the major polluter in the world fails to put its own house in order."
A leading American environmentalist, Philip Clapp, head of the National Environmental Trust, said success at the G8 summit depended on Mr Blair and the other EU leaders. "Will they make it clear to the President that they expect action on the part of the US?" he asked. "There's a lot of talk and no action. The US is sending a signal that the Clinton administration has no intention of getting any reductions. It has not proposed one domestic measure since Kyoto to reduce carbon dioxide in any fashion."Reuse content