Bush won’t leave much of a legacy at G-8

Sunday, July 13, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:50 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Loory: We read a lot about President Bush trying to leave a legacy, something he can gloat about after he leaves office. Legacy-building now involves talking North Korea out of a nuclear weapons building program, or supplying medicines and food at a low cost to the poor of African nations. The president can add to that campaign the agreement of the G-8 nations, the world’s most prosperous countries, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by the year 2050. The G-8 countries — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan — made that agreement last week at a summit on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. While in office, Bush has led the U.S. into two wars, has watched the economy tumble into what many economists are calling a recession, has seen energy prices skyrocket, and has seen the dollar drop to a value so low it is no longer considered the world’s most desirable currency. In light of that, how important is cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and what is the cut all about?

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor, The Times of London, Tokyo: The 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050 is too long-term a target. Environmental groups and governments, especially the Europeans, were pressing for an interim target of 2020 or 2025. Bush wasn’t prepared to agree to that, and many people were unsatisfied.

Loory: Some non-G-8 nations, like China and India, were not prepared to agree to it either.

Parry: This is where the argument gets bogged down. The Chinese, the Indians and the Europeans say the climate change problem has been caused not by emissions from China and India but from industrialized countries over decades. They say it’s up to those countries to take the first step in making big cuts, then the developing nations will follow.

Loory: Will the emissions-cut agreement have some meaning?

Peter N. Spotts, science reporter, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston: It had a slight meaning in that the Bush administration is inching forward on climate change. The administration came out of the G-8 meeting last year saying it would consider a 50 percent cut by 2050 as a goal to aspire to. Looking at the current text, that’s changed a bit. Some suggest we’re seeing a forum for laying out negotiating positions that might be taken up later in the United Nations’ climate change negotiation process.

Loory: What will happen in the future if the emissions aren’t cut?

Spotts: The changes will be profound. The Arctic is already losing summer sea ice at a remarkable rate. Some scientists are projecting the North Pole may be ice free this summer. Shrinking ice has a series of effects on the climate. Scientists say we’re likely to see dramatic increases in the frequency and severity of droughts. Other effects will be severe rains and storms. The countries least positioned to adapt, and for whom effects will be the most severe, are developing countries.

Loory: What did developing countries see as the most important outcome at Hokkaido?

Shashank Bengali, Nairobi bureau chief, McClatchy Newspapers, Johannesburg, South Africa: There was some backlash in African countries concerning reports about the meals, like six-course lunches, leaders were having in Hokkaido. African countries are suffering a major food crisis, and they looked to the G-8 for leadership on that issue and for commitments to more development aid. G-8 nations have made those promises in the past but haven’t lived up to them. While African nations place a great deal of hope in these talks, they don’t necessarily see a positive takeaway from what occurred.

Loory: What did Russia see as important during the meeting?

Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs analyst, Kommersant newspaper, Moscow: There was some drum beating in the Russian media, saying new Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave an impressive performance and was articulate in discussing Russia’s position on global and regional security issues. Considering Russia’s drop in relationships with the West, Medvedev’s meetings with Bush and with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown overshadowed the G-8 meeting agenda in Russians’ minds. There also was a feeling the summit’s format is in crisis. The question mark is whether the G-8 can still secure its leading role in the world and whether the members show a common spirit to solving acute international problems.

Loory: The G-8 increased the amount of aid it plans to give to developing countries in Africa. Will that be meaningful?

Parry: The leaders didn’t so much increase their promises of aid to Africa, as they did fail to reduce their promises of aid. France and Italy moved to roll back promises made at the 2005 summit. The U.K., Germany and Japan argued that down. So, a great deal of effort was exerted simply to remain stationary. The most unexpected achievement was the statement on Zimbabwe, which came out the second day. It called for Mugabe’s government to respect the first election’s results, using words like illegitimate and talking about financial steps to be taken against Mugabe’s government.

Loory: Could the Southern African leadership come around to the G-8 point of view?

Bengali: It’s unlikely. South African President Thabo Mbeki is the lead mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis. Getting the voting results from the March election posted outside the doors of polling stations has been his achievement in months of mediation between Mugabe’s party and the opposition party. But much of the violence in the run-off vote occurred because ruling party supporters looked at those polling place results and knew where opposition support came from. Even when Mbeki achieved something, it was counter productive. The Southern African community doesn’t have much leverage against Mugabe as long as Mbeki is the lead mediator.

Loory: This was Bush’s G-8 swan song. How can we expect the G-8 to be different in coming years?

Parry: It will be different on the question of climate change. At this meeting, everyone was treading water because Bush’s position is clear. He always has opposed mandatory targets. He won’t change his mind in his last few months in office, so the whole thing is stalled until the next U.S. president comes in.

Loory: After Bush and Medvedev met with each other, Bush said of Medvedev, “He’s a smart guy.” What should we think of that?

Strokan: Bush’s attitude is evidence of the Russia-American relationship that prevailed during Bush and Putin’s honeymoon period, over-personalized relations that lacked substance. The way Bush addressed Medvedev shows Bush is emphasizing his personal conduct with Medvedev, while trying to pigeon-hole the acute problems that arise in bilateral relations. One will see a big gap between the cordial, personal relationship established in Japan and the misunderstandings between Moscow and Washington on issues of international security. If a new U.S. president tries to establish the same type of relationship with Medvedev while not understanding Russian logic, we will witness a war of words and brilliant negotiations, with zero effect.

Loory: This was the first of many goodbyes for Bush as he finishes out eight years in office. But it doesn’t sound like it will be a meaningful legacy, at least as far as the G-8 is concerned.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Eunjung Kim and Catherine Wolf. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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