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G-8 addresses climate change

Monday, June 11, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Stuart Loory, who holds the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism, is the moderator for the weekly radio program “Global Journalist.” It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Global Journalist was taped before the compromise agreement on greenhouse gas production was reached at the G-8 summit meeting or before Russian President Vladimir Putin made a proposal of cooperation with the United States on building a missile defense radar facility in Azerbaijan.

Loory: President Bush is at a German Baltic Sea resort attending the annual meeting of the G-8 countries, the world’s largest industrialized nations. Customarily at the beginning of G-8 meetings participants do not see eye-to-eye, but they all learn to agree by the end. That will probably happen with the key agenda item this year, dealing with climate change. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the summit, wants the G-8 leaders to agree to a policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. Bush says the United States cannot do that. He wants to make sure that China and India, the world’s two largest developing economies and not members of the G-8, are brought into any discussions. The biggest issue under discussion in the back rooms and corridors of the summit is the worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. plans to build a missile defense system with major installations in the Czech Republic and Poland. Russia sees that as a threat and says it would counter by aiming missiles at Western European countries that back the American plan. Does that mean a new Cold War is coming, and if it does, is the U.S. responsible for it as many in Western European countries seem to think? As the summit ends, are the G-8 leaders getting ready to paper over their differences and present a united front when the meeting ends?

Patrick Van Hulle, senior editor, Deutsche Welle Radio, Heiligendamm, Germany: Usually at G-8 summits, the leaders start with big differences and find compromises. The summit’s host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is almost determined to have success as a matter of prestige. There is already an agreement over climate change, but many other things remain open.

Loory: Does the agreement over climate change take into consideration Bush’s compromise?

Van Hulle: Bush wanted to have talks with the 15 biggest polluters in the world, to be done by the end of 2008. Now he is agreeing to reach greenhouse gas emission reduction by 50 percent by 2050, compared to the amount at 1990. He didn’t like that previously, but now seems to be agreeing with it.

Loory: How will that plan go down in Tokyo?

Bryan Walsh, bureau chief, Time magazine, Tokyo, Japan: It will go down well in Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came out on May 24 with a similar plan to Merkel’s. He wanted a 50 percent reduction by 2050, although he quite notably didn’t say what that 50 percent would be off of, perhaps partly out of consideration to the U.S. Abe is trying to make the environment and climate change a signature issue for Japan.

Loory: Can there be meaningful reduction in greenhouse gases without the participation of countries like China and India?

Van Hulle: Certainly not in the long run. Those emerging countries will produce more and more greenhouse gases to keep up their economic development if they don’t do anything to reduce it. The big problem so far was that Germany and the European Union said, let’s just go ahead with it, set a specific example, and then expect the others to follow. Bush has been saying, let’s all sit around the table together with the polluters and then make an arrangement which includes everyone.

Loory: There has been a lot of discussion in the Western press about relations between the U.S. and Russia. We know that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unhappy with the American plan to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. How far would he go to carry out his threats against Western Europe?

Alexander Konovalov, president, Institute for Strategic Assessments, Moscow, Russia: Emotionally the reaction of the Russian leadership is very serious, but they aren’t ready to go too far, especially the threat to target Russian missiles on objects in Central Europe. Many Russians are confused with the American approach because if one is going to build a serious military system close to some of Russia’s borders it would be reasonable and normal to discuss it before deployment.

Van Hulle: This is more a psychological than a diplomatic or political problem. Bush doesn’t have a clue what the Russian soul feels about an American defense system. There is still this Cold War fear among Russians, even though they know that America is not an enemy. One doesn’t plant this kind of system in somebody’s backyard before talking to him, and that is exactly what happened. If things were dealt with in a different way psychologically, we wouldn’t have the troubled situation we have now.

Loory: Is the missile defense system being played up very much in Japan?

Walsh: Not really. Japan is a proponent of a missile defense for itself against North Korea, so Japan is going to be more on Bush’s side than Europeans.

Loory: Another important matter being discussed at the summit is Africa. What does the G-8 think it can do in Africa that it hasn’t been doing thus far?

Van Hulle: The biggest issue is the promises of financial aid to Africa that were made at the G-8 summit in Scotland two years ago, promises worth $50 billion in aid by 2010. It doesn’t look as if that money will be together by 2010. Another big issue is how the G-8 countries are supporting Africa in general and how they’re dealing with African political situations.

Loory: China has also been very active in Africa. Has that had much of an impact?

Walsh: It has. China is already playing a significant role, and it is only going to be giving more and more aid as it tries to get the kind of raw materials that it wants. But China is also much less likely to be concerned about corruption and human rights.

Loory: What is Russia doing to help?

Konovalov: Russia is participating in the process, but the problem is not how much money to allocate for aid. The problem is how that money is spent. We can give Africa $100 or $200 billion and it all can be absolutely meaningless because of the levels of corruption and disorganization. It is more important to help Africa in the form of investments, in organizing people and the economy.

Loory: What is U.S.’s status among the G-8 nations? Is it losing clout?

Van Hulle: The U.S. had been getting a lot of sympathy in Europe for its war against terror because what happened on Sept. 11 was a threat around the world. Europe identified very strongly with America as being a potential next target. Much sympathy has been lost though by the insensitive way that Bush has been dealing with Europe the past couple of years. Even in talking about the missile defense shield and climate change, he has been developing a lonely point of view without respecting the opinions of other G-8 members. That is not a very diplomatic or wise approach for Bush.

Loory: The U.S. certainly has some clout left when it comes to dealing with the nations of the industrialized world, but this country cannot count on that influence continuing. This is no longer a world where rich nations dominate.


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