Prospects that the G8 would reach a meaningful agreement to how best to fight global warming at their annual summit dimmed on Sunday as leaders began arriving in northern Japan with a raft of global problems on their minds.
Climate change is high on the agenda of the July 7 to 9 summit of rich nations at a luxury hotel in Toyako, Hokkaido, and of a major economies meeting on July 9 that brings the G8 together with eight other countries including China, India and Brazil.
Global inflation driven by soaring food and fuel prices and African poverty will also be discussed, along with issues as wide-ranging as Zimbabwe’s election crisis and North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who arrived in Hokkaido needing a successful summit to bolster limp ratings, wants to add to momentum for United Nations-led talks on a new framework beyond limits agreed under the Kyoto Protocol, which expire in 2012.
Those negotiations are due to conclude in Copenhagen in December next year.
But wide gaps among Group of Eight members and between advanced and developing countries have raised doubts about the chances for progress beyond last year’s summit in Germany, where G8 leaders agreed to ”seriously consider” a global goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
”I don’t think we’re expecting a deal. That will come under the United Nations’ auspices in Copenhagen next year,” Canada Environment Minister John Baird told reporters en route to Japan.
”What we hope is that we can get some momentum toward a solid progress on climate change.”
The G8 comprises Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States.
Activists and the European Union want the G8 to agree to the 2050 goal discussed in Germany and set 1990 as the base year, and say advanced nations should set their own firm mid-term goals for reductions by 2020.
Japan wants the leaders to agree to the 2050 goal but without specifying a base year.
US President George Bush, who was to meet Fukuda after arriving in Hokkaido, insists Washington will only set targets if big emerging economies such as China are on board as well.
”Will the effort to be announced by the G8 be convincing enough to get the emerging countries to say ‘OK, we’re ready now to come on board’? If we can get that in writing at Toyako, we’ll have done our job,” a French official said.
But an aide to French President Nicholas Sarkozy said he was not optimistic about reaching an agreement on the issue.
Analysts and diplomats have said that the G8 leaders were likely to craft a fuzzy agreement on a long-term goal to allow Fukuda to save face, but that real progress will likely have to wait until a new US president takes office in January.
”Both advanced and developing countries are close to an agreement on the long-term target,” Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita told NHK public TV.
”China and India were not against the idea at the environment ministers meeting. We now want the United States to make a firm commitment and take a step forward at the summit.”
Leaders and protesters
Climate experts want advanced countries to commit to reducing emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020. Tokyo and Washington say specific interim targets are not on the table in Hokkaido, although leaders are likely to acknowledge the need for advanced countries to set them.
But a deal that falls short of mid-term targets is unlikely to satisfy either environmentalists or Fukuda’s domestic critics, who say Tokyo should at least come up with a figure of its own.
With the attendance of several African leaders, this is the largest gathering since G8 summits began more than three decades ago at the Chateau de Rambouillet outside Paris in November 1975 to discuss the oil crisis and a world recession.
Some charge that the summit, which draws huge media coverage, countless activists and sometimes violent protests, has got out of hand. Twenty-two leaders will be in Hokkaido.
Thousands of anti-G8 activists have poured into Hokkaido to protest the rich countries’ cosy club. Some will be staying in three camp grounds in the vicinity, with a heavy police presence on hand to try to keep them from disrupting the summit.
”We feel honoured that my camp was chosen as the site. From what I’m hearing, I support their activity,” said Akeji Takai, the owner of one campsite about 20km from the venue.
”We’ve held several meetings with local households … but people are worried how this will develop.” – Reuters