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G8 Summitís Prechilled Climate

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: June 6, 2007

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Personalities and policy disputes dominate coverage of the annual Group of Eight (G8) meeting, which opened June 6 in Germany. Analysts will be especially watchful of the personal dynamics between newcomers like France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Japan’s Shinzo Abe and outgoing leaders like President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also in the room this year will be representatives from China, India, and Brazil—stretching the notion for some that the group represents the world’s most industrialized democracies. And the usual antiglobalization cohorts will chant slogans within earshot of the summiteers.

Putin has already roiled the waters. He threatened to retarget select European cities with nuclear weapons (AP) if plans for deployment of a U.S. missile defense system go ahead and warned of a “new arms race.” President Bush, speaking in the Czech Republic, retorted that Russian “reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed,” though he dismissed Putin’s assertions that Russia and the west were reentering a Cold War (FT). Russia’s “sharp decline” in standing and reputation with the West forms the backdrop to this year’s G8 meeting, says CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Sestanovich. Beyond missile defense, another sticking point is Kosovo, whose independence Russia opposes because of its close ties (Reuters) to Serbia. An IHT analysis examines the pre-summit rhetoric and argues that for want of other areas of agreement, U.S. and Russian officials may focus attentions on one common interest: Slowing Iran’s efforts to produce nuclear fuel.

Yet the most controversial topic may prove to be climate change, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the G8’s host (Deutsche Welle), has put atop the agenda, and which British Prime Minister Tony Blair views as something of a legacy issue. But Europe and the United States do not yet see eye-to-eye on greenhouse gas emissions (NYT). President Bush laid out a proposed new approach to climate change Friday at the tail end of a speech on development aid.

Merkel wants specific benchmarks set, which include G8 members cutting greenhouse gas emissions to half of their 1990 levels by 2050 and limiting temperature rises this century to two degrees Celsius. Because the United States accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse emissions, “Merkel argues, we Americans really have a moral obligation to take the lead on this,” William Drozdiak of the American Council on Germany tells CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman. Bush gave a lukewarm response to the proposal but offered an alternative plan that calls for new technologies to curb greenhouse emissions as well as “joint action” with non-G8 polluters like India and China, which will soon surpass the United States as the world’s worst polluter (Der Spiegel). Experts remain doubtful any major breakthroughs on this front will emerge.

There are some positive signs ahead of this year’s summit. Bush’s naming of European favorite Robert Zoellick as head of the World Bank has helped defuse transatlantic tensions, as has his call to double U.S. aid to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Finally, Bush’s push for tougher sanctions against the Sudanese government may spur a more united stance among G8 members on the Darfur issue, but, as Julianne Smith of CSIS warns, “I don’t think Darfur will play prominently in the G8 whatsoever.”

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