Drozdiak: Climate Change Seen as Major G8 Issue

Drozdiak: Climate Change Seen as Major G8 Issue

William Drozdiak, an expert on transatlantic politics, says a major issue at the upcoming G8 meeting will be pressure on Washington to accept limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

May 30, 2007 4:55 pm (EST)

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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William Drozdiak, a longtime expert on transatlantic politics, says a major issue at the annual G8 meeting that begins on June 6 will be European efforts to persuade the United States to adopt limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He says that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the meeting, believes a U.S. commitment on some limits is important to counter the “rising tide of anti-Americanism and distress with American policy in many parts of the world.”

The annual G8 meeting will take place starting June 6 in Germany. You’ve been a longtime observer of these meetings. What do you expect this year?

At the top of the list is the question of climate change. In the last couple of years, this has been one of the big issues at these G8 meetings [G8 refers to the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia]. In particular, Tony Blair, Britain’s Prime Minister, has made it a top priority. Japan has also made it a top priority, and now we see Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, who before becoming chancellor had been an environment minister, doing the same.

She wants to get the United States back in the game on acting in climate change. In fact, she’s going to have a private lunch ahead of the meeting with President Bush next Wednesday just before the group convenes. She will try to push him into greater cooperation on climate change. The broader theme she is stressing here is that there is a rising tide of anti-Americanism and distress with American policy in many parts of the world. She holds that not only is there widespread opposition to Iraq, but that many in the world have the perception that the United States places itself above international law. She feels the best way for the United States to gain some degree of moral leadership is to seize the initiative and act on this whole issue of global warming. That will be a very strong message from her.

And this is to set new limits?

Right, the Germans want a specific benchmark. They want to get all of the parties to commit to limiting the rise of worldwide temperatures to two degrees Celsius, which is 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The moral argument is that the United States accounts for 3 percent of the world’s population and produces 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So, Merkel argues, we Americans really have a moral obligation to take the lead on this.

I take it that India and China are not terribly interested in this?

No. India, which has been invited to the summit next week, has already said it would reject these proposals because it fears that it would slow down its booming economy.

And the American objections are the same: It’s too high a cost to the economy?

Yes, and that it unfairly penalizes the United States. The United States argues that the most important thing to do is to bring China and India in. China, they claim, will soon surpass the United States as the world’s biggest polluter. So we need to bring these fast growing developing countries into the Kyoto Protocol.

There’s been considerable strain in both U.S. and EU relations with Russia lately. Do you think anything can really be accomplished on that subject?

This is again an important theme that will be playing out in the months to come. It was just announced that President Vladimir Putin will visit Bush at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine [in early July]. The number one issue next week will be what to do about Kosovo, the southern Serbian province, which is heavily populated with Albanians. The UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, has proposed a slow-motion movement towards independence, but the Russians sided with the Serbs and have objected to any international change in sovereignty here. This all plays out against the background of growing distrust with what is going on in Putin’s Russia: the fear that Russia is backsliding away from democracy and that it is becoming once more a very assertive and possibly a belligerent neighbor for European countries.

This places Germany, in particular, in a difficult position. While Britain and the United States have attacked Russia quite strongly about the risks of backing away from democratic reforms, the Germans say, “Look, we need Russia to play a cooperative role on several issues, whether it be on energy supplies—because Germany is Europe’s largest importer of Russian oil and gas (which covers about 40 percent of Germany’s energy needs)—and also on Kosovo; and the question on future sanctions in Iran; and also Darfur, where President Bush has asked for sanctions and both Russia and China object.”

And of course the Russians are very upset about Poland. They have a ban on Polish meat which affects EU trade with Russia.

Yes, and there are several other issues. There was a flap about a war memorial in Estonia that was taken down. You mentioned the Polish meat exports, and with Lithuania there’s been a fight over energy supplies. At least for the Europeans, Russia is emerging as one of the biggest foreign-policy headaches. They need to come up with a much more unified position.

Of course Russia is crucial to get additional Security Council sanctions on Iran over the nuclear enrichment issues.

In addition, the United States wants to deploy radar and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland to thwart the threat of missiles being launched from Iran. They claim this will not have any effect on Russia, but the Russians say they don’t believe that.

On traditional issues like the Middle East, I guess everything is so up in the air that not very much can be accomplished.

Since the ministers [this week] from the United States, the European Union, and Russia will be in Potsdam, they’ll take a train to Berlin to discuss the future of the so-called “Road Map” for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. I doubt they’ll take any dramatic steps because they’ll be waiting for a meeting between Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in a week or so. And on Iran, they also will await the outcome of a meeting between Ali Larijani, Iran’s negotiator on nuclear issues, and Javier Solana, the EU foreign minister.

And if procedure follows precedent, they’ll have canned statements they’ll issue at the conference on these different subjects?

Yes, they’ll come out with a whole sheaf of declarations, and whatever differences there are, they’ll try to mask them with some fuzzy language. But the atmosphere is slightly improved by the resolution of the flap over Paul Wolfowitz, who in effect was forced to resign as president of the World Bank. Europeans are very pleased with the announcement that Robert Zoellick will take over the presidency of the World Bank.

They all know him from his days as a U.S. trade negotiator?

That’s right. He’s respected throughout Africa and other developing countries from his work as a trade negotiator. The Germans, in particular, are pleased with him. They have a lot of admiration for him dating back to his role in helping negotiate the peaceful reunification of Germany when he was an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker.

I gather this will be an extraordinary outpouring of protests opposing globalization. These protests occur every time there’s a G8 meeting, right?

Yes. This has really developed over the years, and it has turned pretty ugly, and in some cases, violent. I remember attending one conference in Genoa during which a protestor was killed, and this set off all sorts of angry and violent demonstrations. But the German fear is that the site where the summit will take place [Heiligendamm, a Baltic Sea resort] is fairly insecure in that it is very flat and easily accessible from different places. They probably regret deciding to hold it there, but it was done for political reasons because it’s basically the home base of Chancellor Merkel.

What are these people most opposed to? Free trade?

In some cases it’s the loss of jobs; in other cases, especially in poor countries, it’s the concern that their interests are not being taken care of in world trade negotiations. Most of all, it’s the belief—however wrongheaded it may be—that there is this small directorate of countries getting together to decide global policies and that others will have to deal with it. There has been a lot of debate in recent years about whether the G8 really accurately reflects the global economy of the day. There’s talk about inviting China, India, and Brazil along with [newest member] Russia into the G8 to expand it into an organization that looks more and more like the interests of the global economy. But right now, that has been blocked just as reform of the UN Security Council has been blocked.

So India will only be there to talk about global warming?

India will be there and they will be part of the discussion on climate change. India will try to make the case that whatever problems there are with greenhouse gases, they were created by the developed world in their rush towards industrialization. They’ll argue it’s unfair to penalize the development of poor countries, particularly those with large populations like China and India with one billion plus people, from achieving greater prosperity.

On climate change, it’s interesting how the Bush administration has been opposed to this since it took office. It wouldn’t agree to the Kyoto treaty, but the Senate didn’t support it either, right?

Right, and there was a vote of something like ninety-seven to nothing opposed to the Kyoto treaty. There is widespread disagreement about this. However, it has gained greater attention in the United States now, partly because of the Al Gore movie [An Inconvenient Truth], and the growing recognition that climate change is a real threat that the United States has to do something about. The Democrats have woken up to this earlier than the Republicans. In fact, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was in Berlin for the last couple of days meeting with German officials, including Chancellor Merkel. She acknowledged that the United States needs to show much greater leadership in trying to curb the threat of global warming.

And the early indication is what?

Right now, they’re still negotiating on the text, and the United States has expressed great displeasure with the declaration the way the Germans have drawn it up. They say while they’re not opposed to setting goals, they want the emphasis to be placed on reducing dependence on gasoline and greater energy efficiency rather than on measuring significant reductions in the production of greenhouse gases.

More on:

Climate Change

International Organizations


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