The Bush administration appears unwilling to abandon its isolationist approach toward climate change, even as the rest of the G-8 members agree it has become a "serious challenge" for the planet.
Leaked documents indicate that during negotiations prior to the summit, the Europeans tried hard to persuade Washington to change its stance but failed in their attempts as U.S. officials continued to insist on drastic changes in the text of the draft statement.
The draft statement, authored by the Germans, seeks agreement to contain the increase in average global temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius, with cuts in emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. It also proposes at least a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency.
"The U.S. has serious fundamental concerns about this draft statement," said a U.S. diplomatic note on the text obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace a little over a week ago.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol requires the world's most heavily industrialized countries, which together account for about 45 percent of global emissions, to reduce their carbon output by 2012 to an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels.
Although the United States is responsible for at least 25 percent of all carbon emissions, it is not obligated to meet that requirement because it has not ratified the treaty. However, recently the Bush administration indicated willingness to take action after 2012.
In negotiating the text, U.S. officials flatly rejected phrases asserting that climate change "is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment," that "resolute action is urgently needed," and that "we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
The panel, which consists of more than 1,000 leading scientists from around the globe, released three voluminous reports this year warning that disasters will ensue if no drastic action is taken. For example, consequences may include rising sea levels and devastating flooding, widespread food scarcity and the extinction of many species of plants and animals.
Despite the Bush administration's habit of sidestepping UN agreements and striking alternative deals on a number of international issues, some observers hope that Washington will reach an agreement with its European partners.
But others predict a repeat of the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where leaders pledged to address climate change but made no binding commitments, apparently an attempt on part of the Europeans to keep the U.S. engaged.
To many critics of the Bush administration's environmental record, the time for a compromise is over.
"Hopefully, the G-8 would not give President Bush a get out of jail free card," said Michael Dorsey, professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.
Regarding Bush's proposal to bring the U.S. into a post-Kyoto process in 2012, Dorsey said, "It is regrettable that engagement comes this late in the midst of an unfolding climate crisis that has already claimed 150,000 lives."
On the eve of World Environment Day Tuesday, the UN Environment Program said the future of "hundreds of millions of people" was likely to be affected by declines in snow and ice cover.
According to the study "Global Outlook for Ice and Snow," the melting of glaciers and bodies of frozen water around the world are causing more of the sun's heat to be absorbed by the land and the polar oceans, which in turn is speeding up climate change.
"We cannot go on this way for long," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "We cannot continue with business as usual. We need to take action on a global scale."
Ban, who has repeatedly said that climate change is one of his top priorities, did not elaborate on how global action was possible without the U.S. playing an active role.
Last Friday, Ban praised Bush for his tentative plans to address climate change -- which critics have pointed out would not take effect until after Bush leaves office.
"I think it's a positive statement," Ban told reporters about Bush's intention to round up the world's most active polluters from both the developed and developing countries within a period of 18 months for consultations.
But civil society activists say it is hard to imagine that any international plan outside the UN system will produce positive results.
"Key friends and allies at the G-8 have put forward a sound, scientifically based goal around which to organize international action to deal with climate change," said Rebecca Brown of the U.S.-based independent think-tank Citizens for Global Solutions.
Brown thinks Bush is "squandering" the opportunity to strengthen the U.S. relationship with its key allies, which include the new conservative government in Berlin and its close ally Britain, which is backing the German proposal.
"Bush has not only opposed this approach, his alternative is high on rhetoric, very low on substance and has the potential to derail ongoing international efforts," she said.
Apparently keen to push for rapid and effective measures against the threat of global warming, which is also the main cause of the loss of biodiversity, the Germans are due to host a major conference on biodiversity in 2008.
Considering the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and other industrial polluters, senior UN officials involved in global efforts to preserve biodiversity are also closely watching the G-8 meeting.
"Postponing action to address the threat of climate change and loss of biodiversity is no more an economic, financial, nor an ethical option," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, who leads the Secretariat of the UN biodiversity treaty.
"The Heiligendamm summit should be remembered by our children as the birthplace of a new multilateral global alliance for the protection of life on Earth as our generation remembers San Francisco as the birthplace of the United Nations organization," he said.
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Albion Monitor June
6, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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