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U.S. Joins G-8 Plan To Halve Emissions
Michael A. Levi, director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview that agreeing to the long-term goal is a "very important" step toward addressing a climate trend that many experts say is already causing environmental dislocations in parts of the world.
Early in his administration, Bush moved to keep the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, straining relations with the European Union and Japan. His subsequent shift appears to have stemmed from firmer scientific findings, pressure from allies and Democrats in Congress, and the conclusion reached by senior White House officials that the president could not afford to be seen as absent from the debate.
White House aides say Bush genuinely wants a plan but thinks the debate to date has focused too often on unrealistic aims rather than specifics, such as new efficiency standards or helping developing countries create clean technologies. Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have both indicated an interest in steeper emissions reductions than Bush wants, but Levi said U.S. allies, particularly Japan, have been reluctant to box in the next president by negotiating a deal without Bush and presenting it to his successor as a fait accompli.
"This sets a frame for negotiations that the next president, regardless of who it is, will be happy to work within," Levi said.
The global warming statement came on a busy day at the Group of Eight summit, taking place at a highly secured resort on the scenic Japanese island of Hokkaido. Bush and the leaders of Japan, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Britain and Italy weighed in collectively on a panoply of world problems. They promised new steps to confront the escalating cost of food around the globe and expressed concern about the world economic slowdown.
The leaders pledged that $60 billion promised earlier to fight disease in Africa would be spent over five years and agreed, at the behest of the United States, to release reports detailing whether G-8 countries are meeting their aid commitments. Advocacy groups complained that the industrialized countries would not spend the money fast enough.
A hot subject here has been Zimbabwe, with Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promoting a tough new round of sanctions aimed at dislodging President Robert Mugabe, whose campaign of intimidation led many countries to reject his recent reelection. The G-8 communique questioned the legitimacy of the Mugabe government and promised possible "financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for violence."
The statement did not use the word "sanctions," an apparent nod to African countries and Russia, which have question the utility of sanctions. At U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin suggested that his country may veto any Security Council sanctions, on the grounds that Zimbabwe's crisis does not present a threat to international security.
But it was global warming that attracted the most attention here, in large part as a test of how far Bush would go on the issue before he leaves office in less than seven months.
The summit leaders left unaddressed several key issues, such as the baseline for calculating a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the host of the meeting, told reporters the baseline will be current levels of emissions, but European officials said that the matter must still be negotiated and that they prefer the baseline to be 1990 levels, necessitating deeper emissions cuts.
The uncertainty angered environmental groups. Alden Meyer, who is tracking the climate change issue here for the Union of Concerned Scientists, described the statement as a "missed opportunity," and noted that the United States did not budge from its position that its midterm goal for 2025 will be to halt the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions, not cut them.
In general, European countries favor ambitious midterm and long-term emissions-reduction targets. The United States, joined to varying degrees by Canada and Russia, has been wary of setting what it calls unrealistic targets.
One reason Bush cited for staying out of the Kyoto Protocol was that it exempted developing countries from emissions cuts. Daniel M. Price, one of the White House negotiators at this year's G-8 summit, said the president is making progress in bringing those countries into a new climate change treaty.
"The G-8 declaration is a significant contribution both to the U.N. negotiations, as well as to the major economies process," Price said. "Much work lies ahead, but right now we've got the right countries around the table, not only around the G-8 table but, more importantly, around the broader major economies table."
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.