Germany and Japan press U.S. for action on climate change

Posted in Europe , Japan , United States | 25-May-07 | Author: Judy Dempsey| Source: International Herald Tribune

Protesters, dressed as G8 leaders, gesture during a demonstration in Berlin, May 24, 2007, against the upcoming G8 summit.

BERLIN: The leaders of the world's second- and third-largest economies, Japan and Germany, pressed the biggest - the United States - Thursday to agree to dramatic action in addressing climate change at a Group of 8 summit meeting next month.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech to the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, tried to lower expectations that President George W. Bush would agree to anything close to the ambitious goals being laid out in Europe and, most recently, Japan.

"I can say quite openly that, today, I don't know whether we will succeed in that at Heiligendamm," she said, referring to the Baltic Sea resort where the G-8 leaders will meet from June 6 to June 8.

"But for me it is clear that the big developed nations must take the lead on this issue if we are to have a chance at fighting climate change," she told the Bundestag.

Her speech came hours after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan proposed cutting world greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050 as part of a new framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"The Kyoto Protocol was the first, concrete step for the human race to tackle global warming, but we must admit that it has limitations," he said at a conference in Tokyo, Bloomberg reported.

Abe, who takes over the G-8 presidency from Merkel next year, specifically called on the United States and China, the world's two biggest producers of carbon emissions, to take the lead in the fight against global warming. This, he added, would entail developing new technologies for renewable energy, as well as reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants.

He also proposed that those developing countries that committed themselves to reducing global warming should receive financial assistance.

The United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because of concerns about damage to the U.S. economy and because China and India were not part of it. Both Abe and Merkel have pressed Bush in private meetings to reconsider, but to little apparent effect.

Agreed to in 1997, the protocol entails the 35 participating countries cutting their carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 5.2 percent by 2012.

Merkel said the G-8 countries - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States - should take the lead in agreeing to new measures on climate change.

"It is important that the G-8 develops a common understanding how climate change can be tackled and that agreements can be made for the period beyond 2012," said Merkel, a former environment minister, who has made the fight against global warming one of her main foreign policy goals since taking over the European Union and G-8 presidencies in January.

The G-8, she added, "must significantly and quickly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases to limit earth warming to 2 degrees Celsius."

Merkel has also won strong support from Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who made climate change one of his main concerns when he was chairman of the G-8 summit meeting last year and has since continued this policy.

In March, the British government agreed to cut emissions 26 percent to 32 percent by 2020. An EU summit chaired by Merkel in March in Brussels agreed that the member states, collectively, would cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Despite such support, it will be an uphill struggle for Merkel and her supporters at the G-8 meeting next month to agree to tougher targets for reducing carbon emissions without U.S. support, European diplomats say. That will also make it difficult for other big industrial countries, including India and China, to introduce policies to cut carbon emissions.

Merkel wants strong language to reflect the urgency in dealing with climate change, including a reference to a UN conference on climate change scheduled for Bali, Indonesia, next December. At that conference, to be attended by environment ministers, Britain and Germany want to start discussions on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and include new countries.

The United States, however, is seeking a more general communiqué that would reflect the different circumstances and a diversity of approaches.