G-8 trumpets victory on climate accord
HEILIGENDAMM, Germany: The United States agreed Thursday to "seriously consider" a European plan to combat global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. The deal averted a trans-Atlantic deadlock at a meeting here of the Group of 8 industrial nations.
The compromise, hammered out in tough negotiations between the United States and Germany, also endorsed President George W. Bush's recent proposal to bring together the world's largest emitting countries, including China and India, to set a series of national goals for reducing emissions.
It does not include a mandatory 50 percent reduction in global emissions, a key provision sought by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, nor does it commit the United States or Russia to specific reductions.
Still, Merkel, host of the G-8 meeting, proclaimed the deal a major victory. She had placed climate change at the top of the agenda for this gathering, and put heavy pressure on Bush in recent days to relax his opposition to mandatory cuts in emissions.
"If you think of where we were a few weeks ago and where we have reached today, this is a big success," Merkel said in this Baltic Sea resort where the leaders are meeting.
The United States had threatened before the meeting to reject large parts of the German proposal, which reaffirmed the role of the United Nations as the primary forum for negotiating climate agreements.
But now the Bush administration has agreed for the first time to take part in negotiations to craft a new global agreement on climate policy by 2009. Such a pact could form the basis of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and was never ratified by the United States.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said after the meeting Thursday: "One of the features I think we all agreed to is that there needs to be a long-term global goal to substantially reduce emissions. There are obviously a number of ideas as to how that should be done."
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has long prodded Bush to embrace a stricter climate policy, said the agreement represented "a very substantial coming together" of the world's leaders on this issue. His comments came after he met one-on-one with Bush for the last time as prime minister.
Environmental groups had a different impression, with several noting that the agreement did not alter the Bush administration's refusal to accept binding targets for emissions reductions.
"He has only agreed to consider the goal," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "This is the kind of language that emerges from a discussion in which people say, 'We have to have something to take back to our publics.' "
But other activists said it was significant that the Bush administration had agreed to help negotiate a new climate agreement by 2009, within the framework of the United Nations.
In the past, White House officials have cast doubt on the need for an agreement. Bush's proposal last week to convene a conference of the largest emitters stoked suspicions among some Europeans that he would pursue climate change on a parallel track with the United Nations.
Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, in New York, said the spotlight would now shift to Congress, which is drafting legislation that may cap emissions in the United States.
For Europeans, the prospect of a successor to Kyoto is important because it gives stability to the market in trading carbon-dioxide credits, which was instituted by Europe as a way to meet its emissions caps.
"The United States is now on a bandwagon they cannot stop," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a German expert on climate change who is Merkel's chief adviser on climate policy. "That is more than I expected. In a way, climate common sense prevailed at the last minute."
The 11th-hour deal came after weeks of intense diplomacy by Merkel - first to marshal support for her plan from other G-8 leaders, then to persuade Bush to edge toward her position.
"Merkel was focused, stubborn and determined to reach a deal," said a senior German official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The chancellor had the support of Blair and of José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, with whom she brokered a deal to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president, also supported the measure.
Then last week, Germany received a critical endorsement of its plan from Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who is scheduled to take over the rotating presidency of the G-8 next January.
But, said the German official, "It was about winning over Bush to get on board and support the UN process on climate change." Merkel telephoned Bush in recent weeks and met him for lunch Wednesday, before the other leaders arrived in Heiligendamm.
Merkel, a physicist and former environment minister, staked a lot of prestige on a deal. While playing down hopes of a breakthrough, she instructed her chief negotiator, Bernd Pfaffenbach, to keep pushing for a compromise. Negotiators worked on the text all night Wednesday.
At noon, just before Merkel and the other leaders prepared for a forum with young people, she waved a draft of the communiqué before the group. "Any objections?" she asked. There were none.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Andrew C. Revkin contributed.
Proponents of debt relief for Africa were harsh in their assessment Thursday of nearly two-year-old promises by the G-8, yet remained hopeful that the group's leaders would hold true to their pledge of providing money and help to reduce poverty on the continent, The Associated Press reported.
Bono, the musician and social activist, told a crowd attending a protest concert in nearby Rostock that he had a "very tough meeting" with Merkel and was convinced, at one point, that he might have to throw in the towel.
Bob Geldof, another activist who is a music producer, said the German chancellor was talking about sending only €700 million, or $940 million, to Africa, instead of the €1.5 billion they said was needed.
But Geldof said he was hopeful that Merkel could persuade the G-8 leaders to act on Africa. "It is still a long, long way off before the poor of this world will experience justice," he said.
The G-8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005 called for increasing the amount of aid to €37 billion a year through 2010, with half of that going to Africa itself. Since then, the amount pledged will miss the target by €22.2 billion, activists at anti-poverty and aid groups said.