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Bush Weakness Could Impede Climate Action

Associated Press in Washington – Updated on Jul 07, 2008

The problems do not get any easier as US President George W. Bush attends his final summit with leaders of industrialised democracies.

Disputes over global warming, worries about soaring oil prices, and uncertainty about Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose daunting challenges for Mr Bush when he sits down with other leaders today.

There are fewer than 200 days left in his term, and Mr Bush’s presidency is a major factor hanging over the Group of Eight summit.

Atop the agenda is reaching a deal that would set targets for reducing the pollution that causes global warming. But few expect major headway or concessions from Mr Bush. He insists on holding China and India, among the world’s biggest polluters, to the same emission-reduction standards as older, developed economies.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda would like to emerge with an agreement on 50 per cent overall reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050.

Some European countries and developing nations favour establishing targets for cutting emissions by 2020.

Scientists say those targets are needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Michael Levy, director of energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think-tank, said he did not expect breakthroughs on global warming, in part because other G8 members realise that Mr Bush’s days in office were dwindling.

The Japanese, who are driving the agenda and favour strong emission-reduction targets, “acutely understand there is going to be a different American approach to climate change in a year”, Mr Levy said.

Both presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have argued for stronger standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than those advocated by Mr Bush.

“We’ll have a new US president in office. The expectation is that either McCain or Obama would be a little bit more forward-leaning and we could make some more headway,” said Julianne Smith, director of the Europe programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr Bush has urged a halt in the growth of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2025, but has not offered a strategy for pollution reductions or backed mandatory emission cuts.

He has supported an increase in vehicle fuel economy, a requirement for a huge increase in use of ethanol and other biofuels, and for developing clean energy technologies.

Mr Bush says a priority of the summit is not advancing new initiatives but making good on ones from previous summits, especially promises for health aid for countries in Africa and other underdeveloped nations.

“We need to show the world that the G8 can be accountable for its promises and deliver results,” Mr Bush said ahead of the summit.

“America is on track to meet our commitments. And in Japan, I’ll urge other leaders to fulfil their commitments, as well.”

Mr Bush’s trip comes amid fresh questions on the makeup of the G8 and its relevance to today’s global economy. When the gathering was first set up in the 1970s it consisted of five nations that were the world’s undisputed economic powerhouses, which were all democracies: the US, Britain, Japan, France and Germany.

The annual meetings were expected to focus on global economic issues. Canada, Italy and Russia were added later.

China, the world’s third largest economy, after the US and Japan, is not a member. Neither is India, the world’s most populous democracy and fourth-largest economy, according to a World Bank update last week that ranks countries according to their GDP in terms of purchasing power.

Brazil has a bigger economy than that of Italy and Canada, according to the World Bank report.

The economies of Spain, Mexico and South Korea are bigger than that of Canada.

Mr Bush has pushed for a wider role for these growing economies that are not G8 members, and they were invited on Wednesday to join a “major economies meeting”.

The US was expected to push for statements on government suppression in Myanmar; the increasing violence in Afghanistan from Taleban insurgents; the Middle East peace process; terrorism; and developments on nuclear programmes in North Korea and Iran, including North Korea’s recent destruction of a nuclear facility that had produced plutonium.

Surging global oil prices and slumping economies in most of the G8 countries were also were expected to be discussed, although options for action seemed to be limited.

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