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G8 plus 5 equals power shift


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Anyone else wanting to push for the Kyoto Protocols after reading this article?






Peter Alford, Rusutsu, Hokkaido | July 07, 2008

THE largest, most expensive gathering of world leaders under the G8 banner convenes today confronted by an awesome array of problems, from runaway oil prices and scarce food to flaring inflation and global warming, but with little prospect of real breakthroughs on any front.


Failure this year could call seriously into question the viability of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, a 33-year-old gathering originally of the top Western powers, struggling now for relevance against huge shifts in the world's political and economic geography.


That shift will be underlined when the "Plus 5" developing nations issue for the first time their own communique after meeting the G8 leaders on Wednesday at the Windsor Hotel, the luxurious and now heavily-secured summit site on Lake Toya, in Toyako, near here.


Since the 2005 Gleneagles summit, China, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa have met annually as the "G8 plus 5" with the chief summiteers, the leaders of the US, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia.


But because of their rising economic power, their huge hunger for energy and food and their critical role in deciding a new climate change regime - or not - after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, the Plus 5 communique will carry as much weight as G8 statements.


The summit situation also gives force to calls from France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Gordon Brown, lately joined by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for the eight to be expanded to a G13 with the emerging powers as full partners.


This idea is strongly resisted by Washington and Tokyo, the Japanese apparently fearing further dilution of their claims to Asian leadership if China gains a seat.


The other national leaders in Toyako for "outreach" sessions include the rest of the 16 members of the MEM (major economies or major emitters) program on climate change, including Australia's Kevin Rudd and the presidents of South Korea and Indonesia.


Seven other African leaders are attending as the G8 tries to reinvigorate Tony Blair's "millennium development goals" for Africa, though his successor, Mr Brown, admitted at the weekend that the target date of 2015 could not be met.


In all, 22 national leaders, plus European Community president Jose Manuel Barosso, who holds a de facto seat at the G8, are in Toyako this week.


They're accompanied by nine other leaders of multinational agencies such as the World Bank and regional groupings such as the African Union.


Host Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who desperately needs a productive summit to bolster his political survival prospects at home, has abandoned earlier hopes of in-principle commitment to Japan's aspiration for a 50 per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.


Instead, Mr Fukuda said yesterday he wanted the G8 to show general leadership on the environment and food and energy security.


"These are precisely what world leaders must discuss," he said before his first "sidelines" meeting, with George W. Bush.


"And this is a summit that is required to indicate a certain direction."


In the US President, Mr Fukuda yesterday immediately encountered one of the impediments to Japanese and European hopes for G8 agreement on a targeted carbon dioxide emission regime post-Kyoto. Mr Bush, attending his final G8 summit, is reluctant to commit to either Japan's 2050 target or the European Union interim commitment to a 20 per cent emissions cut - from a less challenging 1990 base - by 2020.


And he continues to insist that Washington cannot sign up for a new greenhouse treaty that does not include commitment by the major developing nations - particularly China and India - to specific reductions.


Mr Bush vowed last night to play a "constructive" role in curbing carbon emissions blamed for climate change, but warned that any effort was doomed if it did not include China and India.


"I'll be constructive," he said after talks with Mr Fukuda, but "we're not going to solve the problem" unless those two fast-growing economies take part in any long-term deal.


While Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered a vaguely worded commitment to a national plan for emission cuts, China and India remain adamant that G8 nations, and developed nations generally, bear the burden of targeted emission cuts.


Though by some measures China has exceeded the US as the world's largest CO2 emitter, top Beijing climate change official Su Wei last week reiterated that "developing countries are innocent and they are the biggest victims of climate change".


The most concrete outcome on climate change from Toyako is likely to be G8 support for a technology development fund to combat climate change, likely to start at $US6 billion ($6.2 billion).


But again, the interesting and perhaps crucial question about the fund will be whether China and India agree to the G8's call to contribute to it.

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