Indeed, environmental leaders said that the summit bombed on securing actual agreement to cut emissions and only urged nations to issue a plea that industry heed their call to cut emissions.
New ‘Cold War’ heat cooled by Putin
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin cooled what many expected to be a meltdown between Washington and Moscow over a planned US anti-missile defense shield based in Eastern Europe – by proposing that the United States and Russia work jointly on the shield.
Bush’s initial proposal of the anti-missile shield had Putin, prior to the summit, threatening to target European cities with nuclear weapons setting leaders on edge that other issues would be overshadowed by a feud reminiscent of the Cold War.
In a surprise proposal, Putin said he would drop his opposition to the shield if the United States made use of a Russian-leased radar station in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic. Washington currently plans to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic to guard against a potential future nuclear threat from Iran.
Bush and Putin will hold further talks on Russian cooperation in the missile shield in July when the two meet at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
European leaders hail climate document as a breakthrough
European leaders hailed the climate change declaration as progress in the wrangling between Europe and the United States that has been characterised by Washington resisting proposals of mandatory cuts.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which currently holds the G-8 rotating presidency and who has made the battle against climate change an centerpiece of her country’s G-8 leadership called the agreement “very great progress and an excellent result.” Bush has resisted concrete cuts, even in his surprise yet grudging announcement before the summit that Washington would be joining the fight on global climate change.
Bush’s announcement a week ago, proposed gathering the world’s biggest polluters to discuss cuts, but stopped short of suggesting caps. It was thus feared that Merkel’s summit would fall short of her goal of a substantive deal on climate change.
Merkel had been lobbying G-8 nations – the United States, Russia, Britain, Italy, France, Canada, Japan and Germany – on climate change for months leading up to the summit.
“No on can escape this political decision: it is an enormous step forward,” Merkel told reports in the resort city of Heiligendamm, the German resort where the summit took place.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked if there was "wiggle room." He said the final result would depend on upcoming U.N. climate change negotiations.
"However, there is now a process to lead to that agreement, and at its heart is a commitment to a substantial cut," he said. "What does substantial mean? That serious consideration is given to the halving of emissions by 2050."
Blair called the deal a “major, major step forward.”
Environmentalists: Bush ‘just kicking the can down the road’
Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for the environmental group Environmental Defense, however, threw cold water on the G-8 leaders’ enthusiasm, saying the group hadn’t actually agreed on a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050 – but has only agreed to call on all major emitters to consider the option.
“Importantly, they have agreed to negotiate a new agreement under the (United Nations) Framework Convention – bound by the obligation to avert dangerous climate change,” she told The Washington Post.” But it may be that (President Bush) is simply kicking the can down the road to the next administration to get the job done.
In a telephone briefing with reporters, Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, said the ideas in the G-8 declaration were in the Bush proposal of last week, in which the US President called on the world’s top 15 polluters to meets and set long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and decide for themselves how much effort they would put into it.
"The president made clear last week that he accepted the principle of a long-term goal," Hadley said. "I think (the G-8 declaration) was very consistent with some ideas that the president had last week, but it was also consistent with ideas that have been advanced by others."
Specifically, the document endorses the UN Framework for climate change talks, one of Merkel’s demands. But it fails to commit to Merkel’s target of allowing global temperatures to increase by no more than 2 degrees Celcius before being brought back down. Expert scientific opinion holds that a 50 percent reduction in emission is required to meet Merkel’s goal.
Bush’s main gripe against mandatory cuts is that the so-called developing nations, such as China, India and Brazil, must be included in reaching that goal. It is apparently unimportant to the Bush administration in the meantime to commit to its own cuts and urge others to do the same while the world negotiates with these developing nations.
Bush also reiterated his familiar complaint that economic growth cannot be sacrificed in the name of fighting global warming. But he did emphasis that cleaner technology and biofuels be developed to stem society’s dependence on greenhouse gas generating fossil fuels.
What’s next for the politics of climate change?
UN Framework climate talks are slated to begin among environmental ministers at a UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia in December, the Associate Press reported.
This conference will seek to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 under which industrial countries committed to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels. Washington signed the treaty but did not ratify it because it did not apply to developing countries such as China and India. Russia was the tilt vote in the end, and ratified the Protocol in February 2004.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters that the agreement emerging from the G-8 summit was "very important progress" because it committed the countries to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by 2009.
“The important thing is to get the negotiations going rather than decide on what the outcome is going to be,” he said in remarks reported by AP.
Environmentalists remained sceptical about Bush’s level of commitment to the G-8 document.
“I know Chancellor Merkel is declaring victory, but the fact is that President Bush has shut the door in the faces of the other seven leaders at the table,” said Philip Clapp, president of the US-based National Environmental Trust, according to The Washington Post.
Drawing attention to Blair’s statement about inviting industry to give “serious consideration” to joining the battle against greenhouse emissions, Clapp said, according to the paper: “This is a far cry from the United States having signed up to any reductions.”
If any progress had been evidenced at the summit, Clapp said, it was that the agreement showed consensus among other nations that could be taken up with a new US administration after Bush leaves office in January 2009.