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World: Leaders Gather For G-8 Summit

  • Robert Parsons --> One of the summit buildings in Gleneagles, Scotland Prague, 5 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- World leaders are arriving at Gleneagles in Scotland for the annual summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) major industrialized states, including Russia.

Climate change, global warming, and debt relief for Africa top the agenda but U.S. President George W. Bush has already ruled out any Kyoto-style deals from Washington to curb greenhouse emissions.

Mayhem brought gridlock to the center of Edinburgh yesterday as hundreds of anti-G-8 demonstrators clashed with the police. Thousands of protestors are converging on the Scottish capital and on Gleneagles further north, where the summit is to be held.

Police, though, say that only a small number of the protestors are responsible for the violence. Most form part of the global upsurge of support for action against poverty and global warming that climaxed in the worldwide Live-8 concerts on 2 July.

A massive outpouring of sympathy for the world's poorest nations and a message, perhaps, to the G-8 leaders assembled in Scotland that this is a summit that has to count.
"We are very generous. And we'll do more. And I look forward to talking about doing more at the G-8." -- U.S. President George W. Bush

It's a message that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is chairing the three-day meeting, has taken to heart. He's put climate change and combatting poverty in Africa and the world's poorest countries at the top of the G-8 agenda.

It's been at the top of his own political agenda, too, from the start of this year -- with Washington the target of his drive to forge a worldwide consensus on these two critical issues.

But if Tony Blair has hoped that a combination of the scientific evidence for global warming and gratitude for British support on the Iraq war would persuade U.S. President George W. Bush to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, he had better think again.

In an interview broadcast by Britain's ITV1 channel yesterday, Bush was far from encouraging.

"Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for the people of Great Britain, and I made decisions on what I thought was best for Americans, and I really don't view our relationship as one of quid pro quos. I view our relationship as one of strong allies and friends working together for the common good," Bush said.

Bush has categorically ruled out the possibility of Washington joining the other seven members of the G-8 by signing the Kyoto protocol on global warming.

But Blair seems content at this stage to push for rather less. The main thing, he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, was "to set a direction of travel". To this end, he hopes Gleneagles will bring progress in three key areas.

Most of all, he wants a statement that the scientific evidence is indisputable: climate change is real. He will have been encouraged that Bush acknowledged in his ITV interview that climate change is an issue we have to deal with.

But he also wants progress on the developmen-t of energy-saving technology and to involve the developing world in the debate about climate change. The fear of the G8 is that as they cut back their own hydro-carbon emissions, the developing economies of China and India, in particular, will step up theirs.

These are more modest goals than Blair had once hoped for but they may just be attainable -- as will be a deal on the other main item on the Gleneagles agenda, poverty relief for Africa.

Last month, the G-8 agreed to write off multilateral debt for the world's 18 poorest countries -- a total of $40 billion. Britain wants to go further by doubling aid over the next 10 years. On this, at least, he may find Bush more amenable.

"We are very generous. And we'll do more. And I look forward to talking about doing more at the G-8," Bush said.

The real question though is whether "more" will be enough -- and whether the G-8 are prepared to go beyond aid to address the key issue of subsidies.

There is a growing body of international opinion that farm subsidies in the United States and the European Union unfairly distort the world market against African farmers. For every dollar given in aid to developing countries, it is argued, farm subsidies take another away.