G8 Summit Opens With Climate Target Up in the Air

TOYAKO, Japan, July 7, 2008 (ENS) – Climate change and world hunger, oil production and rice production, energy security and disaster reduction – all these environmental issues were discussed by leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries today, the opening day of the Group of Eight, G8, Summit at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa in Toyako.

On Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and U.S. President George W. Bush held a bilateral meeting and then briefed journalists, but they offered little insight into whether the G8 meeting would agree on a specific long-term target for greenhouse gas reductions.

U.S. President George W. Bush
and Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo
Fukuda at a joint press availability
Sunday, July 6, 2008, at the
Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa.
(Photo by Eric Draper courtesy
The White House)

G8 discussions Tuesday and Wednesday will center on this issue to which the two countries come with divergent perspectives. Japan is trying to meet its greenhouse gas reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol, while the United States opted out of the protocol although it is the world’s second largest emitter of heat-trapping gases after China.

In Germany last year, the G8 leaders indicated a desire to give serious consideration to cutting emissions in half by 2050, but the United States resisted a firm commitment to that goal. This year’s meeting is likely to follow the same pattern.

Prime Minister Fukuda said, “On whether G8 will agree on long-term target or not, that is something that G8 is continuing consultations. So at this stage what I wish to say is that we leaders will get down to in-depth discussions on this day after tomorrow.”

“On climate change,” said Fukuda, “we have a common understanding that is our common responsibility to leave the beautiful Earth to our posterity since this – climate change is one of the most severe challenges that humankind faces today, and that we shall continue to cooperate with the G8.”

The Japanese prime minister said discussions have been ongoing, “And through these consultations, I think our views are gradually converging.”

President Bush said, “The United States will – we’re working, working to see if we can come up with a constructive – constructive statement.

“I’ve always advocated that there needs to be a common understanding, and that starts with a goal,” said Bush. “And I also am realistic enough to tell you that if China and India don’t share that same aspiration, that we’re not going to solve the problem.”

Addressing climate change and energy, Bush focused on his perennial theme that technology and more domestic oil production will meet the challenge. He reminded people “that the United States and Japan really do lead the world in research when it comes to clean technologies.”

The president told reporters at the briefing, “Japan is going to lead the world when it comes to battery technologies, and that I anticipate our country will be able to be using battery technologies in automobiles that look like cars, not golf carts, and which will save us a lot of – a lot of, you know, reliance upon oil.”

“For seven years I’ve been trying to get the Congress to explore for oil domestically,” said Bush. “Now is the time, when they come back from their 4th of July vacations, to open up ANWR [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and open up the Outer Continental Shelf, so that we can say to the world that we will do our part in increasing supply, so that we can transition from this period of reliance upon hydrocarbons to a new period of advanced technologies.”

On African development, Bush and Fukuda said they had agreed on greater cooperation to increase the production of major crops in Africa, including doubling of rice production, and to promote their trade and distribution.

On Sunday, G8 leaders met with representatives of African nations – Senegal and Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Algeria, Ethiopia, and the chair of the African Union – to discuss food and energy, clean energy development, water projects, health, trade and investment.

The African leaders emphasized the need to boost agricultural productivity. They stressed the need for new technologies and for educating agricultural scientists and for having access not only to immediate food assistance, but non-food assistance, such as fertilizer and high yielding seeds, according to Dan Price, assistant to President Bush for international economic affairs, who briefed reporters after the meeting.

“In this regard, the President again emphasized the importance of biotechnology, and in particular the importance of the developed world, all of the developed world opening its markets to crops grown with biotechnology, so that poor African farmers may have the benefit of these seeds and the domestic increase in crop yields, and have access to foreign markets,” said Price.

President Bush often has pressed for greater acceptance of genetically modified food crops, over the resistance of many African countries, with the interests of U.S. farmers in mind. In the United States in 2006, 89 percent of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent corn were genetically modified varieties.

But genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, according to a study released in April by scientists at the University of Kansas, who found that GM soya produces about 10 percent less food than traditional soya, contradicting claims by biotech advocates that it increases yields.

Also in April, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development concluded that genetically modified crops are not the answer to world hunger.

“One thing that was very clear from these meetings,” said Price, “there was universal emphasis by virtually all African leaders on the essential need for G8 countries to honor their past commitments in respect of health and development assistance. This was a point of emphasis by virtually every African speaker.”

At the African leaders’ meeting there was very little discussion about climate change. The focus really was on health, on agriculture, on education, on infrastructure development, said Price. “The observations that came from African leaders about climate change were more or less focused on what the G8 could do in terms of in the area of science and technology, developing technologies and making those available in Africa and the developing world.”

The G8 leaders will conclude their meeting on Wednesday with a declaration outlining their decisions.

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