Sunday, June 3, 2007

Harper heads for G8 meeting

I expect that Harper will be low key if not invisible at the meeting. He will work closely with the US behind the scenes. He is already spouting the US line about the necessity of making China and India part of the picture. Harper may be relying on the fact that the Canadian public's greeness may end when they have to fork over the greenstuff to pay for green changes.

Harper heads for storm on environment
Climate change will dominate G8 summit and canada will be expected to stake a position

CanWest News Service

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Next stop, the G8: Stephen Harper at a conference in Calgary Friday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper steps off a plane in Berlin next week and into a brewing diplomatic hurricane.

Barring some foreign-policy disaster that would distract attention, this year's G8 summit in the German resort village of Heiligendamm will be dominated by talk of climate change.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, eager to make a splash as host of the summit, is backing a joint declaration that would set tough global targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century, and reaffirm the need for a strong successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

On the other side, the United States is pushing amendments that would significantly water down the declaration.

Canada lies between these poles, though its exact position remains foggy.

Environmentalists who have been following the advance negotiations say Canadian officials favour the U.S. position and have been blocking an aggressive summit declaration that would set Canada up for embarrassment down the road.

This week in the Commons, however, Harper cast himself as the honest, if cagey, broker. He refused to explicitly endorse the U.S. stance, suggesting instead that Canada would pursue a consensus that includes the U.S. and emerging economies such as China and India.

In his first 16 months in power, Harper has not hesitated to talk tough on the world stage. In the lead-up to last year's G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, he took a distinctly pro-Israel tack by describing that country's incursion into Lebanon as "measured."

This time, the prime minister could be playing it smart by holding his cards close to his chest, say some foreign-policy analysts.

"The challenge for Mr. Harper is to look prime ministerial, and like a leader among equals," says Fen Hampson, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. "The way you do that is by sticking to your script, and if there are divisions, playing the role of the helpful fixer."

Staying in the background also has its political advantages. Stick too closely to outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, and Harper might find himself offside if Americans elect a Democratic leader next year. Moreover, if he rejects the European consensus on climate change, the prime minister could turn off an increasingly green Canadian public.

Conversely, coming out as a climate-change crusader could raise expectations at a time when the Canadian economy is purring and the public's willingness to pay the price of radical action remains questionable.

"Canada in some ways doesn't have to really take a strong position, because the extremes have been staked out," Hampson notes. "We can hide in the confusion and rhetoric of others."

With the three-day summit set to begin Wednesday, organizers have been ratcheting up security in Heiligendamm, a scenic village on the Baltic Sea coast that has long been a refuge for the European aristocracy. An 11.6-kilometre-long barbed-wire fence has been built around the town at a cost of more than $17 million. About 17,000 police officers and soldiers will deter anti-globalization protesters, who are expected to number more than 100,000.

Tempers were much calmer five months ago, when Merkel gave the summit the benign theme of "growth and responsibility." Other issues are expected to be discussed, including the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, aid for Africa, and the global economy. But none is expected to be as divisive as climate change.

As this year's president of the European Union, Merkel has become politically invested in the fight against global warming. In March, the EU pledged to slash carbon emissions by 20 per cent, compared with 1990 levels, by 2020. Canada has also committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, but because the government uses 2006 for its baseline, Canada's targets are less ambitious.

Merkel wants the G8 countries to commit to do their "fair share" to limit the rise in temperatures this century to 2C. Germany also wants to set a target of halving emissions by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. Merkel is believed to have the support of France, Britain and Italy, with Russia seen as a wild card.

But the U.S., allied with Japan and Canada, wants to remove any reference to specific targets or timetables.

In effect, the leaders of the world's richest countries are sparring over how to tackle global warming after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

A crucial issue will be how to incorporate the U.S., which has not ratified Kyoto, as well as China and India, which do not have binding targets under the Kyoto agreement. China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa will send delegates to the summit as part of an effort to include developing countries in the discussions.

Environmentalists hope the G8 will express support for the United Nations-based negotiation efforts, which will continue at a year-end conference in Bali. But they fear the U.S. is luring countries such as Canada and Australia down an alternative track, centred on an Asia-Pacific partnership that emphasizes technological innovation but does not impose mandatory targets.

"Something has to give," said Dale Marshall, a climate-change policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. "Canada has to decide if they want to be stuck in the mud or if they want to join the leaders."

On Thursday, Bush offered to convene meetings among developed countries to negotiate a post-Kyoto agreement and set global reduction targets by the end of next year. Blair and Merkel welcomed the move; environmentalists dismissed it as a diversionary tactic.

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