Leaders get down to business

Heiligendamm, June 7:

Leaders of the world’s key industrialised nations got down to formal business on Thursday amid divisions over tackling climate change and strained relations between Russia and the West.

The Group of Eight (G8) summit, chaired by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will also discuss the future status of the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo, the situation in the Middle East and international efforts to convince Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

G8 members include Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the US, Canada and Russia. The European Commission is also a participant. As the leaders gathered in the Baltic coastal resort of Heiligendamm Wednesday, police used water cannon to break up blockades and demonstrations by thousands of anti-globalization protesters.

On Thursday, about 1,000 demonstrators assembled peacefully at two points near the 12-km-long fence that surrounds the conference site, police sources said.

Diplomats predicted tough debates at the summit on climate change, with US President George W. Bush continuing to oppose Merkel’s demands that G8 members commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

She also wants them to increase fuel efficiency by 20 per cent and limit the world’s temperature rise this century to two degrees Celsius.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that success or failure at the summit depended on whether leaders would agree on such targets.

Bush insisted Wednesday that he had a “strong desire” to work with Merkel on a climate change accord following the 2012 expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. But he did not hint at any softening of his opposition to emission targets.

Washington has said it prefers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technology and wants joint action on the question by the world’s top polluters, including China and India. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin deliberately toned down their earlier acrimonious exchanges over European security issues.