Climate Change Evaporates from G8 Agenda
ROME At the last G8 summit, political leaders vowed to "act with resolve and urgency" on climate change. A year on, global warming has been sidelined by concerns on how the world can satisfy its growing appetite for energy.
While analysts were not entirely convinced by Prime Minister Tony Blair's bid to highlight climate change -- a fashionable issue in Britain -- during his G8 presidency, they believe Russia has all but dropped the issue.
"I don't think this year there's going to be any particular emphasis on climate, I would be very positively surprised if there were," said Benito Mueller, Senior Research Fellow at Britain's Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
Russia, chairing the Group of Eight for the first time and hosting a summit starting July 15, has been ambivalent about global warming which leaders at last year's G8 summit called "a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the planet".
Moscow's decision in 2004 to ratify the Kyoto Protocol saved the greenhouse gas-limiting treaty from collapse, which looked likely when the United States pulled out three years earlier.
But while that was a relief to the pro-Kyoto lobby, Russia is rarely celebrated as the treaty's saviour. President Vladimir Putin once remarked that a bit of global warming might not be that bad as people "would have to spend less money on fur coats and other warm things".
Still, Russia eventually backed Kyoto, leaving the United States, which emits around a quarter of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions, the only G8 country not to have ratified.
Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), a by-product of burning fossil fuels, trap heat in the atmosphere. Scientists say that if emissions are not curbed, there will be disastrous effects, including rising sea levels, droughts and floods.
Russia has made "energy security" the main theme of the July 15-17 St. Petersburg summit. High oil prices and a stand-off between Russia and its European customers this year over gas supplies have thrown the issue to the top of the agenda.
Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said the summit will "focus on the search for tools to reduce global energy hazards", and climate change will be part of that.
But an early draft of the summit declaration concentrates mostly on the challenges of developing supplies of energy in a volatile market rather than tackling the threat of global warming posed by an increasing use of fossil fuels.
"We're back to the 1970s and 1980s when we just talked about security of supply -- I thought we'd moved on from that," said Mueller.
The draft does encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, but not enough to satisfy environmentalists who were appalled to see the text promoting more development of fossil fuels including coal and bitumen, both potentially major sources of CO2.
"It would be laughable if the focus were on how to increase fossil fuels," said Jennifer Morgan, climate campaigner for WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund.
Morgan said last year's summit had been a minor breakthrough in that all G8 leaders -- including U.S. President George W. Bush who pulled his country out of Kyoto shortly after taking office in 2001 -- jointly said the problem was urgent.
Another fear for the green lobby is that the summit could give a boost to nuclear power, not least because Russia is keen to boost uranium exports and because of the G8 countries, only Germany and Italy are still opposed to the technology.