A World Government? Why the G-8 Might Work After All
The agreements reached at this year's G-8 in Heiligendamm were by no means perfect. But when it comes to battling climate change, the industrialized world took a giant step forward. Could the G-8 have a future?
Suddenly US President George W. Bush had had enough. No more, he said. Sufficient. It was Wednesday of last week and he was having lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hostess of the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm. And the chancellor wouldn't stop insisting that the world's efforts to avert the effects of climate change must be brought under the auspices of the United Nations. Bush, though, was interested in keeping the UN, a constant thorn in his side, out of it.
No one saved the world in Heiligendamm. But a number of important steps were taken. Could the G-8 format actually have a future?
But he held back. He even kept his cool when Merkel attempted yet again to beguile him with a fatal mix of self-deprecating girlishness and tenacity. But you know George, she said, how important this is to me.
The approach seemed to work. She managed to convince Bush to relent and, as a result, was able to make an announcement on climate change the next day that she herself called a "huge success." Under the compromise, the US government will agree to climate change policy being set within a UN framework, and it will also "seriously consider" a commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.
No one saved the world in Heiligendamm. There was no binding commitment from the United States and nothing even approaching a commitment from China and India, and a great deal more action is needed to prevent the earth from warming even further. Environmental organization Greenpeace and Germany's Green Party had nothing but scorn and derision for what they saw as a weak and noncommittal result.
A Bit of World Governing
To share this standpoint, one would have to expect politicians to be omnipotent. And to those who do, Heiligendamm was a failure. But there is another standpoint. After the demise of the Soviet bloc, the United States was for many years a hegemonic power with the freedom to do more or less as it pleased, especially when it came to questions of war and peace. The world had become a unilateral place, with the United States leading and everyone else either following or sulking.
Heiligendamm changed some of that, at least to a small extent. The president of the United States agreed to a compromise on an important issue. The United States no longer looks quite as dominant on the world stage. The G-8 does play a role, after all, as does Europe. Asking ourselves what is the best way to govern the world has once again become a reasonable question. Indeed, there was also a bit of world governing going on in Heiligendamm, as it turned out.
Angela Merkel was the head of this impromptu world government, if only for a moment. It was on Thursday, shortly after three in the afternoon, that she showed up unannounced in the press briefing room, much to the surprise of German journalists who had expected only a government official. It was immediately clear that she was there to announce a success, but she did so almost nonchalantly. She still lacks the dignity of a leader and the demeanor of a chancellor, is emotionless to the point of frostiness, and her announcements of world policy decisions in Heiligendamm were so offhand that they seemed almost sweet. She became bogged down in documents that had been translated into German from English, was often unable to find passages despite spending an inordinate amount of time flipping through pages, and managed to come up with odd-sounding phrases like "the state of stopping."
It wouldn't have been difficult to forget that Merkel is the German chancellor and, as such, currently holds the rotating presidencies of both the G-8 and the European Union, if only she hadn't reminded us of that fact when she said: "I am the boss here, and I have to go so that I can continue to run things." And go she did.
Merkel the Nucleus
This is the way Angela Merkel behaves after a success. This is the way she behaves in her role as temporary head of the world. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a press conference in Heiligendamm, he had all the tables cleared, had a podium brought in, stood alone in front of the world press and delivered sentences of incredible importance -- or at least delivered them as if they were incredibly important.
But Angela Merkel was undoubtedly in charge at Heiligendamm. She kept a highly visible profile among her fellow heads of state, and she led without making it seem like she was leading. She was simply the nucleus of the meeting without having to take center stage.
There is something puzzling about the whole thing. After her press conference, one might have said that Merkel possesses few of the traits that are normally considered essential to success in the world of politics, the world of illusion. But on Friday morning Germans woke up to headlines about their successful chancellor. It seems that reserve, self-deprecation and Merkel's unique brand of friendliness coupled with a lack of glamour produced a certain measure of success in a world dominated by giant egos. Pragmatism is another element in her recipe for success. "Achieving the achievable in an optimal way" -- this was the way Merkel described her style of leadership and her approach to politics in Heiligendamm.
Bush's idea was an alternative to the climate policy of the United Nations. He proposed a plan under which the world's 15 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases would agree to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions through the use of new technologies. But the proposal was full of tentative language, and it lacked concrete goals. It seemed that what Bush wanted was a coalition of the unwilling.
Merkel had to react. She had to gain the solidarity of other G-8 leaders. She invited British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on the Sunday before Heiligendamm. By that Monday, the Canadians had signaled to the Germans that they would support ambitious climate change goals, and by Tuesday the Japanese had followed suit.