The World from Berlin The Isolation of America

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday proposed the idea of basing a nation's carbon emissions allowance on population size. German commentators on Friday say it's another step on the path towards isolating the USA.

Merkel on Thursday suggested a plan to make it easier for developing nations to say yes to climate control measures.

Merkel on Thursday suggested a plan to make it easier for developing nations to say yes to climate control measures.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel may be the most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes magazine, but getting the world to agree on how to combat climate change has so far eluded even her. On Thursday, though, she made yet another proposal aimed at bringing developing nations like China and India on board: carbon dioxide emissions based on population size.

"If we can't convince the others that we all have to contribute to solving the problem, then we will all suffer," she said in Kyoto, Japan, where she is on the final leg of a week-long swing through Asia.

The idea of per-capita carbon emission limits comes from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who broached the idea at the G-8 summit in Germany's Heiligendamm in June. It involves industrialized nations cutting per-capita emissions at the same time that developing nations are allowed to increase theirs.

"Once (developing countries) reach the level of industrialized countries, the reduction begins," Merkel said.

Merkel had mentioned the idea earlier in the week during her visit to China, but Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao was reported to be skeptical. He has repeatedly resisted any plan that requires China to commit to concrete numbers. The US releases about 20 tons of CO2 per capita each year while Germany emits 11 tons per capita. China, for its part, releases 3.5 tons against a global average of 4.2 tons, according to figures from the German government.

German commentaries on Friday discuss Merkel's proposal.

Center-left paper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday writes:

"Whether global climate protection continues -- and whether a new treaty replaces and improves upon the Kyoto Protocol -- depends largely on solving the problem of fairness. The greenhouse effect cannot be stopped without large developing nations, just as it cannot be stopped without the USA. Merkel thus took an important step forward at the right time and place. Were emissions to be calculated on a per capita basis in the future, then the rules governing climate control would become fairer and simpler."

"It looks as though Merkel wants to continue following her G-8 strategy: that of isolating the US until it comes around. An American releases 20 times as much greenhouse gases as an Indian does -- and the consequences are clear: Merkel's proposal will not be well received. But America's scepticism could soon result in its complete isolation."

Conservative daily Die Welt uses Merkel's idea as an excuse for yet another anti-United Nations broadside:

"Contrary to US President George W. Bush, Merkel wants to proceed within the framework of the United Nations, which has been responsible for managing the world's climate since the 1992 conference in Rio. It is a strategy welcomed by those who see the UN as symbolic for all that is good in the world despite the organization having failed in all the challenges it has faced in recent decades. But the UN is surely well-equipped to handle the gigantic bureaucracy that worldwide climate protection threatens to become. And it can handle the redistribution (now proposed by Merkel)."

Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung takes a slightly broader view of things on Friday:

"The Earth's atmosphere and the environment in general cannot be protected on just a national or even European basis, rather the problem is a global one … ."

"The alleged opposition between the economy and the environment … has a major role to play here. Neither the USA, as the world's leading industrial nation, nor ambitious countries like China or India give climate change the attention it deserves. Merkel, though, sought to lure the latter two into her corner during her visit to Asia. Her proposal to establish maximum emission quotas based on population is a compromise to large developing nations and allows them room for economic development. Per capita, these countries only release a fraction of the carbon dioxide that citizens in developed countries spew out."

"The Merkel model is thus fairer than lump-sum limits and the timing is right, because the negotiations over a treaty to replace Kyoto will soon begin. The more constructive the role that China and India play in those talks, the easier it will be to get the Americans to play along."

-- Charles Hawley; 12:15 p.m. CET


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