G-8 Summit Starts Scant Hope for Climate Deal as Leaders Converge on Heiligendamm

The G-8 summit in Heiligendamm starts on Wednesday evening. Before that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will lunch with US President George W. Bush, but there's not much hope she will be able to persuade him to sign up to a meaningful agreement on combating global warming.

The G-8 summit starts on Wednesday evening with a formal reception and dinner for the leaders and their spouses in Schloss Hohen Luckow, a palace 25 kilometers inland from Heiligendamm, the Baltic resort where the meeting is being held amid ultra-tight security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairing the annual meeting as president of the Group of Eight, will be holding bilateral meetings with leaders throughout the day. She is due to lunch with United States President George W. Bush to sound out possibilities for a compromise on climate change, one of the summit's thorniest issues.

She will also meet Russia's Vladimir Putin. The summit has been overshadowed by tension between the US and Russia over Bush's plan to locate a missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic to intercept nuclear attacks from Iran or North Korea. The plan has incensed Putin, who views it as a security threat and has warned that Russia may direct nuclear weapons at Europe.

Bush didn't help matters on Tuesday when he declared in a speech in the Czech capital Prague that Russia had "derailed" its democratic reforms.  Bush will hold a one-on-one meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the gathering, but observers doubt that one brief meeting can clear the air.

Despite the threat of a new arms race in Europe and doubts about whether the summit will be able to achieve any meaningful progress on climate change, Merkel was determined to be upbeat, telling the DPA news agency in an interview: "I'm optimistic that we can have a successful summit."

The mass circulation Bild newspaper asked in a banner headline on Wednesday: "Will Merkel Get a Grip on The Men?"

A 'Significant and Important' Development

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he might be able to help. He told the Guardian newspaper he was convinced he can persuade Bush to sign up for the first time to a "substantial cut" in greenhouse gas emissions, in line with UN-backed targets.

Blair said the United States was "on the move" on climate change and progress could be made.

"I think the announcement by President Bush last week was significant and important, and it is absurd to say otherwise, since it moved things on," said Blair, who stands down as premier in three weeks' time, referring to a speech by Bush about establishing a US-led initiative to tackle global warming.

"The key elements of this (deal) are an acceptance that the climate is changing in a dangerous way as a result of human activity."

Blair said his best case scenario for the summit would be a final communiqué containing a commitment to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. However, he said if that was not possible, then there needed at least to be a framework agreed for a deal down the line.

Anti-globalization activists have said they will try to block the roads leading to Heiligendamm from nearby Rostock airport to impede the arrival of G-8 leaders. Some 1,000 demonstrated against Bush when he arrived on Tuesday night, but they were kept so far from the airport they could barely even see Air Force One land.

On Friday government leaders from Africa and the most important emerging economies -- China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa -- will join the summit.

There's more hope that the summit will make progress on moves to combat poverty in Africa.

Anti-poverty crusader Bob Geldof said Merkel's likely failure to make significant progress on tackling climate change, not least because of differences with the United States, raises the stakes for an ambitious agreement on fighting poverty.

"I think they will completely crap out on climate change and I think there is anger and dismay about that," Geldof told Reuters.

"The only political win is poverty. It comes at a relatively cheap price. The numbers are low, given the amount of gross domestic product swimming around the table and secondly, no one is asking for a dime more than they promised."

cro/Reuters/AP/dpa

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