What does it take to get the world's leading industrial nations to agree on a binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gases? That must be the question that German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel is asking himself this week.
The Social Democrat has tried everything in recent months to get nations outside the European Union on board to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. He has helped midwife an EU agreement that foresees a 20 percent reduction in EU emissions compared to 1990s levels by 2020 -- with a clause upping that to 30 percent should other major polluters make concrete commitments. He has been constantly optimistic and diplomatic in urging others to take climate change seriously. He has even teamed up with Berlin's famous baby polar bear Knut to draw attention to the dangers of climate change.
But with the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm quickly approaching with no climate change agreement in sight -- largely because of continued US refusal to agree to concrete emissions reduction goals -- Gabriel seems to have had enough. On German television on Wednesday, Gabriel finally shed his diplomatic veneer and lashed out.
"Now is not the time to merely write in the minutes how well we got along with each other," Gabriel said on the news channel N24. "Now is not the hour of diplomacy. Now is the hour for real action." The German environment minister then took on the US directly, saying "the challenge remains that of convincing the Americans that they have a responsibility -- also for their own citizens who suffer from climate change. Look at the hurricane in New Orleans."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who currently holds the rotating G-8 chair, placed global warming high on the G-8 agenda for this year. But while Merkel would like to see an agreement on binding emissions reductions, the US has continued to resist any such proposal. According to the Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, a new US proposal attempts to skirt around the issue by proposing that the world's leading industrial nations come to a framework agreement on CO2 reductions by 2008. Negotiators are meeting again over the weekend in a non-scheduled get-together to discuss the remaining points of conflict.
Gabriel said on Wednesday that the US position makes it easier for developing nations to sit back and do nothing about reducing their own emissions. Countries such as India and China, said Gabriel, "have the attitude: 'if the industrialized nations don't take responsibility, then why should developing countries do so?' The only solution is to continue negotiations with the Americans and to put them under pressure."