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U.S. looking for ‘accountability’ at July summit

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — The United States’ agenda for the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, emphasizes health and development issues, making sure previous agreements are carried out in a publicly accountable way and guaranteeing that developing nations are part of a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty, said the top U.S. official coordinating Washington’s role at the G8.

“The issue of accountability in particular is very important to the U.S. It’s one thing to make promises and declarations. It’s another thing to do the hard work to fulfill that. We’re encouraging the G8 to specify at this summit how they are fulfilling the commitments on HIV-AIDS, malaria, polio and tuberculosis,” said Daniel Price, who serves as the U.S. “sherpa” to the G8.

The summit is widely seen among nongovernmental organizations as one where bold new initiatives on the environment, poverty and development are unlikely. For African NGOs, the major concern is that $60 billion promised by the G8 at last year’s summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, for Africa has yet to materialize.

At a meeting last week in Kyoto with the G8 sherpas, many NGOs warned that the upcoming summit could be a step backward for Africa and climate change if the leaders fail to announce clear goals.

The question of what role developing countries should play in a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty on the environment has divided G8 members, with the U.S. demanding developing countries play a big part.

But time is running out. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and last year’s summit promised only to give serious consideration to a long-term goal on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading scientific body studying the issue, has warned that over the past century, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has risen by 30 percent and that an average temperature rise of at least 0.2 degree will occur every decade until at least 2030.

At a U.N. conference in Bali last December, it was agreed that developed and developing countries would commit to concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gases. But the agreement came only after the U.S., following international condemnation, relented and approved a statement calling on developed countries to take “measurable and verifiable” emissions reduction steps.

While the European Union and some NGOs also called for a 25 percent to 40 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the U.S. remained adamantly opposed to the measure and the final Bali agreement did not clearly commit to those figures. Meanwhile, Japan envisions a plan that would bring emissions down to about half of the current levels by 2050.

For the U.S., the answer to a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty has been to hold meetings of the world’s major economies, including developed and developing countries.

“These meetings are premised on the notion that it’s important to have the countries which together constitute 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 80 percent of energy consumption, in the same room discussing climate change. What we’re working toward is a leaders’ meeting of the major economies at the Lake Toya summit, and a declaration by the major economies that addresses a long-term global reduction goal,” Price said.

“We also hope the declaration will address national plans and midterm goals; as well as state that the national plans should be reflected in a future binding international agreement. President (George W.) Bush has made clear the U.S. recognizes each major economy’s plan and goal for reducing greenhouse gases will differ with its economic needs, its energy mix and its demographics. But each country must make a contribution,” Price said.

On poverty and development, one of the main problems developing nations face is a shortage of health care workers, who often take high-paying jobs in developed countries.

A new initiative was agreed to on April 17 by the U.S. and the U.K., which aims to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent and the mortality of children under age 5 by two-thirds of rates recorded in 1990.

The U.K. plans to spend $420 million in four African countries — Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia — on health issues, including training a health workforce, while Bush said the U.S. was planning to invest at least $1.2 billion on health workforce development.

The goal is to eventually have at least 2.3 health workers per 1,000 people, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

“This joint U.S.-U.K. initiative will be taken to the Lake Toya summit to garner further support from the G8. Most studies make clear the ratio of health care workers to population is one of the key indicators for not only health issues but also for economic development,” Price said.

In addition to the health care worker initiative, the U.S. is hoping to garner G8 support for an initiative on neglected tropical diseases.

“These are diseases like river blindness which affect 1 billion people in the developing world, contributing to childhood malnutrition and resulting in severe disfigurement,” Price said. “Our experts tell us that this is a $1 billion problem. The U.S. has contributed $350 million toward the $1 billion, and we’re hopeful the G8 will also make a contribution.”

The G8 also often addresses a specific political issue of the moment. With the recent protests over Tibet and the Beijing Olympic Games taking place just a few weeks after the July summit, some G8 members are pushing for a statement on the importance of respecting human rights during the Olympics.

Price would not comment on what, if any, statements regarding the Olympics or Tibet might be made at the summit, saying only that the U.S. makes peace, human rights and security a major priority.

On the other hand, much attention is now focused on how the leaders will respond to the growing international food shortage crisis, which has hit developing nations particularly hard. Japan, as the host nation, will likely put the food crisis on the agenda.

But how much aid, financial and otherwise, the G8 might commit to the crisis is unclear. Price said the problem is structural and will require comprehensive solutions.