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Global realities will make Toyako among most complex G8 summits

by Reiji Yoshida

Global circumstances surrounding the Group of Eight summit have changed greatly, making an expanded meeting with emerging economies China and India more important than ever, according to the top Japanese coordinator for the July G8 gathering in Hokkaido.

“The summit this time is very different from those in the past. It’s very tough,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Masaharu Kohno, who works directly under Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. “Nowadays, the G8 countries (alone) cannot decide everything.”

In a recent interview with The Japan Times, Kohno said the change involving the annual summit is a “reflection of the reality” of the current world.

Kohno is the Japanese “sherpa” engaging in preparatory negotiations with the U.S., Britain, France, German, Canada, Italy and Russia.

With Japan chairing the July summit at Lake Toya, his role is probably more important than that of any other sherpa this year, and he has been very busy every day, contacting at least one of the other seven G8 sherpas or officials of the invited guest countries.

“You need to push for Japan’s stance, while trying to form a consensus (among participating members) as the chair country. It’s very tough work,” he said.

Indeed, forming a consensus among the participants is expected to be particularly difficult this year.

In the past three years, the G8 countries have invited China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa for expanded “outreach” meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

This year, on top of that, South Korea, Indonesia and Australia have been invited. Together with seven African countries to discuss Africa-related issues, a total of 23 countries — the most ever — will join this year’s event.

At the top of the agenda this year is climate change.

China is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States, and total emissions from developing countries are predicted to exceed that of the OECD countries by around 2015, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Still, China and other developing countries are reluctant to agree on setting goals to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it would seriously hinder their economic growth.

To form a consensus, Japan has proposed the sectoral approach. This is a bottom-up process of estimating potential gas-reduction capacities in each industrial sector by considering technologies and other measures.

The proposal has sparked concern among European countries worried it could lead to meager goals for each country, compared with a top-down political decision.

But Kohno argued that the sectoral approach is useful in setting a fair national emissions goal because it examines each industry.

It is also useful in comparing the industrial sectors of each country and spreading “good practices” to less-efficient countries as well, he said.

“(Japan) has already accomplished much. We have improved energy-efficiency in each sector and reduced carbon dioxide” since the energy crisis in the 1970s, Kohno said.

According to the government, Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions per dollar of gross domestic product is 0.24 kg, about half that of the U.S., one-third of the world average, one-tenth of China and one-eighteenth of Russia.

“We’d like other countries to learn from our efforts in each sector,” he said.