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Notes from the sidelines in Heiligendamm

Sheela Bhatt in Heiligendamm | June 13, 2007


T
he Internet has really taken the thrill out of travel. It makes one's physical presence at any place so irrelevant that being right there at a bustling international event is no longer as exciting as it used to be. I am filing this diary from Heiligendamm but all around me sit journalists and analysts, depending on their net connections and cell phones, to write a story that could really have been filed from the Mumbai office of rediff.com.

However, there is a sort of ego boost when one takes a seat in the media complex at the G-8 summit, with a thousand computers and the world's best telecommunications technology at your disposal, all free of cost. Especially when I can sip on a special brand of yogi tea called 'Bright Mood', spiced with ayurvedic herbs, dry ginger and bit of cinnamon.

But there is really much more heated discussion on the internet about G-8 than in the huge media centre in this chilly little German town. Some (wiser?) journalists of the Indian media group left for Potsdam, a historic town of stunning scenic beauty, instead of visiting Heiligendamm, where you can't even admire the sea without security interrupting you.

Entry to the grand venue of G-8 is, obviously, restricted but nobody minds that much when diplomatic drama is more gas than substance.

The weather has a bit of a nip but the sun is out, allowing hundreds of photographers a great photo-op of the rather matronly German Chancellor Angela Merkel with world leaders. She appears to be trying to show that she is winning her diplomactic battle with the US to wrangle more concessions on the issue of climate change.

In the German edition of Financial Times, senior writer Peter Ehrlich remarked that Merkel will fall if she doesn't get a good deal at G-8. Quite some pressure there on the Chancellor! Along with Britain's outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair [Images], who attended his last G-8, she seems to be trying to ressurect her credibility.

The world is, at the moment, fighting a million battles, against poverty, violence, AIDS, bio-degradation and climate change.

But, these leaders seem unaware that in the deep jungles near the equator and in slums around the world people are waiting for better harmony among the world richest nations.

A hour before I began to write this, Greenpeace launched a balloon asking G-8 to 'ACT NOW'. And the leaders did act -- meekly, one might add -- by coming to terms on the issue of climate change but without sensitivity and honesty of purpose.

However, that doesn't take away the inflated importance of G-8. Recently, a senior diplomat asked in a candid manner, "I am trying to figure out why are we here. What do you gain out of it? India is not going to catch up even with China in the coming years and we are nowhere near the US."

With 300 million people struggling to have one square meal a day and with increasing insecurity in the agriculture sector in India, sharing a glorified platform with G-8 countries must be quite a deceptive experience for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images].

However, we know Dr Singh -- he will humbly listen to the nations that have been shaken up now by the devastating things they have done to the environment in the last few centuries.

If climate change is now an international buzzword, it's only because civil societies in Western countries have objected to the rich, spoilt and self-centred political leaders of their nation. Sadly, because these leaders have no new ideas for sustainable development without causing grave harm to the environment, they are now whining more about developing nations like India, China and Brazil [Images], while remaining blind to the mess in their own backyards.

Two press releases I saw recently -- one by G-8 and one by Outreach-5 -- were startling; the G-8 appears to almost have fudged data on climate change, while the other (which mentions India) is disappointingly and irritatingly bland.

What all these world leaders are not saying is this -- the Group of 8 has become rich with industrialisation and technologies that damaged the environment, punctured the ozone layer and harmed every corner of the world.

Now, their technologies need to be updated. They will do so but they want developing countries to share the burden of buying those technologies at their market prices and make their efforts to control climate degradation affordable.

Rich nations are, indeed, nasty. Both here in Heiligendamm and later in December in Bali, the G-8 will try to cajole (or, perhaps, bully) China and India into agreeing to cap greenhouse gas emissions and also bind them legally into doing so.

Both countries, in their national interest, should do everything they can to improve the environment. They must have dos and don'ts for installing factories, mining and water management but to agree to follow upper or lower limits of gas emissions will put the brakes on development.

No nation, with the current technologies, is in a position to move forward without tampering with the environment but since those who ran ahead early have an advantage, they want India, China and other developing countries to not get on the fast-track without paying unaffordable penalties.

What India and China should say very loudly is -- 'This is not fair, Mr George Bush [Images]."

Dr Singh's job for the coming years is clear but difficult -- India has a long way to go to become a developed nation. It needs huge funds for infrastructure and is nowhere near solving the issue of 300 million lives living in misery.

At this point of time in its development, India can't afford to take on financial obligations to set right climate change, which were perpetrated by the richer nations. These are the issues involving billions of liabilities. Thank heavens that in the US and the UK, the mood of the people is changing and they want their leaders to behave on this matter.

A UK-based newspaper has reported that 'Blair last month sought to persuade Bush that he could be part of a global deal to cut carbon emissions against the background of changing political mood in the US on global warming. Mr Bush's concern was the fear of jobs going east if the US became enmeshed in carbon reduction obligations that did not apply to India or China'.

The world over, critics are asking if Bush was trying to circumvent the UN process and why he was not willing to commit the US to a specific target for cutting emissions.

India has solidly put its weight behind the UN to perform a lead role on climate change. At Heiligendamm the leading industrialised nations of G8 have aimed to at least halve global CO2 emissions by 2050, from the 1990 levels.

But, reportedly, the US diluted the commitment behind the scene. G8's declaration is stating that the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases should 'seriously consider' following the EU, Canada [Images] and Japan [Images] in seeking to halve emissions by 2050. The G-8 deliberations are not at all legally binding.

John Sauven, the director of Greenpeace UK, told the media, 'George Bush's final gift to Blair falls short of what was needed. Bush says the US will 'seriously consider' substantial long-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but that's like saying aid to Africa is a good thing then refusing to actually commit to donating a single dollar.'

Friends of the Earth, in its press release, said the G-8 agreement was 'weak and lacked substance'. Oxfam supported the initiative of G-8 but its press release said, 'It is profoundly disappointing that some members, including the world's leading polluter, the US, have failed to sign up to specific targets or even an indicative global stabilisation goal'.

So, here you are in the exotic town of Germany [Images] feeling disappointed that rich nations of the world are playing dangerous games with the future of the world.

This is also a kind of covert war. But, in a gloomy scenario, where protestors are handled with an iron hand, Putin thrilled the crowd. The surprise of surprises in this snob show of the rich nations was Putin's offer to Bush on the issue of missile defence.

After months of  angry statements rejecting the US's plan for missile defense in Europe, President Vladimir Putin  flummoxed Bush on Thursday with an offer to build a joint system in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. He wants the US out of Russia's [Images] way in Europe and invited the US deep into the complex terrain of Central Asia.

Heiligendamm will be remembered for Putin's surprise to Bush.

Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt was part of the Indian media entourage that accompanied Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to the G-8 Summit







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