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At G-8, Small Steps on Emissions, Economic Recovery

July 8, 2009 at 6:35 PM EDT
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Leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations gathered in Italy on Wednesday to assess risks to the global economy and other key issues at their annual meeting. Margaret Warner reports from the summit.

JIM LEHRER: And now two looks at stimulating the economy.
First, Margaret Warner reports on
the international effort at the economic summit in L’Aquila,
She talked earlier this evening with Judy Woodruff
from the International
Press Center,
where journalists and officials from dozens of countries have gathered.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hi there, Margaret. So, going into this
meeting, the big concern was the economy, the worldwide recession. How are
these leaders addressing that?

MARGARET WARNER: Judy, it hangs heavy over this meeting and
quite differently, I think, from the G-20 in London, first of all, in April,
where though there was a sense of economic crisis, there was also the sense
that the leaders were getting together for the first time, taking steps together,
and there was forward momentum.

This time, there is this sort of sense that the green shoots
of recovery have stalled or at least the momentum has, and the leaders are
wondering about when and whether the stimulus plans will work.

In that climate, we just were told — and the statements
haven’t even come out yet — that today’s meeting, which is the only major G-8
economic meeting of the entire three days, really just reaffirmed what they did
in London, recommitted everyone to continue with their stimulus plans, said of
course at some point we’ll have to unwind from the heavy spending, and people
should — countries should start planning for that, but not institute it yet.

The one thing they did do was take steps to help the poorest
countries who’ve been very hard hit by this. I mean, the estimates are 20
million to 90 million additional people have been plunged into desperate
poverty by the crisis.

And they are committing to what they call a Food Security
Initiative, where the richer countries will commit — I think it’s $12 billion
to $15 billion to actually help agricultural development in these countries.

But on the big-picture global economic downturn, this is
really a way station between the G-20 in London
and the G-20 coming up in Pittsburgh.
And I think it’s really testament to the recognition here that you can’t do an
international response to a global crisis without the G-20 members who aren’t
members of this smaller G-8, namely China
and India,
to start with.

Stalled climate talks

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, Judy. Today, again, there are going tobe two different statements. Today, the G-8 -- that is, the industrialcountries -- reaffirmed what they said last year: cut emissions in half by 2050,and they committed to do it more quickly in their own case, 80 percent by then.But these are all very faraway numbers.

What President Obama had hoped for was to have tomorrow,when the larger group meets, including Chinaand India and Brazil,to have them sign up for this same goal. We were told tonight that willdefinitely not happen. And though they didn't say so, I think the absence ofPresident Hu of China, who,as you know, left, I think, this morning to go back to China to deal with the ethnicunrest and violence there, that that makes it very hard to break any kind oflogjam.

And in the past, for instance, at the last summit, it wasPresident Obama with President Hu at their dinner the night before and againthe next day, they broke a major logjam on a related issue. This time,President Obama will not have that opportunity. The Chinese are represented,but it is not the leader.

Quake's impact

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, the summit is taking place in thesame location where an earthquake hit where there were aftershocks as recentlyas last week. How is that affecting these meetings?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, as you said, the G-8 summit wasmoved here by the Italian prime minister to draw attention to the devastationin this beautiful region north of Rome.

I have to say that the tremors last week certainly alarmedofficials here. One was 4.1 on the Richter scale. There are evacuation plansfor the leaders if one were to hit while we're here. They'll all be moved outof buildings, under tents, and then on helicopters out. The rest of us willsomehow be transported by bus back to Rome.

But Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, had wanted -- ifhe wanted to draw media attention to the devastation, it certainly hasn'thappened with all this media here around me. We were whisked into this placethat -- the roads have been newly paved. There's new sod on the ground. Thisbuilding we're in, built in a month on top of a swimming pool with limestonesteps. There's al fresco dining for the press with wine and Italian delicacies.

And you really don't have a sense of the earthquake-strickenzone. President Obama and other leaders did tour the center of the city today,and there certainly were cameras there, but I'm not sure it's quiteaccomplished the Italian government's aim here.

Berlusconi's troubles

MARGARET WARNER: Well, that's hard to say. It's certainlythe buzz. I mean, he's embroiled in this scandal. His wife has accused him ofcavorting with young women underage and appointing former paramours to thecabinet. So there's been a lot of sort of buzz and a kind of a kerfuffle aboutit and reports that the spouses didn't want to be entertained by these femaleministers.

So today, in fact, they finessed that. Michelle Obama andthe spouses were entertained and hosted by the mayor's wife.

Much was made today of President Obama making a point whenhe talked to the president, a different man, 84-year-old man, saying that theItalian people so admire him for his integrity and graciousness, which seemedan odd formulation if you weren't making a contrast.

This would all be a sideshow, Judy, except for the fact thatit fits in with this criticism by foreign diplomats that Berlusconi has been sodistracted fending off all these charges that the preparation substantively forthis summit was not very good, that the Americans had to finally step in andcome up with that Food Security Initiative and sort of try to drive theexperts' conferences.

The Americans publicly deny it, but last night in abackground briefing did say, well, just look at the exhaustion on the face ofour expert and it'll tell you how hard he's been working.

So whether it's actually affected this summit, that's veryhard to say, but it is certainly very much in the air.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warnerreporting from Italy,Margaret, thank you.