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G-8 Leaders Take New Steps to Curb Global Warming

July 9, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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As the G-8 summit wrapped up, President Obama and other leaders discussed new goals to limit climate change and assessed the unrest in Iran. Margaret Warner reports from the scene.

JIM LEHRER: The Group of Eight industrial nations agreed today on a pledge to limit global warming.

President Obama joined his fellow leaders in making that commitment at a gathering in Italy. He conceded the worldwide recession is an obstacle, but he said the G-8 made “important strides.”

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy, and I think that one of the things we’re going to have to do is fight the temptation towards cynicism, to feel that the problem is so immense that somehow we cannot make significant strides. It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change.

JIM LEHRER: Even so, there were questions about whether other countries will join in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. And the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said even the summit nations fell short.

BAN KI-MOON, secretary general, United Nations: The policies that they have stated so far is not enough, it’s not sufficient enough to meet the target. We must work according to the science. This is politically and morally imperative and historic responsibility for the leaders, for the future of humanity.

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. is pushing to have a new climate change treaty signed in December.

Now Jeffrey Brown continues our lead story coverage.

Climate change negotiations

Margaret Warner
NewsHour Senior Correspondent
The real significance came [...] when you had not just the G-8, the industrial powers, but 17 countries, including China, India, and Brazil, agree in several key respects.

JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret, lots of negotiations and statements over these two days on climate change. What's the significance?

MARGARET WARNER: I think the real significance came today, Jeff, when you had not just the G-8, the industrial powers, but 17 countries, including China, India, and Brazil, agree in several key respects.

They agreed that the temperature of the planet should not go up by more than 2 degrees over the pre-industrial levels. And, two, all countries agreed to take meaningful steps between now and the midterm -- maybe 2020, 2025 -- they didn't give a date -- but to take meaningful steps in the midterm to mitigate their carbon emissions.

Now, the emerging countries did not agree as the Europeans and Americans had hoped they would to actually establish targets for themselves, specific ones like 50 percent cut by 2050 or 80 percent cut by 2050, but it is still a big step forward, because the attitude of all the emerging powers last year was, "You big, rich countries, you created this problem. It's your problem to solve. We need to grow."

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, and much of the past struggle in the climate change debate has been between the largest industrial nations and the emerging or developing nations. You're saying some progress, but still much more to be done?

MARGARET WARNER: That was a major focus for President Obama and for the Europeans here was, OK, if we've got the emerging countries now agreeing with this overall framework, scientific consensus here, but how do we still get them to move to commit to something concrete?

So when President Hu of China had to leave because of the ethnic violence in China, they took that time slot and asked President Lula of Brazil to meet with President Obama this morning.

And apparently in that meeting, President Lula -- and there's quite a difference between Brazil and the U.S. -- but President Lula said to President Obama, Look, we'd like to work with you on this. We'd like to continue having conversations up to Copenhagen, but there are two things we need. The big, rich countries have got to take specific steps in the midterm, not just this faraway 2050 goal, and also we really need help -- financing and technology transfer, they call it -- to help us build low-carbon economies.

And I'm told President Obama's response was, We're fine with that, because technology transfer means more jobs for the U.S. in green technology.

So, as President Obama said in the statement he made today, there is a long, long way to go. And they don't underestimate the difficulty, particularly with China, bringing China and India along.

But they feel that they've definitely achieved an important incremental step, which is that everyone is saying at least that they're invested in helping to solve a common problem, not a problem just for one group of countries on the planet.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, of course, all this is happening as the politics of climate change in the U.S. have changed with a new president and recent action in Congress.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, Jeff, and that was an interesting subtext here. First of all, the Europeans and the Australians said something today at this briefing, We're delighted to see that the U.S., instead of being the laggard in the room, had to be nudged along, as they felt it was during the Bush administration, that you had the U.S. driving, trying to come up with this consensus, and, in fact, President Obama chairing that major economies forum today.

The U.S. felt that, since passage of the House bill, it was able to say, as press secretary Robert Gibbs said today, Look, we've now got skin in the game. It's time for you to put skin in the game, that they could say that now to China and to India and to Brazil.

That said, President Obama is somewhat constrained by the limits that Congress is putting on what it's willing to do. I mean, the House bill -- I won't get into the numbers, but the target of emissions cuts it set were really considered laughable, maybe too strong, but way too weak by European standards.

So President Obama, you know, has his own -- and he referred to it today. He said, In this meeting, I understood the domestic realities for a lot of my fellow leaders, because I've got my own at home, words to that effect.

So everyone's got to balance all of these competing imperatives, but I think that the White House feels that at least they all emerge from this strengthened when they go back home.

Considering sanctions against Iran

Margaret Warner
NewsHour Senior Correspondent
On Iran, you did get all of these ministers to endorse the statement that their own foreign ministers had made a couple weeks ago deploring the post-election violence in Iran and calling on Iran to respect human rights.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let's move to the Iran situation. I understand there was a lot of intense discussion on that last night. What can you tell us?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, Jeff. Last night was the conversation on geopolitical issues. And what emerged was a glass half-empty, half-full.

On Iran, you did get all of these ministers to endorse the statement that their own foreign ministers had made a couple weeks ago deploring the post-election violence in Iran and calling on Iran to respect human rights, the right of protest, the right of peaceful dissent.

It also went a little further in that it totally condemned the arrest of foreigners and of journalists. And what's more, there was an interesting statement in the statement condemning what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said about denying the Holocaust, which was put in at France's instigation.

On the nuclear issue, they did not go for endorsing additional sanctions, which France very much wanted, but Russia was resistant and said that would be counterproductive.

But they did set another interim goal of September that is that, at the U.N. meeting in September, the G-8 are all going to get together and take stock of the situation. And President Sarkozy said last night, if Iran hasn't done anything to really get serious about talks and negotiations, that at the G-20 summit, which immediately follows in Pittsburgh, follows the U.N., that, quote, "decisions will have to be taken."

JEFFREY BROWN: And you have some European countries there at the summit that have strong commercial ties with Iran, right? So they'd be impacted by strong new sanctions?

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, Jeff. And, in fact, I'm told the president did not ask for these European countries to make a commitment now, that if the talks track doesn't work, that they are ready to impose sanctions.

But I'll give you a couple of examples. We all know about Russia oil and gas, but Germany and Italy, huge trading partners of Iran. Germany sells all kinds of industrial machinery, oil-drilling equipment, a lot of high-tech machinery that's really the backbone of the German economy. It's an export-driven economy.

Italy, at least a year or so ago, was considered -- I hadn't realized this -- Iran's largest trading partner. Its Eni oil company has built refineries in Iran, which are very important to Iran, because Iran, despite having all this oil, doesn't have enough refined gasoline. And Iran's biggest bank, the Melli Bank, has a huge operation in Rome that's really the major clearinghouse for E.U. trade with Iran.

So for these two countries, especially in the midst of a global economic downturn, to agree to restrict those commercial ties would be a sacrifice.

JEFFREY BROWN: Margaret Warner at the G-8 summit in Italy, thanks again.