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EnvironmentOverview ~ Climate Change ~ Freshwater and Oceans
The environment is an issue that has seen increased international attention. It is particularly important to G-8 governments as environmental maintenance is heavily tied with economic concerns, which have long recognized the global environmental effects, and initiatives cannot be addressed or succeed without coordinated multilateral action. The G8 Summit thus becomes an important discussion forum for sharing domestic strategies and initiatives that may aid in improving environmental action. However, in an effort to render environmental issues attractive to as many participants as possible, they have been watered down and at times and reduced to mere principle. The Birmingham Summit will therefore risk ambiguity on the environment. On the other hand, there is clear pressure for the G-8 countries to show concrete leadership, notably on Climate Change, to follow-up on the Kyoto accords.
While the eight concerns referenced in the Denver Communiqu=E9 are all important in a global sense, only two broad categories are likely to receive considerable attention: climate change, and oceans and freshwater. Additionally, while not originally pegged to be a leading environmental issue, children's environmental health may play a bigger role than expected. This is largely due to Tony Blair's strong public statements over the past year on environmental issues impacting children, and the attention received in the Communiqu=E9 from the recent Environment Ministerial.
It is also interesting to note the importance of environmental issues linked with employment concerns, the primary focus of the Birmingham Summit. This is also testament to Tony Blair's commitment to youth. It has long been Blair's position that improving employment and living standards are the key to future prosperity. A similar language was used in the recent Environment Ministers Communique. Watch for interesting declarations coming out of Birmingham linking environment and jobs.
Clearly, the foremost environmental issue of 1997 has been Climate Change. With a stronger than normal El Nino phenomenon, scientists suggest global warming has already begun. Indeed, El Nino exposed several G-8 geo-political concerns, including the prospect of huge government relief payments to affected regions, a mass influx of environmental refugees and the spread of infectious diseases. In response to these and other concerns, the international community strengthened its commitment to addressing this issue at its annual Conference of the Parties (COP) at Kyoto in December 1997. Kyoto was revolutionary in that the international community agreed on the setting of legally binding reduction objectives for each major greenhouse gas, in particular Carbon Dioxide (CO2). These objectives differ by country, thereby reflecting each country's national circumstances:
At the recent meeting of G-8 Environment Ministers in England (April 3-5, 1995), the next steps to addressing climate change were discussed. Among them was the need for G-8 nations to lead in signing the Kyoto Protocol, setting an agenda for the next COP session in Buenos Aires that includes detailed plans for the trading of emissions credits, developing a strong and effective compliance regime with which to monitor international efforts at reducing emissions, and pressing for greater consideration of climate change issues by international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Essentially, these will provide the content for discussion of Climate Change at Birmingham.
As for the outcome, the required participation of developing countries - especially by the US - is such that further concrete resolutions will be left to the next CAP in Buenos Aires. Rather, this summit's communiqu=E9 will only propose specific ideas for future discussion, as well as chart a general policy direction for the World Bank and IMF. Otherwise, it is the presenting of each country's strategy - and most countries have already formulated their plans - that will provide leadership to the rest of the world on this issue.
At the International Conference on Water and Sustainable Development held in Paris on March 19-21, 1998, the Ministers and delegation heads agreed to several key points that point to the importance of freshwater within the environment issue area. In Paris, it was agreed that countries would promote the integration of all aspects of the development, management and protection of water resources, "mobilise adequate financial resources from public and private sectors", and "improve knowledge, training and information exchange". What is most interesting is the way in which the signatories intend to pursue and eventually fulfil these commitments: the development of action plans that permit a wide range of options, ongoing coordination of plans between and within member states, and encouraging government agencies and private organizations to play their part in the processes that would lead to realizing the objectives associated with freshwater, namely the preservation of fragile ecosystems and sanitation concerns.
Adding further proof of the issues' importance on the global scene, was the communiqu=E9 emerging from the Environment Ministerial at Leeds Castle, April 3-5, 1998, which addressed ecosystem preservation and sanitation under the heading "Protection of Marine Biodiversity". While this communiqu=E9 acknowledged that biodiversity is largely a local issue because of the unique composition of habitat, the global importance of developing and implementing protection strategies was stressed.
Document prepared by: Robert Bacinski and Allison Smith
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