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Environmental Groups Slam G8 Leaders for Not Doing More on Global Warming

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In Japan, world leaders at the G8 summit have announced they would work toward cutting carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050. The White House hailed the declaration as a major step forward, but environmental campaigners criticized the lack of a commitment to midterm targets. Global warming ties into other big themes, such as soaring food and fuel prices, being discussed at the three-day summit. We go to Hokkaido to speak with Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: G8 leaders say they will set a global target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by the year 2050 in an effort to tackle climate change. In a statement released during a summit in northern Japan, the Group of Eight leaders agreed they would need to set midterm goals to achieve that “shared vision” by 2050 but gave no numerical targets.

The White House hailed the G8 declaration as a major step forward and said it was a validation of President Bush’s global warming policy. But environmental campaigners slammed the lack of a commitment to midterm goals. Greenpeace International called it a “complete failure of responsibility,” and WWF said the target date of 2050 was insufficient and the lack of progress “pathetic.”

Global warming ties into other big themes such as soaring food and fuel prices being discussed at the three-day summit. Leaders from the G8 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — are being joined by counterparts from some fifteen other countries. The gathering is taking place at a plush mountaintop hotel on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, where 21,000 police have been mobilized. Despite the crackdown, protests have been occurring for days in the lead-up to the summit.

    RENATO REYES: We’re here in solidarity with our Japanese friends who are standing up against the G8. We feel very strongly about this issue, especially since the poverty happening in the Philippines right now is really bad. The oil crisis, the fuel crisis and the war on terror has really affected many of our countrymen.

    KIM HEUNG HYUN: [translated] What I’d like to say most is that food should not be used as a political tool. If you allow it to happen, food could eventually be a weapon. The important thing is for each country to maintain agricultural self-sufficiency.

    MASUYUKI TOMITA: [translated] This is a meeting by world thieves. They, the G8 countries, are causing all the current problems, such as environment destruction and food crisis. That is why I am against them.

AMY GOODMAN: The G8 summit wraps up Wednesday. We go now to Japan to speak with Walden Bello, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South. He joins us on the phone from Hokkaido. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Walden.

WALDEN BELLO: Hi, Amy, yes. The line is a bit choppy, but I hope I can hear you and you can hear me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what is happening? First, your response to the stated set of goal, 2050, to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent?

WALDEN BELLO: Yes, I think that, you know, this has been sold as a big thing, but it’s really not, and it’s, in fact, quite backward, because the US in fact killed the efforts to have in the declaration in Bali last — during the summit over, that, you know, 25 to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 2020. And the consensus right now is that you have to have at least an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. So this is really a low target. And this was really an effort to basically please the United States. And the thing about this also is that the US is subverting the UN process, because he’s put this within the context of another rival grouping called the Major Economies Meeting, which is a US effort to parallel the Kyoto UN framework process. So this is bad news.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, can you talk about the activists who tried to get in? There are 21,000 Japanese police there.

WALDEN BELLO: Could you repeat that, Amy? The line’s a bit choppy here.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the difficulty of activists trying to get in to protest the G8 in Japan?

WALDEN BELLO: I — wow, you know, that really didn’t come across. The difficulties of what now?

AMY GOODMAN: Of the protesters getting into Japan, getting to Hokkaido?

WALDEN BELLO: Oh, wow, I can’t — I couldn’t get that. I couldn’t get that. I’m terribly sorry. It came up as very, very unclear.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have the producer ask you the question. We’re talking to Walden Bello, senior analyst, Focus on the Global South, joining us on the line from Hokkaido. We’ll go to a break, and we’ll come back, and we’ll clear up the phone line. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We go back now to Walden Bello. He’s speaking to us from the Japanese island of Hokkaido. He’s senior analyst at the Focus on the Global South. And we hope the phone line has cleared up. Walden Bello, I was asking about the difficulty activists had of getting to the G8 summit.

WALDEN BELLO: Oh, yes. Well, they’re following the example of Singapore, which is to really screen people and not admit people that are, you know, people who have been longtime activists in these issues. And, you know, like it’s — these twenty-four Koreans who were here, they were held for about, you know, over twenty-four hours and then sent back. And many others did not receive their visas on time. And, of course, many of us who came through already had visas, we were pulled aside and subjected to heavy questioning. So this is what we call really the — Japan following Singapore’s policy of really, you know, restricting the entry of people associated with social movements. And this is a very, very bad precedent, because, in fact, in terms of — I’ve been in quite a number of summits of the G8, and I would say that, in terms of border controls, this is the worst so far.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the people who were actually prevented from getting in, like Susan George?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, Susan George, you know, was able to come in, and — but she was questioned for about, I believe, four hours in a small windowless room. And so, this — and Lydinyda Nacpil of the Jubilee South, for instance, the anti-debt coalition, was questioned for about three-and-a-half hours. And basically, this is — you know, this is harassment. So, you know, this is Japan on sort of a security footing that is really quite a departure from previous policies with respect to the entry of activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, can you talk about the food crisis?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, it’s said to be — the agenda here is said to include the food crisis, but people are not really expecting anything to come out, because the G8 countries really don’t —- or the G8 governments really don’t know how to deal with this problem, because, you know, it’s been something that’s been caused by their policies. Now, certainly the diversion of corn to biofuel production from food is a cause, one of the causes, of the sharp rise in food prices. But we’ve got to see this in a longer-term perspective, that basically the policies of World Bank and IMF structural adjustment and WTO—, World Trade Organization-mandated liberalization basically destroyed the capacity of so many developing countries to be self-sufficient producers. It turned them into net importers of food, and then they were made into dumping ground for highly subsidized food commodities from the European Union and the United States. So this is the sort of already weakened agricultural economies in which the biofuel diversion took effect. So the weakening of these economies really began with G8-supported free market structural adjustment policies.

So, this is why the G8 governments really don’t have, you know, a solution for this, except platitudes, to say that they’re going to help increase food production. Some of them have been talking about supporting a new green revolution based on genetically modified organisms, seeds, in Africa. You know, so it’s all these real techno fixes, which are dangerous in the case of so-called green revolutions on genetic engineering. So this is really the wall, you know, that the G8 faces. They — it’s a problem of their creation, and they don’t really have any solutions for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, we reported yesterday that The Guardian newspaper obtained an unpublished World Bank report that found biofuels have caused world food prices to increase by 75 percent. The report apparently was finished in April but reportedly not published in order to avoid embarrassing the United States, which has claimed plant-derived fuels have pushed up prices by only three percent. The report found biofuels have distorted food markets by diverting grain away from food for fuel, encouraging farmers to set aside land for its production and sparked financial speculation on grains.

WALDEN BELLO: Yes, definitely. I think that is a very critical report, and I think this just goes to show how the World Bank essentially follows, you know, the concerns and lead of the United States here. So, I mean, if it were a really transparent institution, they should have come out with that.

And what I’m — I guess what I’m trying to say is that the weakening — you know, the biofuel diversion has certainly been a very big factor behind the food crisis, but that this occurred within the context of already weakened economies that had been destroyed by the imposition of free market policies. So we’ve seen that over the last twenty to twenty-five years, from Africa to Latin America to Asia, self-sufficient economies have been turned into import-dependent economies. And it is those countries that — for instance, like Mexico, you know — that have become — made dependent on corn imports from the United States. They are the ones suffering now very greatly the impact of this diversion of corn from food to biofuel, because they’re dependent on corn imports from the US. Now, that dependency was created in the first place — and this is the sort of total context, this is the sort of comprehensive view that we need to have in order to be — to really understand the causes of the agricultural crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, I want to thank you for being with us, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, speaking to us from the Japanes island of Hokkaido, where the G8 are meeting and thousands of activists have come out to protest.

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