When the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations gather in Hokkaido, Japan, this week for their annual summit, they face the challenge of showing greater resolve to fight global warming, remedying the world economy and easing tensions in the world's hot spots.
The host country Japan has put talks on climate change high on the agenda of the meeting in the northern resort of Toyako, building on the outcome of last year's summit in Germany, where leaders agreed to seriously consider a target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
CLIMATE TALKS BOTTLENECK
At a UN climate change conference last December in Bali, Indonesia, about 190 countries agreed on a two-year, UN-led negotiation process with a view to coming up with an agreement to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol on cutting emissions.
But gaps exist among developed countries and between developed and developing nations over their share of the global efforts to fight climate change, which is blamed for rising sea levels and increasing extreme weather phenomena, such as droughts and severe storms. No breakthroughs were made at the UN climate change talks in Bangkok and Berlin earlier this year.
The world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, has ruled out setting any quantified reduction targets and a timetable, in sharp contrast to the European Union, which has set a medium-term target of cutting emissions by 20-30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Some developed countries, including the United States, demand mandatory emissions cuts for developing countries, which were much smaller emitters of greenhouse gases before now and need stronger economic growth to develop. Data shows that some developed nationslead the world in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of rising global temperatures, in history and in per capita emission.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC GROWTH SLOWDOWN
"The world economy continues to face uncertainty and downside risks persist," G8 finance ministers said in their statement following a meeting in Japan last month.
With market losses, a weakening U.S. dollar, food shortages and soaring oil prices threatening to slow down global economic growth, whether G8 leaders can find the best remedy for the sagging world economy is another key gauge of how much they accomplish in Toyako.
Many of the woes afflicting global economic growth originated from some developed nations or are closely related to them. The U.S. subprime mortgage crisis sent shockwaves to financial markets around the world, tightening financial conditions that in turn hit investment and spending and dampened consumer confidence. U.S. financial and trade deficits and consecutive interest rate cuts caused the dollar to weaken, hurting the export sector of other countries and fanning speculation in commodities.
Tax barriers and farm subsidies in the United States and the European Union weakened the competitiveness of farm goods from developing countries, reducing supply on the world market. The steep climb of the price of crude price is partly fueled by large consumption and increasing speculation in some rich nations.
Such woes not only stifle growth in developed nations but also curb growth in the emerging and developing economies. The rise of food prices, in particular, jeopardizes the livelihood of the poorin developing countries.
INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES
The Toyako summit, which runs from Monday to Wednesday and brings together leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy,Japan, Russia and the United States, is also expected to address international security issues that include the Palestinian-Israeliconflict, the Iranian nuclear standoff and the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although G8 foreign ministers "reiterated the G8's full support" for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the talks have hobbled along due to the failure of all Palestinian forces to speak as one. Israel, as the United States and the European Union have listed the Hamas movement as "a terrorist organization", had ruled out talks with the Palestinian movement.
The West and Iran are still far from agreeing on Tehran's nuclear program. Iran has offered a response to an updated package of incentives proposed by six major countries -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said Saturday that the Islamic republic has made no change in its nuclear stance and will hold on to its right to peaceful use of nuclear energy.
In Toyako, G8 leaders also need to address worsening security in Afghanistan and continued anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq.