Blair faces tough challenge to keep climate change on the agenda

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair will have a battle on his hands to keep climate change on the agenda when leaders of the world's most powerful nations meet in St Petersburg this weekend for the annual G8 summit. The Russian hosts have decided that the three main topics on the agenda will be the security of energy supplies, education, and combating infectious diseases such as Aids and avian flu.

President Vladimir Putin wants the main debate on energy to focus on how to ensure that big exporters like Russia have stable and predictable markets, and on protecting vulnerable targets like gas pipelines from terrorist attacks.

The energy statement, posted on the official G8 website, also gives a passing mention to the importance of clean technologies and energy efficiency, but has nothing more to say about climate change. Russian officials say there is no point in trying to push the climate agenda any further, because it would encounter opposition from the US.

But when Mr Blair was asked about his ambitions for the Petersburg summit in the Commons this week, he said: "The summit will focus particularly on energy security - nonetheless, I think it is important that we focus on climate change as well."

He also warned that the St Petersburg gathering could be the last chance to save the World Trade Organisation's attempts to reach a world agreement from collapse.

The so-called Doha round is floundering in a disagreement involving the rich nations and developing countries. An agreement would require the US to cut its farm subsidies, the EU to open its markets to imported food, and countries such as Brazil and India to cut their industrial tariffs.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in St Petersburg on Monday, despite this week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. "This weekend may be one of the last opportunities we have got to restart those talks productively," Mr Blair said.

President George Bush will arrive in St Petersburg with rogue states much on his mind. He is hoping for a united display by all the world's most powerful governments to Iran's alleged plans to equip itself with nuclear arms, and to North Korea's missile tests.

The Russians say both issues will be discussed, but have ruled out military action, and they also want to talk about the latest violence between Israel and its neighbours.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said yesterday: "Unfortunately, not all the G8 states are ready to address the current deep crisis in the Middle East as energetically as they are dealing with Iran and North Korea, but we will keep trying."

Another issue that threatens to overshadow the summit, against Russian objections, is the Putin government's record on civil rights and press freedom. While the world leaders convene in the splendour of the Constantine Palace, overlooking the Gulf of Finland, pro-democracy demonstrators will be corralled in a disused football stadium on the outskirts of St Petersburg.

Downing Street confirmed yesterday that the British Government - like other G8 members - had "concerns" about Russia's civil rights.

Leading British politicians, such as the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, think it was a mistake to admit Russia to G8 membership in the first place, though Sir Malcolm disagrees with those - mainly in the US - who say Russia should be expelled.

President Bush has pointedly decided to meet Russian "civil society" leaders on his arrival in St Petersburg, before he meets President Vladimir Putin today, when he is expected to raise Russia's civil rights record. But Russian politicians are saying they will accept no lectures from Western democracies on what they regard as their country's internal affairs.

Britain's ambassador in Moscow, Anthony Brenton, has been given a public ticking off by President Putin for taking part in a democracy forum organised by the former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Though other diplomats were present, Mr Brenton was the only one to speak at the event. "If officials from other countries support this kind of event that means they are trying in a certain way to influence the internal balance of power in Russia," Mr Putin said.

Who's who: roll call of G8 leaders

CANADA

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 47, and his Conservative Party ended nearly 13 years of Liberal rule in January. Since moved decisively to improve relations with the Bush administration.

GERMANY

Germany's first female Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democrat party, Angela Merkel, 51, will be attending her first G8 summit days after welcoming the US President to her home town in the former East Germany.

ITALY

The new Prime Minister was voted into power after a bitterly fought election campaign against arch-rival Silvio Berlusconi. Unlike his predecessor, Romano Prodi, 66, has promised to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq.

JAPAN

Prime Minister since 2001, Junichiro Koizumi, 64, has been to more G8 summits than any Japanese leader. This will be his last G8, as Mr Koizumi intends to step down later this year.

RUSSIA

President Vladimir Putin, 53, is hosting his first G8 summit at the height of his powers and popularity although he has faced domestic and international criticism for curbing democratic rights.

BRITAIN

Last year's G8 host, Tony Blair, 53, has been weakened by calls for him to step down and hand over to Chancellor Gordon Brown, as well as the cash-for-peerages scandal. He has seen his popularity drop to record lows.

FRANCE

Attending what will be his last G8 meeting, Jacques Chirac, 74, is a lame-duck president in his final year of power, with elections scheduled next year. His fierce opposition to the war in Iraq has resulted in frosty relations with America.

US

President George Bush, just turned 60, will come to the G8 riding low. His approval ratings have plummeted and the leader of the "war on terror" is still likely to face criticism over Iraq and Guantanamo.

The key issues at St Petersburg

Energy

G7 SAYS

Remember how Russia cut off the Ukraine's gas? Countries like the UK need independent sources of energy.

RUSSIA SAYS

Exporters like Russia require "predictable and stable energy markets" - and this is the biggest issue before the summit.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

It's Russia's summit; motion will be passed.

Climate Change

G7 SAYS

Most of the G7 governments - with the notable exception of the US - think updated Kyoto agreement needed.

RUSSIA SAYS

Clean technology and energy efficiency are good ideas, but no point in arguing over emissions when US not interested.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

Warm words.

Terror & Arms

G7 SAYS

All the big nations should unite to warn Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, and to stop North Korea testing them.

RUSSIA SAYS

OK, but no threats to attack Iran, and they must talk about Israel too. World should back Russia against Chechen rebels.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

A bland statement on terrorism.

Education

G7 SAYS

By 2015, every child in the world should be guaranteed a basic education.

RUSSIA SAYS

It is not just a matter of quantity: some basic education is poor quality.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

More attention paid to education standards.

Disease

G7 SAYS

The numbers dying from Aids, malaria, and infectious diseases are intolerable, despite the billions spent on fighting these diseases.

RUSSIA SAYS

Don't just fight the diseases, create conditions where developing nations can prevent infections.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

A plan to improve "national anti-infectious capabilities".

Trade

G7 SAYS

This could be the last chance to save the World Trade Organisation by bringing the US, EU, India and Brazil together to sort out tariffs.

RUSSIA SAYS

Russia wants to be made a WTO member, and will want the WTO to work.

PROBABLE OUTCOME

There may be a last-minute agreement, but don't hold your breath.

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