Collateral damage: The Earth

Observers say the bombings won't derail the G8's talks about African aid, but global warming will be a loser.

Published July 7, 2005 7:09PM (EDT)

While London police hunted for bombers in the wake of the deadly, coordinated terrorist attacks on the city Thursday morning, it remained unclear how the bombings would affect the G8 summit in Scotland. Some observers expected the summit to remain focused on the matters at hand -- especially aid to Africa -- while others expected the attacks to decrease the already unlikely prospect of an agreement on combating global warming.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who immediately returned to London from the G8 after reports of the attacks, seemed resolved not to let the bombings affect the gathering of the world's wealthiest nations. "Just as it is reasonably clear that this is a terrorist attack or a series of terrorist attacks, it is also reasonably clear that it is designed and aimed to coincide with the opening of the G8," Blair told reporters in Scotland. He said that he intended to return to the talks in Gleneagles, Scotland, Thursday evening after rushing to London in the wake of the bombings.

Blair's exit followed the opening of the summit, which paused to uniformly condemn the blasts in London as "an attack on civilized peoples everywhere." The G8, which actually encompasses the world's nine leading industrialized nations -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and the European Union -- already had postponed discussions of global climate change and the world's economy until Friday.

While trade and aid to Africa are expected to be the focus of Friday's talks, it is still unclear how Thursday's attacks will affect the annual meeting.

"[Blair's] presence is key, because of course he's the one who made the Africa issue the top of the agenda," said Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. "The summit will continue to finish its agenda on Africa and climate change but I think the tone and the public focus will now shift somewhat to terrorism," added Lyman, also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"At least I'm hoping they will continue the agenda on Africa, in which they are in close overall agreement," he continued. "I think there is now a general consensus on increasing aid to Africa."

But will there be time to develop a concrete strategy? "Well, obviously [the attacks] will have diverted the leaders' attention and delayed their deliberations," said Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration. "They were working on some important and difficult issues which they were far from resolution on."

Just days after last weekend's worldwide Live 8 concerts, where leading musicians applied further pressure to the G8 leadership on the subject of aid to Africa, the subject was expected to top the agenda. And Blair has played a pivotal role -- he has hoped to double G8 development assistance to Africa by 2010, and triple it by 2015. "The Europeans hope and expect that the U.S. will do at least as much as they are," Rice said.

The British prime minister's proposal would require $25 billion in additional annual aid by 2010. Bush was expected to pledge to increase overall U.S. assistance to Africa from $4.3 billion in 2004 to at least $8.6 billion by 2010. European nations have pledged $17 billion so far.

"The question is what is the aggregate increase," said Rice, speaking to the gap between U.S. and European pledges. "It's the increment [between $8.6 billion and $4.3 billion] that counts against the $25 billion, and it's the additional $17 [billion] compared to what the U.S. pledged over their existing levels."

Rice added that it was "unlikely" the focus of the meeting could entirely shift to terrorism, thereby derailing efforts to form a consensus on African aid and global warming controls. "One, Blair has stacked so much on this agenda," Rice said. "And two, that would be construed as a concession to the terrorists. So I think they will go out of their way not to appear to be knocked off their game while adding time and attention to the terrorism question."

Expectations of a consensus on combating climate change were lower among experts prior to the attacks, but the bombings in London have decreased prospects. "[The attacks] will certainly mean less attention to global warming," said David B. Sandalow, former assistant secretary for oceans, environment and science, in an interview with Salon. "There is a gulf between the G8 leaders and President Bush on the seriousness of global warming," he added.

Experts agree that differences are greater on the topic of climate change, in comparison to combating poverty in Africa. And indeed, talks closed on Thursday without a consensus having been reached, as was hoped. Heeding Bush's refusal to join the Kyoto Protocols to fight climate change -- the United States is the only country at the summit that isn't a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto treaty -- Sandalow said that G8 nations were focused on domestic climate controls that the Americans could accept.

"President Bush will be pushed by some of his G8 colleagues to support mandatory steps to control gas emissions," Sandalow said, but added that he was not wholly optimistic that the G8 agenda would proceed as planned. "There will be a determination to march forward," he insisted. "But inevitably, the attacks mean that global warming and other issues will receive less attention."

By David Paul Kuhn

David Paul Kuhn is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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