Biodiversity another issue where Merkel and Bush differ

May 30th, 2008 - 9:06 am ICT by admin  

Bonn, May 30 (DPA) German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W. Bush are good friends on a personal level. The two leaders also share a similar conservative Christian outlook, but when it comes to the gravest problems facing mankind, they diverge sharply. Last year, Merkel put greenhouse gas emissions and global warming at the top of her agenda for Germany’s presidency of the Group of Eight (G8).

Bush had to be nudged towards concessions at the Heiligendamm G8 summit in June and made sure that the binding targets for the industrialized world so dear to Merkel’s heart were not mentioned in the final document.

Now Germany is playing host to a major conference on biodiversity, and Merkel has once again nailed her colours to the mast, unilaterally pledging billions in funding over the years ahead to halt the loss of species - a second issue she sees as crucial to humankind’s future.

The United States is not even formally present at the Bonn conference, which draws together the 190 nations that have ratified the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).

But it is not only the emphasis on the related problems of climate change and species loss that is different, but also the approach.

Taking up a theme of her G8 leadership last year, when she insisted that the United Nations was the central forum for dealing with global warming, Merkel made clear in Bonn that the UN was key to the biodiversity problem.

“Only the UN can provide the reliable framework,” she insisted.

Bush differs. While his predecessor, Bill Clinton, signed the UN’s Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions before leaving office, Bush has ensured that it has never been ratified.

The US came in for sharp criticism at the major UN climate change conference on Bali in December, which aimed to pave the way for a successor to Kyoto.

The US approach of drawing together the major emitting nations - the industrialized world plus countries like China, India, Brazil and Mexico - and bypassing the UN, was derided.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel came close to threatening a boycott of the second of Bush’s major emitters meeting, held on Hawaii in January.

“No result in Bali means no major economies meeting,” he said in reference to the gathering, although a compromise was struck at Bali after frenetic last-minute haggling.

When it comes to the CBD, the UN’s core document on species loss, the US has once again signed and not ratified in yet another indication of the deep mistrust it feels for UN institutions.

At Heiligendamm, Bush focussed on geopolitics in a stand off with the then Russian president Vladimir Putin, leaving a senior official to remark on the key theme of the conference.

“It is a consensus document that can represent a way forward on dealing with the climate issue,” was the reserved comment from US National Security Advisor Steve Hadley.

In Bonn, the US position on species loss is not being articulated at all. There is simply no official US presence.

Merkel has committed Germany to almost $800 million by 2012 to halt species loss, with further similar amounts to follow annually after that.

The sums involved are huge and a clear sign of the priorities the broad-based German government is setting for the decade ahead.

By contrast, Bush’s priorities are clear from the US funds committed to fighting the war in Iraq and establishing a missile shield to ward off threats from rogue states.

The Germans are worried about international terrorism too, but saw the war in Iraq as the wrong way to go about fighting it, and Germany is deeply sceptical of the European elements of the missile shield planned for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Nevertheless, the two leaders are certain to be all smiles when they pose for the cameras on June 10, when Merkel hosts the outgoing US president at the official guest house near Berlin.

Just as they were in November, when the chancellor visited the Bush ranch at Crawford, Texas.

The invitation to his home was “an expression of warmth and respect, and that’s how I feel about Chancellor Merkel,” Bush said at the time.

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