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Impressions of the Denver Summit

by Sir Nicholas Bayne

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Global Issues

The summit inevitably focused on the environment, given it coincidence with the fifth anniversary of the Rio conference. But it was unable to bridge the differences betwen the US and Europe on climate change or a forestry convention.

The Europeans were fortified by a collective EC decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by 2010, following on the commitments at the 1992 Rio Conference. They wanted their other summit partners to do the same. But the others could not go beyond the principle of quantified targets and reductions by 2010.

Similarly, the Europeans and Canadians wanted the summit to call for a forestry convention. But the US and Japan could not agree; and the summit settled for an ‘Action Program', to be reviewed next year. The summit gave an ambiguous response to the German call for a new environmental institution, to ensure compliance. It agreed more easily on measures to strengthen existing institutions, especially UNEP.

These divisions are familiar from earlier summits, such as Houston in 1990 and London in 1991. Since summit delegations seldom contain environment experts, the chances of striking a deals at the summit itself are poor.

The passage in the draft communiqué on international crime seemed rather routine, given the expectations created in Lyon. At Denver the leaders were clearly preoccupied with this subject and wanted faster progress. The final communiqué passage is therefore much longer and there is more in the foreign ministers' report. But the account of great activity may conceal a lack of real progress, which would account for the leaders' impatience. Different legal approaches, eg. on extradition, are an obstacle; interior ministries are not very outward-looking; and international institutions in this area are weak.

The communiqué of the eight also contains passages on infectious diseases, nuclear safety, energy, crime, drugs, and terrorism, while corruption features oddly under democracy and human rights. (The G7 statement also covvers corruption, financial crime and money laundering.) Most of these passages are statements of work in progress started at Lyon or earlier. There are some new undertakings on disease surveillance and AIDS research, with hints of some lack of confidence in the WHO. The isolated entry on energy seems only intended to signal Russia's involvement, by calling a conference in Moscow. There is a useful passage on continued reform of the UN, with strong support for UNSC Annan and helpful treatment of UN finances.

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