June 8, 2005

Prime Minister Blair Calls for U.S. Action on Climate

LONDON (AP) -- Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday he was hopeful of a deal on tackling climate change and lifting Africa out of poverty following talks in Washington on his G8 priorities.

But with only four weeks before the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations meet in Gleneagles, Scotland, Blair acknowledged that tough negotiations still lay ahead.

"We have begun a discussion which I hope will end up with a plan for action at the G8 summit," Blair told the House of Commons, where he was questioned by lawmakers over his discussions with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Blair is optimistic of a deal on debt relief for the world's poorest countries after Bush edged closer to Britain's position. But prospects of an agreement on climate change remained remote and Blair won no substantive concessions on the issue.

"The brutal truth is, without America in a process of dialogue and action in the international community, we are not going to make progress on it," Blair told lawmakers, vowing to continue the dialogue with the White House.

"I will be doing my very best to persuade the United States and other countries that it is important that we take action on this issue."

Blair has conceded he has no chance of persuading Bush - who questions scientists' view that manmade pollutants are responsible for increasing temperatures - to back the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. At their joint news conference Tuesday, Bush defended his position, saying America was at the forefront of climate research and the development of technology to reduce emissions.

Nevertheless Blair said he believed G8 leaders could agree on an "action plan ... which will include specific measures that help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

"It's important, in addition, that we have some form of continuing process that locks in, not just the U.S., but those emerging countries, China and India in particular, without whom it is very difficult to see how we are going to make progress," he added.

Blair is confident of a deal on 100 percent debt relief for some of the world's poorest countries following the Washington talks.

The Bush administration had long argued that the money used to cancel debt should come out of future aid - a position charity groups describe as "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Bush made an important concession, however, and acknowledged extra money was needed to replenish the funds of the World Bank and African Development Bank, which distribute much of the aid.

The leaders provided scant details of the proposal and tough negotiations are likely to take place when G8 finance ministers gather in London on Friday. Disagreements remain over what countries should be eligible for debt relief, under what conditions and how much new money will be made available. Blair's official spokesman said the debt relief plan would benefit 25 of the poorest countries.

There was no sign, however, that Bush would back Britain's ambitious plan to double international aid to the developing world to US$100 billion a year. He promised US$674 million (euro550 million) for famine relief in Africa, a commitment Blair described Tuesday as only a small step toward the extra money needed by the continent.

Blair told the Commons he was trying to put together a "comprehensive plan that deals with aid, debt, trade, peacekeeping and peace enforcement and conflict resolution, the main killer diseases but also governance and action against corruption."