Bush, Brown and Merkel under pressure at G-8 summit
Leaders from the world's seven richest states and Russia meet in northern Japan, with the environment and food shortages at the top of the agenda
Toyako, Japan -- Under pressure to deliver, the leaders of the world's seven richest countries and Russia meet in Japan on Monday to discuss the impact of spiralling food and oil prices, as well as poverty in Africa and global warming.
The Group of Eight (G-8) summit is taking place amid tight security in the exclusive Hotel Windsor, nestled in the mountains of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.
More than 21,000 police officers, some equipped with sprays and bells to keep the region's bears away, have been deployed to the area. And anti-globalization activists were being kept at a safe distance from the summit's location.
Meeting more than 800 kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the world's most powerful heads of state and government were expected to use the quiet retreat by Lake Toyako to meditate on some of the most pressing problems facing the world.
They face growing pressure to come up with concrete solutions, rather than issue mere expressions of goodwill, as they did in past summits.
And one of its participants, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has already warned that the G-8 needs to expand and accommodate growing heavyweights like China and India if it is to make a difference.
"I think it is unreasonable to continue to meet as eight to solve the big questions of the world, forgetting China, which has 1.3 billion people, and not inviting India, with its 1 billion people," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in Paris ahead of his departure for Japan.
The leaders of India and China are already invited to G-8 summits, but they attend separate meetings as part of the so-called Outreach Group, which comprises developing countries and institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
Officials in Japan said Sunday that one of the proposals being considered at Lake Toyako involves plans to stockpile grains to better cope with future food crises.
The proposal would require each G-8 nation to store specific amounts of grains and release them into the market in a coordinated effort to stabilize grain prices when necessary. Currently, Japan and Germany are the only G-8 nations that have surplus grains in stock.
"The idea is to establish a G8 food reserve system. It is up to the G-8 leaders to decide how the idea will be explored further," said Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama.
The project comes amid warnings from World Bank President Robert Zoellick that surging food and fuel prices are quickly leading the world's poorest countries into a "danger zone" that severely threatens their economic development.
On climate change, European Union officials have said they want the meeting to issue "stronger language" than the one contained in the final document of last year's summit in Germany.
But this year's host, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, has already cautioned observers against expecting a deal on a successor of the Kyoto Protocol, which called for a 5-per-cent reduction of global emissions on their 1990 levels, and which is due to expire in 2012.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among those pushing the hardest for a deal, warning her colleagues ahead of the summit that the G8 should lead by example.
US President George W Bush said after his arrival in Japan that he would be "constructive" on the issue. But he reiterated his view that a post-Kyoto deal would be useless unless it also imposed strict greenhouse gas emission limits on other big polluters such as China and India.
Japan also wants the summit to commit to an international agreement to halve the world's extreme poverty rates by 2015.
But there were growing concerns Sunday that leaders intended to backtrack on a previous pledge, made at their meeting in Gleneagles in 2005, to raise annual development aid to Africa to 25 billion dollars.
"The current draft communique (of the summit) is an outrage," warned Max Lawson, senior policy advisor at Oxfam, a charity.
"Whether it refers to aid to Africa, education or health, the text shows that leaders are attempting to water down their previous financial commitments, or even reneging on them altogether," he added.
G-8 leaders were expected to denounce the situation in Zimbabwe following the re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a vote that was condemned as unfair by observers. But they were unlikely to call for new sanctions to be imposed on the African country.
On the issue of oil prices, they were expected to call for a series of solutions. Among them greater transparency on the oil markets and the need to improve energy efficiency.
Controversial calls for an increase in the use of nuclear power were being considered under the chapter on energy "diversification". Monday and Tuesday's summit was preceded by a bilateral meeting between Fukuda and Bush, who celebrated his 62nd birthday in Hokkaido on Sunday.
The G-8 countries are Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.