Blair: G8 must ‘step up to the plate’

Tony Blair has finished his tour of Africa, concluding with a keynote speech in Pretoria, South Africa, where he spoke of the need for international cooperation on climate change.

He said world leaders would push for international action at next week’s G8 and welcomed signals from US president George Bush that the US would commit to international agreements.

Mr Blair said the world has reached a “very, very critical point,” in respect to both climate change and African development.

He paid tribute to South African president Thabo Mbeki, saying Mr Mbeki had helped him appreciate the solution to Africa’s problems must come from within Africa.

While the west has a duty and obligation to help African government, the relationship needed to move beyond one of donor and recipient, Mr Blair explained. This means aid and debt relief must be accompanied by conflict resolution and good government.

Mr Blair disputed claims the high intentions espoused at the G8 in Gleneagles have failed to translate into action.

“Since Gleneagles a lot has happened,” the prime minister insisted. He pointed to a “massive amount” of money given in debt relief and increases in aid. “But we need to do far more”, he acknowledged.

It is important for world leaders to recommit to what was agreed in Scotland and “step up to the plate” at next week’s G8 in Heiligendamm, he said.

At Gleneagles the G8 acknowledged the basic problem of climate change, but now must take a major step forward. Mr Blair acknowledged this requires a global agreement from the G8 plus 5.

Mr Blair said: “Unless everybody is going to understand we all have a responsibility for this, you can have any number of international agreements but they don’t mean anything”.

To this end Mr Bush’s speech yesterday, in which he paved the way for some kind of international cooperation, was “extremely important”, as it marked the first time the US agreed to any form of global deal.

“Next week is potentially a very big week indeed,” Mr Blair insisted.

However, environmental groups have questioned what will be achieved at next week’s G8. Friends of the Earth intend to hold a protest in central London as Mr Blair leaves for the summit on Saturday.

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, Mike Childs, said: “Britain must play a leading role in urging G8 leaders to take much stronger action to combat climate change by investing in renewables and energy efficiency.

“Last year, heads of state at the G8 summit in Russia took a big step back in tackling climate change by promoting a business as usual approach to investment in fossil fuels.”

Moreover, the extent of Mr Bush’s new-found taste for international cooperation has been greeted with scepticism. Environment campaigners point out the US has not agreed to be bound by established targets, but rather Mr Bush has said America will lead international efforts.

Mr Bush explained: “By the end of next year, America and the other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.

“To help develop this goal, the US would convene a series of meetings of nations that produce most greenhouse gas emissions, including nations with rapidly growing economies like India and China.”