From green to black at G8

June 5, 2007

The U.N.’s top environment official flourished a bright green tie to help celebrate World Environment Day.

“We’re breaking through,” declared Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme, about what he sees as growing impetus towards a global deal to fight climate change after years of frustrations.

Fewer and fewer people doubt that human activities, led by burning fossil fuels, are heating the planet, he told Reuters over a cup of coffee in an Oslo hotel.

“We’ve gone from disagreement on 80 percent of the issues over climate and agreement on 20 percent to I’d say sufficient consensus on 80 percent of the issues and remaining disagreement on 20 percent,” he said.

Steiner said a summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations will not solve the world’s climate problems.

“It’s an important milestone on the way, but not a destination,” he said of the June 6-8 meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany.

He welcomed a new plan by U.S. President George W. Bush to win agreement among the top 15 emitters of greenhouse gases by the end of 2008, but said it should be part of broader U.N. efforts.

World Environment Day, set up in 1972 to mark the start of a first U.N. conference on the environment in Stockholm, is in some ways a rival to Earth Day, celebrated mostly in the United States, each year on April 22.

People around the world marked June 5 by planting trees, cooking their dinner with solar heaters and by trying to save energy by switching off lights.rostock.jpg

After speaking with Steiner, I travelled by plane to Hamburg in Germany and then by train to the G8 summit venue on the north coast. The train was crowded with dozens of protesters, many of them wearing black jeans and tee-shirts and weighed down with tents, sleeping bags and rucksacks.

Some of the thousands of protesters plan to disrupt the summit to express opposition to the policies of G8, especially those of the United States. About 1,000 people were injured on Saturday when a peaceful rally turned violent in nearby Rostock.

 The protesters have been undeterred by 16,000 German riot police and the odd shower of rain as they prepared to camp out. One black-clad man had brought his guitar, with a yellow balloon tied to the strings.

Are the protests at the G8 justified? Tell us what you think.

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