In Italy for the G-8, Obama Turns to Climate Change

President Obama just arrived in Italy, where he'll spend two days meeting with foreign leaders at the Group of Eight meeting in L'Aquila before heading to Rome where he'll sit down with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Friday. What's on the agenda this week? Everything—though talks are expected to focus on Iran, financial markets, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the on-going war in Afghanistan, and world hunger. On Thursday, Obama will chair a meeting expected to focus primarily on climate change. And then there's the random issues that might come up. Not unlike the G-20 meetings in London in April, there are rumblings here that China might be reviving that touchy subject of setting up a currency to compete with the U.S. dollar—though that might have lost some steam as Chinese President Hu Jintao abruptly headed back home today to deal with the violent rioting that has left more than 150 people dead in Western China. That has left a hole in President Obama's schedule, as he was scheduled to have talks with President Hu on the sidelines of the G-8.

It's a packed itinerary, but what is actually going to be accomplished? Major summits have long been criticized as primarily a glorified photo-op where foreign leaders announce goals rather than set in motion efforts to achieve them. Take climate change, for instance. G-8 countries have reportedly drafted a statement that express their support for limiting the rise of global temperatures to 3.6 degree Fahrenheit above pre-industrial era in 1900, but leaders have so far been unable to agree on the starting year by which emissions reductions would be measured. According to the NY Times, the Europeans want 1990, while the U.S, Australia and Japan have endorsed a 2005 benchmark. But several countries are still not on board, including India and China. At the G-20, Obama raised the issue with leaders from both countries, hoping to woo them through diplomacy.

But as Obama prepares to meet with G-8 leaders on the subject, the White House seemed to downplay movement on the issue here at the summit. Briefing reporters on Air Force One en route to Italy, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to say whether Obama would endorse the drafted G-8 statement on climate reduction goals. He suggested they are focused more on getting a bill through Congress, not on what an international summit can accomplish. "I think in many ways success for us is going to be getting something through Congress and to his desk that puts in place a system, market-based system, that lessens the amount of greenhouse gases in the air," Gibbs said.