The courageous leadership of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and an unprecedented surge of activism focused the world's attention on this year's G8 summit to a greater extent than any previous meeting of the leading industrialized nations.
Refusing to be deterred by the London bomb attacks, the world's leaders emerged from the summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, with a hopeful message of their determination to tackle two of the world's most difficult problems: African poverty and climate change. That the two issues had been placed squarely on the world agenda was the culmination of a long campaign by many in and out of government – and a victory in itself.
But now that the meeting is over, we must take stock of what has been achieved and what remains to be done.
On African poverty, the G8 leaders agreed to cancel the debts of 18 impoverished countries -14 in Africa – and double aid to the continent by 2010. The European members of the G8 further pledged to increase aid to 0.7 percent of national income by 2015. The clear targets and timetables bode well for reversing the trend of the last 20 years of declining aid flows.
Their dedication to African development wore thin, however, on the contentious issue of farm subsidies. Only inconclusive statements were issued about the need to stop government support for agricultural exports that are having an increasingly detrimental impact on farmers in the developing world, particularly Africa.
Progress on addressing climate change was much less promising. Alone among the G8 countries, the United States rejected mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush's refusal to join the other leaders prevented the G8 from committing to any reduction targets to reverse the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
As Blair said in his concluding statement at the summit, this is "a beginning not an end." If these efforts will prove anything more than a token gesture, he has to be right.
Here are eight things that we should watch out for if leaders are to be held accountable to the commitments made at Gleneagles:
1) Forgiving debt: The agreement on debt relief will cover an estimated $40 billion in debt to 18 qualifying countries, with annual savings to the 18 countries of a little more than $1 billion. The write-off is significant, but less so when Africa's total external debt of almost $300 billion is taken into account. These debts are the result of bad loans and the ill-conceived refinancing schemes of wealthy countries and multilateral creditors, and have for decades been used as reasons to restrict aid flows. There are as many as 40 countries that need debt relief, and many of these governments continue to spend more repaying their debts than on healthcare or education. Keep an eye on another nine countries that may soon become eligible for debt relief.
2) Regularizing aid flows: One of the major obstacles to alleviating poverty in Africa is regularizing aid flows. Recipient countries cannot adopt long-term and comprehensive strategies for development because of the uncertainty over the level of future aid. British finance minister Gordon Brown proposed to establish an International Finance Facility (IFF) that would permit forward financing by way of international bonds. The ambitious plan was not picked up by the G8, nor was it expected to be – both Japan and the United States opposed it. A group of countries has pledged to develop a pilot IFF for Immunizations – watch out for its progress.
3) Increasing official development assistance: European members – Britain, Germany, France and Italy – have set timetables for meeting the goal of contributing 0.7 percent of national income to aid flows by 2015, a goal for aid levels originally set by rich countries in 1970. Thirty-five years later, the United States, Canada and Japan only give a trifling amount relative to their national incomes – 0.16 percent, 0.26 percent, and 0.19 percent respectively – and still refuse to set targets. Over the past 15 years, the G8 have increased aid to Africa by $3 a head, yet over that same period of time average incomes in G8 countries rose by almost $6,000. Monitor the levels of aid for Africa as the 2006 federal budget makes its way through Congress later this year.
4) Eliminating agricultural export subsidies: Most experts agree that the long-term solution to Africa's problems is the development of strong and stable economies. Critical to that objective is the opening of markets for African agricultural exports. According to the World Bank, an ambitious agreement on tariff reduction could inject as much as $269 billion a year into Africa's economy, more than 10 times current aid flows to the continent. The G8 failed to set an end date for the billions in trade-distorting subsides that prop up rich countries' agricultural exports. G8 members should follow the leads of Blair and Bush, who have called for the end of export subsidies by 2010. Stay tuned to the next round of the Doha trade negotiations in Hong Kong this December to see how far Blair and Bush will go to rally support for reform.
5) Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Blair left Gleneagles largely empty-handed on climate change because of President Bush's refusal to accept mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. All other G8 members have already pledged to lower their carbon dioxide emissions by between 6 and 25 percent by 2012. The time for talk is over – we must act now in order to have the best chance to avert dangerous climate change. Keep an eye on action at the state level and in Congress that will require emissions cuts.
6) Shifting to renewable sources: The G8 communiqué included a section on developing new technologies and renewable energy sources, a course of action supported in principle by the Bush administration. To date, G8 countries make little use of renewable energy sources to meet their electricity needs, averaging about 2.5 percent collectively; the International Taskforce on Climate Change recommended that 25 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2025. The United States and Russia are the only member countries without goals set for increasing electricity from renewable energy. Track the progress of the Senate Energy Bill, which would require that 10 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020. Also, watch out for November 1, the date set for a meeting hosted by Britain to widen the dialogue on clean energy and sustainable development to check progress on renewable energy standards.
7) Helping the developing world adapt to climate change: Climate change threatens to wipe out any progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as developing countries are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The G8 made minor gestures to include the developing world in its actions to confront climate change, promising for example to direct development banks to finance renewable energy projects. Meanwhile, since the Marrakech Declaration was announced in November 2004, few G8 countries have followed up on their commitment to pledge $450 million to support climate change programs in 50 of the poorest countries. Hold the G8 to account for its commitments in the Marrakech Declaration.
8) Keeping the pressure on: In the days before the summit, millions of people around the world turned out for the Live 8 concerts as part of a campaign to end poverty in Africa. This pressure and momentum clearly focused attention on the G8 meeting and influenced the outcome. Although progress was made at Gleneagles, the ultimate goal has not yet been achieved. No corresponding outpouring of public support was evident on climate change, even though a whopping 86 percent of Americans believe the United States should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases. The people can and must be the engine of change. Stay engaged, stay vigilant, and keep the pressure on our leaders to follow through on their commitments to Africa and force President Bush to act on climate change.