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G8: Much Talk, Too Few Results

by Julio Godoy

HEILIGENDAMM - This year's summit of the G8 heads of government will likely be remembered as a "how not to" organise such an event, for the contrast between the expectations it raised and its negligible accomplishments, and for its enormous security costs.

The three-day Group of Eight summit, held in this Baltic seaside resort, ended with two vague, non-binding promises -- more aid for Africa, and negotiations towards a post-Kyoto Protocol international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- and failures in numerous other items on the agenda.

This G8 failure in Heiligendamm to pass its self-imposed test of credibility will certainly mark the future of its summits.

The leaders of the G8 countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States) said their farewells without an agreement on international trade negotiations, or on eliminating subsidies for agriculture in the industrialised world, a move that would give development a boost in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

No agreement was reached either on a new regulation of the highly speculative, and therefore risky, hedge funds, nor on the political status of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

At the same time, the only accords the G8 leaders reached in Heiligendamm -- on a medium-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and new aid for Africa -- are considered as weak compromises, tailored only to avoid the impression that the summit was a total failure.

On Friday, the G8 leaders agreed to allocate 60 billion U.S. dollars "over the coming years" to finance the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and a further 500 million dollars for the "Education for All" programme in Africa.

But development and aid experts consider this new pledge as a step backwards, compared to the promises made by the G8 at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to double development assistance by 2010. The Gleneagles deal would mean an annual increase of aid levels by 50 billion dollars starting in 2006.

"The whole declaration (on aid for Africa) is just cosmetic", Ulrich Post, development expert at the German non-governmental organisation Welthungerhilfe (World Hunger Aid), one of the country's largest aid campaigners.

Post regretted that the G8 declaration on Africa "only mentions agriculture (in Africa) with one single phrase. In the face of more than 200 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition, of which 80 percent live on rural areas, this behaviour is scandalous," Post added.

According to the development watchdog Oxfam, the new G8 aid promise for Africa means at best "just three billion U.S. dollars extra in aid by 2010."

Previous to the Heiligendamm summit, Oxfam had shown that the G8 countries would miss their 2010 target on aid for Africa by 30 billion dollars. "Today's announcement may only close that gap to 27 billion dollars," the organisation said Friday.

Other activists criticise the ambiguity of the G8 statement, which does not set a clear timetable for the allocation of the new promised assistance, nor does it define how much of the sum would truly be fresh aid.

The Irish rock musician and anti-poverty campaigner Bono described this ambiguity as "a deliberate language of obfuscation. It is deliberately misleading. I am exasperated," the U2 frontman said.

In addition, the new pledge for targeting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria does not fulfil the target estimated by the United Nations for the G8 countries, and which foresees a spending of 15 billion dollars per year through to 2010 on the HIV/AIDS fight alone.

Instead, the new aid promised at Heiligendamm commits the G8 countries to earmark about 12 billion dollars per year for all three diseases.

The G8 deal on cutting climate-changing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is also seen as a lip service to international environmental policy.

The group's joint statement on reducing GHG takes note of and expresses concern for "the recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports (which) concluded both, that global temperatures are rising, that this is caused largely by human activities and, in addition, that for increases in global average temperature, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems, e.g. water and food supply."

But U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin agreed only to "seriously consider the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050," according to the statement. "We commit to achieving these goals," the paper says.

For Christoph Bals, director of the environmental organisation Germanwatch, the agreement opens the door for an international negotiation towards a new GHG reduction regime, under the framework of the UN, and with the participation of the U.S. government. (The United States is not part of the Kyoto Protocol.)

But the statement is not binding, and further negotiations, starting at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali, Indonesia, scheduled for December, will be a first test of the U.S commitment, and that of the Asian giants -- China and India -- to join the post-Kyoto process.

The G8 leaders also failed to re-launch the negotiations on international trade in the stalled Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation, and did not advance towards eliminating its member countries farm subsidies, which constitute one of the main obstacles for development in Africa and other developing regions.

These disappointments round out the image of an expensive, futile event, where G8 leaders only paid lip services to its own commitments, and who isolated themselves from demonstrators -- and the world -- with costs for security alone estimated at more than 135 million dollars.

Japan is slated to host the G8 summit in 2008.

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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