UNITED NATIONS - A prominent United Nations representative this week joined ranks with thousands of activists gathered in Germany to protest the economic and political dominance enjoyed by the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries.
This year should be the "last" G8 Summit, said Jean Ziegler, the world body's special rapporteur on the right to food, at the launch of the "Alternative Summit" called by rights groups to counter the annual G8 meeting, which is currently in session in the resort town of Heiligendamm.
Arguing that "another world is possible," he observed that globalization as pursued by the G8 leadership had lost its way and that there was a need for a new "revolution" from below.
"2.7 billion of the world's population is living below the extreme poverty line. That is nearly 40 percent," he said in a speech. "Capitalism may have conquered the world but it has left behind a rash of diseases that are purely man-made."
The UN representative insisted the G8 countries eliminate farming subsidies, a demand that the world's poorer nations have been raising for years, though they have failed to get a positive response from their wealthier counterparts.
The Alternative Summit was organized by a wide range of environmental and social justice organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, ActionAid, Christian Aid, and Oxfam International.
Those who spoke at the Alternative Summit came from as many as 40 countries. The first day of protest this week saw more than 1,000 demonstrators wounded when police cracked down on the protests.
But organizers described their summit as a great success.
"After the demonstrations and violence it's good to see something that we have supported from the start come to fruition," said ActionAid Germany's Astrid Schwietering, adding that the event was about refocusing globalization from the perspective of the southern hemisphere.
The G8 leaders are due to continue their talks until Friday. This year, among other issues, the summit leaders focused their talks on climate change. On Thursday, the group announced it had reached a deal to seek a "substantial cut" in greenhouse gas emissions, but failed to set any mandatory targets.
In addition to the civil society protestors, a number of developing countries have also raised concerns about the way rich nations are pushing their agenda on globalization, economic development, and environmental sustainability.
On Wednesday, the UN-based largest coalition of developing nations, known as the Group of 77 and China (G77), said it was concerned about the G8's role in perpetuating inequalities between the industrial North and the largely agriculture-based economies of the global South.
Munir Akram, Pakistani envoy to the UN and chairman of the G77, said that developing countries have demonstrated a sincere commitment to fulfilling the pledges made in successive international conferences and summits during the past few years, but added "unfortunately our development partners have not reciprocated."
Akram lamented that Official Development Assistance, the international aid given by wealthier countries to support the development of poorer ones, has declined in recent years. He feared it was likely to continue to decline in the near future.
He urged the G8 members to take "bolder and innovative measures" to meet the internationally agreed upon target of putting 0.7 percent of national budgets toward development assistance for poorer countries.
Of the G8 member countries, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, none have yet reached that target. The United Kingdom came closest last year, allocating just over one half of one percent of its national income to development assistance. At 0.17 percent, the United States gave a lower percentage of its income than any other wealthy country except Greece.
Stressing that the aid given to poor countries should be "responsive to their national polices and free from any conditionality," Pakistan's Akram said the G77 would like to see comprehensive reforms of the international financial system and its governance architecture.
He also called on rich countries to reduce the huge subsidies provided to their agricultural sectors, which he said threatened food security for the poorest, and he urged his colleagues from wealthier nations to lift restrictions on access to technology, a vital component for any country's economic development.
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