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G8 Leadership Questioned by Civil Society Leaders

Alison Raphael

WASHINGTON - A powerful coalition of civil society groups is demanding that world leaders gathered for the G8 meeting Jul. 7-9 in Japan urgently address such key issues as hunger, climate change, and energy.

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) ran an ad in the International Financial Times Monday calling on G8 leaders to take meaningful steps toward: more and better aid, free education and health services for all, delivery on HIV/AIDS commitments, and ending the food and climate crises.

According to GCAP, more than 1 million people from around the world sent electronic messages to G8 members stressing the urgency with which these issues must be addressed.

Information leaked prior to the G8 summit suggests that the group intends to renege on its commitment to provide $25 million in aid to Africa, made three years ago during a meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, prompting one GCAP member to call the G8 a "graveyard of broken promises."

GCAP is the world's broadest coalition of progressive organizations -- more than 350 -- including non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, labor unions, women's organizations, and media, community- and faith-based groups that span the globe from Albania to Zimbabwe.

One member, Oxfam International, focused in on the food crisis, arguing that: "The rich world's response to the global food crisis has been inadequate and at times hypocritical."

Growing reliance on biofuels has contributed heavily toward rapidly increasing inflation in food prices, notes Oxfam's Jenny Heap, leading to a crisis for many of the world's poorest people. Yet rich countries have not reduced their biofuel targets.

Subsidies to farmers in the EU and United States, Oxfam argues, have also "systematically undermined" agricultural production in developing countries and should be eliminated.

Oxfam wants G8 members to reduce biofuel targets and food subsidies, increase aid, and target more investment to agriculture in developing countries, especially for small farmers.

Action Aid, in a recent report entitled "Cereal Offenders: How the G8 has contributed to the global food crisis and what they can do to stop it," noted that biofuels are responsible for "as much as 30 percent of the recent increases in food prices, forcing up to 30 million into chronic hunger and making 260 million more food insecure."

The report concurs that biofuel targets and subsidies should be reduced and calls on the G8 to invest instead in renewable energy sources.

Climate change is another issue that primarily affects the poor, according to GCAP.

People living in the poorest countries of the world, such as Bangladesh and Niger, are already being affected by flooding, deforestation, and desertification. In the Pacific islands, a rapid rise in sea levels is endangering people's livelihoods and homes.

To mitigate the impact of climate change, GCAP members want wealthy countries to pay a fair share of climate adaptation costs to Africa and other developing regions, to enable them to alleviate pressures on land, water, forests, and other natural resources.

"The G8 nations are the world's dirtiest emitters. They must clean up their act and pay the price for playing havoc with the developing world's farmland," charged Action Aid Policy Director Anne Jellema.

Save the Children, one of the largest groups advocating for children's rights worldwide, urged the G8 to support governments in developing countries to engage in better disaster preparedness, noting that some 175 million children are vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

Spending $1 million in disaster preparedness can avoid a $7-million bill for post-disaster work, the agency pointed out in a new report, "In the Face of Disaster: Children and Climate Change."

Other issues addressed by GCAP include improving public accountability, gender equality, and trade justice.

Copyright © 2008

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