G8: Bread and Circuses

While not quite the Circus Maximus, Silvio Berlusconi’s G8 has been an amazing exercise in spin, powered by round-the-clock ‘bread’ and refreshments for the journalists reporting the event (and it should be said, NGOs as well).

Against a backdrop of unprecedented crises – the economy, food shortages, climate change and increasing poverty – this G8 has attempted to portray itself as seriously tackling the big issues facing the world. This was the roll-up up your sleeves summit; get out and visit the people who lost their houses in the earthquake (and who are angry about still waiting for new accommodation).

Unfortunately, it seems to be mainly business as usual and overall, Oxfam is quite critical. While facing such enormous crises, the world’s most powerful countries could, and should have offered more concrete leadership and action – after all, if they can’t tackle these issues, who can?

So on aid; the commitment to the extra money promised in Gleneagles (extra $50 billion by 2010, of which half is for Africa) was made yet again - but with no plan to get there despite still being $23 billion short and only a year to go.

On climate change, an important acknowledgement of the need to keep increases in global warming below 2 degrees - but again missing the key action steps to achieve it: a 40% cut in emissions by 2020.

The G8 also made their annual pledge to complete the biggest circus of all, the WTO Doha Round on the grounds that it is good for development. Developing countries beg to differ which is why it remains on the table G8 after G8.

The real bright spot on was the new commitment to invest in agriculture and tackle global hunger. This is a welcome initiative, championed by President Obama who has set a real ‘can-do’ tone to the conference. We were expecting $15 billion of mostly (not all) recycled money but were pleasantly surprised that they had found a further $5 billion, mainly from non-G8 countries agreeing to join in. It is good that some momentum is building behind this but we still need to push for fresh money.

However, the lack of overall progress probably means that the upcoming G20 will assume even greater importance and credibility as Angela Merkel foreshadowed last week.

All is not lost. President Obama is clearly signalling that the US is back at the table and engaged on the tough issues. Compared to where the US was on climate change last year it is a massive shift. And it is clear that the leaders are responding to public pressure on poverty and climate change. Oxfam and our Italian partner Ucodep, and our Italian allies have kept on the pressure with the Big Head stunts and concerted work with the G8 media corps.

We need to maintain and build momentum through to the next G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, the UN General Assembly in September and of course the Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen in December.

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