Progress at G8 summit uncertain after bomb attacks

As Britain reeled with shock following Thursday’s bomb attacks in London, campaigners feared that the Group of Eight’s (G8) lofty ambitions on Africa and Earth’s climate would be pushed aside amid the outpouring of grief.

Those two issues are usually low priority or absent from G8 meetings, so it was a remarkable break with tradition when Britain, as this year’s G8 president, named them top priorities for the summit in Gleneagles.

In the run-up to the event, both questions gained enormous media attention and pledges of action.

But campaigners fear that their causes now face being dispatched back to the wilderness as a result of the London bombings, both in terms of media coverage and political commitment.

In less than 24 hours, the hungry African child that dominated front pages and television screens has been replaced by images of bandaged survivors in London.

And the op-ed pages that until Thursday were filled with demands for boosting measures against global warming are likely to be replaced by others calling for action on terrorism.

“It’s worrying,” said Marylis d’Aboville, with the French aid group Secours Catholique. “We are wondering if this going to change the issues facing the summit. We are a little afraid that the whole picture will change.”

Tony Juniper, vice-chairperson of Friends of the Earth International, said the G8 summit “was intended to make a statement on huge problems facing the world.

“This is now going to be lost because of the acts of murderous criminals in London,” he said.

Leaders of the G8—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States—acted resolutely as news of the London outrage sank in.

They stood behind British Prime Minister Tony Blair as they lashed the attacks as an assault on civilisation and pledged that their work would continue undisturbed.

But for more observers at the G8 summit, there seemed to be the first signs of political shift, in tone if not in substance, that once more put security back to the top of the agenda.

Within a few hours, US President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the London bloodshed amply justified their own self-declared war on terror.

Bush has invoked terrorism as the argument for invading Iraq and for launching “homeland security” initiatives aimed at thwarting a repeat of the September 11 attacks, while Putin says Russia’s crackdown in Chechnya is in response to Chechen attacks on Russian civilians.

Other countries, including G8 nations Britain, France, Germany and Italy, likewise beefed up security measures in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Globally, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent as a result of September 11, Juniper pointed out.

“The world shifted its attention to terrorism and security after 9/11, and because there are only just so much resources, development and climate change become a lower priority,” he said.

Peter Hardstaff, head of policy with a British-based campaign group, the World Development Movement, said it is “too early to tell” what long-term shifts lay ahead.

“I don’t know where they are going to take this agenda,” he said, adding the first step would be to assess, and then lock in, pledges expected to be made on Friday at the end-of-summit declaration.—AFP

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