G8 deal looks a slender prospect

Every now and then helicopters have been flying towards the Gleneagles Hotel, carrying one or another of the G8 leaders whose three-day summit began on Wednesday.

But through the three days of talks little agreement is looking likely. And just as unlikely is any sweet agreement to agree to disagree.
The stakes raised by all sides have been too high after the huge build-up to an expectation that the G8 summit will deliver on development of Africa and on action to contain climate change, the two main issues for the summit flagged by host Britain.

No substantial agreement looks likely now on either, and the disappointment will be in proportion to the height of the expectations raised earlier, and if anything, disproportionately greater.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was fortunate to have his spirits and position lifted by London’s success in securing the 2012 Olympics, after travelling to Singapore to campaign for the games. That euphoria could help -British leaders deal better with certain disappointment over a G8 outcome.

Given the many more people who will be delighted over the Olympics in London than disappointed over inaction on Africa, Blair got an only half-expected outside boost to see him through the G8 differences.

The helicopters flying the G8 leaders into the Gleneagles Hotel carried leaders converging on the same spot, but taking divergent positions on matters that much of the world wants them most to agree on.

The disagreements are likely to be starkest between Britain and the United States, the two nations that are often advertised as having a ‘‘special relationship’‘. Nothing fails quite like a special relationship that does not deliver.

The differences over climate change have been clearest, and at least consistent. US President George W Bush repeated in an interview to ITV News in Britain days before the summit that the US will not consider ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds signatory nations to cut emissions believed to cause global warming, leading to climate change.

That refusal has already begun to make Blair look something of a failure. But there is more to disagreements over climate than Kyoto. Britain has been sympathetic to demands for G8 countries to set aside a budget, which could run into a few billion dollars, to provide technology to fast—industrialising countries such as India and China to clean up emissions from their industry.

And this is not just a transatlantic difference between Britain and the US. France and Italy are among the G8 nations with strong reservations about paying out billions to clean up the air above India and China.

Large chunks of a series of draft agreements on climate change have sat within brackets, indicating an agreement proposed by Britain but not agreed to by at least one of the others, in this case principally the US, the sole G8 member that has refused to accept the Kyoto Protocol. If too much of this text within brackets is removed, what would remain might be only a weak and general agreement that is polite rather than substantive.

The differences over Africa are even more dramatic, and British leaders would have more to lose from a failure over Africa than over climate change.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who has led the move to do more on Africa, has tried now to play down expectations of what the summit could produce.

“I know that what you will tell us [is] we’ve got to do more,” Brown said in an interview on BBC. “I know that what you will say is that what we can achieve is perhaps not good enough, but we have got to bring the whole of the world together.”

He as good as acknowledged that this was unlikely. “What Britain says is one thing. What we can persuade the rest of the world to do together is what we will get as the outcome of Gleneagles.”

For rock star Bob Geldof, who led emotive Live 8 concerts in the G8 countries to rouse people to action over Africa, Brown’s words were unconvincing. “I’m not prepared to be disappointed, I don’t think that is an option,” he said. “I don’t think the chancellor [Brown] should try lowering the bar at this stage. We have come for victory.”

On Africa, satisfaction or disappointment in the Geldof camp is likely to be measured in terms of aid money pledged. But there were promises expected also on tackling HIV/AIDS, which would affect Africa more than other continents.

More than aid or debt cancellations, the Make Poverty History campaign that has built up ahead of the summit has been demanding more and better action on trade. That means principally an end to subsidies in the G8 countries that help local farmers sell cheap to developing countries and so undermine producers in those nations. It means also an end to demands for opening up markets in developing countries to Western products.

On subsidies, differences between Britain and France are sharper than between Britain and the US. Given the differences across the English Channel on subsidies, and across the Atlantic on climate, the two issues built tall ahead of the summit are both set to fall flat.—IPS

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