G8 may be remembered more for what it didn't deliver

As the Group of Eight (G8) Nations meet for the 2010 summit on Friday, it will be a significant moment in their history. Post economic crisis, the G8 has been struggling to prove its continued relevance. As the premier forum of global economic issues, it has fast become eclipsed by the G20 leaders’ summit.
This has left the G8 in an awkward situation as these two forums meet back-to-back in Canada this week. For the first time, it now has to directly position itself against its new G20 big brother.

Can the G8 continue to play a role in this changed world? Some have suggested their responsibility should be to continue to address issues of global poverty.

One area that G8 summits have become synonymous with is grand pledges to the world’s poor. From promising to support expanded health and education services in developing countries, to fighting hunger and HIV/Aids, they have been generous with their words. Nowhere is this truer than in the bold pledge, made during the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, to double overseas aid by 2010, with a special focus on Africa. But the G8 has a long history of forgetting their promises as soon as they leave the summit.

An official G8 “accountability report” launched this week shows that they are as much as $18-billion off meeting their promise to double aid by $50-billion by 2010. Therefore, as the deadline for delivering on their Gleneagles commitment is up, the G8 leaders’ credibility is on the line. Admittedly, this figure masks some very mixed performances between countries. For instance, Canada has met their target. The United Kingdom has become something of a star performer—both in its ambition and level of delivery—to date. Italy is the clear laggard among the G8, with an atrocious record on aid giving.

Even if the G8 is no longer relevant, their pledges and promises are still relevant. They have made a number of promises to the world’s poor which must still be met.

Where promises have been kept and more and better quality aid has been delivered, the results have been profound. For example, African countries provided antiretroviral (ARV) therapy to nearly three million people in 2008, an increase of 39% from 2007. They have dramatically reduced deaths from malaria and helped get 42-million more children into school—all of which has been supported through donor aid.

The countries which are failing to keep their pledges point to the tough economic climate as the reason for non-delivery. But we need to get aid spending into perspective; it is only a minute fraction of budgets in G8 countries. And it is clear that G8 countries can find money when they want to. Even amid the economic crisis, global military expenditure has continued to grow: soaring to a record high last year.

What is even more worrying is that the leaked communiqué for the G8 Summit doesn’t even mention their previously made commitment to double aid. At the same time, the G8 is set to launch an additional high-profile initiative in this year’s summit on maternal and child mortality. It is good that the G8 is taking notice of the shocking fact that 8,8-billion children under five and half a million new mothers and pregnant women die every year but they can’t be pledging new commitments when their previous failures are leaving them in the midst of an ongoing credibility crisis.

As the G8 increasingly looks like a lame duck next to the expanded and more relevant G20, it is vital that they prove their ability to deliver on previous promises. Otherwise, the G8 looks likely to be remembered more for what it didn’t deliver rather than what it did.

  • Jo Walker is an international campaigner for ActionAid International

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