As with previous years, the annual meeting’s buildup was full of anticipation and public pressure on the leaders to deliver on their promises. Pledges of vast amounts of money made the headlines together with G8 leaders’ self congratulations.
However, details reveal a more confusing picture and the amount pledged isn’t as high as it may first seem. Furthermore, discussion on expected issues didn’t necessarily mean success or concrete steps forward, while other important issues hardly gained media attention, despite their importance, such as health and intellectual property rights, and farms subsidies of industrialized nations.
Headlines of $60bn pledge miss caveats and concerns
The mainstream headlines spoke of success. G8 leaders reach $60bn Aids deal2 the BBC reported. G8 leaders make $60B Africa pledge3, CNN wrote. Mainstream television headlines made similar notes.
However, behind these seemingly celebratory headlines, as many media outlets did this time reveal, the numbers contained fancy accounting, including dollars earmarked at previous G8 summits, for example.
Channel 4, a British mainstream media channel, noted that,
- Of the $60bn, half was pledged by the US in the previous week, spanning 5 years; $30bn was new
- When spread over 5 years, this $60bn amounts to $12bn a year
- The figure was not guaranteed; it was a pledge (many large pledges in the past have not been delivered, and have been added to follow-up pledges, thus creating an impression of massive quantities of aid).
Max Lawson, senior policy advisor at the NGO Oxfam noted that The headlines sound impressive but ultimately mean precious little4.
Instead of delivering what they promised the G8 has tried to get the biggest possible headline number out of the smallest possible aid increase. The $60bn for HIV/AIDS, health, TB and malaria represents, at most, an extra $3bn of aid in 2010. This is welcome but falls $27bn short of what the G8 pledged in 2005. (Emphasis added) In addition, the
$60bn on HIV included considerable amounts of money from existing spending levels
What if headlines had said
G8 pledges additional $3bn? Even Channel 4’s summary headlines spoke only of the G8 $60bn pledge, not the spin that they noted in their reporting.
U2 star and anti poverty campaigner, Bono, described this G8’s African deal as deliberately vague and misleading, saying it was a compromise on top of another compromise (the 2005 G8 Gleneagles declaration).
As well as development activists, the World Bank has also criticized G8 pledges for not being delivered5.
Another IPS report contained an interview of the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa (see previous link) who made a number of important points, for example:
- That while there were increased funds for humanitarian aid but this does not mean funds for development, which is longer term.
- While corruption of African governments is often raised when discussing these issues,
The question is less whether the African partners are delivering on their promises, but whether the wealthy industrial nations are honoring theirs, noting the improved steps many African countries are taking even though the G8 has been slow to deliver its side of the pledges.
the G8 is short by an estimated 10 billion dollars in the disbursement of the development aid pledged in Gleneagles raising the concern that the new pledges will also be delivered slowly.
There was also disagreement on how to deliver aid6. The US, for example wants to continue bilateral arrangements (i.e. between itself and a recipient), while most others wanted a multilateral approach to avoid duplications. On the one hand, the US approach can be effective; it can concentrate on specific countries and bring pressure to ensure aid is not misdirected. However, as has been seen in global health issues7 in particular, this allows the donor to exert more pressure and conditions which may not always be for the benefit of the recipient. But even the aid delivery that Europe wants is not without problems. While in theory it may be a good approach, to date, regardless of bilateral or multilateral efforts, foreign aid has been manipulated and often benefits the donor more than the recipient8.
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The build-up to the meeting saw many discussions on climate change, from concerns about the US watering down draft texts on calls to action, to the impact China, India and the other emerging nations will have in opposing calls to impose targets on their emissions.
US attempts to water down climate change declaration
In the lead up to the 2005 G8 Summit it was revealed that the US in particular had tried to water down drafts on climate change9.
The same happened again this year. On May 26, 2007, the BBC reported on leaked documents showing how the US
opposes G8 climate proposals10.
Almost two weeks earlier, on May 14, 2007, the BBC noted that the US was seeking changes to the climate change text11 proposed by the G8.
The examples given by the BBC of phrases the US struck out, include the following:
climate change is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment and severely weaken (the) global economy… resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
- The statement that
we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- a commitment to send a
clear message on international efforts to combat global warming at the next round of UN climate talks in December.
And, US negotiators also wanted to
remove from the draft firm targets for improving energy efficiency in buildings and transport, and a call for the establishment of a global carbon market.
Yet, a White House spokeswoman on Environmental Quality still insisted that,
The US continues to lead the global effort on climate change.
Diverting attention to developing countries?
Bush also tried to push forth the idea of a non-binding set of global emissions reduction targets by the end of 2008; an approach outside the G8, and even criticized by the European Union’s Environment Commissioner12.
Many have criticized it as a way to divert attention from growing criticism, even from other G8 members, at the US government’s isolated stance on climate change. The proposed deal is targeted to the 15 top greenhouse emitters. This includes India and China. But this seems doomed to failure because, as explained at length elsewhere on this site, it is unfair to expect these two to make the same level of changes as the rich countries, because it has been the rich nations largely responsible for the anthropogenic aspect of climate change. The agreed principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is clearly being ignored by some wealthier countries, in part because the mainstream repeatedly fails to raise these issues and challenge their leaders on this, thus allowing unfair positions to be commonly accepted in the public’s view.
The other concern is that this tactic of seemingly appearing inclusive will allow the almost guaranteed failure—China and India are unlikely to accept such unfair conditions—allowing the US and others to lay the blame on the developing countries. The mainstream media, when it does occasionally mention the common but differentiated responsibilities principle will present it as India and China’s view, rather than as an agreed international principle, thus giving citizens of the rich countries the view that this is just the view of those countries, to be balanced with the view of the wealthy nations. (An example of false balancing.)
As discussed in more detail on this site’s section on climate change and global warming13, such
delay tactics from the richer countries and ineffective reduction in emissions will mean when Kyoto is up for change in 2012, developing nations are likely to face more pressure to submit to targets. This will allow rich countries to possibly get away from any responsibility for an issue largely of their own making. That is not to say as India and China develop they should use cleaner technologies, etc, but the rich nations must not let attention be diverted to that without focusing on their own responsibilities.
Developing Country Progress Hardly Mentioned
New Scientist reports that Brazil, China, India and Mexico and other such fast developing countries have slowed their rising greenhouse gas emissions by more than the total cuts demanded of rich nations by the Kyoto Protocol14 yet this is rarely reported by the mainstream when Bush and others point to China and India concerns.
Policies primarily intended to curb the air pollution from factories and cars or to save energy have had the side-effect of fighting global warming. Note, however, the emissions are still rising, but at a much slower rate.
As the meeting concluded, hardly reported in comparison to the concerns of China and India’s rising emissions and lack of mandatory caps was that the so-called G5, the emerging powers (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa), also offered plans to address climate change as an alternative to the
watered down approach announced by the G8 (as IPS put it).
The additional problem was that the G8 countries again made vague proposals, rather than solid commitments:
The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, while presented as an Indian or developing country proposition, has long been accepted by the international community.
feet dragging concerns mentioned earlier will result in developing countries understandably resisting calls to be subject to targets. They will point out that the rich countries have not met their obligations first, and will fear that those nations are trying to get away from doing anything too substantial and pass the responsibility on to the emerging nations. All and for a problem largely created by the industrialized nations. (Geopolitically this tactic would make sense for rich countries, fearing India and China in particular as countries seen to rise and dominate in the future, as the US and Europe’s influence wanes further.)
Yet, if G8 leaders are serious about China and India being subject to targets (for such countries will eventually need to be as they continue to grow), they will have to demonstrate that they can do it too. Already, as noted below, developing countries have made significant emission cuts.
But even amongst G8 countries, views differ. As IPS adds,
foreign ministers of the European Union and Asia agreed … that any future arrangement would pursue
differentiated commitments for industrialized