The Gleneagles Summit was a litmus test of the G8’s ability to make a positive contribution to making the world a better place if it had the will to do so - and it has failed miserably. Even with key global issues at the top of the agenda, a chair professing strong commitment to achieving progress on them, and unprecedented popular pressure on the G8 leaders to do so in their own countries and elsewhere, the G8 still proved incapable of making any commitment to fulfil its past promises, let alone of making any actual progress.
On debt, it only promised to get a quarter of the way further towards fulfilling the promise of $100bn debt cancellation that it made 6 years ago, leaving a shortfall from that commitment of around $40bn.
On trade it did nothing. Instead, it was made it clear that it will only consider changing its damaging trade policies if poor countries liberalise their trade sectors in return. It has even extended ’aid for trade’ bribes, offering extra aid money in return for liberalisation, while debt reduction, to be provided through the HIPC Initiative, will also be conditional on IMF and World Bank policies. This is the precise ’forced liberalisation’ that the MPH campaign urged the G8 to stop.
On aid, it says it promises to increase total aid by $50bn (with half of this sum, around $25bn, to be directed towards Africa) in five years time. Of this $50bn, around $30bn should be provided by the EU’s promise (made well before the G8 Summit) to increase their aid to 0.7% by 2015. Another $5bn would be required for non-EU donors merely to maintain their current aid/income levels as their economies grow. So what is really being offered is $15bn, to be reached in five years’ time. This would take the aid/income level for the non-EU countries (overwhelmingly dominated by the US and Japan) from 0.18% in 2004 to 0.25% in 2010. Even if they maintained this rate of increase indefinitely, it would take them 43 years to reach 0.7%, and the promise made in 1970 would only be fulfilled in 2048.
Japan says it "intends" to increase aid by $10bn by 2010. This might increase Japanese aid/income from 0.19% to about 0.36%. At this rate, it would reach 0.7% in 2022.
Canada says it will double aid from its 2001 level by 2010. But its aid budget for 2001 was at the lowest level since 1983, substantially below 2000 or 2002, and was already two-thirds above this level in 2004. This offer would therefore only increase the aid income ratio from 0.26% in 2004 to 0.28% in 2010. At this rate, it would take them 139 years (to 2143) to reach 0.7%.
The US made no commitments at all with respect to its overall aid budget, only saying it will double aid to Africa, and listing the large and mostly unhelpful initiatives it has already set up (leaving open the possibly of diverting aid from elsewhere).
The four EU countries made no commitments beyond those already made independently (UK, France) or through the EU (Germany, Italy).
On climate change, the G8 has actually made progress less likely by focusing exclusively on technological changes, without setting targets or timetables for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are already warming the planet. A techno-fix for global warming has always been the refuge of those who hope that lifestyles will not have to change. The G8 - the world’s most industrialised nations, overwhelmingly responsible for climate change - have failed to commit either to reducing emissions or to providing substantial new funds to help poor countries, already affected by climate change, to adapt.
This demonstrates that the G8, far from promoting progress on global issues that require collective action, actually impedes it, because the outcome is the lowest common denominator of the members’ positions - in this case, that of the US. Ahead of the summit, all but one of the seven major players appeared committed to emissions reductions, albeit not on the scale that is so urgently needed. But what emerged from Gleneagles was a commitment to a superficial and unworkable approach based on the bizarre denial of the US Administration to acknowledge the urgency of the issue. This shows that the G8 is not a mechanism by which a majority of more enlightened governments can pressure one recalcitrant member into a more progressive attitude. Rather it is a mechanism by which the US can exert control over governments which take positions unfavourable to its commercial interests, but which would benefit the wellbeing of all.
Overall, these lamentable results further strengthen the case of the anti-G8 movement. The G8 lacks any legitimacy. It is an informal gathering of the seven most powerful world leaders (plus Russia) meeting to decide how they are going to run the rest of the world through their dominant position in the IMF, World Bank, WTO and UN, and through various forms of bilateral political, economic and, on occasion, military pressure. The G8 countries represent just 11% of the world population - and many of the leaders, including the UK’s Tony Blair, have not even received the support of 50% of voters within their own countries. We would not think of accepting the dominance of such a self-appointed cabal at the country level, and there is no reason to do so at the global level.
The Make Poverty History campaign took a tactical approach of constructive engagement, seeking incremental changes to which the G8 governments had already committed themselves, and which they could deliver immediately. Yet they received no more than a promise to implement a fraction of what they had asked for in the future in two areas (aid and debt), and nothing at all in the third (trade).
This does not mean that the campaign was not worthwhile: if these new promises are fulfilled, the benefits to Africa will far outweigh the financial cost to MPH members. But it does demonstrate the very serious limitations of this step-by-step approach. Action to deal with the immediate crisis facing Africa is now urgent; but even if we achieved this much at every G8 summit, it still would not be enough to resolve the problems Africa faces - problems that have very largely been created by the actions of the G8 itself (for instance, in promoting the neoliberal economic model which has failed spectacularly across Africa for the last 20 years).
The MPH demonstrations, unlike those around other recent summits, were not protesting against the existence of the G8, but urging it to take action. This gave it a chance to redeem its miserable reputation by delivering what is widely recognised as being urgently needed. Its failure to do so demonstrates that it is impervious to such overwhelming expressions of popular will - that it is not responsive even to the views of its own voters, let alone the 89% of the world’s population who have no say in the election of its leaders. Civil society has tried constructive engagement, and it has failed. From next year, we can expect, not merely a return of the usual more antagonistic approach to demonstration, but that it will be more intense than ever.
Before Gleneagles, the G8’s one possible defence was that it could at least use its power - however undemocratic and illegitimate - for good. After Gleneagles, that defence is no longer credible.