The G8 has taken a battering over the past few days. On Monday, the Africa agenda stalled with little in the way of creative initiatives. On Tuesday, the communiqué on the world economy on seemed divorced from the economic volatility so wide-spread in the G8 economies and beyond. No mention was made at all on such key issues as the subprime mortgage crisis. The image was that of an economy ticking along quite fine, with the only specter on the horizon being looming inflation. The separate meeting of the self-labeled G5 of emerging powers (China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa), held off-site at Sapporo, also accentuated the image of the G8 being on the defensive. In the G5 Political Declaration – released late in the day – little mention was made of the G8, with priority given to the older agenda based on solidarity of select countries from the South.
Today, the third and final day puts the summit in a better light. The G8 commitment on Africa was reinterpreted with a more positive shine. After the draft communiqué left out the promised figure from the Gleneagles 2005 summit – new aid to the tune of $50 billion with $25 billion of that figure going to Africa – the final text did contain the original amount. Although NGOs such as Oxfam and ONE remained highly critical of the summit for its laggardness on the health agenda, it did give credit to the G8 on several counts. One was the agreement to expand the number of health workers in developing countries to a World Health Organization recommend minimum level of 2.3 per 1000 people. The G8 agreed as well to progress reports at the 2009 Italian summit on education and on water.
After a frustrating first day of talks between the G8 and the group of ‘outreach’ African countries on Zimbabwe, the revisiting of this issue on Wednesday in closed session allowed the appearance of a more coherent if more narrowly constituted approach. Russia was persuaded (largely it seems to show that it was a good club member amidst all the talk of Russian regression to a managed democracy) to go along with the decision to move towards targeted sanctions against the Mugabe regime.
An even bigger advance came on the highly controversial issue of climate change with regard to the serious consideration of halving CO2 emissions by 2050. The details of the deal of course are still fraught with all sorts of difficulties including no start date, compliance mechanisms nor mid-term targets. Yet, amidst the skepticism, a number of positives jump out. Whereas U.S. President Bush and Russian President Medvedev resisted setting the “50/50” target at the 2007 Heiligendamm summit, in 2008 they were pushed onside with the G8 consensus.
However the negotiations on emissions play out, the die has been cast, encompassing both the G8 and the G5, or alternatively another variation of the Major Economies (or emitters) stretching the partners up to an evenly matched 8 and 8. China and India in particular have stuck to the argument that they release far lower emissions than the G8 countries on a per capita basis, and that in any case they have been victims of industrial emissions over a longer time span.
Nonetheless, for all the technical and political obstacles a tentative new compact is beginning to look a likely option. This will mean a trade off between the big emerging countries – and especially the G5 countries – taking on greater modes of responsibility for CO2 emissions along with the G8. But in return they will be given accentuated forms of representation at the apex of power. Already the Italian government has indicated that both climate change and the G5 will be given a larger role at the 2009 summit. Not only will the G5 be invited to the second day but they will also be invited as part of the morning of the third day. These representational questions remain a work in progress. However, with the other forms of progress made in the functional arena, this move signals that the G8 still remains the barometer for the reorientation of global governance architecture.