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The G-8 Summit

Author: Esther Pan
June 30, 2005
This publication is now archived.

What's on the G-8 Summit agenda?

Climate change and aid to Africa will be the top priorities at this year's Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, which will take place from July 6-8. These issues were selected by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country holds the G-8 presidency this year. The G-8 consists of the world's wealthiest industrialized countries--France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States--plus Russia. Representatives from the European Union, as well as finance ministers from South Africa, India, China, and Brazil, will also attend the meeting.

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Why did Blair choose to focus on climate change?

Scientists around the world have been raising alarms for years about incremental increases in the earth's temperature, which they attribute to human activity. Emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, rise into the earth's atmosphere and reflect the sun's heat back onto the planet, causing average global temperatures and sea levels to rise. Blair--whose government's chief scientist called climate change a more pressing threat than international terrorism--wants G-8 countries to take the lead on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

What is the Bush administration's position on the issue?

That the phenomenon of the earth's warming is not scientifically traceable to human activity, that future variations in climate are notoriously unpredictable, and that the economic pain that would be caused by strict limits on emissions is not justified. The U.S. government wants to focus on technological innovation to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which produce carbon dioxide when burned. G-8 countries account for some 47 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions; the United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, contributes about 25 percent of the world's total emissions. The G-8 Summit will also address the issue of greenhouse-gas production with countries like India and China, whose pollution levels are rising with their rapidly growing economies.

Is progress on this issue likely at the summit?

Some experts say no. Seven of the G-8 nations have signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which sets strict international limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and are attempting to meet its targets. The United States rejected the treaty, and Bush administration officials continue to question some of the science behind global warming. Blair's focus on climate change at the G-8 is likely an effort to press the United States on the issue, but the U.S. resistance is real and unlikely to change, experts say. American negotiators have reportedly weakened language addressing global warming in G-8 documents, and many expect the summit to produce no new action on the subject. "They'll work desperately to make it look like they've achieved something, but nothing will happen," says David Victor, director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

What is the debate over aid to Africa?

Blair and his chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, want the G-8 to agree on a plan to implement the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which include cutting global poverty in half, reducing child mortality by two-thirds, providing primary education for all children, and halting the spread of AIDS by 2015. Britain is urging G-8 countries to give 0.7 percent of their gross domestic products [GDPs] toward these goals, and Blair has embarked on a whirlwind round of shuttle diplomacy leading up to the conference to secure the agreement of G-8 finance leaders. However, Bush has resisted this plan, saying the United States already gives millions in aid around the world.

Africa is the special focus of this aid effort due to the dire need of many of its people. Africa is the only region of the world where average incomes are lower now than they were 30 years ago, according to U.N. statistics. Africa is home to 13 percent of the world's population, and nearly one-third of the people worldwide who live in extreme poverty, or on less than one dollar a day. Thirteen million Africans have already died of AIDS, and another 26 million are infected with the virus, a figure that increases daily.

What is the Bush approach?

His administration is focusing much of its attention on its own, new approach to international development, the Millennium Challenge Account, which ties development aid to anti-corruption and good governance measures in the recipient countries. On June 30, Bush proposed additional aid spending for Africa, including $1.2 billion to reduce malaria deaths, $55 million to improve legal protections for African women against violence and sexual abuse, and doubling the amount the United States spends on girls' education in Africa to $400 million. The United States gives 0.2 percent of its GDP in international aid each year, according to the Economist.

Are the two issues of Africa aid and climate change intertwined?

Yes. Experts say Africa is the continent most vulnerable to projected climate changes. Water levels across Africa have dropped by nearly a third since 1970, and 25 countries will suffer some sort of water shortage in the next two decades, according to a report from a coalition of environmental and aid organizations. Another report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says that 65 developing countries risk losing $56 billion in crops as a result of climate change, which could limit rainfall, flood low-lying areas, cause drought, and spread new animal diseases and plant pests.

Which other issues are under discussion at the summit?

They include the following:

  • Debt forgiveness for poor countries. Many poor nations spend crippling amounts of their national budgets to pay interest on international loans. Blair and Brown are pushing developed countries to forgive 100 percent of the debt owed by 62 developing countries to international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This effort, once seen as impossibly idealistic, has gained considerable momentum in the last few years. On June 11, in a pre-summit planning meeting with finance ministers, the G-7 countries (minus Russia) agreed to forgive the multilateral debt of 18 poor countries, mostly in Africa, in a deal worth some $40 billion. Critics point out, however, that this agreement covers only debt owed to international institutions, and not private lenders or national governments. They also say that any meaningful reform should include Western countries cutting domestic farm subsidies and lowering their trade barriers against African goods.
  • Securing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons material. In 2002, G-8 countries pledged $20 billion to dismantle nuclear weapons and help secure nuclear, chemical, and biological materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union. So far, the effort is still $3 billion short, and experts say it's important that G-8 countries keep their focus on securing dangerous materials and keeping them out of the hands of terrorists.
  • Terrorism. Experts on both sides of the Atlantic have been talking recently about the divide between how Europeans see terrorism--as essentially a law-enforcement issue best handled by the regular justice system--and how Americans view it, as an all-out war that requires a military approach. Experts say this disconnect has hampered cooperation on international cases.

--by Esther Pan, staff writer, cfr.org

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Primary Sources

IPCC Assessment Report

The main activity of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to publish regular reports on the state of knowledge about climate...