The 34th G8 Summit – High Expectations, Disappointing Results

Posted in Other | 15-Jul-08 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"Such a huge event raises expectations that the summit cannot meet."

The 34th G8 Summit took place in Toyako on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, from July 7 – 9 2008. The public and media echo makes it obvious: The G8 Summit has reached a strategic crossroads. There is no alternative to a change. The summit of the world’s most industrialized countries started in 1975 as the G6 Summit – following a French initiative. The summit was intended to offer an unofficial forum for the heads of state to discuss worldwide relevant issues – mainly economic. The summit was not seen as an official decision-making body and it received only a low level of attention from the public and the media.

The “founding nations” – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – were joined by Canada (1976) and Russia (1994) and later by the president of the European Commission. Since 1975, the world has changed dramatically and so the character of the G8 Summit and the public perception. Inviting guests from – e.g. China, India and Africa – widened the scope of later summits.

The summits have changed their character and structure. Nowadays, the summits are huge media and public events. Thousands of journalists, representatives of state and non-governmental organizations and demonstrators – including militants – travel to the summit location. Hundreds of millions follow the event on TV. Extensive security measures bother the local residents and the visitors as well. It goes without saying that such a huge event raises expectations that the summit cannot meet. There is no way that the G8 Summit can come to decisions across the board – binding not just the participating nations, but the whole world as well.

It comes as no surprise that there is a lot of disappointment after the summit. Two of the most pressing issues in the world today – energy and food supply - were not on the official agenda. The most prominent issues on the official agenda were Africa and global warming. The G8 leaders promised to double aid for Africa to US $25 billion by 2010. On the topic of global warning, the G8 leaders agreed on the need for the world to cut carbon emissions blamed for global warning by at least 50 percent by 2050. The heads of state from China and India refrained from joining this very vague promise. Critical voices miss intermediate objectives with clearly defined upper limits.

Many observers agree that the current system of G8 summits has been driven into a deadlock. What are the options?

1) The summits could go back to square one. They could go back to small informal meetings to discuss all topics of worldwide interest. Those meetings in remote areas would have a value in itself. To meet each other personally in a relaxed atmosphere – like in a British club – would provide the opportunity to improve personal relations. It might support crisis prevention and crisis management if the leaders know the person who speaks on the other end of the telephone. It’s obvious that the public and the media would not accept this option. They ask for openness and transparency. They distrust meetings behind closed doors.

2) The G8 Summit should take in more nations as full members – not as guests. This option opens a wide range of candidates. China and India would be the first to be taken in – no discussion. Then would come Brazil as the last “BRIC-state” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – some discussion. What about the Republic of South Africa and Mexico? What about Indonesia and ……..?

This extension would pay tribute to the changed world. These leaders would represent far more than half of the world’s population. And – they should discuss and decide on behalf of their nations, inviting the rest of the world to follow. The United Nations should see this new body as supportive and not as an opponent. In its present structure, the UN does not have the efficiency and the power to play a similar role in world affairs as a G8-plus should and could do.

There is one pre-condition for success: A G8-plus summit needs a permanent staff structure with a temporary secretary general to supervise the implementation decisions and to prepare professionally the next summit.

In his newsletter, Ioannis Michelatos, WSN expert on energy security addresses the deficits of the 2008 G8 Summit regarding the three crisis areas of energy, global warming and food. For him it is obvious that there is no timeout in tackling these issues. He comes up with clear recommendations on what should be done – now.