Originally posted to Instablogs (July 14, 2008)
The annual meetings of world leaders, the so-called G8 summits, are often criticized for raising high expectations, but delivering few practical results. Adding to this negative image is the very way the summits are conducted: held in secluded locations under heavy secret service protection, with sessions closed to the media, and with the leaders of the “industrialized” countries themselves performing tightly choreographed acts of “public” appearance for news conferences and photo-ops. Alluding to this year’s location of the summit (Hokkaido, Japan), one observer called G8 summits “Kabuki diplomacy.”
Apparently mindful of their awkward image as “Olympic gods”, the G8 leaders began opening the doors to the club – a bit … At the 2007 Heiligendamm summit in Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited the leaders of five “emerging economies”: India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, causing observes speak of a de facto “G8 + 5” format.
This year, invitations were extended to three “major trading nations”: Australia, South Korea, and Indonesia, resulting in a more complicated formula of “G8 + 5 + 3.” In fact, a total of 16 parties participated in the summit, as the European Union had sent its representative too.
Three major issues occupied the agenda of the summit: the world financial crisis, the food crisis, and energy security. Africa was also high on the agenda: the G8 has reiterated its commitment to double aid to the continent by 2010. A five-year plan was articulated to spend $60 billion to combat AIDS, malaria and other diseases. G8 leaders have also issued a strongly worded statement condemning the recent presidential election in Zimbabwe.
The summit has addressed the issue of rapidly increasing food prices around the world. Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev (this summit was his first) drew attention from his colleagues to the fact that, according to the World Bank, only a quarter of the growth in food prices can be accounted for by the increased consumption in large countries such as India and China, whereas the rest of the growth is caused by accelerating use of the biofuel. President Medvedev called for the speediest transition to more efficient types of biofuels that would prevent taking over agricultural field and facilities that are designed to produce food.
Russia also called for the so-called Grain Summit, which would discuss the reasons for the rise in grain prices and possible ways to stabilize them.
However, the major achievement of this year’s summit has been a joint communiqué declaring that the countries will “consider and adopt” a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This pledge, dubbed “50 by 2050”, is to become part of a new United Nations treaty – to be negotiated in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 – to replace the 1999 Kyoto Protocol.
Two aspects make this agreement especially meaningful. First, it was for the first time that the United States, the world’s major pollutant, has agreed to join other major industrialized countries in their efforts to reduce emissions.
President Bush came to office in 2000, while denying the very existence of climate change, and for years, he resisted committing to any numerical goals of emission reduction. At the 2007 summit in Germany, the United States was the only country that refused to adopt the 50 percent target. President Bush’s turnaround, being seven years late as it is, is a remarkable step forward. More encouraging, the two presidential candidates, Sens. Obama and McCain, have promised to consider even larger emission reductions than agreed upon by Bush.
Second, the G8 communiqué makes it clear that developing countries such as China and India, who are rapidly turning into major greenhouse-gas polluters, must be included in any climate change treaty.
For years, China and India have maintained that industrialized counties must bear the greatest burden of emission reduction. Even at the summit, the “big five” – India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – reiterated that the developed countries must “take the lead” on the issue. Yet, for the first time in history, they have agreed to take their share of responsibility and to commit to long-range cuts in emissions.