What Is G8 and What Has it Achieved?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Abdolreza Ghofrani

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The group of 8 industrialized countries (G8) held its annual meeting July 7-9, 2008 in the resort area of Hokkaido (at Lake Toya) near Tokyo.

The G8 heads of state at the closing session, issued a lengthy communiqué that addressed all the issues and challenges of their concern, albeit they have offered solutions to the current global problems, calling for the cooperation of all nations and international organizations.

The annual G8 leaders' summit is usually attended by eight of the world's most powerful heads of government. Nevertheless, many analysts have so far suggested that a G-8 summit is not the forum for elaboration on the details of any difficult or controversial policy issues in a three-day event.

Rather, the meeting offers an opportunity to bring a range of complex and sometimes inter-related issues into focus or as one scholar has put it, “The G8 summit brings leaders together not so they can work out quick fixes, but to talk and think about them together”.

The problems and challenges of interests of this group did take root from the oil crisis and subsequent global recession in 1973. In that year the idea of a forum for world's industrialized powers or in the words of some scholars, the major industrialized democracies emerged.

In 1974 the United States created 'the Library Group', an informal one combining senior financial officials from the US, UK, West Germany, Japan and France.

In 1975, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, invited the leaders from West Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US to a summit in Rambouillet.

With the end of Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia became the successor of the former communist regime, and after 1994's G7 summit in Naples, Russia initially held separate bilateral talks with the leaders of G7.

From that time forward that group for sometime was named political 8 (P8) or G7+1. However, acting on the initiative of the UK and US in 1997 Russia, formally joined the group and this forum was dubbed 'The G8'. As it was decided that the President of the European Union Commission participate in the 34th session and naturally all summit meetings, this forum is also called G9.

Altogether, the G8 countries represent 65% of the gross world product and the majority of global military power (seven of them accounted for top military expenditures in the world and all of them possess the world active nuclear arsenals).

In spite of G8's so called non-binding statements issued at the closing sessions of the summit, certainly given the member states' deep influence on global security, technology, climatology, financial and agricultural contexts, no one may deny that even these non-binding decisions taken by the leaders of the forum cannot be downplayed or ignored.

Although a wide variety of issues have been addressed in the Hokkaido summit that have reflected in the final communiqué, there are two topics that are of great importance; climate change and the food crisis.

As we are all aware nearly 40% of the whole greenhouse gases emitted by these countries has had a key impact on climate change. Therefore, the reduction of greenhouse gases for solving the problem of climate change is ultimately depends on the decisions and actions of these countries.

Fortunately, in the Hokkaido summit, this issue has been well addressed. The leaders have confirmed the significance of the problem and its adverse effects on environment.

Therefore, they have decided to encourage the continuation of scientific endeavors aimed at climate protection. Their firm conviction to combat climate change is a positive step so far taken by this group.

To achieve this objective, the leaders have declared that common determination of all major economies will be necessary. Although the appropriate timefront for achieving the goal, which is halving the global greenhouse gas emission by 2050, is not somewhat too realistic at this level it is encouraging.

Because at least they are determined to avoid the increase of greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise will deteriorate global climate and environment and make solving the problem much more difficult.

Besides, climate change and naturally the environment have proven to have profound effects on global economic growth, particularly the developing world.

This certainly will have dire consequences on the security of the latter and will create crisis that will not help the global stability. As an analyst has put it, “The defining idea behind the G-8 is that all its members confront global challenges and work together to meet them. But this forum is being greatly tested by decisions it takes and the action makes ….tomorrow's crises have arrived, and they are intertwined. The food shortage is caused partly by oil prices and global climate change. And the addiction of industrial countries to carbon-based fuels has the world's climate at a disastrous tip point…..”

Another critical global issue that was discussed by the heads of state and referred to in their final communiqué was the food crisis. This problem is gaining critical and serious global dimensions.

Recognizing this crisis and its disastrous consequences unless a long-term solution is worked out made the leaders to dream up plans for the problem. Therefore, Japan has been particularly serious about keeping the G-8's 2005 promises made at the 2005 G-8 summit meeting for aid to Africa, to deliver $50 billion annually by 2010 for African development and for the fight against malaria, AIDS, and other diseases.

This a good step taken by this group particularly in a continent worst affected by starvation and hunger. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that this move, though timely and commendable, is just a partial solution to the worldwide food crisis that calls for a wide-ranging remedy.

It is quite true that no global problem can be viewed in an isolated way. We have all seen over the past two decades that globalization has gained wider dimensions, therefore any crisis erupted or instability created in a remote part of the world, has also affected other regions and any event is like a bomb when exploded the surroundings will not be immune from its shrapnel.

Fortunately the participation of a group of developing nations, Brazil, China, Africa, India, Mexico and South Africa (referred to as the Outreach 5 -05 - or Plus 5 ) initiated by some G8 members, has been a positive gesture in the performance of the forum and its globalize vision.

It has laid the grounds for exchanging views with developing countries and reaching common visions on global problems through interaction with Outreach 5. Moreover, in this way, the developing world can influence the suggestions and decisions of the advanced industrial powers to address the global problems.

Hence, it is quite relevant to ask that since these developing nations (or emerging developed economies) have joined this club, what have they actually done and what has their participation helped achieve?

Definitely, it should not have been limited just to statements and paying lip services to solving global problems. Being aware of the developing world's dilemmas and taking stock of the experiences of participating in these meetings, they should now share the visions developing countries have for solving the problems and challenges.

As a whole, the question remains to be raised as to what benefits the PLUS5 has gained.

The G8 group with PLUS 5 also needs to offer more support to the United Nations and its affiliated agencies. Over sixty years of activity and having 192 members and being backed by tens of small and large agencies specialized in all political, economic, social and cultural fields, this world body is a good venue for advancing the goals of all countries and groups of countries such as G8 and Outreach 5 .

Having great experience and expertise for decades and being in close contacts with all nations with different cultures, the United Nations can expedite achieving their goals. Therefore, it greatly deserves to be supported more by all forums and groups, and certainly G8 and PLUS 5 are no exceptions.

The Author is a senior international and economic expert.


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