G8 falls short on Africa aid, environment

The Group of Eight (G8) countries concluded their Gleneagles, Scotland, meeting July 8 amidst much fanfare surrounding their consensus on global warming and aid to Africa, but anti-poverty and environmental activists were less than impressed with the outcome.

The G8 — Britain, France, the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan, the eight richest countries in the world — for the first time elevated the tragedy of African poverty and global warming to the main issues discussed, and invited participation from lesser-developed “southern” nations, including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

On developmental questions, the leaders agreed to cancel the debts to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the African Development Fund for 18 of the world’s poorest nations. The G8 also pledged $50 billion per year until 2010 for development, much of which would go to African nations.

This marks a step forward, according to Jubilee 2000, a worldwide organization seeking debt relief for poor nations, though its leaders, and many others, are quick to point out that they consider the agreement to be deeply flawed.

“It is a testament to the efforts of people of faith and conscience across the U.S. and globally, as well as their allies in governments,” they said in a statement. “It is clear that the G8 would not have taken up this issue without pressure and public attention.”

The agreement, according to Jubilee 2000, falls short in many ways: to receive the debt cancellation, the nations must agree to burdensome economic terms; only 18 nations are covered as of now, and the next 20 nations that could receive debt forgiveness may not be able to receive them for a decade; and the debt cancellation does not cover certain other lending agencies, such as the Inter-American Development Bank.

Developing nations have been hurt by globalization, and had pushed for the creation of a fair trade mechanism. This was not addressed in the meeting. An editorial in the Chinese People’s Daily spoke of “rich countries, who … on the one hand offer assistance to African countries, like philanthropists, while on the other hand plunder wealth dozens of times as much as their assistance through unfair trade, leaving African countries struggling in more and more serious poverty.”

Also, many argue, the amount of direct aid pledged is a paltry sum. The amount of direct aid pledged is even smaller than what G8 countries have already agreed to — spending 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product on direct aid. If the U.S. alone honored that agreement, it would provide nearly $70 billion per year. Currently, the U.S. donates about 0.17 percent.

Environmentalists contend that even less progress was made on the global warming side of the debate. The main “success” reported is a recognition by the Bush administration that global warming is an urgent, human-made problem. However, Bush has refused to do anything about it, they say.

Currently, the United States makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet creates 25 percent of the pollution that causes global warming. While 141 nations have signed on to the Kyoto treaty, which requires nations to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the U.S. has repeatedly refused to do so. Though the treaty went into effect Feb. 16, 2005, its effectiveness will be limited by the absence of the U.S.

“For the U.S. to say that even though we continue to be the biggest polluter we’re not going to do anything, I don’t think that’s a morally sound argument for the president to be making, and it’s an embarrassment for all Americans,” Jessica Coven, spokesperson for Greenpeace USA told the World.

“The World Health Organization right now estimates that already 150,000 people are dying each year because of climate change,” Coven said. “It was an opportunity to rejoin the world in trying to protect the climate and the environment. Instead Bush continued to turn his back on the world.”