G8 set to tackle hunger in Africa

Today, 8 July, world leaders will gather in the earthquake-devastated town of L’Aquila in Italy for the G8 summit hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The 2009 G8 Meeting of Finance Ministers, held in Italy
The 2009 G8 Meeting of Finance Ministers, held in Italy

Today, 8 July, world leaders will gather in the earthquake-devastated town of L’Aquila in Italy for the G8 summit hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He will be joined by US President Barack Obama, who is also visiting Moscow and will be flying on to Ghana.

The development of Africa is a key part of the G8 summit agenda, following pledges by world leaders at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005 to increase aid, which were reaffirmed at the G20 London summit in April.

President Obama is expected to reveal a major initiative to boost agricultural development and prevent hunger in Africa, worth perhaps $3bn (£1.8bn) to $5bn, at the summit.

In a report, the charity Action Aid says that a billion people are still hungry in the world today, and that despite the drop in food prices it is still a key issue for many developing countries.

And it says that the percentage of foreign aid spent on agriculture has “been in freefall” in the last 25 years and the remainder is “poorly targeted and coordinated”.

It cites calculations from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, based in Rome, which suggests that another $30bn in additional investment will be needed to get smallholder agriculture working again on a sustainable basis.
Financial crisis
Action Aid says that only $5bn of the $10bn pledged at the last G8 summit for the food crisis has been disbursed, and warns that it could worsen in the next two years, as the financial crisis pushes another 200 million people into poverty.

Italy has come under particular fire from anti-poverty campaign group One, set up by the artist and campaigner Bono after the Gleneagles summit, for missing its aid targets.

The global response to the financial crisis will also form a key part of the G8 deliberations, although many key decisions may be postponed until the next G20 summit in Pittsburgh in the US in September.

But Professor John Kirton of the University of Toronto, who tracks the G8 summits, argues that “crises tend to bring the best out of G8s”.

The issues to be discussed include detailed plans on how to reform the banks so as to prevent the next crash, and more details of how toxic assets will be cleaned up from the sector - especially in Europe, which has not published its “stress tests” that would reveal which banks need more capital.

he US is also likely to renew its call for more fiscal stimulus by Europe, particularly in 2010, when the recession may be deeper in the EU than in the US.

And there may be more talk of how to strengthen the role of the new Financial Stability Board, and further calls for reform of the so-called Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank and the IMF.

In a Chatham House briefing paper, Eric Helleiner has suggested that the G8 summit should consider how to reduce the over-representation of European nations in the voting structure of the IMF, which is the key obstacle to giving a bigger role to developing countries in those institutions.

China - which will attend the meeting as an observer - is also expected to renew its call for an international currency to replace the dollar’s dominance in world markets.

Meeting earlier, G8 finance ministers said they detected some hopeful signs in the world economy, and there also likely to be a vigorous discussion on how to unwind the massive financial interventions and reduce the huge budget deficits that have been caused by the downturn.

Climate change
Another major topic on the summit agenda is climate change, ahead of the key meeting at Copenhagen in December which will decide on what sort of climate change treaty will replace the Kyoto agreement which expires in 2012.

A key object of the negotiations is to bring on board both the US and the major emerging market countries China and India into any new agreement.

The Obama administration has taken a very different line from its predecessor and is now actively engaged in the negotiations, although its climate change bill was watered down in Congress and now only has a modest 17% target for reduced emissions by 2020.

Gordon Brown has proposed that the world should provide a $60bn fund to help developing countries adopt green technology, although campaigners suggest the fund should be at least $150bn to have a chance of convincing them to join the new treaty.

With a number of developing countries attending the summit, it will be a chance for some informal negotiations on this issue, where the US and developing countries still appear to be deadlocked.

Foreign affairs
The summit is not just about the economy.
Key foreign policy challenges, and in particular maintaining a united front in relation to Iran and the recent elections, will also play an important part of the proceedings.

And the meeting will encompass a wider group of world leaders than ever before.

Not to be outdone by the G20 summit, Silvio Berlusconi says the summit will encompass leaders representing 90% of the global economy, with 40 countries and international organisations expected to attend.

These include not only the big developing countries which have traditionally been invited, such as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico, but also a number of leaders from Africa, including Nigeria and Egypt, and the leaders of some smaller European countries such as Spain. Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

And it could lead to a permanent change in the format.
“The summit in L’Aquila will make clear that the G8 format is no longer adequate,” according to German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The G20 summit may have begun an informal process of widening the scope of global government.

If the G8 summits are not to lose their relevance, it is clear at least to the Italians that they also have to continue that trend.

The G8 countries are the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, France, Canada and Russia. BBC


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