Overshadowed by terrorism, G-8 summit still secures debt relief

It was meant to be the summit that would take on poverty and climate change. But ultimately it was another global threat - terrorism - which overshadowed last week's summit of the world's richest eight nations.

G-8 leaders signed a series of accords and initiatives on the environment, and on aid and debt relief for poor countries.

But it was the London bombings which dominated the summit of leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States, briefly interrupting discussions and distracting attention from the final outcome.

Summit host and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wanted 2005 to be the breakthrough year in the battle against both global poverty and global warming, said that the meeting at Gleneagles proved that the G-8 was seeking to spread hope and save life, while terrorists did the opposite.

"All of this does not change the world tomorrow," he said. "It is a beginning not an end. But it has a pride and a hope and a humanity at its heart that can lift the shadow of terrorism and light the way to a better future."

But aid and development experts said the announced measures fell well short of the quantum leap needed to spring poor countries into a new trajectory out of poverty, disease, and decline. They said the measures would not enable the rich world to match up to the UN's Millennium Development Goals, a pact made five years ago to halve world poverty by 2015.

The following catalog the broad agreements reached and analysts' verdicts:

Debt relief

The G8 confirmed its plan, unveiled last month, to write off the debts owed by 18 poor countries to multilateral lenders like the World Bank and IMF. No new initiatives were disclosed. Debt campaigners welcomed the accords, but said more than 40 additional countries also urgently needed debt relief.

Aid

Mr. Blair did manage to get his peers to double development aid - to some $50 billion by 2010. He admitted this was just the beginning, and would not immediately eradicate poverty in Africa. Some campaigners, notably the ubiquitous Bob Geldof were impressed. But others noted that some of the increase has already been announced under separate deals, and were dismayed at the five year delay until the magical figure is reached.

"The people have roared but the G-8 has whispered," said Kumi Naidoo of the pressure group Global Call to Action Against Poverty. "The promise to deliver by 2010 is like waiting five years before responding to the tsunami."

ActionAid fretted that less than half of the increase was actually new money.

The G-8 also promised to strive for universal access to treatments for deadly diseases like HIV/Aids and malaria.

U2 singer Bono commented: "600,000 Africans, mostly children, will remember this G-8 summit at Gleneagles because they will be around to remember this summit, and they wouldn't have otherwise."

The G-8 also earmarked $3 billion to help the Palestinian Authority take control of Gaza when Israel withdraws later this summer.

Trade

Though unfair trade rules are often cited as the biggest barrier to growth and sustainability for poor countries, the G-8 came up with little new here, apart from promises to establish a "credible end date" for a trade agreement to eliminate export subsidies.

"On trade they have come up with nothing," says Peter Hardstaff, head of policy for the World Development Movement, an independent international anti-poverty and trade justice movement.

"They have sent a message to the rest of the world that thy have no intention of taking unilateral action to stop damaging trade policies, and they'll make sure they get something in return from poor countries. This is asking not what we can do for the poor but what the poor can do for us."

Climate change

Stark differences between the US, which has not signed the Kyoto protocol, and the other countries which have, were clear. There were calls for more energy efficiency, increasing use of renewables, and support for research and development into new energy technologies. There was also a commitment to a new series of talks on climate change that would bring big polluters America and China into the fold, and Blair called for a conference on Nov. 1 to assess progress.

"The G-8 have failed to deliver a meaningful action plan that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Simon Retallack of the Institute for Public Policy Research in London.

"Without targets and timetables that will lead to binding limits of climate-change emissions, you will not achieve the large scale deployment of low-carbon technology," he adds.

"There is nothing to drive the deployment of these new technologies. There isn't a single dollar sign in those texts."

Summing up the meeting, Blair acknowledged that some would be disappointed.

But he said that the nature of international negotiations was about incremental steps, not quantum leaps. "It isn't all everyone wanted, but it is progress."

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