G-8 summit disappoints many, but not Berlusconi

Italy's leader deemed the event a logistical 'miracle' after a last-minute change of venue. But critics decried lack of concrete progress on climate change, Iran, and trade.

As the Group of Eight summit wrapped up Friday, the assessment of what it had achieved was rather less bright than the sun shining on the rugged peaks overlooking this Italian mountain city.

The three-day gathering brought together the leaders of nearly 40 nations, together with 3,500 journalists, with security provided by a small army: 15,000 Italian police and soldiers, backed up by helicopters and even unmanned aerial drones.

The summit tackled an ambitious range of global issues, from world trade and hunger to regional conflicts like Afghanistan. But as world leaders left the drab police barracks that have been their home since Wednesday, there was concern that despite Italy's colossal organizational efforts, the event had failed to produce much of substance.

The G-8 countries had squandered "an historic opportunity" to commit to midterm cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, said Greenpeace, as activists in inflatable boats painted the words "G-8: Failed" on the side of a coal ship in the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome.

The G-8 nations – US, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia – committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 but foundered in their attempts to bring major developing economies such as China and India on board with climate change initiatives. The only thing developed and developing nations could agree on was that the world must not be allowed to warm more than two degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

But climate experts and environmental groups said that even a two-degree rise in Celsius temperatures would wreak havoc on agriculture, ecosystems, and ice caps. The lack of progress earned an unusually robust rebuke from the UN's Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

"The policies that they have stated so far are not enough, not sufficient enough," he said. "We must work according to the science. This is politically and morally imperative."

The failure to find common ground underlined the huge challenge which looms ahead as the world tries to build a new climate change treaty at a meeting in Copenhagen in December. The new agreement would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"A massive opportunity to show leadership and ambition has been missed here," says Paul Cook, director of Tearfund, a Christian relief and development agency based in Britain. "Ambitious goals for 2020 emissions targets have sunk without trace and the financial bone of contention still remains."

He said rich countries needed to set short-term targets, and would have to do better at the G-20 summit of major economies in Pittsburgh in September.

Statement on Iran, but no sanctions

There had been speculation that the leaders would impose sanctions on Iran for the post-election crackdown the government carried out, but in the end they only issued a statement in which they "deplored" the violence.

Leaders pledged $20 billion over three years – $5 billion more than had been expected – in farm aid to help poor nations feed themselves, with the US pushing for a shift away from food handouts and toward greater self sufficiency.

"The United States produces maize and some crops and sends it to people in famine, but the new conception is to produce these crops in Africa and not in the United States," said Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade.

It was not clear how much of the $20 billion was new funding and how much each country would give.

"Is this all really new money?" asked Otive Igbuzor of British charity ActionAid. "Given the G-8's record on delivery, this is still very much a work in progress."

ActionAid issued a score card on the G-8's achievements, awarding the summit 5/10 on food security but a dismal 1/10 on climate change and 0/10 on trade. On that front, the G-8 agreed to resist demands within their countries for protectionism and to conclude the Doha round of trade negotiations next year.

A logistical 'miracle'

While the outcomes of the G-8 were widely judged a disappointment, the actual organization of the event proved to be a triumph for host Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister.

Three months ago, L'Aquila was hit by a massive earthquake which killed 300 people, left around 50,000 homeless, and reduced the city's medieval centre to a rubble-strewn disaster zone.

Despite the area being hit by repeated aftershocks, Mr. Berlusconi made the controversial decision to shift the G-8 from its intended venue, an island off Sardinia, to L'Aquila to focus international attention on the city's plight.

In the end, Mr Berlusconi's extraordinary gamble – placing a meeting of the world's most powerful leaders in a disaster zone – paid off, with no major mishaps or the sort of antiglobalization violence that marred the 2001 G-8 in Genoa.

"We pulled off a miracle," the premier beamed at a press conference in front of the world's press.

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