The G8: What Did We Get & Where Do We Go From Here?

Published: 1 November 2005

It was, as everyone agreed, not an end but a beginning. The outcome of the G8 Summit was not the momentous breakthrough we had hoped for. But as campaigners to make poverty history recuperate, we should recognize that because of the millions who called on the G8 to act, something remarkable did happen in Gleneagles.

Op-ed from Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam Great Britain

It was, as everyone agreed, not an end but a beginning. The outcome of the G8 Summit was not the momentous breakthrough we had hoped for. But as campaigners to make poverty history recuperate, we should recognize that because of the millions who called on the G8 to act, something remarkable did happen in Gleneagles.

Never before has a G8 summit been dominated by the interests of the poorest countries. Never have the deliberations addressed the full breadth of Africa's challenges. Never has the outcome of a G8 been so much in the balance until such a late stage in the meeting. In these three ways, Gleneagles was unprecedented - a tribute to the extraordinary pressure created by campaigners from around the world, not least the quarter of a million people I joined in a march around Edinburgh days earlier. Their voices shook the Gleneagles Hotel - and the reverberations will be felt in St Petersburg next year and in summits after that. A new standard has been set.

But this alone, of course, is not enough. What did the G8 actually deliver? One thing is sure - lives will be saved and lives transformed because of the steps taken at Gleneagles and in the finance ministers' discussions that preceded it. Oxfam estimates that Gleneagles added an extra $14bn a year to previous aid pledges, to be phased in over the next five years. That means millions of children in school who otherwise would not be, and life-saving medicines for millions more who would not have them.

The cancellation of debts owed to multilateral institutions by 18 countries – and up to 20 more in the next five years - opens for the first time the chance that those countries will finally be able to put the needs of their people before the demands of their creditors.

And the pledge to try to get universal access to AIDS treatment to all who need it by 2010 will give hope to those facing the loss of parents or children to the disease, as long as the funding is forthcoming.

The support for African Union peacekeeping, the Palestinian Territories, and accountability of African leaders through the peer review mechanism are other welcome steps.

Bolder steps needed

So the disappointment of this summit is not that nothing was achieved. No previous G8 meeting has done as much. But neither the sense of urgency required in the fight against poverty, nor the historic potential of Gleneagles were truly grasped by the G8. The bolder steps that leaders should have taken last week now form the checklist of changes needed in the months ahead.

We wanted a bigger increase in aid. What was agreed in Gleneagles will not be enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving world poverty and radically improving the life chances of the poor. And the money needs to be delivered sooner. Phasing the full increases through till 2010 will cost millions of lives.

Both rich and developing countries need to keep their promises. The G8 has a worrying track record of failing to deliver on their ringing declarations. If the money does materialize then the next challenge is to ensure it gets to the right people in the right form. Investment in central and local governments is critical to ensure they have the capacity and resources to properly administer increased aid flows – to do otherwise would be to put the cart before the horse.

Aid quality also needs drastic improvement and must be truly focused on the poorest people and countries and not simply used as a tool of foreign policy or a slush fund for Western Consultants. Donor countries must not festoon aid with intrusive conditions which harm developing country economies. Predictability in the delivery of funds is important to enable recipient governments to plan and budget for projects.

Debt cancellation must be extended to more countries - Kenya, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are among those who need immediate action but are not covered by current plans.

Critical moments are still ahead

And, perhaps most importantly, rich countries must now get serious about trade justice. Gleneagles failed on trade, offering less to developing countries even than has been promised in the WTO. The powerful nations must support the right of all developing countries to determine their own trade policies in accordance with their development needs. Rich country leaders should set an end date for export subsidies of 2010 at the latest and agree to reform their domestic subsidies that distort trade. They should open their markets, without expecting immediate reciprocal action from poor countries. Investment in basic infrastructure like rural roads, transport and ports is essential to allow developing countries to take advantage of the potential benefits of trade, as is the chance for developing countries to add value to their products through processing, without facing escalating tariff barriers.

This to-do list will require strong commitment from leaders to build on what was agreed in Gleneagles and go much further. History shows that success at the G8 requires issues to return year after year, until the political obstacles are cleared away and progress becomes possible. Russia chairs the G8 next year, and Germany in 2007. They must not abandon Africa.

Meanwhile huge moments remain in 2005. The UN Millennium Review summit in September and the process towards the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in December will be critical. The voices of millions of people around the world calling for action will need to be heard again. If world leaders are willing to meet the high expectations of campaigners worldwide, 2005 could yet be the year that saw the steps necessary to make poverty history. Gleneagles was a beginning. It could and should have been more than that. But the end is still within our reach.