Why would you have a meeting if you weren't going to accomplish anything? Some of the G8 leaders must be feeling that way, and many pundits certainly are, as the recent G8 meeting in Italy concluded with more reminders of past failures than believable evidence of future hope.
The G8 is a summit for the leaders of the world's major industrialized democracies. But because it is an informal group without real power, the G8 summit has had a history of rambling on about what they intend to do, which sounds good at the time, but they rarely accomplish it. Technically, members of the G8 are under no obligation to be accountable to anyone. Therefore, the thoughts expressed could be best described as rhetoric.
It's troubling as the member countries espouse international policy that other nations depend on, and then fail to move toward those stated goals.
History of Inaction
Here are some examples:
- The 1992 summit expressed concern over excessive public deficits and rising levels of debt, but did nothing to reign it in, and have since allowed it to grow to the current levels.
- They urged North Korea not to withdraw from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in 1993. A lot of good that did.
- At the 1995 summit, the leaders expressed their desire for an improved early warning system to alert the United Nations to impending crises. While this was a good idea, nothing they did helped the people of Darfur or Zimbabwe. They also called for a list of reforms at the IMF and World Bank, but little or no significant progress was made. (Chances are you've heard of the IMF. But what does it do, and why is it so controversial? Read What Is The International Monetary Fund? to find out.)
- In 1997, as the Asian financial crisis erupted, they discussed the importance of avoiding exchange rates that could lead to another crisis – a day late and a dollar (few trillion dollars actually) short. Since then we've had a stock and credit crisis.
- In 1999, the G8 said they were going to relieve $100 billion of the debt of the poorest nations. When push came to shove, they didn't push the IMF or shove the World Bank to actually get it done.
- At its 2000 summit, G8 countries promised to reduce the number of HIV/AIDS-infected young people by 25% and the TB deaths and prevalence of the disease by 50%, both by 2010. But that did not materialize into funding and the next few G8 Summits did little but water those goals down. They also set goals to reduce the impact of malaria, another program that lacked funds in the end.
- In 2001, the G8 held the importance of increasing opportunities for trade in high regard. Yet by 2003, the talk turned into action and the WTO trade talks collapsed.
- In the 2005, the summit made a major pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010. But by 2008, estimates had a $40 billion shortfall.
Has Anything Changed?
The G8 has consistently failed to live up to its commitments. But this doesn't stop them from promising more. In this most recent summit, they pushed the agenda on climate change and agreed to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. They also announced a $20 billion investment in developing country agriculture to help with food supply security. Worthy goals to be sure.
So why would you have a meeting and not accomplish anything? You wouldn't. That's why they make promises. No world leader can leave a summit without an announcement of magnitude. And while these recent promises are good intentions sure to meet with mass appeal, one can't help but think that given the history of broken promises that these will disintegrate as well. So if they can't leave without an announcement, but the announcements don't mean anything, wouldn't we all be better off without the meeting in the first place? (For further reading, check out What Is The World Bank? and Re-evaluating Emerging Markets.)