The Japan G8 in 2008: a New Year's Resolution for delivery on the big questions?

With 2008 around the corner, the G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, Japan, looms large on the international development calendar as one of the key events.

This G8 Summit will be particularly significant because there are big issues on the international development agenda that require firm G8 commitments to be made in 2008; and yet the risk of not delivering on these agendas has never been higher. These issues include:

  • Climate change, where the recently concluded Bali International Conference could go only as far as committing to “a clear agenda for the key issues to be negotiated up to 2009”. These negotiations require the political and economic weight of the G8 leaders to deliver the required commitments for change.
  • The new and big ideas on economic growth and poverty reduction as developed in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2008 require G8 cooperation and firm decisions in order to go beyond the technical debates that are taking place in various capitals of the world.
  • The MDG midpoint has just passed, yet the levels of aid to developing countries have not significantly increased, except when counted together with aid to Iraq, Afghanistan and debt relief. A firm past-MDG-midpoint commitment is therefore required from the 2008 G8 in order to have a chance to meet the MDGs by 2015.
  • The aid quality questions, on the other hand, have often been left to technocratic debates and politically gone only as far as ministerial-level commitments. In 2008, the G8 Summit will be held just two months away from the Accra High Level Forum and there is great potential to have the G8 support this process.
  • Lastly, Africa, which has been on the G8 agenda since 2000 when Japan last chaired the G8, has continued to lag behind on progress towards meeting MDGs while Asia has made considerable strides during the same period. With Japan chairing the G8 again in 2008, there is an opportunity to develop firm commitments for the G8-Africa partnership, based on answers to big questions on why what has happened in Asia has not happened in Africa.

There is, however, a very real risk that these important agenda items will not be decisively dealt with at the summit.

The leaders of four of the eight G8 countries — Japan, UK, France and Russia — will be attending the summit as heads of government for the first time. These G8 “tenderfeet” are likely to be concerned with gaining traction at home before making strides on the international scene and are therefore likely to offer much less than would normally be expected from G8 meetings. Nicholas Bayne argues that historically the G8 is weakest at reconciling the domestic to the international agenda. The participation in the 2008 G8 Summit by so many new leaders coupled with the impending US Presidential Elections suggests that the 2008 G8 risks being the weakest to date when it comes to making big decisions.

One way to deal with this strategically would be to find an issue that each G8 leader could champion that resonates well with their politics at home. But what would this issue be, and why, on a case by case basis? Could the UK champion the growth and poverty reduction agenda as outlined by DFID Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Baroness Shriti Vadera? The US might be interested in the global credit crisis, while Russia might well want to continue with the energy debate started at the G8 in 2007.

Secondly, the policy dialogue framework that embodies Africa’s development relationship with the international community through the TICAD process is important in 2008. As a policy dialogue it has potential to explore deeper issues on Africa’s benefit from partnership with Asia and the international community, and what could be done differently. However, the TICAD IV agenda currently does not address the multitude of other frameworks of relationships with Africa, such as China’s ‘win-win’ partnership, that have emerged since the first TICAD in 2003—models of partnership with Africa that actually distract concentration away from a focused, ‘Africa-owned’ agenda for change that the G8 and TICAD processes are meant to promote.

The TICAD process raises other questions. For example, does working with civil society through the creation of the Civic Commission for Africa and TICAD Civil Society Forum offer a useful model for South–South citizen engagement that could be institutionalised in the existing mechanisms such as the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) of the African Union? The same would be explored in the private sector. ODI is currently supporting a group of CSOs and think tanks in Africa and Asia who represent a larger network of such organisations to share experiences and use research-based evidence to influence policies for the 2008 G8 Summit.

Perhaps the New Year is the time to start seriously considering how the international community can draw on strengths of non-state actors. As Douglas Alexander, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, acknowledges,

“… we need a global partnership for development that stretches beyond governments and politicians, to harness the talents of NGOs, businesses, faith groups, and concerned and committed citizens everywhere” .

20 December 2007
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