The G8 and development – what is the scorecard?

Andrew Norton
7 June 2013
Today is school-report day for the G8. As leaders prepare for their summit, which begins on 17 June, most of them will enjoy reading the Lough Erne Accountability Report. They get good marks on most subjects – and some friendly prompts to do better on others. If ODI researchers had been marking the tests behind the scores, we would have issued a somewhat lower – but still positive – assessment, along with some sharper reminders that there is room for progress.

The G8 accountability report is an important document, as it reviews delivery against summit commitment. Back in 2009 member countries committed to doing one every year to promote transparency, public debate and awareness about what it has done for development and poverty reduction.  It’s unusual in that it is a G8 self-assessment - this is the second one to attempt a comprehensive coverage of the whole range of commitments and actions (the first being in 2010; those from 2011 and 2012 were more selective).

Overall, the report provides a helpful overview. Reading it in what is often a somewhat cynical environment on international development cooperation, it is hard to avoid being impressed by what has been achieved. Over the past decade, the G8 has made a significant contribution to international cooperation on poverty reduction.  In 2005, the Gleneagles summit generated major new pledges on aid and debt relief. Subsequent summits produced commitments in areas ranging from child survival and maternal health, to education and food security. There is little question that the combined effect of G8 summits has been to generate resources for development that have saved lives, expanded opportunity and supported economic growth.  Furthermore the ‘Gleneagles moment’ was a real watershed in the UK – laying the foundations for a cross-party consensus on development action which has held together amazingly well.

ODI was invited to provide an independent commentary on the report– and our researchers welcomed the opportunity to engage on the G8 record on development, which we think is reasonably good. On balance, we also welcomed the attempt to impose some sort of order on a vast array of pledges, not all of which have been well framed.

It will be widely debated on the basis of evidence, which – even if open to question – is well presented. However, my colleagues and I also identified a number of weaknesses in the report. These included:

  • exaggerated claims for the delivery record in some key areas, notably education;
  • inconsistent and uneven benchmarking;
  • the use of benchmarks in some areas that are, at best, weakly related to the development goals endorsed by the G8, including those applied to food security and education;
  • failure to recognise trends that threaten to undermine past efforts, including reductions in aid in 2010/11;
  • the absence of benchmarks for individual donors, with aggregated conclusions obscuring marked differences between individual G8 members;
  • the use of divergent reporting standards by different donors; and
  • a failure to recognise that G8 policies in some areas (e.g. agricultural subsidies, support for biofuels, energy and trade) may undermine goals promoted through aid (e.g. food security, climate adaptation and inclusive growth in poor countries).

We recommend that before the next accountability report a comprehensive assessment should be made of the salience of the commitments for the overall outcome goals they are geared to achieving, resulting in a new framework for assessment. This should be geared to pushing forward G8 actions in areas where there is a clear impact for the better in international development. Commitments which are framed in ways that measure performance towards a target that no longer makes sense should be retired – whether or not the target in question has been achieved.

There are also a range of issues beyond aid where the G8 needs to show more leadership, if it is to continue to have a meaningful role in promoting poverty reduction and sustainable development – from climate change to international trade rules and biofuel mandates.  In some of its core areas of concern (for example, support to education) there is a bigger picture which is missing in the detail of the existing commitments. Is it really credible for the G8, which accounts for some 70% of international aid, to set a performance benchmark for aid to education that represents less than 2% of the estimated financing needed to get all children into basic education?

 Similarly, the agenda on governance needs more realism and broader political leadership. This will be best achieved through wider global political mechanisms, such as the G20 and the post-2015 framework. We welcome the focus at Lough Erne on key issues for development beyond aid: particularly the agendas around increasing developing country tax revenues through measures to counter tax evasion and avoidance, and to help countries to benefit more from (and avoid risks from) investment in extractive industries and land.  There is rich promise here if the issues are well framed, and if commitments are well targeted and meaningful.

The next comprehensive accountability report will be due in 2015, when we can expect to see two highly relevant global processes bearing fruit:

  • The final definition of the post-2015 set of development goals and targets – hopefully along with a dedicated and capable UN machinery to drive forward national policy dialogue around the goal set and energised, effective global, national and local monitoring.
  • A comprehensive global climate pact to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and provide robust assistance to climate adaptation in the poorest countries – to be agreed at the November COP.

This would provide an excellent moment for the G8 and the G20 to reflect on the place each forum should occupy within these critical global projects.

Andrew Norton