Those who expect little from the annual Group of 8 summit are seldom disappointed. Though the member countries are all democracies (Russia’s peculiar version of the concept notwithstanding) with industrialized economies and many common interests, the stars seldom align to produce eight leaders who can agree on the solution to any world problem.
There was, however, one recent exception: In 2005, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair led a successful drive to pressure rich nations to boost their aid to poor ones. The result was a commitment by G-8 members to double their aid to Africa by 2010, an increase of $25 billion.
Sadly, this week’s summit in Hokkaido, Japan, could mark the official breaking of that promise. International news reports said the draft version of this year’s final communique -- the document that will sum up the accomplishments of the world leaders, including President Bush, at the close of the gathering Wednesday -- dropped the aid target set in 2005. Few countries have shown any sign that they intend to meet it anyway.
Rising prices for food and oil have taken center stage this year, overshadowing issues such as international development and climate change. It’s no surprise that G-8 members are guarding their checkbooks more closely amid all the uncertainties. Yet the same economic forces that are unsettling leaders in Europe, Russia, Japan and North America are only increasing the need for help in Africa and the developing world.
G-8 leaders are struggling with a series of problems that are deeply interconnected. Rising fuel costs are linked with rising food costs, because some rich countries (led by the United States) are converting grain into motor fuel. High oil prices also create pressures to open more places to drilling, which would encourage oil consumption and worsen climate change. Global warming, meanwhile, produces droughts, diseases, floods and other catastrophes that hurt economies and destroy crops -- thus encouraging high food prices and raising the threat of starvation in poor countries.
Bush and his cohorts in Toyako can be forgiven if they fail to fix all this by Wednesday. They can’t be forgiven, though, for forcing poor countries to pay the full price of their shortsighted policies. G-8 members are the source of many of the problems afflicting the developing world; our farm subsidies, ethanol policies, coal-fired power plants, SUVs and wasteful habits are ruining livelihoods overseas. The very least we can do is to keep our promises to help undo some of the damage.