Tracking G8 accountability: hype vs. substance

  • June 22, 2010
G8 LogoTORONTO - G8 countries have issued themselves a glowing report card complimenting themselves on how "The G8 has acted as a force for positive change and its actions have made a difference in addressing global challenges."

However, an independent academic assessment of G8 performance and comments by aid agencies and activists from poor countries aren't quite so kind.

Canada has lost its traditional second place ranking in the G8 Research Group analysis, keeping just 17 of 24 commitments it made at the last G8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy.

On the other hand, the "Muskoka Accountability Report" assembled by bureaucrats from the G8 nations takes a mostly positive view of how well the summiteers have kept their promises.

"In some areas, the G8 can point to considerable success; in others, it has further to go to fully deliver on its promises," says the report issued by Canada as host nation June 20.

The G8 Research Group based in the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs said the G8 was a little better than halfway compliant with its own promises. The G8 got an overall score of +0.53 on compliance with their own promises on a scale where +1.0 equals perfect compliance, -1.0 represents no action, and 0 represents a partial effort. Canada's score on overall compliance in the G8 Research Group's "Final Compliance Report" was above average at 0.67, tied for third with the European Union.

Britain remains in top spot in the annual analysis. Japan edges up to second. Fourth place goes to the United States. France and Germany are tied in fifth spot. Russia is number six while Italy occupies the bottom of the table.

Canada has led the way on accountability, which will be a major theme of this year's G8 and G20 summit, said Canada Foodgrains Bank executive director Jim Cornelius. But while G8 officials talk about accountability on last year's $22 billion in pledges for food security and agricultural development, the aid community is still waiting on their report, said Cornelius.

The hard part is separating the new money from recycled old promises.

"Governments like to count things more than once," Cornelius said.

Cornelius is hoping new accountability mechanisms will make it easier to track G8 and G20 performance.

"What Canada has been doing is working hard on setting up a whole framework for follow up to all commitments, not just the L'Aquila ones," he said. "If that is successful, then the same sort of mechanism can be used to assess the success or the follow-through on maternal and child health."

But ticking off promises kept and holding annual meetings that concentrate on single issues may not be enough when all the issues are linked, according to KAIROS-sponsored activists touring Canada prior to the summit. Straight investments in agriculture like those promised last year in L'Aquila won't work without taking into account the effects of climate change, said Naty Atz Sunc, general co-ordinator of the Association for Community Development and Promotion in Guatemala.

Since Hurricane Mitch hit Guatemala in 1998 poor farmers have found it difficult to re-establish their livelihoods because weather patterns have been unpredictable. Spending on agriculture has to be linked to climate change adaptation, she said.

In the last year farmers in Kenya tried to get a crop into the ground three times, only to be frustrated by uncharacteristic drought, weather patterns that village elders have never seen in their lives, said Isaiah Kipyegon Toroitich, a program officer for Norwegian Church Aid in Kenya.

"You can easily see communities becoming poorer and poorer," he said.

None of the aid spending will work without "rehumanizing society," said Francois Pihaatae of the Pacific Conference of Churches in Tahiti.

Ordinary Christians ought to be able to look past the hype and the traffic jams of the summit and see the serious issues below the surface, said Cornelius.

"They should care. The challenge is to be able to look below the surface, because a lot of what happens on the surface is hype," he said.

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