The Unaccountable G-8

NEW YORK – In hosting the 2010 G-8 summit of major economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for an “accountability summit,” to hold the G-8 responsible for the promises that it made over the years. So let’s make our own account of how the G-8 did. The answer, alas, is a failing grade. The G-8 this year illustrates the difference between photo-ops and serious global governance.

Of all of the G-8’s promises over the years, the most important was made to the world’s poorest people at the 2005 G-8 Gleneagles Summit in Scotland. The G-8 promised that, by this year, it would increase annual development assistance to the world’s poor by $50 billion relative to 2004. Half of the increase, or $25 billion per year, would go to Africa.

The G-8 fell far short of this goal, especially with respect to Africa. Total aid went up by around $40 billion rather than $50 billion, and aid to Africa rose by $10-$15 billion per year rather than $25 billion. The properly measured shortfall is even greater, because the promises that were made in 2005 should be adjusted for inflation. Re-stating those commitments in real terms, total aid should have risen by around $60 billion, and aid to Africa should have risen by around $30 billion.

In effect, the G-8 fulfilled only half of its promise to Africa – roughly $15 billion in increased aid rather than $30 billion. Much of the overall G-8 increase in aid went to Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of the US-led war effort, rather than to Africa. Among G-8 countries, only the UK is making a bold effort to increase its overall aid budget and direct a significant portion to Africa.