Monday, July 06, 2009

The G8 in Italy: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse

When the G8 met in London in April, it was amidst a great deal of hoop-la and media attention. The G8 are meeting again this week in Italy and you will be hard pressed to notice. While some leaders may want to distance themselves from the sexpoloits of Silvio Berlusconi or the image troubled and failing British Prime Minister, you would think they would be biting at the bit to speak to the media and champion their lead-setting role for the world. Indeed, they are indeed meeting in L'Aquila and have a substantive agenda. While the place they are meeting continues to experience tremors (it is the location of the major earthquake Italy experienced earlier this year), there will be few earth shattering announcements coming from these embattled leaders.

At the top of this agenda is Gordon Brown’s insistence that the G8 hold the line on each member country spending their way out of the recession. This is the mantra of the socialist and left leaning members of the G8, including both Brown and Obama. They now add that there is also a need to develop a new regulatory framework for financial institutions – one which encourages lending and increasing the flow of cash into the economy. The evidence is clear: unemployment continues to rise, trade continues to stagnate, protectionism is growing and many firms have been helped out of the recession by being taken into public ownership. While some see green shoots, other sees these as green weeds. Continuing the path of stimulus and resisting the voices of many that suggest that now is the time for fiscal responsibility to correct deficit and debt based funding will be Brown’s desired outcome.

Obama comes with this same agenda, but one which contradicts growth – the climate change agenda. The US House of Representatives has passed an omnibus climate change bill and the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that it must regulate and control carbon emissions. All this despite the growing evidence that the earths temperature is cooling and that there are growing doubts about the robustness of the climate change claims of the “warmists”. Obama, Brown and Berlusconi are each seeking to use the G8 as a platform for shaping the December negotiations in Copenhagen for a treaty to replace The Kyoto Accord, which expires in 2012.

The climate change agenda has four components. The first is a firm commitment to reduce carbon emissions from key sectors of the economy for each of the G8 countries. The second is to boost investment in new technologies for alternative energy and transportation. The third is to work with developing countries to offer transition funds to help them grow economically while at the same time committing to reduce their carbon emissions. Finally, there is an attempt to reach an agreement that would permit “border adjustments” (read border tariffs) on goods entering a country which come from a region which does not support appropriate climate change mitigation measures. This is a complex set of issues, made more complex by the fact that the G8 are also meeting with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) during their time in Italy – they are not all aligned on all aspects of these issues. Expect words, but no action.

The third big issue, symbolic of the lack of value to be attached to the work of the G8, is a focus on development for the poorer countries of Africa. At the Gleneagles summit with Blair in the Chair, major commitments were made to provide intelligent help to Africa. Few of these commitments, other than those relating to debt relief, have been acted upon. They will renew past commitments, make new ones and then go away and file the documents while doing little about them.

What is there to say? The G8 meets, it engages various groups in conversations, it issues communiques and then each leader goes away and gets back to the real work of politics. The G8 is a side-show. This is made clear by the absence of media focus and public interest in the meeting occurring this week and by the fact that the agenda repeats the agenda of past meetings. Reuse and recycle are the current practices of the G8 as far as their agenda is concerned. Adding “reduce” – by not meeting at all – may be the missing item for this organization.

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