The UK hosts the G8 once again next week. In 2005, the Gleneagles Summit was marked as a milestone for international development – with deals on aid and debt relief dominating the headlines. It was meant to hail a brand new era of prosperity for developing countries and the world. Only it didn’t.
Since that moment, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The G8 countries have experienced the worst economic downturn in a century. We’ve had the Arab Spring. We’ve had an exponential increase in climate-related disasters. We’ve had an almost complete break-down of the Euro.
But none of these issues are on the agenda for the G8. Instead, the agenda seems to have come from somewhere in the heady days of 2005, harking back to a romanticised view of an era that simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Last week, they forged ahead behind closed doors with the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition, trying to force corporatised agriculture onto Africa. It seems they failed to learn any of the lessons of the failed 1960’s Green Revolution. This just feels like an updated version.
Top of the agenda next week is the desire to expand global trade – also on the agenda at the 2005 conference – and get stalled WTO talks going again. What they fail to recognise is that there’s a reason trade talks have stalled: at the grassroots level, people don’t want them and have been successfully opposing them in recent years. The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas negotiations have completely stalled, as Latin America charts a different course; and in other examples, key issues of importance to the G8 and European countries, like intellectual property or agriculture, were taken off the negotiating table in places like India and Africa.
Other items on this year’s G8 agenda, such as tax compliance, are gaining ground. But as some G8 leaders, including the UK’s Chancellor George Osborne, are calling for reduced taxes globally, while fighting against a global financial transaction tax, it’s hard to see whether the end result will actually be progress. And on transparency, while G8 leaders have finally agreed legislation demanding transparency of the extractives sector in developing countries – real transparency at home, on everything from carbon reporting to lobbying, remains a pipe dream.
Meanwhile, the appetite to deal with the pressing issues that have emerged since 2005, like curbing the excesses of financial markets, or dealing with the challenges presented by climate change, and growing inequality, seems to have completely disappeared.
In the real world, two competing narratives are emerging. The first is that we can return to growth through our old ways, through unfettered markets, globalised trade, letting the rich get richer, with decisions made by a corporate elite. The other is inspiring a new vision based on locally focussed economies, a smaller finance sector, green growth, genuine transparency and fully participative democracy. The G8 is clearly stuck in the former camp, while the majority of the world – from Latin America to Africa, to young people across Europe, are looking for something else. I know where I stand.
The G8 is an institution long past its sell-by date. The only good thing it could achieve would be to dissolve, forever.