Group of Eight leaders will try to put the horror of the London terrorist attacks behind them Friday as they wrap up a three-day summit with long-awaited statements on combating poverty in Africa and global warming.
The London bombings have thrown a shadow over the summit
With British Prime Minister Tony Blair again at the helm, the G8 will debate ambitious proposals to deliver a package of aid, debt cancellation and trade concessions to Africa crafted by Blair and his finance minister Gordon Brown.
While the G8 spoke as one on Thursday to denounce the blasts and to assert they would not derail the summit, aid activists and environmentalists fear that Africa and climate change will suffer here at the hands of leaders once again preoccupied by terrorism.
Emergence services carry a woman into an ambulance at Kings Cross Train Station after multiple explosions rocked the capital in London, Thursday, July 7, 2005.
"Of course our thoughts are with the victims," said Barry Aminata Toure, the head of Mali's Coalition for Alternatives to Debt for Development. "But we have to wonder: will Africa still occupy a central spot at this summit, or will the problem of security, of terrorism trump us?"
Blair flew to London around Thursday to deal with the aftermath of four terrorist bombings in the capital that killed at least 37 people. But he was back at Gleneagles eight hours later to take charge of the summit, hoping to steer it toward a conclusion that will yield a substantive boost in development aid to Africa and firm action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Doubts still hover over aid plans
Prior to the attacks, diplomatic sources voiced doubts that much headway would be made on the centerpiece of the Blair anti-poverty plan -- a doubling in annual aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010.
While the United States has said its goal is to increase its own aid to Africa from $4.3 billion this year to $8.6 billion by 2010, President George W. Bush and his fellow conservatives have made clear their insistence that more development assistance is not necessarily what Africa needs most.
They have insisted instead that aid should be targeted and reserved for those countries that agree to implement market-oriented economic reform, a demand that activists say will leave many Africans worse off.
Hopes are higher for action on debt cancellation, with the summit expected to endorse a proposal -- already accepted by G8 finance ministers -- to write off $40 billion in debt owed by 18 poor countries to international institutions.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, center, speaks during a group photo of G8 and other leaders at the Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder, Scotland, Thursday July 7, 2005. Explosions on London's transport system killed a number of people and caused chaos in the British capital at rush hour on Thursday morning. Blair will return to London to deal with the crisis and is reported to be returning to the summit later in the evening. Standing second left is U.S. President George W. Bush and right is French President Jacques Chirac. Standing far left is South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki. (AP Photo/Charlie Bibby, Financial Times)
No headway is likely on trade concessions, the third pillar of the Blair plan. The highly contentious issue of European Union and US agricultural export subsidies, which harm the interests of African producers, is expected to be left to the World Trade Organization to resolve.
Compromise on global warming?
The G8 has meanwhile completed a declaration and action plan on global warming that builds a bridge between the United States and its partners, according to French President Jacques Chirac.
"The agreement which we are set to reach is an important agreement, even if it doesn't go as far as we would have wanted," Chirac told a press conference. "It restores dialogue between the seven (G8) Kyoto members and the United States," he said.
The United States is the loner in the global effort to combat greenhouse gases -- the byproduct of fossil fuels that trap the Sun's heat, drive up Earth's surface temperature and damage its delicate system. Bush has vowed never to ratify the UN Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrialized countries to trim their output of these gases by a 2008-2012 timetable compared with a 1990 benchmark.
Bush declared the targets would be ruinously costly for the oil-dependent US economy and unfair because fast-growing populous countries such as China and India are not part of the targeted emissions cuts.
The compromise draft communiqué, said Chirac, has only a couple of references to Kyoto. But he said it would acknowledge climate change as "a reality" and say "we have to act immediately" to combat the problem. "We have noticed a shift in the American position," said Chirac, who described this as "a major step... towards an improvement."
A "missed opportunity"
But angry environmentalists insist that political action is lagging far behind what is needed to avert potentially catastrophic damage to the climate system.
The G8 deal is "a major missed opportunity to tackle dangerous climate change," Greenpeace said.
"The agreement lacks a clear acknowledgement of the urgent need for action and fails to state any significant steps G8 leaders will take to tackle climate change," added Friends of the Earth International.