Rarely in the history of the G8 summit have so many expectations been foisted upon the world's most powerful leaders. And rarely has there been such wide consensus that eight men have the power to change the world.
Progress on poverty is expected from the summit in Gleneagles
The Live8 concerts for Africa have left an indelible mark among generations of people who now seem convinced that something substantial can be done to make poverty history. In the run-up to this week's G8 summit, leaders of the eight leading industrialized nations have already agreed to wipe out $40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries, most of them African.
US President George W. Bush, under pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has committed himself to doubling aid to Africa by 2010. The European Union has pledged to double its support by 2015. Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, has even gone on record to say that 100 percent debt relief can be achieved for the world’s 38 poorest countries at the summit in Scotland.
The Live 8 concerts raised global public awareness about debt relief for Africa
"We've already seen an agreement in the last few days for 100 percent debt relief for the poorest countries, we've had an announcement from the EU's finance and development ministers that we will double Europe's aid, and we've now got 13 European countries that have accepted a timetable for moving to 0.7 percent of their income spent on aid, something we never achieved in 30 years despite many attempts," said Brown.
Critics, many of them from Africa, say merely writing off debt will not lead to a sustainable recovery for many African states. More has to be done, they say, to create favorable trade conditions for Africa, especially for agricultural products, by scrapping farm subsidies for rich countries. Merely dumping tons of free wheat into countries such as Ethiopia is very often counterproductive, as it destroys the incentive and more often than not, the livelihood of the local farmers.
Demonstrators in the US show their support for the Kyoto agreement on climate change
While some progress has been made on Africa, the other overriding issue at this year’s G8 summit looks set to divide the participants. The gulf between Europe and the United States on climate change appears to be so great that observers say there is little chance of concerted action. The US, which has refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, is unwilling to accept a broad scientific consensus that climate change is a widespread problem caused, in part, by human activity.
There is also general agreement that the growth in greenhouse gases has to be reduced and even reversed to minimize the potential economic and environmental risks. However, that opinion is not shared by US President George W. Bush.
"Some have suggested the best solution to environmental challenges and climate change is to oppose development and put the world on an energy diet," Bush said. "But at this moment, about two billion people have no access to any modern form of energy. Blocking that access would condemn them to permanent poverty."
Bush is now hoping that the other G8 leaders can be swayed to look beyond the Kyoto debate and consider new technologies as a way of tackling global warming. Still, a deal on climate change looks increasingly unlikely, a sentiment echoed by German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin, who said he was skeptical about the willingness of the US to move on the issue.
Gleneagles hotel in Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland
Meanwhile, details of the G8 agenda have emerged. Leaders will arrive at the Gleneagles venue in Scotland throughout the day on Wednesday before dining with Queen Elizabeth. On Thursday, the G8 will invite its counterparts from Brazil, China, India and others for talks on climate change, while African issues will top the agenda on Friday.