The shift towards an era of global governance appears to be driven by the expanding power of the G-20. As more nations lobby to have their say in world affairs, the G-8 faces a future of reduced influence and relevance.
The G-8 is seeing its influence wane in certain policy areas
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G-8) major countries gather in the resort city of Gatineau in Quebec, Canada on March 29-30 to lay the groundwork for the G-8 summit meeting to be held in Muskoka, Ontario, in June.
During the two-day talks, the ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States will discuss a number of issues, including nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, how to ensure peace and stability on the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the consequences of terrorism and how to support nations with security vulnerabilities.
The G-8 summit in Ontario on June 25-26 is shaping up to be a particularly important one, and not just because of the fluid nature of the global challenges the organization is currently facing.
While matters such as the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the instability in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions and the threat of international terrorism are undoubtedly more pressing now than they were at the last annual summit in L'Aquila, Italy in 2009, the Ontario summit could be a historic one in itself. Some observers have suggested it may be the G-8's last.
Driven by its role in addressing the impact of the global economic crisis, the G-20 organization - finance ministers and central bank governors from the world's top 20 economies - is being viewed by some as the dominant power bloc in a new era of global governance.
The G-8 has served in various forms as the world's leading economic forum since 1975 but at its summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009, the G-20 announced that its leaders had "endorsed the G-20 as the premier forum for their international economic cooperation."
Financial crisis exposed G-8's limitations
The G-20's global inclusiveness in addressing the economic crisis showed up the G-8's limitations
While the G-8 focuses more on issues such as security and climate change and leaves its economic and financial policy to the G-7 - essentially the finance ministers of the G-8 minus Russia - the rise of the G-20 and the expansion of its powers has some experts wondering how long the G-8 and G-7 can survive in the face of an increasingly influential, more inclusive global decision-making body.
"The G-8 - if it survives at all - will be a much less powerful gathering and for a very good reason," Dr. Henning Meyer, head of the European Programme at the Global Policy Institute in London, told Deutsche Welle.
"In the wake of the financial crisis everybody could witness the level of interdependence in the world. And it became clear that a political structure that excludes important rising countries such as India, China and Brazil simply does not have the scope to deal with those global issues."
"As with other institutions of global governance, like the United Nations, it became clear that the structure of the G-8 does not reflect global realities enough," he added. "If global problems of the magnitude of the financial crisis persist, which is very likely, then the real power of the G-8 will permanently shift to the G-20 or some other form of broader political structure."
Read more on the G-8's waning influence
G-20 ready to dilute G-8's influence in economic decisions
The G-20 is looking to absorb the G-8's economic role
Jenilee Guebert, the director of the G-8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, believes that whatever roles the G-8 and G-7 have in global economic policy will be diluted by the growing influence of the G-20.
"On certain areas of finance, development, energy and climate change, both organizations have played a role but economic and financial issues will be taken up more and more by the G-20," she told Deutsche Welle.
It is also likely that the G-20 won't limit its growing influence to purely economic matters, which could marginalise the G-8 even more. The G-20 has recently expanded its reach into financing development projects - prompted by the earthquake in Haiti - and has started to play a larger role on issues such as energy and climate change, and in particular climate financing.
G-8 likely to remain influential on climate, development
The G-8 will still take the lead on climate change and development policy but will need the G-20's help
Guebert believes that while the G-20's influence will continue to grow in areas which are traditionally within the remit of the G-8, the Group of Eight will maintain a strong role in climate policy making and establishing development mechanisms while accepting that the G-20's involvement is necessary.
"On the issue of climate change, the G-8 has long realized that there are key countries, who are members of the G-20, that need to be included in the debate," she said. "However, the G-8 will likely continue to discuss the topic as well and make commitments on issues where the G-8 can come to consensus."
"Development issues including global health, food security, water and sanitation and development assistance will continue to play an important role on the G-8 agenda."
Group of Eight will still lead on security
The G-8 will still handle security but it is still not the best option
The G-8 is also likely to continue to take the lead on issues which fit better on its agenda, such as political security issues including counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, and the promotion of democracy and good governance. The fact that not all members of the G-20 are democratic or have the capability or will to provide assistance to other countries makes these issues difficult to discuss in the broader G-20.
However, Henning Meyer believes that neither the G-8 or the G-20 are equipped to tackle security issues.
"The most important aspect of multilateral-governance structures is that all or most relevant players are included in the same process," he said.
"Neither the G-8 nor the G-20 in my view are suited to deal with security issues or non-proliferation. This is the job of the UN. The G-8 or G-20 in effect are just formalized regular meetings where governments consult. None of the outcomes of these meetings are directly binding because the 'agreements in principle' have to be implemented nationally. The UN has more tools at its disposal."
Despite this, the G-8 appears to be safe as long as its involvement in certain areas where the G-20 is too unwieldy to be effective continues and support remains among its members and those external powers that rely on its influence, such as African nations who fear that needed development assistance might disappear without the G-8.
However, a shift toward the G-20's brand of global governance seems unstoppable with many of the world's emerging markets, as well as the developed countries like Australia who are not members of the G-8, pushing for full inclusion in the global decision-making process.
The G-8 may not be about to disband but it certainly appears to be on the verge of having to accept a new reality where its powers are curbed and where it has to concede influence to a larger forum.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge