The Unaccountable G8

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Accountability often goes missing following G8 promises, writes Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

The following contribution was authored by Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

"In hosting the 2010 G-8 summit of major economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for an 'accountability summit', to hold the G-8 responsible for the promises that it made over the years. So let’s make our own account of how the G-8 did. The answer, alas, is a failing grade. The G-8 this year illustrates the difference between photo-ops and serious global governance.

Of all of the G-8’s promises over the years, the most important was made to the world’s poorest people at the 2005 G-8 Gleneagles Summit in Scotland. The G-8 promised that, by this year, it would increase annual development assistance to the world’s poor by $50 billion relative to 2004. Half of the increase, or $25 billion per year, would go to Africa.

The G-8 fell far short of this goal, especially with respect to Africa. Total aid went up by around $40 billion rather than $50 billion, and aid to Africa rose by $10-$15 billion per year rather than $25 billion. The properly measured shortfall is even greater, because the promises that were made in 2005 should be adjusted for inflation. Re-stating those commitments in real terms, total aid should have risen by around $60 billion, and aid to Africa should have risen by around $30 billion.

In effect, the G-8 fulfilled only half of its promise to Africa – roughly $15 billion in increased aid rather than $30 billion. Much of the overall G-8 increase in aid went to Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of the US-led war effort, rather than to Africa. Among G-8 countries, only the UK is making a bold effort to increase its overall aid budget and direct a significant portion to Africa.

Since the G-8 was off track in its aid commitments for many years, I long wondered what the G-8 would say in 2010, when the commitments actually fell due. In fact, the G-8 displayed two approaches. First, in an “accountability report” issued before the summit, the G-8 stated the 2005 commitments in current dollars rather than in inflation-adjusted dollars, in order to minimize the size of the reported shortfall.

Second, the G-8 Summit communiqué simply did not mention the unmet commitments at all. In other words, the G-8 accountability principle became: if the G-8 fails to meet an important target, stop mentioning the target – a cynical stance, especially at a summit heralded for 'accountability'."

To read the op-ed in full, please click here.

(Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.)

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