By JEFFREY SACHS
IN hosting this year’s G-8 summit of major economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) in June, 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 us 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 US$50 billion relative to 2004.
Half of the increase, or US$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 US$40 billion rather than US$50 billion, and aid to Africa rose by US$10-15 billion per year rather than US$25 billion.
The properly-measured shortfall is even greater, because the promises that were made in 2005 should be adjusted for inflation.
Restating those commitments in real terms, total aid should have risen by around US$60 billion, and aid to Africa should have risen by around US$30 billion.
In effect, the G-8 fulfilled only half of its promise to Africa – roughly US$15 billion in increased aid rather than US$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 minimise the size of the reported shortfall.
Second, the G-8 Summit communiqué simply did not mention the unmet commitments at all.
It is absurd and troubling to spend US$1 billion on three days of meetings under any circumstances (since there are much cheaper ways to have such meetings and much better uses for the money).
But it is tragic to spend so much money and then accomplish next to nothing in terms of concrete results and honest accountability.
There are three lessons to be drawn from this sorry episode.
First, the G-8 as a group should be brought to an end.
The G-20, which includes developing countries as well as rich countries, should take over.
Second, any future promises made by the G-20 should be accompanied by a clear and transparent accounting of what each country will do, and when.
The world needs true accountability, not empty words about accountability.
Every G-20 promise should spell out the specific actions and commitments of each country, as well as the overall promise of the group.
Third, the world’s leaders should recognise that commitments to fight poverty, hunger, disease, and climate change are life-and-death issues that require professional management for serious implementation. – Project Syndicate
*Jeffrey D. Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia university. He is also special adviser to United Nations secretary-general on the millennium development goals.