World leaders head to Northern Ireland for the annual G8 summit, pursued by the usual claims that such meetings are “ineffectual”. Are the critics right? Are these summits nothing more than hot air?
It is important not to dismiss the G8 without properly understanding how far and how well summit commitments are implemented. A proper audit can enhance the G8’s effectiveness, credibility and legitimacy as an international decision-making body in pursuit of its core values of open democracy, individual liberty and social advance.
And it turns out the leaders have done fairly well in implementing the commitments from the most recent 2012 Camp David summit.
Economy, development and security
Following each meeting, attendees release a communiqué outlining the main themes dealt with at the summit and commitments for the year ahead. Last year broadly focused on the economy, development and security. It put growth and jobs first, promising to take “all necessary measures” to strengthen growth and stability through country-specific measures reflecting the different conditions in each nation.
Growth would not be achieved through new government stimulus spending. Rather, the document called for productivity-boosting structural reforms, investment in education and modern infrastructure, leveraging the private sector, credit growth, support for small businesses, public-private partnerships, open international trade and investment, and stronger protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Overall, the communiqué was short and lacked targets, timetables and measures directly designed to deliver the necessary jobs to decrease unemployment. The summit also concluded with stand-alone statements on global oil markets, nonproliferation, and an accountability report.
Of course, these promises mean nothing if they aren’t actually delivered.
The G8 has recently set up its own internal reporting mechanism by publishing an annual pre-summit accountability report. In its first incarnation at the Muskoka summit in 2010 the report focused on development commitments more broadly. In the 2011 and 2012 versions the report focused on health and food security, both aspects of development.
These reports have faced criticisms from civil society and non-governmental organisations. They don’t cover all of the G8 commitments, they lack a consistent methodology of assessment, and the focus is general and multi-year, rather than specific and annual. Incorporating third party external referees would be one way to make these reports more objective.
Since 1996 the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, in partnership with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, has compiled a compliance report on a selected set of priority commitments from each summit.
Over the past year, 17 of the 141 commitments from the Camp David summit were monitored. During this period the members received an average compliance score of 80%. This beats the scores in the past few years, and the overall G8 compliance average of 76% from 1996-2011. The details on how these commitments were scored can be found on the G8 Information Centre website.
Two macroeconomic commitments at the Camp David summit rated especially high on the compliance score. Public-private partnerships and productivity initiatives appear to have been taken forward by member nations. G8 leaders also performed well in the area of health, nonproliferation and international financial institution reform.
Where did leaders slip up? Governments across the world are still spending more than they’re earning, and G8 nations are no exception. Attempts to rein in these huge deficits - known as fiscal consolidation - scored particularly badly on the compliance scale. A lack of progress on climate change was also apparent.
The Camp David compliance scores largely follow the compliance trends when looking at the compliance averages by issue from 1996-2012. The G8 tends to have the highest implementation averages in the areas of macroeconomics, energy, nonproliferation, and terrorism and the lowest implementation averages in the areas of climate change and trade.
The G8 can claim some success in implementing two very complex multistakeholder initiatives, on food security and development in Arab countries. These were centrepiece initiatives at the previous two summits, and ensuring progress required the cooperation of G8 members, signatory countries and international organizations.
Following the Arab Spring in early 2011, the Deauville Partnership for Arab Countries in Transition was launched at that year’s G8. Although the Partnership’s chair has been passed from host to host, priorities have remained the same: to stabilise regional economies, promote integration via trade, develop governance, and create jobs. Consistent high-level political meetings have been held to develop Partnership countries’ investment environment.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched at the 2012 summit with the target to lift “50 million people out of poverty over the next decade”. It was backed by $1.3 billion in direct financial support over three years, and $3 billion in new investment from 45 corporate partners. The UK government has published a progress report including foreseeable challenges and country reports on the six African signatories.
In summary, third party analysis conducted by the G8 Research Group indicates that the G8 is rather successful at implementing the commitments it makes. Macroeconomics and security are two particular strengths.
But we are left with two questions. How can we increase compliance in areas such as climate change and gender equality? And, do these commitments and initiatives introduced by the G8 achieve what they set out to?
“Compliance” looks at whether the G8 has been successful in implementing its own programmes, on its own terms. Whether the G8 approach actually creates jobs, reduces poverty and increases nutrition is still up for debate.