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Looking for Canadian leadership: report from the G8

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Canada will need to offer global leadership as host of G8 in 2010 to deliver results on unfinished business from this year's G8. Weak leadership by the Italian host, Prime Minister Berlusconi, has resulted in very few concrete new initiatives for the world's poor at the G8 Summit that ended today. Having cut its aid spending by 56 per cent this year, Italy lacked the moral authority or will to address the challenges posed by the economic, climate change and food crisies which treatens to reverse the real progress that has been made in reducing global poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This is a shame because the change in the U.S. administration and President Obama's personal interest in global poverty issues had opened up new possibilities for the G8 to deliver more.

There were efforts to get an initiative on child and maternal health, where progress has been slowest in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. There was a push by British Prime Minister to get agreement on a $100 billion fund to help poor countries deal with impacts of climate change and adopt alternative clean energy development strategies. Negotiations were in process for new initiatives on dealing with child and maternal mortality, improving access to safe water and sanitation, and ensuring education for all. But they did not result in any tangible results.

The one positive outcome for the poor was a commitment by the G8 to work towards "a goal of mobilizing $20 billion over three years for sustainable agriculture development." But the G8 is not offering a hard commitment, but an aspirational promise they hope to achieve with the help of other non-G8 countries. And it falls short of the $30 billion the FAO says is need to deal with the food crisis. Canada will commit $600 million over three years to this effort, by shifting money already budgeted for aid to this purpose.

Some steps were also taken to improve G8 accountability with approval of an accountability framework that will try to better track past G8 commitments and the record of delivering on these promises. A full report using this framework is promised next year at the Canadian G8.

Public pressure on the G8 leaders did ensure that they did restate their key commitments from the past few years. It also made the G8 take efforts to improve their accountability. Input from civil society groups was incorporated into the accountability framework they adopted. And without the strong public pressure, it is unlikely they would have taken the modest new initiatives to help ensure food security and deal with the growing problem of hunger.

Canada will now have to step up to the challenge and make sure the G8 delivers on its past promises which come due in 2010. And it needs to make sure it follows through on the unfinished business from this G8 on child and maternal health, water and sanitation, education and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Prime Minister Harper at the press conference he gave on the final day of the G8 boasted about Canada keeping its commitments on doubling aid to Africa and argued against the G8 making new promises until it has delivered on past ones.

Canada, while on track to fulfill the doubling aid to Africa pledge made in 2005, is still in a weak moral position to provide global leadership unless it commits to a timetable to reach the UN aid target of 0.7%. Many other countries have either already achieved or have timetables to achieve the 0.7% target by 2015. And Canada stands at only 16th out of 22 donor countries in terms of the aid we give as a percentage of our national income.

The Prime Minister also needs to acknowledge that with the global economic crisis, climate change and the food crisis reversing the real progress that has been made on global poverty reduction, simply keeping past commitments is not good enough. We need to have much more ambitious goals of getting the world back on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. More is demanded of us by the poor in the world today.

For this to happen, we will need to engage Canadians in an unprecedented way, and mount a huge campaign for Canada to be a leader again on the world stage in tacking global poverty and the threat of climate change. I hope I can count on your support.

Dennis Howlett is Coordinator of Make Poverty History.

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