Why the G8 is made for campaigners
Imagine this: in a few months, the heads of most of the biggest and most important countries will get together for a couple of days. A few leaders from developing countries will tag along. The media will cover the event in detail because…well, because why not? And for a few hours, a lot of the world’s power and attention will be focused in a single place.
What if I told you that the agenda for the meeting isn’t set, and that the outcomes of the meeting have not yet been decided? Do you think you might have some ideas?
This is the G8 summit, a traveling carnival that reappears every year. Leaders of some of the most powerful countries gather to discuss weighty topics. Sometimes they make big promises. Sometimes they don’t.
For anti-poverty campaigners, this combination of factors is absolutely irresistible. Or it might be better to say that ignoring such an opportunity would be absolutely irresponsible. If you believe in making a difference, advancing a cause, having an impact, changing policies and the world, you really must try to take advantage of the G8 summit—and it’s supporting processes and negotiations—for your mission.
Despite some significant and measurable achievements, the G8 and campaigners at the summit have come under some criticism in recent years. The argument is that while it’s an enormous public relations event, it has a declining value as a negotiating venue and achievements are only symbolic. Some argue that a better target is the G20. Others argue that these summits are all losing (or have long lost) their significance.
But if the G8 and the G20 didn’t exist, would anti-poverty campaigners have to invent them? There’s just no bigger and better way to get these global issues onto a world stage and put pressure on critical leaders to make commitments and then follow them up. Done.
On Wednesday a coalition of UK groups, including Oxfam, launched the “Enough food for everyone IF” campaign. The goal is to push Prime Minister David Cameron “relentlessly and every which way” to take action on hunger with the G8. The campaign has a platform that includes promoting more foreign assistance, clamping down on tax dodging by big companies, stopping land-grabs, and increasing transparency.
I like this effort. It’s positive without being pandering. There are some real asks that aren’t easy, but aren’t completely unreasonable. It has focus, but there’s enough room for a broad coalition. (For additional commentary about the campaign, see these posts from Duncan Green of Oxfam UK, David Harewood of Cafod, David McNair of Save the Children UK, Lawrence Haddad of IDS, and Leni Wild of ODI and Sarah Mulley of IPPR.)
What many seem to miss is that if the campaign and this year’s G8 will be a success, the US will have to step up and take a lead. The issue of food security and agriculture has actually been championed more by the US than other G8 members in the past. President Obama managed a modest coup by pulling a significant agriculture and food security initiative out of the otherwise embarrassingly disorganized G8 in 2009, hosted by Silvio Berlusconi.
But what can President Obama deliver this time round? For now, the newly re-inaugurated President is putting together his team. Senator Kerry at State Department and Jack Lew at Treasury will both have a hand in the G8 discussions, assuming they are confirmed by the Senate. President Obama’s key staffer on the G8, National Security Council aide Michael Froman, is strongly rumored to be moving into a new job as the US Trade Representative. So there’s a lot of uncertainty and movement.
Let’s hope President Obama gets his team in place and his game-plan organized, so we can make something big out of this year’s G8.