Monday, June 17, 2013

G8 must do more

This morning I was among almost two thousand, mainly young people, who attended President Obama’s visit and speech in the Waterfront in Belfast. It was a good speech which recognised some of the challenges and issues still outstanding from the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements.

The President is here as part of the G8 summit. Over the next 48 hours he and the other leaders of some of the world’s richest states will meet in the Lough Erne Hotel resort in County Fermanagh to discuss matters of pressing concern.

According to the organisers the agenda for the two day conference ‘will focus on economic issues, specifically trade, tax avoidance matters, transparency on how gas, mining and oil companies function, as well as international violence, and political reform that will allow citizens to hold their governments to account’.

There will also, they say, be a concentration on the civil war that is tearing Syria apart.’  Almost 100,000 people have been killed there in the last two years.

The G8 is a hugely influential meeting of world leaders. It brings together 8 nations which hold a huge proportion of the world’s wealth. The policy agreements that emerge over the next two days will significantly shape the worlds economy. Thus far the G8 and the wider meeting of the G20 have failed to effectively tackle the global economic crisis and the range of other issues, like world hunger and poverty; climate change and investment in disadvantaged regions of the world. Truth is that’s not what these summits are about.

It is a sad fact that every night one billion people go to bed hungry. Three million children die from malnutrition and hunger and many more from preventable diseases. Millions more suffer from stunting – a physical condition that limits physical and cognitive development that is caused by chronic malnutrition. In a world which has the resources to feed everyone and to provide health care for everyone – this is a scandal.
One estimate by the World Bank concluded that $10 billion dollars a year – a tiny amount in comparison to the trillions available to the G8 - could provide sufficient nutrition for the 36 countries which together contain about 90% of those affected by lack of proper nutrition.

An end to world hunger is not some pie in the sky, unrealisable goal. It can be done. If governments apply themselves it is possible to achieve an end to world hunger over the next decade.  The ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign group has said that an additional investment of $42 billion annually in world agriculture would allow us to reach that goal. It seems like a large amount of money but it pales into insignificance when set against the money government’s globally spent on weapons.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute world military expenditure last year totalled $1753 billion - which is around 2.5% of the world’s GDP.
Allocating $42 billion each year to save three million lives and to end world hunger would appear to me to be a small price to pay. So, the leaders of the G8 need to re-evaluate their priorities. There needs to be a significant increase in aid specifically targeted at agriculture. In the last 20 years of the last century international aid to agriculture collapsed from 17% of all aid in 1980 to 3.4% in 2006. Decisions by the G8 at its most recent summits have failed in this.

The G8 has also failed, along with other governmental structures to adequately address the issue of climate change which each year impacts on 325 million people and kills more than 300,000.

According to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts:

‘Food insecurity and climate change are, more than ever, the two major global challenges humanity is facing and climate change is increasingly perceived as one of the greatest challenges for food security.’

The recent controversy about the huge amounts of tax that multi-national companies like Apple and Starbucks and others do not pay to governments has also raised serious concern around tax avoidance, tax havens and transparency in respect of government budgets.

The fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook could tell the US Senate Investigation that for the last ten years Apple Sales Ireland paid an average corporate tax rate of just 2 percent and in 2011 paid just 0.5% tax, is evidence of the scale of the problem and the loss of revenue to governments.

The hundreds of millions of lost tax revenue could have been used to get people back to work but it also affects the developing world where Christian Aid estimate that the lives of 350,000 children could be saved each year if this kind of corporate tax avoidance was ended.

The ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign group has produced an excellent briefing paper on the G8 summit providing information on all of these issues. IF represents over 200 organisations, including Concern, Trócaire, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Muslim Charity and Muslim Aid and Children in Crossfire.

They have come together to mobilise public and political opinion on the four big issues affecting people. These are Aid, Tax, Land, and Transparency. In its G8 Summit Briefing, IF provides background information on all of these matters but most importantly it sets targets and makes recommendations for the G8 on tax transparency, nutrition, biofuels, agricultural investment, money laundering, tax evasion and much more.

Specifically it calls for the G8 to publish a comprehensive accountability report which tracks progress on all development commitments; ensure that all new G8 2013 commitments and initiatives have an accompanying accountability framework that is transparent and accessible to stakeholders, including developing country governments and civil society, and invite developing countries to participate and contribute to all G8 working groups and summits/events that impact them.

If you are interested in and concerned about these international issues I would suggest going online and looking at or any of the many other organisations working in these areas.



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