In a recent essay written for The Economist, British Prime Minister Tony Blair states that Britain will use its recently acquired presidency of the G8 to push for aid to Africa and to address climate change.
Africa is a continent of massive potential. It is home to almost 900 million people. It has an abundance of natural resources (even after being plundered by the colonials in centuries gone by), vast tracts of fertile land (although much of it is desert) and majestic landscapes that ought to sustain a healthy tourism industry. However, as Tony Blair points out,
Africa is also a place plagued with problems–debt, disease, conflict, corruption and weak governance–so embedded and widespread that no continent, no matter how prosperous, could tackle them on its own. And, he goes on to say,
Africa is not prosperous. In fact, Africa is getting poorer by the day.
So what is Tony Blair suggesting that the G8 do? For one thing he claims that tied aid, where the use of aid money is directed by the donor, is counter-productive. This is largely, I suppose, because tied aid is often delivered with the interests of the donor nation at heart rather than the interests of the recipient nation. It also means that the recipient nation is absolved of responsibility in the spending of that money. Thus, it provides no incentive for the establishment of mature economic management in those countries. Of course, Prime Minister Blair will also push for more aid to Africa. Few nations have met their obligation of spending 0.7 percent of their GDP on aid. Much of this money, if it is forthcoming, will be spent on tackling disease and for immediate poverty relief. But I imagine a large part of it must be invested for the long-term in things like education, small businesses and agricultural concerns in order to bootstrap the African economy so it can stand on its own feet.
The second major goal of Britain’s G8 presidency will be to push for technologies and market schemes that will help to curb climate change. He accurately points out that, although scientific debate continues, the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that humans are the major cause of global warming. Tony Blair is often seen as a greater proponent of Thatcherism than his Tory adversaries, yet he is acutely aware that climate change is one area where governments must step in and play an active role. He advocates government spending to develop sustainable technologies, and possibly to provide incentives to companies to reduce their footprints.
An interesting aside to this, and something that points to the devastating impact humans can have on the environment and climate, is recent research that theorises the original inhabitants of Australia may have created the deserts in the middle of the continent by lighting fires some 50000 years ago. The destruction of the forests meant that there was not enough water evaporation to enable cloud formation, thereby putting an end to the annual inland monsoon.
Now it’s all well and good for Tony Blair to say that Britain will be pushing these noble causes at the G8; however, as I see it, there are at least two hurdles to be overcome. First, Mr Blair and Labour need to be re-elected to government. I believe the general concensus is that Labour will be re-elected with a clear majority, despite the Iraq fiasco. Indeed there are signs that the Australian co-ordinator of the Tory election campaign may be losing faith in the ability of the Conservative party to win the next election. So while Labour look likely to record another victory, Tony Blair’s main rivals seem to be within his own party. The tensions between Blair and Gordon Brown are well-known, and Brown’s resignation or sacking look to be highly probable.
Given that Labour is returned to government and that the Prime Minister retains a loyal majority within his party, Tony Blair can push his agenda at the G8. Then it will be a question of whether he and Britain can persuade the other members of the G8 to dance to the same tune. In particular, it seems unlikely that any substantial headway will be made on poverty and climate change unless the Americans also make these a priority. Such is life in a world dominated by one superpower.
We know from the Iraq crisis that Blair and Bush must have amicable relations even though they are from opposite sides of politics. Perhaps the fallout from the war has given them even more in common. In any case, Tony Blair must have some sway with George W. Bush, even if their relationship isn’t quite as cosy as that between the US President and our own John Howard. We can only hope that Tony Blair uses his considerable eloquence, charm and political savvy (what wouldn’t the ALP give to have their own Tony Blair?) to persuade the powers that be that the issues of poverty and climate change cannot be put off any longer.