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Insight, debate and campaigning news from ActionAid

2 + 2 = 5

The Preliminary Accountability Report is the G8’s big attempt to convince the world they are on track to keep their aid promises. But the numbers it gives are confusing and misleading. The exercise makes a mockery of the word accountability.

The most important promise the G8 has made on aid is that by 2010, they would be giving $50 billion in development assistance with half of that money going to Africa. So far, they have only reached a total of $35 billion, leaving a $15 billion gap. The G8 say nothing about how they will keep their promise by next year.

The Report misses the chance to show how each country is progressing towards its Gleneagles commitments. They say this is because these figures are available elsewhere. But they are buried in a long report that comes out at a completely different time. The real reason is that these numbers would embarrass G8 members.

This year, the G8 is focusing on the billion people who go hungry every day. They will be announcing a new aid package on food security tomorrow. The G8 is claiming that they already spent $13 billion on food security in the last 18 months. But this claim is highly questionable. They do not give us enough information to understand how they arrived at this figure.

The detail they do give is worrying. For example, the G8 states that they spent $229.45 million on biofuels. But biofuels do not help food security. Instead, the World Bank estimates that biofuel production was responsible for up to 75% of the food price rises last year. Some of the projects funded weren’t even in developing countries.

Hot and cold on Obama

The most excitement in the press corps I’ve seen at the G8 summit so far was the rush to get into Obama’s press conference. I was excited to get a space, but disappointed with what I heard.

Obama spoke for just under 10 minutes, all focused on climate change. He definitely comes across as well in person as he does on TV. Style aside, I was less happy with the substance. Obama mentioned biofuels twice. But biofuels are not a solution to climate change. To add insult to injury, using food crops for fuel is having a huge impact on hunger. Biofuels played a major role in last year’s food price rises that led to riots in countries around the world.

Obama shared the stage with Kevin Rudd, lending some of his star power to the Australian Prime Minister. Rudd’s speech was billed as a major announcement, but I saw it as a major disappointment. He was launching a new institute focusing on carbon capture and storage to address the "coal problem" (his words, not mine). This unproven technology is a smokescreen to cover a business as usual approach to coal rather than a genuine contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emission.

The global and the local

Today started at the Pizza del Populo for a photo stunt by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. This international coalition brings together development groups pressing the G8 to deliver poverty reduction worldwide. ActionAid Italy took a leading role in setting up the event, and it was fun to see how other countries do protests.

The day ended with a more local focus. We had a late dinner in the G8 media centre. The food was a huge improvement on the organisation of the summit. It included local cured ham and regional cheeses. The G8 always showcases the location where it is held.

In between was a lot of logistical complexity and some very interesting conversations. Travelling from Rome to the summit to the press village where we are sleeping was seemed to take forever. Even the Italians kept getting lost.

I did have an interesting discussion about aid figures and the broken promises from past G8 summits with a journalist. Italian colleagues and I had a debate on comparative politics. But I am hoping that tomorrow has a bit more substance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel travails

I can’t believe how long it took to get to Rome. I left my house at 8:30 and didn’t check into the hotel until 7:30. That’s only 6:30 UK time, but still!

In addition to travelling, I spent most of the time working. I caught up with some emails I had ignored last week in the flurry of G8 meetings. I also wrote a reply to The Economist’s article on the food crisis.

The article wasn’t bad - for starters it was great to see the issue covered. But it did completely miss the impact climate change is already having on agriculture. It also failed to understand that the majority of poor farmers in developing countries are net food purchasers: they buy more food than they sell. So high food prices push them further into poverty. The article didn’t explore solutions to the problem either.

I was also surprised to see how little coverage The Economist gave to the G8. Their cartoon was pretty funny though. If you want to know what the summit will be talking about, have a look at ActionAid’s feed of press coverage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s refuse to sign up to a watchdog

This week the Competition Commission published responses made by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op to its proposal for a new supermarket watchdog.  Perhaps not too unpredictably, the grocery giants heaped scorn on the idea.

Tesco says the watchdog would protect the big multinational suppliers who can look after themselves.  Asda says it’s too costly, while Sainsbury’s says it’s disproportionate.  Excuses excuses…

All three flatly refused to sign up to the watchdog.  

While the Co-op says it’s willing to sign up, this is only on condition that the others do as well.  We can take that as a disingenuous ‘yes’ that really means ‘no’ then.

Responses from the other supermarkets that would be covered by the watchdog – M&S, Morrisons, Aldi, Iceland and Lidl – have yet to appear on the Commission's website.

So far then, Waitrose is the only supermarket that has publicly said it will sign up.An unlikely but nonetheless worrying  possibility, floated by the Commission, is that the watchdog would only apply to supermarkets that signed up to it.  Needless to say this is an outrageous prospect, not to mention ridiculous.  Outrageous because supermarkets have been found guilty of abusing their buying power and need to be reined in.  Ridiculous because on current scores, only one supermarket would be regulated.So we can pretty safely assume that the Commission will hand the process over to the newly-christened Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  We don’t know when this will be yet, but we do know it means upping the pressure on Lord Mandelson to create the watchdog pronto, so please watch this space for an upcoming action.

Our money in Vedanta

It's brilliant that the Ecologist has published an article about which British shareholders are investing in Vedanta.  These include the Church of England, which holds a significant investment, local  authorities and public companies. The article was followed up by the Independent.

Many of British-listed Vedanta’s shareholders are companies that we, the British taxpayer, have invested heavily in.  That’s our money in a project that we know will cause irreversible damage to the Kondh people’s way of life and a unique ecosystem in India. With the Kondh people repeatedly saying that they do want the mine, is it really is in the best interests of the shareholders to allow the mine to go ahead? 

Corporations cannot put profits before people and the environment. We must support  the tribe’s struggle to stop the mine.