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G8 Summit in Italy Ends With Food Aid Pledge to Poor Nations

Leaders of the G8 developed nations wound up talks in Italy Friday with a pledge of $20 billion to boost food supplies in poor nations. Commitments to food security and to stem global warming were among the highlights of the meeting.

U.S. President Barack Obama said this was a summit of consensus - on dealing with the global economic crisis, climate change, on nuclear non-proliferation, on Iran - and a pledge to help achieve food security for the poorest countries.

"We have committed $20 billion in food security, agricultural development programs to help fight world hunger. This is in addition to emergency humanitarian aid that we provide," he said.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization welcomed the announcement, as an "encouraging policy shift to help the poor and hungry.

Many international aid organizations are cautiously positive. Development activist Kumi Naido of the Global Campaign Against Hunger, remains skeptical until more details of the plan become clear.

"We would see this as a belated small step in the right direction. How much of it is in the right direction will depend on the details because one of the favorite pastimes of the G8 is recycling old commitments and one of the things our researchers are looking at now is whether this is in fact a restating of old commitments," said Naido.

Aid organizations have been calling on the G8 to live up to past pledges of food and development assistance.

The L'Aquila summit also focused on climate change. G8 leaders and partners from major emerging economies, including India, China and Brazil, agreed that global temperatures should not rise by more than an average of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

G8 members also pledged to work toward an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. While developing nations have committed themselves to negotiating cuts, they have not yet agreed on specifics.

President Obama called it a historic consensus, but acknowledged it was only a first step with major work still ahead.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the 2050 targets are too far in the future and that more needs to be done sooner. Many aid and environmental groups also say progress is too little and too slow.

Meredith Alexander of the international group, ActionAid, says developed nations can and should do more.

"It's nice that they referenced the 2-degree figure in their statement, but it's really not enough. G8 leaders and other rich countries need to be putting more money on the table and they need to be accepting much deeper cuts," said Alexander.

This G8 summit took place, not in a major world capital or plush resort, but rather in central Italy, in an area devastated by a powerful earthquake just three months ago, in which nearly 300 people were killed. Many of the world leaders visited some of the worst hit areas.

And, there was much talk about the continued relevance of the G8 - a group originally established in 1975 to include then the world's six most developed economies. Some of the leaders here in L'Aquila, including President Obama agreed that other nations must be brought in and reforms made. Many say it has become evident that while the G8 still represents some of the world's most powerful countries, they alone cannot solve global problems - not without the help of others.