Canada plays host in June to both the G8 and G20 summits. This week, civil society groups launched a new campaign to pressure leaders to take strong action on AIDS, poverty, climate change and the global economy.
It was five years ago, at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, that leaders pledged universal access to HIV/AIDS care, prevention and treatment by 2010.
A seat at the table
The “At the Table Campaign” says it’s trying to mobilize people to take their place alongside world leaders at important summits. Among those taking part is Canadian Stephen Lewis, former U.N. Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa and now head of AIDS-Free World.
“Originating in Canada, but spreading around the world, there is an effort to have a campaign to reach the G8 and G20 leaders. And we’ve called it At the Table because, of course, the great mass of the world, who will be affected by their decisions, particularly the poor of the world, are not at the table. They’re never invited to join,” he says.
Gleneagles goals update
“We’re not even halfway there. We’re about 40 to 45 percent of the way on treatment. We’re much less than that on prevention and God alone knows where we stand on care,” Lewis says.
He blames the unfulfilled promises on “a lack of energy on the part of individual governments and certainly Western donors, who haven’t been willing and able to provide the flow of resources that is required to get the drugs out.”
But Lewis believes universal access can be achieved.
“To be fair, everyone is moving heaven and earth to achieve universal access within the next two or three years, if not this year,” he says.
At Gleneagles, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair made Africa and HIV/AIDS among the summit’s top priorities. What about Canada?
“Canada has done what was promised at Gleneagles, which was to double the aid to Africa between 2005 and 2010. And we’re one of two or three countries that will have reached that, the other main country being the United Kingdom,” he says.
On the other hand
“(Canada’s) overall commitment to the international development agenda and to Africa in the longer term has been terribly deficient. In the most recent Canadian budget, it was indicated that foreign aid would be frozen from 2010 to 2014, which will drop us to number 20 on the list of 22 donors as a percentage of gross national product,” he says.
The former U.N. special envoy says that could affect Canada’s standing in the world as it hosts the G8 and G20 summits.
“It means Canada goes to the summit with empty hands. It means that Canada as the host comes to the summit having cut back drastically on foreign aid in a way which is sure to offend many countries, and certainly not inclined to stimulate a response from the others. Canada has made a promise to focus on maternal and child health, but there’s been absolutely no indication of the dollars that will accompany the promise,” he says.
Lewis says G8 leaders are dealing with multiple issues, such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and climate change, while the world continues to recover from a global recession.
“The need for the At the Table focus is to make the leaders remember that out there in the world there are tens of millions of people who are suffering terribly. And they cannot be forgotten at the table when decisions are made,” he says.
One after the other
The G8 summit will be held in Canada’s Muskoka region, north of Toronto, June 25th and 26th. The G20 meeting will be held in Toronto itself and will begin on the last day of the G8 meeting, June 26th.
Lewis says he doesn’t know whether the overlapping of the summits will help the campaign get its message across. But he says the scheduling of the meetings does send a signal.
“It does speak to a greater truth, which is that the G20 is emerging as a major force internationally, that the G8 is being eclipsed by the need to involve other major countries, from China and India to Brazil and South Africa. And that’s the fascinating thing about this overlap…. Whether it will support or will mean more support for crucial international organizations… only time will tell,” he says.
Lewis describes the At the Table campaigners as “having a certain sense of desperation” because governments are “pulling back.” He says the promises they’ve made in recent years are being “betrayed.”
As a result, he says the G8 and G20 summits in Canada “assume a terribly, vigorous importance.”
The head of AIDS-Free World says while rich countries can find money in hard economic times to wage war or mount massive relief operations like in Haiti and Chile, they often lag in funding development needs.