The summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial countries that ended in Germany last week seems to have been an occasion for something more than just the usual photo-ops and atmospherics associated with such events. Often labelled as an inconsequential club for the world’s richest countries, which issues meaningless statements that are soon forgotten, this summit proved to be decidedly different. Not least because it highlighted the range of multilateralism that defines international relations today — marked by a remarkable shift of power from the West to the East. The so-called ‘Outreach Group’ of five countries — India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa — may have had to watch proceedings from the ringside without making any formal input into the closing document. But their very presence at the G8 high table is an acknowledgement that the world is a very different place from what it was when annual G8 pow-wows began in 1975.
Nothing signals this so clearly as the failure of the US to force its agenda on the international community — be it climate change, development/poverty, or fanning the embers of a dead cold war. India could rightly feel pleased about the outcome of this summit, which provided an opportunity for New Delhi to cement its burgeoning strategic relationship with old friends like Russia, on the one hand, and emerging powers like China, on the other. Besides, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apparently also had useful discussions with G8 leaders on the sidelines of the forum. In fact, as Mr Singh’s talks with President Bush on the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal demonstrate, some of the most consequential work sometimes takes place not in pre-negotiated documents, but in such impromptu bilateral meetings on the sidelines of major summits.
On the issue of climate change, India has done well to explain to the industrialised countries that alleviation of poverty is one of the ways to make people in developing countries capable of adapting to a changing climate. As Mr Singh rightly insisted, “adaptation” is as crucial in battling climate change as “mitigation” methods. No wonder this finds echoes in the final summit document in which G8 countries promise to include “means for adaptation in a future agreement along with enhanced technology cooperation and financing”. A welcome step, especially since future discussions on climate change are to be based on “differentiated responsibility” that depends on the capability of each country.