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Is it time to deep-six the Group of Eight?

L'AQUILA, Italy — Is it time to deep-six the Group of Eight?

Before the elite economic club even finished its three-day summit, participants were already jockeying over a future that many of them say is inevitable: a new, expanded group that would officially include rising powers such as China, India and Brazil.

Those countries, along with invited guests Mexico and South Africa, have been throwing their weight around at the annual Group of Eight summit even though they are not formal members.

The developing countries rejected a climate-change accord. They also issued a combined statement blaming their hosts for the global economic crisis and demanding "greater inclusion" in international decisionmaking. And when Chinese President Hu Jintao unexpectedly left Italy on Tuesday to respond to civil unrest at home, negotiators acknowledged that hopes evaporated for any major diplomatic breakthroughs at the summit.

The dwindling ability of the Group of Eight — the United States, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Canada and Italy — to tackle problems on its own became especially clear during climate-change negotiations. Although the Group of Eight agreed to halve production of greenhouse gases by 2050, members essentially set aside the plan after China and India refused to go along.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama urged emerging economies to do more to curb global warming.

"I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities. So, let me be clear: Those days are over," he said. But he said developing nations have to do their part, as well.

"With most of the growth in projected emissions coming from these countries, their active participation is a prerequisite for a solution," he said

China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa have been attending Group of Eight summits as guests since 2007. While their presence has become a given, the failure to grant them full membership has only widened divisions, said Richard Gowan, associate director for policy at New York University's Center on International Cooperation.

"They've almost become the formal opposition," Gowan said. "This is not helping anyone bond. There's a very clear dividing line."

Some leaders want to replace the Group of Eight with the Group of 20, which includes such countries as Argentina and Saudi Arabia and collectively represents three quarters of the world's population.

Eradicating the Group of Eight won't be easy. Some members, such as Canada and Japan, worry that they would lose influence in a bigger club.

Europe in particular would stand to lose clout. In addition to holding half the membership in the Group of Eight, the European Union gets extra seats at the summit for Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Is it time to deep-six the Group of Eight? 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 11:57pm]
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