NGOs gearing up for Lake Toya blitz

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — While officials of the Group of Eight countries are busy preparing for this year’s summit in Japan, the country’s major nongovernmental organizations are also gearing up for the event, which will culminate when world leaders meet in Lake Toya, Hokkaido, in early July.

The leaders of Japan, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia are expected to address four areas of concern: global warming and climate change, African aid, economic issues, including oil prices, and nuclear nonproliferation.

NGOs are expected to play a big role at the summit, and the 2008 Japan G8 NGO Forum, which groups various NGOs, will be presenting their views on a range of issues to participating governments and the international media.

The forum consists of more than 100 environmental, human rights and development NGOs from around Japan, including the Japan chapters of well-known Amnesty International, Oxfam and Greenpeace.

Aid to developing countries has been a key issue at past G8 summits.

Masako Hoshino, the forum’s chairwoman, said that along with climate change and African aid, NGOs want to bring attention to how Japan’s development aid is allocated and whether it actually benefits the people it supposedly targets.

“We in the NGO community also want to raise awareness about development issues and how Japan’s official development assistance is spent, as well as how human rights issues and development issues are connected,” she said.

“In addition, Japan is the only Asian member of the G8, so we hope that Japan will exert leadership to discuss not only African development, but poverty and development in the Asian region.”

The forum is run by an organizing committee, chaired by Hoshino, and divided into three separate units that deal with issues of poverty and development, the environment, and peace and human rights.

Forum members meet with Japanese agencies, including the Foreign and Environment ministries, and Diet members. They participate in international events, including the Civil Society 2007 G8 Summit in Germany and the recently concluded climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

The forum will also press governments to monitor and evaluate their previous commitments to reduce global poverty, and to save the environment.

The three units have drawn detailed position papers on G8 initiatives, and will present to participating governments a range of proposals and opinions on everything from abolishing government subsidies on fossil fuels to the protection of migrant workers.

And the forum will push host-nation Japan to demonstrate leadership in debate and policymaking. The forum’s poverty and development unit has proposed a list of agenda items they hope Japan will consider.

As Hoshino noted, these include ending an overemphasis on aid policies that support economic growth but often deepen the inequality gaps and poverty in the receiving country, and heeding a 2002 report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that warned Japan not to use its foreign aid as a diplomatic tool to pursue short-term national interests.

In addition, the poverty and development unit is seeking a guarantee that ODA does not deviate from the original objective of poverty-reduction by supporting, directly or indirectly, U.S. military strategy. And they are calling on the Japanese government to enact legislation that would take the ODA decision-making process out of the hands of the Cabinet and place it under the control of the Diet.

The forum has already called on the G8 to open up the summit to more civil society participation by arranging meetings between government-appointed sherpas, usually bureaucrats responsible for their country’s summit positions and arrangements, and NGOs.

To strengthen communication with participating governments, Hoshino said plans are in the works to hold a “Civil G8 Dialogue” perhaps around April or May. Ideally, she said, this would bring together about 30 NGO activists from around the world along with the G8 sherpa advisers.

“NGOs and G8 sherpas met earlier (last) year in Bonn, Germany (which hosted the 2007 summit), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with NGO representatives in Berlin. We hope that a similar meeting can be arranged with at least Japan’s foreign minister in attendance,” said Akihiro Takagi, the forum’s secretariat.

Compared with other countries, Japan has traditionally been less enthusiastic about NGO attendance at the G8. In 2000, a Foreign Ministry official raised eyebrows when, at a meeting in Paris prior to the July 2000 summit in Nago, Okinawa, he joked that because NGOs would have to swim through shark-infested waters surrounding Okinawa to reach the summit, few would likely make the trip.

Increased access, to both policymakers and the media, is now being negotiated between the forum and the Foreign Ministry, Hoshino and Takagi said.

“At the summit in Germany, 100 people from 50 NGOs were given accreditation to the main press center. (NGO attendance at this year’s summit) is under negotiation with the Foreign Ministry. Ideally, though, we’d like to see between two and three people from more than 50 NGOS from abroad, adding 20 NGOs from Japan, which means between 100 and 150 people,” Takagi said.

Beyond getting their word out during the summit in Lake Toya, forum-related NGOs are planning a number of public events. The first is the 2008 Indigenous People’s Summit, which takes place in Sapporo, from June 28 to July 4, just before the Leaders’ Summit. Indigenous people from at least 10 nations are currently expected to attend.

In addition will be the “Alternative Summit” also in July in Hokkaido. This will be a gathering of the NGOs, as well as the public, to discuss the themes being addressed by the politicians at Lake Toya.

In the runup to the Lake Toya summit, there will be numerous G8 ministerial meetings. The ones currently drawing the most interest from G8 governments, NGOs and the media include the Environment Ministers’ meeting in Kobe, where a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty involving developed and developing countries will likely be addressed, the African Development Summit in Yokohama, where new pledges of G8 aid may be made, and the Foreign Ministers’ summit in Kyoto, the final ministerial summit and the one that may deal with unsolved topics the others did not address, making it also the last chance before Hokkaido that NGOs will have to get their agenda across to G8 leaders.

NGO representatives are likely to be at these summits. Expectations are also growing that, for the African Development Summit, rock group U2′s lead singer, Bono, will make an appearance. And not a few people are wondering if former U.S. Vice President and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore might put in an appearance at some point to pressure the G8 on climate change.

Regardless of the celebrity attendance, the 2008 Japan G8 Summit Forum is playing an important role in advising governments and the general public.

Over the next six months, the forum will be conducting a number of public workshops, seminars and meetings in Tokyo and elsewhere on the G8 meetings and the issues to be discussed. Many gatherings are open to the public, and many forum participants are fluent in English.

Hoshino specifically encourages readers of The Japan Times interested in learning more to visit the forum’s Web site at www.g8ngoforum.org