Civil Society Engagement at the G7 - Why it Matters

Civil Society Engagement at the G7 - Why it Matters
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For over four decades, leaders from the world’s major advanced economies have gathered to discuss pressing global challenges at the annual Group of Seven (G7) Summit. Historically speaking, the informal, non-bureaucratic nature of the G7 has not lent itself to a well-structured relationship with civil society groups. Japan’s decision to invite 100 NGOs to be present near the International Media Center (IMC) at the 2016 G7 Summit in Ise Shima, however, represents a significant recent shift in that relationship – setting the stage for increased collaboration and accountability for the G7's actions. This level of civil society media access has not been available since France hosted the G7 and G20 summits in 2011. Unfortunately, as mentioned, this year civil society is located near but not in the IMC, making it more difficult for journalists to locate civil society representatives.

The relationship between the G7 and civil society has gone through a number of stages from 1975 to present. Initially, the G7 – recognized as the G8 until 2013 – and civil society organizations interacted little, perhaps due to a lack of recognition of the potential for mutual benefit.

In 1984, the G7 expanded its agenda and focus areas beyond economic policy development to include sustainable development – therefore opening the door for civil society organizations to lobby the increasingly influential G7 on more issues. However, many G7 scholars credit “The Other Economic Summit” (an alternative civil society summit) and the 1991 Environment Summit in London as the first manifestiation of issue-specific civil society activity in the G7 sphere. In 1995, the G7 communiques officially discussed “civil society” and “NGOs,” therefore highlighting civil society’s vital role in the global development sector.

This is not the first time Japan has pushed for greater civil society engagement with the G7. As the first G7 host nation to formally establish a space for civil society and NGO engagement in the G7 process at the Okinawa Summit in 2000, Japan deserves significant praise. It recognized the importance of multi-sectoral engagement in addressing global concerns. For InterAction – the largest alliance of NGOs and partners in the U.S. – and the G7/G20 Advocacy Alliance (U.S.) this is a victory and a far cry from the attitude of non-recognition which was the norm only 20 years ago.

The active engagement of the G7/G20 Advocacy Alliance (U.S.) in issue-specific lobbying and policy writing on a year-round basis is a vital part of encouraging continued development of the the G7-civil society relationship.

The impact of this growing relationship has led to a number of effective policy outcomes across the development sphere. The 2009 L’Aquila G8 Summit resulted in the establishment of checks and measures for G7 accountability. Three reports on this have been published to date, including the most recent – published by the government of Japan last week. This year’s accountability report touched on 51 commitments across 10 sectors; three of which are relevant to the G7/G20 Advocacy Alliance (U.S.) policy recommendations: health, food security, and equality.

Health in particular has seen some success. The commitments made to funding contributions to the eradication of neglected tropical diseases, Polio, AIDS, TB, and vaccine-preventable diseases have seen significant progress towards achieving the goals set at previous G7 Summits. G7 nations also continue to contribute heavily to the Global Fund and the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI). The commitments made at the 2010 Muskoka G8 Summit regarding the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are now approaching the final stages of implementation despite ongoing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This progress exemplifies the importance of collaboration and accountability between all development actors. In further attempts to successfully address issue-specific challenges facing the global community, the inclusion and full participation of the civil society sector must be respected and adopted by all future host nations of the G7 and G20.

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