We could never make poverty history overnight

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Indy Politics

This time last year, a remarkable campaign involving millions of people was reaching its climax. The aim was to pressure world leaders meeting at the G8 summit in Gleneagles into decisive action to tackle the scandal of global poverty.

Thanks in no small part to the weight of public opinion behind the Make Poverty History campaign and Live8, the international community listened and acted.

World leaders at Gleneagles agreed to double aid, write off debts, train peacekeepers, boost investment in health and education, make Aids drugs available to all and tackle climate change.

It was a remarkable result in which millions of people can take pride. But that was, we accept, just the first stage.

These fine words will mean nothing without delivery on these commitments and real change for millions of the poorest people on our planet.

No one expected that we could make poverty history, or reverse climate change, overnight. These are long-term problems and the solutions will be long-term too.

But millions who campaigned in the run-up to the G8 summit have every right to expect immediate action to start to put things right. With the G8 due to meet again in St Petersburg, what progress has there been?

We are publishing a booklet that shows what we believe has happened so far. It shows a great deal of progress in many areas, but does not shy away from the disappointments, particularly the failure to reach a global trade deal.

First, the good news. International aid increased by around 25 per cent between 2004 and 2005 to over $100bn (£55bn) - well on the way to the target of $130bn by 2010. We will, in the next month, have cancelled 100 per cent of the debt of 20 of the poorest countries, a remarkable achievement.

Debt relief, by freeing up funds for poverty reduction, is one of the best ways of bringing about immediate change. It has already enabled Zambia to scrap health care charges. The $18bn debt deal for Nigeria will release $1bn a year to employ 120,000 more teachers and put 3.5 million children into school.

The UK will meet its target to provide 0.7 per cent of national income as aid by 2013, two years ahead of the EU target. We have already met our target to provide £1bn a year in aid to Africa and are increasing steadily to reach £1.25bn by 2007-08.

Nearly $4bn was committed in 2005 to replenish the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria. A special session of the UN this month agreed to fully fund all countries which put together credible, sustainable Aids plans.

This will require a mammoth effort because the UN itself estimates at least $20bn a year will be needed by 2010 to provide drugs, put in place effective prevention programmes and provide care and support for those affected, including orphaned children. But it shows how Gleneagles and unprecedented public campaigns for change have raised global ambitions.

The UK and Europe are showing the way. Britain is the second largest funder of Aids programmes and we have committed to provide £1.5bn between 2005 and 2008. We have also launched the International Finance Facility for Immunisation, which will save five million children from death between now and 2015.

We have also announced an £8.5bn down-payment over 10 years to fund plans throughout Africa to provide free universal education. Twenty-two African countries are already working on 10-year plans.

We have launched a new UN emergency fund to respond more quickly to natural and human disasters, such as Darfur and the Pakistan earthquake. And we have ratified the UN convention on corruption.

So there is plenty in which to take pride. But, of course, there is more we need to do.

Trade is the one key element of the 2005 agenda where we have failed to make the progress we hoped. In some areas, we have inched slowly towards a global deal but we have not yet dealt with the most difficult issues and the deadline to conclude the round - by the end of this year - is fast approaching.

Living up to the promise of this "development round" of talks is the single biggest decision we could make internationally to lift millions out of poverty.

From recent conversations with leaders including President Thabo Mbeki, President George Bush, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, we know there is a widespread desire for an ambitious deal to benefit the poorest countries. What we need is the courage and imagination to remove the obstacles to it.

Then there is the challenge of conflicts such as Darfur. We need to use last month's peace agreement and the new UN resolution to put pressure on all parties to stop the fighting and allow for a smooth handover to the UN when it takes over peacekeeping from the African Union this year.

In the meantime, we need to do more to strengthen the African Union's mission in Darfur. The Gleneagles commitment to support the African Union to establish a standby force for peacekeeping is a vital step towards a more effective African response to such conflicts.

On climate change, we know there is frustration over the speed of progress. The science tells us we don't have much time. The UK's work throughout 2005 was about securing agreement by all countries, even those which have refused to ratify Kyoto, to begin to discuss an international framework for after 2012. This very important breakthrough allowed agreement at the UN meeting in Montreal.

We also agreed the Gleneagles plan of action to increase developing country access to clean technology and help them adapt to climate change. In 2006 we need to now accelerate discussions on how to avert dangerous climate change.

We are sure there will be some who would like to have seen more progress while others will question our assessment of the last year.

We welcome this. For just as public opinion played a huge role in ensuring we did not miss the opportunity to agree steps towards making poverty history, so it must also ensure the international community delivers on its promises. Together we can make sure we don't fail the poorest on our planet.