There is something grimly appropriate about this year's G8 meeting being held in L'Aquila, the epicentre of April's deadly earthquake. The eight world leaders meeting in the ruined Italian city have an awful lot of rebuilding to do.
High on the agenda will be a redesign of the rules under which the global economy functions in order to prevent of repeat of last autumn's financial meltdown. Russia and China (the latter attending the summit as an observer) have signalled their intention to push for an agreement on an alternative to the dollar as a global reserve currency, as their fears grow that their vast accumulations of US assets are at risk of losing value.
In such discussions America might well raise its long-standing complaint about China's policy of manipulating its currency to keep its exports cheap, something which played a key role in destabilising the global economy. There is very unlikely to be a dramatic announcement on either of these two fiendishly complex and politically sensitive issues at the end of the summit. But it is right that they are, finally, being discussed at such meetings. Talks on a new global regulatory framework for banks might be more fruitful given that most of the governments represented have been badly scarred by the implosion of their financial sectors. There is already a general agreement that commercial banks need to be forced to hold more capital in good times to prevent them from needing costly public bailouts in the bad. A commitment from the G8 to require their domestic banks to do so would send a useful signal to the global financial community that the days of recklessness must end.
Another huge task at hand is the response to accelerating climate change. At the end of the year in Copenhagen, world governments will need to come together to design a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Now is the time to put some of the pieces of that agreement in place. A commitment from the world's largest economies to reduce their global emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 would increase the chances of the needed breakthrough deal in December. Developing nations need to see that mature economies are prepared to take a lead on this.
An agreement on investment in agricultural development in developing countries will be under discussion, pushed by the United States. This is welcome so far as it goes. But more urgent is the need for rich countries to curb the subsidies on offer to their own farming sectors, which put agriculture workers in smaller countries at such a disadvantage. The G8 should commit to restarting the Doha free trade round, which broke up in acrimony last year, as soon as possible.
G8 leaders are also gathering in the rubble of their own grandiose promises on aid for the developing world. As Action Aid has pointed out, half of the money promised in last year's meeting in Japan has not been delivered. And the targets set at Gleneagles in 2005 also look unlikely to be met. This year's G8 host, Italy, has been particularly flagrant in ignoring its pledges.
This failure exemplifies the credibility problem of the G8. Too often the group's optimistic resolutions and promises have been forgotten or discarded. If the name of L'Aquila is to be associated with something other than a natural disaster, these leaders need to deliver more than another communique of warm words and good intentions.