2010 marks the third year that Erin Fitzgerald, a recent graduate of U of T, has attended a G8 summit. Through U of T’s G8 Research Group, Fitzgerald has traveled to conferences in Japan, Italy and, this year, Muskoka, where she has spoken to government officials, attended press conferences, and analyzed recently released documents, among other duties.

The group, founded in 1987 by U of T faculty Janice Stein, John Kirton, and Bill Graham is housed at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and home to 150 student analysts. Their stated mandate is to “provide research and analysis on the activities of the G8 and its member states, particularly with respect to monitoring whether or not member states comply with the commitments they make at the G8 Summit,” according to the group’s website.

This is achieved through a year-long process, culminating in the summit itself, which 25 U of T students attend. According to Fitzgerald, who acted as Chair this past year, the process begins in September with the executive looking for measurable outcomes in the annually-released official document summarizing the results on the summit.

“A lot of the document will be ‘we are really proud that this initiative has gone forward,’ and there’s no monetary signals we can track, they’re not saying they’re going to implement a program, so we go through and look for things that are actually measurable, so areas like world economy, climate change.”

Once specific commitments are isolated they are assigned to student analysts track the progress of two countries with one of the identified G8 commitments. “That way, we’re able to see whether the G8 countries actually do what they say they’re going to do,” said Fitzgerald.
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Analysts use almost entirely “open-source research”—information available on-line, easily accessible, and preferably published on a government website. The report is then sent to government ministries, who respond saying “‘No, you should score us higher in all these areas for all these reasons,’ and then we say ‘but no, look at the interpretive guidelines,’ or ‘this commitment is two year’s old, we can’t give you credit for it,’’ said Fitzgerald.

At the summit, a smaller group of students produce two reports, available on the group’s website; one is an analysis of how each country fared based on their objectives going into the summit, and the other a ranking of how the G8 Presidency (this year, Canada) performed based on its success advancing the issues—such as food security, the environment, and the world economy—that the group identified as their priority.

“About a month beforehand we identified the objectives each country has going into the summit, and then at the summit as the communiqués are released, we score them based on the content of the communiqués,” said Fitzgerald. “So, if France wants a bank tax, and there’s no bank tax, then France did really badly in that area, but if everyone wants interim targets for climate change, and there are interim targets, then everyone does well.”

This year, in the Country Assessment Report, the U.S. maintained the highest ranking, scoring an average 79.6% success rate in pursuing its objectives, while Canada rose to third-place, scoring an overall 69.5%. Canada was marked high for the attention given to its “maternal and child health initiative, regional security, and the economic issues discussed at the G8 Summit, but was scored low for climate change, which received very little attention in the communiqué,” according to the report.

In the Issue Assessment Report, the group scored issues’ priority based on “how well the communiqués that are released by the G8 at the summit reflect the stated objectives of the G8 Presidency in each of the priority issue areas. If the statements and communiqués emerging from the summit reflect the pre-identified priority objectives of the G8 Presidency, a high score is assigned for the objective.” With Canada at the helm this year, world economy was judged to be by far the most successfully advanced with a score of 83%, while the other issues scored mostly in the 50s. Food security earned a score of only 10.8%.