The group expanded to include Canada in 1976 and Russia in 1998. Unlike many other international bodies, the G8 does not have a fixed structure or a permanent administration. It is up to the country that has the Presidency to set the agenda and organise the annual G8 Summit.
At the Summit, the leaders of the eight member countries discuss major issues of the day. They seek to reach informal agreements on measures that they can take individually, but in a cooperative manner, to achieve their goals more effectively. At each Summit, leaders agree upon certain initiatives; there are follow-up meetings throughout the year to make sure commitments are being honoured.
G8 Summits are hugely important if we are to manage the effects of globalisation, a task more relevant today than ever before. The G8 is able to help secure political commitment to action on key global issues. It involves the Heads of Government of the major economic powers and their decisions can make a real impact. The G8 is unique in bringing together the key like-minded players from Asia, Europe and North America. This small, informal grouping is still capable of setting the agenda thanks to the economic and political weight of its members and their shared commitment to global security and prosperity. As well as being an opportunity for the world's leaders to discuss major issues, G8 summits have achieved many concrete things such as:
-- Setting up the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Health Fund). Between them, the G8 have given $1.4bn to this fund. This money is now being used for many different projects: rebuilding clinics in Sierra Leone and training over 2000 healthcare workers in India are just two examples.
-- Establishing a new relationship with Africa with the G8 Africa Action Plan in response to the African-led New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
-- Making safe nuclear facilities in Russia, through the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction: $20bn was pledged over 10 years for this initiative.
-- Launching the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, an agreed process for cancelling the debt of the world's poorest countries.Action against money laundering (through the Financial Action Task Forces). The G8 led in setting up these regional task forces, which many other countries have now joined. They have produced specific recommendations to prevent criminals and terrorists financing their operations.
The main themes for the G8 in 2005 are Africa and climate change. Both are pressing issues for the world. Africa demands particular attention as the world's poorest continent. Climate change is happening and should be of concern for all. Holding the G8 Presidency gives the UK the chance to focus international attention on tackling these issues.