What with the World Cup and the Budget and the Twilight: Eclipse premiere, everyone sort of forgot about the G8 summit. Or, as "summit" in this context might be translated, the gathering of heads of state to talk through a pre-established agenda covering the major global issues of the day. A summit, according to certain definitions, is not a summit without the highest-ranking decision-makers in the world being present. If they're not there, it's just a plain old meeting. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

It doesn't take huge linguistic imagination to see how anyone came up with the "summit" idea. These are leaders at the height of public life. They are the intrepid hikers who, equipped with only stamina and wits, have scaled the most torturous and risky of career ladders. They are, to put it plainly, at the apex of the political mountain. Enough.

The mountain parallels aren't all good, though. The G8 leaders, like the grinning climbers at the top of a peak, have a penchant for staged, awkward-looking photographs. A certain amount of smug self-congratulation and grotesque posturing also goes on, which belies that all the real work was happening behind the scenes, long before the summit itself was reached. (Aides who accompany heads of state to the G8 are called sherpas - a direct nod to the heavy-lifting, life-supporting role of the real thing.)

And then there's the overwhelming feeling of utter pointlessness. You can see why someone wants to climb a mountain - it has a nice tick-box feel to it. Climbed it, done it, tick. But then what? After all that work and effort and money and time. They'll probably just climb another one.

And so it is with G8 summits. Months of preparation and protracted negotiation all lead up to the summit itself, which costs vast amounts of money, involves a lot of talking, the odd photo and an announcement or two (which have usually already been made somewhere else anyway) and then it's all over and no one's very sure what, if anything, has been achieved. Time to start organising next year's . . .

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 05 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The cult of the generals