June 2021 saw world leaders come together in Cornwall for the G7 summit. This year, the focus was on how to create “a stronger global health system that can protect us all from future pandemics”. The concern of global health also incorporated issues of climate, sustainable development and food security.
What is the G7?
The G7 was first established in 1975 with 6 members initially, until a year on when Canada acquired membership. The G7 summit is held annually whereby leaders take turns to host other members, holding meetings and press conferences. They attempt to agree and formulate a ‘joint communique’ (a statement setting out their stance on worldwide issues). However, disunity and disagreement have partly defined recent summits.
The Elephant in The Room
The pressing issues of climate change, Russia and China’s influence and COVID-19 were clearly outlined from the outset. However, the elephant in the room which also required addressing concerned the primacy of the G7 itself.
The West as a coherent force capable of tackling said issues faced doubt in the previous term of American presidency. In the previous summit, former president Donald Trump refused to endorse the final communique, instead heralding his ‘America First’ rhetoric. The Trump administration had therefore cast doubt on whether America could return as a predictable, cooperative ally.
While ex-president Donald Trump had disrupted proceedings, Joe Biden sought to create distance between himself and his predecessor. The summit marks Biden’s first overseas trip as president, where he hoped to set a precedent for what is to come, saying, “America is back.”
By harnessing the power of cooperation and multilateralism, this group has the capacity to make a transformative impact.
All mouth and no trousers
The G7’s value as a diplomatic block has changed significantly since it was first established. An example being that its share of global GDP has diminished. Some have thus questioned the relevance of the G7. For example, emerging economies, such as India and China continue to grow and expand in terms of GDP and influence. Activists and protesters who converged at the summit accused the leaders of being “all mouth and no trousers”.
What was discussed?
The assembly pledged to donate one billion doses of Covid vaccines to developing countries over the next year and promised to boost global vaccine manufacturing. The West has been remarkable in their ability to develop and implement vaccines, however have thus far been hesitant to distribute it globally to aid developing nations. The commitment to vaccinate globally is not only ethically the right thing to do, but is mutually beneficial.
Paradoxically, Covid cases have since surged in Cornwall, where the summit was held.
The G7 nations committed to acting on climate change, renewing a previously unfulfilled pledge to raise $100bn a year to help developing countries to cut emissions. The effects of climate change: food insecurity, extreme weather conditions and sea level rise-induced land loss disproportionately impact the world’s poorest nations, whilst the biggest contributors of global emissions experience the effects to a lesser degree.
In a video message to the leaders, Sir David Attenborough pushed for cooperation on the issue of climate, saying, “The natural world today is greatly diminished…Our climate is warming fast. That is beyond doubt. Our societies and nations are unequal and that is sadly plain to see.”
He also declared that the decisions facing the most economically advanced nations in this decade “are the most important in human history.”
The G7 are a relevant player in climate change due to their cumulative responsibility of the global warming we are witnessing today. The G7’s commitment to phase out coal at home and stop financing coal overseas is significant due to its ability to mount pressure on China to follow. However, a date and timeline of the plans have not been provided.
Democracy vs. Autocracy
G7 leaders agreed to take action on China’s human rights record, specifically in the Xinjiang regions which is home to the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. Amnesty International accused China of committing “at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”
The leaders also outlined their plans to conduct an expert-led study, via the World Health Organisation (WHO), into the origins of COVID-19.
“We’re in a contest, not with China per se… with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century.”
Why has the summit been criticised?
Campaigners have been disappointed by the outcome of the summit. Teresa Anderson, Action Aid’s climate policy coordinator, criticised the renewal of the $100 billion a year target, saying it “doesn’t come close to addressing the urgency and scale of the crisis.”
Moreover, the charity Oxfam labelled the meeting a “colossal failure”. For many, the lack of detail on how targets will be achieved is a key disappointment.
The club of developed countries have frustrated many, with the idea of ‘the West leading the rest’ being unpalatable. However, undoubtedly, these countries have a responsibility to restore the damage their industrialisation and development has caused to the planet. In addition to providing equal opportunities of development to the Global North, the G7 has the opportunity to lead a new Green Industrial Revolution.