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CWA # 509, 18 July 2021

The G7 Summit 2021
Farfetched goals on pandemic recovery, climate action and economic revival

  Joeana Cera Matthews 

In the fight against COVID-19, the leaders of the seven most advanced countries in the world came together to 'build back better'. Their goals may be farfetched.

The G7 Summit 2021, amid severe criticism, aimed to bring its leaders to the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 and other pressing matters that concerned the world. Their focus areas included discussions on recovery from the pandemic, revival of the global economy, and climate action among various other issues. 

Focus Areas and Initiatives
The primary and immediate focus of the summit was to contain the pandemic and preferably beat it by the end of 2022. On recognizing the urgent need to speed up the delivery of doses, commitments to share at least 870 million doses of vaccines over the next year were made. Half of these doses are aimed to be delivered by the end of 2021 and will be primarily channelled through the COVAX initiative. Thus, the total G7 commitments since the start of the pandemic crosses over 2 billion vaccine doses. The G7 Carbis Bay Health Declaration to ensure that all countries are better equipped to prevent, detect, respond, and recover from health crises was also endorsed at the summit. Considering the unpredictable nature of health emergencies, the 100 Days Mission was another initiative launched; it would seek to create an adequate framework of essentials in the event of a future pandemic. The summit also proposed to strengthen the WHO and support manufacturing in low-income countries. Noting the importance of intellectual property rights in this regard, the member countries intend to constructively engage in the WTO discussions on the same. The establishment of the international pathogen surveillance network which is a global pandemic radar to boost global surveillance was confirmed during the summit. The World Bank Group and other Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) were called upon to increase the speed of their financial support to fragile countries dealing with the pandemic and other health challenges. 

Another focus of the summit was the global economic recovery. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the G7 has provided support to citizens and businesses totalling over USD 12 trillion including fiscal support and liquidity measures. Their current agenda for economic growth and recovery is synchronized with a green and digital transformation that increases productivity, and creates decent and quality jobs. Discussions to reach a consensus on the allocation of taxing rights and the ambitious global minimum tax of at least 15 per cent on a country-by-country basis will be continued through the G20 and OECD inclusive frameworks. Recognizing the importance of restarting international travel to the global economy, new public health guidelines and requirement of common standards for travel were called upon. The summit leaders were also concerned about the use of forced labour in global supply chains, and tasked the G7 Trade Ministers to identify areas for strengthening cooperative efforts in order to eradicate all forms of forced labour. Support for modernizing the WTO to enable its proper functioning was another concern that was expressed via the summit.

Climate change has been gaining a lot of attention over the last few years and for this year’s summit, climate action and climate financing was a major area of focus. Supporting a green revolution that cuts emissions and seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, and a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 are some of the climate goals that the summit leaders set for themselves during this year’s summit. The summit leaders committed to withdraw direct government support for thermal coal power stations by the end of this year, to aid the international transition away from coal. They also reinstated their commitment to the Paris Agreement and showed support for the OECD’s International Programme for Action on Climate Mechanism (IPAC). They intend to achieve their climate goals mainly by decarbonization of the transport, industrial and innovation, agricultural, forestry, and other land use and construction sectors. The G7 Industrial Decarbonization Agenda was launched in line with this effort. Biodiversity loss, which is now seen as an equally important existential threat alongside climate change was another important topic that was addressed during the summit.

Other areas that were focused on included issues such as regions of conflict around the world, gender equality, cyber security, etc. The summit convened on the conflict zones around the world and mostly reprimanded its actors. China was given a warning against the rising human rights violations and abuse that took place in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Russia was called to end its destabilizing behaviour and malign activities while Belarus’ Ryanair airplane landing was condemned. The leaders also showed concern about the deepening humanitarian crises in Africa’s Sahel and Tigray regions. In line with this, the G7 commended the efforts of the African Union and the ECOWAS in stabilizing these conflicts. The military coup in Myanmar was strongly condemned and the leaders welcomed the swift implementation of ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus for bringing about stability. Stabilization in Libya and Afghanistan were supported while Iraq was commended for their success against the ISIS. They expressed their vision of a completely denuclearized Korean peninsula and called on Iran to return to their JCPoA commitments. Tehran was also requested to cooperate with the IAEA in future negotiations. 

Gender equality as a goal was supported with a target of getting 40 million more girls into education. Tackling racism in all forms especially by condemning the violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ populations was upheld. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities was also supported by the leaders of the G7. Another matter of global concern was the rising threat that cyber-attacks and criminal ransomware networks posed. The G7 opposed government-imposed internet shutdowns and network restrictions and endorsed the Digital Ministers’ Internet Safety Principles which would improve online safety. The G7 also expressed their particular interest in Africa and their intention to invest at least USD 80 billion into its private sector over the next five years. As a symbol of global unity in overcoming COVID-19, support was extended for conducting the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner, as well.

Why are the goals farfetched?
The G7 is one of those summits which has a track record of achieving its set targets – though the extent to which these have been realized in line with their initial goals may be questionable. This year’s summit, apparently bordered on the unrealistic side of things. On one hand, the whole world had been looking forward to the seven most advanced economies of the world to come together and ‘build back better’. The hopes, if one might say, were sky-high. On the other hand, the results that the G7 came out with were less than satisfactory. Their decisions were highly criticized – from the vaccine drive to the absence of major international players, everything about the summit seemed to be questionable in nature.

First off, the vaccine drive initiative. The G7 has set for itself a deadline of 2022 which is undoubtedly a stretched goal given the inadequate number of doses that have been promised. Half measures will not help in neither containing nor overcoming the pandemic. Aid experts opine that G7 distribution goals account for only a tenth of the number required; this clearly explains the inadequacy of the G7’s vision and initiative. It will require vaccinating at least 60 per cent of the global population to realize the goal of ending the pandemic in 2022, which is their set deadline. Only 22.4 per cent of the world population and 0.9 per cent of people in the targeted low-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine till now (according to the statistics on 25 June 2021). The world has a long way to go before the pandemic is brought to an end. The G7 leaders seem to have miscalculated or delivered terribly short of the requirements. Criticisms regarding the lack of clarity on the time frame assigned for the promised delivery of doses is also a matter of concern.

Secondly, the absence of major international powers and the threat the G7 initiatives pose to these powers. The absence of Russian and Chinese powers, who are significant to the vaccination drive and to other issues under consideration, is bound to cause a setback to the G7 initiatives. They lack a global united front and selectively choose when to cooperate with these countries. Countering the vaccine diplomacy that China initiated required a stronghold of powers coming together, and that is exactly what the G7 achieved via its global pandemic program. But this among other initiatives acts as trigger points for China, whom the West now consider as a threat to the global order. Strengthening the Clean Green Initiative which rivals Beijing’s BRI is another issue of concern. The summit also challenged China’s place in the global economy. They were called to maintain stability across the Taiwan Strait by encouraging peaceful resolution of the cross-Strait issues. Serious concern regarding the situation in the East and South China Seas and the Indo-Pacific were also raised by the leaders during the summit. Any unilateral attempts, which clearly implied China, to change the status quo and increase tensions in the region were strongly opposed. Another major trigger point with respect to China is the call that the summit made for a WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 origins study in China. China has repeatedly denied allegations against the same and would consider it an extreme embarrassment to its regime and establishment if a second phase of the study is conducted. This would only lead to further straining of tensions between China and the West. At this juncture, it is only fair to say that the G7’s initiatives are geopolitical moves as they are humanitarian ones.

Along with the clear push by the Western leaders to counter China’s increasing influence was the warning against Russian activity within its borders and in the East European region. Their moves were strongly condemned and Russia was asked to refrain from such malign activities that affected the peace and stability of the region. Moscow was asked to investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil, in light of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny claimed to be poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The G7 statement also called Russia to take stringent action against those conducting cyber-attacks and using ransomware from within its borders. Russia was asked to alleviate tensions in Ukraine and withdraw its military from Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The G7, in fact, views Russia as a party to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and not a mediator. Although Russia may consider looking into the cybercrime allegations, every other matter that was raised by the G7 are extreme trigger points for Moscow. They have never been interested in changing their stance on any of the said issues before and they don’t seem to be interested in changing them now. This series of events would only increase the tendency of Russia to create more uncertainty in the region. 

Finally, the criticism against the climate pledges. They didn’t seem to strike a chord with any of the green groups as an effective counter-measure to the crisis at hand. It was seen rather as an effort solely for the sake of one. The leaders recognized climate change as a pressing issue that needed immediate attention but actions to be undertaken in the regard weren’t clearly specified or considered. The pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is also being widely criticized by environmentalists saying that it will be too little, too late. The G7 goal of protecting at least 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030 are being called as plain greenwashing and rather unrealistic. Doubts loom large around the G7. Questions regarding the G7’s ability to deliver and whether it has turned out to be like any other summit – all talk and no play – may push the leaders to live up to the expectations. If the G7 remains just as a talking shop that never gets anything realized, it will only assist in the global spiralling. Instead of drowning the world in promises, it’s high time substantive actions are taken and the leaders of the world rose to the challenge of reviving the world.


Joeana Cera Matthews is a Postgraduate Scholar at the Department of International Relations, University of Mysore. Presently she interns at the School of Security and Conflict Studies, NIAS (Bengaluru). Her research interests include the refugee crises in Europe, human rights violations of transgender and non-binary people in war zones, and the political issues faced by unrecognized countries. She is currently working on Sino-European relations and its influences in weakening European cohesion.

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