The 47th G7 Summit took place in Cornwall (UK) from the 11th to the 13th of June 2021. At a time when tensions between countries such as China and the US are on the rise, and the Covid-19 crisis has unleashed a new set of challenges for the entire international community, this summit seemed more decisive than ever. The leaders of the G7 countries; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, attended this three-day summit to tackle a crucial matter for all of them. They were also joined by the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission; representing the EU, as well as leaders from Australia, India, South Africa, and South Korea, who participated as guests. This meeting has reignited certain frictions between the West and China, but it has also left important promises on coordination between the participating countries to deal with challenges such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is the G7 and why is it important?
The G7 or “Group of Seven” is an inter-governmental political reunion of the government leaders of seven of the world’s wealthiest countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States). These seven nations have been meeting annually since the 1970s to discuss global affairs ranging from economic challenges to the climate change crisis. Until 2014 the G7 used to be called the G8 when Russia was expelled after its annexation of Crimea. This year, the presidents and prime ministers from the G7 countries met in Cornwall, UK, to celebrate their 47th gathering, taking place from Friday the 11th to Sunday the 13th of June 2021.
During this first in-person summit since 2019, Canada was represented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France by President Emmanuel Macron, Germany by Chancellor Angela Merkel (who may have attended this meeting for the last time), Italy by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Japan by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the UK by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the US by President Joe Biden. Furthermore, also the EU was invited to attend and was represented by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the European Council President, Charles Michel.
The G7 does not have any executive power and cannot approve any legislation, as it is formed by independent nations with their own democratic governments. Nonetheless, this is undoubtedly one of the most critical meetings every year, given that the heads of government attending these summits are the leaders of seven of the most powerful and wealthiest nations in the world. Hence, decisions and agreements reached at the G7 summits have a global impact. For instance, at the 2002 summit these countries decided to set up a global fund to stop the spread of malaria and Aids. Conversely, one of the biggest criticisms of the G7 summit is that it requires an update and should move towards including China and India among its members. Nonetheless, the 2021 G7 summit has arguably been one of the most decisive meetings given the significance of the topics discussed.
The 2021 G7 summit was likely one of the most important meetings since the group was created in 1975. This particular meeting attracted a lot of attention due to its large agenda. According to a press statement released by the EU, the G7 leaders discussed six main issues.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic
The first global challenge discussed at the G7 was unsurprisingly the health crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective for the G7 leaders was that of coordinating their efforts to stop the spreading of this virus that had already caused millions of deaths around the world and created enormous economic losses. One of the main aims in this regard was to launch mass global vaccination campaigns as fast as possible. Furthermore, they discussed the post-pandemic future and how to develop more sophisticated prevention systems involving the coordination of manufacturing capacities around the world, creating better early warning systems and cooperating in the development of new, efficient vaccines.
2. Economic Recovery
The second most important topic of discussion, directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, was global economic recovery following the health crisis. The objective of the G7 leaders was to pass recovery plans with extensive funding to finance the recovery of their economies based on the USD 12 trillion that they had already invested since the beginning of the pandemic. In the short run, they planned on assisting the sectors that suffered the most from the pandemic. In the long run, they will focus on job creation, building infrastructure, boosting innovation and aid people in need independently of age, ethnicity or gender.
All leaders gathered at the summit committed to pursuing fairer and more solid trading relations, fairer taxation systems to stop the trend of increasing inequality and solicit a stronger global economy. Likewise, they asserted to raise the wellbeing of their societies and boost the technological transformation of their industries and the openness of their economies.
4. Global warming
Another crucial aim was to discuss joint measures countries must take to counter climate change, stop the increase of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, cut CO2 emissions of the G7 countries by half by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Moreover, this green economic revolution involves increasing climate finance until 2025 and ensuring the preservation of at least 30% of the land and oceans by 2030 for future generations.
The G7 nations envisage coordinating their actions and cooperate with other states to tackle global challenges through joint investment in green economic growth and the improvement of telecommunications and ICT infrastructure. The leaders discussed their partnership with African states, such as in increasing support to the activities of multilateral bodies in developing countries, like with USD 100 billion for the International Monetary Fund.
6. Global democratic values
Finally, the G7 leaders vowed to preserve the democratic values shared by the member states and to tackle global challenges together. These values include freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The discussion pushed forward gender equality, reaching the target of getting 40 million more girls into education and investing at least USD 2.75 billion in the Global Partnership for Education.
G7 leaders discussed this comprehensive agenda, while continuing to improve the prospects for a multilateral rules-based international order, together with the G20 partners, relevant international organizations and other important partners.
5 Main outcomes
Even though there were many topics on the agenda, the G7 leaders managed to reach promising solutions published in a 25-page communiqué, which will be closely monitored by experts in the coming months. The five main outcomes of the meeting can be summarised as follows:
Almost a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines
Perhaps the most important compromise reached by the G7 leaders was to send 870 million vaccines directly to developing countries over the next year. The US has already promised 500 million doses and the UK another 100 million. In addition, the G7 nations committed to providing COVID-19 supplies, including tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), therapeutics and raw materials to countries most in need. They will do this by boosting production all over the world, reducing trade barriers to facilitate the destruction of these goods, and supporting global supply chains. Finally, they agreed to work with international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and to invest in research and innovation to ensure vaccines, tests and treatments are effective against emerging variants.
Cut coal consumption and reduce emissions
After long hours of dialogue and negotiations, the G7 leaders also promised to reduce the consumption of coal-fired energy generation in their domestic markets and to terminate the funding of new coal-burning power plants. Furthermore, they pledged to help poorer countries in mobilizing USD 100bn per year from public and private sources until 2025 to cut their emissions and progressively move away from coal power. Finally, the G7 leaders committed to a “green revolution” with the aim of slowing down the increase of global temperature to 1.5Cº, preserve at least 30% of land and oceans across the world by 2030 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
America is back
At the end of the summit, US President Joe Biden declared that “America is back at the table”. During the meeting, Biden tried to convince other nations that his administration marked a new period of US foreign relations and that it would try to reduce the tensions created by his predecessor and the international community.
At the press conference afterwards he also highlighted that the summit was “extraordinarily collaborative” and that the US could “work with Russia” over matters related to Covid, cybercrime and conflict. Finally, he stated that the G7 conference was a “contest with autocracies” and emphasised the need to protect human rights and climate change, pointing fingers at China and Russia.
This made other G7 leaders very optimistic about the future of international governance. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the Biden presidency as “a big breath of fresh air”, while French President Emmanuel Macron said that “it’s great to have a US president who’s part of the club and very willing to cooperate”.
However, all this progress may be jeopardized by the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. On the 14th of April 2021, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared that the alliance had agreed to start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan by the 1st of May 2021. Nonetheless, during the past few weeks of August, when the US began to finish the withdrawal operations, the Taliban launched an offensive against the Afghan government and, on the 15th of August 2021, took control of a vast majority of the Afghan territory after retaking Kabul. As a result of this chaotic and rapid withdrawal of US troops, hundreds of people crowded at Kabul’s international airport, desperate to leave the country. On the 16th of August 2021, shocking footage showing Afghans trying to cling to a US Air Force plane was shared worldwide through social media. For many, this symbolized the failure of the US military intervention in Afghanistan and is likely to add tension to the Biden administration’s diplomatic relations with other NATO countries.
Reforms, economic recovery and new targets
Finally, the G7 leaders reached a landmark deal to deter multinational enterprises such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Google from shifting profits to low-tax offshore havens. They agreed to impose a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15%, which would force Facebook to pay higher taxes in more countries after 8 years of discussions.
Moreover, the G7 leaders decided to make companies and financial institutions accountable for the impact they have on the environment. Thus, this deal also forces businesses to disclose data about their exposure to climate-related risks. The main objective of this measure is to safeguard the global financial system from climate change shocks. However, central banks and other financial institutions state that there is no reliable data available on exposed firms to climate risks or on how environmentally friendly their activities are, given that this information is most often provided on a voluntary basis. In countries such as France, this has become mandatory. Thus, the G20 group will examine making reporting mandatory in the next UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow starting on the 1st of November 2021.
They also committed to helping economies all over the world to recover from the economic crisis unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The G7 leaders will shift from helping smaller and weaker countries’ response to the crisis to assisting them in recovering the jobs and investment lost during the hardest months of the lockdown and support their growth in the long run. To conclude, they declared that they would ensure “the long-term sustainability of public finances to enable us to respond to future crises and address longer-term structural challenges, including for the benefit of future generations”.
Examining the new power balances
According to some experts, the summit could be classified as one of the most successful G7 summits in history. However, these conclusions have also generated some friction and clashes of interests between countries.
For the UK, the summit was an opportunity to strengthen and redefine its diplomatic relations with other countries post-Brexit. The UK improved its bilateral relationship with the US through the signature of a new ‘Atlantic Charter’, an updated version of the ‘Atlantic Charter’ signed by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941. Nonetheless, the UK still has to reduce ongoing tensions with the EU over Northern Ireland and deal with the increasingly delicate domestic situation caused by the pandemic.
For the US, it was also an opportunity to review its international reputation and rebuild its diplomatic “friendships” with other nations. The Biden administration was successful in fixing the US’ relationship with the other G7 nations, as reflected by Macron’s and Johnson’s declarations. Overall, the other leaders had a very positive opinion about President Biden. Furthermore, Biden demonstrated diplomatic sensibility by agreeing to work together with Russia to tackle issues such as cybercrime, which had a more complicated relationship with the US after having been accused of disturbing US’ domestic affairs by manipulating the 2016 elections. In this stance, Biden was determined to reduce tensions with the Putin administration and showed a more cooperative position than its predecessor. Nonetheless, the Afghan crisis may also create additional challenges between the two powers, and Biden will have to take Russia’s next moves into consideration during its next meetings with Putin.
The French leader agreed with Biden on strengthening and modernising NATO but without defining how to split funding this process between the US and other EU NATO members. Macron also highlighted that his meeting with Johnson was somewhat less fluid than that with Biden, particularly given their discussion on the Northern Ireland issue, which is an especially complex question concerning the EU as a whole, and one that will need further review in the coming months.
Angela Merkel, representing Germany, stayed calm during what will likely have been her last G7 summit. During her first summit, she hosted the G7 in 2007. Since then, important developments have taken place (for instance, climate change being recognized as a pressing problem by all leaders) and others have remained the same (as she is still the only elected female leader in the group). During this summit, she specifically advocated for the protection of the liberal democratic values characterizing all the G7 nations, while she remained a symbol of the European stability she always tried to preserve throughout her political action. In addition, Merkel pushed for the common pledge to deliver 1 billion vaccines by next year to poorer countries underlining that G7 nations need to think “of those who don’t yet have the opportunity to get vaccinated, above all, African countries, but others, too.” However, according to Stefan Kornelius, an editor at the Süddeutsche Zeitung, she is “not in a position anymore to decide big policy moves”, which could be why Germany’s voice during this summit was not as loud.
Finally, the G7 leaders importantly addressed Russia in their joint communiqué. They asked Russia “to stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities, including its interference in other countries’ democratic systems, and to fulfil its international human rights obligations and commitments”, expressing a strong “support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. This may have irritated the Russian leaders but during the last day of the G7 summit, Biden stated that the US was willing to work with Russian authorities to fight issues such as cybercrime. Still, Biden told NBC journalists in an interview that during his meeting with the Russian leader in Geneva on the 17th of June 2021, he agreed with Putin on US-Russia relations being at a “low point”, signalling that Washington and Moscow will have to work together to improve these during the coming months.
Reaction from China
The G7 leaders also issued an important statement on China. They called on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in its Xinjiang region, to respect the higher degree of autonomy of Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law and demanded further investigations on the origins of the coronavirus in China. Biden declared that the G7 group and the World Health Organization (WHO) experts “haven’t had access to the laboratories”. Moreover, the G7 leaders highlighted the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and said they “remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions”. Finally, they expressed their will to confront China’s “economic abuses” and accused Chinese authorities of using “non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy”.
Following this joint communiqué, Macron tried to reduce the tension with Chinese leaders by saying that the G7 club is “not hostile towards China” and that Biden “does not seek conflict”. However, Beijing’s response to the G7 group was not a positive one. In a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the G7 group of making “groundless accusations” about China, “grossly interfering in China’s internal affairs” and compromising “China’s sovereignty”. According to Wang, the G7 group is “exercising group politics” and stated that “this is the deliberate destruction of the norms of international relations”. He also answered US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said that the US’ aim is not to contain China but to shield the rules-based international order. Wang told reporters that the US’ definition of “rules” was unclear and that it seems that the US and several other nations do not refer to international rules, but to rules set by the US. According to Wang, the rules that China and every other country should respect are the international rules based on the UN Charter and international laws that protect the common interests of the international community.
Furthermore, Chinese media company Xinhua News highlighted the shortcomings of the Summit shortly after its ending. It cited former UK prime minister Gordon Brown saying that the summit would “go down as a missed opportunity” and “an unforgivable moral failure” after it failed to come up with a comprehensive plan to deliver the 1 billion vaccine doses it promised by the middle of next year. It stated that one of the main criticisms of the summit was that the G7 leaders also failed to set binding agreements and timetables to implement the plan. Hence, there is a big uncertainty about when the plan will be delivered.
Ongoing tensions between the US and China remain and Beijing will be paying close attention to Biden’s management of US foreign relations with China in the upcoming months, especially regarding the ongoing trade war that has already highlighted the limitations of the international order (and more specifically the World Trade Organization) in dealing with these disputes.
The G7 group has attained some promising achievements concerning the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, climate action, the taxation of multinationals, post-pandemic economic recovery, WTO reforms, women’s education, and defined a coordinated position towards China. Nonetheless, tensions remain between specific countries, such as the EU and the UK or the US and China. Some of the joint policies agreed upon still lack specific details on how they are to be carried out and monitored. Hence, there is still a lot of scepticisms about how these promises will materialize and which major institutions will monitor them once in place. The next important meeting of the G7 leaders is the COP26 summit in Glasgow, on the 1st of November 2021. This meeting will bring together key policymakers and experts from all over the world to discuss how nations are to accelerate their actions towards the goals set by the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This will be a crucial occasion to evaluate whether the promises made by the G7 leaders on carbon-neutrality, taxation towards polluting multinationals and climate change policies will have progressed as stipulated.
Author: Marina Ortega, Junior Researcher, EIAS
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons