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Blog

G7 takes tiny steps in the right directions

by Hans Dembowski

Blog

Mask-wearing activists demand more consequential Covid-19 action from G7 in Cornwall.

Mask-wearing activists demand more consequential Covid-19 action from G7 in Cornwall.

To claim world leadership, the G7 must do more than what its members agreed in Carbis Bay.
This is an up-dated and more nuanced version of the original blog-post. The original manuscript is included in Italics below the improved version.

The most pressing global issue is the Covid-19 pandemic. In late May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a proposal that the G7 could – and should – have adopted. According to IMF, it would cost $ 50 billion to launch a programme that would vaccinate 40 % of the population of every country by the end of this year and another 20 % until July 2022 (see D+C/E+Z comment by Chimezie Anajama). The efforts would have included more than only vaccinating people. The IMF proposal also took into account issues like testing, treatment of patients and the general strengthening of health care. It thus heeded the advice of the Independent Panel which has evaluated the global pandemic response on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) (see our previous coverage).

In Cornwall, however, the G7 only pledged to make available 1 billion vaccine doses by the end of this year. That is merly a tiny step in the right direction. Experts reckon that 10 billion to 11 billion doses would be needed to  vaccinate 70 % of the world population by the time the G7 meet again in Germany next year.

To launch the kind of programme the IMF proposed, the G7 quite obviously would have to involve the other 13 G20 members and various multilateral institutions, including UN organisations. However, none of them nor any major government would likely have stood in the way. The IMF wanted the G20 to bear 70 % of the costs, but of those $ 35 billion, $ 22 billion were already pledged. These sums are very small in comparison with the trillions worth of domestic G7 programmes implemented to keep national economies growing.  

If the G7 wants to lead the international community, it must state how global problems are to be solved and then do its part. The domestic TV audiences are not all that matters. In fact, people around the world are watching prosperous nations opening up fast thanks to progressing vaccination campaigns, while Covid-19 remains a huge threat in other parts of the world. G7 nations’ donation of surplus vaccines is plainly not enough.

In other fields of policymaking, the G7 announcements fell short too. Developing countries want to know how and when the G7 will live up to rich nation’s long-standing pledge to mobilise an annual $ 100 billion in climate finance, including private-sector investments (see our interview with Saleemul Huq). That sum was supposed to flow last year, but experts estimate that only $ 70 billion to $ 80 billion were actually made available. G7 members will hear many related questions at the climate summit in Scotland in November. Spelling out answers now would have created goodwill. Merely reiterating the as-yet unfulfilled pledge was definitely not good enough.

To lead convincingly, one must not only keep promises, but also show ambition. The announcement of a date by when the G7 will stop using coal-fuelled power plants would have been welcome in Cornwall, but the G7 only declared that its member countries’ international support for coal-based projects without carbon-capture and storage schemes will end this year.

In regard to international infrastructure development, the G7 intends to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. That is not a bad idea, especially if the G7 pays more attention to issues like environmental sustainability, social impacts and good governance. So far, however, the G7 only agreed to establish a working group on the matter. Criticism of Chinese human-rights abuses makes sense, but nice rhetoric about democracy offering more and better perspectives than authoritarian rule is insufficient for convincing the global public. The world needs solutions for pressing problems. The G7 should have adopted the multilateral strategy that was proposed by the IMF and would have implemented the WHO panel’s advice. The strategy, by the way, had been endorsed by the top leaders of the WHO, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) ahead of the summit.


Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C/E+Z.
[email protected]

 

The new version was posted on 22 June at 12.30 pm Frankfurt time. Another correction was made on 6 July 2021: The IMF wanted the G20 to bear 70 % of the costs, not the G7 as was mistakenly stated in the comment.

And here is the original version:

G7 takes tiny steps in the right directions

Quite likely, the top leaders have left the G7 summit in Cornwall with the comfortable feeling that cooperation among the leading Western powers is feasible again the way it was in past decades before the presidency of Donald Trump in the USA disrupted things. In our fast-changing world, however, what worked before Trump is no longer good enough. To claim world leadership, the G7 must do more than the seven heads of state and government agreed in Carbis Bay.

The most pressing issue is the Covid-19 pandemic. Global action is urgently needed. In late May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a proposal G7 could – and should – have adopted. According to IMF, it would cost $ 50 billion to launch a program that would vaccinate 40 % of the population of every country by the end of this year and another 20 % until July 2022. The efforts would have included more than only vaccinating people. The proposal took into account issues like testing, treatment of patients and the general strengthening of healthcare.

Instead of raising ambitions that way, the G7 only pledged to make available 1 billion vaccine doses by the end of this year. That is a step in the right direction - but only a tiny one. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, reckons that 11 billion doses would be needed to vaccinate 70 % of the world population by the time the G7 meet again in Germany next year.

No, the G7 on its own cannot launch the kind of programme the IMF proposed. Quite obviously, various multilateral institutions and especially UN organisations must be involved. It is equally obvious that none of these agencies nor any major governments would have stood in the way. According to the IMF, the G7 would have had to bear 70 % of the costs, contributing $ 35 billion, of which, however, 22 billion have already been pledged. In view of trillions worth of domestic-level programs to keep national economies growing, these sums are very small.

The G7 needs to do more than convince itself that its members can cooperate. If it wants to lead the international community it must show how global problems can be solved and do its part to make that happen. The domestic TV audience is not all that matters. In fact, people around the world are watching prosperous nations opening up fast thanks to progressing vaccination campaigns, while Covid-19 remains a huge threat in other parts of the world.

The message the G7 sent to Africa, Asia and Latin America was basically: you folks will get our surplus vaccines once we are all safe. In the meantime, feel free to watch Europe’s national football teams compete for the European championship in stadiums attended once more by fans, though still not entirely packed due to some social distancing rules still being observed. The football fans concerned are probably vaccinated – but paramedics, nurses and doctors in sub-Saharan Africa are not, and typically they cannot even test whether their patients are Covid-19 positive or not.

In other fields of policymaking, the G7 announcements similarly fell short. Tiny steps in the right directions are not enough. Developing countries want to know how and when the G7 will live up to its decade-old pledge to mobilize an annual $ 100 billion in climate finance, including private-sector investments. That sum was supposed to flow last year, but experts estimate that only $ 70 billion to $ 80 billion were actually made available. How much will be disbursed this year? And will last year’s shortfall be compensated? Who is monitoring the matter? G7 members will hear those questions at the next climate summit in Scotland in November. Spelling out answers now would have created goodwill. It was simply not enough to reiterate the generic pledge, given hat multiple billions of dollars are outstanding already.

If the G7 wants to lead, it must not only keep its long-standing promises, but must also set an example in regard to scaling up ambitions. The announcement of a date by when the G7 will  stop using coal-fuelled power plants would have been welcome. Instead, the summit declaration states that G7 governments' international support for "unabated coal power generation“. The implication is that exceptions are to be made if projects include carbon capture and storage (CCS), a controversial technology that in the eyes of environmentalists’ should only be made minimum use of when carbon emissions are inevitable. CCS should not serve as a pretext for extending coal usage.

In regard to international infrastructure development, the G7 intends to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. That is not a bad idea, especially if the G7 pays more attention to issues like environmental sustainability, social impact and good governance in general. In tangible terms, however, the G7 only agreed to establish a working group on the matter.

According to G7 rhetoric, one summit goal was to show the world that democracy matters. Criticising atrocious human rights abuses in China serves that purpose. But if the world’s most prosperous democratic nations really want to lead the international community, they must consider global challenges and offer convincing solutions.

 

Correction, Tuesday 15 June 10:20 am Frankfurt time: The date I originally indicated for the end of G7 governments' international support of unabated coal-power projects is the end of this year, not within the next two years, as originally indicated. Moreover, several sentences in the climate related paragraphs were not wrong, but I have made it more precise to clarify the argument.     

 

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