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The G7 summit 2021: Will this alliance of the rich and new allies solve our current crises?
by Dorothy Guerrero
11 June 2021

The heads of states of the Group of 7 (G7), which includes the UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, will have its annual summit this year at Carbis Bay, near St. Ives in Cornwall and hosted by the UK government. The grouping is not an executive body, but rather an alliance of states that use their annual discussion forum to grasp the complexity of the current global situation and present a united understanding of how to solve current problems.

The summit is the first in a series of intergovernmental talks to discuss global recovery from Covid-19 and climate change, the two most pressing challenges that the world faces this decade. It will greatly influence the discussions in the G20 conference in October in Rome and the multilateral climate negotiations at COP26 in November in Glasgow. It will be the first in-person summit of leaders after Covid-19 restrictions on high profile events and international travel. It will be the first to be attended by US president Joe Biden.

The main talks in the summit will be on Covid recovery, building a stronger global health system to protect the world from future pandemics, climate change and trade. Boris Johnson has invited leaders from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa to attend as guest countries to expand the expertise and experience in the meeting. Altogether, the 11 leaders at the table represent countries that together comprise over 60% of the world population.

The alliance of the rich
From its inception in the 1970s, the grouping was set up to present a cold war unity of Western countries, which at that time played a dominant role in the global economy. Samir Amin once called the grouping “shared imperialism” in his writings. Now, the former political and economic power of the G7 has been significantly reduced, as the seven nations’ combined GDP is down to 40% of the world total. Importantly, the rise of China has also changed the global configuration of power and influence.

Biden’s hosting of a climate summit in April indicated the US’s interest in showing the world that countries could look up to US leadership in problem solving once again after five years of Trump’s presidency which combined US insularity with simultaneously ramping up the US as the bully of the world.

The problems and conflicts the world is facing are deep and the gap between the developing world and the rich countries is enormous. The countries that are now experiencing the severe impacts of climate change are the same countries that are not yet seeing the light at the end of the long, dark pandemic tunnel and will most likely suffer from long-term economic impacts from Covid-19. The G7 leaders and guests are presenting themselves as the new alliance that could address both social inequalities in their meeting this weekend.

Power and responsibilities to address planetary injustice
So much of what will be discussed at the G7 in terms of addressing global challenges will be meaningless when people in developing countries are still waiting for their access to life-saving vaccines. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which Global Justice Now is a member of, 8 people per minute have died from Covid-19 since the last virtual summit of the G7 leaders on 19 February this year.

A solution to stop such massive numbers of avoidable deaths is to protect everyone through vaccination. But there is an enforced scarcity of life-saving vaccines because of the monopoly by transnational pharmaceutical corporations, or Big Pharma, which are keeping their patents to deny other manufacturers from producing them. There are many qualified companies that are capable of producing the vaccines but are unable to because of Big Pharma monopolies.

UK and European leaders are still obstructing a waiver of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, requested by India and South Africa. The proposal is supported by around 100 countries of the global south and partially backed by US president Joe Biden. With the majority of G7 countries still blocking the TRIPS waiver, these powerful countries are still wilfully leaving the decision to pharmaceutical corporations to decide who lives and who dies.

Pledging surplus doses of their vaccines or funding to Covax, the World Health Organization’s initiative to counter vaccine nationalism and transfer vaccines to 97 nations in need, will never be enough. In fact, it has already failed and delivered less than a third of the doses needed to supply 20% of the population in those target countries. After all the public money that went into vaccine development, making and distributing them has been left almost entirely up to the market. At the rate production and distribution is currently happening, nations in the global south would have to wait an astonishing 57 years before they reach the same level of widespread vaccination as G7 countries have.

Climate change and pandemics
The richest one percent of humanity have emitted twice as much as the poorest half and after 25 Conference of Parties, or climate negotiations, we know that the world is getting closer and quicker to climate tipping points. Like coronavirus, the operations of fossil fuels companies also kill multitudes. To gain excessive profits, the climate-frying operations of extractivist companies are systematically destroying lives, livelihoods and communities, especially of people of colour and where they live first and foremost.

According to a report from some of the world’s leading scientists, the world is now in an “era of pandemics” and as long as profits accumulated from the destruction of the natural world are not halted, pandemics will emerge more often and with more dangerous impacts. Covid-19, bird flu and the HIV viruses from animals were caused by clearing of formerly wild areas for farming, mining and trade. Similar to the attitude of rich countries’ refusal or delay of appropriate actions to tackle climate change, the results of refusal or delaying appropriate actions on tackling Covid-19 are massive deaths.

In their recent press release, the heads of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, World Trade Organization, and World Health Organization strongly called for a $50 billion investment to end the pandemic and secure a global recovery. Can we hope that the response from the same governments that continue to fail in their targets and climate finance commitments would be better?

Dorothy Guerrero