THE G7 SUMMIT – HIGH ON PROMISES, LOW ON DELIVERABLES
By Donnelly McCleland
The leaders of the G7 countries ended a three-day summit with a diverse set of initiatives, including a pledge to vaccinate poorer countries against the coronavirus, a promise to make large corporations pay their fair share of taxes and a plan to tackle climate change with a blend of technology and money. In a joint communique delivered on Sunday [13 June] at the end of the meeting in the British southwestern city of Cornwall, the leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – sought to show that international cooperation is back after the upheavals caused by the pandemic and the unpredictability of former US President Donald Trump. (Al Jazeera)
The Group of Seven (G7)
The Group of Seven – or G7 – is essentially an informal bloc of industrialised democracies comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States (the EU has participated fully in the G7 since 1981 as a “non-enumerated” member), that meets annually to discuss issues such as global economic governance, international security, and energy policy. The G7 countries account for approximately 60% of the world’s net wealth (and about 40% of the gross domestic product globally, based on nominal values) while representing a modest 10% of its population. Of these member nations, all seven are top-ranked countries for the highest net wealth per capita, all are leading export countries, and five are on the list of top 10 countries with the largest gold reserves. The group’s members are officially organised around the shared values of “pluralism and representative government.” While the G7 lacks a legal or institutional basis, it is considered to wield significant international influence, though many argue that this influence is diminishing.
This year’s summit – at a seaside resort in Cornwall, England – was the first time the heads of these countries met in person since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel more than a year ago. The G7 leaders last met in person in France in August 2019, nearly two years ago. Recent summits (2018 and 2019) saw some high-profile rows over issues like trade and the possibility of Russia’s readmission to the group. It is quite a different world that the G7 leaders face at this meeting, compared to their 2019 summit. Diplomatically, it also differs, as US President Joe Biden sets out to revive American multilateralism. This year’s summit was seen as a test of whether the world could still work together in the shadow of the global pandemic. The dominant conclusion is that the G7 is more united but not necessarily effective enough to tackle the world’s biggest problems.
The summit’s main initiatives and takeaways
This year’s ambitious agenda aimed at tackling the world’s most pressing problems: ending the pandemic; accelerating action on climate change; and curbing the power of multinational companies with a new global tax regime. In summary:
Ending the pandemic: The much-talked-about unequal distribution of vaccines – with the rich countries accumulating far more than they could ever use – continues to threaten not only global health but the world economic recovery. As of 19 May 2021, data from Airfinity shows that the US has so far only exported three million vaccine doses, equal to around 1% of its production. Other countries (outside of the G7) have shared much more – China, 42% exported; India, 35% exported, and the EU, 28%. South Korea has exported a whopping 90% of its domestically produced vaccine stock. Although summit participants pledged one billion vaccine doses (with half of that coming from the US), in the longer term, developing countries would prefer to produce the vaccines themselves (the donation is far short of the number of shots needed to fully vaccinate poorer nations). However, their call to suspend patent protection to allow local production has faced stiff resistance, and the summit leaders made no concessions in this regard.
Climate change challenge: Climate change was a key focus of the leaders’ final day of talks, and in their official communiqué, they pledged to “halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030 [reaffirming previous commitment], increasing and improving climate finance to 2025 and to conserve or protect at least 30 per cent of our land and oceans by 2030.” They also agreed to raise their contributions to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100bn a year to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming. But specific pledges came only from Canada, which doubled its commitment to $4.4bn over the next five years, and Germany, which promised to increase spending by €2bn to €6bn a year by 2025.
Global minimum corporate tax: G7 countries reached a landmark agreement on corporate tax reform, agreeing to a minimum rate of tax for multinational companies, of 15%. This was seen as a necessary step to stop corporations from using tax havens to avoid taxes and thus robbing some countries of much-needed revenue, and as a way to bring in further income to offset public spending on COVID recovery packages. Negotiations to reform the global tax system have been underway since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and it is hoped that G7 support would spur wider backing at a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Italy next month. The aim is to strike an agreement by October. Last year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that as much as $81bn in additional tax revenues each year would be raised under the reforms.
A united front against China and Russia: G7 leaders vowed to condemn human rights abuses and political tactics that stray from their economic and international visions. They directly mentioned several contentious issues that will rile Beijing, including a call for another investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China. They also endorsed a $100 billion “ambition” to compete with Beijing’s Belt-and-Road initiative that has built massive infrastructure in developing countries. It was the first time the world’s richest nations had discussed organising a direct alternative to China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative. China’s development efforts far surpass the Marshall Plan – the United States’ programme to rebuild Europe after World War II – both in size and ambition, and it is unclear whether the G7 nations can muster a comprehensive response.
Mr Biden openly rebuked China for human-rights abuses: “I think China has to start to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency.” China responded, saying “the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.”
With regards to Russia, Mr Biden said US relations with Moscow had reached a “low point.” He went on to say: “Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms, but they have also bitten off some real problems they’re going to have trouble chewing on.”
Summit criticism – “A partial plan, not a Marshall Plan”
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown branded the summit an “unforgivable moral failure” after the G7 nations pledged only one billion of the 11 billion vaccine doses which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says are needed to inoculate the world by next year, and made no new pledges on vaccine financing. Patrick Watt, director of policy at Christian Aid (the official relief and development agency of 41 Christian churches in the UK and Ireland) said meagre progress was made, calling it “A partial plan, not a Marshall Plan”. He summarised the general criticism levelled by many: “The US committed 6.5% of its post-war GDP to the Marshall Plan. The UK, in contrast, has reneged on an aid promise one-tenth as ambitious. The G7 needed to progress comprehensive debt relief, deliver on climate finance promises, and act to end vaccine apartheid. The G7 leadership has failed to make real progress in any of these areas. The success of the COP26 climate summit now hangs in the balance. There is still time for rich nations to deliver a solidarity package that tackles these interconnected crises. Without it, the COP will fail.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The G7 summit and some of its key criticisms again highlight the issue of wealth disparity, ramming home the fallen state of our world. The issue of wealth, money, the economy, is interwoven throughout the key challenges raised at the summit – from the provision of vaccines to the economic recovery of nations to the stewardship of the earth to the dispute with China – money (and very often greed) is the common denominator throughout.
God created a world that is tremendously rich in resources, this is clear in Genesis 1 and 2. As a fair, righteous and just Creator, He ensured that there was an abundance for all. While it is true that God’s original intention for humanity was horribly disrupted by sin, we know that the story does not end there. God is in the business of redemption, which includes the economic sphere. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:19-20: “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.” (emphasis added). A critical way God brings about this redemption is through the lives of Jesus’ followers (Colossians 1:21-22 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-20). He tasked humans with the stewardship of His creation. While stewards are given a great deal of freedom to act and make decisions regarding resource allocation, they do so on behalf of the true owners or beneficiaries of that which they manage. And, of course, the greater the resources entrusted to them, the greater their responsibility. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48b). Author of “Neither Poverty, Nor Riches”, Craig Blomberg, puts it like this: “People in positions of power have no increased privilege—just increased responsibility!”
Within the G7 nations (extremely wealthy nations) are many churches, with many believers, who have the opportunity to utilise the wealth within their sphere of responsibility in such a way that it honours God, and advances His Kingdom on the earth. There are also followers of the Lord, who are not ashamed of the Gospel and testify to it in their lives who have been afforded opportunities to be ambassadors of Christ, like outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has often played a crucial role within the G7 (and within her nation) to affect positive, effectual change – though maybe not as much as she (and others) may have desired or worked towards.
In the end, the Church should not expect their governments to do and give more if they are not willing to set the example of what generous and sacrificial giving looks like.
Please join us in praying for the following:
- For the G7 promises to become tangible realities
- For Christ-followers who are in positions of power and responsibility to act justly and righteously, in ways that honour God and advance His Kingdom
- For believers within G7 nations to boldly share, not only the Gospel, but their God-given resources to reach people groups that have not yet heard the Gospel of salvation
Image: REUTERS/Jack Hill