When G7 leaders gather for their seaside summit in Cornwall this weekend, their most powerful member, US President Joe Biden, will have two messages for them. The turbulence of the Trump years is over, and the western democracies that shaped so much of the last century can deliver what the world needs today far better than autocrats in China and Russia.
The first goal is the easier one; Biden is clearly no Donald Trump. To have any hope of proving the enduring worth of democracies, however, the president and his G7 counterparts must do far more than what they have managed in the run-up to the meeting. The corporate tax deal their finance ministers secured a week ago was a good start. It should ensure multinational companies pay a fairer share of taxes.
The leaders’ summit must build on this, first by closing the dismal Covid-19 vaccine gap that has opened up between rich and poor countries. Nearly 45 per cent of people have had at least one jab in the wealthy club of G7 nations — the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada — compared with just over 2 per cent in the 44 African countries for which there is complete data. This divide is not merely the “catastrophic moral failure” that the World Health Organization warned of in January. It is deeply unwise economically because there can be no broad-based global recovery if the world remains at the mercy of a spreading, mutating virus.
Biden’s move to buy and donate 500m vaccines to countries in need is welcome but insufficient. The G7 should adopt the plan IMF staff put forward last month. It sets out concrete steps to get at least 60 per cent of the global population vaccinated by July next year, at a cost of $50bn that would be dramatically outweighed by about $9tn in benefits. It is hard to imagine a better return on investment, quite apart from the many lives that would be saved. This effort would ideally involve collaboration beyond the G7 that could be overseen by an emergency G20 task force, but it should be adopted first by the G7 leaders.
Failure on vaccines risks deepening another set of divisions between rich and poor countries — this time on climate change, a second global crisis that must be addressed in Cornwall. The world is making nowhere near enough progress to cut carbon emissions at the scale and pace needed to meet the Paris climate agreement’s goal of stopping dangerous levels of global warming.
Pressure is building ahead of the COP26 climate talks due in Glasgow in November, but money is proving a stumbling block. Wealthy countries promised as far back as 2009 to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer nations adapt to warming temperatures and acquire the technologies needed to cut their own emissions. It is now June 2021 and the latest estimates suggest those nations are still about $20bn short of meeting that pledge. This is complicating efforts to secure stronger climate action in Glasgow. The UK hosts’ misguided move to cut its international aid budget is not helping.
The response from G7 finance ministers last weekend was disappointingly vague. They reaffirmed the $100bn annual commitment and vowed to “increase and improve” climate finance contributions through to 2025, without saying precisely what this would entail. Their leaders must do better. Concrete, quantifiable pledges are needed. As Biden said on his way to Cornwall: “We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over”. That task will be immeasurably harder if this G7 meeting fails to deliver.