Leaders of the G7 countries will back a western rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative on Sunday, with a plan to mobilise billions of dollars to help developing countries tackle climate change.
US president Joe Biden has led calls to offer poor countries a new source of infrastructure finance, providing a “democratic” alternative to Chinese loans, which are seen in the west as a tool to spread Beijing’s influence.
Leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall will agree what allies of UK prime minister Boris Johnson, the summit host, call a “green belt and road” plan, with richer countries helping to fund schemes that reduce carbon emissions.
Johnson wants to focus on supporting green initiatives and has been wary of presenting the initiative as an “anti-China” effort. British officials said they wanted the group of leading western economies to “show what we are for, not who we are against”.
But the White House favours a wider package of infrastructure support and has been explicit about wanting to provide a counterweight to China’s influence.
“We have a slightly narrower focus,” said one British official.
On Saturday, G7 leaders held talks to co-ordinate China strategy. “There was broad agreement that we should co-operate with Beijing on things like fighting climate change, compete in areas like global supply chains and contest on issues like human rights,” said one official briefed on the talks.
The “build back better for the world” plan will grant countries improved access to financing for low-carbon projects such as wind farms and railways.
The programme aims to boost climate funding from multilateral development banks as well as the private sector and was billed as a “green Marshall Plan” by some officials, but at a smaller scale.
G7 leaders are expected to commit to increasing their contributions to international climate finance. This will help them meet a pre-existing target of mobilising $100bn a year from rich countries to help poor countries support green growth.
However, one official watching the discussions said: “It was a short on detail on how this would be achieved.”
A senior US official said on Friday: “The United States and many of our partners and friends around the world have long been sceptical about China’s Belt and Road Initiative.”
“We’ve seen the Chinese government demonstrate a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labour standards, and a course of approach that’s left many countries worse off.
“But until now, we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business.”
China criticised the US and other G7 members, arguing that “genuine multilateralism” was based on the UN. “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in London said.
On Friday, Yang Jiechi, the top Chinese foreign policy official, also hit back at international condemnation over Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
A White House fact sheet released on Saturday outlined the Build Back Better plan’s guiding values, which included transparency, sustainability and consultation with local communities.
But environmental groups criticised the lack of detail on how the plan would be financed and operate, leading some to warn it was little more than empty promises.
Climate change is one of the top priorities for G7 leaders at the summit, but leaders are struggling to agree on finance. Only Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy are expected to announce new climate funding in Cornwall.
The G7 leaders will pledge to phase out petrol and diesel cars and to shut down all coal plants that do not use emissions-capturing technology as soon as possible. They will also pledge to protect 30 per cent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.
With the UK hosting the COP26 climate summit in November, this weekend’s summit in Cornwall is expected to offer a preview of how the world’s largest industrialised democracies will approach the climate crisis in the international arena.
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