World leaders come together to fight climate change and pandemic recovery

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England on Wednesday ahead of the G-7 summit. The president will try to restore America’s world leadership and mend old friendships. // Pool via AP, Joe Giddens

LONDON – For the first time in nearly two years, leaders from seven of the world’s richest democracies will come together to try to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, including post-pandemic recovery, climate change and China’s challenge. The three-day Group of Seven meeting, hosted by the UK, will open on Friday in Carbis Bay, a Cornish seaside resort in the southwest of England.

President Biden, who arrived in the UK on Wednesday for his first overseas trip since taking office, has big goals: to restore US global leadership and mend old friendships in the wake of the Trump years .

While in the White House, former President Donald Trump criticized the Democratic allies of the United States – “the European Union is an enemy”, he claimed – and at times praised its authoritarian rivals, including Russia, which was forced out of what was then the G-8 in 2014 for the annexation of Crimea.

In Cornwall, Biden will adopt a completely different tone.

“I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined, determined to re-engage with Europe,” Biden said. mentionned in February, addressing the Munich Security Conference.

Polls show that Biden’s rhetoric and political changes, such as the return to the Paris climate agreement, have bolstered America’s image in parts of Europe. A Morning Consult poll last month showed that attitudes towards the United States in Germany, France and the United Kingdom have bounced since the January 6 assault on the United States Capitol. But many Europeans remain skeptical of a US political system they once trusted, with majorities in Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands saying pollsters in April it was completely or somewhat broken.

European analysts say Biden must now make substantial deals with the G-7 countries if he hopes to persuade the leaders that, as he put it, “America is back.”

“We start to ask ourselves questions like ‘it’s great that we love each other so much, but what are we really able to do together?’ “said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs in Rome and special adviser to the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell. “It’s going to be important in the context of the G-7 that there is an agreement on something.”

G-7 finance ministers agreed this month on a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%, which critics say is too low. But this weekend, they will also set their sights on the pandemic, which is in its second year.

This week, Unicef urged members of the G-7 – the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan – to send 20% of their vaccine doses to the poorest countries in August or risk wasting them. The gap in immunization rates between many rich and poor countries is staggering. The UK claims to have fully vaccinated over 41% of its population, while Nepal reports a vaccination rate of around 2.5%.

Biden is expected to announce Thursday that the United States has purchased 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to donate to COVAX, which distributes vaccines to countries that cannot afford enough vaccine.

Britain says it intends to send doses overseas, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last week that immunizing children at home was still the priority.

Rob Yates, who heads the Center for Universal Health at Chatham House, London’s political institute, says G-7 countries must share more vaccines with developing countries, help fund more factories for production vaccines and encourage pharmaceutical companies to share their technological know-how. to help countries in need.

“If the G-7 is to be serious about global leadership, we need to take a holistic perspective of humanity and truly value the lives of people in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa like ours,” Yates said. . “It’s going to take a huge effort.”

If the G-7 does not escalate, he warns, the developing world will become “infuriated” and look to other countries for vaccines, such as Russia and China, the West’s authoritarian rivals.

The G-7 has already made progress on another big issue: climate change. Last month, environment ministers agreed to climate objectives limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – more ambitious than the previous ceiling of 2 degrees.

“This is a really big deal,” says Samantha Gross, who heads the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Technological advancements have reduced the costs of wind, solar power and batteries, she says, making the goal of lower temperatures possible and making it easier to remove more carbon from the power generation process. More action at the G-7 this weekend could provide momentum for change at two more global meetings this fall, she says: the G-20 – the 20 countries that produce the vast majority of the world’s gross domestic product – which will meet in Rome in October, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“If the whole G-20 got involved, you would cover the vast majority of global emissions,” Gross said.

The G-7 is a magnet for protests, and this year will be no different. Sculptor Joe Rush built a replica of Mount Rushmore in a location visible from the G-7 site, in which he renders the faces of G-7 leaders – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Biden – with electronic waste including keyboards and hard drives. Rush calls it “Mount Recyclemore” and wants to highlight the damage society is doing by getting rid of electronic devices.

Extinction Rebellion, a global environmental movement that started in a Cotswold town in England, plans to hold marches to expose what it sees as the hypocrisy of commitments by rich countries and corporations to cut greenhouse gases. tight. British farmers are also planning to take to the streets to protest a free trade deal with Australia which they say will result in an influx of cheap food imports.

Another topic of discussion expected at this weekend’s summit is cybersecurity. Just last month, cybercriminals set up disruptive ransomware attacks on the world’s largest meat packer and America’s largest fuel pipeline. Christopher Painter, who was America’s top cyber diplomat at the State Department, said G-7 countries must impose heavier political and economic costs on nations that allow hackers to launch attacks from within of their borders.

“Countries can work together to use all their tools to try to pressure countries like Russia, either when Russia itself is doing it as a state-sponsored activity or when Russia is harboring these cybercriminals. “, did he declare.

The other big problem in Cornwall will be China, which has posed the West’s biggest challenge in decades.

Biden needs partners to help confront Beijing on everything from unfair trade practices and intellectual property rights to the country’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and threats to Taiwan.

Supported by the world’s second-largest economy, Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping argues that Beijing’s authoritarian model is an effective alternative to liberal democratic systems. Biden called it an “inflection point” for democracy. The EU has cooled down to China in recent months but shows no interest in joining the US in an anti-China bloc.

Critics complain that G-7 meetings are long in statements, which are often quickly forgotten, and little collective action. But this time, with a once-in-a-century pandemic and an increasingly narrow window to tackle climate change, there may be more pressure to act.

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