As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson touched down in Cornwall for the G7 Summit, he was full of talk about a “Green Industrial Revolution” — after travelling 280 miles from Westminster to Carbis Bay by plane.
It was perhaps the first clue pointing towards a wider theme across what was a scorching June weekend: supercharged statements of political intent supported by little else than hot air.
The G7 Summit saw leaders from the world’s most powerful democracies — the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, with South Africa, Australia, South Korea, and India joining in some capacity as guests — gather to address the world’s most pressing challenges.
Lives were on the line. There were big expectations that bold commitments would be made to help end the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce global carbon emissions.
But on both counts, the summit wasn’t just a black hole of leadership and ambition, it was a bitter disappointment to those around the world watching for some real action in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.
@GlblCtzn's take on outcomes from the #G7summit: It was always going to come down to the steps taken to end this pandemic as the primary test for this #G7. But on that test, it has clearly failed. [THREAD👇1/ 10] https://t.co/PRNiTy8cwo— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) June 13, 2021
Ahead of the summit, Johnson tweeted that he would “ask my fellow leaders to help vaccinate the world.” But the distance between promises and policy was both vast and subversive.
While the number of vaccines pledged at the summit to low-income countries could be considered commendable, the devil, as always, is in the detail — and in this case it was a timeline so far into the future that vaccine access would be delayed for many of the world’s poorest until a year from now.
Global Citizens have been campaigning for G7 leaders to donate one billion vaccine doses by September, and two billion by the end of 2021. Instead, 870 million doses will be shared within a year, half of which will come this year. That’s just about enough jabs for 5% of people in low- and middle-income countries this year, rising to 10% next year.
Simply put, the G7 could have been a success if there was a plan to share these doses immediately. But next year is far, far too late. As former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "Millions of people will go unvaccinated and thousands will die."
This isn’t a plan for vaccinating the world — this is admitting that rich countries are happy for the pandemic to rage unabated in poor countries, so long as the pubs can just about stay open back home. It’s a decision that’s not just morally bankrupt, it’s plain short-sighted.
That's because variants spreading unchecked in low- and middle-income countries not only costs lives in those countries, but also increases the risk that a vaccine-resistant variant will emerge — essentially eliminating all the progress already made against COVID-19.
It’s an insult, really: to claim to lead the world from St. Ives, while firmly burying your cheque book beneath its beaches. And nothing felt more symbolic in that vein than the UK commitment on vaccine sharing: a plan to build back better with all the structural integrity of a sandcastle.
Global Citizens called on Johnson to donate the UK’s 100 million surplus vaccines immediately. But while it committed to sharing that number eventually, the UK will only donate 5 million jabs by September. That’s despite the UK having ordered 500 million vaccines in total for a population of just under 66.7 million. It is, as our vice-president of global advocacy Friederike Röder put it: “a joke.”
.@BorisJohnson, 5million doses by September is too little too late. You promised Britain would donate ALL its surplus vaccines. Ahead of the #G7 Summit in Cornwall, call on the PM to help meet 1B doses @glblctzn: https://t.co/BP6qmSoC6N— Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) June 11, 2021
“G7 leaders still seem to have difficulties understanding that a virus doesn’t know borders and that anything we can do at home will be meaningless without the same efforts globally,” Röder added on Sunday.
Examining the contributions of other countries, there was little to celebrate. While Canada will supposedly start sharing its surplus doses this month, the time frame is also uncertain. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged 13 million doses — again, wildly short of the 100 million excess doses his country is expected to have.
Meanwhile, Canada is the first country in the world to have started vaccinating children as young as 12, despite a negligible risk of serious illness, described as “completely wrong, morally” by the scientist who led clinical trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford University.
“We’ll make sure everyone, everywhere can recover from this pandemic and prepare for the next one”, Trudeau tweeted. But without a timeline on vaccine sharing, there can be no plans for low- and middle-income countries to tackle the pandemic right in front of us, let alone the next one.
Without clarity, there’s the risk that even when jabs are finally delivered, countries lacking infrastructure to roll them all out at once might end up wasting them. The vaccine for that is pretty simple: transparency.
Some hope came from across the Atlantic. As Johnson praised the G7’s plan to “reject some of the selfishness and nationalistic approaches” of the past, Joe Biden pledged to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer vaccines for more than 90 countries, the largest donation of any single country.
It follows an announcement in the weeks prior to the G7 that Biden would support the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to ramp up global production, a view supported by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The rest of the G7? Not so keen.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the space between what has been pledged and what has been delivered was perhaps even more stark. That’s because one of the biggest sticking points comes from a promise that’s been reiterated and unfulfilled for more than a decade.
And so should pharma be transparent on what they will produce when and what they could produce additionally if needed. This is a crazy, surreal situation: we may have enough doses to vaccinate the world and end the pandemic, but no one acts on it.
And so should pharma: be transparent on what they will produce when and what they could produce additionally if needed. This is a crazy, surreal situation: we may have enough doses to vaccinate the world and end the pandemic, but no one acts on it. https://t.co/9c3NQEfwst— Friederike Röder (@FredRoder) June 14, 2021
In 2009, world leaders agreed to mobilize $100 billion a year for low-income countries to incentivize clean economic growth and help vulnerable communities adapt to the climate crisis. In the runup to the G7, Global Citizens have been calling on leaders to follow through on that promise.
Instead, the G7 summit delivered some statements without a timeline for phasing out coal power; a whimsical idea from Johnson, devoid of detail, for a "Marshall Plan" of railways and solar farms throughout Africa; and, according to Laurence Tubiana, a French former climate negotiator pivotal to the Paris Agreement, a commitment to “a plan to make a plan."
And although there was an agreement for rich nations to commit $2 billion a year to help poor nations move away from coal, it will mean nothing without focusing on poverty reduction too.
With the UK announcing last year that it would cut its aid budget by billions, countries will inevitably prioritize projects known to make money fast. It’s hard to blame them for looking to fossil fuels to fill the gap.
In November, the UK will host COP26 in Glasgow. This major conference on climate change is another opportunity for leaders to come together and do what they couldn’t in Cornwall: make tangible, progressive pledges that will slow catastrophic global temperature rises and protect poor countries from the worst consequences.
But all in all, G7 leaders have ended up spouting political platitudes on COVID-19 and climate change that are eerily reminiscent of Bo Burnham’s White Woman’s Instagram, a song that lists a series of superficial images that paint a picture fundamentally oppositional to reality.
The time for talk is long over — we know how to end the pandemic and stop global warming, but we need leaders to start taking these issues seriously, with proper pledges that do not make a mockery of hope.
You can join Global Citizen here to take action to continue to put pressure on world leaders — and particularly leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations — to step up action to defeat the pandemic and defend the planet. We can’t let our leaders off the hook when the need for real, tangible change is so urgent.