If you look back at past G7 Summit agendas, you’ll see many of the same themes: reducing inequality, promoting women’s equality, and advancing global security.
This year, member countries will be focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the overarching crisis that has bound together the entire global population.
While the Group of 7, known as G7, doesn’t have the same power to enact global policy as organizations like the United Nations, it includes economic heavyweights that have outsized global influence — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the United States, along with representatives from the European Union.
The members primarily discuss economic matters, but really anything is on the table at their semi-annual gatherings. Humanitarian groups follow the meetings closely because their outcomes have the ability to affect overseas development aid, the fight against global poverty, and investment in climate action.
This year’s meeting, taking place June 11 to 13 in Cornwall, is particularly important because of how it can chart the course for the global recovery from COVID-19.
3 Reasons Why This Year’s G7 Is So Important
- Members will discuss the global COVID-19 recovery, including the scope of foreign aid, how public health can be strengthened, and how global unemployment can be curbed.
- Climate action and biodiversity protection will be top priorities.
- As authoritarian leaders take control worldwide, member states will discuss ways to promote democracy and civil rights.
How and Why Did the G7 Form?
In the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, finance ministers from six of the world’s leading economies — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US — formalized talks they had been having about the state of the global economy and international politics.
The leaders had just witnessed how disruptions to a crucial global commodity — oil — could lead to widespread job losses, surging inflation, and collapsing trade.
It was a domino effect they wanted to avoid in the future.
So they decided to get on the same page — and formally called their gathering the “Group of 6” or G6. Over the course of a few days in Rambouillet, France, in 1975, they discussed everything from multilateral trade to the role of democracies to unemployment.
The group has since met on at least a semi-annual basis and its membership has evolved over time. Canada was added in 1976 to make it the G7, followed by Russia in 1994, making it the G8. Russia was suspended from the group after it annexed Crimea in 2018, and the group rebounded to G7, with additional representatives from the European Union.
What Can the G7 Summit Do?
The G7 is a formidable global policy forum. The group includes seven of the nine largest economies in the world, seven of the 15 countries with the most per capita wealth, seven of the 10 leading exporters, and seven of the 10 leading donors to the United Nations.
Even without the G7, these countries would have tremendous power to shape the priorities of the global economy. But the G7 amplifies their individual influence and acts as a stabilizing force amid the tumult of domestic transitions of power. G7 members regularly invite guest leaders to attend and have supported an offshoot called the G20 to allow other countries a chance to align on economic issues.
Over the years, the G7 has confronted the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, eliminated debt for low-income countries, mobilized funds for malaria and HIV/AIDS, and promoted issues such as gender equality. But the group has also been criticized for perpetuating global inequality by guarding the economic status quo, and failing to meaningfully address global crises such as climate change.
While the G7 does not directly enact laws or rules, the members release a document each year, penned by the host country, that’s meant to shape and influence global policy.
What’s on the Agenda This Year?
This year’s G7 summit is hosted by the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johson, taking place in Cornwall from June 11 to 13. It will be US President Joe Biden’s first G7 Summit in his current role, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last. Leaders from Australia, South Korea, and India have been invited to attend.
The 2021 agenda is stacked. Similar to the inaugural G6 meeting in 1975, leaders will be discussing a global crisis, one that dwarfs the earlier oil crisis in both economic consequences and human devastation.
“Build Back Better” is the theme of this year’s G7, and the leaders will be talking about how to overcome the COVID-19 virus, which is still surging around the world.
One of the primary obstacles blocking a successful global recovery is the ongoing inequity surrounding vaccines. G7 members have an opportunity to both donate vaccines and funds to low-income countries through COVAX, and also agree to waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines to promote their global manufacture.
Leaders will also discuss how to strengthen the global health system to prevent future pandemics.
During one of the pandemic’s peaks, more than 1.3 billion children were displaced from the classroom, and hundreds of millions had no ability to engage in remote learning. This has caused massive gaps in learning and further disadvantaged children living in poverty. G7 leaders are expected to discuss funding for the Global Partnership for Education, which is seeking to ensure all children can return to school.
G7 members have already made waves after vowing to set a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% to discourage tax evasion by companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. The pledge has been hailed as a long overdue measure of corporate accountability. But the move has also been criticized for barely addressing the problem of tax havens and tax evasion.
“It’s absurd for the G7 to claim it is ‘overhauling’ a broken global tax system by setting up a global minimum corporate tax rate that is similar to the soft rates charged by tax havens like Ireland, Switzerland, and Singapore,” Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said in a statement. “They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it.”
The G7 is discussing tax rates because of how the pandemic has caused tax revenue to plunge and widened economic inequality. Even as an estimated 124 million people fell into extreme poverty over the past year, billionaires grew their wealth by record amounts. This wealth, rather than sitting in bank accounts, could be taxed and used to alleviate food insecurity, expand education, and ensure people have access to medical care.
In addition to addressing tax rates, member states will discuss how to stimulate global trade, reduce unemployment, and generate economic growth.
The Emphasis on Climate at the G7
But environmental advocates are discouraging a return to the economic status quo that has devastated biodiversity and caused climate change. In fact, the United Nations’ goal of protecting 30% of land and marine spaces by 2030 will be an area of discussion. Leaders will also discuss how to boost climate financing and investments in renewable energy.
Climate action groups have called on G7 countries to go beyond rhetoric to enact meaningful policy that breaks with the existing economic status quo.
“The existing rules of the international trading system have, over the last 25 years, worked to the benefit of large corporations, deepening inequalities and turbocharging the destruction of our natural commons,” said Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the division on globalization and development strategies at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in a statement.
“Those rules serve as a barrier to the ambitious industrial transformation the world requires to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. There must be no delay in aligning trade rules to our climate ambitions and moving away from a winner-take-all world to a system that harnesses global interdependence to the requirements of a sustainable future for all,” he added.
Climate action can only be successful if countries work together to cut emissions. But that can only happen if wealthy countries such as those within the G7 step up to support low-income countries struggling to finance environmental programs. This means financing climate adaptation and mitigation, alongside gender equality, human rights, education, and food security.
Looking to a Comprehensive COVID-19 Recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic will continue as long as people remain unvaccinated around the world, new strains of the virus emerge, and public health measures are prematurely relaxed. As a result, countries have to work together and share resources before they can “build back better.” Above all, that means making sure everyone in the world can receive COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
“Next week the leaders of the world’s greatest democracies will gather at a historic moment for our countries and for the planet,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement last week. “The world is looking to us to rise to the greatest challenge of the post-war era: defeating COVID and leading a global recovery driven by our shared values.
“Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history,” he added. “I’m calling on my fellow G7 leaders to join us to end this terrible pandemic and pledge that we will never allow the devastation wreaked by coronavirus to happen again.”