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LONDON – For the first time in nearly two years, leaders of seven of the world’s richest democracies will meet to try to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, including pandemic recovery, climate change and the challenge of China. The three-day meeting of the Group of Seven, hosted by the United Kingdom, will open on Friday in Carbis Bay, a seaside resort in Cornwall in south-west England.
President Biden, who arrived in Britain on Wednesday on his first trip abroad since taking office, has big goals: to restore US global leadership and to restore old friendships after the Trump years.
During his time in the White House, former President Donald Trump criticized America’s democratic allies – “the European Union is an enemy,” he said – and sometimes praised his authoritarian rivals, including Russia, which was ousted from the then-G8 in 2014. for the annexation of Crimea.
In Cornwall, Biden will set a completely different tone.
“I know that the last few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relations, but the United States is determined, determined to engage with Europe again,” Biden said in February, addressing the Munich Security Conference.
Polls show that Biden’s rhetoric and political changes, such as re-accession to the Paris Climate Agreement, have strengthened America’s image in some parts of Europe. A study by Morning Consult last month found that relations with the United States in Germany, France and the United Kingdom had recovered after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. But many Europeans remain skeptical of an American political system they once trusted, with majorities in Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands reporting in polls in April that it was completely or somewhat broken.
Analysts in Europe say Biden must now reach substantial agreements with the G7 if he hopes to convince leaders that, as he put it, “America is back.”
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“We’re starting to ask ourselves, ‘It’s all very good and nice that we love each other so much, but what can we really do together?’ “Says Natalie Tochi, director of the Italian Institute of International Affairs in Rome and special adviser to the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borel.” It will be important to have an agreement on something in the context of the G7. “
This month, G7 finance ministers agreed on a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%, which critics say is too low. But this weekend, they will also turn their attention to the pandemic, which is growing well in its second year.
This week, UNICEF called on G7 members – the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan – to send 20% of their vaccine doses to poorer countries in August or risk wasting them. The difference in vaccination levels between many rich and poorer countries is staggering. The United Kingdom says it has fully vaccinated more than 41% of its population, while Nepal has reported vaccination of about 2.5%.
Biden will announce on 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 to buy enough photos.
Britain says it intends to send doses abroad, but Health Minister Matt Hancock said last week that vaccinating children at home is still a priority.
Rob Yates, who heads the Universal Health Center at Chatham House, a London political institute, says the G7 needs to share more vaccines with developing countries, help fund more vaccine factories and encourage pharmaceutical companies. to share technological know-how to help countries in need.
“If the G7 is going to take global leadership seriously, we need to take a whole perspective on humanity and really appreciate the lives of people in sub-Saharan Africa and Africa like ours,” Yates said. “It will take a lot of effort.”
If the G7 does not strengthen, he warns, the developing world will become “irritated” and seek vaccines in other countries, such as Russia and China, the West’s authoritarian rivals.
The G7 has already made progress on another major issue: climate change. Last month, environment ministers agreed on climate targets to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – more ambitious than the previous 2-degree ceiling.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Samantha Gross, who heads the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative.
Technological advances have reduced the cost of wind, solar and batteries, she said, making the lower temperature target possible and making it easier to remove more carbon from the electricity generation process. More G-7 action this weekend could boost two other global meetings this fall, she said: The G20 – the 20 countries that produce most of the world’s gross domestic product – which will be meet in Rome in October and the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
“If the whole G-20 gets on board, you will cover most of the world’s emissions,” Gross said.
The G-7 is a magnet for protests and this year will be no different. Sculptor Joe Rush has built a replica of Mount Rushmore in a place visible from the G7 site, depicting the faces of G7 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 that society is doing by throwing away electronic devices.
Extinction Rebellion, a global conservation movement that began in a town in the English town of the Cotswolds, plans to stage rallies to expose what it sees as hypocrisy by promises by rich countries and corporations to reduce greenhouse gases. British farmers also plan to take to the streets to protest a free trade agreement with Australia, which they fear will lead to a flood of cheap food imports.
Another expected topic of discussion at the summit this weekend is cybersecurity. In the last month alone, cybercriminals have launched devastating attacks to buy out the world’s largest meat processing company and the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. Christopher Painter, who was the top US cyber diplomat in the State Department, says the G7 countries must impose greater political and economic costs on nations that allow hackers to launch attacks from their borders.
“Countries can work together to use all their tools to try to put pressure on countries like Russia, either when Russia itself is doing it as a state-sponsored activity, or when Russia is hiding these cybercriminals,” he said.
The other big problem in Cornwall will be China, which has posed the biggest challenge to the West in decades.
Biden needs partners to help Beijing counter everything from unfair trade practices and intellectual property rights to the country’s growing confidence in the South China Sea and threats to Taiwan.
Supported by the world’s second-largest economy, Chinese Communist Party Secretary-General Xi Jinping argues that Beijing’s authoritarian model is an effective alternative to liberal democratic systems. Biden called this a “folding point” for democracy. In recent months, the EU has cooled to China, but has shown no interest in joining the United States in an anti-Chinese bloc.
Critics complain that G-7 meetings are long in terms of statements that are often quickly forgotten and short of collective action. But this time, in a once-a-century pandemic and a shrinking window to tackle climate change, there may be more pressure to act.