The G7 Must Take Initiative

As the G7 leaves Cornwall, these countries’ leaders tried crafting solutions regarding a variety of issues with COVID-19 recovery and environmental policy at the top of the agenda. The G7 is a group of the globe’s most “advanced economies,” including the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Further, the European Union sends their own representative (although they are not formally part of the G7). Since Russia was kicked out of the former G8 in 2017, these seven countries convene every year to develop coordinated policy plans to tackle the globe’s major issues. Importantly, the G7 symbolically represents the Western, industrialized world, and these countries perceive themselves as the globe’s policy-making leaders. In other words, the G7 states assume a coordinating role in tackling the world’s most pressing issues. 

Despite this perception, China and Russia have challenged this leadership as the G7 countries have abdicated leadership in the recent past. Over the course of 2021, China and Russia have negotiated a series of deals to export millions of vaccine doses globally to developing countries, while Western states have hoarded their supplies. Only recently has the United States pledged 500 million vaccine doses to 100 countries in response to China and Russia’s efforts. Additionally, President Biden recently proposed the “Build Back Better Initiative,” an alternative infrastructure model to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Increasingly China and Russia are challenging the industrialized West’s leading economic and political role because of the leadership vacuum. Rather than acting proactively, the G7 countries retroactively respond rather than lead. Bogged down by domestic politics, the West has failed to help the international community address international crises despite its wealth of technology and finances. 

As a consequence, the West’s efforts to protect domestic industry have undermined the G7’s global leadership. Western leaders prioritize their short-term economic and political goals over peace and development. For instance, during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, wealthy Western countries signed on to bilateral agreements with vaccine production efforts. In total, these wealthy states invested in multiple vaccine programs in return for a share of those program’s doses later on, often for a discounted rate. In contrast, developing countries were unable to invest in these programs because they didn’t have the financial resources. Because of this resource differential, the G7 has successfully vaccinated large portions of their population while developing states haven’t. Canada had enough vaccines to vaccinate its population five times over by December 2020. Comparatively, South Africa was unable to pre-emptively secure vaccine doses, so the country is “buying Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine at nearly two and a half times the per-unit price of European countries,” according to the Guardian. By the end of January 2021, all of sub-Saharan Africa administered only 25 vaccine doses. 

Because of this shortage of vaccines going to the developing world, Russia and China quickly stepped in to send millions of vaccines to struggling nations—often with strings attached. By April, mainland China sent 118 million doses to 49 countries, and both countries have been working together to produce and export the Sputnik V vaccine. Only after Russia and China launched these initiatives did the United States commit to donating 500 million doses but only planning on distributing 200 million by the end of this year. Still, multiple G7 countries block resources necessary for vaccine development from international markets, which further compounds vaccination inequality.  

Regarding climate change, the G7 countries have established lofty goals for transitioning to green energy. During the Paris Climate Accord, rich countries committed themselves to provide developing states with $100 billion a year to tackle climate change. Before this year’s summit, the G7’s agreed to multiple general climate reforms. For example, these ministers committed to cutting direct funding to coal-fired power stations in developing states by the end of this year. 

Similar to COVID leadership, the G7 has already failed many of the aforementioned goals. For the Paris Climate Accord, rich states provided only $28 billion by 2018 to developing countries instead of $100 billion according to Oxfam, a global anti-poverty NGO. Despite their commitment to cutting funding for coal-fired power plants, the G7 ministers “declined to halt the proposed Cumbria coal mine, and they’re pushing ahead with a £27 [billion] roads [program] and the HS2 rail project” according to the BBC. Thus, the G7 has the resources and influence to prevent climate change, but these states are not willing to follow up on their promises or substantially change their support for unsustainable energy internationally. 

In both instances, the G7 states have failed to offer substantial leadership. Consequently, developing countries are paying the price. Moving forward, the G7 must re-acquire a leading role in economic development since it has the resources necessary to fight climate change. 

To respond to COVID, the G7 must commit their vaccine stockpiles to COVAX. COVAX is an international agency that distributes vaccine doses across the globe. Countries pool their resources and money into COVAX, and on their behalf, COVAX funds vaccine research and production. Furthermore, COVAX distributes doses equitably between states regardless of GDP. Unlike bilateral agreements, wealthy countries also benefit because they receive a variety of vaccines through COVAX. Although wealthy countries have joined the COVAX effort, they still receive doses directly from their bilateral agreements with vaccine makers. Consequently, the G7 countries have disproportionate access to COVID vaccines, and they’ve been unwilling to donate substantial amounts of their doses to COVAX.

Because the G7 states have reserved a large portion of COVID vaccine production, they must commit most of their reserved doses to COVAX’s stockpile. In particular, the United States should commit more than just 500 million doses to COVAX because it has already vaccinated significant amounts of its population. Further, vaccine hesitancy among Western countries ensures that many vaccine doses will go wasted if not donated. Without action, developing states will be unable to buy vaccines directly from vaccine makers because of high prices; therefore, developing countries’ governments will turn to Russia and China for string-attached vaccine agreements if the West continues to stockpile doses. All people deserve vaccines, and developing states shouldn’t need to make concessions to protect their citizens. In short, the G7 states must stop hoarding their vaccines and donate most of their doses to COVAX.

To tackle the pandemic, the G7 states also must stop hoarding the resources necessary to make vaccines. These barriers have prevented developing states from producing their own vaccines. For example, this resource hoarding has severely stunted India’s home-grown vaccine production. The G7 must lift these trade barriers so India can produce doses for its population, especially since it had trouble acquiring vaccines from global vaccine makers.  

Although COVID-19 poses an immediate threat to the globe, climate change generates a long-term threat to humanity. It threatens to severely impact human development and GDP growth. According to Oxfam, climate change will cost $4.8 trillion for the G7 by 2050, and the World Bank suggested global warming could push up to 132 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. Since Western states have the economic resources and human capital needed to combat climate change, they must switch their coordinated climate change strategy. Rather than pressuring developing economies to adopt more renewable energy, the G7 states should focus on greening the West first. These developed states have already industrialized and have the human capital necessary for developing and deploying green technologies. The Global South shouldn’t bear the burden of both industrialization and eliminating fossil fuel dependence; expecting them to do both is unfeasible and unfair, especially since the G7 refuses to fulfil their green funding promises to the Global South. Further, the G7 generates a substantial amount of pollution: more than most developing countries except India and China. Hence, the G7 should focus on greening their economies before cutting industrial development funding to the Global South. By doing so, developing countries don’t have to sacrifice human development. 

Once the G7 switches their economies to renewable energy, they must coordinate and share this technology with the rest of the world. Through technology sharing, the G7 can help developing states rework their energy sources and reduce their emissions. Loaning developing states financial capital will not suffice alone, especially since wealthier states renege on their promises. After the West has committed itself to renewable energy sources, the G7 should provide grants for developing states and share green technology without strings attached. In sum, to tackle climate change, the G7 must green their economies before developing states and help promote green energy worldwide through technology diplomacy.

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