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Substantial Success at the G7's 2021 February Virtual Summit

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
February 19, 2021

The G7's virtual summit on February 19, 2021, has been a substantial success overall.

Its first achievement is its timing, taking place so early in the 2021 G7 presidency, almost a month earlier than the one hosted by U.S. president Donald Trump on March 16, 2020.

G7 leaders met virtually for about two hours, welcoming and collectively interacting with several new leaders – U.S. president Joe Biden, inaugurated on January 20, and Italy's Mario Draghi, sworn in on February 13 and scheduled to host the G20 summit on October 30-31 as well as co-chair the United Nations climate summit with British prime minister Boris Johnson in Glasgow on November 1-12. It was also the first summit for Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who will host the Olympics in July.

The virtual meeting ended with a "Joint Statement of G7 Leaders." Its 711 words are slightly fewer than the 794-word communiqué issued on March 16, 2020. It begins by pledging to work together to beat COVID-19, build back better, and draw on G7 members' democratic values and open societies "to shape a recovery that promotes the health and prosperity of our people and planet." This trilogy of prosperity, people and planet perfectly matches that of Italy's G20 summit, but now with the economy first and ecology last.

The statement then devotes two paragraphs to health, one to economics and one to the natural environment, and ends with a look ahead to the G7's Cornwall Summit in June and Japan's Olympics.

In all, the statement contains 27 precise, future-oriented, politically obligatory, collective commitments, with all members agreeing to every one (see Appendix). This is slightly fewer than the 33 the G7 produced in the only summit statement of 2020, issued after the March 16 virtual meeting.

The summit's biggest achievement is its mobilization of more new money to combat the COVID-19 crisis still ravaging the poorest people and countries in the world. Although the $4 billion pledge from this virtual summit is less than the $7.3 billion mobilized on the spot at the 2010 Muskoka G8 summit for maternal, newborn and child health, it is enough to meet the urgent, critical need. It also shows renewed U.S. leadership, with the Biden administration providing $2 billion immediately and $2 billion over the next two years. Canada, which was the second largest initial contributor, now added another $75 million for a total of $940 million for ACT-A. The European Union promised to double its funding to €1 billion.

A second significant step is the promises to strengthen the World Health Organization (WHO), "supporting its leading and coordinating role," and to accelerate vaccine development and deployment, manufacturing and sequencing of new variants.

A third advance is support for the Global Health Summit in Rome, work on future pandemics, health financing, the One Health approach, universal health coverage (which the United States is the only G7 member without).

However, G7 leaders only announced support for "voluntary" rather than mandatory licensing of the critical COVID-19 vaccines, failed to increase the base budget of the WHO so it can meet its new demands, neglected the threat of antimicrobial resistance and committed only to "exploring the potential value of a global health treaty."

On economic recovery and development, they did little new. They pledged "we will continue to support our economies to protect jobs," rather than clearly signal that they backed the $1.9 trillion in new fiscal stimulus that Biden is struggling to get approved by his badly divided Congress. On development and debt relief they pledged to "strengthen support" to struggling countries but took no specific action on the central Debt Service Suspension Initiative. Equally general was their support for a new regime for digital taxation by mid 2021, data free flow with trust, and reform of the World Trade Organization. No pledge to prevent or redress their trade or investment protectionism appeared.

On climate change and biodiversity, their promises were strong but focused on the distant future – the Glasgow summit in November and a net zero in 2050, or 30 years from now. They did not repeat, let alone strengthen, their oft-stated, long-unfulfilled and badly overdue commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

On China, they did send a clear, accommodating signal of engagement first, and continuing consultation to cope with all "non-market policies and practices." There was no mention of the Uighurs, Hong Kong, Taiwan or their arbitrarily detained citizens, and nothing at all on Russia or Myanmar. However, in a readout issued by 10 Downing Street, Johnson "welcomed the united stance taken by the G7 in condemning the recent coup in Myanmar and the detention of Alexey Navalny in Russia."

The big winner is the G20, which G7 leaders promised several times to support and work with. This supports the hope that, for the first time, the G7, G20 and UN summits this year will work together for the greater good.

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Appendix: G7 February Virtual Summit Commitments

Compiled by Brittaney Warren, G7 Research Group

2021-1: We will intensify cooperation on the health response to COVID-19. (health)

Working with, and together to strengthen, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and supporting its leading and coordinating role, we will:

2021-2: accelerate global vaccine development and deployment; (health)

2021-3: work with industry to increase manufacturing capacity, including through voluntary licensing; (health)

2021-4: improve information sharing, such as on sequencing new variants; (health)

2021-5: promote transparent and responsible practices, and vaccine confidence. (health)

2021-6: We reaffirm our support for all pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), its COVAX facility, and affordable and equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, reflecting the role of extensive immunisation as a global public good.

2021-7: We will work with the WHO, G20 and others, especially through the Global Health Summit in Rome, to bolster global health and health security architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through health financing and rapid response mechanisms, by strengthening the "One Health" approach and Universal Health Coverage,

2021-8: [We will work with the WHO, G20 and others, especially through the Global Health Summit in Rome, to bolster global health and health security architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through health financing and rapid response mechanisms, by] exploring the potential value of a global health treaty.

2021-9: We will continue to support our economies to protect jobs

2021-10: [We will continue to support our economies to] support a strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive recovery.

2021-11: We reaffirm our support to the most vulnerable countries, … [including to support a resilient recovery.]

2021-12: [We reaffirm]… our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, … [including to support a resilient recovery.]

2021-13: [We reaffirm]… our partnership with Africa, including to support a resilient recovery.

2021-14: We will work through the G20 and with the International Financial Institutions to strengthen support for countries' responses by exploring all available tools, including through full and transparent implementation of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and the Common Framework.

2021-15: Recovery from COVID-19 must build back better for all. Looking to UNFCCC COP26 and CBD COP15, we will put our global ambitions on climate change and the reversal of biodiversity loss at the centre of our plans.

2021-16: We will make progress on mitigation, adaptation and finance in accordance with the Paris Agreement

2021-17: [We will] … deliver a green transformation and clean energy transitions that cut emissions and create good jobs on a path to net zero no later than 2050.

2021-18: We are committed to levelling up our economies so that no geographic region or person, irrespective of gender or ethnicity, is left behind.

We will:

2021-19: champion open economies and societies;

2021-20: promote global economic resilience;

2021-21: harness the digital economy with data free flow with trust;

2021-22: cooperate on a modernised, freer and fairer rules-based multilateral trading system that reflects our values and delivers balanced growth with a reformed World Trade Organisation at its centre;

2021-23: strive to reach a consensus-based solution on international taxation by mid-2021 within the framework of the OECD.

2021-24: With the aim of supporting a fair and mutually beneficial global economic system for all people, we will engage with others, especially G20 countries including large economies such as China.

2021-25: As Leaders, we will consult with each other on collective approaches to address non-market oriented policies and practices,

2021-26: we will cooperate with others to address important global issues that impact all countries.

2021-27: We resolve to agree concrete action on these priorities at the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom in June

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