But global events have since overtaken their best efforts, and it is far from clear if they will be able to build on those goals this year. Russia’s unprompted invasion of Ukraine is a large and singular cloud, but other thunderheads are gathering too.
Russian President Vladmir Putin’s officials are hinting at nuclear Armageddon, China has become increasingly assertive, a global food crunch is on the way, oil prices are spiking, and a global economic slowdown and a cost-of-living crisis are looming. Climate change aspirations are also being confounded and supply chain problems are hobbling hopes of a post-pandemic return to normality.
Although G7 leaders can look back with some satisfaction at their unity in the face of Russia’s unprecedented aggression — as seen in that “strengthening partnerships” goal set in Carbis Bay — the scale of looming crises dwarfs even that.
Putin is not entirely to blame for the coming storm but his unjustified war in Ukraine is inextricably linked to many of the crises that are brewing. Without it, the fixes required would be easier and fewer, their impact less pernicious.
To improve the situation, the G7 will need to get Putin to back down on some of his war aims, for example by ending the conflict, or restoring Kyiv’s control over all Donbas — but so far there is no indication he is anywhere near doing that.
Energy crisis threatens climate commitments
Last year’s G7 was all about net zero and a green pandemic recovery, but this year’s scramble by Western nations to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas has given a boost to the biggest single contributor to the crisis — coal.
G7 host Germany is now in crisis mode as Russia reduces its gas supplies to the country, weaponizing energy for influence as feared — it is now saying it will fire up more coal plants. That’s a U-turn from last November, when Germany brought forward its deadline to phase out coal to 2030, eight years earlier than planned. After Russia’s invasion, it also expedited plans to transition its power sector to 100% renewables by five years.
Johnson — who said last year the world had reached a point of no return in phasing out coal — just this week suggested the UK start mining the fossil fuel again for steelmaking. The country will also delay a plan to shut down more existing coal plants ahead of winter.
And to address the oil crisis, Biden is suggesting a tax holiday on fuel as prices at the pump soar.
Problems are layering in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the global economic downturn in 2008.
Back then, central bankers rallied and stopped the economic rot, but the geopolitical repercussions rippled on for years.
The Arab Spring signaled that economic pain had passed a threshold. When impoverished Tunisian street trader Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in December 2010, he ignited passions across the Middle East; protesters took to the streets, toppling two governments and rattling many more, before calm was partially restored in the region later the following year.
Putin banks on faltering consensus
What G7 leaders can do to head off a season of despair could well be limited by the global rifts which Russia is intentionally exploiting.
Consensus at the UN and the G20, two other deep-pocketed global crisis firefighters, is in tatters. Votes at the UN Security Council show veto-wielding Russia and China will prevent any censure of Putin’s invasion; meanwhile, the US has suggested it won’t attend the G20 Leaders’ summit in Indonesia this November if Russia goes, and the UK has done the same.
They know developing world problems impact G7 nations before them — as most migrants choose to go to developed countries that will protect their rights — and seem willing to leverage world crises to their advantage, leaving the G7 to weather the coming storm alone.
But so far, despite differing relations with Russia, the G7 is holding together.
What’s clear is that this G7 has more riding on it than past meetings: Success will come in mitigating the crises, not stopping them. Failure is exactly what Putin wants.