Impact Climate

World Leaders Battled Over the Fate of the Planet at the G7 Summit

From climate change to refugees, the meeting epitomizes the disconnect between people and governments.

by Alexis Chemblette
May 31 2017, 8:00pm

Image by Aaron Barksdale

At first glance, the Group of Seven (G7) – an informal club of wealthy democracies like Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – smacks of old-fashioned diplomacy. Powerful leaders meet annually to examine the state of the world, seeking to advance a liberal international order based on values of multilateralism, free trade, economic cooperation and peace. But in a global political context marked by rampant distrust in global decision-making and supranational institutions, the G7 epitomizes the disconnect between people and governments.

Should younger generations care about the G7? Arguably. But they should at least turn their attention to G7 leaders' efforts in addressing the issues that matter to them, such as the environment and immigration, and attempt to influence the international community's agenda-setting. For example, since 2005, the G7 has taken advantage of the media coverage it receives to warn consistently against climate change and press the international community to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But the results have been underwhelming. In 2015, faced with the rising tide of the unprecedented migrant crisis, all G7 members had pledged to increase financial aid towards Middle Eastern countries to 0.7 percent of GDP. Only the UK met this commitment. The following year, contributions from Germany, France, Japan, and the US stood at 0.5, 0.37, 0.22 and 0.17 percent respectively.

Did such distrust and inability factor into the most recent G7? Here are the highlights of this past weekend's summit:

Four new club members

This year's summit marked the first time that French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni participated in a G7 meeting. It was, therefore, a forum to forge new alliances and hold bilateral meetings. Those praying for new leadership on social progress will seek comfort in the blossoming bromance between young and liberal leaders like Trudeau and Macron. Merkel – the most experienced club member – met with Trump privately to criticize his snarky comments on German trade (see note above). The current occupant of the White House had previously railed against German products flooding the American economy, calling German trade "very bad".

No migration crisis plan

Hosted in Italy – a country that saw record numbers of refugees reach its coastline last year – the G7 couldn't afford to overlook the migrant crisis, whose persistence continues to highlight Europe's failure to find a concerted response. In 2017, more than 50,000 migrants were rescued on Italian shores, adding to the 181,000 who were saved last year. In his introductory remarks, the Prime Minister Gentiloni emphasized the need for more development aid and investments in Africa and the Middle East. The final declaration issued on Saturday called for "coordinated efforts at the national and international level" to address an "ongoing large-scale movement"".

His comments were somewhere distinguished between a long-term approach and an emergency approach, but both remain ill-defined. In the final hours before the final declaration was issued, the Trump administration pushed to include a paragraph on the need to support refugees as close to their home countries as possible, and reaffirm states' sovereignty over their borders, echoing the American president's stand on immigration at home.

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Platitudes on the state of the global economy remain the same

As happens every year, there were the usual chit-chat on the positive impact of integrated markets, international trade, laissez-faire economics and globalization on global growth and prosperity. But leaders who were wary of the populist tides that have swept across the west emphasized the role of technology and globalization in lifting millions out of poverty. But they also recognized the benefits are unevenly spread.

This kind of rhetoric all but emphasized how global youths remain discontent. Those under 30 largely endorsed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic primary, 'hardliner' Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour leadership race, and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the latest French presidential election. Meanwhile, Trump couldn't help but spark new tensions over trade, spewing nasty rhetoric about German exports.

Consensus on counterterrorism

In the wake of the suicide-bombing attack that struck Manchester, counterterrorism was the unifying factor in this year's G7 meeting. In the Taormina statement concerning the fight against violent extremism, all leaders agreed to wage a full-blown war against terrorism, identifying ISIS and Al Qaeda as their primary targets. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was conveniently left out.

Contrary to other issues addressed during the summit, G7 leaders detailed the instruments they wished to strengthen to achieve their goals -- cyber warfare was one of them. The G7 was in tune when it called on social networks, communication providers and search engines to increase information-sharing, and flag and remove radical content.

Ground shifting on climate change

Those hoping to influence Donald Trump's position on the COP 21 agreement ratified in Paris in 2015 were left disappointed. The Trump administration announced it would share its final decision this week, with reports saying it's all but inevitable that he'll withdraw the US from the accord.

Trudeau and Macron are guardedly optimistic; Merkel is not. U.S.-Europe relations have sunk to new lows. Beneath the personality clashes lies an ideological rift that takes us back to the George W. Bush era. After refusing to join the war in Iraq, most Western European countries had scolded the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol. As this year's summit drew to a close, Merkel reaffirmed her commitment to lead a European Union that must have control over its destiny.

Sanctions against Russia

European Council President Donald Tusk feared that Trump would advocate a loosening of sanctions against Russia. Trump's administration gave no signals in that direction. Trump's economic advisor and trade representative Gary Cohn (former COO of Goldman Sachs) even declared that the US could adopt a tougher stance on Russia in the future.

See you next year

The G7 summit ended deadlocked on climate change. Trump looked more isolated than ever in the international arena. He clashed with his European counterparts on almost everything. A timid consensus was reached on the state of the global economy. The final declaration issued by G7 members elicited vague recommendations on every policy area, with the exception of counter-terrorism. To make matters worse, the mainstream media were busy chronicling body language and personal interactions between newly elected heads of state.

The 43rd annual G7 summit did everything but restore faith in the club's ability to deliver sweeping change.

If you're between 18 and 27, a citizen of the EU or any G7 member country, and want to shape the G7 agenda, you can apply to be part of your respective national youth delegation. Young Ambassadors Society for Italy, G8 & G20 Youth Summits Japan for Japan, Young European Leadership for the E.U, Policy Innovation e.V. for Germany, Open Diplomacy for France, Young Diplomats of Canada for Canada, Future Leaders Network for the United Kingdom, Young Americans for Diplomatic Leadership for the United States. The G7 youth network meets annually for the G7 youth summit -which usually precedes the G7 official summit- to provide G7 leaders with their vision and priorities for the future.