26 May Looking Towards the G7: The Youth 7 Summit
At a virtual summit on the 14th and 15th May, young leaders from across the G7 presented their recommendations for the 2021 G7 summit to government ministers, G7 representatives and the public. The Youth 7 is one of six official G7 engagement groups – the Business 7, Civil Society 7, Labour 7, Science 7, Women 7 and Youth 7 – all of whom directly engage with and make recommendations to the G7 in the run up to the summit, in a bid to make the G7 as representative and inclusive as possible.
Focusing on the themes of health, digital and technology, economy and climate change, the overarching message was that young people want a say in helping to build a safer, fairer and more sustainable world for future generations. Although many of the conversations with government officials, including Alok Sharma, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Zac Goldsmith, and with the G7 Sherpa, Jonathan Black, were held under the Chatham House rule, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s opening speech provided some useful insights into what we can expect as G7 leaders head into the final stretch before the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in June.
Climate Change was the area of clearest consensus between youth leaders and G7 representatives, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring that we should “enlist the idealism of young people in the whole green movement”. Young leaders called for investments in climate research, legally binding agreements for the conservation of marine biodiversity and continuing to reorient public and private financial investments away from fossil fuels. Although these precise recommendations may not be fulfilled, Prime Minister Johnson made clear that climate change will be top of the G7 agenda, emphasising the need “to develop a new relationship between humanity and the world”.
Prime Minister Johnson’s language once again echoed that of President Biden, who has placed significant emphasis on the economic benefits of climate action, with Prime Minister Johnson highlighting how the climate change agenda will “create high quality, high skilled green jobs”. The clear consensus that is emerging between the two leaders over the importance of the intersection of climate change and the economy shows a recognition of the need to show the direct personal benefits of climate action, particularly in the US where a sizeable minority remain concerned that environmental regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy.
Furthermore, President Biden’s election, and his swift action to require federal agencies to end fossil fuel aid, have fundamentally changed the level of ambition of the G7 on climate, and a draft statement seen by Bloomberg suggests that G7 Ministers will agree to end government support for energy sources that produce greenhouse gases and to eliminate the use of coal when they meet in June.
Prime Minister Johnson also spoke at the summit of the need for the G7 to agree to a “clean, green initiative for the whole world” and support developing countries to “make the leap to green technology”. The UK is pushing for this to come in the form of commitment to additional funds towards easing the green transition, especially in developing countries. This is undoubtedly a positive sign for the success of COP26 as well, bold commitments by the G7 towards tackling climate change will be essential to building support among other nations, particularly developing and emerging nations, and big polluters such as India and China, many of whom have made clear their frustration with being burdened with climate considerations in their attempts to industrialise, in ways that industrialised nations weren’t.
International Development and Girls’ Education
Youth leaders also called on the G7 to fulfil their commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on Overseas Development Assistance, and in particular to commit to closing funding gaps to the Global Partnership for Education and to the World Food Programme. After making temporary reductions to aid and development spending during the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK has committed to a return to its 0.7% commitment “when the fiscal situation allows”, although many within the sector remain concerned that the return to the commitment may take several years. Furthermore, despite the fact the five nations who spent the most on aid in 2020 are all G7 nations, many of the G7 nations remain significantly below the 0.7% threshold, with Italy spending just 0.22% of GNI on aid in 2020, while Japan and Canada both spent just 0.31%.
However, Prime Minister Johnson made clear that education, particularly girls education, is front and centre of the UK’s objectives for the G7, declaring at the Y7 summit that the UK will be “championing female education above all”. Earlier this month, G7 Foreign Ministers signed the ‘Declaration on Girls’ Education’, committing to supporting getting 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading by age 10 or by the end of primary school in low and lower-middle-income countries by 2026.
Speaking to the Y7 summit, Prime Minister Johnson also made clear the importance of the G7’s global leadership in the post-pandemic recovery, declaring that “the G7 is coming together to try and heal the world”. Youth leaders had called on the G7 to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents and ensure equitable vaccine distribution, but while the G7 clearly supports the values behind equitable vaccine access, they remain divided over how best to achieve this. Despite President Biden supporting the calls of around 100, largely developing, nations at the World Trade Organisation for a patent waiver, Japan, Germany and the UK, all of whom have large pharmaceutical sectors, continue to oppose the move which German Chancellor Angela Merkel claims would affect the quality of vaccinations. Nonetheless, G7 Foreign Ministers have already committed to working with the pharmaceutical industry to increase vaccine production, but it looks increasingly unlikely that G7 leaders will be able to come to a consensus on more drastic proposals such as patent waivers in time for the summit.
Prime Minister Johnson also took the opportunity to emphasise the G7’s leadership role in the global economic recovery from the pandemic, stating that the G7 will strive to ensure we “bounce forward from the pandemic together”. In March, after the United States dropped its initial opposition, the G7 nations agreed to an additional allocation of the IMF’s special drawing rights to enable developing countries to respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic. They have also continued to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring a “green, inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19”, including through working with partners in developing countries to achieve this. However, much of the detail of what this means in practice remains to be seen.
The UK has made the promotion of shared values and open societies a central pillar of its G7 presidency and speaking to the Youth 7 Summit, Prime Minister Johnson reaffirmed that “G7 countries are countries that stick up for human rights, for equalities around the world, we’re a values-led organisation”. With condemnation of a number of global human rights violations a central component of the G7 foreign ministers’ statement earlier this month, a move that was condemned by China, it is clear that, despite divergences in approach across the G7 nations, particularly in relation to Russia and China, there are clear areas of consensus and the G7 summit will provide the opportunity for these nations to show a united front against emerging geopolitical threats.
Prime Minister Johnson also reasserted the importance of the G7 championing free trade, which he claimed “has done more to tackle poverty and deprivation around the world than almost anything else”. G7 leaders have so far committed to “consult(ing) with each other on collective approaches to address non-market oriented policies and practices” to ensure the maintenance of a free and open global trading system, which is of particular importance to the UK post-Brexit, and which the UK can be expected to push for concrete commitments on during the G7 summit.
Looking Towards the G7
The final of the six engagement group summits, the Youth 7 summit was an important opportunity for young people to engage directly with the G7 to ensure G7 policies are as inclusive as possible, and in turn to improve the public legitimacy and support for the group. Occurring so close to the G7 summit itself, it also provided important insights into what we can expect heading into the G7 summit. With clear consensus around the need for a strong values-led G7 in the face of emerging geopolitical threats, we can expect a G7 communique that champions human rights and freedoms. Furthermore, with the UK’s commitment to making climate change action “the UK’s top international priority”, combined with President Biden’s significant investment in climate action in the US, the two nations can be expected to push hard for the G7 to commit to bold action on climate change.