It was more of a sausage war than a BBQ dinner last night for the G-7 leaders: Emmanuel Macron was baited by Boris Johnson and the pair traded Brexit barbs, including, bizarrely, over the transport of sausages. It was enough for the Bidens to make sure they tucked into bed at their castle by 9 p.m., before sunset.
Today the meaty discussion is around climate change. David Attenborough, the 95-year-old environmentalist, will provide the color by telling leaders that the planet may be on the “verge of destabilizing,” the fights will include over how to accelerate emissions reductions and whether there should be taxes on imports from countries not doing enough to tackle climate change.
Aside from the possibility that G-7 leaders will call for a new independent investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, the big news event of the day is likely to be President Joe Biden’s audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, after which the scene-stealing FLOTUS will head back to the U.S. with a folder full of stellar reviews.
If you’re keen to know what it’s like to actually attend a G-7 summit, Jack Blanchard takes you through every political, diplomatic and media layer in his latest Westminster Insider podcast episode, featuring Tony Blair.
Let’s get into it.
The global climate debate is markedly different to the American domestic debate. How will we know if the G-7 has stepped up a gear today?
Karl Mathiesen, senior climate correspondent: “I want to know whether there’s going to be a genuine discussion about taxing imports from countries that aren’t doing enough to fight climate change. The EU is readying a proposal to hit high-carbon commodities, including steel, and wants to force the issue, even though U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has asked them to back off. From the U.S. perspective, the move is politically explosive: guaranteed to annoy opponents of carbon pricing in Congress almost as much as it will ramp up tensions with China, India and other emerging economies. But the White House also knows that it will have to eventually put some kind of border protection in place lest industries flee tougher emissions cuts and set up carbon havens.”
Ryan Heath, Global Translations author: It’s hard for the G-7 to step up because Congress has not translated Biden’s climate commitments into legally binding targets and investments. So a strong new commitment would just be more words that lack a Congressional mandate. Presidential and G-7 words still matter, of course — but if you listen to scientific input, there really isn’t time for more words without action.
Mathiesen: So far in this morning’s talks, G-7 countries have been unable to come to terms on a time frame to end their use of coal for electrical power, an EU official said. The U.K. hosts, backed up by the EU, had pushed for a commitment to "phase out" coal in the 2030s, said the official. But the summit draft communiqué now contains only an open ended promise to "accelerate" the demise of the carbon-intensive fuel.
Without a time frame, the language would be weaker than a commitment made by the G-7 environment ministers in May.
Which countries or leaders are having the best and worst summit?
Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent & Associate Editor: Biden. Biden. Biden. The other leaders — even those he just met — couldn’t stop praising him. But this, of course, is not really about Biden. This is about their relief to not have to deal with Donald Trump anymore. Trump spent fours years attacking them on Twitter, accusing their countries of mooching off the United States and pulling out of international agreements. That Biden actually wants to work with them too is icing on the cake.
David M. Herszenhorn, Chief Brussels Correspondent: Ryan, the question should be, which leader other than Joe Biden is having the best summit? It’s not fair to put the others up against the guy being hailed as the savior of global cooperation and the multilateral rules-based order. So putting aside that POTUS is the mostest at the moment, European Council Charles Michel is having a surprisingly good summit. The EU appears to be securing quite a few of its priorities in the communique (an effort he shares with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen). But Michel brokered a deal for release of Armenian prisoners of war, in partnership with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the surprise announcement of it on Saturday provided a high-profile example of EU-U.S. partnership back in action.
Rym Momtaz, senior correspondent, France: If this was supposed to be Global Britain’s big global debut with the world’s media on site — it is an abject failure. There’s no mobile PCR testing facility for required tests, no food at the media center and journalists have been parked an hour’s drive away from where leaders are meeting. Almost like everything was designed to keep journalists as far away as possible. Not a good look when you’re repositioning the G-7 as being a democratic values-driven group. At the last in-person G-7, hosted by France in Biarritz, journos were across the street from leaders and had many opportunities to run into leaders. What it all adds up to: not a riveting news-making summit.
Kumar: I am happy to sign up to that, Rym. It was a complete failure. Lessons learned from G-7: don’t have a global summit in Cornwall and don’t have one during a pandemic. The small Newquay airport just can’t handle all the leaving delegation — so the U.S. press and staff charter plane has been diverted to Cardiff, Wales.
Anna Isaac, trade and economics correspondent: The G-7 summit has widened a British Cabinet split over how tough a line the U.K. should take on China, meaning the final position on China will be one of the most closely scrutinized parts of the G-7 communiqué. Johnson had more success in pushing his foreign policy agenda via summit invites to India, South Africa, South Korea and Australia.
Heath: Johnson could also do without images like this one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Merkel did end up elbow bumping him). But his biggest faux pas is all his own fault: scheduling today’s final press conference during a major soccer match.
Beyond the long communiqué — what will leaders fly out of Cornwall with?
Heath: The Biden administration’s framing is that they’re pleased with “convergence” among G-7 members on issues of strategic importance (a.k.a China) — “both in terms of the direction of convergence and also the speed with which it’s happening,” according to a senior administration official. The upshot is Biden feels that he’s cemented both old and new relationships this weekend, and the ingredients are now in place for sustained and comprehensive pushback against China on issues and in fields in which China is a systemic rival to the U.S.
Herszenhorn: Plus ça change as they say en bon anglais, plus ça change. Expansion seems unlikely, certainly not back to the G-8
Kumar: Some people argue that the G-7’s influence has waned because it doesn’t include China or the emerging powers. Still that seems unlikely to change. All seven countries are developed democracies whose GDP makes up nearly half of the global economy and they aren’t going to be eager to change that. Remember they already have the G-20. And I agree with David. There’s no talk of letting Russia back as accusations of aggression against the country continue to stack up.
Heath: If G-7 is to become G-10 it will need a champion to push hard for it. In general, G-7 members like being at a small, exclusive table and they’re not worried about China’s criticism of them: “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said Sunday.
But what I think has been solidified at this summit is the sense that the G-7 is a democratic values-driven club. It’s original purpose was to guide the world economy, and that’s shifted with the rise of authoritarian rivals, and because they’re all burned by Russia having been a member that rejected their values.