FALMOUTH, England – Leaders from some of the world’s wealthiest nations gathered Friday for their first in-person meetings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, encompasses talks over globally distributing COVID-19 vaccines, tackling climate change and addressing shared security concerns, from cyberattacks to China’s geopolitical rise.
“You’ve all been going through the most wretched pandemic the world has faced for at least our lifetimes. I actually think that this is a meeting that genuinely needs to happen because we need to make sure we learn lessons from the pandemic,” Johnson said, in remarks formally kicking off the summit. “We need to make sure that as we recover, we level up across our societies – we need to build back better.”
On Thursday, President Joe Biden held a pre-summit meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They discussed the durability of U.S.-U.K. relationship and Johnson sought to allay concerns in Washington over how Britain’s exit from the European Union – Brexit – could impact a decades-old peace treaty in Northern Ireland.
Here’s how day one of the G-7 is shaping up:
A global economy, but fairer
Biden and the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are expected to endorse a plan to ensure a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15%. This is to prevent large companies such as Amazon and Apple from paying little-to-no-tax on their overseas earnings.
Biden has characterized the initiative as an illustration of how his administration is seeking to protect the interests of the American middle class. He wants to use the tax revenue to invest in infrastructure projects.
More vaccines for everybody else
The U.S. and U.K. have some of the highest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world. Johnson has said G-7 leaders in Cornwall will be asked this week to donate 1 billion vaccines in total to poorer countries over the next year. On Friday, there will be more discussion on how to meet that goal after Biden ahead of the summit pledged to donate 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to nearly 100 lower income countries and the African Union. And Johnson said his country would gift more than 100 million doses, likely of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
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“High income countries have stockpiled far more vaccine doses than they need even though COVID-19 is a global problem which cannot be dealt with effectively unless we act as a global community, and this means protecting everyone everywhere,” said Helen Lambert, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Bristol, England.
Royal charm offensive
Who said soft power isn’t a thing? Queen Elizabeth II and other senior members of the British royal family were dispatched to the G-7 summit Friday in a reflection of the important diplomatic role the royal family often plays for Britain. The queen was joined by Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Cambridge for events at the Eden Project, a climate and biodiversity complex in Cornwall. On Sunday, the queen will host Biden and first lady Jill Biden at Windsor Castle. The queen has met 12 out of 14 serving U.S. presidents during her nearly 70-year reign.
‘We need much greater ambition’
Members of the Extinction Rebellion activist group descended on Cornwall to pressure world leaders to do more to address threats to wildlife, seas and precious resources as a result of climate change. They are using blimps, marches, drums and various pop up theatrical actions to draw attention to climate-related issues.
“The reality is that none of the G-7 nations are delivering on the promises they made in Paris in 2015,” said Melissa Carrington, a former environmental consultant from Dorset, England, referring to the landmark Paris Agreement that Biden rejoined this year.
Former President Donald Trump had withdrawn from the accord.
“All claims of climate leadership are farcical, when no major economy has implemented policies consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” she said.
It’s not clear what specific new commitments on climate may emerge from G-7 leaders.
Smile, it’s photo time
No international summit would be complete without the traditional “family photo” of world leaders. The family photo can sometimes give an indication of latent or developing tensions between dominant personalities, or simply give an insight into something more mundane. For example, how tall a world leader is compared to his or her counterparts. The many photos of Trump captured at the various summits he attended during his presidency invariably show him appearing to look dissatisfied or at odds with other leaders, as was often the case.
“Everybody in the water,” Biden joked as he and his fellow leaders assembled for their photo on the beach in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, on Friday. The president stood to Johnson’s right, in the right row. Biden looked at ease and was seen immediately prior to the photo chatting amiably with French President Emmanuel Macron. In fact, the two men had each draped an arm around the other’s back.
What’s for dinner?
The G-7 summit is first and foremost an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership on the pressing issues of the day. However, for the president and prime ministers it’s also a pretty good excuse to eat well. Here’s the fare Biden et al will be served up tonight, cooked by Chef Emily Scott from Cornwall’s Watergate Bay hotel:
To start: Spiced melon, gazpacho, coconut, high note herbs
Main course: Turbot roasted on the bone (caught off the Cornish coast by a fisherman from nearby Newquay) with Cornish new potatoes and wild garlic pesto with greens from the local Padstow kitchen gardens
Cheese course: Cornish cheese – Gouda, Cornish yarg, Helford blue
Dessert: English strawberry pavlova
Petit fours: Clotted cream fudge, mini clotted cream ice cream cone with chocolate earl grey truffles