There has not been a more consequential meeting of the world’s richest democracies.
They must overcome huge challenges as they meet in Germany for this year’s G7 summit.
War, famine, runaway inflation, recession and an energy crisis are on the list of threats they must tackle.
If they fail, they know the world will lose faith in their group of liberal democracies and their ability to stand up for the values they claim to believe in.
For US President Joe Biden the priority is to seize the upper hand in the war on Ukraine. From the start he pitched his presidency as a chance to reinvigorate the free world under his leadership. But since then, it has been threatened by President Vladimir Putin’s audacious invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s renewed alliance with China. The world is dividing between the free West and the autocracies of the East.
The Group of Seven industrialised democracies are the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy, with the European Union also represented at the talks.
As well as the permanent G7 members, the leaders of Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa have been invited as guests.
The summit is being held in Schloss Elmau, a luxury hotel in the German Alps from Sunday to Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the leaders remotely, and the G7 leaders will consider the response to the war and its impact on the global economy and food supplies.
But Germany, which holds the rotating G7 presidency, hopes the group’s talks will not be limited to the crisis in eastern Europe.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the war must not lead the G7 to “neglect our responsibility for global challenges such as the climate crisis and the pandemic”.
He warned that if the G7 democracies do not support poorer countries “powers like Russia and China will take advantage”.
Russia’s seizure of Severodonetsk makes for an ominous backdrop to the summit. Mr Putin now has control of much of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The Russian advance will sharpen criticism of Mr Biden for not doing enough to lead the West’s fightback against Mr Putin from the front.
The US has promised billions of dollars worth of aid, much of it military support, but critics say efforts to move American-supplied heavy weapons to the front have not been quick enough to stem the Russian advance.
If Russia’s offensive is not reversed, the war could grind on for years to come, with a crippling impact on the global economy and western prestige. It will embolden strongmen elsewhere, not least Chinese leader Xi Jinping in his belligerence towards Taiwan.
West plagued by weak, unpopular leadership
Mr Biden must steel his allies for the likelihood the war will go on indefinitely, well aware their unity is buckling. And he will remind them what is at stake, while some seem willing to negotiate with Mr Putin despite his naked aggression, murderous onslaught and the ominous disappearance of thousands of Ukrainians in land he has captured.
The West is divided over Ukraine and plagued by weak, unpopular leadership. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is clinging to power after two by-election defeats, his party riven with discord. French president Emmanuel Macron has failed to secure a majority in the French parliament. Mr Biden’s approval rating has plummeted to 36%, only three points off Donald Trump’s all time low of 33%.
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The summit’s German host, Olaf Scholz, is too new in the job for his popularity to be seriously tested. He says the priority in Bavaria is to project unity. Mr Putin seeks to drive a wedge in to the western alliance. France and Germany are thought to favour pressuring Ukraine to cede land in return for ‘peace’. Britain and America fear that would only leave Mr Putin with a beachhead to launch further attacks and add up to appeasement. But Mr Putin’s near complete conquest of the Donbas may give the idea more traction on the eve of this summit.
Leaders cannot ignore warnings of hunger and starvation
The war is taking a huge toll on the world’s economies. It has forced up prices of fuel and food, worsening post pandemic inflationary pressure. European nations know they need to wean themselves off Russian energy but know that doing so risks increasing inflation further.
The G7 must also address a massive food supply crisis caused by the war that is combining with climate change to threaten mass hunger and famine. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain, the worst drought in 40 years in the Horn of Africa and bad harvests in China and India could combine to cause hunger for millions and mass starvation in Africa. UNICEF says unless something is done, there will be the “mass death of children under the age of five”. That is a warning that world leaders cannot ignore.
Lukewarm climate commitments could be watered down further
At the end of a long list – but probably the most important long-term issue – is climate change.
The G7 disappointed the world with lukewarm commitments when it met in Cornwall last year but even those diluted pledges may be watered down further. Germany is leading efforts to postpone plans to end funding of fossil fuel projects overseas while the current crises go on. In reality the world cannot afford any more delays in international efforts to tackle the threat of climate change if there is to be any chance of catastrophic temperature rises being avoided.
This is a hugely important summit. The world is threatened by multiple challenges. Its leading liberal democracies will need to find strength and unity to overcome them. If they fail, their enemies will be strengthened and the bloodshed and turmoil of the last few months is likely to spread and worsen.
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