London, June 11 (IANS) Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers opened a three-day summit in an English seaside village on Friday, focused on pandemic recovery, including plans for equitable access to vaccines and financial support to build vaccine production sites around the world.
The much-anticipated G7 Leaders’ Summit marks the first in-person meeting of the member heads of state since the Covid-19 outbreak last year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie welcomed the G7 leaders at the beach of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, where the group posed for the traditional “family photo” as talks kicked off, the dpa news agency reported.
In his opening remarks, Johnson said the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies would learn from the lessons of the “wretched pandemic,” Britain’s Press Association (PA) reported.
“We need to make sure that we learn the lessons from the pandemic, we need to make sure that we don’t repeat some of the errors that we doubtless made in the course of the last 18 months or so,” Johnson said.
He also said that the G7 wanted to be sure that “we are building back better together and building back greener and building back fairer and building back more equal.”
US President Joe Biden, who is on his first trip abroad since taking office, jokingly said at one point while on the beach: “Everybody in the water.”
“I’m looking forward to reinforcing our commitment to multilateralism and working with our allies and partners to build a more fair and inclusive global economy,” he said, according to PA.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stressed the importance for multilateralism.
She said especially Biden “presents and represents the commitment to multilateralism, which after all we have lacked in recent years,” referencing Biden’s predecessor, former US president Donald Trump.
On Thursday, the G7 pledged to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to poorer nations, by sharing jabs directly and through financial aid, the British government announced.
Leaders are also to come up with a plan to extend vaccine manufacturing.
Ahead of the summit, Biden said the US would donate another 500 million vaccine doses to 92 poorer countries and the African Union by June next year.
Johnson, who is hosting the summit, announced that his country would provide 100 million surplus doses, most of them to be distributed through the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme.
COVAX co-chair Jane Halton told Times Radio she was “delighted and excited” about Johnson’s announcement.
“We’ve been calling to target the vulnerable around the world. So let’s assume we get to 1 billion by the end, that will be extraordinarily welcome.”
However, about 11 to 12 billion vaccine doses were necessary to immunize the entire global population, Halton warned, adding that so far only about 2.2 billion doses had been administered, about 77 per cent of which had gone to just 10 countries.
The G7 group remains divided over the issue of lifting patent protection for coronavirus vaccines, as proposed by the US and several other nations.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that France and South Africa would present a proposal during the summit on an exemption for a limited period of time and applying to particular places.
The group is also looking to discuss plans to better prepare the world for future outbreaks. “Global solutions are needed,” according to a draft of a “Carbis Bay Health Declaration” seen by dpa.
In the evening, the leaders are scheduled to attend a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and her son, Prince Charles, during which environmental protection and fighting climate change are on the agenda.
In the afternoon, hundreds of Extinction Rebellion environmental activists staged a protest march targeting the G7 summit, PA reported.
Extinction Rebellion says the protests are in response to G7 nations’ “failure to respect the global climate commitments they made in Paris in 2015” and “to urge the leaders meeting at Carbis Bay in Cornwall to act immediately to address the climate and ecological emergency.”
A group of 457 global investors published a letter on Friday, calling on leaders worldwide to ramp up national plans to combat climate change to meet the goals set in the Paris climate agreement.
It is the leaders’ first in-person meeting in this format in two years, after the G7 leaders only met virtually last year due to the pandemic.
It is the first major international summit for Biden, which he is attending as part of a one-week Europe trip.
The group is also to discuss relationships with Russia and China, with Biden looking to strengthen ties with the other G7 members again to create a united counterweight to the two nations.
The G7 comprises the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada. On Saturday, the leaders of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa are invited as guests as well.
Johnson has said he hopes this will make the summit more of a conference of leading democracies.