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June 17, 2021

The change we need

Vaccines dominated this G7, unsurprisingly given the stark inequality in the vaccine rollout globally. While G7 nations are vaccinating their citizens at a rate of 4.6 million people a day, low-income countries can only manage 63,000. The G7 will have vaccinated almost all of its citizens by the end of the year while, at current rates, low-income countries would be waiting 57 years. That is why the global South is demanding rich countries support a waiver on intellectual property rules to allow countries around the world to ramp up production as quickly as possible. But with the very important exception of US President Biden, and occasionally promising noises from French President Macron, the G7 has largely sided with the big pharmaceutical corporations in protecting the right to profit no matter what the cost in lives.

These leaders wanted to use the G7 summit to prove they could help the global South while leaving Big Pharma’s profits intact. On Friday, one billion doses were put on the table. This would only have been sufficient to immunise about 10 percent of the globally unvaccinated population. By Sunday, this number had fallen to 870 million, of which only about 600 million were genuinely ‘new’, most of which would not be offered until next year, and some of which seem closer to exports (they will need to be paid for) rather than donations.

When we bear in mind that a single factory in Bangladesh could produce between 600 and 800 million doses a year if patents were waived, it becomes clear that this G7 pledge does not even function as a fig leaf.

Beyond vaccines, the pandemic has triggered a debt crisis in many countries, which could heighten poverty and inequality for a generation. Yet the G7 offered nothing new to change this situation, in particular taking no action against the banks and hedge funds which continue to drain billions of dollars a year from countries that should be spending on healthcare and economic protection. And on the major issue of our times, halting climate change, the summit merely reaffirmed a decade-old target to give developing countries $100bn a year to adapt to climate change – a promise which they have already failed to honour in practice – and made a commitment to phasing out coal, but with no real details.

Perhaps none of this should surprise us. After all the forerunner of the G7 was set up in the mid-1970s as a sort of coup against a more democratic and equal world order. The first summit – then just the six most powerful governments in the world – took place in 1975 just outside Paris. Those leaders met to discuss the threat to their control of world energy markets from Middle Eastern suppliers who had turned off the oil taps, and how to deal with their former colonies who were demanding economic liberation from the Western-controlled international economy. Working as part of the non-aligned movement, these southern countries used the UN to demand a more democratic global economy in which big business and big finance would be constrained, producers of commodities would get a fairer share of global income, and important technologies would be shared for the benefit of all.

Excerpted: ‘The change we need will never come from the G7’

Aljazeera.com