Health and Healthcare Systems

The challenge for G7 leaders: vaccinate the world and be bolder on climate

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesture as they pose for a family photo with G-7 leaders; European Council President Charles Michel, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-7 summit, in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain June 11, 2021. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2DYN9SX06W

The G7 Summit will require high ambitions on vaccination and climate. Image: REUTERS

Paul Polman
Co-Founder and Co-Chair, IMAGINE
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SDG 13: Climate Action

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  • As G7 leaders meet, the costs of not acting on public health, climate and biodiversity loss are now becoming far higher than the costs of acting.
  • The business community stands ready to support this agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide an ideal framework to do so.
  • This week’s G7 Summit provides an opportunity for reinvigorated leadership and high ambitions.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic world leaders were united in their calls for a global response to humanity’s biggest crisis in living memory. But that ideal quickly vanished, as international cooperation gave way to multilateral sclerosis and national self-interest.

Fortunately, this week’s G7 Summit provides an opportunity for reinvigorated leadership and Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears determined to raise ambitions. This comes not a moment too soon, as the costs of not acting on public health, climate and biodiversity loss are now becoming far higher than the costs of acting.

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Vaccinating the world

The most urgent priority is vaccinating the world, as no one is safe until everyone is safe. It’s alarming therefore that the global vaccination programme, COVAX, has so far supplied only around 80 million doses in developing countries against a target of 2 billion by the end of this year. Indeed, of the roughly 1.8 billion doses of COVID vaccines administered globally, 28% have been in G7 countries, while just 0.3% have been in low-income countries. And at the current rate of deployment, it will take over 50 years to vaccinate everyone.

This is the classic prisoner’s dilemma outcome, where not cooperating is worse for every nation. Poorer citizens suffer without immunization and allowing COVID to circulate in developing countries could lead to new variants that spread around the world. The risk is that we undo hard-won progress, where healthcare systems and economies once again become gridlocked.

It’s clear we will not cross the global vaccination finishing line without proper funding, which is why the world’s richest countries must step-up and pay at least two-thirds of the estimated $66 billion needed. This is a pittance compared to the staggering sums COVID is already costing developed economies, with the U.S. government alone facing a bill of at least $16 trillion. Reports the G7 will deliver 1 billion extra vaccine doses to poorer countries over the next year would literally be a shot in the arm for those most in need.


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Bold climate action

Committing to bold climate action will also be a key test for the G7. Many developing nations are already publicly sceptical about COP26 in Glasgow, which is extremely unhelpful mood music, since the stakes couldn’t be higher. Again, no one is safe until everyone is safe, as climate change does not discriminate between rich and poor. We also know that effective climate diplomacy relies on the world’s biggest carbon emitters moving first, which is why it is now time for them to lead by example.

The suspicion of emerging economies is well founded, as the pledge richer countries made to provide them with $100 billion of climate finance per year is way off track. The OECD estimates around only $62 billion of public finance was raised in 2018, while Oxfam calculates the number may be even lower. Canada and Italy have been notably parsimonious, but it’s clear that collectively the G7 – which is responsible for around 80% of climate finance – can be far more courageous in building solidarity for a successful COP26. The benefits would far outweigh costs, as we desperately need developing countries to embark on a journey of green – rather than brown – growth.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, U.S. President Joe Biden, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and European Council President Charles Michel walk along the boardwalk during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool - RC2EYN9GM57G
Effective climate diplomacy relies on the world’s biggest carbon emitters moving first, which is why it is now time for them to lead by example. Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool

Nor can the G7 go on ignoring the root-cause of the crisis: rampant biodiversity loss, which has dramatically increased our susceptibility to pandemics and climate disasters.

With humans and wildlife now living in ever closer proximity, 70% of new infectious diseases come from animals. Once more, we need to get the numbers in perspective. Globally, COVID has cost $28 trillion in lost output, whereas the annual cost of preventing further pandemics over the next decade is estimated to be only $26 billion. It’s imperative therefore that governments do not delay in taking much bolder action to protect our natural capital.

Similarly, G7 leaders cannot ignore the undeniable link between our maniac demolition of the environment and our impending climate emergency. Our forests, peatlands, oceans, mangroves and freshwater systems are all vital carbon sinks. Yet their routine destruction continues unabated, even though climate change could cost the world economy $7.9 trillion by 2050. It’s voodoo economics writ large that demands an urgent political response.

I do not for one minute envy the daunting challenges facing G7 leaders when they gather at the Carbis Bay Hotel this week. But they should keep several considerations in mind.

The public overwhelming wants us to build back better from the pandemic. The business community stands ready to support this agenda for change and renewal with resources, technology and know-how. And, crucially, we already have an oven-ready plan to aid our recovery: the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

When Mr Johnson signs-off the Summit’s communiqué, I hope he remembers the words of his hero, Winston Churchill, who famously saidI never worry about action…only about inaction”. Global Britain and the world will be watching.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsClimate ActionGeo-Economics and Politics
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