G7 leaders yesterday opened their first in-person talks in nearly two years, with an expected pledge to donate one billion Covid vaccine doses to poor countries on the agenda in a show of Western democratic cohesion.
The club of leading economies -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States -- said a joint approach is the world's best chance for recovering from the global health crisis, and tackling climate change.
Welcomed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the beachside summit venue in Carbis Bay, southwest England, the leaders posed for a family photo before opening their first session of talks on "building back better" after the pandemic.
The meeting presents a "huge opportunity" for global pandemic recovery, Johnson told his fellow leaders in opening remarks, as they sat socially distanced and without masks at a round table.
It would focus, he said, on "building back greener, building back fairer and building back more equal", with an emphasis on gender equality.
US President Joe Biden had set the tone, ditching Donald Trump's isolationist stance to ram home a message of resolve by the G7 and Nato against both Beijing and Moscow, as he heads into his first sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Geneva.
"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," Biden tweeted from the G7 in Cornwall.
"Let's get to work."
Campaigners said the G7's vaccine donations pledge for this year and next -- including 500 million US doses -- is far too little, too late to end a pandemic that has claimed over 3.7 million lives worldwide.
"If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate one billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure," Oxfam said, insisting the world needs 11 billion doses.
COVID AND CLIMATE
The co-chair of Covax, the global body charged with ensuring equitable vaccine distribution for poorer countries, said there remains a yawning gap in vaccine supplies globally.
"We've administered somewhere around 2.2 billion doses of vaccine around the world. Seventy-seven percent of those doses have gone into arms in 10 countries only," said Jane Halton.
"If we're going to get all those extra doses, firstly manufactured, then shipped, and then in arms equitably around the world we are going to have to scale up."
The G7 pledges "don't go far enough, fast enough", said Alex Harris, director of government relations for the global public health NGO Wellcome Trust.
"What the world needs is vaccines now -- not later this year.
"To date, G7 countries have distributed over 528 million doses to their combined 610 million population: in contrast, African countries, with twice as many people, have distributed just 34 million," he said.
Patrick Watt, public affairs director at Christian Aid, urged "much greater ambition if we're to vaccinate the world".
He urged leaders to join US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron in supporting IP waivers.
Zoe Abrams, executive director of the British Red Cross, said the promise on vaccines was "heartening".
But she added: "While every commitment must be welcomed, more needs to be done, and fast."
The WHO's regional director for Africa said wealthy nations can help poorer countries scale up vaccine drives, urging much-needed help in securing vaccines.
"As we close in on five million cases and a third wave in Africa looms, many of our most vulnerable people remain dangerously exposed to Covid-19," said Matshidiso Moeti.
"Countries that can, must urgently share Covid-19 vaccines. It's do or die on dose sharing for Africa."
But the G7 wants to rise to competing "vaccine diplomacy" efforts launched by China and Russia, with the Biden administration stressing it expects nothing in return for its donated jabs.
The leaders are also expected to outline more help for developing nations to build up infrastructure, as a counterpoint to the debt-fuelled spending by China in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The initiative "will embrace a high standards, transparent, climate friendly, non-corrupt mechanism" for infrastructure investment in the developing world, a senior US official said.
"It will be an alternative to that which other countries, including China, are offering."
Safeguarding global biodiversity is another G7 theme this weekend, with the leaders set on an agreement to protect at least 30 percent of the world's land and oceans by 2030.
They will also debate aiding poorer nations to transition out of fossil fuels, in the build-up to the UN's COP26 climate summit in November in Scotland.
Like the G7, Britain wants COP26 to be held in-person, and announced that it plans to offer vaccinations to delegates from poorer nations if they cannot get them otherwise.
Greenpeace UK released a video shot with 300 illuminated drones over Cornwall, creating a startling display of endangered animals, to urge G7 leaders to stop mass extinctions.
"We need to see action, not just warm words, to tackle the climate and nature emergency," Rebecca Newsom, head of politics for the environmental group, told AFP.
"We need to see those tangible commitments this weekend -- otherwise our world leaders are failing us," she said.