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G7: the alphabet show, followed by a diplomatic sh*tstorm

By Sameera Hussain
on June 15, 2018

Well, that was interesting.

The G7 countries (plus or minus 1—more on that later) and a handful of low and middle income countries (LMICs) met last week in Canada, and the world is still reeling from the drama.

I hate to say it, but that’s what seems to happen these days, when you leave it up to politicians to solve the world’s problems.

As the rest of us who try to engage meaningfully with policies—which are, or are not yet (but should be) on the G7 agenda—reel from the lack of policy coherence and lack of capacity in many of the world’s top decision makers, let’s review the themes identified by G7 host, Canada:

  • Investing in growth that works for everyone
  • Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • Preparing for jobs of the future
  • Working together on climate change, oceans, and clean energy
  • Building a more peaceful and secure world

But ahead of the (un)diplomatic sh*t storm just before and after the Summit (let’s just be honest about it, shall we?), there was some real engagement between the Canadian G7 sherpa and diverse groups of actors.

With each theme corresponding to a number of (sometimes contentious) issues, experts and other relevant actors were called in: a series of meetings took place in Canada ahead of the more publicized G7 Summit. Referred to as “the Alphabet 7 meetings”, the G7 president (Canada) called on leaders from the public and private sector from the 7 countries to provide input on the major themes. And this they certainly did.

The meetings, held with G7 formal engagement groups in various locations in Canada ahead of the G7 Summit, are represented by a letter of the alphabet. These are:

The Business (B7) sector, represented by the business federations of the G7, highlighted their recommendations for inclusive growth, climate change and resource efficiency, and small business as areas of priority. No prizes to be won for guessing their economic world view….

Civil society (C7) groups met to envision how the recommendations of the G7 formal engagement groups can be implemented in the public and civil society sectors.

Labour (L7) meetings comprised of trade union leaders calling upon the Canadian government to protect labour rights and working people’s bargaining power, and address gender pay gaps and issues of responsible business conduct.

Scientists (S7) discussed several major issues, and focused primarily on the digital future and Arctic sustainability.

Thinkers/academics (T7) raised issues around global governance, challenges of inclusiveness and complexity, including human development, data security, progressive trade, fair tax systems, and sustainable growth.

Women (W7) leaders met to discuss a feminist vision for the G7, ensuring that marginal voices are included in decision-making for innovative solutions to poverty, inequality, conflict, and climate change.

Youth (Y7) delegates from all of the 7 member states and EU discussed their policy interests to reflect their priorities as part of a larger conversation to be taken into governments’ decision-making.

Each outcome document as a stand-alone document is important in that it signals to the world what policy decisions top leaders must make in order to ensure social, political, and economic determinants of well-being at country and planetary level. They also signal an intention in the G7 to engage (at least at some level) with the extraordinary diversity of actors in a complex world.

Few of the specific issues raised by the Alphabet 7s were actually taken into consideration, but many of the sentiments were echoed in the summary report of the Gender Equality Advisory Council to the G7. A timely intervention, the report explicitly articulated in particular the importance of including girls, women, and marginal groups in decisions relating to health, environment, education. Further substance was added by the C7 communiqué, as it raises the issue of meaningful and substantive engagement, rather than tokenistic participation between the G7 and its formal engagement groups, moving beyond ad hoc approaches and identifying benchmarks to transform the relationship of G7 with civil society to assess future engagement.

All of the final communiqués took coordination, hard work, meaningful participation, and consensus within each of those groups. As a participant in the C7 (and the last of the Alphabet 7 meetings), I can attest to it.

Enter our world leaders and top decision-makers at the G7 Summit. What was intended to be a well-coordinated diplomatic event with real world issues on the table, began with Twitter wars on trade barriers, personal attacks, and “suggestions” on reinstating Russia (i.e., G7±1). Which was followed by drama around which meetings the US president would attend, and whether a consensual G7 outcome document was possible. And when the outcome document finally did happen, pretty soon afterwards  Trump retracted his endorsement. It’s been quite a whirlwind (follow this link for a fun geopolitical analysis).

For Canada, the diplomatic storm has had some interesting implications: not only has it drawn attention away from the federal government’s decision to go ahead with a controversial pipeline, it has also brought together politicians from all stripes and colours to support Trudeau in his stance around the US/Canada trade war looming ahead.  Clearly, we Canadians will not accept ‘meek and mild’ as our national identity. Fair enough. Instead, however, our government has indicated it will stand strongly to “ensure Canadian economic competitiveness”. The global financial sector has everything to do with production and consumption, and these in turn have health consequences. As a country heading towards a Voluntary National Review of our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (next month), the intersections between global finance, climate, and health are interlinked more than ever. Not sure the Canadian government has fully thought through a real “SDG economy” that is fit for the challenges in the 21st century.

As for whether the G7 will survive and live another day? Well, at the very least the bookies have another nice bet on their hands, together with who will win the World Cup in Russia  : )

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