World

G7: Striking images, powerful rhetoric, eye-catching proposals

Merkel and Obama Image copyright AP
Image caption Angela Merkel and Barack Obama speak outside the Schloss Elmau castle in Kruen

"We, the leaders of the G7, met in Elmau for our annual summit on 7 and 8 June 2015…"

The opening words of the declaration at the end of this two-day meeting hardly set the pulse racing.

"Guided by our shared values and principles, we are determined to work closely together to meet the complex international economic and political challenges of our times. We are committed to the values of freedom and democracy, and their universality, to the rule of law and respect for human rights, and to fostering peace and security. Especially in view of the numerous crises in the world, we as G7 nations stand united in our commitment to uphold freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The language offers little competition to Shakespeare, Goethe, Voltaire or Abraham Lincoln, but then the heads of some of the world's richest democracies are careful not to aim too high.

Each year, when they assemble at some remote luxury resort hotel - and Schloss Elmau is really that, not a great historic Bavarian castle at all - they can always be confident they'll face charges of generating little more than hot air.

So loyal diplomats from almost any of the seven member countries (the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom) are cautious too if you ask them to justify these vastly expensive gatherings.

In whichever language you're talking, they tend to stress some variant of the British Foreign Office mantra. It's about achieving "movement in the right direction".

So, what was the movement this time in the Bavarian Alps?

When the leaders talk about meeting the complex challenges of our times, they don't come more complex than these.

Climate change

Image copyright SPL
Image caption The G7 wants to phase out fossil fuels, such as coal, by the end of the century

The eye-catching proposal here from the leaders of the highly industrialised countries, which have historically been most responsible for pollution and global reliance on fossil fuels, is that there should be a "decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century".

In other words, we must wean ourselves off oil, gas and coal over the next 85 years, and rely instead on clean energy, renewable sources of energy and nuclear power.

Critics say these are mere words, as empty as many uttered in the past, and definitely qualifying for the 2015 Hot Air award. Oxfam was a little more generous, crediting the G7 with "a stuttering start on climate change" with new and significant steps, but the organisation also says the G7 is still not pulling its weight and must put words into action by phasing out coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

Supporters of the G7 outcome say that it's really important to encourage investors to recognise the coming reality and put their money into clean, not "dirty" fuels. The G7 leaders hope their collective ambition to limit global warming will encourage others at the next big UN conference on climate change in Paris at the end of this year to aim high and do far better than merely agreeing on lowest common denominator goals.

G7 and Russia

When the leaders talked in their declaration about "our commitment to uphold freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity", at whom, in particular, were they aiming those words?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Putin's Russia continues to diverge from the West

No prizes for guessing the target was Russia's President Vladimir Putin. This is the second time they have had an annual summit as the G7, not G8, after suspending Russia for "the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula".

Now the G7 preoccupation is with events in Eastern Ukraine. "We expect Russia to stop trans-border support of separatist forces." It's clear to me that the G7 relationship with Vladimir Putin is heading in only one direction: from estrangement towards divorce.

President Obama was deliberately lurid at his end-of-G7 news conference: "He's got to make a decision. Does he continue to wreck his country's economy and continue Russia's isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire, or does he recognise that Russia's greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?"

Despite Moscow's rejection of all that and its insistence the Russian economy can be strengthened by the self-reliance which comes from having to make products yourself that you can no longer import because of sanctions, the wider story is of steady divergence between President Putin's Russia and the West.

The G7, which regards itself as "a community of values", will continue to urge the maintenance of sanctions and the threat of more if Mr Putin moves even further in what they regard as "the wrong direction".

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