G7: Crisis policy in the shadow of Ukraine

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Climate crisis, food security, fight against pandemics: The war in Ukraine acts like a fire accelerator on the problems in the Global South. The major economies must react.

The famine in the Horn of Africa is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine

It should be a relief for the developing and emerging countries: “We as the G7 have not forgotten the other crises in the world. On the contrary,” said German Development Minister Svenja Schulze hastily after a meeting with her counterparts from the Group of Seven to emphasize Berlin.

The G7 are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Canada and the USA. When the countries came together in the 1970s, they were the strongest industrial nations in the world. Economy was the dominant topic. Today, the main focus is on global political issues that can only be dealt with multilaterally, i.e. together. The EU Commission is also at the table, and the concerns and needs of the developing and emerging countries are an integral part of every G7 agenda.

Shifted focus  

But since Russia, Ukraine war also dominates in the G7. Topics such as climate change, fighting pandemics, environmental protection, economic stability and sustainability, which Germany has declared the focus of its G7 presidency, are in danger of being pushed into the background. The war is acting like a fire accelerator for the countries in the Global South and is making the problems there even bigger and bigger.

Development Minister Svenja Schulze with Achim Steiner, Head of the UN Development Program

“We often forget that the majority of humanity lives in developing countries,” said UNDP chief Achim Steiner, who was present at the meeting of development ministers. “Crises on the financial markets or the enormous challenge posed by the war cause the prices for food, energy and capital to explode on the world markets, which is of course immediately a problem, especially with debt.”

Heaviest famine since the Second World War

Russia and Ukraine together account for about 20 percent of world corn exports and 30 percent of wheat exports. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, the Sahel countries or Pakistan – just to name a few – are dependent on imports from the two major producers. Then there are the massive price increases for grain.

Watch video 02:07

Food is becoming increasingly scarce

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that the war will increase the number of people going hungry by up to 47 million people this year. “We are threatened with the worst famine since the Second World War. And that's why we must now act decisively and above all together and ensure that the grain gets to the hungry as quickly as possible,” said Development Minister Schulze.

Help coordinate and organize

Together with World Bank President David Malpass, Schulze initiated an alliance for food security and placed it on the G7 agenda. The first step is to coordinate countries and organizations in such a way that a developing country is not overwhelmed by a large number of donors and another country does not receive any support at all.

“No export restrictions may be imposed and agricultural products must remain exempt from the sanctions,” said Schulze. “It is also important that aid organizations such as the World Food Program have the money they need to be able to buy food and then distribute it.”

Drought and storms mean harvests fail

The alliance should do more than just emergency aid. You have to make sure “to change the structures in a sustainable way so that developing countries can provide for themselves more in the future instead of being dependent on the world market,” said Schulze. “It must be possible to produce more in the developing countries themselves, above all for their own, for the regional market.” Cultivation must become “more climate-adapted and diverse” and food systems more resilient.

Working session of the G7 development ministers in Berlin

Crop failures in developing countries as a result of climate change should be better absorbed. “For a long time, the topic has been the subject of very controversial international discussion between the developing countries, which are demanding compensation from those who caused climate change, so to speak, from us industrialized countries,” says Schulze, outlining the problem. But they refuse liability.

Insure crop failures

Instead, there should be a “protective shield against climate risks” that takes precautions, for example with insurance or social security systems. “When the drought comes, the money is already available, and that reduces the damage,” explains Schulze. “I'm confident that this concept can also help build bridges at the next climate conference in Egypt this year.”

Watch video 02:10

Insurance against crop failure for Mali's farmers

Another topic of the German G7 presidency is the so-called feminist development policy, which is about breaking down structures and role models that are “simply unfair,” as Schulze emphasizes. “Girls and women are often particularly badly affected by the consequences of the crisis.” The G7 want to increase the share of development measures to empower women in the coming years. “That's not gibberish, it's the prerequisite for successful development policy.”

Strengthen health care

Svenja Schulze was not the only German government member who received G7 counterparts last week. The health ministers also met in Berlin, the finance ministers in Bonn. Many issues affect several departments, such as the overindebtedness of developing countries and the fight against COVID-19. “In some of the poorest countries, only 15 percent of the people have been vaccinated, and we can and must change that,” demands Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in Berlin

The aim of the G7 is now to focus on “the last mile”. “It's about the transport of the vaccines in the developing countries, about something like refrigerators for storage and consumables like syringes, and also about trained health workers.” On Friday, the health ministers and the finance ministers discussed where the funds should come from.

“Zoonoses will increase”

In addition to fighting the current pandemic, the task of the G7 is also to prevent foreseeable further virus outbreaks. At their meeting, the health ministers used an exercise to simulate the outbreak of a smallpox pandemic, starting with a leopard bite. An exercise with unexpected topicality. As you can see from the spread of monkeypox, animal smallpox that spreads to humans is “not a pure theory,” Lauterbach said.

Working session of the G7 health ministers in Berlin

“Zoonoses will increase,” warns the health minister, blaming climate change and the resulting changes in ecosystems for this. “The probability that there will be new pandemics from such outbreaks increases disproportionately, we will see an increase in the spread of viruses or other pathogens to humans.”

G7 summit costs 80 million euros

A pact to combat pandemics provides for the establishment of expert networks worldwide and the strengthening of the World Health Organization (WHO). “We need institutions that are responsible. But we also need very well-trained young people who have special training for pandemics, which is currently very limited,” says Lauterbach. A pandemic early warning system should enable data to be analyzed and used faster and better, and the WHO should also receive more money. “The G7 want to increase their mandatory contributions by 50 percent in the long term,” said Lauterbach.

Further G7 ministerial meetings are scheduled to take place in Germany in the coming weeks in order to specify the priorities of the German presidency and make them ready for decisions. This will culminate in the G7 summit at the end of June, for which Chancellor Olaf Scholz will welcome the G7 heads of state and government at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria. A meeting, by the way, whose organization will cost up to 80 million euros. Most of the money will go towards securing the venue.