G7 summit in Elmau – a lot of show and nothing behind it?

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They want to fight the climate crisis, hunger and war. But is that even within the power of the G7 heads of state and government? Some say no, others call for more action.

An all-male club – the current G7 leaders

“All Against the G7” is written in yellow text on a purple banner with a large clenched fist, facing five small fists. “Your system brings war and crisis” can be read elsewhere and: “We meet imperialism here”. Around 900 determined opponents of the G7 have gathered in Garmisch for a demonstration.

The “Stop G7 Elmau” alliance criticizes the power of the seven heads of state and government, whose decisions have a great influence on the fate of the entire world. Only ten percent of the world's population live in the seven rich industrial nations that formed the G7 informally in the mid-1970s. Their decisions, even if they are not legally binding, also affect the other 90 percent.

Militant demonstrators

“The Global South has no voice here,” criticizes activist Christopher Olk. India, Indonesia, Argentina, Senegal and South Africa, who have been invited to the second day of the summit, are only there because they have raw materials to offer and energy is becoming scarce in the rich north. “Africa must not become Plan B for the energy-hungry G7,” shouts an activist from Uganda from a large stage set up on Garmisch's train station square.

Christopher Olk and Tatjana Söding are G7 opponents

Other speakers warn of an escalation of the war in Ukraine and of climate change. “We will not allow them to destroy our planet and our future,” says one climate activist. Later, the demonstrators form a procession and – guarded by hundreds of police officers in riot gear – march through the city center shouting loudly.

G7 signal unity

20 kilometers further, in Elmau, located above Garmisch in a valley that is difficult to access, the heads of state and government of the seven major industrial nations have meanwhile started their talks. They will start off by talking about the world economy and a global infrastructure initiative. 600 billion dollars are to be raised to enable investments in climate protection, in the energy sector and in the health sector.

“This shows the unity of the G7,” said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the joint presentation of the initiative, which is taking place outside the castle against the picturesque backdrop of the mountains. Unity and unity, that is the signal that should go out from this summit. Especially with a view to the war in Ukraine.

Watch video 01:25

Scholz: Standing together between the G7, the EU and NATO continues to give Putin a headache

On the first day of the summit, news came from Kyiv that Russia had fired rockets at the city. The contrast between war-torn Ukraine and idyllic Elmau – it couldn't be greater. The pictures from the summit in the castle are intended to convey solidarity to Ukraine and at the same time send a signal of strength and unity to the warmonger Vladimir Putin in Moscow. “We have to stay together,” said US President Joe Biden.

G7 summit: decadent and aloof?

But does such a message justify such an elaborate summit meeting as that in Elmau? The top politicians flew in for 48 hours, each with a huge escort, first in their government aircraft to Munich, then in a helicopter to the five-star Hotel Schloss Elmau, where they live and work, isolated from the outside world. 18,000 police officers ensure the security of the summit, which costs more than 180 million euros.

Standing in Garmisch police cars everywhere, public life is paralyzed

Everything is precisely planned and prepared, the summit runs like a well-oiled machine. Garmisch is also a security zone and, with its closed streets, is largely reminiscent of a ghost town. Many residents have fled, others are only annoyed by the “show” that is being put on here, one hears in conversations. That is no longer up to date and an example of how aloof, even decadent, politics has become. 

Vegetarian and vegan catering

In addition to the police officers, around 3,000 journalists are staying in Garmisch, as are the representatives of numerous non-governmental organizations. With many white tents and containers, a media center has been set up that resembles a fenced-in city. This is also where the shuttle buses start, which take those to Elmau who take photos or make their TV reports against the backdrop of the castle. The others experience the summit mainly on the screen, orchestrated by the roar of the helicopters, which are constantly flying or circling back and forth. The catering is almost exclusively vegetarian and vegan – in any case, it is contemporary. 

Climate-friendly catering in the media center

On the afternoon of the first day of the summit, four organizations that deal primarily with poverty reduction, health and climate protection invite you to a press conference in the media center. Global Citizen, Oxfam, World Vision and ONE are among the critics of the G7, but unlike the demonstrators, they do not question the existence of the group. On the contrary. “It is good and important that the heads of state and government talk and negotiate with each other, but they also have to keep their promises,” says Scherwin Saedi from ONE Germany.

More problems than ever before

Most notably, the pledge to lift 500 million people out of hunger by 2030. It was given in 2015 at the last G7 summit under the German presidency. “What we see is that the numbers have been increasing since 2017,” says Saedi. “In 2022, we'll have over 150 million more people suffering from malnutrition than we did then. That's sort of a move in the opposite direction.”

Protest by the organization ONE in Garmisch

War, hunger, climate, Corona – never before has a G7 summit had to deal with so many problems at the same time. The war and the lack of Russian energy supplies are causing prices to rise worldwide and increasing hunger. As a result, climate change is losing attention, and yet droughts and temperature records show how relentlessly it is advancing.

Allegations against the Federal Chancellor

How can solutions be found without playing one crisis off against the other? The organization Global Citizen accuses the Chancellor of wanting to water down agreements on international climate protection. Because of the energy crisis, Germany is trying to reverse its commitment to phase out public financing of fossil fuels by the end of 2022, complains Friederike Meister from Global Citizens.

Press conference in the media center. Friederike Meister (Global Citizens) with representatives from Oxfam, World Vision and ONE

That would be a “fatal signal” to the rest of the world that could lead to progress being made at the climate conference in Egypt at the end of the year block, says Meister, who is demanding a commitment from the G7 to the international phase-out of coal by 2030. In addition, they must keep their promise to provide financial support to countries that are particularly affected by climate change.

At this summit, no one will be “fobbed off with warm words”, according to ONE. Many promises were made at the last German G7 summit, but little came of it in the end. “We can't let the G7 get away with that.”