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Prospects for Action from the 2021 G7 Virtual Summit:
Will Promises Be Kept?

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
February 20, 2021

The G7's Virtual Summit on February 19, 2021, was a substantial success, largely because of the 27 commitments it made. These were slightly more than the 25 made at the G7's first emergency virtual summit on March 16, 2020, also held to confront the COVID-19 crisis, with then U.S. president Donald Trump in the host's chair. But the success of the British-hosted February 19 summit, with President Joe Biden now representing the United States, depends critically on the answers to two questions: How strong were its 27 commitments? And will they be complied with in four months before the regular summit in Cornwall on June 11–13?

A close analysis of the content of the commitments shows that they are indeed strong commitments, although not synergistic ones (see Appendix). Moreover, they are likely to be highly complied with, given their match with what has proven to increase G7 compliance in the past.

Strong but Siloed Commitments

Strong commitments are those with high politically binding verbs, where leaders declare "we will" or "we shall" or "we resolve to" do more than before. Weak commitments are those where they merely reaffirm what they have previously promised or pledge to continue to do what they are already doing.

A striking 78% of the February 19 commitments are strongly binding ones. They take 88% of the eight commitments on health, 80% of the five on macroeconomic policy, and 100% of those on climate change, international cooperation, digitalization, trade, tax and gender, but only 25% of the four commitments on development and not the labour-employment one.

However, a unique value of summits is that they bring together country leaders, who, both at home and abroad, are uniquely responsible in their governments and must worry about the problems on all subjects, all at once, all the time, and commit to synergistic solutions that simultaneously bring co-benefits to many, rather than simply one single silo at a time.

Here the February 19 summit performed poorly. A full 23, or 85%, of its 27 commitments were siloed and only four, or 15%, were siloed. Two of the three climate change commitments were siloed, or 50% of the four siloed ones. One commitment linked climate change to its ecological twin of biodiversity. The other linked climate change more broadly to its energy sibling and to labour and employment. It thus reflected Biden's central message that climate change control brings more good jobs.

Another synergistic commitment linked labour and employment to macroeconomics, in a conventional macroeconomic-to-microeconomic way. But the other commitment linked gender quality to macroeconomics and to "ethnicity." This is the first time a G7 summit has referenced "ethnicity" in this context. It is the G7's way of saying "black lives matter," in the spirit of inclusiveness that Biden and other G7 leaders emphasized back home.

Strong Expected Compliance

These 27 commitments are likely to be highly complied with, given their match with what has proven to increase G7 compliance in the past. Using the compliance data assembled by the G7 Research Group, Jessica Rapson (2020a) has found that the strongest predictors of members' compliance with their leaders' G7 summit commitments are holding a ministerial meeting on the same subject during the summit year, especially before the summit takes place. In the case of the 2021 Virtual Summit, because G7 finance ministers met on February 12 and G7 health ministers on February 18, their leaders' eight commitments on health and five on macroeconomic policy — about half of the total — are likely to get a compliance boost. It may be that in this case, with such an early summit, subsequent ministerial meetings could help compliance. If so, the initially scheduled meetings of ministers responsible for climate change, development and digitalization, should also get a compliance boost; there are no scheduled meetings for G7 ministers responsible for labour-employment or gender.

Compliance with G7 summit health commitments, of which eight were made on February 19, have high compliance when health ministers meet and when those commitments specifically reference the World Health Organization, as Meagan Byrd (2020) has found. Both these factors should help boost compliance here.

On climate change, where G7 leaders made three commitments with two synergistic ones on February 19, Brittaney Warren (2020) has found that compliance has been increased by a pre-summit ministerial meeting and surrounding summit support. Both factors should boost compliance here as well, especially with the Glasgow climate summit in November co-hosted by UK prime minister Boris Johnson and as well as, probably, the ad hoc Earth Day Summit hosted by Joe Biden on April 22.

Two other factors suggest high compliance with most of the 27 commitments made on February 19. First, Jessica Rapson (2020b) has found that, for the G20, higher compliance comes with highly binding commitments, which dominated the G7's suite of 27.

Moreover, compliance with G7 commitments is particularly high on the subjects that the February 19 summit concentrated on. Since the G7 started meeting in 1975, it has averaged 76% compliance on health, 86% on macroeconomic policy, 75% on development and 73% on climate change. On these subjects, G7 leaders made 20 of their 27 commitments on February 19. On the five remaining commitments, where five subjects secured only one commitment each, past compliance has averaged 82% on labour and employment, 72% on digitalization, 69% on gender, and 65% on trade.

Finally, the bigger, broader, more diverse G20, which held a virtual emergency summit focused on the COVID-19 crises on March 26, 2020, saw members comply with its assessed priority commitments at a level of 72% a mere two months after the summit took place (G20 Research Group 2020).

Conclusion: Strengthening G7 Compliance

There are thus good grounds for anticipating that the many strong promises made at the G7's February 19 summit will become promises kept, especially on the critical subjects of health, economic recovery and above all climate change control.

However, G7 leaders can still do several things to improve compliance. The first is to add meetings for ministers of labour and employment and ministers responsible for gender to their existing sparse repertoire. If the leaders care about jobs, as they say they do, why they have not started with a ministerial dedicated to this seems to be a particularly puzzling omission. Second, in the coming year they can hold more meetings of their health ministers and their finance ministers, alone and together, and add more for their ministers of environment too. The environment ministers could usefully meet before Biden's Earth Day summit in April to strengthen the mutually supportive synergies between it and Johnson's G7 and UN climate ones.

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Cicci, Alessandra, Michael Motala and Alissa Wang (2020), "COVID-19 Research Report:
Reimagining Accountability and Global Governance
," University of Toronto, September 16.

Byrd, Meagan (2020), "G7 Performance on Health," in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds. G7 USA: The Virtual Year (London: GT Media), pp. 28–29.

G20 Research Group (2020). "Preliminary 2020 G20 Extraordinary Virtual Summit Interim Compliance Report," September 14. http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/compliance/2020virtual/interim.

Rapson, Jessica (2020a), "Increasing the Impact of the G7," in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., G7 USA: The Virtual Year (London: GT Media), pp. 126–127.

Rapson, Jessica (2020b), "Using Data to Improve Compliance," in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds, G20 Saudi Arabia: The Riyadh Summit (GT Media: London), pp. 170–172.

Warren, Brittaney (2020), "G7 Performance on the Environment," in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds. G7 USA: The Virtual Year (London: GT Media), pp. 94–95.

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Appendix: Analysis of 2021 G7 Virtual Summit Commitments

Subject N % High Low Binding Ministerial Past Compliance
Health 8 30% 7 1 88% Yes 76%
Macroeconomics 5 19% 4 1 80% Yes 86%
Development 4 15% 1 3 25% Yes 75%
Climate change 3 11% 3 0 100% Yes 73%
International Cooperation 2 07% 2 0 100% - -
Labour-Employment 1 04% 0 1 0% No 82%
Digitalization 1 04% 1 0 100% Yes 72%
Trade 1 04% 1 0 100% Yes 65%
International taxation 1 04% 1 0 100% No -
Gender 1 04% 1 0 100% No 69%
Total 27 100% 21 6 78% 6  


Subject N %
Silos 23 85%
• labour-employment –macroeconomics
• climate-biodiversity
• climate-energy-labour/employment
• gender-macroeconomics-energy
4 15%

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