The G7 Won’t Save Us. Only Global Mass Politics Against Austerity and Climate Change Can.

At this week’s G7 summit, the leaders of seven of the world’s wealthiest nations will discuss the dismal state of global affairs, from war to climate change. But we can’t trust them to solve problems of their own making.

Participants in the Stop G7 Elmau demonstrations in Elmau, Germany, on June 24, 2022. (StopG7Elmau / Twitter)

Elmau, Germany, first hosted the G7 summit, the informal gathering of the leaders of seven of the world’s wealthiest nations, in 2015. The international press colored itself impressed with the picturesque Bavarian mountain resort, which the New York Times called a “quirky retreat.” Photographs of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and their British, Canadian, Italian, Japanese, and French colleagues taking in the hotel’s breathtaking scenery made news around the world. One well-fed Guardian journalist observed, “In its essence, the G7 is just a giant press release, with extra sausages.”

That the German government has chosen Elmau as a location for the G7 once again may, however, have less to do with its Alpine charm than the resort’s reputation as an essentially protest-proof location — a crucial consideration when organizing high-profile international meetings in Germany, where social movements have previously succeeded in significantly disrupting gatherings like the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm or the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg.

“There is no other place in Germany that we can protect as well,” advertises the hotel’s director. Under the banner of the Stop G7 Elmau coalition, several left-wing groups have nevertheless announced their intention to “take action” against the summit. In response, more than 18,000 police will be deployed to ward off protesters when the three-day summit commences on June 26.

An Empire in Crisis

The G7 leaders have good reason to hide from the public. The global empire they oversee is plagued by war, famine, and disasters that escalate in frequency as climate change continues unabated.

Predictably, the brunt of the crisis is borne most by those not represented at the negotiating table. Surging energy and food prices have plunged much of the world into a dire economic situation. As of 2022, 60 percent of low-income countries are in or at high risk of debt distress — countries like Sri Lanka, which is facing an unprecedented economic and political crisis after it ran out of foreign currency in April and is experiencing shortages in crucial food, fuels, and medicine supplies.

The G7 leadership are directly responsible for this global debt crisis, having repeatedly torpedoed calls for debt justice or reforms to the global economic system. In fact, maintaining the wealthy nations’ financial control over Global South is the very raison d’être of the G7, which first got together in 1975 precisely with the aim to counter developing states’ calls for a New International Economic Order. Its weapons of choice have since been the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Dominated by the G7 countries, these institutions continue to use debt to force programs of neoliberal governance and austerity onto governments around the globe.

While it would be a mistake to expect the G7 to solve the structural problems it was created to perpetuate, its lousy management of the current crisis has left even its habitually charitable critics in the bourgeois press unimpressed. As one Washington Post correspondent noted with palpable unease after the latest meeting of G7 finance ministers in Bonn, the world leaders present “emphasized that they understood the extent of the dangers, but also acknowledged they may not be prepared to resolve them.”

At the top of the agenda in Elmau, however, will be the climate crisis. The timing could not be more urgent, as blistering heat waves rage across continents and a global hunger crisis looms. The advanced capitalist world has played an executive role in setting this planet on fire in the first place. According to a recent study, the G7 states alone are responsible for one-third of historical carbon emissions, not accounting for the imperial emissions that Western multinational corporations have outsourced to the territories of other nations.

But whoever hoped that the hands-on rhetoric of the German presidency would be backed up with a policy revolution up to the task should brace for disappointment. In the pristine mountainscape of Bavaria, G7 leaders are expected to deliver yet another list of half-baked climate policy promises unable to meaningfully reign in the excesses of fossil capital. The summit’s most significant political outcome is likely to be the formation of a “climate club,” a rather vague political alliance of countries with high “climate ambition.” Yet even this anemic project could be derailed by disagreements over the harmonization of carbon pricing rules.

There will be more determination among the G7 member states when it comes to very different political response to the climate crisis: militarization. As a recent report by the Transnational Institute found, the world’s wealthiest countries are already spending twice as much money on arming their borders as on climate finance for the poorest countries. Given the current geopolitical situation, this tendency is likely to intensify in the years to come. All G7 countries have announced major increases in military spending, and its European member states are planning to further grow and militarize the EU’s border agency, Frontex, notorious for its abysmal human rights record. This development promises to further cement a regime of climate apartheid, in which the wealthy nations attempt to shelter themselves from the worst effects of against the overheating, hunger, and conflict, while leaving the rest of the world to suffer.

A Brewing Storm

If the G7 won’t save the world from the multiple overlapping crises it has helped create, where do we look for hope?

Unsurprisingly, the most significant political mobilizations against a G7-dominated world order are currently taking place outside the imperial core. Resistance can be found on the streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka, where popular protests ousted the prime minister and where citizens are continuing to press for major economic and political reforms. In the provinces of Ecuador, an indigenous-led general strike has shut down major highways, demanding an end to the IMF-friendly neoliberal policies of President Guillermo Lasso. In Tunisia, workers are striking against IMF-imposed austerity measures, and in Argentina, social movements are mobilizing against the countries’ biggest IMF loan in history.

In the North, on the other hand, movements are still grappling with the vacuum left by a waning alter-globalization movement. Recently, climate activists have taken a leadership role in organizing the G7 summit mobilizations: the protests against last year’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, were dominated by groups like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, while this year’s Stop G7 Elmau coalition mainly draws its leadership and support base from the climate justice movement.

Although these movements are well-intended in their rhetoric and increasingly sophisticated in their analysis, they have yet to effectively coordinate their struggle with the Global South working-class movements and thus lack significant power to force capital’s hand.

Connecting the Dots

Under the slogan “Debt for Climate,” a grassroots campaign led by activists hailing from the Global South is now trying to do just that: to connect the struggle for climate justice with labor and social movements against austerity in the Global South. The effort picks up on one of the oldest demands of the climate justice movement — the call to recognize the enormous climate and ecological debt owed by the industrialized nations of the Global North to the Global South.

Enshrined as early as 2002 in the Bali Principles of Climate Justice, this idea first gained traction on an international stage in 2009, when the government in Bolivia moved to seek climate reparations from developed nations — though so far to no avail. According to Debt for Climate, there would be a relatively straightforward way for the major industrialized nations to repay at least part of their historical climate debt: in the form of an immediate and far-reaching debt relief to indebted Global South countries. This would provide the respective countries with urgently needed financial breathing room and would allow them to invest in health, education, and climate action.

Given that the governments in question may still choose to do otherwise, Debt for Climate constitutes a transitional demand at best. Regardless, it could form the basis of a powerful alliance between climate justice activists across the world and the social and labor movements in the Global South already mobilizing against austerity and neoliberalism.

The Stop G7 Elmau coalition and the local Munich-based Fridays for Future chapter have endorsed the Debt for Climate campaign and are planning to center the demand for climate debt relief during their protests at the summit. Beyond Elmau, Debt for Climate has announced a global day of action and is planning to organize forty actions in over twenty-five countries across the globe.

Mostly small-scale and carried out by individual organizations, these actions will remain primarily symbolic. But as far as Esteban Servat, an anti-fracking activist from Argentina and one of the initiators of the campaign, is concerned, “We are only starting at the G7. That is not the end, but the beginning.” As a next step, Debt for Climate is planning to take its demands to the COP27 climate summit taking place in Egypt in November.

With protests likely unable to significantly disrupt the G7 negotiations this time, Elmau may once again live up to its reputation as a safe haven for the world’s rich and powerful. But beneath the summit’s Alpine tranquility, a new storm of solidarity may be brewing — one that could eventually stir up trouble in every corner of the empire.