TODAY, leaders of the G7 group of major economies meet in Cornwall for their first face-to-face summit since the start of the pandemic. On the agenda will be issues including vaccine rollout for developing countries, debt relief, and climate change.
Last week, G7 finance ministers, including the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, agreed in principle to set a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent to prevent a “race to the bottom” as nations attempt to undercut one another. It is also hoped that the deal will encourage companies to pay tax where they are selling their products or services, not just where the company is registered.
It was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who tweeted: “It is right that large corporations should pay where they earn and contribute to the systems from which they benefit. The global tax deal agreed by the G7 is significant progress towards a fairer world and a great example of international co-operation.
“The Bible speaks endlessly of generosity and the importance of contributing to society. Paying our fair share of tax is a way of loving our neighbour and recognising that none of us live or work in isolation.”
Campaigners, however, said that the deal would benefit the wealthiest. The chief executive of the advocacy group Tax Justice Network, Alex Cobham, said: “The G7 has decided to finally move the international tax system into the 21st century, but only enough to shamelessly benefit just themselves, leaving the rest of the world behind.
“The world’s eyes were on the G7, hoping that, in the face of this global pandemic, they would throw their weight behind a new tax system that would bring back home to all countries the billions in corporate tax they were robbed of and urgently need to rebuild and recover. Instead, the G7 finance ministers are proposing to follow OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] proposals that would ensure the G7 themselves take the lion’s share of any new tax revenues — which will, in any case, be limited by their lack of ambition.”
Tax Justice Network’s modelling suggests that, if the G7 set a 25-per-cent minimum effective tax rate, it could raise $780 billion in additional revenues worldwide, and a fairer distribution model would mean that countries outside the G7 would receive $355 billion.
This issue has been taken up by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith. He said: “The G7 global taxation deal is a positive first step towards ending the practice of profit offshoring which perpetuates tax injustice.
“The proposed 15 per cent global minimum corporate tax rate falls short of the 21 per cent rate many tax-justice campaigners had sought. This is a low base from which to start with fears that the upcoming G20 could reduce it further.
“The arrangement gives preference to jurisdictions where multinational corporations are headquartered largely in high-income, developed countries, and does little to shift the balance towards low-income or developing countries necessary to improve tax justice.”
On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that, despite helping to broker the deal, the Chancellor is now seeking an opt-out for UK financial services that would create a loophole for British banks.
This week, faith leaders also spoke up for poorer countries by calling on G7 leaders to ensure a more equitable rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and the waiving of vaccine patents. An open letter to G7 leaders was signed by the Dalai Lama; the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams; Emmanuel, the Elder Metropolitan of Chalcedon who represents the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate; the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Martin Junge; and the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba.
They wrote: “Low-income countries account for less than 1% of the 900 million doses administered to date. More affluent countries account for more than 83%. The vaccine gap between the richer and poorer parts of the world is growing by the day.”
Besides calling for more funding, they also urge a suspension of patent rules to increase production and distribution: “Waiving intellectual property rules — a proposal which is gaining the support of a growing number of G7 countries — gives us the opportunity not only to boost production but also to diversify the sites of production. This will reduce the period of time before herd immunity is achieved, a period during which potentially dangerous variants can emerge.”
Christians have also been making their voices heard on climate change: the outcome of the G7 is a crucial staging post to the COP26 climate summit taking place in Glasgow in November.
A group of Christians aged 11 to 19 has called on leaders to cut carbon-dioxide emissions to zero, end funding of fossil fuels, and support the world’s poorest communities. The group referred in their letter to a poll by Tearfund which suggested that nine out of ten Christian teenagers were concerned about climate change and wanted to do something about it.
Georgia Allen, one of the letter’s authors, said that the project has “provided us with a platform from which to prompt leaders that, as a generation, we will not accept inadequate and ineffectual actions”.
They also received the backing of the Bishop of St Germans, the Rt Revd Hugh Nelson. He said: “It has been a privilege listening in as this group of young Christians from Cornwall have shared their hopes and fears for creation care, and have become such a strong and faith-filled voice for change.”
Other Christians, from the protest group Christian Climate Action, have been on a four-day walking pilgrimage from Newquay to the G7 summit in Carbis Bay (News, 4 June), and will be holding an environment-themed eucharist on Sunday.
The Vicar of St Peter and St Paul, Chaldon, the Revd Helen Burnett, said: “Unlike a traditional pilgrimage, our progress will be halted not because we arrive at a holy place, but by a police cordon; however, our walk will be waymarked by prayers for the world.
“The climate and economic injustice we see all around us is a result of the policies of the wealthiest represented this weekend by the G7. Decisions made by the minority affect the majority, whose voices will not be represented in Carbis Bay. As part of that silenced majority, we will walk as a witness to the need to imagine a better world, a world imagined by Jesus Christ, whose greatest commandment was ‘To love your neighbour as yourself’.”
Speaking on Thursday, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that the summit was a “key opportunity” for global leaders to commit “overdue action” to tackle climate change. “In the diocese in Europe, we are planning an event bringing together our eco- and young people’s ministry in early September, ahead of the Conference of Parties (COP-26) meeting in Glasgow in November.
“I am proud, too, of the local contributions to our Eco-Diocese agenda, from dedicated Lent commitments made earlier this year to reducing plastic waste to the pioneering of the first ever City Forest in our Church, a microcosm oasis and a bio-diversity sustainability project in Italy. All these efforts are real examples of how we can all contribute both to national Church net zero carbon targets for 2030, as well as to the EU Green Deal package to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050.”
The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales said in a statement on Wednesday: “In our race towards our own technological and economic advances, we have caused the exploitation of people and the degradation of our planet.
“Energy and infrastructure are vital in supporting the poorest in our societies out of the pandemic and out of the ecological crisis, but we must look towards a future whereby we radically reduce our use of fossil fuels — something which the countries which you represent have a shared responsibility for, in ensuring fair outcomes for the benefit of all.”
Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist at Christian Aid.