G7 summit: World leaders accused of hypocrisy over carbon emissions and socialising in COVID-ravaged Britain

World leaders who gathered for the G7 summit last week are being accused of hypocrisy after an air show and a number of social events were held throughout the three-day convention - despite the main topics of discussion being climate change and COVID-19 recovery.

The G7 (Group of Seven) is an organisation of the world's seven largest so-called advanced economies - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

From June 11 to June 13, the leaders of the G7 nations - Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi, Yoshihide Suga, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden respectively - gathered in Cornwall, a county in southwestern England, for a series of face-to-face meetings. 

During the summit, the G7 leaders met to discuss current issues of international significance. This year, the primary topic of conversation was COVID-19 recovery, including the need for a stronger global health system that will provide protection against future pandemics.

Combating climate change was another major focus. On Sunday (local time), the leaders renewed an overdue spending pledge to raise US$100 billion a year to help developing countries cut carbon emissions and cope with the impacts of global warming.

The seven nations also agreed to raise their contributions to meet the climate finance target - funding aimed at cutting emissions, reducing greenhouse gases, and strengthening both human and ecological systems against the negative impacts of climate change. 

In an announcement, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to "jointly mobilise US$100 billion per year from public and private sources, through to 2025". 

They also backed the Biden administration's commitment to shifting developing countries away from coal, the burning of which is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

However, the seven leaders have been labelled as hypocrites in response to a number of activities throughout the three-day event, including an air show and outdoor, social gatherings as Britain battles ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. 

On Saturday (local time), the British Royal Air Force's Red Arrows flew in formation for the leaders' entertainment, spraying red, white and blue smoke over Cornwall. The air show was followed by a barbecue on Cornwall's Carbis Bay Beach.

Critics of the summit have been vocal about the discrepancies on social media, with many pointing out the particular disparity between the leaders' climate change concerns and their carbon footprints.

One post widely circulated on Facebook highlighted the irony of international leaders convening in Cornwall - via air travel - and enjoying an air show at a summit held to discuss their commitment to combating climate change.

The seven nations produce more carbon emissions per capita than the global average. According to carbon emission data, people living in G7 countries emit almost double the amount of CO2 each year compared to an average person elsewhere in the world.

The average person in the US and Canada will emit 16 and 15.4 tonnes of CO2 every year respectively. People in Japan emit 8.7t, with 8.4t in Germany, 5.6t in Italy, 5.5t in the UK and 5t in France. Meanwhile, an average person's annual emissions typically sit at 4.7t.

Speaking to reporters as the summit concluded, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that G7 countries account for 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

"We were clear this weekend that action has to start with us," he said. "And while it's fantastic that every one of the G7 countries has pledged to wipe out our contributions to climate change, we need to make sure we're achieving that as fast as we can and helping developing countries at the same time."

After flying to Cornwall's Carbis Bay on a private jet on Wednesday, Johnson announced on Twitter he would challenge his fellow leaders to discuss how to build back "better, fairer and greener" at the summit. Critics called on Johnson to lead by example and wondered why he didn't take the train to Cornwall.

One critic questioned why - especially amid the ongoing pandemic - the leaders had not held the summit virtually via Zoom or conference call, particularly with climate change being a major talking point.

Earlier this month, British housing minister Robert Jenrick said that it was right that the G7 meeting should take place in-person and there would be precautions in place to keep it 'COVID-safe'. He argued it was "important" the international leaders meet in-person to discuss the issues of the day.

Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark Air Force One upon arrival at Cornwall Airport Newquay, on June 9, 2021.
Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark Air Force One upon arrival at Cornwall Airport Newquay, on June 9, 2021. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Proper precautions are being put in place to make sure that those people who do come are being tested regularly and so on but of course these things are kept under review," Jenrick told Times Radio.

Air travel accounts for around 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions - the principal greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. The broader aviation industry also generates additional emissions through the processing and transportation of aviation fuel and the manufacture and maintenance of planes, airports and support vehicles, which all create extra carbon dioxide.

Boris Johnson speaks at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
Boris Johnson speaks at the G7 summit in Cornwall. Photo credit: Getty Images

The leaders had gathered with invited guests at Carbis Bay Beach ahead of a barbecue dinner on Saturday - another point of controversy.

Pictures of the leaders enjoying the barbecue on the sands of Carbis Bay sparked outrage after it emerged that restrictions in Britain would likely be extended due to concerns around the fast-spreading Delta variant.

And on Monday, Johnson confirmed that 'Freedom Day' - the end of Britain's remaining coronavirus restrictions - would be delayed by four weeks from June 21 until July 19. He said the decision will save thousands of lives due to the country's rising case numbers.

As part of 'Freedom Day', the government had planned to lift restrictions on weddings. The ceremonies, which are currently capped at 30 guests, have either been cancelled or highly limited since March 2020. 

Saturday's air show above Carbis Bay Beach.
Saturday's air show above Carbis Bay Beach. Photo credit: Getty Images

Pictures of the world leaders gathering together outdoors - without observing social distancing - prompted anger from the wedding industry as the field is once again left in limbo.

Sarah Haywood, a wedding planner and spokesperson for The UK Weddings Taskforce, says the scenes from the summit would breach the restrictions in any other setting.

"They're doing things that would not be allowed at a wedding, the hypocrisy!" she told The Telegraph.

The Taskforce estimates 50,000 nuptials planned in the four weeks from June 21 could be cancelled if restrictions remain in place. It calculated the industry would lose £325 million for every week that weddings without restrictions fail to go ahead. 

10 Downing St, the official office of the UK Prime Minister, denied the beachside barbecue breached Britain's current restrictions, which require all outdoor gatherings to be capped at 30 attendees.