Quebec G7’s oceans discussion replaces usual African focus

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is shifting the G7 summit away from its traditional Africa outreach in favour of a session on ocean sustainability that will include the world’s largest political and financial organizations.

Canada’s summit organizer Peter Boehm says Canada is not turning its back on Africa, which has been the subject of G7 discussions for most of the last two decades.

The second day of the summit, June 9, will be devoted to a special session on oceans, a key theme for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It will include an expanded guest list, including the heads of several countries, some of them small island states that could be swamped by rising sea levels, and some African countries, Boehm told a recent gathering in Ottawa.

His office did not provide additional details of the expanded list.

Boehm said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, and the heads of the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development will be on hand.

The session will replace what has become a traditional piece of key outreach for the G7 for much of the past two decades — an expanded meeting with African leaders.

Boehm said this summit session will be “thematically focused on oceans, rather than having a geographic focus as has been done in recent years.”

Trudeau wants an in-depth discussion with an expanded group of world leaders on the plight of the oceans, Boehm said.

“For those who think we are turning our back on Africa because Africa has been the preferred region for outreach — not so, we will have significant African leaders present at well,” he said.

The G7 has offered African leaders their own session since 2001, when Italy held the group’s presidency. Italy passed the baton to Canada in 2002 and then-prime minister Jean Chretien made African development a central theme of the summit he hosted in Kananaskis, Alta.

Ian Smillie, a veteran development worker and author specializing in Africa, said there’s no shortage of problems for G7 leaders to consider about the continent.

“Of all developing regions, Africa lags farthest behind developmentally, is most troubled by conflict, and supplies the world with most of its refugees and displaced people. And then there’s Ebola,” said Smillie.

“The development agenda seems to be moving farther and farther to the rear these days.”

Trudeau’s oceans agenda is expected to focus on three areas: combating overfishing, reducing the dumping of harmful plastics and finding ways to help coastal states — including parts of the United States — cope with rising sea levels.

John Kirton, a University of Toronto summitry expert, said the ocean focus is a deft way of drawing the U.S. into a climate change-related discussion without forcing the Trump administration to directly acknowledge global warming.

Last year’s hurricane season exposed U.S. coastal regions and Puerto Rico to severe weather damage, highlighting the need to find ways to build resilience against future damage.

“The White House gets it,” said Kirton.

“The whole logic is you really don’t have to agree that our world is warming … to know that actually we’re having more and more of a problem with extreme weather events.”

Though they regularly appear at G7 summits, Boehm said it will be important to have the leaders of the world’s top financial institutions at the table for the oceans discussion because they are the organizations “we hope will have the funds to assist us in working forward.”

The G7’s environment, energy and fisheries ministers are to meet in a separate session in the autumn to follow up on the recommendations from their leaders after their summit next month.

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