By the time the police reinforcements arrived on Wednesday morning, the once white wall of Berlin’s chancellery looked like an early Jackson Pollock painting. Minutes earlier some 20 young members of “Last Generation” – a more radical version of “Fridays for Future” – tipped a thick black liquid on to the pavement and down the stone chancellery facade.
Ahead of Sunday’s G7 meeting in Bavaria, with so much bad news competing for the time of world leaders and the attention of the reporting media, the small group of inventive climate activists decided to get in early.
Hours before chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the Bundestag – on a G7 agenda dominated by the Ukraine war and knock-on energy and food security concerns – the climate activists were spreading their demands in person and online. They want a ban on new oil infrastructure, from pipelines to oil fields in the North Sea.
After rolling up their banner – reading “Save oil rather than drilling” – a protester told a stressed police officer outside the chancellery: “It’s mostly water with a bit of oil, it’ll wash right off.”
Solutions are less simple at this year’s G7 meeting, where the grim agenda is in stark contrast to the bucolic backdrop of the luxury resort Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps.
The last time leaders of the seven largest economies met in Germany, also at Elmau in 2015, Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea meant President Vladimir Putin was not invited. Though absent again in 2022, Putin has ensured he will still be omnipresent as his four-month war on Ukraine squeezes capacity and resources for tackling other pressing crises: a growing famine in the Global South, rising droughts and other weather extremes because of climate change, and the ongoing economic shocks and virological uncertainty around the Covid pandemic.
A week after visiting the ruins of Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine, Scholz says this G7 meeting is about recognising that the era of free-ride liberal democracy is over. “Now is the time when all those around the world who defend democracy and freedom, human rights and a liberal society must stand together,” said Scholz. “Freedom has its price, democracy has its price, solidarity with friends and partners has its price, and we are prepared to pay this price.”
At the Bavarian gathering G7 leaders will assess the efficacy of their sanctions against Russia, and may even welcome President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in person.
Even if he participates only by video link, Germany will push its G7 guests to sign up to a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Ukraine. This follows last month’s G7 finance ministers’ agreement on a $19.8 billion (€18.8bn) fund to allow the war-ravaged country meet its basic economic needs and obligations.
As hunger grips swathes of Africa, Afghanistan and beyond, Scholz is pushing other leaders to commit to a joint G7-World Bank pact on a global nutrition alliance and measures to combat future pandemics. To that end he has invited leaders from India, Indonesia, Argentina as well as Senegal and South Africa.
Finally, Scholz says he will urge leaders to “recognise climate protection as a race for competitive advantage”.
But Russia’s throttling of gas deliveries to western Europe means any G7 climate promises this weekend may be written more in pencil than ink. On Thursday Germany increased its gas crisis warning level, moving one step closer to intervening in the market to prioritise gas deliveries to hospitals and homes.
“Throttling gas deliveries is an economic attack on us,” said Robert Habeck, German economics and energy minister. “We are in a gas crisis. Gas is now a scarce resource...this is not a game.”
As pressing a concern as energy this weekend is security. Scholz is anxious to avoid a repeat of the G20 five years ago when, as governing mayor of Hamburg, he looked on in horror as poor police planning and sheer numbers of protesters saw the gathering descend into a series of bloody riots.
While forecasts suggest protester numbers will be down this year, some 18,000 police will guard the Elmau G7 meeting. Uninvited guests will be kept 18km away from Elmau in Garmisch-Partenkirchen where there are 25 prosecutors and 50 mobile arrest cells for swift processing of violent protest.
Fresh from the EU assessment on Ukraine’s candidate status, and ahead of next week’s Nato summit to assess Finland and Sweden’s membership applications, the German leaders hope the overlap of guests in the Alpine retreat will provide a rare chance for real conversations.
For Olaf Scholz, after a hellish six months in office, welcoming US president Joe Biden to Elmau is a chance for the 64-year-old to make his mark as German leader. It also lets him tackle tensions and doubts over Germany’s military commitment to aiding Ukraine to face down Russia.
With the world of fire, even this tenacious rower and passionate jogger is likely to find three summits in eight days a gruelling political triathlon.