G-20 Summit Begins in Rome With Focus on Climate Change, COVID Pandemic

The G-20 Summit hosted by Italy kicked off Saturday in Rome, where leaders from the world’s major economies discussed issues of mutual concern, including pandemic recovery and climate change.

The red carpet was rolled out at La Nuvola, Rome’s Convention Center, as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders amid strict COVID-19 protocols.

This summit is the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting in two years, following last year’s virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. Notably absent are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They will join virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

Pandemic response and prevention

On Friday, G-20 health and finance ministers released a communique committing to bringing the pandemic under control everywhere as soon as possible. They said the G-20 will take all necessary steps needed to advance on the global goals of vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

However, the ministers could not reach agreement on a separate financing and coordination mechanism to prepare for future pandemics proposed by the U.S. and Indonesia.

“We’re looking for not the ultimate final product of a financing mechanism or the ultimate final product of a task force or a board that would operate as kind of a global coordinating body going forward,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “So the hope is to have in the communiqué a statement of intent that we will work towards these two outcomes.”

Climate change

In Rome, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the summit an opportunity to “put things on track” ahead of the U.N. COP26 climate conference in Glasgow that G-20 leaders will participate in following their Italy meeting.

“There is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,” Guterres said. “The current nationally determined contributions, formal commitments by governments, still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7-degree increase,” he said referring to the pledge made at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Countries are expected to announce more emissions reduction pledges to reach the target of net-zero emissions by around mid-century, but some analysts are skeptical of these voluntary commitments that come without enforcement mechanisms.

“There’ll be pledges, the best-case scenario something along the lines of what we saw in Paris,” said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Rohac added that to make progress on climate change, the world needs tangible actions.

“Rather than to proceed with this habit of looking for a big-bang multilateral solution, to pursue sound domestic policies that that accelerate decarbonization,” he said.    

A key issue to watch is whether G-20 members can agree on coal actions. The U.N. has called for wealthy countries to phase out coal by 2030, but G-20 environment ministers have failed to agree on a timeline.  

Guterres also called on wealthy nations to uphold commitments to provide funding to help developing nations mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, wealthy nations pledged a minimum of $100 billion per year in climate funding to lower-income countries. Much of that money has not been delivered.

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