World leaders to talk climate, economy, vaccines as G20 opens

Looming over the talks in Rome is pressure to make headway on tackling global warming ahead of the key COP26 summit.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets with US President Joe Biden ahead of G20 summit at the Quirinal Palace in Rome [File: Reuters]

Climate change and the relaunch of the global economy will top the G20 agenda as leaders of the world leaders opened the summit on Saturday taking a photo with healthcare workers who have been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Looming over the two-day talks in Rome is pressure to make headway on tackling global warming, ahead of the key COP26 summit kicking off in Glasgow on Monday.

The stakes are high, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning G20 leaders on Friday to show “more ambition and more action” and overcome mistrust in order to advance climate goals.

“We are still on time to put things on track, and I think the G20 meeting is the opportunity to do that,” Guterres said.

Security was tight in Rome as US President Joe Biden arrived in the Italian capital anxious to turn a page from the tumultuous Donald Trump years and show that American leadership on the world stage is restored.

Yet, Biden faces a credibility test as his own signature climate policy – part of a sweeping economic package – is held up amid infighting within his Democratic Party in Congress.

Absent from the G20 will be Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, who plan to attend by video link.

Summit host, Italian PM Mario Draghi, has called for a “G20 commitment on the need to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees” above pre-industrial levels, the most ambitious target outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Complicating the task for the G20 will be disparities between top world powers on tackling global warming.

China, the world’s biggest polluter and responsible for more than a quarter of all carbon emissions, has been accused of sidestepping calls to stop building new coal-fired power plants.

A new plan submitted by Beijing to the UN ahead of COP26 fell short of environmentalists’ expectations, with a target date of 2060 to reach carbon neutrality.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has steadfastly demanded that his country be paid for protecting its share of the Amazon.

The world’s biggest rainforest is seen as a vital resource to combat climate change for its ability to absorb fossil fuel emissions.

Although no new pledges are expected on COVID-19 vaccines at the G20, a press release from a Friday meeting of G20 finance and health ministers stated that members would “take steps to help boost the supply of vaccines and essential medical products and inputs in developing countries and remove relevant supply and financing constraints”.

A security force of more than 5,000 police and soldiers has been mobilised for the summit, according to the interior ministry, and several demonstrations are expected.

The summit is being held away from the city centre after violent clashes erupted earlier this month between protesters and police over the extension of Italy’s coronavirus pass to all workplaces.

Activists demonstrate outside the Colosseum, calling on G20 leaders to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics due to China’s treatment of Tibet, the Uighur people and Hong Kong, a day before the G20 summit is held in Rome [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
Source: AFP