ROME (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – The heads of the world’s 20 biggest economies kicked off two days of talks yesterday where they were set to acknowledge the existential threat of climate change, but stop short of radical new commitments to tame global warming.
A draft communique seen by Reuters shows major countries are only likely to slightly toughen previous pledges on climate action, while failing to set tough new targets that activists say are vital to prevent environmental catastrophe.
However, more progress was made on other fronts, with the leaders endorsing a minimum tax agreement that all countries can collect from corporations from 2023 – a landmark deal aimed at stopping big business from parking profits in tax havens.
Leaders were also expected to back plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world’s population against Covid-19 by mid-2022 and create a task force to fight future pandemics.
“From the pandemic, to climate change, to fair and equitable taxation, going it alone is simply not an option,” Italian Prime Minister Draghi told the start of the meeting being held in a glass and steel conference centre, known as The Cloud.
The G-20 bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, accounts for more than 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, 60 per cent of its population and an estimated 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of the G-20 leaders, including United States President Joe Biden, will fly straight to Glasgow for the start on Monday of the United Nation’s climate summit, known as COP26, which is seen as crucial to address the threat of rising temperatures.
Hopes of making major progress in Rome were dimmed by the decision of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin to stay at home and only follow events via video.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged the G-20 and COP26 talks would be difficult, but warned that without courageous action, world civilisation could collapse as swiftly as the ancient Roman empire, ushering in a new Dark Age.
“It’s going to be very, very tough to get the agreement we need,” he told reporters yesterday.
Mr Draghi said the G-20 countries should ensure that 70 per cent of the global population is vaccinated against Covid-19 by the middle of next year.
“We are very close to meeting the WHO’s target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the global population by the end of 2021. Now we must do all we can to reach 70 per cent by mid-2022,” he said, referring to the World Health Organisation, at the opening of the summit.
Mr Draghi noted that while more than 70 per cent of people in developed countries have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the percentage drops to around three per cent in the poorest parts of the world.
“These differences are morally unacceptable, and undermine the global recovery,” Mr Draghi said.
Meanwhile, China’s President Xi urged the G-20 leaders to treat all Covid-19 vaccines equally as he pushed for greater mutual recognition of WHO-approved shots.
Addressing the summit via video link, Mr Xi called on nations to back the World Trade Organisation making an early decision on whether to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines and encouraged companies to transfer technology to developing nations, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
Mr Xi also took the opportunity to lash out at those he said were politicising the tracing of the origins of Covid-19 and building “small cliques” based on ideology in tech innovation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin advanced a similar message on Covid shots, accusing some G-20 members of protectionism on the issue of recognising vaccine certificates.
Mr Putin urged fellow leaders in a video address to instruct their health ministries to “work out as soon as possible the question of mutual recognition of national vaccine certificates,” accusing some G-20 states of indulging in “unfair competition.”
While he reiterated that Russia had registered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, its Sputnik V shot still hasn’t been recognised by regulators in the EU and the United States.
Mr Putin also blamed the “root cause” of surging food and energy prices on “serious budget deficits in developed economies.”
The US was responsible for 40 per cent of the total budget deficit of all G-20 states while Russia had curtailed spending and planned a surplus this year, he said.