G20: Will rich nations make progress on climate and vaccines?

The climate crisis, vaccine equity, an energy crunch and global supply chain snarls will be in the spotlight as leaders from the world’s top 20 economies gather at the G20 summit in Rome, Italy this weekend. But reaching consensus on pressing issues could be elusive, analysts warn.

The meeting, the first in-person gathering of Group of 20 (G20) leaders since 2019, comes as the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic faces a slew of challenges – from new strains of COVID-19 to supply shortages and inflation. It will also signal how close – or how far apart – major economies are on moving the needle on the climate crisis, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicking off in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday.

But with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to drop in virtually on the G20 rather than in person, and the leaders of Japan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia also opting not to go to Rome, finding common ground on pressing issues could prove even tougher.

“G20 like any membership association is only as strong as its members want it to be,” said Matthew P Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “You would think that COVID-19 would meet the test of a real crisis, but it is hard to get those group of countries to agree on anything.”

The climate finance gap

The G20 was created in the wake of the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s to give emerging economies a more prominent voice in global financial affairs. The annual leaders’ summit became a regular feature in 2008 – in response to the global financial crisis.

With a membership roster that accounts for more than 80 percent of world gross domestic product, 75 percent of global trade and 60 percent of the world’s population, the club is uniquely positioned to set priorities and marshall the resources to tackle them.

“The G20 obviously has macroeconomic issues as its traditional focus, but global health security and global warming are major impediments to prosperity,” Stewart M Patrick, the director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told Al Jazeera.

A recent report showed that rich countries failed to meet their $100bn pledge of financing to help poorer nations in the fight against climate change. But any G20 agreement on climate is likely to set a positive tone for COP26 talks.

G20 leaders may promise to stop funding for coal-fired plants outside of their borders, but negotiations ahead of the summit are revealing differences over when to phase out coal use at home, Bloomberg News (paywall) reported, citing officials briefed on the talks.

Coal powers approximately 60 percent of China’s electricity, and roughly 70 percent of India’s, according to the International Energy Agency. Adding to that dependency in the near term is the current global energy crunch, which along with other supply chain bottlenecks is feeding inflation and presenting a headwind to economic recoveries.

Faced with blackouts, idled factories and the onset of winter, China has loosened regulations on domestic coal production.

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