Saudi Arabia’s King Salman remarked on the extraordinary year that 2020 has been but said that work needs to focus on making Covid-19 vaccines accessible and affordable for all at the opening of the G20 leaders’ summit in Riyadh on Saturday.
Recent trials have given hope that effective vaccines will be available in the coming weeks but a major concern of the World Health Organisation has been how to prevent rich nations buying up global supply at the outset.
"Although we are optimistic about the progress made in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics tools for Covid-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples," King Salman said as he opened the meeting of the leaders of the 20 biggest world economies.
“This has been an extraordinary year,” he said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented shock that affected the entire world within a short period of time, causing global economic and social losses. Our peoples and economies are still suffering from this shock. However, we will do our best to overcome this crisis through international co-operation,” he said.
All G20 country leaders and partners attended virtually given the virus has slowed global travel. The theme of Saudi G20 Presidency is Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.
“Although the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to adjust our focus rapidly to face its repercussions, the subject areas under this general theme, namely: Empowering People, Safeguarding the Planet, and Shaping New Frontiers, remain essential to overcome this global challenge and shape a better future for our people,” he said. “In the near future, we must address the vulnerabilities exposed by Covid-19, while working to protect lives and livelihoods.”
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Leading the G20 this year, King Salman spoke about promoting access to opportunity for all, especially women and youth to enhance their roles in society, the job market through education, training, job creation, as well as supporting entrepreneurship, strengthening financial inclusion, and bridging the digital gaps among individuals.
He stressed the importance of creating conditions for a more sustainable economy and advocated the Circular Carbon Economy as an effective approach to achieve climate goals and ensuring cleaner, more sustainable, and affordable energy systems.
Saudi Arabia has led the discussion on the need to combat land degradation and conserve coral reefs and biodiversity, which King Salman said sends a “strong signal about our commitment to safeguard our planet.”
Saudi Arabia has been committed to leading economic recovery throughout its Presidency.
“We have adopted the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the World Trade Organisation, with the aim of making the multilateral trading system more capable to face any present or future challenges,” he said. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was beside the monarch during the broadcast.
“The outcomes achieved are ample proof that the G20 is the most prominent forum for international co-operation and for tackling global crises. With our coming together once more, I am confident that the Riyadh Summit will deliver significant and decisive results and will lead to adopting economic and social policies that will restore hope and reassurance to the people of the world,” King Salman said.
The G20 leaders met for the first time twelve years ago in response to the financial crisis and have held annual summits ever since.
On the margins of the G20 summit, world leaders – including King Salman – also took part in the Pandemic Preparedness and Response event to talk more specifically about the Covid-19 outbreak.
Addressing the meeting, King Salman, said: “During our Presidency, with the support of the G20 members, we proposed the Access to Pandemic Tools initiative, which aims at ensuring focus on sustainable preparedness and response to counter any future pandemic.”
In April, Saudi Arabia joined international organisations and global leaders to launch the Access to Covid Tools Accelerator and co-led the Global Coronavirus Pledging Event to meet the global shortage in developing and distributing vaccines and diagnostic tools and the kingdom contributed $500 million in funding.
“This pandemic is a true test for our global health systems. Therefore, through the G20 Presidency, we utilised a number of vital initiatives to close the pandemic preparedness and response gaps,” he said.
The speakers committed to global co-operation and thanked Saudi Arabia for showcasing the capabilities of the G20 by leading the global co-ordination in policy to restore growth and recover after the pandemic.
Many emphasised the need to keep pushing forward and increasing the pandemic preparedness spending to create and distribute vaccines.
As G20 president, Saudi Arabia has led international efforts by organising the Extraordinary Summit at the beginning of the pandemic where world leaders pledged to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic and protect lives, jobs, and the most vulnerable.
As a result, G20 members have contributed to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic with over $21bn at the outset of the crisis to support health systems and the hunt for a vaccine.
The G20 states also made available over $14bn in debt relief for developing nations and injected an unprecedented $11 trillion to safeguard the global economy.