G20 leaders' 'Roman holiday' a climate warm-up before Cop26

Global recovery from Covid-19 and corporation tax also expected to be addressed

Leaders of the world's biggest economies will meet at a G20 summit in Rome this weekend, in the shadow of the looming Cop26 summit at which the rich world will be expected to lead the way out of the climate crisis.

The G20, which comprises the world’s 20 largest economies, accounts for more than 80 per cent of global carbon emissions and it is being urged, in the words of US President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan, to put “wind in the sails going into Cop26" by making ambitious pledges to go green.

But G20 leaders are meeting amid the additional stresses of soaring fuel prices, resurgent coronavirus outbreaks and supply chain problems that are marring the economic recovery from the pandemic.

The summit in Rome is the first face-to-face meeting of G20 leaders in two years. Heads of government including Mr Biden will then travel to Glasgow for Cop26, which involves about 200 nations.

The G20 host, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, will have to manage the competing views of the world's most powerful countries but without the physical presence of the leaders of China, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sullivan acknowledged on Thursday that Washington does not “see eye to eye with all G20 participants on everything".

“Really, in the run-up to this G20, it’s been the US and Europe together driving the bus on the significant global issues,” he said.

“And I think you’ll see the US and Europe front and centre at this G20 as we deal with the fact that neither the leaders of Russia nor China will be present in the room in Rome.”

In many ways, the G20 meeting is serving as a Roman holiday preamble to the 12-day Glasgow summit, with the climate dossier taking centre stage at the new convention centre in the Italian capital.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to use Cop26 to demonstrate British leadership in the world after Brexit. He hosted a G7 summit in June which was clouded by continuing disputes with the EU.

He acknowledged in a question-and-answer session with children last week that “we might not get the agreements that we need” on climate change.

The Prince of Wales will also join world leaders at the summit this weekend, his office announced. Prince Charles will give the opening address at the summit in Glasgow and has already warned world leaders heading to Cop26 that action is expected of them.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be accompanied by her Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is on course to succeed her in the chancellery within weeks.

“The focus of the G20 discussions will be on the global economic situation, pandemic preparation, vaccine coverage, climate financing and of course agreement on a minimum corporate tax,” Mr Scholz's office said on Friday. He has spearheaded efforts to establish such a tax.

One of the trickiest talking points will concern the need for wealthy nations to honour a 2009 pledge to provide the developing world with $100 billion a year to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

In 2015 they agreed to extend this goal through to 2025 but the target, which some low-income countries and climate activists now say is insufficient, has yet to be met.

“The time has passed for diplomatic niceties. If governments, especially G20 governments, do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last week.

Rich countries are also split over a specific date to end fossil fuel subsidies, halt international financing of coal projects and phase out coal power altogether.

Mr Draghi, who said talks will also focus on the Covid-19 recovery, said global warming could not be limited without the involvement of the world’s largest economies.

He wants G20 nations at the summit to commit to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.

“We want to achieve a G20 commitment about the need to keep 1.5°C within reach and we want to develop long-term strategies that are consistent with 1.5°C.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a show of leadership at both the G20 and Cop26 was required.

“The commitments that will be taken in Rome on climate change will somehow be also, of course, a pacemaker for the Cop26. What we need is, first of all, leadership. We need leadership for credible commitments for decarbonisation to reach the goal of net zero midcentury,” she said.

“But we also need sufficient commitments to really cut the emissions this decade. Science is very clear on that. Science tells us it's urgent. We are not on track right now. It's man-made, climate change. So, because it's man-made, we can do something but we have to act. We have to better deliver.”

Mr Johnson, who has given a relatively downbeat assessment of Cop26's chances of success, has been lobbying leaders to extend their climate ambitions.

Fears over rising energy prices and stretched supply chains are likely to be addressed at the G20, as well as the need for reform of the World Trade Organisation, and G20 leaders are expected to sign off on a minimum global tax rate of 15 per cent for major corporations.

They are also expected to discuss Afghanistan, weeks after a meeting of the leaders saw many pledge additional economic assistance to the country.

Updated: October 31st 2021, 8:00 AM