Italy prepares to host G20 summit in Rome as climate crisis tops agenda

The leaders of the world's major economies gather in Rome this weekend for the first in-person G20 summit since the pandemic began, with Covid-19, economic recovery and climate change topping a packed agenda.

The "La Nuvola" convention center in the EUR district of Rome, where the upcoming G20 summit of heads of states will be held. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

US President Joe Biden is flying in to reiterate his message that “America is back” after four years of Donald Trump’s bruising diplomacy, although Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping will attend only by video link.

Their absence has lowered expectations for the summit, normally a forum for deals between allies and rivals of differing size and power, from the US and China, to Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Australia and the European Union.

But all eyes will be on their language on climate change, on the eve of crunch COP26 talks starting in Glasgow on Monday.

READ ALSO: Hundreds of youth activists protest climate inaction ahead of Milan summit

Leaders are also expected to rubberstamp a deal to impose a 15 percent minimum tax on global corporations and discuss the post-pandemic recovery and associated risks, including the uneven rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the summit “marks the return of multilateralism, after the dark years of isolationism and of isolation linked to the health crisis”.

However, Antonio Villafranca, from the ISPI foreign policy think tank, warned the absence of Xi and Putin was “not a positive sign”.

The G20 “is not a transatlantic format but a multilateral format in which it is fundamental that everyone contributes,” he told AFP.

Police guard the “La Nuvola” convention center in the EUR district of Rome, where the upcoming G20 summit of heads of states will be held.

Police guard the “La Nuvola” convention center in the EUR district of Rome, where the upcoming G20 summit of heads of states will be held. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Step up

The timing of the G20 summit, ahead of marathon UN climate talks in Glasgow, has put the effort to slow global warming centre stage.

G20 members are responsible for 80 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, but are at different stages of development and disagree on how fast they can act.

Italy hopes the G20 will collectively endorse the UN goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, one of the aspirations of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accords.

READ ALSO: Nine in 10 Italians ‘want more action on climate crisis’, new study finds

But G20 members remain at odds over the other major goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. China has set a 2060 target, but India – pointing to its status as a developing country — has not made a similar commitment.

The risks to the post-pandemic recovery will also feature in the Rome talks, from inflation and rising energy prices to supply chain issues and the slowdown in China’s economic growth.

No new pledges are expected on Covid-19 vaccines, but Italy wants more help for lower income countries to help distribute existing jabs and build more resilient health systems.

“Global solidarity in facing this pandemic has been pretty wanting,” noted Emma Ross, senior research fellow at the Chatham House think tank.

“The G7 didn’t rise to the occasion, so everyone is looking to the G20 now to see if this wider representation of global leaders can step up.”

Vatican diplomacy

The summit takes place on Saturday and Sunday but many leaders will fly in on Friday and a flurry of bilaterals are expected, in the first physical gathering many world leaders have attended since Covid-19 struck in early 2020.

Biden will meet Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron, seeking to smooth ties with the latter after Australia scrapped a French submarine deal in favour of a US-UK agreement.

The president, a practicing Catholic, will also meet Pope Francis. The pontiff will also receive Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in over the weekend.

Security will be tight at the summit, particularly after violent clashes earlier this month in central Rome between police and protesters against the extension of Italy’s coronavirus pass to all workplaces.

READ ALSO: Italian far-right group leaders arrested after violent clashes in Rome

Border controls have been temporarily reintroduced, derogating from Europe’s passport-free Schengen area, while a no-fly zone is in place over most of the capital.

Meanwhile 500 soldiers have been mobilised to help out with the summit, which is being held away from the city centre in the Mussolini-era suburb of EUR.

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.