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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Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

Italy on Thursday night approved new measures worth around 17 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to help families and businesses manage the surging cost of fuel and essentials.

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

As expected, the final version of the ‘aiuti-bis‘ decree provides another extension to the existing 30-cents-per-litre cut to fuel duty, more help with energy bills, and a tax cut for workers earning under 35,000 euros a year.

The package also includes further funding for mental health treatment: there’s another 15 million euros for the recently-introduced ‘psychologist bonus’ on top of the 10 million previously allocated.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

There are also measures to help agricultural firms deal with this year’s severe drought.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the new package as an intervention “of incredible proportions”, which corresponds to “a little over 2 points of national GDP”.

However, he said, no changes were made to the national budget to pave the way for the new measures.

The measures will be funded with 14.3 billion euros in higher-than-expected tax revenues this year, and the deployment of funds that have not yet been spent, Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco said.

Italy has already budgeted some 35 billion euros since January to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.

The decree is one of the last major acts by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi before an early general election next month.

Elections are set for September 25th but the former European Central Bank chief is staying on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

Draghi said the Italian economy was performing better than expected, citing the International Monetary Fund’s estimate of three percent for 2022.

“They say that in 2022, we will grow more than Germany, than France, than the average of the eurozone, more than the United States,” he told a press conference.

But he noted the many problems facing Italy, “from the high cost of living, to inflation, the rise in energy prices and other materials, to supply difficulties, widespread insecurity and, of course political insecurity”.

Inflation hit 8 percent in Italy in June – the most severe spike the country has experienced since 1976.