It was a G20 like no other, staged virtually for pandemic times.
- Leaders pledge to “spare no effort” to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines worldwide
- However, the final communique on the pandemic lacked detail on funding
- The G20 also endorsed a plan to extend a freeze in debt service payments by the poorest countries to mid-2021
And the virus was the dominant issue for leaders of the world’s biggest economies as they remotely attended the event, hosted by Saudi Arabia.
There were no press conferences or cameras at the start of bilateral meetings and no chance of recorded slip-ups or missteps.
Calls to boycott the summit in protest of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record were ignored, with all leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies taking part.
And while the pandemic dominated discussions, on the second and final day of the summit world leaders were also at pains to stress the importance of not allowing the pandemic to overshadow the collective work on climate change.
The pandemic has made governments around the world more aware that economies have to be developed sustainably and not at the expense of the environment, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Out of step on that point was US President Donald Trump, who used a virtual address on Sunday to defend his decision to rip the US out of the Paris climate accord.
In a web address, he declared that American air is 7 per cent cleaner now than when he took office.
“To protect American workers, I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Mr Trump said in a short virtual message to the summit.
Communique on coronavirus
Mr Trump’s go-it-alone attitude was also on display on day one. When world leaders called for fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines, Mr Trump did not pledge to expand the availability of leading US jabs, due for release next month.
He missed a session on pandemic preparedness, but later denied it was because he was playing golf.
Mr Trump told the G20 he would vaccinate Americans first, although did sign the final communique, where the leaders united to “spare no effort” to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines worldwide.
They also pledged to support nations whose economies have been largely destroyed by the crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact in terms of lives lost, livelihoods and economies affected, is an unparalleled shock that has revealed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and underscored our common challenges,” the final communique said.
G20 nations will work to “protect lives, provide support with a special focus on the most vulnerable, and put our economies back on a path to restoring growth, and protecting and creating jobs for all”.
“We have mobilised resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” they said in the statement.
However, the final document lacked detail on how that would be funded.
So far, the world’s leading economies have rushed to secure the most promising COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine has been found to be 94 per cent effective and could be rolled out by December.
The G20 leaders did acknowledge the virus would only be defeated on a global scale.
“There must be an effective response to the pandemic, a comprehensive, coordinated and united one,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a closing statement.
Plan for debt freeze
The G20 endorsed a plan to extend a freeze in debt service payments by the poorest countries to mid-2021 and a common approach for dealing with debt problems beyond that, according to the communique.
The Debt Service Suspension Initiative has helped 46 countries defer $5.7 billion in 2020 debt service payments, short of the 73 countries that were eligible, and promised savings of around $12 billion.
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said the G20’s actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 had helped prevent massive bankruptcies and an even deeper crisis, but that there was more to do.
She called for a prompt and effective implementation of the G20 framework for debt treatments beyond the debt relief initiative, adding: “We must also help those countries not covered by the Framework to address debt vulnerabilities so that their economies can become more resilient.”
In their joint statement, the leaders said they strongly encouraged private creditors to participate in the initiative on comparable terms when requested by eligible countries.
Likely the last G20 for Trump
It is one of the last scheduled global summits President Trump will attend as part of his presidency.
US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to return the nation to the Paris accord and reinstate funding for the World Health Organisation cut by Mr Trump.
The Saudi Crown Prince proposed the G20 be expanded so two summits are held each year, one virtually and one in person.
But human rights activists hope that, without reform, the kingdom is never granted hosting rights again.
Saudi Arabia will hand the G20 presidency to Italy next month.