G-20 opens with call for more vaccines for poor countries

The leaders of the world’s economic powers are taking part in the first in-person summit since the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi (L) greets US President Joe Biden as he arrives for the G20 of World Leaders Summit on October 30, 2021 at the convention center

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi (L) greets US President Joe Biden as he arrives for the G20 of World Leaders Summit on October 30, 2021 at the convention center "La Nuvola" in the EUR district of Rome. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / POOL / AFP)

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Italy’s Premier Mario Draghi made a sharp call to pick up the pace in getting vaccines to poor countries as he opened a conference of the world’s powerhouse economies, calling the gaping global COVID-19 vaccine gap “morally unacceptable.”

Draghi, the host for the two-day Group of 20 summit in Rome, said Saturday that only 3% of people in the world’s poorest countries are vaccinated, while 70% in rich countries have had at least one shot.

Climate change, vaccines, the recovery, international taxation are all themes occupying leaders holding their first in-person summit since the pandemic took hold. The call for more collective vaccine help for low-income countries sounded a theme running through the G-20 summit, which contronts a two-track global recovery in which rich countries are bouncing back faster.

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Draghi welcomed the Group of 20 leaders to Rome’s Nuvola cloud-like convention center in the Fascist-era EUR neighborhood, which was sealed off from the rest of the capital.

Saturday’s opening session was focused on global health and the economy. Rich countries have used vaccines and stimulus spending to restart economic activity, leaving the risk that developing countries that account for much of global growth will remain behind due to low vaccinations and financing difficulties.

UN Secretary General-General Antonio Guterres has underlined that rich countries have spent 28% of annual economic output on pandemic recovery, while the figure is 2% for the poorest nations.

European Union leaders will meet off-site with African leaders in efforts to further support the continent’s poorest economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Friday he expects the G-20 to confirm an additional $100 billion to support Africa’s economies.

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The money would be provided via the reallocation of part of $650 billion worth of special drawing rights, a foreign exchange tool used to help finance imports issued by the International Monetary Fund. The idea is for countries that don’t need the help to reallocated their special drawing rights to those that do. Participants were to include African Union President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwanda President Paul Kagame. The heads of state of South Africa and Senegal, Cyril Ramaphosa and Macky Sall, will take part via videoconference, the French presidency said.

Italy is hoping the G-20 will secure key commitments from countries representing 80% of the global economy — and responsible for around the same amount of global carbon emissions — ahead of the U.N. climate conference that begins Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland.

Most of the heads of state and government who are in Rome will head to Glasgow as soon as the G-20 is over. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are participating remotely.

On the eve of the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Glasgow meeting risked failure over the still-tepid commitments from big polluters, and challenged the G-20 leaders to overcome “dangerous levels of mistrust” among themselves and with developing nations.

“Let’s be clear — there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,″ Guterres told reporters in Rome.

A recent U.N. environment report concluded that announcements by dozens of countries to aim for “net-zero” emissions by 2050 could, if fully implemented, limit a global temperature rise to 2.2 degrees Celsius (4 F). That’s closer but still above the less stringent target agreed in the Paris climate accord of keeping the temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared with pre-industrial times.

The U.N. chief also blamed geopolitical divides for hampering a global vaccination plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, saying action “has taken a back seat to vaccine hoarding and vaccine nationalism.’’

The G-20, though, will likely be a celebration of one agreement, on a global minimum corporate tax. The G-20 leaders are expected to formally affirm their commitment to establishing a 15% global minimum corporate tax rate by 2023, a measure aimed at preventing multinational companies from stashing profits in countries where they pay few or no taxes.

The move has been praised by White House officials as a “game changer” that would create at least $60 billion in new revenue a year in the U.S. – a stream of cash that could help partially pay for a nearly $3 trillion social services and infrastructure package that President Joe Biden is seeking. U.S. adoption is key because so many multinational companies are headquartered there.

But Biden is struggling to come to agreement with members of his own party on what will be included in the massive spending plan, not to mention how it will be paid for. The president’s struggles to come to terms on U.S. legislation were not expected to be a central part of Biden’s conversations with fellow leaders, White House officials said.

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