While the summit communiqué – 17 pages and covering more than 60 topics – is a step forward from what the Saudi G-20 presidency has managed to deliver in 2020, even the firm hand of the Italian Prime Minister and host of the summit Mario Draghi couldn’t save this. gathering.
The most important developments have come in bilateral meetings or national political interests, rather than panel discussions: Canada will donate 200 million additional doses of vaccine to COVAX, and the EU and US are suspending their tariffs on steel and aluminum.
President Joe Biden’s biggest multilateral contribution came outside of the summit: the organization of an anti-China meeting after formal proceedings ended, on the topic of supply chain resilience. He urged participants to “diversify” their supply chains and announced an unspecified amount of funding to help “US partners, as well as the US, reduce port congestion.”
While France was a deliberate no-show at Biden’s event – still making political arguments over his scuttled deal to deliver subs to Australia – the real problem for Biden this weekend is that he has not tidied up its own political supply chain.
Back in Washington, Congress’ failure to agree on the legislative and financial elements to meet Biden’s climate goals has done more to undermine him than any rival government could.
Instead, unelected figures set the agenda, leaving the United States and other Democratic leaders in the political dust.
Ahead of the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin dominated media coverage by refusing to attend in person.
Beijing’s reluctance to announce a major new climate pledge, on top of the congressional stalemate in Washington, left summit attendees and activists in a bad mood.
When national leaders landed in Rome, the first port of call for many was the Vatican, where Pope Francis used these meetings to present them with calls for bold action on climate and Covid.
His messages to Biden, according to a senior administration official, were to ‘accelerate’ America’s climate ambition and strengthen the commitment of rich countries to provide countries with $ 100 billion a year in climate finance. in development.
The pope’s stage robbery continued on Saturday: his sharp gift to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who is widely accused of promoting Hindu nationalism – was a treatise on “human brotherhood,” which he co-wrote with the grand imam of Al-Azhar.
Pope Francis used his weekly St. Peter’s prayer on Sunday to “pray that the cry of the earth and the cry of the people will be heard,” while branching out into the authorship of e-books. The Pope makes his encyclical “Laudato si ‘ Reader. A Care Alliance for Our Common Home “freely available: in fact, offering it as a rival version of the G-20 summit communiqué.
Many other unelected figures found themselves doing the heavy lifting of the political work, including First Lady Jill Biden, who sat next to French President Emmanuel Macron at the summit gala dinner on Saturday. His efforts did not convince him to join President Biden’s meeting on supply chain resilience on Sunday evening: French RSVP remained a ‘point’no. “
Journalists were among the losers at this summit, with national leaders for the most part avoiding media scrutiny and taking action – despite endless talk about global commons and doing more to support the world’s less fortunate – as s ‘they were again in hiding in an isolated compound.
Australian journalists have complained loudly about traveling the world to get no updates on the whereabouts and plans of their Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Elysee officials made a similar disappearance act on Saturday: “It’s like they’ve given up,” a French journalist said.
When leaders were confronted with questions from the traveling press, it was tightly controlled. Journalists were forced to assemble two hours in advance if they wanted to catch Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. President Biden waited so long to speak to reporters that most had left the summit when he started speaking, leaving him facing a nearly empty room.
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland rushed out of the room after only 20 minutes of bland answers to questions from only Canadian journalists. (His staff said the POLITICO reporters in the room were not Canadian and therefore not qualified to ask a question.)
European royal families were happy to dive into the communications void left by governments, achieving a notable political role reversal.
Queen maxima of the Netherlands – the queen consort of the Netherlands who is also a United Nations special advocate for inclusive finance for development – was the star of Saturday’s summit.
One minute she was in the middle of a conversation and banging her fist with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the next minute she was having lunch with World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and International Monetary Fund supremo Kristalina Georgieva. If it wasn’t a photoshoot with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, she cornered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on financial inclusion pledges, or co-hosted with Draghi an official summit session on support for women-owned businesses.
Britain’s Prince Charles ended up packing the biggest royal punch, calling on assembled leaders on their low climate commitments when he addressed them on Sunday morning.
While Draghi, as host of the summit, said he was happy that the leaders agreed to “stay at 1.5 degrees [Celsius] with a scope “(as a limit for global warming) and optimistically asserted that they had agreed to” put the coal behind us “, Prince Charles had none of it.
Speaking of a “crushing responsibility to the unborn generations”, the prince said he was in the G-20 to “shed light not only on how far we have come” – as national political leaders tend to do – but also on “how far we still have to go.
He told leaders that “listening is often more important than speaking,” while telling the stories of all the people he has listened to in climate-vulnerable countries, adding that “it is impossible not to hear the desperate voices of young people ”.
Prince Charles’ other effect was to steal some of President Biden’s thunder. With five decades of high profile political experience, Biden is used to being the most seasoned leader in the room, but the Prince of Wales can match him on that front.
He used this experience to send a warning to Washington, which has yet to pull out its first $ 500 billion in climate finance: “We will need trillions of dollars in investment every year to deliver the climate. necessary infrastructure. to achieve the 1.5 degree target, ”said Prince Charles.
Ultimately, the prince said he trusted private sector leaders to do the job: “They want to make a difference with the kind of investment that only they can provide” and “hold the key. ultimate solutions that we seek. , “he said. His last desperate appeal to politicians: simply to offer the guarantees and legislative signals that would help unlock this private investment.
Fourteen years after the start of the G-20 Leaders’ Summit experiment – which aimed to expand global governance beyond the G-7, while maintaining a more manageable forum than the 193 members of the United Nations – there is has serious questions as to whether it can deliver more than the current bundle of milquetoast engagements.
John Kirton, who heads the world’s leading G-20 research team at the University of Toronto, told POLITICO that this year the G-20 has reached “an all-time high of at least 84%” of respect of its commitments.
If this is true, it still has not been able to prevent 7,500 people from dying each day from mostly preventable Covid deaths; it has not helped reduce global carbon emissions; and it neglects the fact that it is the OECD, and not the G-20, which negotiated the tax reform which is the flagship achievement of this summit.
From the closed summit rooms – a structure known as The Cloud – Draghi praised a relatively small group of protesters, which numbered several thousand and demonstrated peacefully across Rome on Saturday, “for pushing and keeping us on the line. right way. job.”
The activists did not return the compliment.
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, brought the leaders back to Earth, declaring by email that the G-20 leaders “just failed to meet the moment.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted he left Rome, saying it was “a reasonable G-20, but it was not enough”.
While Biden insisted that “tangible progress” has been made in Rome – it will take a more radical consensus to make the COP26 climate summit a success, let alone the president’s much-vaunted (virtual) summit of democracies in December.
Maybe the world needs something more akin to the “cathartic impact,” Biden told reporters Pope Francis had on him personally.
As Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday: “We have a lot of work to do”.
Hannah Roberts contributed to this report.