G20 opens with call for more COVID vaccines for poor countries

G20 leaders opened their first in person summit in two years on Saturday with a call for more COVID vaccines for poor countries amid ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The climate and global economy also topped the list of priorities for the leaders of the world’s largest economies. 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed President Joe Biden and other heads of state to Rome’s Nuvola cloud-like convention center.

He opened the forum by calling for a redoubled effort to get vaccines to the world’s least-prosperous countries.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomes President Joe Biden as he arrives for the G20 Leaders’ Summit at La Nuvola Congress Centre in Rome

The G20 leaders at the plenary opening session on Saturday

The G20 leaders at the plenary opening session on Saturday

Draghi underlined that while 70% of people in rich countries have been vaccinated, only 3% in the poorest countries have had their shots, calling it ‘morally unacceptable.’

Draghi urged a new commitment to multilateral cooperation: ‘The more we go with all our challenges, the more it is clear that multilateralism is the best answer to the problems we face today,’ he said. ‘In many ways, it is the only possible answer.’

The Biden administration has argued the U.S. has committed to donating more than a billion doses of vaccine world wide. 

‘The United States has stepped up; we’ve committed to donate more than a billion doses. We’ve shipped more than 200 million vaccines to over 100 countries. Just this month, we announced 17 million vaccine doses to the African Union,’ a senior administration official said. 

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres echoed the vaccine call.  

‘We are now in the second year of a global pandemic that has killed four million people,’ he said in a speech before the meeting. ‘Extreme climate events regularly devastate vulnerable communities.’

‘You have come together, to determine the course of some of the most pressing issues we face: access to vaccines; extending an economic lifeline to the developing world; and more and better public finance for ambitious climate action.’


Saturday’s opening session was focused on global health and the economy, with a meeting on the sidelines among Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss next steps on Iran’s nuclear program. 

Additionally the leaders are set to acknowledge the existential threat of climate change, but stop short of radical new commitments to tame global warming. 

After the G20 wraps on Sunday, most of the leaders will head to Scotland for the UN Climate conference known as COP26.

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 ‘overarching theme’ of Saturday, said a senior administration official Friday night, is ‘The United States is steadfastly committed to our allies and partners and to face-to-face diplomacy at the highest levels.’ 

Also expected to be front-and-center in the first session of the G20 on Saturday: the global minimum tax.  

‘In this session, G20 leaders will support the establishment of the historic global minimum tax to ensure that giant corporations pay their fair share no matter where they’re located,’ said a senior administration official Friday night.

‘The deal works because it removes the incentives for the offshoring of American jobs, it’s going to help small businesses compete on a level playing field, and it’s going to give us more resources to invest in our people at home,’ the official continued. ‘It’s a game changer for American workers, taxpayers, and businesses. And in our judgment, this is more than just a tax deal; it’s a reshaping of the rules of the global economy.’  

He’ll attend an event in support of women-owned businesses.

More pressing, however, will be his meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Iran. 

Johnson, Macron and Merkel make up the E3 – the European leaders who signed onto the Iran nuclear deal. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with President Joe Biden during the G20 summit in Rome

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with President Joe Biden during the G20 summit in Rome

World leaders pose with medical personnel for a group photo at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome

World leaders pose with medical personnel for a group photo at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome

Biden is seeking a ‘united’ policy on Iran, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday, when he previewed the trip on board Air Force One. 

It will mark the first time the four leaders have sat together in person to discuss this particular issue, a White House official said.  

‘It’s an opportunity to closely coordinate with our key European partners, at the leader level, on a joint negotiating position as we work towards a resumption of negotiations,’ Sullivan said. 

On Friday night, a senior administration said there would be no ‘deliverable’ to come from the get-together. 

‘They need to have private space to have a no BS conversation abour where we’re at and where we need to go,’ the official said. ‘A lot of times, you have … the meeting is fake, and then you have some deliverables. This is more like this is going to be a serious opportunity to check signals as we head into a really vital period on this issue.’    

Former President Donald Trump nixed the U.S.’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, angering European allies. 

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA –  had seen Iran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sancations against its economy. 

It will also be discussed during Saturday afternoon’s meeting.  

‘Those will be the two main elements of the meeting,’ Sullivan said. ‘Fundamentally centering around a shared strategy and solidarity and unity in our approach, which of course will be a study in contrast with the previous administration since Iran was one of the areas of most profound divergence between the previous administration and the Europeans.’

Sullivan conceded he didn’t know if Iran was ready to return to the negotiating table.

‘It’s not entirely clear to me yet whether the Iranians are prepared to return to talks,’ he said. ‘We have heard positive signals that they are, but I think we have to wait and see when and whether they actually show up at the negotiating table. And we’re prepared to negotiate in good faith for a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. We hope they are as well.’  

After that meeting, the president and First Lady Jill Biden will attend a closed-door dinner with the other G20 leaders and their spouses.  

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