As the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations gather in Rome for the Group of 20 summit in person on Saturday for the first time since the coronavirus swept across the planet, they will confront twin global crises that have an outsized impact on the poor: the peril posed by climate change and the continuing failure to provide equitable access to lifesaving vaccines.
“We are now in the second year of a global pandemic that has killed four million people,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, said in a speech before the meeting. “Extreme climate events regularly devastate vulnerable communities.”
“You have come together,” he said, “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.”
On Saturday, President Biden’s first major meeting of the summit will focus on economic policy and the pandemic, and he will then meet with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany to discuss ways to get the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran back on track, one of Mr. Biden’s most elusive diplomatic goals since assuming the presidency.
Mr. Biden’s advisers said he was counting on at least one economic policy victory from the conference: the blessing of a global agreement to set minimum levels of corporate taxation, aimed at stopping companies from sheltering income in tax havens like Bermuda.
Before Saturday’s meeting, health and finance ministers from the nations called for 70 percent of the world’s population to be vaccinated against the coronavirus over the next eight months — an ambitious goal that would require a sharp increase in the amount of vaccines made available for the developing world.
It would mean addressing the stark inequity that has resulted in G20 countries receiving 15 times more doses per capita than countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the science analytics company Airfinity.
The United States has pledged to donate more than one billion doses, the most in the world. And Mr. Biden, who often refers to his skills as a negotiator and his decades of foreign policy experience, will seek commitments from foreign leaders on other efforts to combat the pandemic.
But the promises of wealthy nations have repeatedly fallen short over the course of the pandemic.
So, too, have pledges by wealthy nations to address climate change. The urgency of the moment has been driven home time and again this year as nations struggled with flooding, fires and other extreme weather events.
The G20 meeting comes just before COP26, a worldwide summit on climate change in Glasgow that could be a make-or-break moment to save a warming planet.
While the gathering in Rome marks a departure from the largely virtual diplomacy of recent years, two leaders are noticeable for their absence: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China — who are staying home from the conference over Covid concerns.
Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters traveling to Rome that the president considered those leaders’ absences not as an obstacle to coordination, but as an opportunity to showcase that Western democracies can work together to meet current and future threats.
Gita Gopinath, the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said the most urgent economic task for leaders at the summit was slowing the pandemic — in large part, she said, by making good on promises to ship vaccine doses to less wealthy nations.
“To truly end this health crisis and its accompanying economic crisis, we need to get to widespread vaccinations everywhere in the world,” Ms. Gopinath said.
As the Group of 20 summit of the world’s leading economic powers brings numerous global leaders to Rome, it is also drawing laid-off factory workers, climate activists, antiglobalization campaigners, unions, feminist groups, Communists and perhaps some vaccine skeptics and fascists to speak out in protest.
“There will be many of us,” said Gino Orsini, a representative for the Si Cobas union, one of the organizers of a demonstration planned for Saturday to coincide with the Group of 20 gathering.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Group of 8 summit that Italy hosted in the northern city of Genoa that was marred by rioting. It is also a moment of tension between the authorities and opponents of the Italian government’s coronavirus vaccination requirements, which have resulted in violent clashes.
“The level of attention is maximum,” said Giovanni Borrelli, a local government official, adding that 5,500 extra law enforcement officers were being deployed this weekend.
Climate protesters briefly staged a sit-in on the main avenue leading to the G20 site on Saturday morning, but offered no resistance when the police forcibly removed them. And organizers of Saturday’s protests vowed that there would be no violence.
“It will be a relatively calm march,” said Lavinia Iovino, 15, a representative for the Italian branch of the international youth-led Fridays for Future movement.
She said they planned to urge the Group of 20 leaders to act urgently amid a time of unprecedented interest in climate change and social justice. “It’s the moment when we can do most,” she said. “What we don’t do now, we won’t be able to do in the future.”
The environmentalist march will be joined by workers’ unions and factory workers who are seizing the opportunity to voice anger at the elites. “It’s a protest against all the G20 governments who represent the part that dominates the world and exploits workers,” said Mr. Orsini, the union representative.
It was unclear whether vaccine opponents and neo-fascist groups would turn out on Saturday. But neo-fascist groups have joined recent protests over coronavirus vaccination requirements, and some of their members assaulted the headquarters of Italy’s biggest union on Oct. 9.
Since then, other threats to “take Rome” have drawn only scattered crowds. But on Facebook groups, opponents to Italy’s coronavirus health pass have threatened to participate in the protests.
“The situation and the moment are quite complicated,” Lamberto Giannini, the head of the Italian police, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “The narrative on the web is really worrying.”
Two decades ago, during a gathering of world leaders very much like the one taking place on Saturday in Rome, the Italian port city of Genoa was transformed into a scene of chaos as protests descended into riots. Before the summit was over, one 23-year-old Italian protester was dead.
That violence now looms over this weekend’s Group of 20 summit.
Tensions are running high as recent protests over Italy’s mandatory coronavirus health pass for workers — the strictest in Europe — turned violent when neo-fascist infiltrators smashed the headquarters of a labor union. Other scattered protests, some put down with water cannons, have emerged in opposition to those restrictions.
But Italy has insisted that it is ready.
More than 5,000 extra law enforcement officers have taken to the streets. Special vehicles are on patrol to detect toxic substances. In the skies, military drones and systems to counter rogue drones buzz overhead as helicopters patrol a no-fly zone.
Each nation is also bringing its own security. When President Biden visited the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis on Friday, he rolled down the broad Via della Conciliazione with a motorcade of more than 80 cars, many of them heavily armed and staffed with military personnel.
Security around the embassies is extremely tight, and a large “high security” area has been erected around the conference center where the summit is taking place. Only authorized holders of credentials and residents are being allowed to drive or walk inside.
The interior minister said that security had also been beefed up along Italy’s borders. Bus routes are diverted, and metro stations will be closed.
But in the age of a pandemic, the security concerns extend to invisible viral threats. Italy, the first country in the West to be hit by the coronavirus, has some of Europe’s most stringent coronavirus rules.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi is also perhaps hoping to influence his fellow leaders, getting a swab test every day of the summit despite being vaccinated against the virus.
The annual Group of 20 summit meeting, which brings together President Biden and other world leaders, is intended to foster global economic cooperation. But with so many top officials in one place, it also serves as an all-purpose jamboree of nonstop formal and informal diplomatic activity.
This year’s meeting takes place in Rome on Saturday and Sunday and is expected to cover issues like climate change, the global supply chain, the pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. If the members can reach consensus on such subjects, they will produce an official joint declaration at the end.
Here is a look at what the Group of 20 is and does, and some of the important things to watch during the two-day summit.
What is the G20?
The Group of 20 is an organization of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 individual countries and the European Union.
In addition to the United States, those countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. Collectively, its members represent more than 80 percent of the world’s economic output.
Established in 1999 after a series of major international debt crises, the G20 aims to unite world leaders around shared economic, political and health challenges. It is a creation of the more select Group of 7, an informal bloc of industrialized democracies.
Supporters argue that as national economies grow ever more globalized, it is essential that political and finance leaders work closely together.
What is the G20 summit?
Formally the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy,” the G20 meeting is an annual gathering of finance ministers and heads of state representing the members.
It bills itself as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” The heads of state first convened officially in November 2008 as the global financial crisis began to unfold.
The annual summit meeting is hosted by the nation holding the rotating presidency; this year, it’s Italy.
What happens at a G20 summit?
It is focused on several core issues around which its leaders hope to reach a consensus for collective action.
The goal is to conclude the two-day gathering by issuing a joint statement committing its members to action, although the declaration is not legally binding. But one-on-one meetings can overshadow official business.
BERLIN — When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany meets President Biden at the Group of 20 summit in Rome this weekend, she won’t come alone: Tagging along will be her likely successor, Olaf Scholz.
The buddy act between an outgoing center-right chancellor and an incoming center-left one is striking even by Germany’s hyper-bipartisan standards: After 16 years of representing Europe’s biggest economy on the international stage and becoming an indispensable figure in global diplomacy, Ms. Merkel is not just introducing Mr. Scholz to the world, but also trying to reassure the world that Germany will remain in safe hands.
The aim, officials in Berlin said, is to signal “continuity” and a “smooth transition of power.”
“The German chancellor is changing, the main governing party is changing, but Germany’s commitment to the G20 is not,” said one senior official who in keeping with protocol cannot be quoted by name.
Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat who beat the candidate from Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Germany’s elections in September, is expected to be sworn in as chancellor in early December. This weekend, he will also join Ms. Merkel in talks with leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
As finance minister, Mr. Scholz would have accompanied Ms. Merkel to the summit anyway. But inviting him along to private meetings with other leaders constitutes “a historic gesture,” officials said. No departing German chancellor has taken a successor to a summit before, let alone one from a rival party.
Ms. Merkel’s and Mr. Scholz’s double act reflects Germany’s ever more fluid political center, where change and continuity now seem to go hand in hand. His party governed with Ms. Merkel’s for three of her four terms, making him more of an incumbent than a candidate of change.
That continuity will be welcomed in many G20 nations, though Ms. Merkel will not be missed everywhere.
On her way to Rome, the chancellor stopped in Greece, a country whose crippling decade-long financial crisis marked her time in office. “I know I asked a lot from Greek citizens,” Ms. Merkel told a joint media conference with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday, referring to a wave of austerity measures imposed on Greece in return for international bailouts. “I was always for Greece staying in the euro,” she added.
Although public sentiment toward Germany has improved over the years, many Greeks still blame Ms. Merkel for years of tax increases and wage cuts. Ms. Merkel herself said recently that the harsh demands she made on Greece were the toughest moment of her 16 years in office.
As world leaders prepare to meet for this weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Rome on some of the greatest challenges facing the global community, a dispute much closer to home for Britain and France is swirling in the background.
A growing disagreement between the two countries over post-Brexit fishing rights in the English Channel has become a focal point for the summit and is expected to be a topic of discussion for the nations’ leaders.
George Eustice, Britain’s environment secretary, told Sky News on Friday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was likely to raise the dispute with President Emmanuel Macron of France during the meetings. A spokesman for Mr. Johnson said the pair will meet briefly during the summit.
Tensions have flared in recent weeks over fishing licenses. On Wednesday, France detained a British trawler near the port of Le Havre and fined two vessels. The French authorities have threatened further action beginning on Tuesday unless Britain issues licenses to dozens of French boats to operate in British waters.
Speaking to reporters on the way to the G20, Mr. Johnson said that he was puzzled by the escalation, but that his government would do whatever was necessary to ensure Britain’s interests.
“France is one of our oldest, closest allies and friends,” he said, according to the BBC. “The ties that bind us together are far stronger than the turbulence that currently exists in the relationship.”
France has said that British failure to issue licenses to its fishing vessels would renege on a post-Brexit agreement. Clement Beaune, France’s minister for Europe, said in a statement that unless the licenses are issued, the country will consider other retaliatory measures, like limiting the electricity supply to the Channel Islands, British dependencies off the French coast.
London has said that the French actions could violate international law. Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign minister, said in a statement that the government had summoned the French ambassador for talks on Friday “to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the U.K. and Channel Islands.”
The dispute has become increasingly heated as the two nations try to navigate a new relationship after Britain’s exit from the European Union. The fishing dispute even resulted in a short naval standoff in May.
Under a post-Brexit agreement forged in December, European fishers can continue to work in some British waters if they prove that they had worked in the area before Brexit, but France and Britain have locked horns over what documentation is required. Last month, Britain and the Channel Islands refused licenses to about 240 boats that the French authorities say have fishing rights under the agreement.
France has threatened to add extra measures, including checks and controls on other goods entering Britain from French ports, raising fears of further disruption to Britain’s already struggling transportation industry.
With his domestic agenda in limbo, President Biden sought better results on the foreign front on Friday, beginning a five-day diplomatic marathon with a series of meetings that addressed personal and political priorities.
After a weekslong rift with America’s oldest ally, Mr. Biden sought to smooth over relations with France after a contentious submarine deal and build stronger ties with Italy, whose prime minister is emerging as heir apparent to Angela Merkel as the political leader of Europe.
And he received a positive review from Pope Francis, who he said had called him a “good Catholic” who should continue to receive communion — an apparent repudiation of an effort by some bishops in the United States to deny Mr. Biden the sacrament over his abortion views.
Mr. Biden’s next stop will be the Group of 20 summit, where leaders of the world’s largest economies will confront supply chain problems, rising energy prices and global inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. Then he and many of the same leaders will travel to Scotland for COP26, a worldwide summit on climate change that could be a make-or-break moment to save a warming planet.
The president began his day at the Vatican, where he met with Francis for more than an hour. Because the meeting was private and the Vatican refused to confirm details beyond a news release about the topics the two men discussed, the only account of what Francis said came from Mr. Biden, who told reporters that the pope had endorsed his receiving communion but that the two had not discussed abortion.
Later, he met with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has been furious with the Biden administration since the United States cut a secret deal last month to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines — leaving France, which had thought it had a multibillion-dollar agreement to provide Australia with conventional submarines, empty-handed.
“What we did was clumsy,” Mr. Biden acknowledged before he and Mr. Macron retreated for a private meeting. “I had been under the impression long before that France had been informed.”
Mr. Macron — who has demanded “concrete” actions, not just diplomatic niceties, to repair the breach — called it “an extremely important clarification” and said, “Now what’s important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.”
Between his meetings with the pope and Mr. Macron, Mr. Biden went to Chigi Palace, the home of Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi. With Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany leaving office and Mr. Macron politically embattled, Mr. Draghi has emerged as a leader of Europe and a potentially key ally for an American president looking to maintain strong relationships there.
Mr. Draghi and Mr. Biden discussed European security challenges in the Mediterranean, a global agreement to set corporate minimum taxes, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for future pandemics, and Italy’s past contributions in Afghanistan, according to White House officials. Mr. Draghi’s office said they had also talked about strengthening rules-based international cooperation, a major concern for European leaders after what many considered a unilateral American approach under President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Biden will now bring his own priorities and political needs to the Group of 20 summit — whose other participants, facing enormous challenges of their own, will do the same. Many of them want concrete changes on issues like international tax shelters and getting coronavirus vaccines to low-income countries, even as they struggle to make progress on existential threats like carbon emissions.
Reporting was contributed by Roger Cohen, Helene Cooper, Jason Horowitz, Katie Rogers and Jim Tankersley.