The Rome Summit held on October 30-31 brougth an end to the first Italian-led G20. The G20 presidency was both a challenge and an occasion for Italy to impact the world’s figth against global warming and Covid-19.

By Leonardo Brembilla

Finally, after a year of preparatory work, negotiations and ministerial sessions, the Italian-led G20 came to an end with the summit of heads of state and government which was held in Rome on 31 and 31 October. 

G20 leaders with a delegation of health workers
G20 leaders with a delegation of health workers

On Saturday morning, the leaders arrived at “La Nuvola” Convention Center, in the EUR district, welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. After the usual “family photos” and a group shot with a delegation of health workers, Draghi opened the proceedings of the first Italian G20. “It is great to see all of you here, after a few difficult years for the global community,” said Mr. Draghi “The pandemic has kept us apart. And even before, we faced protectionism, unilateralism, nationalism. But 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.” 

Today, the international community faces complex challenges, such as the post-pandemic economic recovery and the climate crisis. These are challenges that cannot be tackled by single states on their own, but require instead collective action. Over the years, the G20 has proved to be an effective forum for tackling global problems, as happened with the 2011 financial crisis. Therefore, expectations for this year’s summit were high. 

In line with the three pillars of action of the Italian G20 presidency – People, Planet, Prosperity – the G20 summit addressed issues related to the pandemic and the environmental crisis. Particular attention was given to economic and financial issues. This is not surprising, since the G20 was launched in 1999, in the wake of the 1997 economic crisis, as a way for the finance ministers to discuss issues related to global economics and finance. 

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s opening remarks at the G20 summit

Now, the question naturally arises: were US President Biden and Prime Minister Draghi right in claiming that the Rome Summit was, as they both said, a “success”? What did the G20 leaders agreed on in Rome? 

The discussion over financial matters brought some positive results. First of all, the leaders finally agreed on a minimum 15% global tax for multinational corporations, as part of an effort to build “a more stable and fairer international tax system”.  The global tax, which is expected to come into effect in 2023, provides for a redistribution mechanism from the countries where the companies are registered to those in which they operate. The reform, brokered by the OECD and backed by 136 countries, has long been in the making, and it is therefore the result of long negotiations and necessary compromises.  

G20 leaders also decided to extend the suspension of bilateral debt payments for low-income countries, and established a mechanism to prevent the default of developing countries. The possibility of a sovereign-debt crisis is a global cause for concern. 

On the Covid pandemic, some important decisions were made. The G20 leaders reaffirmed the importance of the Rome Declaration, adopted during the Global Health Summit that was held last May in the Italian capital. The Rome Declaration aims at strengthening global health governance and improving coordination between global health and financial authorities. In this sense, an agreement was reached over the establishment a Joint Task Force on Health and Finance.  

The plenary session of the G20 Rome Summit
The plenary session of the G20 Rome Summit

Leaders also agreed on the need to speed up worldwide vaccination efforts. Leaders vowed to support the WHO’s goal of vaccinating at least 40% of the world’s population against Covid-19 by 2021, and 70% by 2022. In order to reach this goal, it will be necessary to boost the supply of vaccines and the transfer of technology to developing countries and to remove supply and financing constraints.  

For what concerns global warming, the outcome was somewhat disappointing. The G20 was held just before the beginning of COP26, the UN forum where states are expected to make binding decisions on global warming. Leaders hoped that the G20 could help develop the political consensus needed for the COP26 to succeed. However, even if leaders committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, they did not agree on 2050 as a deadline for reaching net zero carbon emissions, as many were hoping for. 

In conclusion, the final assessment of the Summit is positive, especially if we take into account the difficulties experienced by multilateral institutions over the last few years, as well as the absence of the Presidents of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. Furthermore, according to Italian think tank ISPI, in order to properly address the outcomes of the G20 summit, we must also take into consideration the intense work carried out during the whole year of the Italian G20 Presidency through Ministers’ Meetings, Sherpa meetings, Working Groups and Engagement Groups, as well as the many meetings that took place on the sidelines of the summit itself. 

mario draghi after the g20 meeting on afghanistan

Certainly, Mario Draghi succeeded in his intent to accelerate the transformation of the G20 from a purely financial forum to a forum for the discussion of issues of (geo)political nature, as the extraordinary G20 meeting on Afghanistan demonstrated. 

However, more could have been done, in particular on environment, perhaps the issue that more than anything else required courageous and concrete commitments on the part of the international community. As Mr. Draghi himself underlined, the commitments made at the G20 are not binding: the challenge that G20 states now face is to fulfil their own promises