Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November 21
A downsized version of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit began in virtual format in Riyadh on Saturday with an opening address by the King of Saudi Arabia Salman calling on the world’s most powerful leaders to make the forum relevant at a time when the global Covid pandemic shows no signs of abating.
“It is our duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance,” he said in his opening address.
Over the next two days, world leaders including PM Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Emmaunel Macron and Justin Trudeau are slated to address the virtual summit.
The G-20 has agreed to suspend debt payments for the world’s poorest countries till the middle of next year but UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has asked it to extend debt repayments through the end of 2021 and also extend it to middle-income countries in need.
The pandemic has especially hit the G-20 members hard. India has the second highest number of recorded Covid cases after the US. They are followed by co-members Brazil, France, Russia, Spain, the UK, Argentina and Italy. At least three of their leaders – Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro – were afflicted by Covid.
Speaking against the backdrop of criticism that the G-20 hasn’t collectively done enough to combat the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, the King reminded the leaders that 12 years ago the G-20 was successful in combating the global financial meltdown.
This was the common message by world leaders in video statements issued before the beginning of the virtual summit.
“Our fates are in each other’s hands,” said Johnson while calling on the G-20 to harness the combined resources of the nations to end the Covid pandemic and tackle climate change.
Bolsonaro also said intra-G-20 co-operation was the key to overcoming the pandemic.
The G-20 had quickly convened a summit in March this year after the pandemic had spread around the world. It had then agreed to share information, material and clinical data to strengthen their health systems as well as join hands to fund vaccine research.
King Salman touched on the shortcoming by asking the leaders to “create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples”.
In a message, Guterres called on more G-20 nations to join COVAX, an international initiative to distribute Covid vaccines to countries worldwide.
Some members including the US have refused to join, with Trump citing the malign influence of the WHO and China as the reason.
The pandemic has so far claimed nearly 14 lakh lives worldwide and provides a challenge to G20 to show international co-operation in a crisis.