Leaders of the world's richest nations wrapped up the Group of 20 Summit in Rome on Sunday after taking virtually no concrete action to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the intensifying climate crisis, drawing condemnation from human rights advocates who deemed the gathering's outcome an "abysmal and total failure."
"G20 leaders could have taken urgent action to dramatically scale up manufacturing and access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, promote a fair economic recovery, lower dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, and help the poorest countries adapt to the climate change already happening," Jörn Kalinski, senior adviser at Oxfam International, said in a statement. "The bottom line is that this summit failed to deliver much of anything for people, planet, or prosperity."
The weekend summit drew to a close as the global death toll from COVID-19 topped a staggering 5 million, a figure that's likely to continue growing by thousands each day as billions of people worldwide are denied access to lifesaving vaccines.
G20 nations constitute 62% of the global population but have used 82% of the world's COVID-19 vaccines, according to the London-based advocacy group Global Justice Now. Just 3.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose — inequity that threatens to prolong the pandemic and leave the door open to devastating new variants.
A recent analysis by the science data firm Airfinity showed that G20 countries have received 15 times more coronavirus vaccine doses per capita than countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The United States, the European Union, Britain, and Canada are currently hoarding roughly 240 million surplus COVID-19 vaccines as they begin offering booster shots to certain segments of their populations, ignoring the World Health Organization's pleas for a moratorium on boosters.
"It's an absolute scandal that the G20 has wasted a year ignoring a proposal, backed by the majority of its members, to break vaccine monopolies and ensure the lifesaving vaccines can be made around the world to save countless lives," said People's Vaccine Alliance policy lead Anna Marriot, referring to a stalled patent waiver at the World Trade Organization.
At the end of the two-day Rome summit, G20 leaders adopted a declaration pledging to "enhance our efforts to ensure the transparent, rapid, and predictable delivery and uptake of vaccines where they are needed" and endorsed the WHO's modest goal of "vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021." The document does not mention vaccine-related intellectual property rules, which activists view as key barriers to ramping up production, closing distribution gaps, and ending the pandemic.
Tamaryn Nelson, a health adviser at Amnesty International, said Sunday that the "vague promises" issued by the heads of the richest countries in the world are "an affront to those who have died, and to everyone still living in fear, of COVID-19."
"With just two months left of this year, only a radical change in approach will close the shameful vaccine gap," Nelson argued. "If we continue down our current path, the end of the pandemic will remain a glimmer on the horizon."
Environmentalists offered similarly scathing rebukes of the climate rhetoric and commitments that emerged from the G20 gathering, which concluded just ahead of the pivotal COP26 talks in Glasgow, Scotland.
In their final communique, G20 leaders — whose countries are responsible for more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions — "acknowledge the close link between climate and energy and commit to reduce emission intensity, as part of mitigation efforts, in the energy sector to meet timeframes aligned with the Paris temperature goal."
The declaration also includes a vow to "put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021." However, to the dismay of climate campaigners, G20 leaders did not agree to a specific target date to end the use of coal as Australia and other countries stood in the way.
"Heads of state from the world's richest — and therefore most powerful — countries had the opportunity to radically reset multilateral politics and generate the commitments necessary to keep global heating below 1.5°C," said Namrata Chowdhary, chief of public engagement at 350.org. "Instead, they've made a contradictory and empty statement on climate: they've restated their commitment to keeping global heating below 1.5°C, but failed to commit to any action themselves, not even agreeing that their national climate plans must be improved. Right now, they have us on a path to nearly 3 degrees of heating. These so-called leaders need to do better."
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, echoed that sentiment, saying in a statement that "if the G20 was a dress rehearsal for COP26, then world leaders fluffed their lines."
"Governments must respond to the deadly warnings the planet is giving us and cut emissions drastically right now to stay in line with 1.5°C, and that requires stopping any new fossil fuel development," said Morgan. "At COP26, we will not let up and continue to push for more climate ambition, as well as the rules and actions to back it up. We need to stop all new fossil fuel projects immediately."