Before it was known for trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples, Halloween was a Celtic festival known as “Samhain”, a day that celebrated endings and beginnings. More specifically, in the Celtic case, it marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter—a de facto new calendar year.
It is fitting, therefore, that the G20 summit in Rome this year should fall during Halloween weekend. With COP26 just days away, this G20 summit may very well be a turning point, both for the continuity of diplomatic relations and the commitment of the world’s 20 largest economies to curbing climate change. In a speech delivered in Paris a week ago, COP26 president Alok Sharma put it in unequivocal terms: “the response of the G20 will quite simply be, make or break”.
The heat is on.
The overarching theme for the Italian presidency of the G20 this year has encompassed three pillars: “people, planet and prosperity”. Unsurprisingly the global economy and global health, climate change and the environment, and sustainable development are all on the agenda. Within these three working sessions, the G20 will touch upon issues such as equitable access to vaccines, energy prices, international taxation, global preparedness for future pandemics, but also the need to increase their commitments to meet the Paris Agreement goals and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Considering the G20 represent 80% of global GDP and create 80% of global gas emissions, the summit may very well fall into finger pointing and apologias.
However, the likelihood of the summit being greenwashed greatly diminished earlier in the month, as Russian president Vladimir Putin, Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, and Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced they would definitely not attend the summit. Russia is dealing with a sudden and dangerous spike in Covid-19 cases, while Kishida must remain in Japan because of the general elections held on 31 October. Three days ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced he will not make the trip to Rome but will send his foreign minister instead.
Sources told Reuters that “the absences would not compromise the chances of making good progress at the summit”. However, that awaits to be seen, after an unsuccessful meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers in Naples in July. At that meeting, ministers failed to reach a unanimous agreement on ending fossil fuel subsidies and phasing out coal power, with the Italian government asking leaders to try and bridge those differences in Rome.
While the absence of China and Russia will perhaps mean more smooth sailing for the countries present, it will also do little to bring them into the “climate fold”. And that, I reckon, is one for the Sunday scaries.