Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leaders of the other Group of 20 countries promised Sunday to support developing nations in accessing COVID-19 vaccines while also committing to delay debt payments for cash-strapped jurisdictions.
In the final communiqué released by G20 summit host Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the world’s most advanced economies promised financial assistance to see to it that countries in Africa and small island nations in the Pacific secure access to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines in a timely manner.
Some aid organizations have criticized the Western world for buying up much of the planned global supply of vaccines.
“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” the communiqué reads.
“In this regard, we fully support all collaborative efforts, especially the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility, and the voluntary licensing of intellectual property,” the statement reads, referring to a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine project to ensure poorer countries have access to life-saving vaccines.
Canada has already made commitments to COVAX, which, all told, has secured hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine.
Canada to suspend debt collection from poorer countries
Canada is also a signatory to the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, a program that allows eligible, developing countries to suspend official bilateral debt-service payments during the pandemic.
The program frees up money for countries to purchase COVID-19 treatments and much-needed personal protective equipment or to support workers left unemployed.
The G20 leaders agreed to extend this program to June 2021 and strongly encouraged private creditors to take part in the initiative on comparable terms. The initiative has so far helped 46 of 73 eligible countries defer $5.7 billion in 2020 debt-service payments.
The summit also included talk of bolstering the world’s pandemic response programs to better prepare for any future health scare. The leaders vowed to draft “long-term solutions” to address “gaps” in the global health response.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said Trudeau “highlighted the importance of G20 leadership and co-ordinated action to beat the COVID-19 pandemic, restore economic growth and take ambitious action to fight climate change.”
The prime minister also “advocated for the equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, because we can’t end the pandemic in Canada without ending it everywhere.”
China commits to carbon neutrality by 2060
Trudeau attended a separate side virtual meeting on Sunday on the global fight against climate change.
His participation comes just days after his government introduced legislation that would force current and future federal governments to set binding climate targets to get Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Under international pressure to do more to address global warming, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the G20 that China would implement its own initiatives, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
Global emissions will need to reach “net zero” around mid-century to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 C, according to the International Panel on Climate Change. The 1.5 C target was a goal of the Paris climate accord, signed by almost all countries, including Canada.
“All G20 members will continue to support efforts and utilize all available approaches aimed at advancing environmental stewardship for future generations,” the communiqué reads, although the environmental commitments in the final statement contain a number of caveats that give individual countries a fair degree of latitude.
The leaders stressed the need for a more “multilateral” approach to solving the world’s troubles, including the pandemic and economic fallout. The United States has taken a more isolationist approach to international affairs under the leadership of President Donald Trump.
“Co-ordinated global action, solidarity and multilateral co-operation are more necessary today than ever to overcome the current challenges and realize opportunities of the 21st century,” the communiqué reads.
Canada-Saudi relations strained
Saudi Arabia spent years planning for this summit — the first such the oil-rich Middle Eastern country was on tap to host a G20 meeting — only to see its planned lavish celebrations upended by the pandemic and travel restrictions.
The country, which has made some reforms in recent years to address persistent criticism about its questionable human rights record, had planned to use the summit and the resulting attention to boost its image.
In the last five years, Saudi Arabia has reined in the country’s religious police, lifted a decades-old ban on women drivers and allowed for public movie theaters — part of an effort to shed its image as an ultraconservative country.
International rights groups called on countries to boycott the event, demanding that authorities release dissidents and women’s rights activists who have been detained there.
According to the PMO, Trudeau stressed the “need to respect and defend the rule of law and human rights, including women’s rights, in order to prevent persecution and mistreatment around the world.”
“Now, more than ever, our global success depends on attaining a better path towards peace, prosperity and sustainability,” the statement said.
Canada and Saudi Arabia have been at odds lately amid a diplomatic spat over the fate of jailed blogger Raif Badawi.
The man’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, a Canadian citizen who lives in Sherbrooke, Que., has been urging the federal government to do more to secure his release.
Badawi was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in jail, 1,000 lashes and a hefty fine for writings critical of Saudi Arabian clerics.
Canada also slapped sanctions on top Saudi officials in November 2018 after the slaying of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been identified by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as responsible for the murder.
Collectively, G20 members represent about 80 per cent of the world’s economic output, two-thirds of global population and three-quarters of international trade. Italy will host the G20 summit in 2021.