In appointing John Kerry to top role, Biden shows he’s serious about climate

By appointing former senator and secretary of state John Kerry as the first ever US climate leader, President-elect Joe Biden is sending a clear message. He’s not only reversing President Donald Trump’s reversal of America’s commitments to fighting climate change – he also plans to push these commitments much further.

“For the first time ever, the United States will have a full-time climate leader who will participate in ministerial level meetings,” Biden said Tuesday, announcing Kerry‘s appointment as the US’s top climate official. 

“He will have a seat at every table around the world. For the first time ever, there will be a principal on the national security council who can make sure climate change is on the agenda in the situation room. For the first time ever, we’ll have a presidential envoy on climate.”

As secretary of state under former president Barack Obama, Kerry helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, and signed it in April 2016 on behalf of the United States

The agreement, a legally-binding UN document signed by nearly 200 countries and which came into force in 2016, aims to keep the global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Signatory countries pledged to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and wealthier countries pledged money to help poorer nations transition to clean energy and deal with the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, drought and increasingly powerful storms.

But Trump, a champion of the fossil fuel industry who has questioned the science of climate change, announced in June 2017 – shortly after taking office – that he was pulling the US, the world’s second largest polluter after China, out of the agreement. 

The decision has not been the deadly blow initially feared, since it only came into effect three weeks ago – on November 4 – one day after the US presidential election. However, the last three years of American inaction have been a setback to global climate efforts. 

“There were certainly consequences, in that the United States no longer participated in international climate negotiations and that their diplomacy tended towards undermining the implementation of the Paris agreement, rather than helping it succeed,” said François de Rugy, a French MP with the ruling party La République en Marche and former environment minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s government. 

This is now expected to change, as Biden announced that the US would rejoin the Paris climate agreement on January 20, 2020, the first day of his presidency.

Speaking after the announcement of his appointment as climate leader, Kerry emphasized the need for global cooperation on the climate crisis. “No country alone can solve this challenge. Even the United States, for all of our industrial strength, is responsible for only 13 percent of global emissions. To end this crisis, the whole world must come together,” Kerry said. 

“You’re right to rejoin Paris on Day 1,” he added, addressing Biden. “And you’re right to recognise that Paris alone is not enough. At the global meeting in Glasgow, one year from now, all nations must raise ambition together, or we will all fail, together. And failure is not an option,” he added.

International reassurance

De Rugy agrees that international cooperation – and specifically a renewed American role – is crucial. 

“France is viewed overseas as a leader on environmental and climate issues. It’s the heritage of the Paris agreement, but this heritage must be kept alive. [Former president] François Hollande did it, and Emmanuel Macron has taken up the torch,” De Rugy told FRANCE 24 in an interview Wednesday. “But France can’t do it alone, and we need to incessantly find new support and to avoid new opposition, as was the case with Trump.”

A priority for Kerry will be to reassure America’s international partners, whose faith was shaken by Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, which in turn paved the way for countries like Australia and Brazil to weaken their ambitions.

“There was Trump, but also (Jair) Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil; and in Australia, the conservative majority won the legislative elections, partly because of climate – or in any case because they refused, in a coal economy, to commit to the reduction of greenhouse gases. In Canada, [the environment] was also a very controversial subject, and Justin Trudeau barely won re-election,” de Rugy said. 

“And Russia was not unhappy with America’s disengagement, because it allowed it also to disengage. These are some pretty important powers that have been either actively holding back, like Trump, or even if less visibly, equally holding back. This is a trend that needs to be reversed,” he added. 

A seasoned negotiator

Kerry, 76, served in the Senate alongside Biden for decades. He was first elected in 1984 as the Democratic senator for Massachusetts. In 2004, he won his party’s nomination for president, but lost to the incumbent president George W. Bush. 

When Biden became Obama’s vice president in 2009, Kerry took his place as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he then served as secretary of state during Obama’s second term as president.

He was described as a tireless diplomat. In addition to negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, advancing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, working out a deal with Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons and a multitude of other complex diplomatic missions, Kerry helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement. 

On November 11, 2016, three days after Trump won the US elections, Kerry travelled to Antarctica, hoping to see firsthand the place where ice is melting and causing concern about rising sea levels.

The trip, planned before the election, was the first by a US secretary of state, the highest ranking official ever to visit the frozen continent. It was intended as a fact-finding mission ahead of international climate talks later that month in Marrakech, Morocco, where Kerry was slated to speak.

Trump’s victory complicated Kerry’s task, since the future president’s intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement suddenly appeared more urgent than the melting glaciers themselves. 

Kerry continued his environmental efforts well after Trump took office and he stepped down as secretary of state.

In 2019 he established World War Zero, a climate coalition with leading military officials, politicians and celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Watson and Arnold Schwarzenegger – the former Republican governor of California – which aims “to hold more than ten million ‘climate conversations’ in 2020 with citizens across the political spectrum”, according to the coalition’s website.

‘A remarkable track record on climate change’

Kerry’s appointment has been welcomed around the world. An editorial in British daily The Times on Wednesday hailed Biden’s choice for the job and called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow Biden’s example. 

“His appointment of John Kerry, the former secretary of state, as his climate envoy underscores the seriousness of his commitment to securing a global climate accord at the COP26 summit in Glasgow next year. That should be particularly welcome to Boris Johnson, who will host the summit and is pushing a Conservative green agenda of his own. The prime minister needs to appoint his own climate envoy of similar stature to help him to secure what should be his own moment of global leadership,” the editorial said.

Environmental groups also hailed Kerry’s appointment. “There are few people in the world with as remarkable a track record on climate change,” World Resources Institute CEO Andrew Steer was quoted by AFP as saying.


$2 trillion plan

The announcement that Kerry would be part of the National Security Council, the first time an official dedicated to climate will serve on it, shows Biden’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security and foreign policy issue, the president-elect’s transition team said in a statement on Monday.

While Kerry will be in charge of high-level international coordination of climate actions, Biden said he would also appoint a high-level White House policy coordinator and policy-making structure to lead the efforts within the United States. 

Last summer, Biden presented a $2 trillion plan to significantly increase the use of clean energy in building, electricity and transportation, aiming not only to strengthen infrastructure and create economic opportunities, but also to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035.

Whether the new administration will be able to pass its ambitious climate laws will depend on how two Democratic candidates for the US Senate do in two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5. But even if the Democrats don’t gain control of the Senate, Biden has already said he would sign a series of executive orders on climate, right at the start of his presidency.

Commitment on US emissions

The target negotiated at the 2015 COP 21 in Paris, of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, appeared radical at the time. But the European Union and other countries have since confirmed 2050 as their target.

China announced in September that it intended to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, taking a swipe at Trump’s administration for obstructing the global effort.

Biden has also set a goal of net carbon neutrality by 2050. But although US emissions have decreased in recent years due to the growing contribution of natural gas and renewable energy – and this year’s restrictive measures to fight the spread of Covid-19 – the US is still some way off from meeting that goal.

“Let me be clear. I don’t for a minute underestimate the difficulties of meeting my bold commitments to fighting climate change, but at the same time, no one should underestimate for a minute my determination to do just that,” Biden said Tuesday. 

Speaking of Kerry, he said: “If I had a former secretary of state who helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement, or a former presidential nominee, or a former leading senator, or the head of a major climate organisation for the job, it would have shown my commitment to the United States and to the whole world. The fact that I pick the one person who is all of these things, speaks unambiguously to my commitment,” he said.

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Biden must show multilateralism ‘yields better results’, says ex-US envoy to EU

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US President-elect Joe Biden and his secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken must show the American public that multilateralism works before the 2022 midterms – a “tough hill to climb” – Anthony Gardner, former US ambassador to the EU, told FRANCE 24.

Biden announced on November 23 that he will nominate veteran foreign policy official Antony Blinken as secretary of state upon taking office in January. Blinken served as deputy secretary of state under Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017.

Gardner – who worked with Blinken as Washington’s envoy to Brussels from 2013 to 2017 – was full of praise for his former colleague: “I’ve seen him in some pretty difficult high-pressure situations. He was responsible for leading the inter-agency effort after the Russian invasion of Crimea. There were a lot of big egos around the table, but he never lost his cool.”

After four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, Biden and Blinken will face a major challenge, Gardner said: “One of the big challenges will be: Can we show the American people over the next four years that working with allies, working with the institutions that we built after the Second World War, yields better results for them than going it alone unilaterally, bilaterally, transactionally as Donald Trump did, sometimes insulting allies or undermining Europe and certainly the EU? We have to make that case successfully.”

“We need to make it in two years, before the midterm elections,” Gardner continued. “That’s going to be a tough hill to climb but [Blinken] is the perfect person to do it.”

The State Department was demoralised and defunded under Trump, and reviving it will be crucial, Gardner said: “It’s hard to imagine the scale of what [Blinken] is facing, not only foreign policy but also rebuilding the State Department, which is truly demoralised.

“Probably a majority or even a large majority [of State Department staff] are Democrats,” Gardner noted. “So they were seen as the enemy” under Trump. “They were starved of funds. Trump tried several times to really gut funding for the State Department, which is really not that large.”

Click on the video player above to watch the full interview.


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‘America is back’, says Biden as he introduces new national security team

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President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday introduced a seasoned national security team which he said was prepared to resume US leadership of the world once Donald Trump leaves the White House.

The six women and men he has chosen to be his key diplomats and intelligence advisors said they would implement a return to multilateralism, global cooperation and fighting climate change after four years of Trump‘s go-it-alone policies.

“It’s a team that will keep our country and our people safe and secure,” Biden said, introducing his picks for secretary of state, national security advisor, intelligence chief, homeland security and other key cabinet jobs.

“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back. Ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” Biden said.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, vowed to pursue cooperation around the world, saying that the United States cannot solve global problems on its own.

“We have to proceed with equal measures of humility and confidence,” Blinken said.

“As the president-elect said, we can’t solve all of the world’s problems alone. We need to be working with other countries, we need their cooperation. We need their partnership,” Blinken said.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s choice to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, echoed those sentiments.

“I want to say to you: America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back,” she said.

“The challenges we face — a global pandemic, a global economy, the global climate change crisis, mass migration and extreme poverty, social justice — are unrelenting and interconnected, but they’re not unresolvable if America is leading the way.”

Former secretary of state John Kerry, who Biden chose as his special envoy on climate change, confirmed the new administration would bring the US back into the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 deal.

But Kerry also warned that the Paris pact he helped negotiate was not enough to fight global warming, and called Tuesday for a UN conference in Glasgow next year to push for more.

“You’re right to rejoin Paris on day one. And you’re right to recognize that Paris alone is not enough,” he said to Biden.

Biden also introduced Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas, tapped to become Homeland Security secretary; Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, and Jake Sullivan as his White House national security advisor.

All three pledged to maintain an environment of professionalism among the government officials they will oversee, obliquely referring to the politicisation of much of government work that left much of the bureaucracy dispirited under Trump.


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US President-elect Biden to nominate long-time adviser Blinken for secretary of state

President-elect Joe Biden is building out his administration with several key picks for national security and foreign policy roles.

John Kerry, a former secretary of state, will lead the incoming administration’s effort to combat climate change. Alejandro Mayorkas will be nominated as the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Biden also plans to nominate Antony Blinken as his secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.

Biden is moving forward with plans to fill out his government even as Trump refuses to concede defeat, has pursued baseless legal challenges in several key states and has worked to stymie the transition process. The stakes of a smooth transition are especially high this year because Biden will take office amid the worst pandemic in more than a century, which will likely require a full government response to contain.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.

Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.

If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.

For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Depleted State Department workforce

Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.

Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.

A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.

“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”

Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump administration still hindering transition

Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.

Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.

“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”

Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”

Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.

“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.


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Biden expected to pick Antony Blinken as secretary of state

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Veteran diplomat Antony Blinken, who served as No. 2 at the State Department and as deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, is U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s most likely pick to be secretary of state, a Biden ally said on Sunday.

Bloomberg cited sources as saying an announcement on Blinken’s appointment was expected on Tuesday. Biden‘s transition team declined comment and Blinken did not respond to a request for comment.

A Biden ally, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters Blinken was Biden’s most likely choice and an announcement was expected as soon as this week.

Blinken is a longtime confidante of Biden.

In an interview with Reuters in October, Blinken said the United States must not cede its leadership role in the world.

“As much of a burden as it sometimes seems to play … the alternative in terms of our interests and the lives of Americans are much worse,” he said.

People familiar with his management style describe Blinken, 58, as a “diplomat’s diplomat,” deliberative and relatively soft-spoken, but well-versed in the nuts and bolts of foreign policy.

After Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, Blinken became one of the founders of WestExec Advisors, a Washington consultancy advising corporations on geopolitical risks.

The New York City-born, Harvard-educated Blinken practiced law briefly and entered politics in the late 1980s helping Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign raise money.

He joined Democratic President Bill Clinton’s White House as a speechwriter and became one of his national security aides.

Under Obama, Blinken worked to limit most U.S. combat deployments to small numbers of troops. But he told Reuters last year that Trump “gutted American credibility” with his pullback of U.S. troops in Syria in 2019 that left Kurdish U.S. allies in the lurch in their fight against Islamic State.

On the campaign trail, Blinken was one of Biden’s closest advisers, even on issues that went beyond foreign policy.

That trust is the product of the years Blinken worked alongside Biden as an adviser to his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign, his national security adviser early in his vice presidency, and as the Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair. 


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US Secretary of State Pompeo meets Afghan govt, Taliban negotiators in Qatar

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met negotiators from the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha Saturday, amid signs of progress in their talks as Washington speeds up its withdrawal.

Pompeo‘s visit comes in the wake of a deadly rocket attack which struck densely populated areas of Kabul, killing at least eight people in the latest outbreak of violence in the Afghan capital.

The Taliban denied responsibility and the Islamic State group claimed the deadly strike.

Pompeo met separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams in a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital.

“I would be most interested in getting your thoughts on how we can increase the probability of a successful outcome,” Pompeo said as he met the Afghan government side, noting the shared interest in such a scenario.

He also met Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the foreign minister, on his stop in Doha, which is the Taliban’s base for diplomacy.

The outgoing top US diplomat is on a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, as President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars”, including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement with Trump, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war, although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a rapid withdrawal.


The Taliban are speaking to Afghanistan’s government for the first time.

The talks started on September 12 in Doha but almost immediately faltered over disagreements about the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.

Several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appear to have resolved some of the issues, however.

Among the sticking points so far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to agree on common language on two main issues.

The Taliban, who are Sunni hardliners, are insisting on adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities.

Another contentious topic is how the US-Taliban deal will shape a future Afghan peace deal and how it will be referred to.

The Doha peace talks opened after the Taliban and Washington signed a deal in February, with the US agreeing to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban promise to start talks.

Violence surging

Despite the talks, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces.

Trump’s plan to slash troops by January 15 — less than a week before his successor Joe Biden is to be sworn in to office — has been criticised by Kabul residents who fear it will embolden the Taliban to unleash a new wave of fighting.

Afghan civilians have long borne the brunt of the country’s bloodshed.

Officials in Kabul also worry it will harden the Taliban position at the negotiating table, where the future of hard-won gains including women’s rights are on the line.

Saturday’s strike on the Afghan capital saw a barrage of rockets slam into various parts of central and north Kabul — including in and around the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and international firms.

The Islamic State group said in a statement that 28 Katyusha rockets had been fired by “soldiers of the caliphate”.

Afghanistan’s Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian had earlier blamed the Taliban, saying “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets. However, the Taliban denied responsibility, saying they “do not blindly fire on public places”.

The Iranian embassy said on Twitter that its main building had been hit by rocket fragments after a projectile landed on the premises. No one on the compound, located just outside the Green Zone, was wounded.

Recent big attacks in Kabul, including two horrific assaults on educational institutions that killed nearly 50 people in recent weeks, follow a familiar pattern in the aftermath, with the Taliban denying any involvement while the Afghan government pins the blame on them or their proxies.


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Coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis set to dominate Saudi-hosted G20 summit

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Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summit Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the downsized virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling economic crisis.

The two-day meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations comes as President Donald Trump refuses to concede a bitter election and campaigners criticise what they call the G20‘s inadequate response to the worst global recession in decades.

World leaders will huddle virtually as international efforts intensify for a large-scale roll out of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and as calls grow for G20 nations to plug funding shortfalls.

Amid a raging pandemic, the summit, which is usually an opportunity for one-on-one engagements between world leaders, is reduced to brief online sessions of what some observers call “digital diplomacy”.

Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman will preside over the summit, with sources close to the organisers saying climate change was among the issues topping the agenda.

World leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are expected to make speeches at the summit, the sources said.

Trump will also participate, a US official said.

G20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, and injected $11 trillion to “safeguard” the virus-battered world economy, organisers said.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development projects global economic output will contract by 4.5 percent this year.

The summit “will seek to strengthen international cooperation to support the global economic recovery,” said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan.

“The G20 committed in March to do ‘whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic and protect lives and livelihoods,'” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

“As we meet this weekend, we must hold ourselves to account for that promise.”

But G20 leaders face mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults across developing nations.

‘Bolder measures’

Last week, G20 finance ministers declared a “common framework” for an extended debt restructuring plan for virus-ravaged countries, but campaign groups have described the measure as insufficient.

The constituent nations extended a debt suspension initiative for developing countries until the end of June next year.

But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to offer a “firm commitment” to extend the initiative until the end of 2021.

International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva has warned that the global economy faces a hard road back from the Covid-19 downturn even as vaccines are now in sight.

G20 nations must help plug a $4.5 billion funding gap in the so-called ACT-Accelerator — a programme that promotes an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines — to rein in the pandemic, said a joint statement signed by Norway’s prime minister, South Africa’s president, the heads of the European Union and the World Health Organization.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch Trump defender, will be present in Saudi Arabia during the summit.

Trump, who continues to reject his election loss, took part Friday in an Asia-Pacific summit.

Many of his fellow G20 leader have already congratulated President-elect Joe Biden.

‘Serious abuses’

Ahead of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she hoped the US will adopt a more multilateralist stance under Biden.

“We also expect of course new momentum from the new US administration” on climate change, reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, she added.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has overshadowed the event.

Campaigners and families of jailed activists have launched vigorous drives to highlight the kingdom’s human rights abuses.

Key among them are the siblings of jailed activist Loujain al-Hathloul, on hunger strike for more than 20 days demanding regular family contact.

But some Western officials have indicated human rights would not be raised at the summit, saying they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with the Saudi government.

“The G20 presidency has conferred an undeserved mark of international prestige on the [Saudi] government,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Instead of signalling its concern for Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, the G20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression.”


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