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EXPLAINER: Russia's war, climate among vexing issues at G20

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their bilateral meeting ahead of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 14, 2022. [AP]

President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of 20 top economies will have the chance to discuss the world’s most pressing problems at their summit in Bali, Indonesia.

Their talks begin Tuesday under the hopeful theme of “recover together, recover stronger” after the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences. But tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have complicated host Indonesia’s efforts to build consensus to tackle climate change, improve food security, build stronger health systems and navigate through the perilous task of taming inflation while trying to steer clear of recessions.

Some details about the group and this week’s summit:

What is the G20?

The forum of 19 of the largest national economies and the European Union was formed to encourage cooperation and coordination on global issues such financial stability, climate change and sustainable economic growth. G-20 members include both industrialized and developing nations and account for 80 per cent of the world’s economic activity and two-thirds of the world’s population.

The member nations are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

All of their leaders are expected to attend except Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in his stead. The non-members invited to the meeting include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is expected to participate online. Another invitee, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, said he had COVID-19 and was returning home.

Ukraine and Russia

As host, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has tried to bridge rifts within the G-20 over the war in Ukraine. A key issue hanging over the meeting is whether Russia will agree to extend the U.N. Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is up for renewal Nov. 19. The deal allowed major global grain producer Ukraine to resume exports from ports that had been largely blocked for months because of the war.

Apart from the war’s toll in destruction and human suffering, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted trade in oil, natural gas and grain, pushing prices higher and shifting much of the summit’s focus to food and energy security. That has pushed inflation to decades high levels in many countries, complicating efforts to nurse along recoveries from the pandemic and raising the risks of recession for many economies. The war will likely prevent the G-20 leaders from issuing a formal joint communique at the conclusion of the meeting.

Other key issues

The summit’s official focus is financial stability, health, sustainable energy and digital transformation. At a business summit on the sidelines of the G-20, Indonesia is highlighting sustainable energy and innovation, empowerment of women and more equitable growth. The events also are a chance to showcase tropical, scenic Bali as a tourism destination.

The G-20′s original mission was to tackle economic challenges but that has expanded encompass many other issues, from terrorism and money laundering to health initiatives and climate change. In talks ahead of the leaders meetings, health and finance ministers agreed on setting up a fund to help finance pandemic preparedness and response, Indonesian officials announced late Saturday. The fund will help bridge a $10 billion financing gap and initially had commitments of $1.4 billion, with more to be announced.

The china factor

On the G-20 sidelines, President Joe Biden held his first in-person meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since Biden took office in January 2021. Relations between the world’s two biggest economies are bedeviled by distrust over technology and trade and discord over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden said he was looking for ways to “manage our differences” and to “prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict.” Xi said he hoped they would “chart the right course for the China-US relationship.” Cooperation is vital for resolving wider challenges. As the U.S. and allies in Europe and Asia contend with an increasingly assertive China, other G-20 economies like India, Brazil and host Indonesia are walking a tightrope between the bigger powers.

What’s next?

The Bali summit comes on the heels of a United Nations climate conference in Egypt and a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia that Biden and some other G-20 leaders attended. Xi and many other officials will travel from Bali to Bangkok for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum just afterward.