BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) - Group of 20 (G-20) leaders representing the bulk of the world's economic and diplomatic firepower kick off summit talks Saturday under pressure to arrest climate change, rehabilitate global growth and fight the scourge of Ebola.
The chairman of the two-day summit in Brisbane, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has been busy stressing a shared commitment to lift economic growth by up to two trillion dollars in the coming years.
"The G-20 is the world's premier economic forum. It unites the countries which are responsible for 85 per cent of global GDP, 75 per cent of global trade and 65 percent of global population," Abbott said on Friday.
"We've got a very strong mission in Brisbane to work for growth and jobs - that's our focus."
The G-20 has pledged to raise the level of its combined economic output by at least 2 per cent above the currently projected level in the next five years, via domestic policy reforms, and so generate millions of new jobs.
The idea in Brisbane is to flesh out that plan - and also to close corporate loopholes that allow some multinational companies to pay a pittance in tax depending on where they are domiciled.
The opacity of Luxembourg's beneficial tax deals with a slew of companies, when its government was led by the new head of the EU's executive Jean-Claude Juncker, has erupted as a major dispute heading into the G-20.
But even as the US economy finally perks up from its crisis lows, analysts doubt that the G-20's growth goal is achievable with Germany and China now starting to splutter, and Japan again at risk of going into reverse.
And Abbott, a sceptic about man-made climate change, risks being upstaged on his pro-growth agenda as US President Barack Obama primes a headline-grabbing announcement to pump US$3 billion (S$3.75 billion) into the UN's "Green Climate Fund" to help poorer countries deal with the effects of higher temperatures.
In an ironic development not lost on Abbott's opponents, Brisbane is basking in a heatwave with the mercury forecast to reach 40 deg C when the summit wraps up on Sunday.
Japan is also reportedly planning to join the climate fund, after Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in Beijing a new drive to secure a legally binding successor to the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions.
MISTRUST, AND PROTESTS
Yet, while Obama and Xi stake out some common ground on one front, they risk drifting further apart on another as the US President prepares for a sideline summit in Brisbane Saturday with Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Asia-Pacific security.
US officials deny that such initiatives, in the context of Obama's "pivot" of US foreign policy towards Asia, are a counter-offensive to China's dramatic economic and military rise.
Beijing, however, suspects malign intent from Washington. And on Thursday, it offered US$20 billion in loans and floated the possibility of a "friendship treaty" with South-east Asian nations, in an apparent bid to defuse regional tensions which spiked this year over contested territory at sea.
Russia shares Chinese mistrust of the United States but President Vladimir Putin is in the crosshairs of other G-20 leaders, notably Abbott and Obama, over the Ukraine crisis and the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.
Further afield, the G-20 is under pressure to adopt a hard-hitting financial response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa as health workers battling horrific working conditions plead for more resources.
Washington is expected to use the Brisbane summit to push the International Monetary Fund to cancel US$100 million in debt owed by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said this would free up resources to help fight the worst Ebola outbreak on record, which has killed some 5,000 people.
Lew's call has been acclaimed by campaigners for debt relief, but several protests are still planned in Brisbane against the G-20 and the Abbott government.