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Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP//Getty Images

President Biden's "Build Back Better" mantra is about to take the global stage at the G20 summit in Rome.

The big picture: The global debate awaiting Biden in Rome has a lot in common with the debate he's leaving behind in Washington: whether and how to undertake a major economic restructuring with climate change and social equity at the forefront.

Driving the news: Biden's set to leave Washington today as congressional Democrats push to reach an agreement to pass a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal and his bigger social-spending proposal. He's set to meet with Pope Francis before the summit.

  • The G20's top priorities echo Biden's domestic agenda. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who will host a landmark UN climate summit in Glasgow next week — also uses "Build Back Better" as his own government’s slogan.
  • It's the first time since the start of the pandemic that the U.S. president and other leaders from the world's largest economies will meet in-person, with four notable exceptions: The leaders of China, Russia, Japan and Mexico won't be attending.

What to watch: Rome will be the best chance for the G20 to send a strong political signal that developed economies need to step up on climate — especially with the absence of China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin, who typically put up roadblocks in global forums.

  • With Xi and Putin not in attendance, the U.S. and Europe will be "energized," "united," and "driving the agenda," Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said this week.

Yes, but: That unity could be put to the test as Biden steps into a web of geopolitical tensions.

  • Biden will meet with French President Macron for the first time since a secret U.S.-U.K. submarine deal with Australia scuppered a multibillion-dollar submarine contract with France.
  • Macron and other EU leaders have also expressed resistance to Biden's push to build a global coalition to confront China, calling for "strategic autonomy" to pivot Europe away from a reliance on the U.S.

As Biden turns his focus to the Indo-Pacific, Russia has resumed its cyberattacks on U.S. companies, cut off all communications with NATO, and is threatening to use energy as a political weapon against Europe, which is experiencing fuel shortages.

  • The EU is facing its own existential crisis in a rule-of-law dispute with Poland, and could terminate its post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. unless the two sides agree to a truce.
  • Angela Merkel, who has been Europe's crisis manager for 16 years, will be attending her final G20.
  • Turkey's President Erdogan threatened to expel 10 Western diplomats this weekend; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was accused of another assassination plot; and a Brazilian commission recommended criminal charges against President Bolsonaro for his COVID response.
  • Biden met with Erdogan at the NATO summit in June, but has avoided meeting with the latter two.

The bottom line: These countries, as many challenges as they face, represent about 75% of the global economy, 80% of carbon emissions and nearly all of the global vaccine supply.

  • The road to a green global recovery runs through the G20, but Biden will need all his diplomatic skills to produce any meaningful progress.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Biden met with Erdogan once before.

Go deeper

Dec 7, 2021 - World

Biden huddles with European allies on Ukraine ahead of Putin call

Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 6, 2021 - Energy & Environment

A fraught and rocky energy transition pathway

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Two wide-angle new essays explore how the global movement away from fossil fuels could be wrenching and geopolitically messy.

Driving the news: Adam Tooze's piece in Foreign Policy covers a lot of ground. One key takeaway: He warns that it's not clear if the red-blue U.S. political and policy divide will ever be successfully bridged, despite clean energy's growth in conservative states, its growing economic importance and Wall Street's increasing buy-in.

58 mins ago - World

Australia joins U.S. in diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Australia is joining the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games in protest of human rights abuses committed by China's government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday.

Driving the news: After the Biden administration's announcement that U.S. officials won't attend the Games due to the ongoing genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region of China, Morrison said at a Sydney briefing that Australia would follow suit as "it's the right thing to do."