Carbon dioxide's high concentration in our atmosphere is responsible for the climate change that threatens our planet. But what if there were methods for capturing CO2 to store or reuse it?
Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.
To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.
Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.
What are some arguments for a waiver?
It's the humane thing to do. To date, only 0.2 percent of all COVID vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries. The virus is still spreading like wildfire in many places, and hospitalization and deaths are soaring in countries like India and Brazil. Relaxing rules on patents would mean more people would get vaccinated more quickly, saving scores of lives. The cost-benefit analysis is simple, argue advocates of waivers to IP rights like US Senator Bernie Sanders.
The economics of it all. In order for the global economy to return to sustained growth, equitable access to vaccines is crucial. Patents only serve the specific commercial interests of big pharma companies (Pfizer is making a 25-30 percent profit off its vaccine sales, making it one of the most "lucrative drugs" in the world.) The global economic bounce-back is dependent on a speedy global vaccination drive, and relaxing IP rules will fuel a surge in production.
Empowering lower-income states. Without a waiver, poorer countries will remain at the mercy of the US, the UK and the EU, which is itself mired in a complicated vaccine fiasco. Dependency on the "charity" of wealthy countries — and their multi-billionaire pharma industries — that could take years to deliver, is not a sustainable solution as countries race to prevent the spread of new more contagious variants. (Consider that Africa currently imports 99 percent of its vaccines for a population of 1.3 billion.)
What are some arguments against a waiver?
It would discourage innovation. Waiving IP rules for COVID-19 vaccines will disincentivize big pharmaceutical companies from investing time and money in complicated research and development required to produce safe and effective drugs. Taking away such a massive incentive for innovation would stunt developments needed to address future pressing health crises.
Quality control. Unlike medications, which are basic compounds that can be easily reproduced by trained chemists, new age vaccines are complicated biologics that use basic ingredients (sugar, gelatin, proteins) as well as modified viruses (viral vectors) and genetic technology (mRNA). To safely and effectively copy a vaccine, manufacturers need to have access to and understand the formula, and need the originator's full assistance to get such a complex operation off the ground. Failure to ensure this by hastily lifting IP rights could result in millions of potentially unsafe doses at a time when vaccine hesitancy remains high in many countries. Amid recent negotiations with Pfizer, the Australian government said that setting up the required tech to safely produce Pfizer's (mRNA) vaccine locally would take at least one year.
Think outside the box. Removing IP protections is not the only — nor the best — way to address the problem. One vaccine specialist has suggested that companies should license their IP rights to third parties in a "technology transfer" arrangement, resulting in more companies manufacturing doses (this could also happen through rich countries investing in infrastructure). Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new WTO chief who has lobbied against "vaccine nationalism," has pointed to the licensing deal between UK-based AstraZeneca and India's Serum Institute as a model. Partnerships are also happening in the US, where the Biden administration brokered a deal between Merck and Johnson & Johnson, rival pharmaceutical companies, to boost production.
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:
What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?
We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.
What's happening in the politics of Germany?
Well, in the politics of Germany, you have drama. You had the drama inside the CDU/CSU coalition on nominating a candidate for the chancellorship. They managed to sort that out with taking the candidate who is the least popular, according to public opinion. And then the Greens, of course, launched their candidate, a 40-year-old lady, no prior experience. But she's well in the opinion polls at the moment. So stay tuned. The politics of Germany is going to be interesting and important. We are talking about the third largest industrial economy of the world.
What We’re Watching: Australia cancels China deals, Zuma without lawyers, US to recognize Armenian genocide
Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.
Zuma's lawyers quit: Jacob Zuma's entire legal team has thrown in the towel just a month before the former South African president's high-stakes corruption trial. The lawyers have yet to explain why they've dropped Zuma, but regardless it will make it much harder for him to prove he is innocent of 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering related to a $2 billion arms deal from the 1990s. Zuma — who was forced to step down in 2018 over this corruption scandal — has long decried the trial as a political witch hunt, stonewalling all requests for evidence and often not showing up when he was due in court. But the process is a major test for South Africa's judiciary to demonstrate it can actually hold people in power to account for corruption. Zuma's successor and former ally, President Cyril Ramaphosa, will be watching very closely.US to recognize Armenian genocide: A hundred years after the Ottomans tried to exterminate the empire's Armenian population, US President Joe Biden will officially recognize the campaign as a genocide on Saturday. Biden's decision, first sniffed out last month by our very own Ian Bremmer — makes him the first sitting US president to make the designation, joining nearly 30 other countries that have already done so. Although the move is purely symbolic, it risks hurting relations with Turkey, modern successor to the Ottoman Empire and which for decades has denied that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were intentionally massacred or marched to their deaths during and after World War I. With ties between the US and Turkey, a NATO ally, already strained over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism and his defense dalliances with Russia, expect some fireworks between Washington and Ankara in the coming days.
Hard Numbers: US pledges to cut emissions, Egypt to make Sputnik V, India's COVID record, Russian protesters arrested
50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.
40 million: Egypt has signed a deal to produce 40 million doses of Sputnik V, Russia's COVID vaccine. It's the first partnership to manufacture Russia's jab in the Arab world, which has so far relied on vaccines from Western and Chinese suppliers.
314,835: India recorded 314,835 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest daily caseload in an any nation since the pandemic began. India is grappling with a severe wave of COVID after recent religious festivals turned into super-spreader events. Hospitals are overrun in many places and oxygen supplies are scarce.1,800: Russian police have arrested nearly 1,800 people for joining street protests in support of Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned Kremlin critic currently on a hunger strike. The rallies were widespread across the country, but fewer people turned up than the organizers expected.
Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.
What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.
Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.
Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.
The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?
Collapse of the mainstream center-left. Mainstream center-left parties in places like the Netherlands and Italy, as well as the Labour Party in the UK, have imploded in recent years, hemorrhaging popular support as a result. But while these parties have collapsed, demand for left-of-center policies remains high. This is precisely what has taken place in France, where the once-dominant Socialist Party is now on the fringe of French politics — a vacuum that has been filled by France's Green Party. Polls suggest that the environment is the second-most important issue for French voters, behind unemployment, a shift reflected in the fact that France's three biggest cities — Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles — all have left-leaning mayors (Lyon and Marseilles are run by the Greens.)
But French voters are not just looking for politicians that pay lip service to leftist causes like the environment, they are seeking authentic center-left leadership. President Emmanuel Macron — whose LREM party exploited disillusionment with France's traditionally dominant center-left in 2017 and campaigned on a pledge to "make our planet great again" — has failed to resonate with left-wing voters that see him as a non-committal ideological chameleon who has watered down a once-ambitious climate agenda. The Greens have filled this void, making massive gains in municipal elections last year that forced a flailing Macron to introduce a wide-ranging climate bill. (Still, critics say the bill doesn't go far enough.)
Exerting outsized political influence. In some countries, Green parties have evolved from single-issue environmental protest groups into center-left blocs championing a range of issues. As a result, they have made inroads at the national level to significantly impact policy. In the Republic of Ireland, for instance, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, establishment parties, needed the support of the Green Party, which has just 4,000 registered members, to form a viable coalition government after the last election. The Greens agreed on the condition that the government commit to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent annually. Since then, they have also helped pass a bill to put Ireland's net zero emissions goal into law. Those are big achievements for a party that holds just 12 seats in a governing coalition made up of 84 parliamentary seats in the lower house.
"Not the Greens of the Cold War" era. In some political contexts, the Greens have adopted a pragmatic approach to a political landscape that has undergone seismic shifts in recent years. Against the backdrop of a right-wing populist wave in Germany, as well as an economic model that is somewhat outdated in the age of a dominant China and worsening climate crisis, the German Green Party has tried to position itself as an authentic center-left party for the masses.
Under the joint leadership of Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, who this week was tapped as the party's candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, the Greens have taken advantage of Merkel's conservative coalition's struggles to push a moderate foreign-policy agenda. The party has advocated for getting tougher on China and is also a proponent of NATO and boosting ties with Washington. Importantly, the Greens say that Germany needs to better address climate change without alienating the corporate sector and working-class people.
The Greens are now leading in the polls and have a solid chance to form the next government after Germans vote in federal elections this fall. Their success is drawing praise even from rivals. Norbert Röttgen of Merkel's CDU party, for example, recently said that "however embarrassing for me, the Greens have the clearest stance of all the parties on China and Russia."
Looking ahead. The green wave in Europe does not appear to be a fad. In many countries, people are desperate for change, and the Greens seem to be meeting the moment while other (traditional) political parties flounder.
More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.