Banks have a vital role to play in supporting the global transition of the real economy to net-zero emissions.
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 chemical compounds that can straightforwardly be recreated by trained chemists, vaccines are extremely complicated biologics that can be composed of ingredients (sugar, gelatin, proteins) as well as living organisms (cells, tissue). 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 an 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.
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.
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.
Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?
Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?
US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?
The ease with which the Trump administration pulled the US out of global climate compacts in 2017 has left lingering doubts about how much the US can be trusted to honor present and future promises.
To assuage those concerns, Biden will reportedly promise to cut emissions in half by 2030, from 2005 levels, nearly doubling the target that the US agreed to as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. But others are going further: the EU has agreed to cut by 55 percent from 1990 levels over the same period, and to take the union carbon neutral by 2050. The UK — looking for goodwill from the US as it navigates post-Brexit life — said that by 2035 it would cut emissions by 78 percent from 1990 levels.
The biggest intrigue surrounds China: President Xi Jinping has, at the last minute, decided to attend. As the world's largest current carbon emitter, China has a critical role to play alongside the US (holding in second place) in any efforts to slow climate change. But the rapid deterioration of ties between the two countries has raised alarming questions about whether they can really work together on climate. Keep an eye on session one, at 8am EST Thursday, when Xi, along with other world leaders, will make opening statements.
A domestic angle for Biden: The White House's ability to push his ambitious climate agenda through Congress — where Democrats have the narrowest of majorities — will depend in part on whether Biden can show that other countries are moving fast too.
The agenda: if you want to follow the play-by-play of the summit, here is the full schedule. (If not, we'll tell you the important bits afterwards.)The bottom line: Biden is staking a lot on this event. In the end, this summit will tell us at least as much about the geopolitical climate as it does about the actual climate.
Hard Numbers: EU emissions target, Mexican drone attack, UN feeds Venezuelan kids, Indonesian sub missing
55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.
2: Two Mexican police officers were injured by explosives fired from drones allegedly operated by a notorious drug cartel in Michoacán state. Security is a continuing concern ahead of crucial legislative and state midterm elections in June, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena party hoping to retain its majority.
185,000: The UN World Food Programme has secured an agreement to provide daily meals to about 185,000 underfed Venezuelan children until the end of the year. An embarrassed Venezuelan government and the WFP have often clashed over this issue, with the opposition accusing the Maduro regime of politicizing food aid.
53: An Indonesian navy submarine with 53 crew members on board has vanished in waters off the island of Bali. The vessel may have partially imploded from extreme pressure after diving deep, precisely what happened to an Argentine navy submarine that disappeared in similar circumstances almost four years ago off the Atlantic coast.