The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.
Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.
One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.
Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."
The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.
The US and Europe, as always, are issuing statements. As Navalny's condition worsened over the weekend, the White House warned that "there will be consequences" if Navalny dies on Russia's watch. The European Union demanded he get immediate access to independent medical professionals. The Kremlin, meanwhile, insisted that Navalny will not be allowed to die behind bars, but it also called him a "hooligan" for refusing to eat while sick.
The bigger question is what those consequences will be, and whether they really hurt Moscow in such a way that compels Putin to change his ways.
Until now, there has been little appetite in the West for tougher sanctions on Russia that could really choke the country's economy or ruling elites. Cutting off access to Russian sovereign debt would starve Russia of money, but also impact US and European investors. Sanctioning its oil or natural gas exports would have a crippling effect, but wreak havoc with global energy markets and potentially leave Europe — Moscow's main gas customer — in the cold.
What about inside Russia? Navalny isn't quite as popular domestically as he sometimes seems in the Western media. According to a recent poll, only 19 percent of Russians approve of his activities since he returned to the country. Compare that to Putin's own approval ratings, which have dipped a bit in recent months but still hover in the low sixties.
Still, Navalny's support is strongest among young, mostly urban Russians who braved subzero temperatures to come out in his support in January. They were the largest protests in Russia in years, even if they were quickly beaten back by a ferocious police crackdown. Navalny supporters now plan a much bigger rally on Wednesday, which will coincide with Putin's annual address to the nation. How many people will turn up?
Navalny is not the only contentious issue between the West and Russia nowadays. Over the weekend, the Czech Republic, a member of NATO, linked two Russian military intelligence agents to an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014. It just so happens that the two spooks in question are the same ones accused of the high-profile poisoning of a Russian dissident in the UK three years ago.
What's more, NATO is increasingly worried about the recent build-up of Russian soldiers at the border with eastern Ukraine. As fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces flares, there is concern that the Kremlin may muscle in with its own forces.
So, what may we expect? If Navalny dies, Western governments will surely respond in some way. They could place Russian officials or oligarchs on sanctions lists related to human rights violations. But at a moment when the Kremlin seems to be testing the West's resolve yet again, are Brussels and Washington willing to go any further?
Putin is watching this at least as closely as we are.
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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.
Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.
We're also about to discover whether John Kerry has gotten out over his skis diplomatically. Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate, has been busy lately. His consistent message that the 2020s must be the decisive "decade of action" is a welcome one, but it's being received with some annoyance by allies who were left to fill the vacuum when American leadership vaporized for the second half of the 2010s.
As part of a Canadian government that worked hard with allies to keep the US in the Paris Climate Accord under President Trump, I can tell you that diplomatic failure had real consequences, principally for the United States. The world moved on.
Most notably, China ran up the score on developing renewables and electric vehicles, while the European Union developed a mature carbon market and increasingly sophisticated policies to harness the power of financial markets to solve the climate crisis. Bets were hedged against American leadership everywhere.
Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change only intensified. Epic wildfires raged from the Arctic to Australia, and storms of biblical proportions in every season became irrefutable evidence for most of the world's population — especially its young people — that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models were right and the science is sound. Indeed, if climate scientists sound like alarmists these days, it's only because they're alarmed. They know that the most pernicious fact about greenhouse gas emissions is that they persist. That's true no matter the outcome of Biden's summit or the UN's COP summits — the 26th of which is set to take place in Glasgow this year. We have already baked into the atmosphere a dangerous amount of warming for the foreseeable future.
All of that means that the Biden administration is bringing America back to a very different climate discussion than the one it exited four years ago. The policy environment is less stable, more urgent and a lot more competitive. For one thing, we've gone from a world of wary multilateral cooperation to one of furious competition for dominance in the industries, technologies, and supply chains that will be at the heart of the global transition away from fossil-fuel dependence.
So, given all of this, what does the White House want out of the Earth Day Summit? Biden and — very personally — Kerry initially set a high bar for success at having the world's largest emitting countries show up with stronger commitments to reduce their emissions. In COP language, that means setting stronger Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) heading into Glasgow than were tabled for Paris. All of this sounds rather arcane to the uninitiated, but these national targets are the motor that drives the COP process, for better and worse.
At their best, targets are useful for directing complex systems toward meaningful ends, while providing clear benchmarks for accountability. At worst, they are the rhetorical equivalent of an inebriated promise to never touch another drop of alcohol. In fact, if you're really cynical, Net Zero targets set for mid-century are worse than that: they're promises that our children and grandchildren will never drink again, while we continue to empty the liquor cabinet.
In either case, the United States has had little luck in cajoling friends or competitors to arrive fully stocked for their Earth Day party. The world seems to be telling the Americans that they need to do a lot more walking and a lot less talking when it comes to climate change.
There are rumors at the time of this writing that the US will in fact unveil an ambitious new target, perhaps as much as a 50 percent reduction in emissions. There will be a gap between whatever number they choose and the policies they've planned to achieve it— most notably the lack of a broad-based carbon price in the US economy. If that gap is too wide, the target will strain credulity.
But what can we expect from other major economies that are set to attend the summit?
Large European states have been the most interesting to observe in the early days of the Biden administration. The post-Brexit UK needs friends more than it once did, so Biden can count on Boris, but the Germans and French have been cagier. Macron and Merkel's "meeting before the meeting" with Xi Jinping is a particularly spicy diplomatic move in this respect. Among other things, it should serve to remind the Americans that — for all the talk of reinvigorating the trans-Atlantic partnership — the most important climate dynamic is trans-Pacific.
Chinese and Indian emissions, particularly from coal, remain the single most lethal threat to the climate. Xi Jinping — a man not usually full of surprises — stunned most observers with his UNGA speech last fall, committing China to Net Zero by 2060 and to peak emissions this decade. He may have more aggressive action planned for the run-up to COP 26, but there is a 0 percent chance that he will allow the Americans the satisfaction of extracting it from him. He dropped in on Merkel and Macron to make sure the US got that message. Kerry's follow-up mission to China was tame compared to the diplomatic bunfight that took place between top US and Chinese diplomats in Alaska last month, but even the Americans described Kerry's success as "modest."
To his great credit, Kerry has spent a courageous amount of time and political capital on the problem of India's electricity sector, which has tripled its output from coal since the turn of the century. In fact, with Chinese coal use plateauing, it's not much of a stretch to say India's electricity grid will soon be the climate's public enemy number one. The traditional Indian argument that it is unfair for developed nations to impose restrictions on its development that they did not suffer themselves is surely fair. But as the great American physicist Robert Socolow has recently written, when it comes to the near-term future of the climate, "safe is not fair and fair is not safe." If John Kerry does nothing else as climate envoy other than find a way through the impasse where those arguments meet it will be time well spent.
Other nations whose emissions are of less importance will present a mixed bag on Earth Day. US-Russia relations are at a post-Cold War nadir, and nothing will happen this week to materially alter that. Canada and Japan might be the only two countries to show up with their assigned homework completed — more ambitious new targets — though I keep hearing noises that Brazil may surprise us as well.
Overall, Team Biden has done a good job of resetting expectations back from "every country must increase their ambition" There's more practical talk now about the US proving the depth of its own commitment to the climate with its NDC, and using the Summit as a productive kick off on the road to COP 26.
That's because their first 100 days of climate diplomacy has taught them what will be on full display for all of us on Earth Day. The climate policy arena has gotten more aggressive, urgent and competitive. The statements of those who attend will tell us less about where their countries stand, and a lot more about where each believes the United States sits in this new competition.Gerald Butts is Vice Chairman at Eurasia Group, and former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of Canada.
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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.
Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?
Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."
Ian and Bill agreed that Biden's decision to fulfill his promise to take US troops out of Afghanistan is an admirable achievement and a sound strategic move. "We have the ability to send in special forces, we have intelligence. If what you're trying to do is stop terrorism, you don't need to be on the ground," Ian explained. "And what you're trying to do is improve the lives of Afghan people. We're going to be the world's leading vaccine exporter in a few months. We can help them."
Ian Bremmer Discusses US Afghanistan Withdrawal with Bill Maher on Real Time youtu.be
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April 19, 2021
As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?
Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.
Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.
The importance of Teitiota
In 2013, Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand. His home on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, he argued, would be underwater within 15 years. (He had scientific studies to back him up.) Isn't it my right as a human being to live on land, he asked, and why wait until the flood waters come?
New Zealand, unwilling to open the door to an unknown number of other asylum seekers, said no, and Teitiota then asked the United Nations to grant him the status of climate refugee. Last year, the UN Committee on Human Rights ruled that there was still time to organize the relocation of all Kiribati's people and refused his request.
But… the UN ruling did accept the principle that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change. That argument establishes a basis for refugee rights.
Six feet above sea level
Kiribati, Teitiota's home, a string of 33 islands with a population of about 100,000 and an average elevation of less than six feet above sea level, will become the first "climate refugee nation" when rising seas submerge much of its territory, drop salt into groundwater, and destroy the coral reefs that provide natural barriers against storm surges.
Faced with the inevitable, Kiribati's government has plans to move its entire population hundreds of miles across open ocean to land it has purchased in Fiji. They will no longer be Kiribatians. They will become subject to the laws of their new country, and their rights remain vaguely defined. It's not clear how these tens of thousands of people will support themselves, because the forested hillsides they'll live on won't allow them to grow anything, though China has promised "technical assistance" in developing the land, and they won't have fishing rights.
Now, multiply that problem by tens of millions of people. More than 45 million of Bangladesh's 161 million live in coastal areas prone to flooding. Studies estimate that rising seas alone will force as many as 18 million of them from their homes as their country loses 11 percent of its land over the next 30 years. The number and intensity of tropical storms that drench these people is already rising.
Where will those people go? Will they be welcome somewhere else? Will their human rights be respected?
The bottom line. This is not a Pacific problem or a South Asian problem. This drama will play out everywhere that seas are rising and weather patterns are changing. In other words, everywhere.The world's wealthiest countries, those most responsible for the carbon emissions that created this storm, better have a plan for this.
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