Climate: It's hard for the world to save the planet

It's late. People are tired. No one can agree on what to say, and everyone wants to go home, so you decide to just pack it in and leave the details for next time. We've all been there, yes, but probably not in a situation where the future of the planet is at stake.

That was the scene early on Sunday morning in Madrid where, despite an extra two days of haggling, the 25th UN climate summit broke up without a substantive agreement on how the nations of the world plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Before the meeting began, experts had warned that in order to meet the 2015 Paris summit's goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures this century, it will now be necessary to cut global emissions in half by 2030. This was looking like a pipe dream even before the Madrid participants failed to agree on:

More stringent emissions targets – Rich nations say they're already doing enough, developing ones say cutting back on fossil fuels unfairly limits their economic growth.

A new global market for carbon credits, in which greener countries can sell their pollution "rights" to dirtier ones, creating a financial incentive to cut emissions. Talks collapsed as Australia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia pressed for loopholes that would have allowed them to count credits from an older, discredited carbon scheme (based on the Kyoto protocols of 1997) towards new targets.

A fair way to compensate poor countries for the effects of climate change, to which they are especially vulnerable. The US strongly opposes this, arguing it's too hard to ascribe blame for hurricanes and droughts, much less gradual rises in sea levels or desertification.

On all three points, the summit broke up with little more than a commitment to revisit these issues at the next summit, which will take place in Scotland in November 2020.

Here are a few things to think about:

Does the US matter? Washington ditched the Paris process earlier this year, a decision that takes effect in 2020. On the one hand, this weekend's fiasco shows that countries are deeply at odds over climate policy irrespective of what the US is (or isn't) doing. On the other, if the US were engaged, it could doubtless use its economic and diplomatic clout to help bridge some of those differences. Unless Washington rejoins at a later date, that's a moot point for now.

Others are picking up (some of) the slack. Though climate policy is stalled at the global level, there are indeed some individual bright spots. The EU last week threw its weight behind a "Green Deal" that would use financial incentives to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Across the water in the US, the "We Are Still In" coalition unites hundreds of cities and private sector companies worth $6.2 trillion that are still committed to the Paris goals. That said, the Green Deal still lacks detail, and "We Are Still In" is barely a third of the US economy. Without leadership and agreement from the largest polluters (looking at you China, India, US, Russia), the local measures almost certainly won't be enough.

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As the coronavirus pandemic has plunged much of the world economy into turmoil, you've probably heard a lot about what might happen to "supply chains," the vast networks of manufacturing and shipping that help create and deliver all those plastic toys, iPhones, cars, pills, pants, yogurt, and N95 face-masks you've been waiting on.

The future of global supply chains is an especially important question for China, the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Some countries and companies now worry about relying too much on any single supplier for consumer and medical goods, let alone one where the government hid the first evidence of what became a global pandemic and sometimes enforces trade and investment rules in seemingly arbitrary ways. The US-China trade war — and the vulnerabilities it reveals for manufacturers — certainly don't help.

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AMLO and Trump: an unlikely duo – When Mexico's populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, shakes hands with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday to celebrate the new United States-Mexico-Canada trade deal, it will mark AMLO's first foreign trip since he assumed office nearly two years ago. In the run up to the meeting, both Trump and AMLO have boasted of warm personal ties, but the friendship is… an unlikely one. Recall when AMLO was elected in 2018, most analysts predicted that he would clash with Trump over immigration and trade (AMLO had long advocated for Mexicans' right to work in the United States, while Trump infamously referred to Mexican migrants as "criminals" and vowed to abolish NAFTA, the free trade agreement that was a boon for Mexico's economy.) But in endearing himself to Trump, AMLO may have calculated that, from Mexico's standpoint, a revised trade deal is better than no trade deal at all, and has thus been willing to appease the US president on issues like immigration. (As part of an agreement with the Trump administration, for example, AMLO deployed the National Guard to stop Central Americans trying to reach the US via Mexican territory.) Moreover, in flying to Washington now AMLO might also be keen to distract attention from his own poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen Mexico's death toll surpass 30,000 in recent days, now one of the highest in the world.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Got through the Fourth of July. Pretty rough one for 2020 here in the United States. Still in the thick of it as we see caseload exploding in the United States. But really, the virus is all about developing markets right now. Poor countries around the world very soon, with the exception of the US and the UK, all of the top 10 countries around the world in terms of coronavirus caseload will be poorer countries. Let's keep in mind, these are countries that test a lot less, which means the actual numbers, in the United States the experts are saying probable likelihood of total cases is about 10x what we've actually seen in the US, in emerging markets and most of them, it's more like between 20 and 100. In other words, this is really where the virus now is.

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Many countries around the world — mostly democracies in the Americas, Asia, and Europe — have condemned China's recent move to implement a draconian new security law for Hong Kong that in effect ends the autonomy granted to the territory when it reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. However, last week 52 countries expressed support for China's decision at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Most of these countries either owe China a lot of money or are relatively authoritarian regimes themselves — but not all of them. Here's a look at the China-debt exposure and freedom rankings of the countries that took Beijing's side on the new Hong Kong law.