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

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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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