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.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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