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.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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