Climate

Just hours ago, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their first bilateral videoconference together. The three-hour virtual meeting was, as expected, cordial despite sharply diverging views on many issues. (An effusive Biden even managed to elicit something between a Cheshire Cat grin and an outright smile from the famously stone-faced Xi.) Without much detail, both sides agreed to continue working together on climate following their COP26 joint pledge, and to return to normalcy on trade. On Taiwan — by far the prickliest of many prickly topics including Hong Kong and Xinjiang — Xi warned America to not "play with fire" while Biden responded that both countries are responsible for avoiding open conflict over the self-governing island. Nevertheless, the two leaders showed, at least in the brief part of the call that was open to the public, that they can deal with each other face to face in a respectful way, which puts at least some "guardrails" (the precise word Biden mentioned) on a bilateral relationship that is otherwise spiraling in slow motion toward confrontation.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Just about to head to Singapore, but before I do, I thought I would give you guys a quick recap on the COP26 summit, couple weeks long in Glasgow.

And I understand that it's fashionable and important to talk about just how immediate and immense the climate crisis is, and that we didn't do enough, and we have more work in front of us, and all that is true, but actually I come away from the last two weeks fairly optimistic in the sense that the acceleration of effort that we're seeing from all corners, I mean there's even more from the central governments than you would've expected, and they were the underperformers, certainly more from the private sector, more from the banks, more from the corporates. And as a consequence, right now, I mean the big headline is that we are still on track for 2.4 degrees centigrade of warming if all of the countries make good on their existing pledges, which is itself unlikely. So we're not really on track for 2.4, it's higher. And that's double where we are right now, 1.2.

Having said that, there are a number of positive things that I think are also getting baked in, not just how much carbon is in the atmosphere. One is that they have decided, the participants of COP26, that they're going to come with new goals next year, as opposed to every five years, which had been the process. So as we're seeing more effort, as we're seeing more progress, we're also seeing stepped up urgency. And the very fact that you will now have a one-year, an annual summit that becomes an action-forcing event, even if it's marked by half measures, will end up getting you a lot more progress. I think that's significant and everyone agreed to that.

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Biden-Xi on Zoom. Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet face-to-face (virtually) on Monday for the first time since Biden became US president last January. The two have a lot to discuss: trade wars, the 2022 Beijing Olympics (which Biden won't attend, but probably won't boycott), and how to deliver on the joint US-China pledge on climate made at COP26. But the elephant in the Zoom room is Taiwan, an ultra-sensitive issue for China. Xi is seething at the Biden administration's recent public support for the self-governing island, which the Chinese regard as part of their own territory. The Americans insist they are simply doing what they've always done since 1979 — pledging to help Taiwan defend itself. Can Biden and Xi navigate these issues in a calm, cool way? It may help that the two leaders have known each other since over a decade ago, when they were both VPs. With US-China relations getting chillier by the day, the stakes are high.

Migrants suffer as Eastern European deadlock deepens. The stalemate at the Polish-Belarusian border continues, with reports that several migrants languishing in freezing temperatures in the forest have recently frozen to death while waiting for asylum. The EU says Minsk is using the migrants as a political weapon against Brussels international heavyweights have intervened in recent days to try t chart a path forward. German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who's just days away from her retirement — has been appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his sway with Minsk to resolve the dispute. Putin, who's no doubt enjoying his clout and leverage, says that Brussels needs to negotiate directly with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – but that has been a non-starter so far because the EU has cut off communication with the strongman since his rigged re-election last year. Feeling emboldened by the standoff, Lukashenko doubled down Thursday, saying that if the bloc slaps fresh sanctions on him, he would cut off the flow of gas that flows from Russia to Western Europe via Belarusian territory. That's a scary prospect indeed for a Europe which is already dealing with painful gas shortages as winter approaches.

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The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow is almost done and dusted, with some ambitious commitments and breakthroughs from governments and corporations to more aggressively tackle the climate disaster. Yet, though there seems to be broad agreement on what needs to be done to stop the planet getting hotter — like getting to Net Zero emissions over the next few decades — big disagreements remain on how to pull it off.

As countries try to turn jobs green while also boosting exports to keep foreign cash flowing in, reliance on protectionist economic policies is becoming an increasing point of friction between governments. Here are two juicy examples where this dynamic is playing out.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at rising US inflation, the migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border, and the draft deal of the COP26 climate agreement.

US inflation hits its highest level in three decades. How will the Biden administration be impacted?

Well, it's not well. I mean, the economy is doing very well right now. We're getting all of these record levels in the markets. And companies have extraordinary profits, and growth is going gangbusters. So it's not stagflation. But I mean, the inflation levels on top of the fact that it's Christmas season coming up, and people are exhausted from dealing with COVID, is making people feel much worse about the economy otherwise would. I don't think we've ever seen this kind of a gap between economic reality and expectations and Biden's ability to do a lot on inflation is very limited at this point. I mean, he's pushing OPEC to produce more energy, which is a problem with the COP summit, but at the end of the day, I mean, this has a lot more to do with the massive explosion of post-COVID supply and demand growth, and all coming online at the same time. Plus labor shortages. It's not something that's easy for them to deal with. So I think it's going to be a challenge for them for months, but elections aren't for a year so the timing is not so horrible.

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Like many other big corporations, Japanese brewer and distiller Suntory want to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But that's not enough for CEO Tak Niinami. "It's far away and lacks the sense of urgency," he says. Niinami predicts that especially after COP26 people will be wary of greenwashing, so it's essential for corporations to "to be transparent, showing society what we are doing and how much progress we are making" on climate.

Suntory CEO Tak Niinami spoke during the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here.

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