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Coronavirus and the climate

Coronavirus and the climate

As governments around the world grapple with COVID-19, the planet continues to warm. How is the pandemic likely to impact climate policy within and among the world's largest countries?

For now, pollution is way down. Around the world, smog has decreased dramatically as coronavirus-lockdowns idle factories and park millions of cars, scooters, boats, and airplanes. This is temporary, of course, but it's a chance for people, at least those allowed outside, to see what clean air and water look like.

...but so is attention to climate policy. At the moment, most governments will have to get back to you about climate policy, and the UN has already postponed its planned November global climate summit, mothballing global coordination on climate responses until mid-2021.

Looking ahead, as governments craft responses to the economic fallout from coronavirus, we'll hear vigorous debates about whether and how much climate considerations should be part of those plans. Here are two main arguments.

One: this is a unique opportunity to act on climate, so don't screw it up. The pandemic boosted governments' powers to reshape economies and societies. They could use the moment to make both much greener.

Two: economic recovery trumps environmental concerns. Forcing companies to spend more to go greener in exchange for government rescue money will make it much harder to get workers back to work. Worry about the half a billion people facing poverty first.

So far, we've seen a little bit of both among the world's major economies. The EU, for example, still plans to move ahead with its Green Deal and pledges to tighten its emissions targets, despite pushback from some eastern member states fearful of the cost. In the US, meanwhile, the Trump administration has relaxed emissions enforcement, and Congress failed to agree on any green conditionalities as part of the $2.2 trillion March rescue plan, though another package is now in the works. China, for its part, has massively ramped up coal-fired power generation to reinvigorate an economy that just shrank for the first time in 40 years.

And that's part of the problem. Absent coordinated action among the world's largest economies to deal with climate change, it will be hard to flatten the curve of global warming, so to speak. Greenhouse gases, like viruses, don't respect borders.

The November wildcard: US President Donald Trump and his election opponent Joe Biden differ sharply on climate change. In his first year as president, Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Accords, arguing that the deal left "American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production." Biden, by contrast, has pledged to recommit the US to the Paris Agreement on day one of his presidency.

Even as countries around the globe continue to grapple with responses to the economic fallout of the pandemic, what happens on November 3 in the US will have a dramatic impact on global climate cooperation.

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?

UNGA Livestream