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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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