Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus eliminated down under, Mexico’s AMLO defies gravity, Belarus plays ostrich

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus eliminated down under, Mexico’s AMLO defies gravity, Belarus plays ostrich

AMLO's approval: Mexico's populist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has been criticized for initially dragging his feet in response to the coronavirus crisis, which critics say cost the country precious time in containing the outbreak. But despite a surging death toll (the number of COVID related deaths in Mexico doubled in the past week alone to more than 1,300) AMLO appears to have defied political gravity, with a large majority of Mexicans, some 82 percent, saying they approve of his handling of the emergency situation. Unlike other Latin American leaders, AMLO hasn't imposed a strict national lockdown, though he has extended recent school and non-essential business closures until the end of May. According to the same poll, however, Mexicans were less enthusiastic about the president's handling of the economic fallout. In recent days he has imposed budget cuts so severe that critics have compared the lifelong left-winger to austerity icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, while also rebuffing calls to provide tax relief for businesses. Given that Mexico's economy was already in trouble before the pandemic hit, it remains to be seen whether AMLO will pay a price for his economic policies in a way that he hasn't (so far) for his public health response.


Australia and NZ pave the way on virus containment: Despite being led by politicians with vastly different political views, the island nations of Australia and New Zealand are both on track to eliminate the coronavirus from their countries — for now. While both countries have had the advantage of geographical isolation and additional time to enforce national lockdowns, they also have another feature in common: the ability to put partisanship aside to weather a crisis. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, and New Zealand's leftwing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have listened to public health experts and worked pragmatically with local officials to respond to the crisis. Both governments have rolled out generous social safety nets for workers, and boosted healthcare capacity. In Australia, where new daily COVID cases have hovered in the single digits for days, more than 2 million Australians (8 percent of the population) recently downloaded a new contact tracing app within hours of its release. Contact tracing has proved critical to subduing outbreaks in Singapore and South Korea. New Zealand, for its part, documented only one new case on Sunday. Both countries are not only on track to flatten the curve, but to crush it.

Belarus' COVID denial: Alexander Lukashenko is the only president Belarus has ever had. Since the office was created in 1994, he has dominated his country's politics so thoroughly that he's been called "Europe's last dictator." He rarely makes news outside Europe and Russia, but his handling of the coronavirus has brought him lots of international attention. In short, he is NOT handling the virus, which he insists does not exist in his country. He also says, for the record, that it can be kept at bay with vodka and saunas. Belarus is officially open for business, spectator sports continue, and people are expected to show up for work in person. We can't know for sure what Lukashenko is thinking. Maybe it's a deep fear that his already weak economy can't withstand a lockdown as he gears up for a stage-managed election this fall. Or maybe it's something to do with his never-ending personal rivalry with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The two countries are negotiating a kind of limited merger right now. Perhaps Lukashenko's insistence on ignoring COVID-19 is his way of saying that while Putin has given in and ordered precautions, real men don't fear invisible germs.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

More Show less

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

More Show less

When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

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.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Can "the Quad" constrain China?

Viewpoint