Every year, over ten million people globally die from high blood pressure, more than all infectious diseases combined. Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control, is tackling this massive problem in public health, among many others, as CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.
He told GZERO’s Tony Maciulis that ensuring easy access to three drugs — amlodipine for blood pressure, metformin for blood sugar, and atorvastatin for cholesterol — could save tens of millions of lives over the next quarter century for just a penny per pill.
It’s part of a set of goals Frieden calls the three Rs: Renaissance in public health, robust primary healthcare and resilient populations. But as the developing world takes on more and more public debt, where will the money come from?
See more from Global Stage.
The state of public health in the developing world bears some deep scars from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past three years, immunization rates have dropped to levels not seen in three decades. 2 billion people are facing "catastrophic or impoverishing" health spending worldwide according to the World Health Organization. And governments in the Global South are taking on more and more debt at the expense of investment in health and social services.
Kate Dodson, the Vice President of Global Health Strategy at the UN Foundation, is on the frontlines of the fight to give the most vulnerable people in the world access to proper healthcare. She works to connect experts and innovators with the UN, and find resources to support their work.
She’s calling on governments to invest in basic elements of public health, including primary care access, and properly remunerating healthcare workers — the majority of whom are women, worldwide. And more fundamentally, she wants leaders to treat health as a human right that all deserve to enjoy.
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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during a visit to Italy that both countries had reached the “limits of [their] capacity” to accommodate migrants, and called for “fair distribution” of the burdens of migration across the European Union.
The background. In just the last week, over 11,000 people have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa. They’re part of the 127,000 migrants who have landed in Italy in 2023, more than double the number who had arrived by this point in 2022.
Under current EU asylum regulations, migrants are required to apply for asylum in the member state to which they first arrive. Should they, say, leave Italy to try their chances with Germany’s relatively generous system, they’re to be deported back.
But Rome has recently been refusing to accept back asylum-seekers who leave, citing the disproportionate influx. That caused a row with Berlin, which announced last week it would suspend a voluntary agreement to take in 3,500 asylum seekers who had landed in Italy — before suddenly reversing course.
The European Union received over 519,000 asylum requests between January and June, a 28% year-on-year increase and the most since 2016. Germany fielded 30%, about as many as France and Spain combined. That’s not counting over a million Ukrainian refugees whom Germany hosts, far and away the most in Western Europe.
So when Meloni says the rest of the bloc needs to share the burden, it resonates in Berlin. It’s also in the SPD’s interest to be seen taking a more proactive anti-immigration stance, as their conservative rivals have recently revived the idea of a national migrant cap. It’s part of a larger shift on migration politics in Germany, as even SPD’s left-wing allies in the Green party call for tougher migration standards faced with the ascendance of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland.
Convincing the rest of the bloc to step up will be difficult. Since migration to Europe from Syria spiked in 2015, the EU has struggled to find consensus on bloc-wide immigration policies due to conflicting pressures in the politics of each member state.
Hard Numbers: Rwanda’s Kagame will run again, the EU takes on Uber, water contamination threat in Libya, US Fed keeps cool
4: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 2000, announced that he’ll run for a fourth term in next year’s election.
Kagame, who has been accused of cracking down on the opposition, tweaked the constitution back in 2015 to extend presidential term limits. Asked about what “the West” might think of his move, Kagame, didn’t mince words: “What these countries think is not our problem.”
40: A top Uber executive has warned that an EU proposal to classify gig workers as employees could boost ride prices by as much as 40%. Brussels says Uber should provide more job security and benefits for its employees. Uber, which has come up against similar battles in Spain, the UK and elsewhere, says the measure will hurt consumers and lead to “devastating” job losses.
4,000: Over a week after a catastrophic flood tore through two dams in eastern Libya, killing 4,000 people (while 9,000 remain missing) the UN has warned that sewage is contaminating water supplies, raising the specter of waterborne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, and hepatitis.5.25-5.55: The US Federal Reserve held interest rates steady at 5.25-5.55, still the highest level in more than two decades after 11 rate hikes beginning in March 2022. The decision gives policy makers some breathing room to plot their next moves amid subsiding inflation. Still, with price growth well above the Fed’s 2% target, rates could stay above 5% well into 2024, analysts warn.
Correction:Yesterday, we incorrectly stated that the Fed's pause was the first in 18 months. The Federal reserve also paused rate hikes in June, 2023. We regret the error.
World leaders are flooding New York this week for the 78th United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week NYC, less than two months before the landmark COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference, is set to begin in Dubai. With climate being at the top of the agenda and top of mind, I thought I’d use today’s newsletter to debunk a myth that pervades an annoying amount of climate doomerism.
Most climate change discussions frame the issue in cost-benefit terms. Would we rather save the planet or keep our living standards? Save the planet or increase profits? Save the planet or lift people out of poverty? In other words, how much are we willing to sacrifice to stop climate change?
In rich countries like the US, both sides of the aisle assume this tradeoff between climate action and economic prosperity exists. The difference between them is that most of the political right wants to prioritize growth at the expense of climate action, while the “de-growth” and anti-capitalist parts of the left want to halt growth for the sake of climate action.
Meanwhile, the consensus in developing nations – which today account for two-thirds of global carbon emissions but are only responsible for about one-fifth of historical emissions – is that poorer countries have the right (indeed, the obligation) to put economic development above climate action. This view is also premised on the assumption that economic growth can only be powered by fossil fuels, and therefore, that saving the planet requires economic sacrifice.
But that is a false dilemma. In 2023, there is no longer a systemic trade-off between decarbonization and economic growth.
A technological revolution in the making
The reason for this is that technological advances have made clean energy – especially solar power, wind power, and battery storage – cheaper than fossil fuels.
Until quite recently, high-polluting fossil fuels (especially coal) were by far the cheapest sources of energy available. Renewables didn’t come close. But in the past decade, the unsubsidized price of electricity from solar and wind declined by 89% and 69%, respectively. And the cost of lithium-ion batteries – which are needed to smooth out the intermittent supply of solar and wind energy – has declined by 90%. As a result, new solar power plants have gone from being 710% more expensive than the cheapest fossil-fueled plants in 2010 to being 29% cheaper now, and new onshore wind plants have gone from being 95% more expensive to being 52% cheaper than the cheapest fossil-fueled plants in the same period.
Today, when you compare the lifetime cost of building and operating new power plants, renewable energy sources like solar and wind are already the cheapest options for most of the world. In some places, building new solar and wind plants is even cheaper than keeping existing coal plants running!
This price advantage explains why the world’s largest carbon emitters are quickly moving away from coal and toward wind and solar power, and why renewable power has more than tripled as a share of global power generation in the last decade. In Europe, wind and solar generate more power than coal and gas. And solar, wind, and battery storage account for 82% of planned generating capacity additions in the US this year.
Interests trump politics
A common refrain is that these renewable technologies are being forced on unwilling Americans and Europeans by woke politicians and activists. But ask yourself, why would countries like China and India, states like Texas and Florida, and companies like BP and Total be building so much solar, wind, and battery storage capacity if not out of self-interest?
China and India certainly have little inclination to make national sacrifices for the planet’s benefit. Texas and Florida are Republican bastions — not exactly tree-huggers. And, like all corporations, BP and Total seek to maximize profits for shareholders. If you think Greta Thunberg is pushing developing countries as diverse as Brazil, Chile, Vietnam, India, and Morocco to deploy solar power at scale, I’ve got a coal mine to sell you…
The truth is that the world is adopting clean energy because it’s cheaper than the alternative. Even countries and companies that don’t care about climate change at all are finding it worthwhile to switch to renewables. And thanks to these technologies’ uniquely steep learning curves, the more they get deployed, the cheaper they’ll become, and the cheaper they become, the more they’ll get adopted everywhere.
At the same time that the increased adoption of renewables will reduce carbon emissions and deadly pollution, falling energy prices will lead to a rise in real incomes and standards of living. The advent of cheap, abundant, and widely available energy will free up income for people to spend on other things and allow poor countries to turbocharge their development while leapfrogging fossil fuels. If it sounds like a win-win, it’s because it is.
The invisible hand still needs a policy push
Although technological ingenuity and self-interest are making the energy transition an unstoppable reality, these forces alone aren’t enough to get the world all the way to net zero emissions in time to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.
For starters, there are still powerful vested interests and inertia holding back decarbonization, despite its increasingly obvious economic advantages. Many actors with political pull benefit from the carbon-intensive status quo, which generates up to $2 trillion in economic rents every year. These incumbents – ranging from petrostates and Big Oil to retail gas stations and fossil fuel workers – are fighting tooth and nail to slow down the energy transition and latch on to their power. Moreover, fossil fuels still make up 77% of the world’s energy production, and for now the cost of operating existing fossil fuel plants is lower than the cost of building new renewable plants in most (but not all) places. Absent policy action, that will remain the case for some years yet.
Then there’s the fact that electricity – the problem that solar, wind, and batteries solve – only accounts for about 40% of global carbon emissions. Cutting the remaining 60% will require addressing the other sources of emissions: transportation, commercial and residential buildings, and industrial processes. Some of this can be achieved by electrifying more of our energy use – like we are already doing by switching to electric vehicles, heat pumps, and induction stoves – while continuing to decarbonize electricity. But some – such as greening harder-to-abate, heat-intensive processes like cement and steel production – will require investment and incentives to invent, develop, and adopt new technological solutions.
Finally, while switching to renewables pays for itself in the long run, building new infrastructure while retiring fossil-fuel assets early can bring large upfront costs. This problem is especially acute for developing nations, which will generate most of the demand for new electricity in the coming decades but lack the fiscal space and access to long-term finance needed to meet the upfront costs of deploying clean energy systems. It’s in these countries’ economic interest to lock in low-carbon infrastructure now rather than get stuck with fossil-fuel assets that are already being phased out in the developed world and will be stranded in a matter of years. But they will need massive financing from rich countries to do that.
The bottom line is that although there’s a lot governments can do to help speed up the energy transition, even without government action the transition is most definitely happening. And it is happening without a reduction in our living standards. You don’t have to stop driving or ration electricity or eat bugs. Poor countries don’t have to stay poor. The opposite is true: stopping climate change will make most everyone richer.
That’s great news because if the fate of the planet depended on everyone agreeing to voluntarily impoverish themselves, you can bet your sweet bippy humanity would be 100% cooked.
Why do Chinese officials keep vanishing? On Saturday, several executives of the beleaguered property developer Evergrande Group were arrested in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the conglomerate is headquartered. It is unclear how many persons were detained, or their names or titles, though a statement by local police referenced one individual named “Du.” There is speculation that this individual is Du Liang, who in 2021 was listed as head of Evergrande’s wealth management unit.
Evergrande made headlines in Aug. 2023 when it filed for US bankruptcy protection, and is currently undergoing a restructuring plan for its $340 billion debt. On Friday, China’s national financial regulator announced it had approved the takeover of Evergrande’s life insurance business by a new state-owned entity.
These arrests come on the heels of the disappearance two weeks ago of China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu. According to US officials, Li is under investigation for corruption along with eight senior officials who worked in a military procurement unit that he led from 2017 to 2022. Beijing, however, is staying mum: On Friday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she was “not aware” of the situation.These incidents, as well as the recent removal of Qin Gang as Chinese foreign minister and a shake-up at the top of the country’s nuclear forces, have led to speculation that President Xi Jinping is conducting a purge within China’s defense apparatus. If so, it remains to be seen whether that reflects squabbling within the Chinese elite, a more general consolidation of Xi’s power, or a house-cleaning ahead of some big move by the Chinese president. But a wave of disappearing acts at the top of the world’s second largest economy are not a good sign.
Rajiv Garodia, global head of government solutions for Visa, delved into the critical role of small businesses in the modern economy, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a GZERO livestream event presented by Visa, Garodia says the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities of small and medium sized businesses including the lack of digital skills among many small business owners. As consumer behavior shifted towards digital channels, small businesses found themselves unable to keep pace. The ability to collect payments became increasingly reliant on digital transactions and those unable to offer digital payment options risked exclusion from the broader economy.
To address this issue, Rajiv emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts between the private and public sectors. He says governments and businesses must work together to equip small businesses with essential digital tools, from fostering digital literacy to providing necessary technology solutions, such as creating digital storefronts, enabling digital payment acceptance, and utilizing digital tools for accounting and inventory management.
Technology plays a pivotal role in leveling the playing field for small businesses. Rajiv shared an ambitious initiative aimed at digitally empowering 50 million small businesses by 2023. The innovation here lies in simplifying access to digital payment infrastructure by enabling smartphones to accept payments, a transformational leap towards digital inclusion for small business owners.
To hear more about the challenges and opportunities that nation-states face when it comes to digitization, and how it could shape a more inclusive and resilient future, watch the full livestream conversation: