2021's Top Risks: global challenges intensify

Eurasia Group today published its annual list of the main geopolitical threats for 2021. For the second year in a row, the #1 Top Risk is rising political polarization in the United States, which not many years ago was deemed one of the world's most stable nations, with strong institutions and — as the sole global superpower — with a clear mandate to lead the world on many fronts.

That's all gone, for now. Why, and what does this mean for America and other countries?


As outgoing US President Donald Trump continues to undermine democracy by questioning his recent election loss to Joe Biden, and Republican lawmakers heed Trump's call to erode the legitimacy of US political institutions, we've reached a new normal in American politics, Eurasia Group Chairman Cliff Kupchan said during a livestream discussion to launch the 2021 Top Risks report.

That new normal is that in future US elections, the American president will be rejected by half the country no matter his agenda, Kupchan explained: in the current political environment, the world simply cannot look to the US to solve any global problem, much less a once-in-a-generation crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

For Ian Bremmer, president of GZERO Media and Eurasia Group, America is in no position to provide global leadership at a moment when other countries would have hugely benefited from it, so other rising powers may fill the void created by the US abdication from its own role as superpower. The prime candidate to do so is China, which is increasingly competing with the US for global influence.

Indeed, Kupchan expects US-China rivalry to intensify — albeit in a different way than under Trump — when Biden takes office. There'll be a bidding war between both sides to win global hearts and minds as the new US president attempts to "multilateralize" US competition with China on issues such as COVID-19 vaccines or green technology.

Bremmer believes that China has the upper hand in vaccine diplomacy, and that unless Biden's US vaccine rollout is a roaring success, China is better positioned to exercise its soft power throughout the developing world with jabs that are cheaper and easier to distribute than the American vaccines.

Sustainability will be another arena for competition. Biden will try to clip China's wings on Chinese quest to benefit economically from the world's renewed push for renewable energy due to the pandemic, Bremmer added.

A longer-than-expected recovery from COVID-19, furthermore, is poised to make the world even more "GZERO" than it was a year ago. Kupchan said that the lasting scar tissue of the pandemic will create haves and have nots between and within countries in a leaderless world where the US is simply too divided to govern itself — let alone the international system it helped create after World War II.

For Bremmer, the coronavirus did not spur a more "GZERO" world, which we were already in before COVID-19, but underscored its urgency by accelerating all other geopolitical risks. It made everything a lot worse, a lot faster.

Watch the above video for more insights from both experts on other 2021 Top Risks, including why we'll see huge inequality in how different parts of the world recover from the 2020 public health crisis, and questions posed by readers. Check out the full report here and GZERO Media's summary here.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

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.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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