The BRICS – a bloc of nations comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – meets next month in Brazil's capital for its annual summit. The idea of the "BRIC" grouping comes from a 2001 Goldman Sachs paper, which predicted that these rising economies, despite their major differences, would soon be among the world's largest, and that as a group they would command more global clout as a result. The idea took on a real-world structure in 2009, when Brazil, Russia, India and China began holding regular BRIC summits, and in 2010 they invited South Africa to join as well. But this vision of BRICS power hasn't necessarily materialized: China's share of global GDP has boomed – and India's growth has been significant, too. But the B, R, and S shares of the global economy have actually shrunk over the past 20 years. Here's a look at how these economies have fared since the idea of the BRICS was born.
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.
The importance of Teitiota
In 2013, Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand. His home on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, he argued, would be underwater within 15 years. (He had scientific studies to back him up.) Isn't it my right as a human being to live on land, he asked, and why wait until the flood waters come?
New Zealand, unwilling to open the door to an unknown number of other asylum seekers, said no, and Teitiota then asked the United Nations to grant him the status of climate refugee. Last year, the UN Committee on Human Rights ruled that there was still time to organize the relocation of all Kiribati's people and refused his request.
But… the UN ruling did accept the principle that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change. That argument establishes a basis for refugee rights.
Six feet above sea level
Kiribati, Teitiota's home, a string of 33 islands with a population of about 100,000 and an average elevation of less than six feet above sea level, will become the first "climate refugee nation" when rising seas submerge much of its territory, drop salt into groundwater, and destroy the coral reefs that provide natural barriers against storm surges.
Faced with the inevitable, Kiribati's government has plans to move its entire population hundreds of miles across open ocean to land it has purchased in Fiji. They will no longer be Kiribatians. They will become subject to the laws of their new country, and their rights remain vaguely defined. It's not clear how these tens of thousands of people will support themselves, because the forested hillsides they'll live on won't allow them to grow anything, though China has promised "technical assistance" in developing the land, and they won't have fishing rights.
Now, multiply that problem by tens of millions of people. More than 45 million of Bangladesh's 161 million live in coastal areas prone to flooding. Studies estimate that rising seas alone will force as many as 18 million of them from their homes as their country loses 11 percent of its land over the next 30 years. The number and intensity of tropical storms that drench these people is already rising.
Where will those people go? Will they be welcome somewhere else? Will their human rights be respected?
The bottom line. This is not a Pacific problem or a South Asian problem. This drama will play out everywhere that seas are rising and weather patterns are changing. In other words, everywhere.The world's wealthiest countries, those most responsible for the carbon emissions that created this storm, better have a plan for this.
Podcast: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it? Elizabeth Kolbert on extreme climate solutions
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.
What is the Quad?
It has its roots in 2004, when the US, Japan, India, and Australia came together to coordinate humanitarian relief following the Indian Ocean tsunami. Building on this experience, they created the Quad as a forum for discussing security issues among democratic nations in 2007, and held their first joint naval exercises. But the enthusiasm soon fizzled. China was angered by the creation of a grouping that seemed to pointedly exclude it. That prompted Australia to withdraw over fears of damaging ties with its biggest trading partner, China.
But attitudes shifted in the following years, as China began more aggressively asserting its control over disputed territories and waterways in the region. This convinced the original Quad members that they had to stand up to the rising power more forcefully. The grouping was relaunched in 2017, and though it didn't mention China by name, it pledged to promote a "free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific" and to defend "freedom of navigation."
The Quad quickly became one of the few areas of multilateral cooperation favored by former US president Donald Trump, and it is now a key part of President Joe Biden's overriding foreign policy goal of assembling a united front to push back against China's expanding influence. The leaders of the four Quad countries held their first-ever (virtual) meeting last month. That has triggered media speculation that the grouping could someday become an "Asian NATO."
Can the Quad really become a NATO-like military alliance?
Very unlikely. The four countries have not shown any indication of wanting to establish a military alliance of the ambition of NATO, a massively integrated organization that entails military intelligence-sharing, binding defense commitments, and diplomatic representation at a single organizational headquarters. For one thing, Quad members are unlikely to agree to anything like NATO's "Article 5" commitment, which obligates member states to come to each other's aid if attacked. The country perhaps most suspicious of an arrangement like that is India, which has long favored a policy of nonalignment with world powers (following the norm-breaking decision to join the Quad, officials say they wish to maintain "strategic autonomy" for India). Meanwhile, the other Quad members already have bilateral defense treaties in place: one binding the US and Japan and another binding the US and Australia.
If not, what can the Quad do?
The four countries will continue holding joint naval exercises to improve coordination among their militaries. French vessels joined in the latest round of exercises, held earlier this month. And the Quad has ambitions to expand its cooperation into new areas. At their first summit in March, leaders of the four member nations agreed to provide 1 billion vaccine doses (mostly produced in India) to emerging market nations in Asia by the end of 2022, offering an alternative to China's vaccine diplomacy in the region.
And beyond that?
It gets a lot tougher. A climate working group is being established, but it is unclear how it could add value to other global initiatives. And despite the pledges to work together "as democratic nations" to achieve a "free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific," the four members have varying levels of commitment to ideals such as free trade, as underscored by India's rising protectionism, and democracy promotion, as shown by diverse responses to the military coup in Myanmar, ranging from India's lukewarm condemnation to new US sanctions.
What do other countries of the region think about the Quad? Could they join it?
The grouping has held several "Quad Plus" meetings to which it has invited outside countries to attend. One of these is South Korea, which as a large democracy and close US ally would seem to be a leading candidate for inclusion in the Quad. Yet Seoul prefers to only slowly deepen cooperation with the Quad and test China's reactions, especially given strong economic ties with China and Beijing's key role in managing the North Korean nuclear threat. Moreover, tensions between South Korea and Quad-member Japan have risen in recent years over thorny trade disputes.
Similarly, it's unlikely any Southeast Asian countries would join the grouping. Most welcome the Quad's efforts to defend freedom of navigation and international law in principle, and they will be the main beneficiaries of the grouping's vaccine initiative. But they face a difficult balancing act. These countries are heavily dependent on Chinese trade and investment and worry that the Quad will antagonize China, making it harder to maintain good relations with both the US and China.
What could China do?
Southeast Asian countries in particular worry that if the Quad provokes China too much, Beijing will lash out through military or commercial channels. Some observers believe that the unprecedented number of Chinese ships swarming disputed waters in the South China Sea is itself a response to deepening Quad cooperation. Others interpret punitive trade action against Australia — with China slapping new restrictions on imports of Australian products ranging from coal to wine and cotton — as a warning shot to other countries not to join the Quad. But Beijing's increasingly assertive foreign policy only stiffens the Quad's resolve
What's next for the Quad?
A key focus will be delivering on its lofty promises on vaccines, which has become more challenging as India experiences a dramatic surge in COVID cases and restricts vaccine exports. Additional joint naval exercises are likely (including with other countries), further "Quad Plus" discussions are possible, and the recently established working groups on technology and climate issues will begin discussions. At some point later in the year, the Quad leaders also hope to gather for their first ever in-person meeting.
Peter Mumford is Practice Head for Southeast and South Asia at Eurasia Group.
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.
The world's smokestack. Burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow has been essential for China's economy, now the world's second-largest, to have grown around 10 percent annually for most of the past thirty years. The tradeoff for that growth is massive pollution, which continues today and is the main reason China is not on track to meet its emissions reduction targets in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
When carbon emissions from China's coal plants and smoke-belching factories get stuck in the atmosphere, they contribute to the global warming that leads to stronger monsoon floods in Bangladesh, longer droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and more frequent cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico.
It's not that China doesn't care about the problems it causes other countries. But it's only fair, the Chinese argue, that we get the same shot at growing our economy through fossil fuels that industrialized Western countries got when they started polluting the planet way before we started to.
Climate is a big deal inside China. Once-arable lands in the interior are now barren, Beijing has long experienced poor air quality and increasingly frequent sand storms, and rising sea levels threaten major coastal cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai. No matter how fast the Chinese want to get rich, they are no longer willing to do so at the expense of their environment.
So, what is China doing about all this? First, China is embracing renewables at a scale the proponents of the Green New Deal in the US would balk at. In 2020, China accounted for more than half of the world's added electrical capacity from renewables. Second, the Chinese are betting on modern nuclear plants to become a more reliable and clean(ish) alternative in the country's energy mix.
At the same time, though, China has not only not abandoned coal, but is rather doubling down on new coal-fired plants. Xi, though, has an ace up his sleeve: carbon capture and storage technology, which traps emissions before they are released into the air and keeps them stored underground.
If widely adopted by heavy industry, it is estimated that carbon capture could cut China's emissions by at least 15 percent in 2060. What's more, emissions could be slashed by an additional 20 percent if the stored carbon is transformed into clean hydrogen, which Beijing expects to power nine out of 10 vehicles — including aircraft — to meet its net-zero target.
Beijing is also making a global play for green tech. The so-called "factory of the world" is reinventing itself to cash in on climate. China — which is increasingly looking to tech to solve all its problems — has already cornered the global market on affordable solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. The next step is to make carbon capture and clean hydrogen accessible and cheap for the rest of the world.
Dominating the global market for green tech is a win-win for Beijing: Chinese companies would benefit tremendously, and China itself would take credit for doing more than its fair share to save the planet.
But the Chinese don't want to do it all alone. A major sticking point in current US-China climate negotiations is that Beijing is demanding that America and its allies pitch in more cash for developing countries to wean themselves of fossil fuels. The Chinese complain that rich nations which demand net zero targets for all gobble up most of the available budget to help everyone go green.
China wants to open the floodgates of climate finance to increase global demand for Chinese green tech. Will US tech firms step up their game to compete with them? Earth will surely benefit from that.
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.
Kerry is the first high-level Biden administration official to set foot in the country. He does so just a week ahead of a major global "climate summit" that his boss is hosting, and a month after top Chinese and US diplomats spent a day trashing each other in Alaska.
This is the peculiar challenge of a rapidly deteriorating US-China relationship. On the one hand, it's no secret that Beijing and Washington are at odds over a lot of issues: technological rivalries, human rights, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea.
On the other hand, both sides know that any serious plan to avert a global climate catastrophe requires cooperation between the world's number one polluter, China, and the US, which is number two.
What's more, time is running out: at the moment the world is hurtling towards a temperature rise of 3 degrees over pre-industrial averages. Far above the goal of 1.5 degrees that scientists say will avert the worst effects of the warming.
The good news is, climate change is a big deal for both sides. The Biden administration has made climate "an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security." One of the president's first moves after taking office was to rejoin the Paris Accords, which his predecessor, Donald Trump, had ditched.
Meanwhile, although China continues to build lots of coal-fired power plants, it's also become a global leader in renewables like solar power and electric vehicles. Last fall, Beijing pledged to hit peak carbon output by 2030, and to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 (meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of carbon capture, either naturally or through technological means.)
So when Kerry walks into the room today, what is each side looking for?
The US wants China to show up. At a basic level, John Kerry wants China to attend his boss's climate summit next week. So far, the invitation has been languishing in Xi Jinping's inbox while Beijing decides what it has to gain or lose by attending a US-hosted climate event. Second, Kerry wants the Chinese to provide more detail on precisely how they plan to meet their emissions goals. The Communist Party of China's recent, highly anticipated 5-year plan didn't include much detail.
What does China want? A major aim is to agree with the US on how to provide financial assistance to developing countries that are worried about the economic and financial consequences of giving up on cheap fossil fuels. Beijing probably sees this as a win-win: helping to get more countries on board with climate goals, which the US wants, while also creating more global demand for the renewables technology that China is keen to sell.
But China also wants something else: to feel out whether the US is going to treat Beijing as a partner or as a subordinate. Beijing has made clear — rightly or wrongly — that it sees itself as Washington's equal on a whole host of global issues, including climate. The CCP will bristle at the notion that a US envoy has arrived simply to browbeat them about their climate commitments.So can the US and China really work together on climate while fighting about everything else? This is the question of the century. In an ideal world, Beijing and Washington could build trust on climate issues that helps to moderate their clashes in other areas. In a less ideal world, climate cooperation continues even as the two sides exchange fire everywhere else. The worst outcome for both sides — and the rest of the world — is one in which climate cooperation itself falls apart.