The forced slowdown of global economic activity due to the coronavirus pandemic has slashed carbon emissions around the world, opening a unique opportunity to make real progress in the fight against climate change. But there is fear that it won't be enough, and the world will go back to its old ways when we get rid of COVID-19. However, even before the public health crisis, some major emitters had already taken ambitious steps to rethink how to make their own policies more sustainable.
In Canada, the prominence of oil in the economy doesn't mean that it should hide from the existential challenge of climate change. Fossil fuel profits make Canada not only more responsible but gives the nation the resources to commit to a bold climate policy, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O'Regan said during a panel discussion on sustainability at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.
Dawn Farrell, president and CEO of Transalta, Canada's largest clean electrical company, noted that we can apply many of the lessons learned from battling COVID-19 to the global struggle against climate change. The same way governments and the public sector have worked together successful vaccines, there must be equal collaboration on carbon prices, which must be set by governments and not the market alone.
Indeed, the pandemic is an opportunity to entirely transform the economy of countries like Japan, which recently committed to producing net zero carbon emissions by 2050 under new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Other nations with less muscle, though, may struggle to phase out highly polluting fossil fuels such as coal, which still powers dozens of countries across Asia. That's why rich countries should engage and help them, said Tadashi Maeda, governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.
Meanwhile, countries with both the energy and financial resources to aspire to net zero in the near term should deliver on their Paris Accord climate commitments — and support businesses that are doing the right thing for their bottom line and the planet at the same time. For instance, O'Regan argued that Canada understands where the environmental, societal, and corporate governance (ESG) market is moving, for instance on liquefied natural gas.
ESG lately has become code for simply curbing emissions, but Farrell said that ESG investors want to know you can put your money where your mouth is, and show progress… without big disruption like calls for divestment. Indeed, for Maeda pulling back from all fossil fuels is only one aspect of ESG, and not even the most important right now in most emerging economies.
Beyond ESG investing, companies are also learning how to operate in more responsible way. One of them is Sony, a Japanese conglomerate which the Wall Street Journal recently ranked as the world's most sustainable managed corporation.
So, what's the key to Sony's success on sustainability? Dialogue with investors is crucial, explained Kenichiro Yoshida, the company's chairman and CEO.
With elected governments it's a bit different, but even then the way forward is changing our mindset. Farrell said that they are thinking less about who will be in power to set regulations, and more about the values of the people that put the politicians in power to come up with sustainability policies. If you know the people, you can predict how the governments they elect will act in the future.
Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists on COVID-19's impact on global sustainability efforts.
Just a decade ago, China's rise — accomplished on the back of globalization — was welcomed by most of the world. That has changed over the past five years, especially in the realm of technology.
Now, China and the US, the world's two largest economies, are fighting what many are calling a "new Cold War" on tech, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said during the panel discussion on geotech at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.
Bremmer believes that this conflict won't end globalization but it is a confrontation that could dramatically change the trajectory of globalization as many countries are forced to pick sides on issues like artificial intelligence, data, or 5G.
One of these countries, for instance, is Japan, China's neighbor and a staunch US ally that is immensely worried about the growing tech confrontation between Beijing and Washington. For Japan, the coming "digital protectionism" is a huge threat, noted Hiroshi Kajiyama, the Japanese minister of economy, trade, and industry.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt prefers to call the US-China competition to lead global tech a "stable tension" in which both sides are racing to create global platforms. It's not a war because there still is some cooperation, but without trust because China plays by different rules.
Western players, including America, are used to playing by the rules set by institutions, but those matter much less than they used to in the era of cyber-awakening, when people have become empowered do do anything by the internet, suggested Jane Holl Lute, president and CEO of SIPCA North America.
For Bob Moritz, global chairman of the PwC Network, what Schmidt refers to as a "stable tension" is becoming increasingly volatile and often feels like it's approximating a Cold War, but at the end of the day companies around the world, and especially in China and the US, simply need to find ways to achieve digital transformation as Americans and Chinese battle it out in tech.
To do so, he said, firms must leverage the power of tech, innovation, and skills.
In the US-China tech rivalry, one major difference is strategy, or the lack of one. Bremmer said that China knows exactly what it wants to do on tech, while in the US everyone is angry about some aspect of Big Tech (size, profits, news on social media) but there's no single national strategy, which makes it harder for the US to compete with China.
As the "stable tension" continues over the next decade or two, Schmidt predicts that the power of new tech will favor a small number of players in the US and China, hollowing out the middle class of nations in favor of large, highly organized initiatives supported by big countries and economies. That geopolitical order will soon become unstable because the current system was set up to reflect a post-war liberal international order that doesn't call the shots anymore, Bremmer noted.
G-zero, he warned, cannot exist much longer before something breaks.
Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists on our vulnerability to cyber attacks, the promise of cyber deterrence, the US-China decoupling, how to fix US Big Tech, and why Europe can't create global tech platforms.
Almost one year since the coronavirus upended the world, what's the current state of play on ending the pandemic, and what challenges we face towards vaccinating everyone in 2021.
Fortunately, as the virus has grown exponentially, so has science, Dr. Larry Brilliant, CEO of Pandefense and one of the world's most highly regarded epidemiologists, said during the panel discussion on fighting COVID-19 at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.
Science, he explained, has accomplished the audacity of developing successful vaccines in record time. That's why he's optimistic about ending the pandemic next year in many parts of the world, even if the next 2-3 months will be very bad mainly in Western countries.
Part of the reason for his optimism is the great news about the efficacy of vaccines like the one developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech, which the UK started administering to its citizens on Tuesday.
For Angela Hwang, president of Pfizer's biopharmaceuticals group, developing the vaccine is just the start. Now enough people need to get vaccinated to achieve the herd immunity necessary to stop the virus in its tracks.
To build sufficient trust in the drug to achieve that goal, she said, everyone needs to be on board. It'll take not only the private and public sectors working together but all of society committed to making everyone understand that vaccines work, and that you must get inoculated at a moment of extreme resistance in some countries.
Also, mass vaccination means it must happen across the developing world at the same level as in developing countries. The world is just too interconnected to leave anyone behind, noted Gargee Ghosh, president for global advocacy and programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Even where many people are suspicious of vaccines, she added, ultimately the clear benefits of restarting economies will hopefully convince those who fear rolling up their arms.
Vaccinations likely won't be a problem in Japan, where Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister, in charge of economic revitalization, underscored how the majority of the population has heeded their advice to practice social distance, wear masks, stay at home and shut down businesses despite no mandatory orders to do so.
Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists.
What major geopolitical trends are in store for 2021, when a new US president takes over and will face not only the mammoth task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but also the fallout from the G-zero world that the Trump presidency accelerated? Who will most benefit and suffer from a leaderless global landscape?
It may be a bit too soon to see clear winners and losers, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said during the panel discussion on post-COVID geopolitics at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.
The US, he explained, stands to win by exercising its hard power on tech, banks and vaccine production, but so far it's been a loser on political division and overall management of the pandemic under Trump. China, for its part, has its economy growing again but is now mistrusted a lot more by the world.
In Asia, it's time to pay close attention to Japan, a reliable US ally and traditional China rival that is undergoing a political transition after the departure of Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Under new PM Yoshihide Suga, Japan will be closely monitoring the incoming Biden administration's initial moves on rebuilding the liberal international order that Trump shunned, noted Taro Kong, Japan's minister in charge of administrative reform.
The US-Japan alliance remains strong, he said, but the US has not been a reliable partner for the past four years, and a single alliance is not enough to ensure Asia's security amid an increasingly aggressive China.
For Jane Harman, head of the US-based Wilson Center think tank, the problem is that Biden's foreign policy ambitions may be hobbled by a Republican-controlled Senate if the Democrats don't win both races in Georgia's runoff election in early January. Biden, she said, can govern by executive order but the scope of what he can accomplish beyond that could be severely hampered without a Senate majority.
Moreover, she anticipated that Trump will continue to wield significant influence over the Republican Party, and probably prevent it from supporting Biden even if what he wants to do serves US foreign policy interests.
Indeed, the persistence of Trumpism will be a key constraint to more US globalism, said Bremmer, who added that Americans are now less supportive now of the US being the global policeman. With that in mind and with COVID recovery as Biden's top priority, the new president's success or failure may ultimately depend on whether the US is able to vaccinate its citizens fast enough to fend off possible vaccine competition from China in other parts of the world.
For Bremmer, Biden understands that the US must pivot again to Asia and that China is a clear rival. In that regard, his China policy won't be that different to Trump's except when it comes to climate change, where Biden thinks the US can both cooperate with China but also compete on green technology.
Right now, and despite US political divisions, the ball is in America's court on what it wants to do in Asia and with China, said Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. One positive development is that Biden will probably not mess with Taiwan, an immensely sensitive issue that Trump would often use to provoke Beijing's ire.
Beyond Taiwan and the South China Sea, Rudd commented that China is concerned about Biden because he will probably reverse four Trump trends that China was quite pleased with on democracy, allies, trade, and multilateralism. At the end of the day, China understands power, and knows that the US was less powerful with a president who stood up to China but on his own, without the allies that together have the combined power to really challenge China's regional superpower status.
Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists.
Watch Ian Bremmer's full speech on "The State of the World." Today, this annual address has kicked off the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn't invented today's biggest challenges. For better and for worse, it simply accelerated important changes that were already well underway. It has exacerbated inequality of opportunity, both within and among countries. In fact, the most severe COVID-19 impacts in 2021 will be economic, particularly as debts soar in developing countries and international lenders have less to lend. The pandemic has also sped up the erosion of faith in democratic institutions and international cooperation. But the economic damage inflicted by this crisis has accelerated the transition from the 20th century brick-and-mortar model of commerce and growth toward a more dynamic 21st century economy that is powered more by the flow of information and less by fossil fuels. In short, thanks in part to the worst global health emergency in more than a century, the future will arrive sooner than we thought.