The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.
Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.
Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.
The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?
Collapse of the mainstream center-left. Mainstream center-left parties in places like the Netherlands and Italy, as well as the Labor Party in the UK, have imploded in recent years, hemorrhaging popular support as a result. But while these parties have collapsed, demand for left-of-center policies remains high. This is precisely what has taken place in France, where the once-dominant Socialist Party is now on the fringe of French politics — a vacuum that has been filled by France's Green Party. Polls suggest that the environment is the second-most important issue for French voters, behind unemployment, a shift reflected in the fact that France's three biggest cities — Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles — all have left-leaning mayors (Lyon and Marseilles are run by the Greens.)
But French voters are not just looking for politicians that pay lip service to leftist causes like the environment, they are seeking authentic center-left leadership. President Emmanuel Macron — whose LREM party exploited disillusionment with France's traditionally dominant center-left in 2017 and campaigned on a pledge to "make our planet great again" — has failed to resonate with left-wing voters that see him as a non-committal ideological chameleon who has watered down a once-ambitious climate agenda. The Greens have filled this void, making massive gains in municipal elections last year that forced a flailing Macron to introduce a wide-ranging climate bill. (Still, critics say the bill doesn't go far enough.)
Exerting outsized political influence. In some countries, Green parties have evolved from once single-issue environmental protest groups into center-left blocs championing a range of issues. As a result, they have made inroads at the national level to significantly impact policy. In the Republic of Ireland, for instance, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, establishment parties, needed the support of the Green Party, which has just 4,000 registered members, to form a viable coalition government after the last election. The Greens agreed on the condition that the government commit to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent annually. Since then, they have also helped pass a bill to put Ireland's net zero emissions goal into law. Those are big achievements for a party that holds just 12 seats in a governing coalition made up of 84 parliamentary seats in the lower house.
"Not the Greens of the Cold War" era. In some political contexts, the Greens have adopted a pragmatic approach to a political landscape that has undergone seismic shifts in recent years. Against the backdrop of a right-wing populist wave in Germany, as well as an economic model that is outdated in the age of a dominant China and worsening climate crisis, the German Green Party has tried to position itself as an authentic center-left party for the masses.
Under the joint leadership of Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, who this week was tapped as the party's candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, the Greens have taken advantage of Merkel's conservative coalition's struggles to push a moderate foreign-policy agenda. The party has advocated for getting tougher on China and is also a proponent of NATO and boosting ties with Washington. Importantly, the Greens say that Germany needs to better address climate change without alienating the corporate sector or working-class people.
The Greens are now leading in the polls and have a solid chance to form the next government after Germans vote in federal elections this fall. Their success is drawing praise even from rivals. Norbert Röttgen of Merkel's CDU party, for example, recently said that "however embarrassing for me, the Greens have the clearest stance of all the parties on China and Russia."
Looking ahead. The green wave in Europe does not appear to be a fad. In many countries, people are desperate for change, and the Greens seem to be meeting the moment while other (traditional) political parties flounder.
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What We’re Watching: George Floyd's family gets justice, India’s COVID mess, political turmoil in Chad
April 20, 2021
Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.
The world's biggest COVID outbreak: India is currently suffering the world's largest COVID outbreak, reporting more than a quarter million new cases every day. Hospitals in large cities are overwhelmed, and oxygen tanks supplies are flagging. In New Delhi, this week there were as few as 100 intensive care beds available for a population of more than 30 million people. And although the official daily death tally from the disease is approaching 2,000, pileups at crematoria suggest the real toll may be much higher. Until a few months ago India seemed to have the virus under control, but a loosening of restrictions in February, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, likely contributed to the current wave. Opposition leaders have criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not shutting down massive religious festivals sooner, and for continuing with massive political rallies ahead of several crucial state elections.Vacuum of power in Chad: The North African nation of Chad has been plunged into a sudden political crisis after rebels killed longtime President Idriss Déby. Déby — in power for over 30 years and recently re-elected to a sixth term in office — was gunned down during a visit to soldiers in the northern part of the country. The government will now be run by a military council presided over by Déby's 37-year-old son, a four-star general who immediately dissolved parliament, imposed a curfew, closed the border, and promised to hold a new election in 18 months. The new leader's top priority is to stop the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, a little-known militant group formed by former army officers opposed to Déby, from marching on the capital, N'Djamena. Meanwhile, unrest in Chad presents a big opportunity for jihadist groups to take advantage of the political uncertainty to create yet another foothold in the increasingly volatile Sahel region.
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Hard Numbers: Russian troop surge at Ukraine border, Cuban asylum seekers, Chinese hackers target Japan, US updates ‘don’t travel’ list
April 20, 2021
120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.
16: Of the roughly 71,000 asylum seekers currently waiting in Mexico for US immigration authorities to process their applications, 16 percent are from Cuba. The majority are economic migrants escaping a pandemic-fueled economic crisis on the island reminiscent of the 1990s, when tens of thousands of Cubans fled to America following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
200: Japan is investigating cyberattacks against some 200 Japanese companies and organizations, which were allegedly carried out by hackers linked to the Chinese military. One of the targets was the Japanese space agency, JAXA.80: The US plans to update its travel advisory list for Americans, now urging them to stay away from 80 percent of the world's 200 or so countries due to COVID. Non-resident US citizens are already not allowed to go to most European countries, while Washington has also banned most non-citizen travelers from Europe, Brazil, China, Iran, and South Africa.
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April 20, 2021
During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.
April 20, 2021
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.
What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?
Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.
Is Russia's increased troop presence at the Ukrainian border really only a military exercise?
No, nothing is ever only a military exercise when the Russians are engaging in this kind of territorial bluster. What they're saying is that they will not be cowed by the Americans. The Ukrainian government acting more independently than had been expected by Putin, putting sanctions under oligarchs that Putin likes and is close to, asking for a membership action plan from NATO. All of that is something that Putin wants to show that Biden doesn't have his back, he's angry at the Ukrainians, and the only way forward is the Minsk Process, and that means tens of thousands of troops. The Ukrainians are not going to provoke by engaging in conflict. I would be very surprised if the Russians actually engaged in any further intervention, actually went across the border. I suspect we'll see a climb down at the end of this two week period, as the Ministry of Defense in Russia said. But they have made it very clear to the Americans that this conflict is not getting resolved easily.
A Castro no longer leads Cuba. Who is the new leader and how will the country change?
The new leader is Miguel Díaz-Canel. He is the first non-Castro to run communist Cuba. This is half a century we're talking about. He's not a former military guy. He's mostly a technocrat, bureaucrat that focuses on the economy. That having been said, still communist Cuba and the United States is not engaging in policies of economic and political opening right now. I do think that's the way forward. I think that if the United States were to go back to the policies that we saw started under President Obama, where you engage in trade, the power asymmetry is so great that as the Cuban economy starts getting more influence and more dependence on American tourists and on remittances and on all of the things that the dominant American economy would provide, the pressure on the Cuban communist government to collapse would be very high. That's the way forward, but there's no political support for that right now. It's not high on the agenda for the Biden administration, so you don't expect it. But with Castro out, makes it easier for some of the members of Congress that have had challenges.
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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.
Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."
The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.
The US and Europe, as always, are issuing statements. As Navalny's condition worsened over the weekend, the White House warned that "there will be consequences" if Navalny dies on Russia's watch. The European Union demanded he get immediate access to independent medical professionals. The Kremlin, meanwhile, insisted that Navalny will not be allowed to die behind bars, but it also called him a "hooligan" for refusing to eat while sick.
The bigger question is what those consequences will be, and whether they really hurt Moscow in such a way that compels Putin to change his ways.
Until now, there has been little appetite in the West for tougher sanctions on Russia that could really choke the country's economy or ruling elites. Cutting off access to Russian sovereign debt would starve Russia of money, but also impact US and European investors. Sanctioning its oil or natural gas exports would have a crippling effect, but wreak havoc with global energy markets and potentially leave Europe — Moscow's main gas customer — in the cold.
What about inside Russia? Navalny isn't quite as popular domestically as he sometimes seems in the Western media. According to a recent poll, only 19 percent of Russians approve of his activities since he returned to the country. Compare that to Putin's own approval ratings, which have dipped a bit in recent months but still hover in the low sixties.
Still, Navalny's support is strongest among young, mostly urban Russians who braved subzero temperatures to come out in his support in January. They were the largest protests in Russia in years, even if they were quickly beaten back by a ferocious police crackdown. Navalny supporters now plan a much bigger rally on Wednesday, which will coincide with Putin's annual address to the nation. How many people will turn up?
Navalny is not the only contentious issue between the West and Russia nowadays. Over the weekend, the Czech Republic, a member of NATO, linked two Russian military intelligence agents to an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014. It just so happens that the two spooks in question are the same ones accused of the high-profile poisoning of a Russian dissident in the UK three years ago.
What's more, NATO is increasingly worried about the recent build-up of Russian soldiers at the border with eastern Ukraine. As fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces flares, there is concern that the Kremlin may muscle in with its own forces.
So, what may we expect? If Navalny dies, Western governments will surely respond in some way. They could place Russian officials or oligarchs on sanctions lists related to human rights violations. But at a moment when the Kremlin seems to be testing the West's resolve yet again, are Brussels and Washington willing to go any further?
Putin is watching this at least as closely as we are.
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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.
Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.
We're also about to discover whether John Kerry has gotten out over his skis diplomatically. Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate, has been busy lately. His consistent message that the 2020s must be the decisive "decade of action" is a welcome one, but it's being received with some annoyance by allies who were left to fill the vacuum when American leadership vaporized for the second half of the 2010s.
As part of a Canadian government that worked hard with allies to keep the US in the Paris Climate Accord under President Trump, I can tell you that diplomatic failure had real consequences, principally for the United States. The world moved on.
Most notably, China ran up the score on developing renewables and electric vehicles, while the European Union developed a mature carbon market and increasingly sophisticated policies to harness the power of financial markets to solve the climate crisis. Bets were hedged against American leadership everywhere.
Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change only intensified. Epic wildfires raged from the Arctic to Australia, and storms of biblical proportions in every season became irrefutable evidence for most of the world's population — especially its young people — that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models were right and the science is sound. Indeed, if climate scientists sound like alarmists these days, it's only because they're alarmed. They know that the most pernicious fact about greenhouse gas emissions is that they persist. That's true no matter the outcome of Biden's summit or the UN's COP summits — the 26th of which is set to take place in Glasgow this year. We have already baked into the atmosphere a dangerous amount of warming for the foreseeable future.
All of that means that the Biden administration is bringing America back to a very different climate discussion than the one it exited four years ago. The policy environment is less stable, more urgent and a lot more competitive. For one thing, we've gone from a world of wary multilateral cooperation to one of furious competition for dominance in the industries, technologies, and supply chains that will be at the heart of the global transition away from fossil-fuel dependence.
So, given all of this, what does the White House want out of the Earth Day Summit? Biden and — very personally — Kerry initially set a high bar for success at having the world's largest emitting countries show up with stronger commitments to reduce their emissions. In COP language, that means setting stronger Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) heading into Glasgow than were tabled for Paris. All of this sounds rather arcane to the uninitiated, but these national targets are the motor that drives the COP process, for better and worse.
At their best, targets are useful for directing complex systems toward meaningful ends, while providing clear benchmarks for accountability. At worst, they are the rhetorical equivalent of an inebriated promise to never touch another drop of alcohol. In fact, if you're really cynical, Net Zero targets set for mid-century are worse than that: they're promises that our children and grandchildren will never drink again, while we continue to empty the liquor cabinet.
In either case, the United States has had little luck in cajoling friends or competitors to arrive fully stocked for their Earth Day party. The world seems to be telling the Americans that they need to do a lot more walking and a lot less talking when it comes to climate change.
There are rumors at the time of this writing that the US will in fact unveil an ambitious new target, perhaps as much as a 50 percent reduction in emissions. There will be a gap between whatever number they choose and the policies they've planned to achieve it— most notably the lack of a broad-based carbon price in the US economy. If that gap is too wide, the target will strain credulity.
But what can we expect from other major economies that are set to attend the summit?
Large European states have been the most interesting to observe in the early days of the Biden administration. The post-Brexit UK needs friends more than it once did, so Biden can count on Boris, but the Germans and French have been cagier. Macron and Merkel's "meeting before the meeting" with Xi Jinping is a particularly spicy diplomatic move in this respect. Among other things, it should serve to remind the Americans that — for all the talk of reinvigorating the trans-Atlantic partnership — the most important climate dynamic is trans-Pacific.
Chinese and Indian emissions, particularly from coal, remain the single most lethal threat to the climate. Xi Jinping — a man not usually full of surprises — stunned most observers with his UNGA speech last fall, committing China to Net Zero by 2060 and to peak emissions this decade. He may have more aggressive action planned for the run-up to COP 26, but there is a 0 percent chance that he will allow the Americans the satisfaction of extracting it from him. He dropped in on Merkel and Macron to make sure the US got that message. Kerry's follow-up mission to China was tame compared to the diplomatic bunfight that took place between top US and Chinese diplomats in Alaska last month, but even the Americans described Kerry's success as "modest."
To his great credit, Kerry has spent a courageous amount of time and political capital on the problem of India's electricity sector, which has tripled its output from coal since the turn of the century. In fact, with Chinese coal use plateauing, it's not much of a stretch to say India's electricity grid will soon be the climate's public enemy number one. The traditional Indian argument that it is unfair for developed nations to impose restrictions on its development that they did not suffer themselves is surely fair. But as the great American physicist Robert Socolow has recently written, when it comes to the near-term future of the climate, "safe is not fair and fair is not safe." If John Kerry does nothing else as climate envoy other than find a way through the impasse where those arguments meet it will be time well spent.
Other nations whose emissions are of less importance will present a mixed bag on Earth Day. US-Russia relations are at a post-Cold War nadir, and nothing will happen this week to materially alter that. Canada and Japan might be the only two countries to show up with their assigned homework completed — more ambitious new targets — though I keep hearing noises that Brazil may surprise us as well.
Overall, Team Biden has done a good job of resetting expectations back from "every country must increase their ambition" There's more practical talk now about the US proving the depth of its own commitment to the climate with its NDC, and using the Summit as a productive kick off on the road to COP 26.
That's because their first 100 days of climate diplomacy has taught them what will be on full display for all of us on Earth Day. The climate policy arena has gotten more aggressive, urgent and competitive. The statements of those who attend will tell us less about where their countries stand, and a lot more about where each believes the United States sits in this new competition.Gerald Butts is Vice Chairman at Eurasia Group, and former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of Canada.
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