The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.
January 26, 2021
When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)
But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.
The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?
<p><strong>Giuseppe Conte — a political chameleon. </strong>A law professor with no political chops, Conte came to lead a populist <a href="https://time.com/5280993/m5s-lega-italy-populist-coalition/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">coalition </a>of the anti-establishment Five Star party and the right-wing League party in 2018. But when the coalition of convenience collapsed after just 14 months, Conte quickly learned to navigate Italy's choppy politics and stayed on, leading the successive <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/28/europe/italy-democratic-party-five-star-movement-coalition-intl/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">populist-center left government </a>until its recent collapse.</p> <p><strong>Risk vs return. </strong>Conte decided to resign after a small left-wing party led by former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/matteo-renzi-italia-viva-triggers-government-crisis-coronavirus-recovery-plan-giuseppe-conte/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">pulled its support</a> for the government last week, claiming that the prime minister had let technocrats — rather than elected officials — oversee spending of $200 billion in EU relief funds. But in doing so, Conte is now taking a massive gamble.</p> <p>Politically diminished after losing his majority in the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/italian-pm-giuseppe-conte-survives-confidence-vote-in-senate/a-56277943" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Senate</a> — which will hamstring his ability to pass legislation during the ongoing national emergency — Conte is betting that he can lie low before being reappointed to head Italy's next government.</p> <p><strong>But the political risks loom large. </strong>If a new government isn't formed in the near term, Italy could go to new elections, which would be a boon for the far-right <a href="https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/italy/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">League party</a> currently leading the polls. (Though there's no guarantee that the League party, led by right-wing firebrand <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/09/04/matteo-salvini-is-out-but-not-down/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Matteo Salvini</a>, could form a stable coalition either.)</p> <p>Alternatively, Italy's president could decide that a third Conte-led government is simply untenable, and tap another technocrat to lead a mix of ideologically-opposed parties that's unlikely to remain in place for the long haul. This would only breed further instability as the government is already struggling to roll out a COVID vaccine (Rome has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/world/pfizer-delay-in-vaccine-italy.html#:~:text=On%20Friday%2C%20Pfizer%20and%20its,process%20to%20increase%20future%20supply." rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">threatened</a> to sue Pfizer over drug shortages), as well as to manage the doling out of billions of dollars in pandemic aid from Brussels.</p> <p><strong>Indeed, the stakes couldn't be higher for pandemic-battered Italy, </strong>which has recorded over 85,000 <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality" target="_blank">deaths from COVID-19,</a> one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. After a series of lockdowns, its tourism-dependent economy has been pummeled, with GDP shrinking by around 10 percent in 2020. </p> <p>When Italy emerged as a COVID <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/27/world/europe/coronavirus-italy-bergamo.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">epicenter </a>last spring, Prime Minister Conte became a steady presence, addressing the nation frequently, and leading the country's top-down pandemic response. Conte is now betting that the trust he has built with the Italian people (he currently has a solid approval rating of<a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/italian-prime-minister-giuseppe-conte-quits-tactical-bid-build-new-n1255641" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> 56 percent)</a> will offset any perceptions of his role in spurring a new chapter of political chaos amid the national emergency. </p> <p>In Italy's notoriously <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/the-deep-roots-of-italy-coalition-chaos/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">complicated political system</a>, this sort of upheaval is par for the course. But pandemic politics don't reflect business as usual — and if Conte's gamble backfires, it could dash his hopes of making politics his full-time gig.</p>
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January 26, 2021
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:
What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?
Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.
<p>The call for abandoning ideological prejudice in the West, that sounds like, "But out of our affairs, we can do whatever we want to Uyghurs when there are a million in concentration and reeducation camps in our country." And we'll shut down journalists for even mentioning that if they try to operate inside China for that. The idea that the strong should not bully the weak sounds like, "Don't blame the United States. US, you better behave yourself." But what about the way the Chinese are treating Australia right now, or a host of other smaller countries that cross China's political, economic or national security interests? I mean, the willingness of Beijing to really make you pay when you engage in behaviors they don't like, is growing very quickly along with their international capacity to muscle flex. </p><p>And then on the pandemic, I mean, China is calling for greater global cooperation, but that also means that they need to cooperate in terms of transparency in what happened with coronavirus. And let's remember that there were, from my perspective, two big obscenities in terms of the world, in terms of coronavirus itself and the pandemic. One is the United States leaving the WHO in the middle of the pandemic, just an extraordinary antithesis of what a country should be doing, a country like the United States. But even more foundational was China lying to the World Health Organization about the lack of human-to-human spread for a month when we could have stopped this thing so much earlier, could have contained it, especially given the capacity we now see that China has to engage in contact tracing, quarantine and lockdown. And they chose not to. And that's a serious problem. For all of those reasons, this speech was not an enormously well-received speech by those watching.</p><p><strong>Why did the Italian Prime Minister resign? </strong></p><p>Well, I mean, largely it is over disagreement on how money should be spent in terms of massive coronavirus stimulus, sort of like the disagreement, the big disagreement, between Democrats and Republicans on the $1.9 trillion right now. I mean, how green, how sustainable should it be? How much money goes to healthcare? How much money goes to new technologies? How much to the workers? Former Prime Minister Renzi basically pulled out of the governing coalition over disagreements on that. And they weren't able to get a solid majority in a vote of confidence. That makes it much more difficult to governance done. And that's why Conte resigned. He is the 29th Prime Minister since World War II. If he doesn't get elected back in, if they can't put a new coalition together, they will have the 30th in Italy. Italy's kind of like the Doritos of G20 governments. Crunch all you want, they'll make more. That's kind of what we're looking at in Italy. The good news is it's not all that exciting.</p><p><strong>Where is the international outrage for what's happening in Ethiopia's Tigray region? </strong></p><p>And no question, there's a lot of violence. There are obvious human rights breaches across the board. There's danger of famine. There are tens of thousands of refugees. And this at the hands of a Prime Minister of Ethiopia that had won the Nobel Peace Prize, and some saying he should return the prize, just as they were saying that about Aung San Suu Kyi for some of her nationalist calls to help support minority repression in Myanmar after doing so much to stand up to the authoritarian government. A couple of points here. One is that Ethiopia, talking about this level of conflict at a time when everyone's focusing on coronavirus, everything small and local gets lost in the scrum. But also, Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia has led the charge in trying to move away from an ethnic-led federal government, where sort of different groups control political power, to one where it's much more of a traditional political party system, or I should say a modern political party system. And the Tigray in Ethiopia were the group that stood to lose the most party, a minority group that wielded effectively a majority of patronage and power. And so, the willingness to blame Abiy for the violence that we're seeing right now, even though he has the Ethiopian army, there's Eritrean military that's involved. It's an ally of his. I mean, clearly he has more power. But some of the initial violence clearly came at the hands of local Tigray as well who refused to recognize the Ethiopian election process and the suspension because of the pandemic, and instead held their own election, became a breakaway province. And so in these situations, there is so much conflicted narrative in terms of history, and it's very hard to lay responsibility and blame firmly at the hands of one side in this conflict. Those two things together get you why we're not paying as much attention as we perhaps should to a country with over 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one of the strongest growth trajectories economically in the entire world. </p>
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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.
But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?
<p><strong>A longtime thorn in Putin's side.</strong> Navalny, 44, is a prominent and charismatic anti-corruption crusader with a penchant for social media. He made his mark on Russian politics ten years ago, when he led <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/world/europe/thousands-protest-in-moscow-russia-in-defiance-of-putin.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">tens of thousands</a> of people in protests that began over election fraud and corruption but morphed into a broader outcry against Putin. </p><p>Since then he has remained a key player in the opposition to the current regime, often publishing <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/how-alexei-navalny-exposed-russian-corruption" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">exposés</a> detailing corruption among elites close to Putin or the president himself. In 2013, he came in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/kremlin-critic-alexei-navalny-has-strong-showing-in-moscow-mayoral-race-despite-loss/2013/09/09/dc9504e4-1924-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">second</a> in the race for mayor of Moscow, getting 27 percent of the vote. A year later he was convicted of graft in a trial viewed as politically motivated, and in 2017 he was briefly <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39398305" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">detained</a> for protesting against the astonishing wealth of then-PM Dmitri Medvedev. </p><p>Last year Navalny was <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-were-watching-navalny-poisoning-confirmed-israel-hamas-truce-japan-pm-hopefuls" target="_self">poisoned</a> with a rare Soviet-era nerve agent in an assassination attempt that he and independent observers say was carried out by state security agents. After recovering in Germany, he <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-were-watching-navalnys-return-to-russia-italian-pm-in-the-hot-seat-covid-probe-begins" target="_self">returned</a> to Russia this week — knowing he'd be arrested upon arrival. </p><p><strong>Popular… for some.</strong> Navalny has struggled in all his attempts to run for elected office because his support is strongest among urban and younger Russians. Overall, only about 20 percent of the wider population agree with him, and 50 percent <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/alexei-navalny-most-russians-dont-care-about-his-work-poll-shows/a-51114579" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">oppose his actions</a>. What's more, half of Russians believe his poisoning was either a hoax or that it was carried out by the West. </p><p><strong>So, why does he worry Putin?</strong> For one thing, Navalny is laser-focused on an issue that affects all Russians — corruption — and has a knack for getting his message out. That can help him broaden his base beyond the the laptop-toting "creative" urban class, and potentially unify Russians from all walks of life across 11 time zones. </p><p>As for his other politics, Navalny often takes positions that many in the West would characterize as <a href="https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-navalny-may-not-be-a-friend-of-the-west" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">nationalistic</a>, yet are quite popular in Russia. He defended Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and in the past made disparaging comments about Central Asian migrants. </p><p><strong>Is this time different?</strong> The 2011 protests petered out largely because Navalny then lacked strong support outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, in recent years anti-Putin rallies have increasingly taken place in a host of mid-sized cities, including in <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-were-watching-sudan-softens-laws-duda-wins-by-a-whisker-in-poland-protests-erupt-in-russias-far-east" target="_self">remote parts</a> of Siberia.</p><p>With Putin — now in his 21st year in power — showing <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/896181/putin-approval-rating-russia/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">approval ratings</a> near all-time lows (by his own standards) ahead of Duma elections this fall, Navalny has a window of opportunity to raise the stakes. After all, Putin has <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-vote/russians-grant-putin-right-to-extend-his-rule-until-2036-in-landslide-vote-idUSKBN24254A" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">cleared the way</a> to stay in power until 2036 if he wants. </p><p><strong>But let's keep things in perspective.</strong> While Navalny's level of support is <a href="https://www.levada.ru/en/2020/11/02/alexey-navalny/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">rising</a>, it's not (yet) enough to pose an existential threat for Putin. Russia's president is not as popular as he once was, but still <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/putin-is-still-winning" target="_self">enjoys</a> an approval rating of more than 60 percent, controls a massive and loyal security apparatus, and has brought the entire business elite to heel. </p><p>Navalny's challenge is to put enough people on the streets to scare Putin's cronies and security men into thinking twice about continuing to support him — no easy feat in a country where <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/vladimir-putin-rides-to-victory-on-russia-election-apathy-and-indifference/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">political apathy</a> is widespread, and fear of 1990s-style instability is real.</p>The next big test for Navalny will come at <a href="https://apnews.com/article/alexei-navalny-supporters-protest-russia-438dfdc718f877f7c15bb646d41343a8" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Sunday's protest</a>. The turnout will determine his immediate fate as Putin's nemesis.<p><br/></p><p><em>Note: Story corrected to reflect attendance of protests outside Moscow.</em></p>
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What We're Watching: Indian farmer revolt, EU vs vaccine makers, Myanmar saber-rattling, Maduro's miracles
January 26, 2021
Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.
<p><strong>EU threatens vaccine export controls:</strong> Fed up with delays in vaccine supply, the EU is threatening to impose <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/enraged-at-astrazeneca-over-shortfall-eu-calls-for-vaccine-export-controls/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">export controls</a> on the jabs unless pharma companies hand over more doses. The threat comes after Italy threatened to <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/hard-numbers-suicide-bombing-in-baghdad-indias-farm-bill-pause-italy-to-sue-pfizer-portugals-covid-surge" target="_self">sue Pfizer</a> for cutting the amount of vaccine doses it would supply, and AstraZeneca — whose jab has yet to be approved for use by EU health regulators — <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/22/covid-oxfordastrazeneca-vaccine-delivery-to-eu-to-be-cut-by-60" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">announced</a> it'll cut supplies to the bloc by 60 percent. That nuclear option will likely be met with strong pushback from the pharmaceuticals, and may delay delivery of EU-made jabs bound for non-EU countries. Brussels is running out of options to ensure the 27 EU member states get enough vaccines to ramp up immunization as the continent suffers a third wave of the pandemic, and before new COVID strains potentially render the vaccines less effective. We're watching to see how the drug makers react to the threat of export controls, and whether the problem drags on and thus sets back the EU's plans of achieving <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/the-graphic-truth-the-unequal-road-to-herd-immunity" target="_self">herd immunity</a> in a few months' time.</p><p><strong>Coup in Myanmar?</strong> More than ten weeks after Myanmar held only its second national election since democracy was "restored" less than a decade ago, the outcome is still in limbo over objections from the party backed by the military. The now-dominant National League for Democracy has claimed a <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-were-watching-myanmars-election-bolivias-new-president-bidens-covid-crew" target="_self">landslide win</a> in the December vote. But the generals — whose party ran the show until 2015 — have alleged voter fraud, and ominously <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-military/myanmar-army-warns-may-take-action-over-its-election-dispute-idUSKBN29V1HI" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">warned</a> they may "take action" if the election commission doesn't <a href="https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Myanmar-s-ruling-party-escalates-constitutional-feud-with-military" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">fully investigate</a>. Under the 2008 constitution, the military-backed party is entitled to a quarter of all seats in parliament and the national security portfolios in the cabinet, but the military has long aimed to become a viable alternative to the NLD, which is headed by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Until now, Suu Kyi has kept the generals at bay by sharing some power, but in Myanmar — where the military has ruled for most of the country's post-independence history — Suu Kyi needs to watch her back.</p><h3>What We're Ignoring</h3><strong>Maduro's "miracle" drug</strong>: Finally, a cure for COVID! Easy to take! No side effects! Tastes great! Gives your hair a luscious sheen, acts as a mosquito repellent, and might just help you find the perfect parking spot! Forgive us for ignoring <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-venezuela/doctors-skeptical-as-venezuelas-maduro-touts-coronavirus-miracle-drug-idUSKBN29V1JQ" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's claims </a>that he has hit upon a miracle treatment for coronavirus. He claims that the new drug, Carvativir, was tested for nine months in a Caracas hospital but he has offered no scientific evidence for his claims. We are skeptical, but — but! — if Maduro is willing to throw in a free bottle of Original Orinoco Snake Oil as part of the package, we'll take the plunge and order up a case of Carvativir anyway.
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