We're just days away from COP26, the landmark global climate conference that's been dubbed the last chance to get the climate crisis in check. In the lead-up to the event in Glasgow, dozens of countries have released new ambitions to reduce their future carbon footprints. For years, climate activists and experts have called on governments to introduce carbon pricing schemes – either through taxes or emissions-trading schemes. So who's heeded the warning? We take a look at the top ten carbon emitters' share of global emissions and details about their respective national carbon pricing schemes.
Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.
This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.
The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?
Background: who's willing to recognize the Taliban?
Regional powers like Russia and China have suggested they'll recognize the Taliban, provided that the group safeguards their respective interests.
A pragmatic and increasingly ambitious China wants two things: access to Afghanistan's mineral wealth, and an opportunity to build bridges and roads across the country as part of its vision to crisscross Asia with Chinese infrastructure. Russia wants to ensure the Taliban don't give safe haven to militants targeting Russia and the Muslim-majority former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The isolated Taliban will surely want Beijing's infrastructure investment – and the job creation that goes with it. And while it's unclear how much economic influence Russia has on the ground, Moscow has emerged as the key power-broker in recent months, suggesting it does have diplomatic clout as it tries to maintain good relations with the new government in Kabul.
Moreover, Pakistan has long enjoyed close ties with the Taliban, while Turkey has been cozying up to the Taliban as part of its effort to expand its influence in Muslim-majority countries, and stop an influx of Afghan refugees arriving via Iran. India – worried that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would help its arch-nemesis Pakistan launch attacks against it – wants to maintain solid relations with Kabul as well.
But… does the Taliban-led government even need the US' endorsement to function?
To a certain degree, yes. The US dominates the global financial system, with some two-thirds of international trade and lending done in US dollars. It also has sufficient control over the SWIFT system, which allows financial institutions and banks to safely transfer money around the globe. Indeed, blocking countries from this network can be extremely painful (just ask the Iranians).
The US has also used its clout at international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank to compel these institutions to suspend projects and payments to Afghanistan in recent months. Additionally, there is still some uncertainty about how US sanctions might apply to a Taliban-run Afghanistan. Anyone caught doing business with Taliban-administered banks might face the risk of sanctions, as is the case with Iran. This is hardly a solid PR ploy to attract outside investment.
What's more, the bulk of Afghanistan's foreign reserves – more than $9 billion – are tied up in US banks, and Washington has ensured that the Taliban only have access to a meager 0.1-0.2 percent of this stash. Even before the takeover, the country's economy was slated to shrink because of the pandemic. Now, a depreciating currency as a result of a cash crunch and falling imports is making matters worse: the IMF recently warned that the state's GDP could shrink by 30 percent this year.
Still, the Taliban can get support and aid from other places. Indeed, the Islamist group could turn to regional development banks for disbursements like the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which the US is not a member of, as well as the Asian Development Bank that already has extensive operations in Afghanistan.
And if all else fails, there's always opium. The Taliban have made a mint from opium production in recent years, with the group accounting for around 85 percent of the global supply. Illicit mining activities have also proven to be a cash-cow, as has the side hustle of selling US-made weapons and vehicles left behind amid the chaotic American withdrawal.
Looking ahead. For all the banter about America being in decline, Uncle Sam still pulls (most of) the levers of power in the global financial system. The Taliban can find alternative sources of support and income – but it certainly won't be easy.
When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.
Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.
NBA in hot water again with China: The NBA season is barely underway, and the league is already embroiled in a fresh political scandal involving China. Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter posted a video supporting Tibetan independence (a throwback issue to be sure, but hey the 1990s are popular again) and blasting Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "brutal dictator." He also posted, and wore, these absolutely fire "Free Tibet" sneakers. In response, the Chinese sports app Tencent promptly pulled all Celtics games and highlights. The NBA is wildly popular — and lucrative — in China, and the CCP knows it: back in 2019, Chinese state TV stopped broadcasting NBA games for months in response to an NBA team exec's pro-Hong Kong tweet, in a move that reportedly cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. So what should the NBA do now? If they stand up for Kanter, they risk losing big money. If they don't, they look like they are kowtowing to a repressive government. Is it an impossible situation? Maybe, but it's only the latest values vs valuations struggle for an American company that does business in the world's largest market.EU leaders talk Poland, energy: EU leaders are meeting in Brussels for a two-day summit where two items will dominate the agenda. First, how to respond to Poland's defiance of the bloc's rules, after the country's top court recently ruled that its own constitution trumps EU law. Brussels is fuming at this direct challenge to its power and values, and may withhold badly-needed COVID relief funds until Warsaw backs off. The "illiberal" Polish government, meanwhile, is in a pickle because EU membership is so popular among Poles they can't push Brussels too far, let alone seriously threaten to leave. The other big issue at the summit is how to deal with rising energy prices, an issue that has split the Union: the European Commission, Germany and others say the current price surge will be resolved once pandemic-related shortages are over, but Greece, Hungary, and Spain want the bloc to reform the way power is bought and sold across the EU. Both sides agree that Russia could do a lot more to help its top natural gas customers, but Vladimir Putin perhaps thinks it's precisely the best time to squeeze the EU amid a broader rift with NATO.
Hard Numbers: Indians get vaxxed, Barbados gets a president, Germany gets (close to) a coalition, Turkey won’t get stiffed for US jets
1 billion: One billion Indians have now gotten at least one COVID vaccine shot. It's a big turnaround for the country, which stumbled with the initial rollout and then suspended vaccine exports for months to deal with a deadly wave in the spring. Still, only 30 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated in India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines.
4: Barbados has appointed Sandra Mason as its first president, to replace Queen Elizabeth II as head of state in a few weeks. Barbados is the fourth former British colony in the Caribbean to become a republic after Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, and Dominica.
12: The center-left SPD, the Greens, and the center-right FDP have published a 12-page document laying out how they plan to govern Germany in a three-way coalition. Among other things, the partners have agreed to leave tax rates alone, respect debt limits, phase out coal by 2030, and increase the minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.97) per hour.1.4 billion: Turkey says it'll recover a $1.4 billion downpayment for US-made F-35 fighter jets, perhaps by using it to purchase less advanced F-16 jets. Washington recently blocked Ankara from getting the F-35s after the Turks defied the US by buying a missile defense system from Russia.
This year, American kids who've asked Santa for L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, Nerf blasters, or classic Legos may be disappointed. The delivery of these and other in-demand toys could be delayed due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions that are still hitting US businesses and consumers hard. Container vessels loaded with precious cargo are waiting days to enter busy US ports, while within the country truck drivers are working flat out to meet soaring demand for goods of all kinds. Products are getting wildly expensive or arriving late. Here's a snapshot of the problem, showing longer delivery times, skyrocketing freight and shipping costs, and trucker employment.
Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.
Sup al-Qaeda — Mali: The West African nation of Mali has long had a problem with jihadist violence, and French soldiers deployed there since 2013 have barely made a dent. Now, the military-civilian transitional government that has run things since last year's coup may try something different: ask local Islamic clerics to talk on their behalf to al-Qaeda's main affiliate in the country. They could find some common ground: the government seem open to sharia law and kicking out all foreign troops in exchange for peace. Former colonial power France, meanwhile, says it won't conduct joint military operations in any country that negotiates with jihadists, but Paris' failure to quell jihadist violence means the French now have little leverage with Bamako. Interestingly, the peace talks are being floated just as Mali is mulling a Russian offer to send 1,000 mercenaries to fight al-Qaeda — which the French are fiercely against, and will likely be scrapped if the government cuts a deal with the jihadists. More broadly, whatever happens in Mali will have ripple effects across the entire Sahel region.The artist formerly known as "Facebook": Faced with a growing chorus of criticism about his company's unchecked market power, its corrosive impact on political discourse, its harm to kids, and its propensity to both spread dangerous lies and threaten free speech, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is doing the obvious thing: he's changing its name. That's right, in the coming days, the social media giant is set to unveil a new handle of its own, according to a scoop by The Verge. The name change won't affect the core social media app itself, but it will become the primary moniker for the broader conglomerate, which Zuckerberg wants to focus on developing the "metaverse" and other new technologies. This is similar to what Google did in 2015, when it rebranded itself as Alphabet or, if you like, to what Kanye West did two days ago when he rebranded himself as "Ye". Whether Zuck's move will take some of the regulatory heat off of Facebook is anyone's guess, but in the meantime, what do you think he should call the new company?
Hard Numbers: Nazi camp secretary on trial, Putin passes on COP26, Afghan refugee crisis, Greek shipping vs EU
11,412: Irmgard Furchner, a 92-year-old former typist at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, is facing trial for contributing to the murder of 11,412 people there. Furchner tried to escape German authorities in late September by sneaking out of her nursing home, but was arrested hours later and slapped with an electronic wrist tag.
0: There will be zero Vladimir Putins at the upcoming COP26 climate summit. The Kremlin said the Russian president will not attend, but didn't explain why — perhaps Putin wants to take the week-long paid holiday that he just approved for all Russians to stay home as COVID deaths there soar again.
900 million: The IMF has warned that Afghanistan's Taliban-run economy may contract by up to 30 percent this year, forcing an exodus of Afghans to neighboring countries. The Fund says Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan will need a combined $900 million to host at least one million Afghan refugees.58: Greece is objecting to new EU emissions reduction targets that, Athens says, the mighty Greek shipping industry can't possibly hit in time. Greek-owned vessels account for 58 percent of the EU's entire maritime shipping fleet.