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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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What We’re Watching: Left wins Norway’s climate vote, everyone wants India’s jabs, junta denied Myanmar’s UN seat

Norway's climate election result: Most votes have now been counted from Norway's parliamentary election, and the left-leaning Labour party, headed by former FM Jonas Gahr Støre, has reaped 46 out of 168 seats up for grabs, ousting the conservative government led by PM Erna Solberg. Støre will now try to form a coalition government that's expected to include the agrarian Centre Party as well as the Socialist Party. The election was broadly seen as a referendum on climate change policy, given that oil accounts for more than 40 percent of Norway's exports and employs 7 percent of the entire workforce — though Norway itself has rolled out an ambitious green agenda at home. Støre says that he'll limit new oil explorations, but has ruled out getting rid of fossil fuels, saying that oil revenues could help fund the transition away from oil in the long run. Importantly, the Greens, the only political party that called for an end to all oil exploration, reaped only 4 percent of the vote, and is therefore unlikely to yield enough (or any) influence. Regardless, Støre may need to incorporate some smaller left-wing parties in his coalition that could force him to take a more forceful stance on climate change, like raising carbon taxes.

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What We’re Watching: COVAX falls short, UK returns migrant boats to France, Guinea coup memes

COVAX comes up short. Who's to blame? The World Health Organization revealed Wednesday that the COVAX scheme would fall half a billion doses short of its target to deliver 1.9 billion COVID vaccine doses to low- and middle-income ex countries by the end of 2021. Several factors have contributed to this shortfall, including India's decision to halt vaccine exports earlier this year amid a catastrophic COVID outbreak, and mixed messaging from the WHO and national governments about the safety and scaling of certain vaccines that disrupted COVAX's supply chain. The WHO has long taken aim at rich countries rolling out booster shots before developing states dole out first and second shots to their populations. But US President Joe Biden hit back in recent days saying that the argument of boosters vs donating shots is "a false choice," saying the US can, and has, done both. So far, COVAX has delivered 245 million doses, but just 0.4 percent of all jabs administered globally have been in low-income states.

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Why CIA director Bill Burns met with the Taliban

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on the CIA director's secret meeting with the leader of the Taliban, the G7 emergency meeting on Afghanistan, and the future of vaccine mandates following the FDA's approval of Pfizer's COVID vaccine.

CIA director Bill Burns held a secret meeting with the leader of the Taliban. How will it impact the ongoing evacuations?

Well, at the very least, you have to think that America's top priority, ensuring that all Americans get out of Afghanistan, given that the US controls nothing on the ground but Kabul Airport, will be facilitated. I would think that that was the reason for him to be there, absolute top priority. That has been successful. If it was a failure, we would've heard something about it by now, and the situation on the ground would be quite different. That is very different though than what happens after August 31st, and whether or not all of the Afghan nationals working with the Americans and in physical danger are going to be let out. So far, I haven't heard that from the Taliban. Certainly that will be a big piece of the negotiations. But better that he's there than not.

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Biden's speech on Afghanistan ignores serious failures; Afghan refugee crisis

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on President Biden's Afghanistan speech, the Afghan refugee crisis that will follow the Taliban takeover, and booster shots in the US.

What did you think of President Biden's speech on the Afghan withdrawal?

Two things. One, I thought he made a very compelling case for why the United States needed to leave when we did. The reduction in US troops that already happened under Trump, the strengthening of the Taliban, the difficulty of any expansion, I get all of that, but it was, listening to it as if the last 72 hours hadn't happened. He said that, "this is on me, the buck stops with me," but didn't talk really about any of the serious failures and how they could have occurred on the ground in Afghanistan. And there's a lot to answer for there. So I certainly don't give high marks to the speech, if I'm being honest with you. I'm doing my best.

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COVID hypocrisy & misinformation

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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COVID vaccine mandates are coming; political instability in Tunisia

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Make the COVID vaccine mandatory

Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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