A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.
Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.
Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.
The importance of Teitiota
In 2013, Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand. His home on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, he argued, would be underwater within 15 years. (He had scientific studies to back him up.) Isn't it my right as a human being to live on land, he asked, and why wait until the flood waters come?
New Zealand, unwilling to open the door to an unknown number of other asylum seekers, said no, and Teitiota then asked the United Nations to grant him the status of climate refugee. Last year, the UN Committee on Human Rights ruled that there was still time to organize the relocation of all Kiribati's people and refused his request.
But… the UN ruling did accept the principle that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change. That argument establishes a basis for refugee rights.
Six feet above sea level
Kiribati, Teitiota's home, a string of 33 islands with a population of about 100,000 and an average elevation of less than six feet above sea level, will become the first "climate refugee nation" when rising seas submerge much of its territory, drop salt into groundwater, and destroy the coral reefs that provide natural barriers against storm surges.
Faced with the inevitable, Kiribati's government has plans to move its entire population hundreds of miles across open ocean to land it has purchased in Fiji. They will no longer be Kiribatians. They will become subject to the laws of their new country, and their rights remain vaguely defined. It's not clear how these tens of thousands of people will support themselves, because the forested hillsides they'll live on won't allow them to grow anything, though China has promised "technical assistance" in developing the land, and they won't have fishing rights.
Now, multiply that problem by tens of millions of people. More than 45 million of Bangladesh's 161 million live in coastal areas prone to flooding. Studies estimate that rising seas alone will force as many as 18 million of them from their homes as their country loses 11 percent of its land over the next 30 years. The number and intensity of tropical storms that drench these people is already rising.
Where will those people go? Will they be welcome somewhere else? Will their human rights be respected?
The bottom line. This is not a Pacific problem or a South Asian problem. This drama will play out everywhere that seas are rising and weather patterns are changing. In other words, everywhere.The world's wealthiest countries, those most responsible for the carbon emissions that created this storm, better have a plan for this.
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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.
Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic
Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.
April 14, 2021
On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.
Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.
Kerry is the first high-level Biden administration official to set foot in the country. He does so just a week ahead of a major global "climate summit" that his boss is hosting, and a month after top Chinese and US diplomats spent a day trashing each other in Alaska.
This is the peculiar challenge of a rapidly deteriorating US-China relationship. On the one hand, it's no secret that Beijing and Washington are at odds over a lot of issues: technological rivalries, human rights, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea.
On the other hand, both sides know that any serious plan to avert a global climate catastrophe requires cooperation between the world's number one polluter, China, and the US, which is number two.
What's more, time is running out: at the moment the world is hurtling towards a temperature rise of 3 degrees over pre-industrial averages. Far above the goal of 1.5 degrees that scientists say will avert the worst effects of the warming.
The good news is, climate change is a big deal for both sides. The Biden administration has made climate "an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security." One of the president's first moves after taking office was to rejoin the Paris Accords, which his predecessor, Donald Trump, had ditched.
Meanwhile, although China continues to build lots of coal-fired power plants, it's also become a global leader in renewables like solar power and electric vehicles. Last fall, Beijing pledged to hit peak carbon output by 2030, and to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 (meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of carbon capture, either naturally or through technological means.)
So when Kerry walks into the room today, what is each side looking for?
The US wants China to show up. At a basic level, John Kerry wants China to attend his boss's climate summit next week. So far, the invitation has been languishing in Xi Jinping's inbox while Beijing decides what it has to gain or lose by attending a US-hosted climate event. Second, Kerry wants the Chinese to provide more detail on precisely how they plan to meet their emissions goals. The Communist Party of China's recent, highly anticipated 5-year plan didn't include much detail.
What does China want? A major aim is to agree with the US on how to provide financial assistance to developing countries that are worried about the economic and financial consequences of giving up on cheap fossil fuels. Beijing probably sees this as a win-win: helping to get more countries on board with climate goals, which the US wants, while also creating more global demand for the renewables technology that China is keen to sell.
But China also wants something else: to feel out whether the US is going to treat Beijing as a partner or as a subordinate. Beijing has made clear — rightly or wrongly — that it sees itself as Washington's equal on a whole host of global issues, including climate. The CCP will bristle at the notion that a US envoy has arrived simply to browbeat them about their climate commitments.So can the US and China really work together on climate while fighting about everything else? This is the question of the century. In an ideal world, Beijing and Washington could build trust on climate issues that helps to moderate their clashes in other areas. In a less ideal world, climate cooperation continues even as the two sides exchange fire everywhere else. The worst outcome for both sides — and the rest of the world — is one in which climate cooperation itself falls apart.
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April 15, 2021
A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.
US hits Russia with sanctions: The Biden administration on Thursday announced a new wave of US economic sanctions against Russia, in retaliation for Russia's alleged backing of the SolarWinds cyberattack against American government agencies and large corporations, and the Kremlin's meddling in the 2020 election. Along with blacklisting a few dozen Russian companies and officials, the new measures prevent US banks from buying new ruble-denominated bonds, a measure meant to inflict pain on the Russian economy. For now, bond markets seem not be too worried, but one big question is whether the US is able to get its Asian and European allies to impose similar restrictions, which would hurt Moscow more. The Kremlin, which denies any involvement in cyberattacks or election shenanigans, has pledged to retaliate. There will certainly be lots to discuss if Vladimir Putin accepts Joe Biden's recent proposal to hold the first US-Russia summit since Helsinki in 2018.
The Great Croissant of Krakow: The Krakow Animal Welfare Society recently received an alarming phone call. Sharp-eyed locals in Poland's second largest city had spotted an unusual animal of some kind, sitting in a lilac tree near an apartment block. They were worried about what the strange creature might do next. Residents speculated that it might be some monstrous bird of prey, or perhaps an iguana on the loose from some far-off tropical country. They feared leaving their windows open. When animal rescue workers finally appeared on the scene, they quickly discovered that the dangerous beast was, in fact, a large croissant. Word on the street is that it had fallen into the tree from the windowsill of some thoughtful person who wanted to feed any birds of prey — or iguanas — that might happen by. Officials managed to surround and subdue the two-day old croissant, and we assume they then released it back into the wild. But don't let the happy ending lull you into complacency, Signal readers. If you see something, say something.
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Hard Numbers: Amazon deforestation, South Sudan famine, COVID vaccine protection, Lebanese inflation
April 15, 2021
16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.
7.24 million: Up to 7.24 million people in South Sudan will likely suffer acute food insecurity in the coming months, according to the World Food Programme. The country is one of the UN's top 10 projected global hunger hotspots for this year.
0.008: Fully vaccinated people in the US have a 0.008 percent chance of getting COVID, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials have always warned that vaccination is not 100 percent effective against infection, but that the benefits of inoculation far outweigh the risks.5: Basic food items in Lebanon are now five times more expensive than two years ago. Lebanon's economic collapse, which began in late 2019, has seen the value of the local currency plunge, raising the prices of everyday items in a nation that imports around 80 percent of the goods it consumes.
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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.
And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.
That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.
Now, first of all, truth in advertising, Kishore is former ambassador to the UN, former dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School – it's like the Kennedy School but of Singapore, and a decidedly good guy. We've known each other for decades, heck, I even blurbed one of his books. But is that going to stop us from adding red ink to the Pink Paper, the Financial Times? No, sir! Let's get out that pen.
So first, Kishore cites the late American diplomat and strategist George Kennan, always a good thing to do in an op-ed, who wrote during the Cold War that the United States should aspire "to create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problem of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a world power." And Kishore says that China is checking all these boxes right now and the United States is not. He mentions things like declining life expectancy and mounting income inequality as woes that are undermining America's standing.
And I admit that China certainly seems to know what it wants. But China has massive internal structural problems of its own, including demographic decline and massively growing pollution. So long as Beijing is interning Uighurs en masse, and cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong, or alienating most of the world's advanced democracies with a belligerent foreign policy, that argument of Kennan's is a tough sell to apply.
OK, next Kishore argues that "the US cold war strategy" won't work to isolate China.
That's right, a cold war strategy won't work. But the United States isn't using one. China is too deeply embedded in the global economy, and the United States isn't expecting China to have a Soviet-style collapse. No one in the Biden administration thinks that. It's actually trying to balance decades of cooperation with growing competition. Now there are some people out there that say the United States is in a cold war with China, like Niall Ferguson. But we're not and they're wrong. And that's a whole different Red Pen. Next week we can cover that one.
Mahbubani, Kishore also writes that "the Chinese people can see that their government has protected them well in the Covid-19 emergency."
Now, it's also certainly the case the United States absolutely blew the pandemic response for some time. But today it is administering far more vaccine doses and far more quickly than has China. And China's vaccines don't work so well. And let's also not forget how one government's mismanagement hastened the spread of a global pandemic. Hint, it's not the United States.
Fourth point, Kishore writes that Biden is "making a strategic mistake" he says, "in carrying on with Donald Trump's policies towards China." He adds that Biden should declare "that Trump was wrong on China."
Never mind that that would be horrible domestic politics for Biden but a broader question, was Trump really wrong about the long-term challenge in the United States-China relationship? I mean sure, his policy implementation was erratic, and Trump's tweets generally sucked. The Biden team realizes it's going to have to compete with Beijing in a much more disciplined and coordinated way than the Trump administration. But China's deepening authoritarianism and increased power and presence on the global stage has meant that the United States was eventually going to recalibrate policy, whoever the president. That's why China policy is one of the very few issues in the United States right now that has broad bipartisan agreement in orientation.
Finally, Kishore says that Washington "should press the pause button on the US-Chinese geopolitical contest."
If only it were that easy, Kishore! It takes two to tango. If China is willing to do so, a pause may be possible. But there's no sign of that at this stage at all.
That's your Red Pen for today, folks. We'll see you again soon with another edition. Have a suggestion for a piece we should take our pen to? Tweet it out to @gzeromedia using #TheRedPen and we'll check it out.
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