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The coming climate apartheid

A man attempts to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts at a ranch near the town on Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya.

Over the past 40 years, the economic gap between the world's richest and poorest countries and peoples has narrowed sharply. Goods, services, and people began to cross borders at greater velocity, creating opportunities for people to live healthier, more secure, and more prosperous lives. Billions rose out of poverty.

Here's the catch: all that beneficial economic activity has also sharply increased the use of fossil fuels and the amount of carbon that's reaching the atmosphere. Life on earth remains possible only because carbon dioxide in our atmosphere captures enough heat from the sun to sustain us while deflecting enough extra heat into space to keep us from burning up. That's the "natural greenhouse effect."

The fossil fuels we've been using to produce energy have upset a delicate atmospheric balance by pumping a lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which traps more heat near the earth's surface. Deforestation in some parts of the world adds to the problem, because trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. Higher temperatures melt Arctic and Antarctic ice, rising sea levels everywhere.

And as sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more common, poorer countries and people are the most vulnerable. In other words, climate change threatens to undo many of the gains of the past 40 years.

The poorer half of the world's people generate just 10 percent of the world's carbon emissions, but the UN has warned that poorer countries – which are more dependent on climate-vulnerable agriculture and generally have ricketier infrastructure – will bear 75 percent of the costs for paying for it: the costs of housing and feeding refugees driven from their homes by floods or famines, as well as rebuilding roads, bridges, and property damaged by more extreme weather.

The result will be a form of "climate apartheid," a term coined by Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Some governments in wealthier countries will promise to help, but their taxpayers, aware of climate-related disasters in their own countries, will likely prove less willing to bear the burdens of new "bailouts" for foreign countries.

To understand the scale of this problem, take the example of Bangladesh. More than 45 million of Bangladesh's 161 million people now live in places already prone to flooding. Climate scientists warn that global warming will increase the frequency and severity of the storms that hit Bangladesh. Over the next generation, rising sea levels alone will force as many as 18 million Bangladeshis from their homes.

This catastrophe will be repeated in poorer countries in every region of the world. In some cases, people will be dislocated by flooding. In other cases, there will be droughts. These movements can have political consequences: failed crops in rural Syria a decade ago sent large numbers of people scrambling into cities, adding to the growing unrest in that country at the time. Droughts in Central America have pushed many people north toward the US border in search of better prospects.

Who will pay to meet these coming challenges? Where will these people go? How will they be greeted when they get there? Taxpayers in New York, London, Shanghai and other rich countries may not be interested in helping. International organizations can't shoulder the load alone. But because the world remains deeply interconnected, this isn't a problem only for the world's poorest people. It's a challenge for all of us.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody. Ian Bremmer here, have your quick take. Plenty going on this week. I could of course talk about all these new Biden appointees, but frankly, there's not that much that surprising there. Moderate, lots of expertise, not very controversial, almost all of which could get through a Republican controlled Senate, presuming that markets are going to be reasonably happy, progressives in the Democratic party somewhat less so. But no, the big news right now internationally, certainly about Iran. The Iranians started this year with the assassination by the United States of their defense leader, Qasem Soleimani. Everyone was worried about war. Now, closing the year with the assassination of the head of their nuclear program and historically the head of their nuclear weapons program.

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Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe

Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET


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