That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.
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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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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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.
Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic
Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.
In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.
Much ado about Brexit. As in Scotland, a majority of people in Northern Ireland (56 percent) voted for the UK to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum. Those who did not were mostly unionists closely aligned with the UK government.
The problem is that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which ended large-scale sectarian violence — prohibits reinstalling a physical border between Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an independent country and EU member state. For UK-EU trade, the de-facto border is now in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. As a result, unionists feel trade restrictions have isolated them from the rest of the United Kingdom.
While London and Brussels haggle over cross-border checks and trade quotas, early glitches, exacerbated by COVID disruptions, have left some Belfast supermarket shelves empty. Customs officials, facing intimidation from angry citizens, are scared to show up to work. Many loyalists now believe the Brexit agreement that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed up for has given them the short end of the stick.
But it's not all about Brexit. One of the triggers for last week's riots was unionist outrage at the non-prosecution of Sinn Féin officials who ignored COVID rules to attend the funeral of a former commander of the Irish Republican Army, responsible for most unionist deaths during The Troubles, a period of heightened sectarian violence in the early 1970s. (Sinn Féin used to be the IRA's political arm, and governed Northern Ireland in partnership with the unionist DUP until their power-sharing agreement collapsed in 2017.)
Another was a recent police crackdown on gangs led by ex-paramilitaries who have struggled to find decent jobs. Indeed, many of the rioters are youngsters with no memory of The Troubles but who live in poverty in the urban ghettos that still separate working-class Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. Pandemic-related lockdowns, job losses and education disruptions have made everything worse.
For unionists, the bigger issue is how Brexit will change Northern Ireland's future. In short, unionists fear the UK-EU split will create irresistible momentum toward Irish reunification, leaving Protestant unionists outside the UK, inside the EU, and a small and resented minority in a majority Catholic country.
A recent poll showed that 47 percent of voters prefer to remain part of the UK, compared to 42 percent in favor of joining the Irish republic. However, most Northern Irish under 45 supported leaving the UK, and if current demographic trends — Catholics have a higher fertility rate than Protestants — hold, it may be only a matter of time for Irish unity to be the majority choice.
That Brexit may end up breaking up the UK is no longer a doomsday prediction. Scotland's first minister is likely to demand a fresh referendum if pro-independence parties perform well in Scottish parliamentary elections on May 6. Republicans in Ireland will argue they have the same right. Perhaps Brexit will deliver the Irish unity that decades of violence failed to accomplish.
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April 14, 2021
Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.
Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.
Haiti PM out: Prime Minister Claude Joseph has stepped down in response to worsening unrest in Haiti, particularly the recent kidnapping by an armed gang of 10 people — including seven clergy members — for a $1 million ransom. Once the influential Catholic Church blamed the PM for the scandal, President Jovenel Moïse accepted Joseph's resignation and vowed to rescue the hostages. Moïse himself faces pressure from rivals and critics who say his elected term has ended. Moïse insists his terms ends next February. (The Biden administration agrees with him.) Either way, a new PM may bring temporary calm, but poverty and crime, the true sources of the unrest, will remain. And Haiti's political crisis will probably continue for as long as Moïse remains in power.
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