UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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.

So as leaders prepare to take the podium both in person and virtually, as well as hustle on the sidelines where they can chat sans bullet points or cameras what are some of the key issues on the agenda?

Vaccinating the world. Inoculating low-and middle-income countries is still the most pressing issue on the UN's radar. High-income countries are rolling out vaccines at a rate almost 20 times faster than low-income states. Collectively, the 52 poorest countries have access to just 3 percent of global vaccine stocks.

The global rollout has been lopsided, and this has been highlighted recently as wealthy states like Germany, the UK, the US, and Israel have rolled out booster shot campaigns. Indeed, this has sparked a global debate as the World Health Organization, a UN agency, says that booster schemes are further obstructing poorer countries from accessing vaccine supplies. WHO's director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called on wealthy countries to pause boosters until at least the end of September, but against the backdrop of the highly contagious Delta variant, there's no sign that wealthy countries are willing to listen. (The UN is also working overtime to get vaccine-producing nations, like India, to lift export restrictions.)

The Biden administration, for its part, has recently pushed back, saying that the argument of boosters vs donating shots is "a false choice," because the US is doing both, having given more than 120 million doses to over 80 countries. As the US grapples with the twin problem of surging outbreaks and vaccine skepticism (80 million eligible Americans still refuse to get the shot) this is likely to remain a hot-button issue at UN headquarters in the upcoming weeks.

Sharing the climate burden. Just six weeks out from COP26, the UN climate summit billed as "the last chance" to mitigate fossil fuels' worst effects on the environment, influential global players are trying to chart a mutually agreed-upon path forward.

John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate change, recently flew to India to press Delhi to make more ambitious goals to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050. Moreover, Beijing recently rebuffed calls from the US to deepen its emission goals, including cutting coal consumption, prompting UN Secretary-General António Guterres to warn China and the US — the world's two largest carbon emitters — not to let bilateral friction get in the way of a last-ditch effort to address the climate crisis.

And today, President Biden is gathering some world leaders on Zoom to try and get more big methane emitters (hello China, Russia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia) to sign onto the US-EU's new plan to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by the end of the decade. Indeed, this all comes weeks after a damning new report by the IPCC said that it's not too late to avoid the worst consequences of climate change if the world acts now.

Troubleshooting crises. There's an abundance of human rights and political crises with global resonance sweeping the world right now: civil war in Ethiopia, widespread instability in Afghanistan; post-coup repression in Myanmar; economic and political implosion in Haiti — the list goes on.

Dealing with these crises at the UN — whose core mission of dispute resolution is undercut by big power rivalries — is only becoming more difficult as the chasm between Western states and rogue countries like China, Russia and Iran grows more pronounced.

In a new episode of That Made All the Difference, Savita Subramanian, head of ESG Research, BofA Global Research, explains why ESG factors are critical to why some companies succeed and some fail.

"I think 10 years from now, we won't even call it 'environmental, social and governance,' or ESG investing. We won't call it sustainable. It'll just be part of investing," she says.

Link to the episode here.

Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

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Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here's a hint: it's one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.

It's Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

How are Democrats going to finance their $2 trillion spending bill?

Well, I don't know. And the Democrats don't know either. The original idea was to undo a lot of the Trump tax cuts from 2017. This is a very unpopular tax bill that every Democrat voted against, but moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema told the White House earlier this month that she's against any and all tax rate increases. This takes the top individual income tax rate going up off the table. And it takes the top corporate rate going up off the table. And it probably takes capital gains rates going up off the table. So, now the Democrats are scrambling to backfill that revenue that they can no longer raise through rate increases with other ideas. One of those ideas is a tax on the unrealized gains of billionaires.

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The US is the world's largest economy. It's also the only one among the top 10 that has no national paid parental leave scheme. If you or your partner have a baby in the US the message is clear: you're on your own. Compare that to many European countries, which offer cushy paid leave schemes for new parents – more generously for women. Even countries that don't have a robust social safety net offer paid parental leave in some form. We take a look at how the US stacks up on paid parental leave (or lack thereof) compared to the world's largest economies.

From overall health and wellness to representation in the global workforce, women and girls have faced serious setbacks over the past 18+ months. They also hold the key to more robust and inclusive growth in the months and years ahead: McKinsey & Company estimates that centering recovery efforts on women could contribute $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

On October 28th at 12pm ET, as part of our "Measuring What Matters" series, GZERO Media and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look beyond traditional indicators of economic recovery to examine COVID-19's impact on girls and women, specifically in the areas of health and employment.

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How can we go from "fine words" to "fine deeds" at the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow? For Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Program, it's actually quite simple. The world's top 20 economies, she says, are responsible for over three-quarters of global carbon emissions, so if they "make the requisite shifts, frankly we are out of the climate crisis." Watch her interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

On 30-31 October, the world's top leaders will gather in Rome for this year's G-20 Summit. After the pandemic forced them to meet last year by videoconference, the heads of state will once again be attending in person, allowing for the type of parallel, one-on-one meetings that have proven more productive in the past. Still, many critics of the G-20 have come to see the forum as a talk shop, a place where a lot is said but nothing really happens. Will this year be any different, given the long list of challenges the world faces, from COVID to climate change? We talked with Eurasia Group expert Charles Dunst to set the stage and find out where things are going.

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