Crisis response and recovery: Reimagining while rebuilding

Crisis response and recovery: Reimagining while rebuilding

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The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered profound political, economic, and social shocks. For some countries, the worst of the crisis is already behind them, while others continue to grapple with severe health and economic challenges — and will still do so well into 2021. But as the world starts to rebuild, it is critical to focus not just on the speed but also on the quality of the recovery.


The recovery presents a rare opportunity for the world to confront climate change, create an inclusive internet, and safeguard critical cyber infrastructure. These goals are ambitious, especially in a "G-Zero" world in which the global order built after World War II — including the United Nations itself — is under strain and a time when many people feel that governments — in their towns, cities, and countries — are not up to the task. To achieve an inclusive, sustainable, and secure recovery, new alliances must be forged, involving governments, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. The old solutions won't work.

And the old toolkit won't be enough either: 21st century challenges can't be solved with 20th century methods. That means new tools must be embraced, from digital education and training to carbon-negative technologies and more. Technology will play a key role. The United Nations, technology companies, and governments are collaborating on new ways to educate students, safeguard the internet, and measure changes in the environment. On the 75th anniversary of the UN, governments, companies, and NGOs will come together to discuss how to build a stronger, more resilient world.

What's the UN doing about it?

Through the World Health Organization, the UN is at the forefront of coordinating government responses to the pandemic. The agency has been a clearinghouse for the latest research into the virus and has provided important guidance on the best responses, such as safe practices for reopening schools. As focus turns towards recovery, the UN will continue to play a leading role in helping governments, industry, nonprofits, and international financial institutions work together to rebuild and strengthen resilience ahead of the next crisis. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the centerpiece of the UN's rebuilding agenda. For the UN, the agenda — which aims to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity, and protect the planet — is even more urgent given the pandemic-driven disruptions.

How are others trying to help?

Technology will play an important role in building a safer, more inclusive, and greener world. In the immediate term, leaders need to find ways to safely return to some degree of normalcy during the pandemic. More than one billion students across the world face school closures, and we must ensure that young people don't fall behind. To that end, the UN, companies, civil society, and academia have developed new tools to ensure students can keep up, including a program called Learning Passport which allows students to keep learning despite the disruptions caused by crisis and displacement.

The rapid shift to remote work will likely herald a broader move toward work-from-home or hybrid workspaces, which means increased demands on technology infrastructure. Decision-makers need access to reliable information about difficult-to-predict future threats, including climate change, pandemics, or displacements of people due to war or disasters. That's why some technology companies are partnering with the UN, national governments, and NGOs to develop tools to spot emerging threats. In addition, as the world begins to rebuild, governments need to be responsive to the needs of their people. The proliferation of cyber attacks and misinformation threatens the democratic political process, making it even more important for government and industry to collaborate to defend the vitality and health of democracies.

What's needed next?

Governments and businesses need to collaborate more to expand and strengthen 5G infrastructure to support remote work and school and to ensure that everyone has access to speedy, reliable internet. Moreover, given the economic changes caused by the pandemic, new investment must ensure that people have access to education and training to learn new skills to compete in the workforce. Companies also need to take the initiative to reduce carbon emissions, and a number of major companies have joined together to form the Transform to Net Zero coalition to do exactly that.

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.

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Listen: The pandemic hit the global economy hard, and many economies are still hurting. But it could have been even worse. In May 2020 as a guest on the GZERO World podcast, economic historian Adam Tooze told Ian Bremmer that the world was facing a second Great Depression. In a new interview, Tooze is back to take stock and explains why the US economy rebounded so surprisingly fast, while much of the rest of the world lags behind.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

Who's going to be the leading voice politician in Europe after Angela Merkel leaves?

Well, that remains to be seen. First, we need to wait for the outcome of the German election, and then it's going to take quite some time to form a government in Germany to see who's going to be chancellor. And then of course we have elections coming up in France in the spring. Macron is likely to win, but you never know. So by next summer, we'll know more about that. And then there are other personalities there. There's Mario Draghi, prime minister of Italy, who has a strong personality. Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, as long as he's there. So it's going to take quite some time for this to be sorted out.

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

Is a US government shutdown coming?

Hard to say. Republicans and Democrats generally are in agreement about the need to fund the government. And they generally agree at what level the government should be funded. And they generally agree about the need for supplemental money for Afghanistan and some natural disasters, coming out of hurricanes this season and wildfires. What they're not in agreement about is the federal debt limit, which is the cap on US borrowing that the US hit in early August and needs to be extended by some time in October. Otherwise, the US will have a first-ever default. This would be a very bad outcome with cataclysmic results for the entire world economy.

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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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After Merkel, who leads Europe?

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