What We're Watching: Australia hearts coal, Egypt emergency lifted, US lobbies for Taiwan

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

Australia's underwhelming climate pledge: After waffling on whether he'd attend COP26, Prime Minister Scott Morrison now says Australia will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there's a catch: the scheme would not involve overhauling the country's lucrative fossil fuel sector. The PM also stopped short of making ambitious targets by 2030, one of the key objectives of COP26. Australia is one of the world's top coal-producing countries and has one of the biggest carbon footprints per capita, but its government has long dragged its feet on climate change — mainly because fossil fuel exports are a boon for the economy. "We won't be lectured by others who do not understand Australia," Morrison said in response to criticism about his government's weaker-than-hoped-for pledges. While the US has pledged to halve its carbon output by 2030, and the EU says it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, Australia is aiming for a mere 26 percent cut on 2005 emissions in that period.


Sisi lifts four-year state of emergency in Egypt: You might be surprised to learn that a state of emergency has been in place in Egypt since 2017, allowing the authorities to make arbitrary arrests and search people's homes without a warrant. Freedom of the press and assembly have also been curtailed. Now, strongman President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who led the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, has lifted the measure put in place after a series of Islamic State attacks on mosques and Coptic churches killed hundreds of Egyptians. El-Sisi, a security hawk, said that he made the move because Egypt had become an "oasis of security and stability in the region." Egypt has long been battling an Islamist insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula that has at times spread to other parts of the country. Though the Egyptian military has made massive gains there recently, dramatically improving the security situation, some violence persists.

US defends Taiwan at the UN: US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Tuesday demanded Taiwan be allowed "meaningful participation" at UN agencies, just as China, which sees the island as part of the mainland, celebrated 50 years of membership at the UN. Washington says China's exclusion of Taiwan undermines UN bodies like the World Health Organization, which kept the island out of its COVID information loop due to strong pressure from Beijing. But Xi Jinping is as likely to tolerate Taiwan acting independently at the UN as he is to restore democracy to Hong Hong or play nice with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Still, the Americans know that Taiwan is such a sensitive issue for China and that any gesture of US support is sure to rile up Xi (perhaps that's the point). This also comes just days after Biden blurted out that America would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, reversing more than four decades of US "strategic ambiguity" on the issue: recognize the mainland yet also promise to help Taiwan defend itself.

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Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020 China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino

The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

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

How is Europe dealing with new omicron version of the pandemic?

Well, I mean the big issue isn't really that one, the big issue if you see the havoc that is created in several European countries at the moment is the delta. The delta is making impressive strides, particularly in countries that have a slightly lower vaccination rates. So that's the number one fight at the moment. And then we must of course prepare for the omicron as well.

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Caravan of Taliban soldiers with guns held upright

Listen: With the US gone and the Taliban back in control, Afghanistan faces a long winter. Mounting food insecurity and a crumbling economy have left many Afghans feeling abandoned. The international community could help solve this humanitarian crisis, but can they trust the Taliban?

Ian Bremmer sat down with journalist and author Ahmed Rashid to learn more about the Taliban today. Few people know more about the Taliban than Rashid, who wrote the book on the group — literally. In the months after 9/11, his critically acclaimed 2000 study Taliban became a go-to reference as the US geared up to invade Afghanistan and knock the militant group from power. Twenty years later, how much has the group changed since the days of soccer-stadium executions, television bans, and blowing up world heritage sites?

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

What are the DSA and the DMA?

Well, the twin legislative initiatives of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the European Union's answer to the challenges of content moderation online and that of the significant role of major market players, also known as gatekeepers in the digital markets. And the intention is to foster both more competition and responsible behavior by tech companies. So the new rules would apply broadly to search engines, social media platforms, but also retail platforms and app stores.

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

What is happening to Roe v. Wade?

Well, this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson, which challenges a Mississippi law that would outlaw abortions after 15 weeks in the state. That law itself is a direct challenge to the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, which is one of the most politically important Supreme Court decisions in American history. It has driven deep polarization between the right and the left in the US and become a critical litmus test. There are very few, if any, pro-life Democrats at the national level and virtually no pro-choice Republicans at any level of government. Overturning Roe has been an animating force on the political right in the US for a generation. And in turn, Democrats have responded by making protecting Roe one of their key political missions.

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What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

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World leaders at the G20 Summit in Rome, October 2021

This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.

The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.

Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”

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