What We’re Watching: Brazil Rejects G7 Amazon Aid

What We’re Watching: Brazil Rejects G7 Amazon Aid

Amazon aid rejected – G7 leaders agreed last weekend on an aid package of $22m to help Brazil put out thousands of fires raging across the Amazon rainforest. But despite earlier complaining that it lacked the resources to deal with the fires, Brazil has just rejected the offer, suggesting that it would best be used to "reforest Europe." Each year, farmers burn some forest acreage legally to clear land for pastures and planting, but critics say President Jair Bolsonaro's moves to loosen enforcement of rules, coupled with his anti-science rhetoric, have encouraged more fires than usual. Bolsonaro, a far right science skeptic, has bristled at international criticism about the Amazon. Last week he finally deployed more than 40,000 soldiers to squelch the blazes. The EU is holding up a massive trade deal with Brasilia over concerns about Bolsonaro's environmental policies.


Italy Reaches a Turning Point – Unless Italy's political parties can form a new government today, the country will go to snap elections. The current political crisis began earlier this month when the increasingly popular Matteo Salvini withdrew his Lega party from the governing coalition in order to force new elections he believed would make him prime minister. But if his former coalition partners in the anti-establishment Five Star Movement can now form a (once unthinkable) coalition with the center-left Democratic Party, Salvini's gamble will have backfired, leaving his party in opposition. As a reminder, debt-laden Italy is in the middle of a bitter fight with Brussels over how much money the Italian government is allowed to spend.

DR Congo (finally) forms a government – Eight months after Felix Tshisekedi was elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, replacing longtime strongman Joseph Kabila, the country has formed a new government. That election marked the DRC's first-ever peaceful transition of power, but some suspected that Tshisekedi – who defeated Kabila's preferred successor – had struck a secret deal allowing Kabila to stay in power behind the scenes. Kabila's political party controls 70 percent of parliament, and the new coalition government roughly mirrors the balance of power in the legislature, with nearly two-thirds of jobs going to Kabila loyalists, including prime minister and influential mining, defense, and finance ministry posts. We're watching to see whether this power-sharing agreement can produce real change in a country wracked by systemic corruption, ongoing political violence, and a raging Ebola epidemic.

What We're Ignoring

Nuking a Hurricane? – President Trump has denied media reports that he asked aides whether the US could avoid hurricane damage by hitting large storms with nuclear bombs before they make landfall. Whatever Trump may have said, this is a bad idea. Experts say that nuking a hurricane would simply create a radioactive hurricane. For a detailed technical explanation, click here. But your Signal authors also fear that a nuclear blast in the middle of the ocean might also produce a shock wave large enough to interfere with television reception just as baseball season heads for the playoffs.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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