What We're Watching: Afghanistan's progress, Venezuela's opposition boycotts, EU vs "illiberals"

What We're Watching: Afghanistan's progress, Venezuela's opposition boycotts, EU vs "illiberals"

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.


The Venezuelan opposition's boycott gamble: On Sunday, Venezuela will hold legislative elections, but opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who currently control the National Assembly are boycotting the vote, which is likely to be rigged anyway. As a result, they'll lose their majority in the Assembly and, with it, opposition leader Juan Guaidó's legal claim to the presidency, which is recognized by a number of other democracies in the region and globally. It seems like ages ago that Guaidó was leading mass protests against the economic incompetence and authoritarian drift of the Maduro regime — but since his heyday in 2019, momentum has sputtered, the opposition has splintered, and Maduro's security forces and cronies have stayed loyal despite crippling US sanctions. The opposition plans to hold its own referendum next week to reject the legitimacy of Maduro's government, which will provide a fig leaf for the US and others to continue to recognize Guaidó as president. But that will increasingly be a fiction once Maduro has full control over all branches of government. Meanwhile, ordinary Venezuelans continue to reel from an economic crisis, the pandemic, and sanctions. Small wonder that nearly two-thirds of them back neither Guaidó nor Maduro at all (source in Spanish.)

European Union vs illiberals: Mired in a budget crisis after Poland and Hungary vetoed the European Union's proposed pandemic economic recovery bill last month, Brussels now says it will go ahead with the 750-billion-euro fund whether Budapest and Warsaw cooperate or not. The two eastern European states balked after the EU included a provision that made disbursement of funds, that will fund the bloc through 2027, contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms. (Both states are led by illiberal leaders who oft-flout democratic norms and vehemently oppose the EU's conditionality.) While the EU technically requires unanimous consent to pass the financial package, EU president Ursula Von der Leyen implied this week that the bloc would use a loophole to pass it if the veto is not lifted when EU leaders meet in Brussels on December 10. Poland and Hungary, meanwhile, say that they aren't backing down and are waiting for a compromise from Germany which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of the year. For now, the impasse continues.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

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.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?

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