What We’re Watching: Blowbacks in the Gulf and South Africa

"Sabotage" in the Gulf – On Sunday, four commercial ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, were hit by a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. So far, no one has claimed responsibility, but Tehran is in the spotlight. Iran recently threatened to close the nearby Strait of Hormuz – a critical waterway for global oil shipments – in retaliation against tighter US sanctions. Whether this attack was carried out by Iran, or by someone trying to implicate Iran, rising tensions between the US and the Islamic Republic mean this is worth keeping an eye on.

Ramaphosa on offense – Celebrating victory in last week's national election, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa made a bold promise to tackle corruption within his party, the governing African National Congress (ANC), "whether some people like it or not." By "some people" he's pointing directly at former President Jacob Zuma and those still loyal to him within the ANC. This shows us that Ramaphosa believes his win gives him an opportunity to consolidate authority within a divided party and to sideline the discredited Zuma faction once and for all. We'll be watching to see how Zuma (directly or indirectly) responds.

What We're Ignoring: Mike in Sochi, Burgers in Traffic

Mike Pompeo in Sochi – The US secretary of state arrives in Sochi today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Top on the agenda are likely to be Venezuela, where Moscow and Washington back rival contestants for power, as well as Iran, where Moscow still supports the nuclear deal which the US left last year. We are, however, ignoring the secretary of state's visit, because we – and, presumably, Mr Putin – have learned that unless Trump himself is involved, its hard to be certain just what, if anything, Pompeo can really achieve.

A Whopper of a Bad Solution – The traffic in Mexico City is notoriously awful, but not as awful as Burger King's new idea for how to ease the angst. The flame broiling US burger chain has launched a new app that enables people to order Whoppers that are delivered directly to their cars by motorcycle. We are ignoring La Traffic Whopper because indigestion is no solution for congestion. DING! (credit to Gabe for that gem.)

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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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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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

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