What We’re Watching: Doomed to catastrophic climate change?

What We’re Watching: Doomed to catastrophic climate change?

The future of the planet: The 25th annual UN Climate Change Conference summit began yesterday in Madrid, just days after a new report warned that it's now basically impossible to prevent the globe from crossing the catastrophic threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. To prevent that outcome, global emissions would need to fall 55 percent between now and 2030. That seems unlikely: the US has already ditched the main international agreement on climate policy, and large polluters like China and India don't see why they should give up fossil fuels earlier in their economic development than the US and Europe did. No wonder UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has decried a "lack of political will." Delegates in Madrid will do their best over the next two weeks to forge new agreements that enable countries to trade the rights to emit certain amounts of carbon gas, or to offset pollution by investing in reforestation initiatives. That would be good, but without a broader commitment from the world's major economies, it may just be a drop in the (rapidly warming) ocean.


President AMLO at 1: Sunday marked one year since the inauguration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), Mexico's first leftist president since the 1930s. The good news: AMLO has strengthened pensions for the elderly and government workers, created scholarships and job training for young people, cut government salaries (including his own) by more than half, and turned the presidential palace into a public park. The bad news: Mexico is on pace for 35,000 homicides in 2019, the highest total on record. That problem predates AMLO, but his strategy to deal with it hasn't inspired confidence. Meanwhile, his pledge to hit four percent GDP growth hasn't panned out: Mexico was in recession for the first half of 2019 and growth was flat in the third quarter. His approval rating has fallen from 86 percent last February to 67 percent now. That's nothing to sneeze at, but AMLO still has a lot to do to realize the most ambitious promises he made on the campaign trail.

Iraq's prime minister calls it quits: After eight weeks of protests driven by anger over political corruption, unemployment, and Iranian influence on his government, Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned over the weekend. He had faced mounting pressure to step down over his handling of the unrest, in which security forces were found to have used "excessive force" to quash protests, killing some 400 people. Mahdi will now serve in a caretaker government until a new prime minister and cabinet are approved by a parliamentary majority, but that could take months due to Iraq's dysfunctional sectarian politics. Back in 2018, after tightly contested elections, Iran helped to broker an agreement that gave Mahdi the top job – but with chants of "Iran: Out! Out! Baghdad: Free! Free!" now featuring at daily protests, any Iranian intervention could be a huge liability, deepening the country's political crisis.

What We're Ignoring

Bolsonaro vs DiCaprio: Brazil's pugnacious climate-skeptic President Jair Bolsonaro picked a fight with an unusual target this week, blaming actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio for the fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest. "Cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon," Bolsonaro said on a Facebook Live broadcast Thursday, claiming that NGOs sparked the wave of forest fires in order to get DiCaprio to write a fat check as part of a publicity stunt intended to embarrass Brasilia. We're ignoring this because it's baseless, and also because the Bolsonaro administration's lax enforcement of forest preservation laws seems somehow more pertinent.

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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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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