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.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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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 does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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