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.

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

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25: A divorce lawyer in Shanghai told Bloomberg News that his business has surged 25% since the city began easing its lockdown in mid-March, as being cooped up on lockdown evidently exposed irreconcilable differences in people's marriages.

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Japan mulls state of emergency: Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is poised to declare a "state of emergency" because of the coronavirus pandemic, giving local governments the authority to order people to stay in their homes and shutter businesses and schools. Japan has so far managed the crisis without the kinds of sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere, but a surge of new cases in recent days – particularly in Tokyo – has put pressure on the government to do more. Japan has one of the world's oldest populations – a third of its people are older than 65, the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. The emergency decision comes at a tough time. Japan's economy has been hurting for several months now, as China's massive lockdowns in January and February cratered demand for Japanese exports. In order to deal with the fallout that comes with putting his economy on life-support, PM Abe said the government would push through a $1 trillion stimulus package.

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As reports swirl from sources in the U.S. Intelligence Community that China vastly underreported the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, China's top diplomat in the U.S., Ambassador Cui Tiankai, joined Ian Bremmer for an exclusive conversation in which he responds to the claim.

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