What We’re Watching: EU goes green, Ethiopians at war, Taliban gains, Bolsonaro’s hiccups

What We’re Watching: EU goes green, Ethiopians at war, Taliban gains, Bolsonaro’s hicckups

Europe's green moonshot: The EU is going big on climate policy. On Wednesday the European Commission, the bloc's political cupola, committed to reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. These plans are the most ambitious of any large country or union on Earth: recent pledges by the US and China, the number one and number two polluters, are both more modest. The EU's proposals include new carbon trading schemes, investments in green tech, boosts for electric vehicles, and financial support to help lower-income communities adopt clean technologies. But as always, the EU's best-laid plans will still need to run through the wringer of 27 member states, each with their own agendas and constituencies. We, and the planet, are watching to see what things look like on the other side of that.


New front in Ethiopian war? In the days since a sudden — and now short-lived — ceasefire paused eight months of civil war in Ethiopia, Tigrayan forces have been re-establishing control over territory that they lost to Ethiopian government troops during the conflict. But that's already raising fears of another war. Why? Well, Tigray People's Liberation Front fighters are moving (back) into areas of Tigray that are claimed by the neighboring Amhara state — in a long-running border dispute of their own. That has prompted Amharan nationalists to call on their local ethnic militias to mobilize for war against the Tigrayans. This is merely the latest challenge to face PM Abiy Ahmed, who earlier this month won controversial nationwide elections, but continues to struggle to contain resurgent ethnic and regional strife in the country.

Taliban border moves: The Taliban claim to have won a big prize in their 20-year quest to regain full control of Afghanistan: the strategic border crossing linking the Afghan town of Spin Boldak with the Pakistani city of Chaman. It's the second busiest transit point between the two countries, and connects Pakistan's ports to Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city and former Taliban stronghold. The move will enable the Taliban to choke off supplies for the Afghan government — which right now barely controls any territory outside of major cities — and to bring in scores of Taliban fighters hosted by Baluchi militants across the border in Pakistan. If the Taliban maintain the pace of their military campaign, they could take Kabul and rule the entire country before the last US troops leave.

What's We're Listening To

A popul- hic! A populist's stom- hic! Stomach! Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has been hospitalized, reportedly to figure out a chronic case of... hiccups. The controversial rightwing populist had health scares before, including COVID, and the state of his innards has been a source of outward concern at least since he was badly stabbed during a 2018 campaign stop. As Bolsonaro faces fresh allegations of corruption and a daunting path to re-election in 2022, we are watching, and listening, closely for more — hic! — news.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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