What We're Watching: EU sues Poland, pandemic widens global gender gap, Niger foils coup attempt

 Supporter of Judge Igor Tuleya stands with a banner in front of the National Public Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw, Poland January 20, 2021.

EU takes Poland to top court: In a significant escalation in the ongoing row between Brussels and Warsaw, the EU has referred Poland to Europe's top court, citing concerns over its undermining of judicial independence. Brussels has long expressed concern about the dilution of democratic norms under President Andrzej Duda and his ruling Law and Justice party, which came to power in 2015. Since then, Duda has given broad powers to the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which has purged and suspended Polish judges who are critical of government actions and cut the salaries of judges who oppose changes to the judicial system. Brussels has long been at loggerheads with member states Hungary and Poland, both of which are led by "illiberal" populists. This came to a head last year when Brussels included a provision in the bloc's pandemic recovery package that made disbursement of funds contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms.


COVID reverses gender equality progress: It's well established that the cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic have hit women particularly hard. Now, a new World Economic Forum report says that 2020 was so devastating for gender equality globally that it will likely take another 151 years — 36 more than estimated just 12 months ago — to close the global gender gap. Interestingly, the area where the gap grew the most — 2.6 percent — in 2020 is politics. While many countries made progress on women's political representation, those gains were overshadowed by the poor performance of a smaller group of economic heavyweights including China, India and Japan, which have poor records when it comes to female participation in politics. As women-led movements aiming to reshape politics around the world gather steam, we're watching to see whether such grassroots pressure will succeed in creating long term change.

More unrest in Niger: After gunfire was heard before dawn close to the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger's capital, the government swiftly declared it had foiled a coup attempt by several members of the army. The fresh wave of unrest comes just two days before the inauguration of newly elected President Mohamed Bouzom. Details of the attempted coup are sketchy, but at least some soldiers are not happy about Bouzom's runoff election victory over former president Mahamane Ousmane, who himself was toppled in a coup in the mid 1990s. Ousmane rejected the December results, citing vague allegations of fraud, and his supporters rioted on the streets of Niamey to show their outrage. The coup attempt raises fears of further political unrest in coup-prone Niger, which was looking forward to its first-ever peaceful transition of power after incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou stepped down. This comes as Niger is also suffering a wave of attacks by jihadists, who will surely benefit from more political instability in one of the world's poorest countries. Will Bouzom, a former interior minister known for being tough on terror, be able to get the situation under control?

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike for almost three weeks over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

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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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohamed, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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1,544: South African authorities say that at least 1,544 square miles of land has already been destroyed by wildfires in Cape Town. Landmarks including an African antiquities library at Cape Town university were gutted by the flames, while communities around the historic Table Mountain were evacuated as fire engulfed the area.

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