What We're Watching: EU tightens vaccine exports, Kenya to close Somali refugee camps, Mexico-US border "cooperation"

COVID vaccines and masks imprinted with the EU symbol

Europe's vaccine war escalates: As the European Union contends with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a disastrous vaccine rollout, the European Commission announced Wednesday a proposal to tighten vaccine exports from the bloc, a move referred to by one diplomat as a "retrograde step." The new measures would ban vaccine doses produced in the EU from being sent abroad to countries that don't "reciprocate" as well as those that have a higher per capita vaccination rate than EU member states (the UK falls under both categories). European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is upping the ante from January, when the EU banned exports by companies that don't first honor their contracts with EU member states. (In practice, only one batch of vaccines from Italy was blocked from being sent to Australia.) This is a massive development within the context of an ongoing row with the UK, which so far has received almost 10 million doses of EU-made jabs, far more than any other country. London also has rolled out a much more successful vaccine drive, having administered vaccines to 45 out of every 100 people, compared to just 13 in the EU. Although EU leaders will discuss the vaccine disaster at a summit later this week, the new proposal will come into force unless most EU members oppose it — an unlikely outcome given that many EU countries are struggling to keep their COVID crises at bay.


Mexico, US border "cooperation:" Mexico has sent federal troops to guard its southern border, saying that only essential travel from Guatemala into its country will be permitted. But the sudden move, which Mexican officials say is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, surely has other motivating factors. Importantly, the deployment was announced just days after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed that his country would receive 2.7 million vaccine doses from the US — at the exact same time that the Biden administration is struggling to deal with an influx of migrants from Central America along its own southern border with Mexico. While both sides deny that this amounts to an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" scenario, given the timing, it's hard to imagine that the developments are unrelated. It's a win-win: On the one hand, the Mexicans get the vaccines they need to deal with surging COVID cases and deaths, while Biden enlists Mexico's help in stemming the flow of migrants to the US, which is becoming a political quagmire for his nascent administration.

Kenya kicks out Somali refugees: Kenya has given the UN two weeks to prepare for the closure of the country's two main refugee camps. Most refugees in the sprawling camp, overseen by the UN refugee agency, are from its northern neighbor Somalia. If the facilities are not shuttered by then, Nairobi says it'll move its occupants across the border, and let the Somalis deal with the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe. Kenya has been threatening to shut down the camps — which together host over 400,000 people — since 2016, citing concerns that Somali refugees allegedly helped al-Shabaab militants carry out deadly attacks inside Kenya. The move was previously blocked by the High Court in Kenya which said it would be unconstitutional, but now, amid rapidly deteriorating bilateral relations with Somalia, the Kenyans say they are pressing ahead either way. Last December, Mogadishu cut ties with Nairobi after accusing the Kenyans of meddling in their internal affairs by hosting a Somali separatist leader. Kenya responded weeks later by withdrawing from an International Court of Justice trial over a maritime dispute with Somalia. And to top it all off, the US has pulled out its troops from Somalia, paving the way for more insecurity. If the Kenyans don't back down, the camp closures are certain to usher in fresh instability in the Horn of Africa.

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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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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?

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