What We’re Watching: Europe battles COVID second wave, Bolivians vote, Kyrgyz president quits

Testing site for COVID-19 in Lille, France. Reuters

Europe's disastrous "second wave:" As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Europe, the European Parliament cancelled plans to reconvene next week in Strasbourg, France, saying that the current uptick means that "traveling is too dangerous." It's the second time since September that in-person meetings at the EU legislative body have been cancelled, as countries including France, Spain, Belgium, and the Czech Republic grapple with serious "second waves" of infection, causing hospitals to fill up again in several European cities. In a drastic move Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reimposed strict lockdown measures, including overnight curfews in multiple cities — including the Paris region — to stop the spread of the disease. (France reported 22,591 new cases on Wednesday alone.) After the 53 European states recorded the highest-ever weekly number of new COVID cases, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning Thursday saying that death rates from the disease could reach four to five times higher than their April peak in the near term if things don't turn around — and fast.


Bolivia's first election since that last one failed: On Sunday, Bolivians will go to the polls to elect a president for the first time since a disputed election last fall led to mass protests and the ouster of Evo Morales, the country's long-serving leftwing populist president. Since then, power has been split between Congress, which is still controlled by Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, and interim President Jeanine Áñez, a right-winger. Clashes between riot police and Morales' predominantly lower-income and indigenous supporters have flared in Bolivia, which is deeply polarized along political, socioeconomic, and racial lines. At the moment, the MAS party candidate, Luis Arce, is leading the polls at 42 percent. If he comes in first on Sunday with more than 40 percent of votes and a 10-point margin over his main challenger — center-right former President Carlos Mesa — he would win outright. If not, there would be a second round between the two men. Whoever wins the presidency will face the daunting task of reuniting a bitterly divided country, while also addressing its biggest economic crisis in 40 years.

Kyrgyz power vacuum: Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned on Thursday after more than a week of mass protests over an election that local critics — and international observers — say was tainted due to vote-buying. Kyrgyzstan is clearly no stranger to political unrest — Jeenbekov is the third president ousted by street protests in the last 15 years. But with the president now out of the picture, there's uncertainty over who will step in. The constitution says the interim leader should be the parliament speaker, but there's growing pressure by opposition groups to appoint current Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov, a populist who wants to nationalize Kyrgyzstan's gold mines. Japarov hasn't been on the job long: he took office just days ago after his supporters freed him from prison, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for kidnapping a governor during a protest against a gold mine project. Whatever happens in Bishkek will be closely watched by Russia —which has close ties to all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia — and China, always wary of potential instability on its borders.

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 since March 31 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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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

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 Mohammad, 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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