What We're Watching: Putin's pasta concerns, Iran's mixed signals on nuclear deal, US-UK try for mini trade deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin's pasta woes: In his annual press conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin tackled a wide range of issues of interest to his country — and the world. As expected, Putin denied that his government meddled in the recent US election or poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin also demurred on whether he'll run again for president in 2024, called on the US to extend the New START treaty on nuclear arms reduction, confirmed he hasn't taken the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, and said that US President Donald Trump won't seek asylum in Russia because over 70 million Americans voted for him. Interestingly, throughout the four-hour live Q&A session the Russian leader seemed more upset about the rising prices of certain food items like pasta, which Putin had been ranting about all week (possibly to deflect attention away from a damning news report claiming that he has a 17-year-old daughter from an extramarital affair with a former cleaner who now has $102 million in assets). In the months to come, we'll be keeping a close eye on the price of spaghetti as a window into Putin's state of mind.


Iran's mixed signals on the nuclear deal: In a rare sign of unity between two leaders who often disagree on tone and policy, both Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed willingness this week to reenter the Iran nuclear deal should the US agree to remove crippling economic sanctions. It's the first indication that Khamenei, who calls the shots in Iranian politics, would be willing to resume direct negotiations with the West. Still, there are several domestic factors that might complicate efforts to return to the nuclear accord, abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. First, hardliners in Iran's parliament recently passed a bill suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. If this goes ahead, it's unlikely to inspire much goodwill from the incoming Biden administration, which will reenter the agreement, it says, only if the Iranians are fully transparent and cooperative. Additionally, Iranians head to the polls in June, which could give rise to a much more extreme executive body that rejects dialogue with the US entirely. The Supreme Leader, who has issued conflicting messages on the prospects of reentering the nuclear deal in recent months, clearly wants to keep his options open.

US-UK "mini" trade deal? As the UK and the EU continue to run out the clock on a Brexit trade deal, another agreement — albeit a somewhat pared-down version — could be in the works for Great Britain with its top trading partner: the United States. Both sides are now negotiating a compromise that involves reforms to the way the NHS pays for US medications, as well as other conditions. The move comes after the Brits last week broke with the EU on subsidies for European aerospace giant Airbus — a symbolic gesture since the UK is no longer part of the EU and therefore cannot put retaliatory tariffs of its own on the US for its assistance to its aerospace company, Boeing. Either way, the UK and its "cousins" on the other side of the Atlantic seem to be making progress on cutting mutual tariffs just weeks before the Trump administration gives way to President-elect Joe Biden. But that progress is no indication that a future US-UK trade agreement will be any easier under Biden, who's not eager to cut a quick deal and has four years to negotiate with London.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

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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