What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Nigeria's delayed elections – State officials postponed Nigeria's presidential and parliamentary election just hours before voting was to set to begin last weekend. President Muhammadu Buhari said that anyone who would tamper with the results would do so "at the expense of his life." The opposition called this threat "license to kill" and a "direct call for jungle justice." The votes will now be held this Saturday, February 23. The risk of a disputed election outcome and a prolonged period of political uncertainty for Africa's largest economy continues to rise.

Rebel UK lawmakers – Eight MPs broke away from the UK's opposition Labour Party this week. Their newly formed Independent Group's chief gripes are Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's ill-defined stance on Brexit and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism within the party. The dissidents also hope to attract anti-Brexit Tories to their centrist vision of "evidence-based" policymaking. Three members of governing party quickly joined their ranks. We are watching this despite a history of failed centrist breakaway movements in the UK and some early stumbles out of the gate. Anything that could potentially break two years of Brexit deadlock is welcome at this point.


WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Nicolas Maduro, concert promoter – Later this week, some of the Spanish-speaking world's biggest musical acts will take the stage in the Colombian town of Cúcuta, on the Venezuelan border. The gig, backed by billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and endorsed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó – who, with broad international support, claims the presidency – is meant to raise $100m to fund humanitarian relief for the country's beleaguered population. Not to be outdone, strongman President Nicolas Maduro, whose troops have been blocking aid shipments from the US and Colombia for fear that they are cover for a military intervention, announced two rival pro-regime concerts on the Venezuelan side of the border this weekend. We are ignoring Maduro's foray into concert promotion, because Branson's massive international event will dwarf what the embattled Venezuelan leader can pull off. Whether that convinces Maduro to open the border to aid, however, is less clear.

Russian libertarians – A Russian publisher claimed this week that sales of Ayn Rand's libertarian manifesto Atlas Shrugged surged 40 percent from 2017 to 2018. This follows recent news that a majority of Russians believe their government "always" or "largely" hides the truth when describing the country's economy, its crime rates, and the strength of its social safety net. Another recent poll suggests the huge popularity boost Vladimir Putin earned from the 2014 invasion of Crimea is now gone. Are these signs of change? Not yet. Some three quarters of Russians say they wouldn't volunteer for a civil society organization or participate in a street protest because they are pointless. Apathy – shrugging, if you will – remains a potent political force in Russia.

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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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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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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