EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 13/02/2020

Project Syndicate – Ngaire Woods / When viruses turn political

  • The first challenge is that politicians are torn between looking decisive and adopting science-based measures that require careful explanation to a skeptical public. Closing off China might seem justified. But doing so unilaterally, without building trust with other governments, makes it likelier that other countries – such as China’s smaller neighbors – will not notify the world when the virus spreads to them, owing to fear of being closed off and the massive economic costs this would imply.
  • The second challenge for governments relates to communication. Accurate, trusted information is vital in fighting a pandemic. As citizens do not trust politicians to tell the truth, they turn instead to social media, which can facilitate greater transparency and instant reporting, which governments must not quash, but social media also gives rise to “infodemics” of fake news and rumor that endanger public health.
  • Equally, politicians and social media companies need to combat xenophobic reactions, which pandemics spur all too easily. There are already reports of a wave of discrimination against East Asians since the COVID-19 outbreak. Stigma and discrimination make it harder to combat infectious diseases, because they increase the likelihood that affected people will avoid seeking health care.
  • Finally, preparedness is key. Governments must commit resources ahead of time and have a ready-to-go command structure in the event of a global public health emergency. But politicians often are loath to invest in disease prevention, finding it much easier to claim credit for a shiny new hospital. More insidiously, they can cut funding for preventive programs in the knowledge that future governments will face the consequences.
  • The Guardian – Mark Sweney / Mobile World Congress axed after firms quit over coronavirus fears

Foreign Policy – Michael Hirsh / Biden’s world experience proves a lead balloon

  • As Biden frequently (and truthfully) tells voters about his vast and unmatched experience, especially in foreign policy: “I’ve dealt with every one of the major world leaders that are out there right now, and they know me. I know them.” And those same leaders, he said at another point, were phoning him and begging him to run, to save the world from Donald Trump.
  • None of it seems to be working. Democratic voters in this election season don’t appear to value experience, particularly on the world stage. Indeed most signs are that Biden’s experience, and his often halting efforts to explain it on the stump, may well have been working against him. Biden’s performance at the polls already has many electoral experts suggesting that the once front-runner may be on his way out of the race.
  • Biden has faced other difficulties on the campaign trail, many of them self-inflicted. At 77, he has proved uneven at best as a campaigner—most recently when he bizarrely called a young woman in New Hampshire a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier”. Biden staffers also admitted that his son Hunter had created a serious conflict-of-interest issue for him by taking a well-compensated job with a Ukrainian energy company. Biden’s foreign-policy experience has also proved a double-edged sword, since his many votes and policy stances have left him vulnerable to criticism—none more so than his vote to authorize the Iraq War in 2002. 
  • The Washington Post – Hugh Hewitt / Trump vs. Sanders is the main event. Everything else is an undercard.

The Economist / Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s ex-dictator, could at last face justice

  • Mr Bashir, who seized power in 1989, languishes in a Sudanese prison after being swept from office last April in a popular uprising. The decision to let him appear before the ICC was taken by the country’s new joint military and civilian council during talks with Darfuri rebel groups. Handing Mr Bashir over to the ICC has been one of the rebels’ long-standing demands.
  • But how exactly Mr Bashir and those indicted with him are to appear before the ICC has yet to be worked out. The transitional government is sensitive to the national humiliation some Sudanese would feel if Mr Bashir were sent to The Hague, where the ICC sits. Instead, officials are exploring ways in which Mr Bashir and the others could appear in front of ICC judges, or perhaps a hybrid court, in Sudan itself. It will be up to the ICC to decide whether such a court in Sudan would be sturdy enough.
  • The court’s legitimacy in Africa is not as shaky as it seems. Though Burundi has left, South Africa has not followed through; the Gambia changed government and rapidly changed its mind. Other African countries came to the court’s defence. Nigeria, the most populous, vocally supports it. The new Sudanese government’s co-operation with the ICC would be a remarkable further step.
  • The New York Times – Reuters / Fuel shortages put squeeze on Sudan’s transitional government

Project Syndicate – Michael Spence / The challenging arithmetic of climate action

  • The newfound sense of urgency on climate change comes at a time when the corporate community is increasingly pledging to shift toward a multi-stakeholder model of governance – a transition that would create space for more climate-conscious ways of doing business. But the challenge of creating a sustainable global economy remains monumental.
  • Reducing the global economy’s energy intensity depends on two levers: improving energy efficiency and expanding the use of clean energy. There are reasons to believe that substantial gains can be made on both fronts.
  • Our best bet may be a global carbon-trading system in which “carbon credits” decline over time, until they reach an agreed long-term target. This would yield a uniform global carbon price that would move as the targets were tightened, leading to effective and efficient international mitigation. But implementing such a system would require allocating credits or licenses to countries.
  • The fairest way to do that would be on the basis of per capita emissions, which would imply potentially large transfers of income from richer to poorer countries. This, however, may well prove to be an insurmountable barrier, especially at a time when even many rich countries are experiencing rising inequality in income, wealth, opportunity, and economic security.

Financial Times – Anjli Raval / Can the world kick its oil habit?

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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