Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-China climate talks begin in Shanghai, EU and U.K. officials meet on Northern Ireland protocol, and St. Vincent volcanic eruptions continue.
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Kerry Seeks Common Ground in China
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is in Shanghai today to meet with Chinese officials as the world’s two largest carbon emitters seek rare common ground in a relationship not known for smooth cooperation.
The talks are aimed at convincing China to make a stronger commitment to global climate goals ahead of a summit of world leaders hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden on April 22. That meeting is itself an attempt to lay the groundwork ahead of a pivotal U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP 26, taking place in Scotland in September.
Today’s discussions will mark the first visit of a Biden cabinet official to China, and is the first meeting of the two nations since talks between senior diplomatic and national security officials in March. Those Alaska talks began acrimoniously, with Chinese officials listing a litany of U.S. offenses in their opening remarks.
Kerry will be hoping for a more cooperative atmosphere in the coming days—and is likely to get it, as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proclamation of reaching net zero emissions by 2060 reverberates through China’s policymaking apparatus. Writing in Foreign Policy in March, Steven Stashwick explained why Xi’s words may lead to real change. And as Melinda Liu writes, the decades-long relationship between Kerry and his counterpart Xie Zhenhua may help both sides to cut through the thornier issues that divide the two nations.
Coal country. China’s coal consumption will need to take a hit, and quickly, for it to reach its 2060 goal. A study by TransitionZero, a climate analysis firm, released today, calls for China to take nearly 600 coal-fired plants offline in the next 10 years in order to meet its targets.
21st century mining. Unconventional power users will soon need to be tackled too. A study published in the journal Nature Communications last week found that 75 percent of the world’s bitcoin mining—a process that involves special computers and huge amounts of electricity—takes place in China, with the authors warning that China’s bitcoin-related energy usage will surpass Italy’s entire energy usage by 2024. China’s Inner Mongolia region is already preparing to ban new cryptocurrency projects after receiving a reprimand from Beijing over the region’s high energy consumption.
What We’re Following Today
EU-U.K. talks. U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost will meet his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in Brussels today in an attempt to resolve a dispute around the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit agreement. In March, Westminster unilaterally extended a waiver on some goods entering Great Britain from Northern Ireland, a move that the EU considers in breach of the deal and international law. The talks come as unrest has roiled Northern Ireland in recent days. Dan Haverty, writing in Foreign Policy, explains how Brexit has fueled anxieties within the loyalist community about a permanent break from Great Britain.
Russia sanctions. The Biden administration is expected to announce sanctions on a number of Russian individuals and entities tied to a widespread government cybersecurity breach that exploited the software of SolarWinds in December. The breach allowed intruders to access emails of a number of government agencies, as well as steal encryption keys essential to safeguarding the correspondence of top U.S. officials. The move comes after U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Eruption in the Caribbean. Didier Trebucq, the United Nations resident coordinator for Barbados and the eastern Caribbean, has warned of a humanitarian crisis following volcanic eruptions on the island of St. Vincent. About 20 percent of the island’s population has been displaced as volcanic ash continues to rain down. The National Emergency Management Organisation for St. Vincent and the Grenadines has forecast “explosions and accompanying ashfall, of similar or larger magnitude” for the next few days.
India-Pakistan ties. Senior intelligence officials from India and Pakistan held secret talks in January over calming tensions in the disputed Kashmir region, in a sign of warming ties. The United Arab Emirates facilitated the backchannel diplomacy, which led to both sides agreeing in February to cease shooting along the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two countries. Reuters reports that the two governments have begun talks to secure a “modest roadmap to normalizing ties” in the coming months.
Global vaccine access. Many former world leaders and Nobel prize winners have called for U.S. President Joe Biden to back a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in order to address the current global imbalance. The letter—signed by 175 luminaries, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former French President Francois Hollande, and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev—has urged Biden to back a waiver proposed by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organization in October. The office of the U.S. trade representative said last month that it was “evaluating the efficacy” of India and South Africa’s proposal.
Brazil investigates. The Brazilian Supreme Court has given the go-ahead for a Senate investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the country’s COVID-19 epidemic. Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco had attempted to delay the probe, citing current coronavirus restrictions. Sen. Marcio Bittar, an ally of Bolsonaro, has called the investigation “an attempted coup against the president.” Brazil’s seven-day average COVID-19 death toll hit a record high on Monday, with 3,125 deaths reported.
Sweden, like many countries over the past year, has experienced a baby bust, with 6.4 percent fewer births in 2020 than in 2019. That drop could get even worse as the country now faces a shortage of sperm donors as men largely avoided hospitals and donation clinics in 2020.
The problem has driven up wait times for assisted pregnancy from six months to two and a half years, leaving would-be parents with the option of paying the nearly $12,000 fee to attend a private clinic which can purchase donated sperm from overseas. Assisted pregnancies are otherwise covered by Sweden’s national health system.
Sweden’s regulations have also contributed to the shortage; a maximum of six women can use the same donor, and the vetting process for donors takes roughly 8 months.