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Kerry Heads to Moscow to Press Climate Agenda

Kerry faces a Russia dependent on oil and gas exports that is wary of coercion wrapped up as regulation.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Lavrov and Kerry answer questions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry answer questions after their bilateral meeting at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministers Summit in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 17, 2016. Mark Ralston/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Cuba sees rare protests, and Haitian police arrest alleged assassination instigator.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Cuba sees rare protests, and Haitian police arrest alleged assassination instigator.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Kerry Holds Climate Talks in Moscow

White House climate envoy John Kerry is in Moscow today for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a bid to align goals between the two powers ahead of November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Kerry’s trip highlights his unique role in U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House. He was the first Biden cabinet member to visit China—meeting with his counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Shanghai one month after U.S. and Chinese officials clashed at a frosty Alaska summit. He will now be the first to visit Russia, a journey three of his fellow cabinet members are banned from making due to tit-for-tat sanctions related to the SolarWinds hack.

Bidens back channel. Although it’s Kerry’s first visit to Moscow in his new role, it will be his second time meeting Lavrov this year. The two had a brief meeting in New Delhi in April, reportedly after they realized they were staying in the same hotel.

Today’s meeting brings together two of the worlds top five oil exporters and two of the four largest carbon emitters. And although Biden is struggling to put forward climate change legislation that will pass a fossil fuel-friendly Senate, similar domestic concerns may prevent Russia from taking serious climate action.

Russias climate crisis. Lavrov and Kerry meet while Russia is having its own climate reckoning: June temperatures in both Moscow and St. Petersburg set new records while temperatures north of the Arctic Circle exceeded 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). When the topic came up at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in question and answer session, the Russian leader—who has equivocated in the past on whether climate change is made worse by human activity—said humans “must minimize the impact we have” when it comes to emissions, citing the dangers of desertification, melting permafrost, and agricultural losses.

Hopes of a Russian transformation on climate change may be hobbled by Moscows wider ambitions. Its new national security strategy, signed by Putin on July 2, acknowledges climate change as an avenue for international cooperation but warns against foreign countries using the issue to create “leverage to exert open political and economic pressure on Russia” as well as preventing its development in the Arctic, where melting ice provides oil and gas as well as shipping opportunities.

Even so, the country is taking some steps toward responsibility. Also on July 2, Putin signed legislation that will soon compel the largest carbon-emitting companies to report their emissions, paving the way for greater regulation and opening the door for a carbon trading system. The law, although “not as ambitious as it could be,” was welcomed by Greenpeace’s Russia spokesperson Vladimir Chuprov.

The World This Week

On Monday, July 12, Tokyo enters a new state of emergency due to COVID-19, which will last through Aug. 22, a period that includes the Olympic Games.

On Tuesday, July 13, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager meets with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg via videoconference.

On Wednesday, July 14, foreign ministers from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hold a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting to discuss Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed on this day six years ago.

On Thursday, July 15, U.S. President Joe Biden hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.

On Sunday, July 18, the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe holds its presidential election.

What We’re Following Today

Third time healthy? Representatives from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer are set to meet with White House officials today to make the case for giving the public a third booster shot of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine. The meeting comes after Pfizer’s recent release of early data from a study showing a five- to 10-fold increase in antibody levels after a third dose was administered. Speaking on Sunday, Anthony Fauci—Biden’s chief medical advisor—said it was too early to consider a further dose: “Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot.”

The White House meeting comes as officials are increasingly worried about the rise of the delta variant of the coronavirus, even as most vaccines appear to provide good protection against its worst effects. Speaking at the end of a summit of G-20 finance ministers on Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she was “concerned” that delta and other variants could threaten a global economic recovery.

Zuma’s lawyers appeal. Lawyers for former South African President Jacob Zuma appear in court again today to appeal his sentencing of contempt after his legal team’s attempt to overturn his arrest on health grounds was dismissed by a judge last Friday. Sixty people have been arrested while protesting Zuma’s jailing since he began a 15-month sentence last Wednesday. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm on Sunday amid reports of violence and looting over the weekend.

Cuba protests. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country on Sunday in a rare protest against the government and deteriorating living conditions in the country. Cubans continue to face a severe economic crisis amid a U.S. blockade and Trump-era sanctions as well as a drop in tourism due to pandemic travel restrictions. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the protests a form of “systemic provocation” by U.S.-backed dissidents, alleging Washington was attempting to “provoke a massive social implosion.”

Keep an Eye On

Haiti’s assassination. A Haitian physician usually based in Florida has been arrested by police in Haiti in connection with last week’s assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Police accuse Christian Emmanuel Sanon of organizing the killing of Moïse to elevate himself to the presidency. Police say Sanon hired the primarily Colombian hit team from a Venezuelan security firm based in the United States with the mission of providing his security detail. Speaking to a judge last week, the two Americans arrested in the plot have claimed to have only been translators for the group and said their mission was to abduct Moïse rather than kill him.

Merkel’s successor. The likelihood of German politician Armin Laschet succeeding German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to increase over the weekend as a new weekly poll gave the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party a healthy lead over the rival Greens party ahead of September elections. It is the third consecutive week the CDU widened its lead in the polls and the Greens have seen a corresponding drop in support. The poll showed the CDU and Christian Social Union in Bavaria coalition had 28 percent support while the Greens and Social Democratic Party polled at 17 percent.

Odds and Ends

Paris is set to introduce a maximum speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour) on almost all its streets by the end of August in a bid to reduce noise, traffic accidents, and carbon emissions. Roughly 60 percent of Paris streets currently adhere to the limit, but after August’s expansion, only the Paris ring road and major boulevards will allow higher speeds. The move is part of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s drive to reduce car dependency and make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Hidalgo plans to remove almost half of the city’s 140,000 street-level parking spaces and introduce metered parking for motorcycles and scooters, which currently park for free.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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