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G-20 Environment Ministers Meet Amid Summer of Climate Turmoil

In a speech on Wednesday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry urged countries to come together to break “mutual suicide pact” of climate inaction.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
John Kerry speaks to U.K. politicians.
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry talks with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour Party member Edward Miliband after giving a speech at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, on July 20. Tolga Akmen/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: G-20 environment ministers meet in Italy, China dismisses a WHO plan to further study COVID-19’s origins, and Tanzania’s opposition leader is arrested. 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: G-20 environment ministers meet in Italy, China dismisses a WHO plan to further study COVID-19’s origins, and Tanzania’s opposition leader is arrested. 

Kerry Joins Environment Ministers in Italy

White House climate envoy John Kerry joins G-20 environment ministers today in Naples, Italy, to discuss commitments to combat climate change as recent extreme flooding in China, India, Germany, and Belgium underlines the need for urgent action.

Today’s meeting will be followed by a joint summit of both environment and energy ministers on Friday as the world’s major economies attempt to plot a transition to clean energy before global temperature tipping points are reached.

The group could begin by looking at its own support for carbon-emitting fossil fuel production and consumption. A recent report found that G-20 members have spent more than $3.3 trillion subsidizing fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris Agreement, contradicting their broad commitments to tackle climate change; 60 percent of those subsidies went to fossil fuel companies while the remainder paid for cheaper consumer energy prices.

China tensions. Speaking to a London audience on Tuesday, Kerry described a world stuck in a “mutual suicide pact,” saying cooperation—even between adversaries—was the only way out. Even so, Kerry criticized Beijing’s plan to reach peak emissions by 2030, saying it would force the rest of the world to reach net-zero emissions “by 2040 or even 2035,” far ahead of the current target of 2050.

Political roadblocks. Although Kerry may have a point, his own government’s climate goals are still struggling to get off the ground. A $3.5 trillion plan to advance Biden’s economic agenda, which includes funding a transition to clean energy, must first make its way through the U.S. Congress, where Republican support seems to be virtually nonexistent.

What We’re Following Today

China rejects WHO inquiry. A senior Chinese health official has rebuffed a World Health Organization plan for a second phase of its study into the origins of COVID-19. Citing the plan’s focus on assessing whether the virus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the Chinese National Health Commission, said it was “impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” adding it lacked common sense. Zeng said China has “always supported scientific virus tracing” but was “opposed to politicizing the tracing work.”

Tanzanian opposition arrested. Tanzanian authorities arrested several members of the country’s main opposition party—including its leader—on Wednesday, raising fears of an authoritarian turn by new Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The Chadema party said its members were detained by police at a hotel for allegedly breaking the country’s coronavirus restrictions, which prohibit unauthorized meetings. Tundu Lissu, Chadema’s candidate in last October’s elections, has called for nationwide protests over the arrests.

Turkey pushes Cyprus plan. The United States and European Union have condemned a Turkish plan to reopen the abandoned town of Varosha on the divided island of Cyprus. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the move while visiting the island on the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion that seized the formerly Greek-dominated town. A former popular tourist destination, the town has since languished in a military zone. Erdogan’s plan is part of a push to create a two-state solution for Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island, a proposal the European Union rejects.

Keep an Eye On

Bolsonaro’s shake-up. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to reshuffle his cabinet next week as he seeks to retain the support of the influential “centrão” bloc of lawmakers in the Brazilian National Congress. According to Reuters, Bolsonaro is likely to replace his chief of staff and the presidential secretary-general while the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare may be revived after having been merged with the Ministry of the Economy in 2019. Just out of the hospital after suffering an intestinal problem, Bolsonaro has consistently polled in second place behind former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Sherman to China. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is set to visit China next week, the highest level visit by a U.S. official since Kerry’s trip to Shanghai in April. As part of her visit, Sherman is expected to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the coastal city of Tianjin. The visit has already been bogged down by questions of protocol, with Sherman reportedly canceling her travel plans after being offered to meet with Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng and not Wang. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said Sherman will “meet” Wang and will “hold talks” with Xie.

Africa’s vaccine rollout. South Africa will become the first African country to produce the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine after the Biovac Institute signed an agreement to complete the final stage of production, known as “fill and finish,” at its Cape Town facility. Biovac plans to produce 100 million doses annually, although production is unlikely to begin until 2022. It’s the second vaccine deal South African companies have struck in recent months, after Durban-based Aspen Pharmacare reached an agreement to produce the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Odds and Ends

Two Swedish prison inmates attempted to carry out a dramatic escape on Wednesday but had to settle for pizza (and a potentially longer sentence) instead. The two prisoners took two prison guards hostage at a high-security prison in Hallby, Sweden, west of Stockholm, before making two demands: a helicopter to enable their escape and 20 pizzas (with kebab toppings) for their fellow inmates. The two guards were released unharmed shortly after the pizzas were delivered, but the helicopter never materialized. The two prisoners, already in a maximum security jail, are likely to be charged with kidnapping.

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

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