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IPCC Finds the World Is Heating Faster Than Previously Thought

The landmark intergovernmental report, the first since 2013, provides an updated assessment on climate change science.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A Greek resident tries to extinguish a forest fire.
A local resident gestures as he holds an empty water hose during an attempt to extinguish forest fires approaching the village of Pefki on Euboea island, Greece, on Aug. 8. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a sobering report, France extends use of a coronavirus health pass to restaurants and bars, and support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga drops to the lowest level yet in a new poll.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a sobering report, France extends use of a coronavirus health pass to restaurants and bars, and support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga drops to the lowest level yet in a new poll.

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

IPCC Warns Global Warming Is Locked In

If wildfires, record-breaking heat, and devastating floods around the world this summer hadn’t made it clear—the effects of climate change are already here. A new report released today by the U.N.-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) helps to confirm a key fact driving much of the summer’s upheaval: The world is getting hotter at a faster rate than previously thought.

The Earth has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century. Within the next two decades, according to the report, warming to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels is virtually inevitable—leading to more frequent heat waves, droughts, and extreme weather events similar to those that have ravaged countries from the United States and Canada to Turkey and Greece in recent weeks.

COP26 or cop-out? There is hope major policy shifts could halt the warming at the 1.5 degree level, although some impacts are likely irreversible at this point, including the melting of Arctic sea ice and ocean acidification. If global leaders do not radically overhaul their approach, the IPCC report warns, catastrophic warming of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels could occur—making heat waves that used to occur every 50 years annual events.

Today’s IPCC release, a summary of the latest climate science as reviewed by experts and 195 member governments, is an update from the 2013 report that set the stage for the 2015 Paris Agreement. Its findings will also help inform policymakers as the world prepares to gather for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the report “sobering reading” and argued “it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet,” calling for action before the U.K. hosts the summit.

Those looking for solutions from the IPCC will have to wait. Today’s report summarizes the science whereas reports due in 2022 will focus on the more practical aspects. Nevertheless, the single biggest factor driving climate change is already well known: burning fossil fuels. One solution—a transition to clean energy—has been welcomed by many countries, but how to get there is still not settled. The powers that account for almost half of all global carbon emissions—China, the European Union, and the United States—are all following different pathways to reducing carbon output.

Three plans. Despite cajoling from the United States on its reliance on coal, China is sticking with its plan to reach net zero in 2060—but only after it has brought emissions to a peak in 2025.

Despite grand proclamations of carbon neutrality by 2050, U.S. plans for sweeping climate legislation remain the subject of political arm-wrestling. A $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, set to pass the Senate early this week, watered down initial climate goals—although a separate $3.5 trillion bill is likely to do more to address U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.

The current EU goal of a 55 percent carbon reduction by 2030 and overall neutrality by 2050 is the most ambitious of the three powers. However, EU proposals must still be approved by member states as well as the European Parliament, a process that could slow down and ultimately dilute ambitions.

Conflict or comity? As Adam Tooze writes in an in-depth assessment in FP, how the United States and European Union decide to cooperate or diverge on the issue of climate policy has far-reaching implications. “What is at stake,” Tooze writes, “entwined with questions of environmental policy, is the kind of regime we govern contemporary capitalism with.”

The World This Week 

On Monday, Aug. 9, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador holds a phone call with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on COVID-19 vaccine cooperation efforts.

On Tuesday, Aug. 10, former South African President Jacob Zuma is scheduled to appear in court to face fraud and corruption charges. Zuma had been cleared to leave prison to attend his trial, but his hospitalization on Friday throws his appearance into doubt.

On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Yair Lapid becomes the first Israeli foreign minister to visit Morocco. The two-day trip was made possible after the two countries agreed to normalize ties in December 2020.

On Thursday, Aug. 12, voters in Zambia participate in presidential and legislative elections, in which incumbent President Edgar Lungu seeks a third term.

On Friday, Aug. 13, both the chief executive and editor in chief of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily appear in court after their June 17 arrests under the territory’s national security laws.

On Saturday, Aug. 14, Pakistan celebrates its independence day.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, both India and South Korea hold independence day celebrations.

What We’re Following Today 

Taliban advances. The Afghan government has vowed to launch a counteroffensive to dislodge the Taliban from the strategic city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, after Taliban forces captured it along with two other provincial capitals in the country’s north on Sunday. The advances follow the Taliban’s seizure of Zaranj, the capital city of southern Nimroz province, last Friday. Writing in Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief last Thursday, Michael Kugelman explained why the Taliban’s new strategy of targeting cities marks a “dramatic escalation” in the long-fought war. 

France’s health pass. France extends the use of a COVID-19 health pass to bars, restaurants, and long-distance travel today as it seeks to encourage vaccination. The pass, which has been in use for those entering museums, theaters, and sporting venues since July, is backed by a majority of residents, according to polls, but has still been subject to fierce opposition; 237,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday to protest the measures in demonstrations that united far-right and far-left figures wary of the damage to French ideals of liberty and equality.

French President Emmanuel Macron has focused on another French ideal—fraternity—and urged vaccination as a civic duty. “Freedom is worth nothing if we infect our brother, our neighbor, our friend, our parents, or someone we cross paths with at an event—then its no longer freedom; it becomes irresponsibility,” Macron said on Friday.

Suga crashes. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has seen his support slip to its lowest level since he took charge in September 2020, according to a new poll published by Asahi Shimbun today. Just 28 percent of those surveyed support Suga’s government while 60 percent said they did not want him to stay on as prime minister. The polls will likely be a key consideration as Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party meets on Aug. 26 to set a date for the next general election, which must take place on or before Oct. 22 per the Japanese Constitution.

Keep an Eye On

Going public. Peru’s new socialist-led administration plans to create state-run gas and hydroelectric companies, Peruvian Prime Minister Guido Bellido said on Sunday, in a shift from the privatization efforts of previous administrations. Echoing the policy climbdown of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, Bellido stopped short of calling for public involvement in the country’s mining sector. The changes are unlikely to happen right away, as Castillo’s government faces the ever-present challenge of gaining the approval of the opposition-led Peruvian Congress before any of its plans become law.

Yemen talks. Mohammed Abdulsalam, the lead negotiator for Yemen’s Houthis, has reacted coldly to the appointment of Hans Grundberg as the new U.N. special envoy for Yemen, saying on Twitter that talks with the Swede would be of no use unless the group’s conditions were taken seriously. The Houthis demand an end to an air and sea blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition before they will consider a peace deal while the coalition wants a simultaneous agreement. Speaking to Reuters, Abdulsalam said despite U.S. Yemen Envoy Timothy Lenderking’s recent trip to Riyadh, negotiations have seen no progress.

Odds and Ends

The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia played out in dramatic and violent fashion at the Tokyo Olympics as Iran claimed gold in the men’s karate final despite its athlete ending the bout unconscious. Saudi Arabias Tareg Hamedi floored Irans Sajad Ganjzadeh with a kick to the neck considered too vicious by the judges. They then disqualified Hamedi for an unchecked attack that violated Olympic rules and awarded the gold to Ganjzadeh—once he had regained consciousness.

The two athletes celebrated amicably afterward, but Saudi Arabia will feel especially aggrieved at the outcome: It means the country is still without a gold medal since it first appeared at the 1972 Munich Games.

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

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