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Global plagues bring to its knees a world unable to face them together


Pandemic, climate change, wars, trade or taxation show the need for common responses in a geopolitical scenario that, instead, is cracking

A brutal pandemic;

frightening climate change;

a devastating war that drives widespread rearmament;

severe trade disruptions;

gigantic multinationals that take advantage of loopholes to avoid paying much-needed taxes.

The world faces colossal global challenges that shake it intensely and whose solutions necessarily pass through close international cooperation.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, stated at the end of July, with respect to global warming, the dilemma is clear: collective action or collective suicide.

However, signs of growing polarization and rift abound, between the West and the authoritarian giants of the East, or between the North and the South of the planet.

The meeting on climate change held in Bonn in mid-June to prepare the COP27 in November in Egypt ended without progress and with acrimony;

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in mid-July that the negotiation it leads to implement a global tax framework for multinationals is delayed and it will not be possible to apply it before 2024 in the best of cases;

at the end of July Russia announced that it is withdrawing from the international space station project;

the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has begun in New York takes place in the midst of strong geopolitical turmoil that does not induce the greatest optimism;

at the beginning of August,

Not all are disasters.

The ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held in July achieved a consensus statement that, although minimal, represents an important sign of vitality for a badly wounded international institution.

A recent deal to allow Ukraine to export grain has started to bear fruit.

The US has approved an important piece of legislation that contemplates investments of more than 300,000 million euros over a decade to facilitate the green transition, a national episode but with great global repercussion.

There are inspiring episodes of transnational cooperation, such as the EU anti-pandemic crisis funds.

But the achievements seem insufficient given the magnitude of the crises, and the underlying currents are not at all promising for the near future in the fundamental field of truly global cooperation, apart from national, bilateral or regional initiatives.

The stark rivalry between powers hinders the essential constructive attitudes;

the economic slowdown encourages selfish instincts;

The specter of a new rise of nationalist and protectionist recipes is serious, whether it materializes in the extreme form of a seizure of power —as is likely to happen in September in Italy— or in the inhibiting effect that this strength has on the rulers of another country. political inspiration.

Below is a review of the state of the art in some of the key areas in which global responses to global problems would be necessary – and where, however, more friction than solutions are in sight.


The war launched by Russia in Ukraine has highlighted, in addition to the impotence of the UN system in cases like this, the seriousness of the collapse of the security architecture that had been built during the Cold War, an important framework of treaties of gun control that set limits, increased transparency, decreased the risk of dangerous misunderstandings.

The collapse began two decades ago.

In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and more recently withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty for a wide range of reasons, while Russia took the lead in withdrawing from the Armed Forces Treaty. conventional in Europe.

This gap is especially serious in a context like the current one, with a clear arms race.

World military spending is increasing and, for the first time in decades, according to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), nuclear arsenals are on the way to not only a qualitative improvement, but also a quantitative one.

“We have to be aware that the lack of dialogue on nuclear risks and arms control between powers is in itself dangerous, because it makes it easier to misunderstand and miscalculate in a crisis,” says Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Gun Control Association.

This dangerous trend has been seriously accentuated by the recent breakdown in dialogue between Beijing and Washington.

If the conflictive relationship between the West and Russia is worrying given the high military potential at the Kremlin's disposal, the deterioration with China is even more so.

The Asian giant will most likely be a 21st century hyperpower.

He is determined to develop war-fighting capabilities commensurate with that status and is traditionally reluctant to engage in arms control deals in the style of those that helped keep the Cold War from turning hot.

“Unlimited spending on increasingly sophisticated military hardware only fuels an arms race that no one can ultimately win.

We need to get back to a point where the major powers are engaged in a constant and fruitful dialogue,” Kimball continues.

"With Russia the relationship is broken, and as for China, Washington should recognize that its actions can have a negative influence and Beijing should understand that the US has concerns about its behavior."

A Chinese soldier observes the movements of a frigate during maneuvers in the Strait of Formosa, on the 5th. Lin Jian (AP)

The current NPT review conference in New York is a perfect compendium of the difficulties that complicate the road in this sector.

The nuclear powers recognized by the Treaty are in the midst of massive efforts to modernize their arsenals.

Russia and North Korea make thinly veiled threats to use it.

Iran is leaps and bounds closer to having the capabilities to have a nuclear weapon if it wanted to.

Dozens of countries, meanwhile, have ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But both the dialogue between nuclear powers and that between them and the abolitionists seem very complex.

A final consensus statement from the conference looms as virtually impossible.

The hope is that at least a declaration supported by a "supermajority" will be achieved,

as defined by Kimball.

This, however, is "possible, but not likely," acknowledges the expert.

Climate change

Nor does it seem likely that the world will make coordinated and consistent progress in the fight against climate change in the near future.

While the brutal heat waves that hit Europe ―with terrible droughts and fires that devastate the territory― remind us of the urgency of speeding up the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, multiple dark elements accumulate on the table .

Political action in the US to facilitate the green transition is extremely important and will increase the pace of US emission reductions.

However, as important as it is, the package is not even enough, according to expert calculations, to meet the 2030 emission reduction goals assumed by the Joe Biden Administration.

Meanwhile, disruptions in the energy market linked to Russia's war in Ukraine have precipitated a return to coal in several European countries.

China, for its part, has increased the pace of permitting the construction of new coal plants very consistently, according to a Greenpeace report.

In the first quarter of 2022, plants were authorized for a power of 8.6 gigawatts,

almost half of the capacity approved throughout 2021, when Xi Jinping gave a push to make strong progress on decarbonization.

The breakdown of cooperation between Washington and Beijing in this section is a huge blow, as they are the two main emitters.

“We live in a very complex context, of concatenated crises that interact.

In this context, energy security is emerging as the preponderant variable over the others.

Short term signals are undesirable.

And, in the general picture, the commitments made to reduce emissions are clearly insufficient.

Even so, we are much better off than a decade ago thanks to the legislative and executive framework that has been built to tackle the energy transition”, observes Lara Lázaro, principal investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute and an expert in the field.

The difficulties in international cooperation in this sector and at this time were exposed at the meeting held in Bonn in mid-June to prepare the COP27 scheduled for November in Egypt, which ended without tangible progress.

If, on the one hand, the need for energy security drives polluting bets in the short term, and the economic slowdown stirs up East-West competition, the Bonn meeting illustrated, on the other hand, the validity of the pulse between North and South , with the latter accusing the former of not fully assuming its responsibility for the damage caused to all as a great historical polluter.

The issue of mobilizing aid to developing countries to deal with this impact is an open wound.

Several people walk through the reservoir of La Viñuela (Málaga), which is at 12% of its capacity. García-Santos

The decision of the G-7 held in Germany at the end of June to accept exceptions to the commitment to avoid public investment in the fossil fuel sector caused much concern among the supporters of a decisive acceleration in the fight against climate change.

The taxonomy recently approved by the EU, according to which gas is cataloged in a green label that favors investments, also caused controversy.

“At COP26 in Glasgow, among other things, it was proposed to reach COP27 with revised objectives.

But I see it unlikely that Europe will get there with greater goals.

Perhaps more closed implementation plans.

Nor do I see the US or China arrive with increased objectives.

Egypt will hold the presidency in a devilish context”, says Lázaro.

the pandemic

Contributing to the devilish context is a pandemic that has prostrated the planet for two and a half years.

The situation is clearly better than in the previous summer thanks to the deployment of the vaccines, but the emergency cannot be considered resolved nor, above all, the way of dealing with it shows the desirable signs of an effective international cooperative attitude.

The WHO (World Health Organization) continues to record around 15,000 weekly deaths from covid this summer, and the disruptions to the economy due to confinements, as China shows, are consistent.

At this point, Africa still has a proportion of citizens with a full guideline of only 20%.

The North-South divide and West-East mistrust mark this scenario.

"The international reports that have been prepared - such as that of the Monti commission, to which I was linked - coincide in indicating that the north-south international response has been clearly insufficient and not very supportive", comments Rafa Bengoa, former Minister of Health of the Government Vasco, former director of the WHO health systems area and currently co-director of the Institute of Health and Strategy.

“Many countries, including Spain, are trying to provide both vaccines and medicines and infrastructure to the southern countries, but this has been slow, it is not going at the speed at which the virus is going.

We are playing more to the security of the north than to the solidarity that we should have, ”says the expert.

The most visible combat scenario has been that of the release of intellectual property from vaccine patents.

India and South Africa have led the claim.

After a time of uncertainty, the Biden Administration backed the idea.

But the issue remains stalled, opposed by several major European producing countries.

The recent WTO ministerial conference has addressed the issue in its final consensus statement.

However, the result has been considered practically irrelevant by supporters of liberalization and by independent experts.

"It doesn't change things much," says Uri Dadush, an analyst at the Bruegel think tank, and a former World Bank executive and president of The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In this context, hopes for better international cooperation are pinned on a process launched within the framework of the WHO to outline a new legal framework.

"The idea is to have a legal and binding mechanism that goes much further than the international health regulations of 2005, which were established after SARS-1, and which have proven insufficient due to lack of teeth," observes Bengoa.

The expert points out how the WHO faced serious problems in investigating what happened in Wuhan, China, the likely epicenter of the pandemic, because it does not have the power to act without authorization from member countries.

"The framework agreement is going to have to say things about these issues."

Once again, the growing mistrust between powers embodied in a traumatic way by the breakdown of dialogue between Washington and Beijing is emerging as a potential obstacle to endowing an international institution with penetrating powers.

It should be remembered that Donald Trump, a possible candidate for the next US presidential elections, promoted the withdrawal of his country from the WHO.


Trade is another area subject to strong tensions for geopolitical reasons or because of the disruptions linked to the pandemic.

Precisely under the Trump presidency, the conflict between the US and China fully broke out, in which the arrival of Biden has meant a certain containment, but not a solution.

The highest arbitration panel of the WTO for disputes between States is inoperative as the necessary judges have not been appointed, with the United States convinced that the court exceeded its powers in the past.

The relationship between the other great world trade giant, the EU, and China is not serene either.

The sinking of the investment agreement between the two, at the time heavily sponsored by Germany, is a symbol of the growing suspicion in Europe about Chinese attitudes and excessive interweaving with that market.

Still, the recent WTO ministerial conference concluded with a consensus agreement.

“This is positive.

The WTO is a fundamental institution, and many other ministerial ones ended up without it," says Dadush, who, however, points out that the agreements found are of a "minimalist" nature, and that the declared intention to reactivate the arbitration panel by 2024 "It doesn't really commit anyone."

A man pushes a cart past containers at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on November 4, 2021. WILLY KURNIAWAN (REUTERS)

Dadush points out that the current turmoil —tariff conflict between the US and China, sanctions on Russia or the UK's exit from the EU—, while significant, nevertheless represent "a small part of global trade".

The expert believes that the most likely future scenario is that of "free trade that will go ahead, a globalization that will continue, with many difficulties and tensions, but without a global trade war."

The hypothesis of an open war between China and the United States is the only circumstance that can profoundly alter this central perspective, Dadush observes.

“But I think that everyone is aware that we cannot afford an open war between Washington and Beijing, that it is necessary to find a

modus vivendi

, and that is why this is not the most likely scenario,” Dadush continues.

“I also believe that”, he continues, “even if nationalist and protectionist options come to power in Western countries, they will also be limited, in the transition from campaign rhetoric to government action, by the reality that trade is essential. for economic development and pressure from business environments that are often close to right-wing political families.

Therefore, I believe that the most realistic scenario is that of free trade that, although with difficulties, will go ahead”.

In this sense, it is worth noting that the right-wing coalition dominated by protectionist parties that is the favorite to win the elections in Italy issued this week supposedly reassuring signals in the face of the European integration process, in which free trade is a central issue.

We will have to see, in case of victory,


Another blow to the hopes of finding global solutions to global problems came this July when it was confirmed that the negotiations to launch a global corporate tax system are facing many difficulties and will not be concluded this year as many expected.

Last year, 140 countries agreed to establish a framework that allows taxes to be collected more fairly from large multinationals that take advantage of their size, the characteristics of their business and jurisdictions with negligible tax levels to avoid paying taxes on their profits.

The agreement provides for a minimum corporate tax of 15% and that at least part of the profits of multinationals be registered in the jurisdictions where their clients are, and not where their headquarters are, conveniently located.

But the application in the real world is complex, and the OECD, which is leading the negotiation, has reported that at least one more year will be necessary and the implementation would not be possible before 2024. The legislative package approved this Friday in the US contemplates various tax measures, but, as recognized by the Treasury Department itself, promoter of the global agreement, they do not serve to place the country in line with the framework agreed upon in the OECD.

As if the obstacles to global cooperation in all these sections were not already notable, others are on the way, such as the US legislative elections in November, which could break Democratic control of Congress.

It is to be hoped that, with the Republicans in control of one or both Houses, Washington's willingness to cooperate internationally will be diminished, giving yet another turn to a spiral that goes in the opposite direction to the direction required by the plagues that afflict the world.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-08-15

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