Cities are key to the green future

Cities are the key to achieving net-zero emissions targets by 2050, argues the IEA (and me!). According to the International Energy Agency, cities account for more than 50% of the globe’s population, 80% of its economic output, two-thirds of global energy consumption and more than 70% of annual global carbon emissions. For cities to lead, they will need to emphasise smart city digitalisation efforts along with ambitious local leadership so they can scale investment in urban net-zero projects.

USA myths and public health

From its founding, the United States has cultivated a national mythos around the capacity of individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, ostensibly by their own merits. This particular strain of individualism, which valorizes independence and prizes personal freedom, transcends administrations. It has also repeatedly hamstrung America’s pandemic response. It explains why the U.S. focused so intensely on preserving its hospital capacity instead of on measures that would have saved people from even needing a hospital. It explains why so many Americans refused to act for the collective good, whether by masking up or isolating themselves. And it explains why the CDC, despite being the nation’s top public-health agency, issued guidelines that focused on the freedoms that vaccinated people might enjoy. The move signaled to people with the newfound privilege of immunity that they were liberated from the pandemic’s collective problem. It also hinted to those who were still vulnerable that their challenges are now theirs alone and, worse still, that their lingering risk was somehow their fault. (“If you’re not vaccinated, that, again, is taking your responsibility for your own health into your own hands,” Walensky said.)

Peak populism

Extremist leaders remain in power in some of the world’s most populous democracies. But even some of those strongmen are now starting to face a real reversal of fortune.

Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain known for his extremist rhetoric and open nostalgia for Brazil’s departed military dictatorship, unexpectedly assumed the country’s presidency in 2019. But he is now in deep political trouble. Lacking loyal allies in the country’s Congress, Bolsonaro has so far proved unable to concentrate power and, thanks to his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, his popularity has plummeted. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president better known simply as Lula, is likely to beat Bolsonaro in an upcoming election.


Recent developments in Europe and Latin America suggest that some of the populists and antidemocratic leaders who have dominated the political landscape for the past decade might finally be encountering serious trouble. If the picture looked almost unremittingly bleak a few years ago, now distinct patches of hope are on the horizon.

The carbon taxes are coming

However, carbon removal alone cannot replace the need to move away from fossil fuels.”

The Swiss Re exec further suggested that a global carbon tax could be an important tool to incentivise low-carbon behaviour and decision-making.

At Swiss Re recently announced a triple-digit real carbon levy on both direct and indirect operational emissions such as business travel, and Ojeisekhoba believes this same logic could be applied on a wider scale by the insurance industry, using such a carbon levy to aggressively finance green technologies.

Capitalism doubts

According to this exercise, the current levels of disaffection with capitalism, contrary to our tendency to view the present as an exceptional time, are not extraordinary, since its support declines in every major crisis. This was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s, in which 38% of respondents claimed to have positions with anti-capitalist elements; in 1975, in the midst of the «oil crisis», when this percentage was 34%, and in 2010, following the Great Recession, when 40% of those interviewed stated that they had a negative view of capitalism. In boom periods, by contrast, the portion of critics of the system stood at around 20%.

Of the eight activities in the index, three were subject to legal orders that ground them to a halt last March: cinemas, sporting events and flights. All three remain 70-85% below the pre-covid baseline today.

Although many cinemas are now open, studios have begun selling content directly to streaming services (see International). Save for a film-going boom in China during New Year festivities in February—when week-on-week revenues rose by 3,600%—the industry has languished between 20% and 40% of its takings from 2019.

The picture for sport and air travel is a bit rosier. At sporting events, capacity limits have kept crowds at around 20% of their pre-covid baseline. Similarly, there are just 30% as many planes in the sky today as in 2019, owing largely to travel bans and quarantine rules. However, America is an encouraging exception. With robust demand for domestic flights and mass vaccination making attendance limits unnecessary, air travel and baseball stadiums there are at 70% and 90% of their levels from 2019.

Nobody is safe until everyone is safe

The great truth that has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic is that no one, anywhere, is safe from COVID-19 until everyone, everywhere, is safe. The first step, which will pay for itself many times over, is to ensure mass vaccination in every affected country. Support from the G7 and G20 that will make vaccines readily accessible to low- and middle-income countries is not an act of charity; it is in every country’s strategic interest. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund believes that such supportwould be the best public investment ever made.

Automation and COVID-19

The same is true of the rise of automation during the pandemic. As companies looked for ways to reduce the number of people in an office, hotel or factory, they turned to robots and telework. They invested heavily in technology, which economists predict could result in one of the biggest boosts to worker productivity in years. This higher productivity forecast is one of the reasons the McKinsey Global Institute says the United States could see an economy that’s $3,500 per person bigger by 2024. But those gains are unlikely to be evenly distributed. Automation also has downsides, especially layoffs for workers without college degrees.