48. It's a GZERO World with Ian Bremmer (COVID and Climate #4)
There’s a leadership vacuum in the world, and Ian Bremmer, creator of the term “GZERO” has been telling us for years. The US used to play a more pivotal role in world ambition, and in particular, world ambition for achieving the targets of The Paris Agreement. But what do we do when the US has stepped down from that role they played, and what new phase of globalism is now a reality? We asked Ian to tell us about his analysis.
Ian Bremmer is president and founder of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the podcast “GZERO World with Ian Bremmer”
After the conversation, our three hosts discuss the format of the Paris Agreement in a GZERO world, and Christiana reminds us that the most vulnerable are being caught at every turn by every crisis facing us today.
Listen to the other episodes of our miniseries here – The Future of Transport
This series is sponsored by NESTE
Our guest this week:
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:53] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana Figueres: [00:02:57] I’m Christiana Figueres.
Paul Dickinson: [00:02:59] And I’m Paul Dickinson.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:01] This week we discussed the impact of the pandemic on geopolitics and we speak to political strategist Ian Bremmer. Thanks for being here.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:23] We’re all here. Isn’t it nice? Where are you this week? I mean, have you been traveling are you in a different place where you were last week? Have you been a long distance?
Paul Dickinson: [00:03:32] If we had been somewhere, we couldn’t tell you because it’s against the law.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:36] I suspect you probably have roamed rather widely around North London, Paul.
Paul Dickinson: [00:03:39] Regent’s Park. Christiana, where are you?
[00:03:42] Well, Marina and I have our daily travels.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:46] Remember the name?
Christiana Figueres: [00:03:47] Yeah. Paul, can you remember where we are? But in that place, we have our daily travels from the bedroom, to the kitchen, to the outdoor patio, back into the our bedroom slash office that Marina’s bedroom is. And sometimes we even go to our laundry room. There you are. That’s our travel.
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:11] Ok, and Tom, did we see you breaking, flaunting the rules, recording a TED talk in the beautiful woods with squirrels and you know, the sunshine?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:20] Well, I don’t know if it was illegal. It may have been. I don’t think it was it wasn’t an intentional breaking of the law.
[00:04:26] So I have recorded a TED talk this week. I was invited to speak and then, of course, TED is not happening this week. So I did it remotely. And you know what? It is very difficult to speak into a camera for 15 minutes without really having any response. And I ended up doing it in a natural environment. So I actually went out with a friend who was social distancing more than six feet away at all times. And he’s a cameraman. So he would put the camera in place. And then I would speak to the camera, but we decided to do it in nature because it felt like it was more appropriate and also more interesting than just doing it in my room. But of course, what that meant was we had all of the various challenges of being outside with not only the light moving around, but cows wandering into shot and dog walkers yelling at us. It took us weeks, not weeks, but days to record this thing. But it is done and I’m very happy with it. Have you guys seen it?
Paul Dickinson: [00:05:19] I have.
Christiana Figueres: [00:05:20] Well, Tom, despite all the difficulties, may this be one of many advertisements in pro of your TED talk? Because it is brilliant. I think it’s inspiring. It’s compelling. It’s also fun. And I can highly recommend it. And it’s going to be launched on Earth Day.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:05:41] Yes. Next week it’s coming out. So it’s going to be part of this Ted 2020, the prequel. So people who are supposed to be at TED will get to see it next week. And then the same day it will be put out on TED.com.
Christiana Figueres: [00:05:52] So how do we see it, TED.com and then we type in Tom Rivett-Carnac or can we type in Thomas Carnac? Or is it Carnaco.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:03] It all should work. No, Rivett-Carnac is what I’m trying to establish. If you two could possibly give me some help in that regard that would be ok.
Christiana Figueres: [00:06:10] OK with a double T?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:12] That’s right. Rivett-Carnac. Mr Paul, how are you? You’re the only one of us who’s all alone. Are you enjoying it?
Paul Dickinson: [00:06:19] Well I’m all alone with eight million other Londoners being trying to be all alone with each other, which is not as easy as it sounds because it’s quite a small city and it’s a small park I go to every day. But I’m getting like –
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:30] Regent’s Park?
Paul Dickinson: [00:06:31] Regent’s Park. But I’m getting confused about social distancing because I feel really, really rude if I, like, avoid people. But then I know I’m also being very, very rude if I walk near people, I hold my breath and I’m confused. That’s just one thing I’m noticing. And then the other thing is I’m endlessly thinking about what I would be thinking if I knew about now three months ago. Do you ever think, like, how crazy the news is now? And if you know, if in November last year, if you saw it, your mind would go crazy? And I’m going to say something serious for a minute as we begin to transition possibly to the topic de jour. And that is, you know, this is not a very nice thing I’m about to say, but a tiny little bit of constriction in my life has made me think about the lives of people in prisons, to be honest with you. And yeah, tens of thousands of people in the UK, literally millions of people in the United States, in many other countries, you know, people often who’ve actually grown up in some kind of government institution and are just, you know, just a tiny little taste of what it means to have restricted liberty. It’s kind of gone a little bit deep with me. So I just wanted to bring in that serious note.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:07:36] I actually read a piece when this was all starting that was written by a former inmate just about the trauma, you know, about have having lived through a prison sentence and then what that feels like afterwards and how terrified they were that that this restriction was now coming in.
Christiana Figueres: [00:07:53] No, it’s interesting because I’ve been thinking about the same, and particularly I’ve been thinking about Mandela, you know, in prison for 27 years. And if any of you have been there, the particular cell that he was in for 27 years was not particularly larger than his lying down body. And yet what a mindset he developed for the moment that he walked out of jail. Right. So, you know, there you go. There is the gold standard.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:31] That’s the model.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:33] And just stop being too human centric. Marina has pointed out that there are animals in zoos and indeed all animals in captivity are, you know, should I guess equally we can touch upon their plight.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:45] Although speaking of which, have you seen that the pandas and I forget where I think it might be somewhere in China that they’ve been trying to get to mate in captivity for like 30 years or something, generations of unsuccessful attempts. That can’t be generations of unsuccessful attempts at mating, can there now? But I think about that anyway. It’s been a long time that they’ve been trying to do that.
[00:09:06] And now that there’s no visitors, it’s working for them. So, you know, it turns out that actually it was the people that was putting them off.
Christiana Figueres: [00:09:14] No it turns out they’re prudes.
Paul Dickinson: [00:09:17] Well it’s not entirely unreasonable. I mean, thousands of people wandering past you, you know, with packets of crisps and, you know, cameras. But anyway, what do I know?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:24] OK, shall we pivot to what we supposed to be talking about today?
Paul Dickinson: [00:09:27] Indeed. Tom, tell us about that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:29] Ok, so actually we thought we’d have a slightly different structure to what’s going to happen now. Those regular listeners will remember that last week after our conversation with Professor Stiglitz, we got into a discussion about what the shape of international affairs will be as we move through to the other side of the pandemic. And Christiana, in particular, expressed real concern that we’re not seeing instincts towards deeper cooperation and collaboration. And in fact, the reverse is coming into the fore. Walls are going up. Countries are pushing away from international cooperation, something that has been only emphasized more in the last few days, particularly today with Trump’s threat to withhold funding to the World Health Organization during a pandemic, which is insane. But we thought we wanted to dig into this a little bit more and challenge ourselves to ask different questions about what’s happening, not be trapped by our own habitual modes of thinking. And as a result, we have a slightly different kind of guest today. Ian Bremmer is one of the world’s foremost authorities on political risk. He’s the originator of the idea of GZERO, the idea that we’re entering a world which will be much more multipolar because no country will have the power to play the role that the United States has played in recent years, basically.
Christiana Figueres: [00:10:50] Sorry, Tom. I think his thesis is not that we’re going into a multipolar but into a zero polar. No leadership.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:10:57] Well, no leadership. But as a result of that, there’ll be multi smaller poles. Right. But nobody will play. And of course, as we look back at the last decades, people have different perspectives. But the role of the U.S. In keeping global systems moving has actually been very powerful and effective anyway. So what we thought we’d do today was play you that interview now, and that will enable us to bring some of these deeper and different thoughts that Ian brought to our conversation. It’s a fascinating conversation now and then we’ll have a kind of longer discussion afterwards about whether what he said and the discussion we had with him changed our perspective.
Paul Dickinson: [00:11:34] Ok, let’s hear from the experts.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:11:40] So today, we are very excited to have Ian Bremmer with us. Ian is president and founder of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He’s also the host of the podcast GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, which we love. And we thoroughly recommend that you look up and you listen to. Ian we want to do a few things with you. There’s so many different ways in which we could take this conversation. And, you know, given the intersection of geopolitics and the coronavirus and climate change. So we’re going to try and have three distinct little conversations with you and I’m going to kick them off. But we’re all going to jump in with questions. The first is around international cooperation in response to the COVID virus and what you’re seeing in terms of how countries are actually being able to work together. The second is on what you are anticipating international relations will look like after COVID. And then the third is a bit of a crystal ball discussion around how easy or difficult it’s going to be to deal with climate crisis in that world that we’re going to be stepping into. But just to start off right now, the international cooperation in the response that we’re seeing, you said recently that trying to deal with COVID on a country by country basis is like trying to deal with cancer by going to an ophthalmologist and having them examine your eyes.
[00:12:55] They might help you with your vision, but you’re still going to have cancer. And we actually talked about this at length on our last edition of our podcast. And we use a slightly different analogy, but basically made the same point. That is that if a group of people are in a boat and there’s a hole in it, it’s not only the one sitting closest to the hole that are going to drown. So right now, from our perspective and we’re curious to know from yours, we would say we’re sort of seeing precisely the wrong instinct emerge in terms of the global response to the pandemic. Countries are looking at their own needs and not engaging sufficiently in global cooperation to ensure we come through this together to just kick us off, can you unpack for us: if that is indeed what you’re seeing? Why that’s the case? And whether you’re seeing any signs of light that wisdom is breaking through, that we can’t do this country by country, we have to do it together.
Ian Bremmer: [00:13:43] Yeah, I mean, it’s our first GZERO crisis, you know, not a G7, not a G20, but an absence of leadership. And that’s been coming for a long time. I first wrote about the coming GZERO, the collapse of the old US led global order, but with nothing yet taking its place almost 10 years ago. And there are a lot of reasons for it. I mean, some of it is that the United States itself doesn’t want to play the historic role it has. As the sheriff of the global military and security order, the architect of the global trade order, the cheerleader of global values, I mean, an awful lot of inequality inside the United States and feeling like the average American wasn’t taken care of makes a lot of Americans say, we’re sick of this.
[00:14:34] We’re not in favor of the globalism that has been promoted by our established parties. And this is you know, that’s not just in the U.S. We see that across most advanced industrial democracies. The only exception is Japan. In Japan, because you don’t have the inequality, the population’s actually shrinking. So even though the pie is not growing, the average piece of that pie for the people living there is getting a little larger. They have no immigration to speak of and they’re not allowed to fight in wars outside their borders. So Japan is really the exception. And then beyond that, you also have Russia in serious decline, blaming the United States and the West for that, trying to undermine those countries, the transatlantic alliance, and delegitimize their institutions further. And the Chinese, who are the rising power, certainly economically and technologically and even to a degree in soft power.
[00:15:27] We can get into that if you want. But not aligning with the United States. I mean, the big thing that most in the West got wrong in the last 10, 20 years was this idea that as China got more powerful, it would somehow adapt to become more of a free market economy, more of a democratic system. And that is absolutely not happening. China has gotten much more powerful and they’ve consolidated their authoritarian regime and they’ve consolidated their state capitalist economic and technological system.
[00:16:00] So we had all the preconditions for a geopolitical recession for the old US led order breaking down.
[00:16:08] But it doesn’t become as obvious until there’s a crisis in the same way that you can have a pier jutting into the water and it erodes and erodes and erodes. But if you’re standing on the pier and it’s a perfectly beautiful day, you don’t necessarily know that it’s about to fall apart. Suddenly a storm comes through and you go, oh my God, the pier is about to fall into the ocean.
[00:16:30] Well, that’s precisely what we’re seeing now, because not only do we have a crisis in this GZERO order, but the scale of the crisis is actually the largest, the greatest, the most concerning, the most global of anything we’ve seen since World War Two. And the capacity to respond internationally is actually so much more challenging than what we experienced after 9/11 or after the 2008 financial crisis. So that’s a little geopolitical backdrop for why this is so dysfunctional, what we’re experiencing.
Paul Dickinson: [00:17:07] Sorry, Ian. And you’re saying this is bigger than the breakup of the Soviet Union, the fall of communism? This is the biggest thing since World War Two?
Ian Bremmer: [00:17:13] In terms of the scale of the crisis. Sure. I mean, you could focus on the Cuban missile crisis, which, of course I mean, had we gotten it wrong, had the potential to really bring everything down. But we didn’t and it didn’t. And so the actual impact of that crisis on the global order was pretty limited, where the actual impact of this crisis on the way the world will work, I think has much more significant implications for all of us living on this planet than anything since World War Two. I’d make that argument.
Christiana Figueres: [00:17:54] Ian, so you coined this term in 2011 GZERO, because you correctly observed that we were in a total vacuum of leadership or in fact, even willingness to be leaders on so many different issues and so G7 is no more, G8, G6, G20, G7 I mean, you name the Gs and I knew you very accurately, basically took them all off the table for different reasons and came to your conclusion of GZERO. Now, here we are with the biggest thing since World War Two. I’m sure you feel justified in having foreseen that we would be here. But because we are hitting such rock bottom, are we so far down that we might begin to bounce back up? And let me just put two possibilities there for you to take a big bat and bat them off the table. One, of course, would be a still surprising election result in the United States that might put a very, very different view of the world in the White House and the other with or without a different and a surprising election result in the United States. The other is China. The fact that China has done more than any other country to support both industrialized as well as developing countries, sending doctors, sending equipment, sending all kinds of support to many of the countries that are being very, very hit. Are they doing that just because it’s the thing to do right now? Or are these actually very interesting steps toward a China that is assuming a much more strategic international leadership role?
Ian Bremmer: [00:19:51] Certainly. I mean, those are two questions to ask, which is, could the United States reassert itself or could China emerge as a more effective and responsible leader? And the answer in both cases are I certainly doubt it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:20:09] Why is that?
Ian Bremmer: [00:20:11] In the case of China? Of course, they are responsible for this crisis. The original sin of the pandemic was caused because the Chinese willfully covered up the human to human transmission and the extent of the problem for a full month. While five million Chinese traveled out of Wuhan and 400 plus thousand traveled out of the country from Wuhan leading to the pandemic. Right. And they refused to allow in the World Health Organization to do independent testing and and actually presented to the WHO that there was no human to human transmission. So that’s a big problem. And the Americans are blaming them for that and will blame them for that. And it’s very interesting that with Biden now as the presumptive nominee, President Trump’s first advertisements against him and the statements made from the head of the campaign are that Biden is soft on China. So you can see that dynamic playing out at least until, say, January, when we might or might not have a new president. But on the Chinese side, first, China is going to have to dig itself out of that hole. Now, there’s no question that since that has come to pass, the Chinese government recognize they had a really big issue that they were responsible for and they had to clean it up both domestically and to the extent that they could internationally. And they have done a lot of work. And the technologically empowered surveillance state that they have has been extraordinarily effective at making a quarantine, strongly limit further expansion inside China and allowing them to reopen their economy, which right now looks like about 70 percent back in terms of their supply chain, not consumption, and probably will be back close to 100 percent by sometime in May while the Americans and Europeans are still functionally shut down.
[00:22:15] And then you have the fact that the Chinese are providing some masks, some test kits, some medical personnel to the Europeans, to other countries around the world while the Americans are focusing on the United States. So, I mean, historically, the Americans did the most in humanitarian aid. The Chinese are clearly learning from the U.S. experience historically. The Americans perhaps are forgetting their experience, historically. The Chinese are doing a good job propagandizing everything they’re giving. But I mean, it’s nowhere close to the hole that’s necessary to be filled.
[00:22:49] And more importantly, as we get through the immediacy of the health care crisis and start looking more significantly at the massive economic hole that the developing world is going to need to fill, certainly the heads of the international financial institutions and the UN that I’ve been talking to have been very skeptical that China is going to play anywhere close to the kind of road the Americans have been capable of playing historically. So, no, I don’t expect that the Chinese are going to fill that hole. And if Biden were to win, which right now is a coin flip, but let’s say the 50 percent chance ish that Biden wins, you still have a U.S. economy that is very deeply needing support to get the hell out of this crisis. You have an additional minimum, 10 percent of the workforce that has a social contract that’s broken and doesn’t have a productive thing to do. And the necessity of the U.S. Leader in focusing on that and the Europeans and focusing on that to ensure that the people that voted them in actually feel like their government is fit for purpose, is going to be first, second and third order. Well, before you talk about what the rest of the world needs and gets. So, I mean, I think that we are quite some ways away from being able to talk about what the post GZERO world is likely to look like.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:24:21] Well, that’s interesting. That was actually going to be the question I was going to ask you. And I want to make sure I leave a bit of time to talk about climate change. But if you if you take that thesis you just unpacked. Right. The U.S. is unlikely to reassert leadership under any election scenario. China is unlikely to step into that vacuum in anything like the role that the U.S. has played. So just kind of, you know, and then we kind of come out of this pandemic towards the end of this year, early next year, in a world that those trends have taken a big jump further forward. What does that world look and feel like to live in? You know, how did the geopolitics play out in a way that’s different? Presumably it’s much more multipolar, much more complicated. Took us through that.
Ian Bremmer: [00:24:59] It’s more multipolar. The United States has lost some influence vis a vis China in descending order to Southeast Asia, in sub-Saharan Africa and East and southern Europe, the poorer countries with less infrastructure and less worries about national security vis a vis China than the Germans or the UK and then South America.
[00:25:26] So in the poorest developing world, not India, certainly not Mexico, probably not as much of the Middle East, you see the Chinese with more influence than they had. You see more hedging away from the Americans and towards China.
[00:25:42] You also see a lot more structural inequality between the developing world and the developed world, because the developing world does not have the capacity to respond effectively to this crisis and herd immunity because the health care system isn’t up to it, because the governance isn’t as good, because a lot of people couldn’t socially distance if they wanted to. 25 percent of Brazilians living in favelas, you can’t socially distance there, they’re more like 40 percent in India, more like 70 percent in Nigeria.
[00:26:15] And you also have more structural inequality inside the United States and inside Europe as the fourth industrial revolution increasingly looks like the post industrial revolution. For many of those that were formerly in the working and middle classes, the big open question will be, are we in a full fledged cold war between the Americans and Chinese? And I think it’s too early to say that yet.
[00:26:41] I would also point out that even as America’s influence compared to China decreases on the margins in the developing world, America’s power compared to its allies is actually going up the role of the dollar, the role of big tech companies who are clearly the winners in this environment. But the Europeans, the Canadians, the Japanese have none of them. They’re all American. And if you desperately need right. The tech companies to get your economies back up and running and do the geo tracking of individuals who do and do not have immunity, who have and have not gotten this disease. Well, I mean, the Americans are going to make a lot more of the rules and privacy in Europe is going to matter a lot less. Right. Plus, the fact that the US is the largest energy producer, the largest food producer that has the reserve currency, the dollar and the Chinese currency still isn’t convertible. I’d be careful at ideas of just because the Chinese are doing a better job vis a vis the U.S. And coming out of this crisis, that that means somehow the Americans are in inexorable decline. No, I think the Americans are going to become more unilateralist and more transactionalist even under Biden. But that doesn’t mean the Americans are in inexorable decline at all.
Paul Dickinson: [00:27:59] Ian just like a supplementary before we get on to climate change, if I may, you know, during the crisis, we’ve had Bill Gates, for example, you know, he gave this TED talk five years ago where he predicted this, and he’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but just hearing him talk, he has this particular voice of somebody looking from a global perspective. He’ll talk about people in the advanced economies. He’ll talk about people in developing economies and that voice of what you could call global interest. I mean, to what degree may we see it flourish in a rejuvenated United Nations system? To what degree may corporations represent it? Do you see green shoots of something beyond this tribal nationalism?
Ian Bremmer: [00:28:39] I think that globalism is failing and I think it’s failing not because I don’t like it, but rather because so many people have been left behind in individual countries despite the extraordinary global growth. And I think that the nature of this virus, which is all about we need walls, we need control, we need to ensure that we can literally have people distanced, shelter in place. It’s the opposite of globalism and globalization is driving us more in that direction. Now, you want to talk about climate change? There are a lot of crises coming down the pike of which climate is an obvious, perhaps most important. And you’ve got the ethics of A.I. and displacement. You’ve got cyber security. You’ve got the next pandemic or three. I mean, all of those things require global coordination to respond to them. Very unclear to me that you’re going to get it.
[00:29:41] And I mean, I personally have an enormous amount of respect for Bill Gates, what he has done. And I mean, full disclosure, the Gates Foundation is a big client of my firm, Eurasia Group. So we work quite closely with them. And I know Bill pretty well. But leave that aside, he’s given away half of the world’s largest fortune to try to make a difference and not just for his fellow Americans. I have enormous respect for the good that he has done with his fortune. But the future of the world right now is not being driven primarily by Bill Gates. And we need to understand that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:30:18] So we’re really keen, I mean, it’s really interesting to have this analysis from you set out the reality of what we’re facing. I wanted to ask you a question about climate change and about the ability of the world that you’re describing to respond to climate change, because, of course, in a way, what’s happened with the pandemic is we knew a terrible thing was going to happen and we did nothing really to prepare for it. And climate change has a lot of analogies in that way. I have a strong instinct that as we have Christiana on the line, who led the world to a diplomatic breakthrough on climate. And you’re talking about basically the challenges of cooperation going further. I think actually it’d be interesting for Christiana to phrase this question in the way that you would like to, Christiana.
Christiana Figueres: [00:30:57] Well, I’ve been thinking about it, actually, as you’ve been speaking Ian, because obviously the first take on this traditionally is to say our climate is the ultimate multilateral test for cooperation around the world. Now, if the psychological effect of isolationism is going to be sticky to us as individuals and to nations at large, but we still have to vanquish climate change, then I’ve been wondering, how do you square that circle? Because not addressing climate change is not an option, because it would lead basically to existential threat for humanity. So that is not even an option. So how do you address climate change in the era of isolationism? Am I getting too desperate?
Ian Bremmer: [00:31:54] You know it’s obviously a bad time to ask this question because at the beginning of this year, we were only talking about climate right at Davos. You’ve got Gretta Thornburg, right? I mean, like she’s now sheltering in place. So, I mean, this year, in terms of the ability to talk meaningfully about further climate coordination, everything has been pushed back on the pandemic.
[00:32:16] And, you know, you’re only so concerned about the polar bears and the whales when you’re worried about the actual physical safety of your grandma. Right. So, I mean, let’s be clear and and for those people that have said, well, climate is the ultimate global response, not actually a pandemic feels pretty global response. Right. So let’s let’s not let’s not go too far.
[00:32:43] But I’m actually much more optimistic long term about the ability to respond to climate. And the reason for that is because I think that around the world, the science of climate has advanced suitably, that almost everyone has figured out we’re going to have to actually invest in these new technologies long term, like even if we’re not doing it fast enough and we’re not doing a coordinated fashion, we are doing it. And so, I mean, just when you see that solar power is cheaper than coal, which 10 years ago is not remotely the case. Right. You see the advances in battery technology and storage and transmission and all of that. You know, we’re not where we want to be, but it seems to me pretty clear like you’re not going to be. In the same way you can’t stop AI from happening and that makes me much more concerned about the future of humanity. You can’t stop the advances in non fossil fuel based energy technology from happening. And that makes me more optimistic about humanity, even if we’re going to have an awful lot of the world’s poorest and least connected, suffering and dying unnecessarily as we get from here to there.
[00:34:05] So, you know, you’re right, you don’t get global cooperation and coordination. It’s fits and starts. But, you know, a pandemic when you suddenly need leadership and you need us to work together on medical supply chain and work together on fighting the virus now, we fail. And we particularly fail in a GZERO environment where climate, when we’ve known about it for half a century and science is almost full consensus with most global leaders around the world today. And that’s only going to continue. It’s only going to be more obvious. You can afford and tolerate a lot less geopolitical alignment than you can with the pandemic.
Christiana Figueres: [00:34:47] Interesting. Very interesting take. And is that mitigated at all by the current oil price crisis, assuming well, either way, either they figure out how to stabilize the price or not, but in any event, it is not where the oil producing countries would want to have it.
Ian Bremmer: [00:35:07] Yeah, of course. But that’s, you know, also because global demand has fallen off a cliff and that that comes from this crisis. But that’s a very short term issue. I mean, that demand will rebound whether it takes six months or 18. From a climatological perspective, that’s a blip. And as that happens, prices will then come up maybe with a six month, a one year lag because there’s lots of excess in storage. But nonetheless, it doesn’t change the broader trajectory of where the world is heading on on energy usage.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:35:41] Ian this has been great. Thank you so much. We really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. This has been such an insightful conversation. Can I just ask before we let you go, we call this podcast Outrage + Optimism. We think both of those are necessary to particularly deal with the threat of climate as you look at the way the world is dealing with this crisis. Do feel more outraged. Or do you feel more optimistic?
Ian Bremmer: [00:36:03] I don’t get outraged. That’s not my that’s not my temperament. You know, I’m not one of these people that gets emotionally undone because I think it would undermine my analysis, which is the only way I can make a difference in this world, or at least the most effective way. So for me, outrage would really undermine kind of my core human mission.
Paul Dickinson: [00:36:26] And optimism? Are you optimistic?
Ian Bremmer: [00:36:28] I’m an existential optimist. I kind of can’t believe that we’re here. I don‘t mean we didn’t do anything to deserve it. So, I mean, every every day is a mitzvah. No, I mean, we should I think gratefulness is probably the fundamental driver of my core.
Paul Dickinson: [00:36:46] Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That’s beautiful. Thank you.
Ian Bremmer: [00:36:49] Yeah, absolutely.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:50] Great. Thank you so much.
Christiana Figueres: [00:36:51] Thank you, Ian. Thanks very much. Bye.
Paul Dickinson: [00:36:55] Cheers. Bye bye.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:37:03] Ok, so that was an amazing conversation we felt with Ian. Christiana. After we’d hung up with him, we carried on chatting on the phone for a few minutes and you had some really interesting reflections and you were kind of challenging your own thinking in light of some of the things he said. Do you want to share any of that with the listeners now?
Christiana Figueres: [00:37:20] Yeah, two things that I wanted to bring to the fore. The first is just underlining once again, in case we haven’t done so enough, the absolute paramount importance of the U.S. Election this year. I mean, it is seldom the case that one political event has so many ramifications at macro and micro scale all at the same time. So just to keep that one in mind, not that any of us, well, other than Clay, can vote in the United States, but I’m just really taken by that overwhelming impact that election can have.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:38:07] Can I just ask. Don’t want to derail your thought, but it was interesting that you made that point to him and he basically said, yes, it’s super important, but it won’t change the trajectory which is already set, which is that the U.S. is a fading power and will not be able to play the role it previously played on the world stage anymore. Whoever is elected. Did you agree with that analysis?
Christiana Figueres: [00:38:27] Well, not entirely, because I do think that political direction is set at the top. And Obama has just given a speech endorsing Biden. And of course, if Biden is elected, it’s the Biden administration, not the Obama administration. But there are many indications from that speech. Obviously, he wouldn’t have given that speech without having shown it to Biden ahead of time. And there are many indications in that speech of at least a willingness at the top to call for the United States to regain leadership based on regaining sanity, I should say. So I wouldn’t take it off the table quite as quickly as Ian does. But sorry to actually come to your question, Tom. Sorry. Sorry to come to your question. I’ve been thinking about the following without coming to any conclusion, and I’m really interested in your guy’s reaction. It strikes me that when we were working toward the Paris agreement, we actually constructed a global framework that was two tiered, not one tiered. The bottom tier was, as we know, the nationally determined contributions because those are the results of having asked everyone what is in your interest, what is yourself enlightened interest and where do you want to see your development go over the next few decades. So very much of a national approach. Let’s call it, in today’s parlance, behind the high walls of my national boundary and 189 countries put that on the table. But that wasn’t enough. And then we had the second tier that complements that, which is the harvesting of all of that and put it into an international framework. Well, at the risk of, you know, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So at the risk of making everything look like a nail now that we had the Paris agreement, then everything has to be compared, at least in our brain to that.
[00:40:48] But I’ve been wondering, do you think that it might be possible for us to have an approach both to COVID as well as to climate that starts at the national level that is geared toward enlightened self-interest, but that doesn’t stop there? That can be harvested multilaterally? Because, you know, I have to say, I have the tendency to think always that cooperation is better than not or that cooperation is better than competition and that multilateralism is better than nationalism. That’s my bent in life. So I’m transparent about that.
[00:41:34] But the fact is, that’s not the way that we constructed the Paris agreement. Now that we think about it, we did it very much based on national efforts and then we constructed this global framework around it. So maybe, just maybe, maybe we could have a two tiered approach again.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:41:57] I think it’s fascinating and it’s something which I thought about as well. Right. I mean, I think that the bottom up nature of the Paris agreement, the national commitments that came forward that got rolled into an international agreement, had a whole bunch of benefits for us in the road to Paris, the principle, one being that that breakthrough was possible, whereas previously it had been impossible to get every country to agree to exactly the same thing, given that it’s different circumstances.
[00:42:25] And it seems to me that one of the reasons that it was more possible was that less sovereignty was required to be pooled. Right. That was still a shared effort, but it still felt like I as my country, I’m doing my thing that I determined in my way. And I will then meet others once I’ve developed that myself.
Christiana Figueres: [00:42:44] That’s not less sovereignty, that’s more sovereignty.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:42:46] But what I mean is you were required to give up less of your decision making over your own country.
Christiana Figueres: [00:42:53] Yes. You’re compromising your sovereignty less.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:42:57] You compromise your sovereignty less. And yeah. And that’s the thing that people get really quite agitated about is when international multilateralism requires a high amount of compromising of your own ability to make decisions about your own country. So I think that’s the good side, right?
[00:43:17] And then that becomes a kind of multilateralism that should be more appealing to a wider range of political actors and politicians in different countries who have these more nationalistic instincts. So that is very good.
Christiana Figueres: [00:43:33] That’s the first tier.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:43:34] Yeah. The downside, of course, and we face this with Paris is how do you know it’s enough if it’s all nationally determined? At the end of the day, it has to roll up into a there so that, you know, it’s enough collectively from all of the national commitments to deal with the problem. And that’s what observers who are more traditional multilateralist will says. Well, how do you know you’re solving the entirety of the problem if it’s just nationally determined?
Christiana Figueres: [00:44:00] Right. So that’s the tier two, right, that I was talking about that piece. But as you will remember, we knew from the start that the collection of the tier one contributions, the national base, I was not going to be enough. And that’s why we extended the period. Right. That’s why we said right. So we’re going to look at three decades of efforts all the way down to 250.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:23] And that mechanism has not yet been really tested?
Christiana Figueres: [00:44:28] Correct.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:29] Right. So that remains to be seen. So I think part of the answer to your question is, does that tier two work in as the politics deteriorates?
Christiana Figueres: [00:44:38] Yes, correct. That’s not an answer to my question. That is the question.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:43] Yeah no, I’m admiring the problem rather than answering it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:44:45] Oh, OK.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:47] Well, you know, it’s such a beautiful problem. I just want to add to it if I can, you know, and try and build up the problem. So it goes from being like super complex to infinitely complex. But the point I would make is that I think were part of what I thought was brilliant about the process that you originated around Paris was the inclusion of the non-state actors.
[00:45:06] And what I want to highlight there, I mean, you know, that that’s been the political entity I found particularly interesting to work with for 20 years, is that there’s a sort of homogenizing force from global corporations, global investors that create norms of behavior and actually, you know, do restrict government activity and independence to some degree. And they also create a mood. But it is to some extent a kind of multilateral mood, but it’s not intentionally so. It’s kind of a default, a multinational one. But I mean, you know, we talk about the United Nations and the United Nations coming together. But I do also wonder, you know, when so many of the largest economies are, in fact, corporations and not nations, the degree to which they‘re sort of not we haven’t found a way to include them in this debate. We don’t really talk about it. It’s easy to talk about, you know, the minister of this or the prime minister or the president. They turn up and they come off an airplane and there appear to be kind of running things and they control the army and the police and they’re very important, don’t get me wrong. But there is this other force, which is, you know, pervades our society. You know, it’s like the role of business and commerce. It’s like the water and we’re the fish, you know, they say that the fish are not aware of the water because it’s everywhere. That’s how I feel about the, and it’s not just commerce. You know, it’s actually the role of commerce in delivering technology, which is one of the greatest political actors changing society. So just I’m sorry to make the beautiful problem more complex, but hopefully make it a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more solvable by understanding it better.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:46:39] So let me ask now that we’ve had this conversation we had last week, the kind of realization and I think for you in particular, Christiana, a bit of a kind of, you know, a bit of a heartfelt moment where you kind of looked at what was happening in it and it broke your heart a bit because you’ve worked your life for cooperation and collaboration on the international stage. And to some degree, that’s fraying. And then this discussion with Ian that sort of opened other possibilities, but was also pretty brutal and sort of his assessment of really what was going on right now, whereas that left you now in terms of. Outrage, optimism, do you feel that there’s something emerging here which can be inspiring or do you really feel that something’s slipping away?
Christiana Figueres: [00:47:24] Well, honestly, I’m more into the outrage these days than into the optimism. But it’s not about the fraying of multilateralism. My outrage is about the indifference to the humanitarian crisis. My outrage is about our blindness to the inequality that was already growing, but that is going to grow exponentially with COVID. And then if those recovery packages are not put in place with the green strings attached that we have discussed, can you imagine can you imagine the pressure again on the most vulnerable?
[00:48:11] Because the most vulnerable are the same, most vulnerable to everything. They’re the most vulnerable in each case. Right. If we had different groups of people. But no, it’s always the same people. It’s the bottom of the pyramid. Those are the ones that are most vulnerable to diseases that are most vulnerable to climate change, that are most vulnerable to economic crises. And losing their income is just one thing after the other, after the other, after the other. And so that’s where my outrage is right now.
[00:48:40] That is where I’m just, you know, irate, frankly, irate that that recovery packages are being designed for the benefit of, I don’t know, of saving a particular sector. I’m not against saving a sector, whether it’s an airline sector or cruise ships or whatever was announced today. Fine. But under what conditions? Under what conditions? Because, you know, the wrong saving of those sectors is going to have a direct negative impact on the most vulnerable who never get on an airplane and never get on a cruise ship. That’s my point. That’s why I’m angry.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:23] Ok, but let’s just let me try to do a little bit of alchemy with you here, Christiana. A little bit.
Christiana Figueres: [00:49:29] OK, try Paul.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:31] It is not easy. And I’m going out afraid. But I’m –
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:49:38] Canon to left of him, canon to right of him.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:38] I’ve got my heart is beating with one thought and that is, you know, we and I’m sure everyone listening to us is wanting change makers. We want to see, you know, a just and a fair empathetic world. And we have never in human history, I don’t think had such an enormous shared experience as the last couple of months and the next couple of months. So I’m not saying I know how to do it, but I’m saying we’ve been touched together by something. And if we can’t pull from that a sense of a broadening of our understanding and our empathy, then, you know, we will have blown we would have wasted an incredible opportunity.
Christiana Figueres: [00:50:23] Yeah. I’m totally with you on that. Right. I do think that we’re standing at the most incredible crossroads right now. If, you know, if we hit rock bottom, which we will in a couple of weeks or months with this covid, if one once we hit rock bottom, if we decide the way to come back up is through, let’s call it our enlightened human being thinking.
[00:50:49] Well, then, you know, then I’m a happy camper, then, you know, maybe that was the price that we had to pay in the evolution of humankind to get to that realization. But what if we don’t? That’s what makes me very, very concerned.
[00:51:07] What if we don’t want if we dig ourselves into the hole and we just, you know, continue to knock our head against the wall and say, oh, you know, I’m really smart, I’m really smart, and we’re knocking ourselves against the wall. I mean, how stupid can we be?
Paul Dickinson: [00:51:24] OK, Tom, it’s time to send you into battle with Christiana.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:51:28] I have worked with Christiana for a long time and I have learned that I don’t try and persuade her of anything, but I do think that she’s right. You know, this is outrageous that we’re at this point and the most vulnerable are going to feel this unbelievably hard. I mean, the tough thing about this moment is you can’t bring it to resolution. It’s not that we can say something that kind of lands all this stuff. It’s all up in the air. We don‘t know how it’s going to land and we’re all having to learn to live with things being up in the air all the time. I’m reminded of a short story which I tell in my TED talk was his job this week, and it comes from the road to the Paris agreement. And I don‘t know if you know this, but the work of the U.N. is delivered mainly in the form of extremely boring meetings, and when I first joined the UN, I had to sit through these meetings and I wasn’t ready for them and they were torturous. And then in the middle of one of the meetings, I was handed a note by Christiana and I assumed that it would be political instructions about how we were going to make progress. And I looked at the note and it said ‘Painful, but let’s approach with love’. And I had a profound effect on me that note because I realized as I looked at it, that it was both a kind of human response to her saying the fact that I was going, what the hell is going on here? But it was also a kind of political instruction, because when we were able to take that really gritty and difficult, challenging quagmire of a situation and change the way that we approached it, we could in time transform the thing itself.
[00:53:06] It feels small and not enough when faced with all these challenges. But it’s what we can do. And actually that’s how the world is always changed. So this has been a tough conversation this week. This has been hard and we’re going to have hard conversations. We should be having hard conversations because this is a hard thing to live through. But we’re going to keep coming back each week. We’re going to have these discussions. We’re going to find the most interesting people who are at the cutting edge of trying to work out how do we move through this? How do we come back stronger? How do we build back better? All of that possibility is still in front of us. We have deep confidence in humanity. We have seen so much in the last decades. We face so much. We will face this, too, and we will come forward and we will build back stronger. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but we’re going to keep trying to have the hard conversations from here to there. So we really appreciate you joining us. We really appreciate you listening. We appreciate all of the outreach that you give us, all the conversations that you draw us into. Thank you so much for that. Please do keep interacting with us, engaging with us, listening to the podcast. We’ll be back in a week’s time. Thanks for joining us today.
Paul Dickinson: [00:54:16] See you next week. Bye bye.
Clay Carnill: [00:54:21] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism. Outrage and optimism is a production of Global Optimism and is produced by me Clay Carnill, and executive produced by Marina Mansilla Hermann. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at Global Optimism. @ us, follow us, DM us. We’ll see you on the interwebs. Next week, we’ve got another episode coming your way. So hit subscribe. We’ll see you then.