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Title: Climate Action: glass half empty or half full?
Approx. Reading Time: 9 minutes
Author: Simon Tilford

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Climate Action: glass half empty or half full?

Victory for Jo Biden and China’s announcement of a net zero target by 2060 are seen by many as game-changers. Simon Tilford argues that this is misplaced.

The ‘climate agreement’ between the US, China and Europe that the world needs will remain out of reach. Without it, market forces can only achieve so much. As carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, governments will start to panic. At this point, achieving strongly negative emissions will require both technological breakthroughs and fundamental shifts in how we live. Countries will also need to work together to drive rapid diffusion of these technologies and practices.

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Title: The New Biden Presidency: Facing Big Challenges in a Divided America
Approx. Reading Time: 15 minutes
Author: Mathew Burrows

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The New Biden Presidency: Facing Big Challenges in a Divided America

Many people at home and abroad are breathing a sigh of relief with the election of Joe Biden. Mat Burrows argues that the new administration faces multiple challenges in an America deeply divided along urban/rural lines and by levels of education. While the new president has had the reputation of hammering out compromises with Republicans, he has inherited a poisoned chalice, not least combatting COVID-19 and vaccine distribution. He will come under pressure from within his own party for even more ambition on climate change and the test of the mid-term elections.

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Briefing

The Battle for Water

Competition for water is intensifying thanks to rapid population growth, climate change, ever more water-intensive food production, unchecked industrial use and failure to nurture natural water ecosystems. Conflict is inevitable, including between China and India. Simon Tilford argues that the only solution is to transform how we think about and use water.

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Briefing

From the Archive: Model Risks

Models are not reality. They are sometimes used as anchors, sometimes ignored by decision makers. Judgement in uncertainty is more about cultural context, the imagined futures of protagonists and the stories they tell. This short essay, by Peter Kingsley, from December 2017, is more relevant than ever, as political leaders struggle in an ‘age of chaos’.

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Briefing

Hope and Optimism, Vision and Reality

Action to reduce emissions has momentum amongst world leaders, but there is little evidence of planning for the worst-case scenario—the defining feature of resilience. ‘Net Zero’ is not enough. Peter Kingsley argues that even with exponential rates of adoption of existing technologies, much depends on new inventions.

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Briefing

Autocrats: down, not out

Disinformation is a threat to national security, public health and urgent action on global warming. Unfortunately, policymakers have to meet the dual challenge of countering public fears and deception as well as dealing with the real world.

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Title: The Futures of Migration
Approx. Reading Time: 12 minutes
Author: Philippe Legrain

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The Futures of Migration

The future is uncertain and the flow of people particularly so. Trends can shift unexpectedly. ‘Weak signals’ of future change may flare up – or fade. Though the impact of ‘wild cards’ such as pandemics is quite predictable, their precise nature, timing and systemic repercussions are much less so.

Philippe Legrain argues that while the dynamics of future migration patterns may be uncertain, they are likely to be shaped by at least eight big factors: demography, economic disparities, geography, technology, conflict, climate change, politics and government policy. Whether the world ends up in a high-migration scenario or a low-migration one depends largely on the complex interactions between those factors – and especially on government policy.

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Title: The Great Acceleration: taxing machines and automation
Approx. Reading Time: 9 minutes
Author: Ryan Abbott

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The Great Acceleration: taxing machines and automation

Fears that mass automation might drive unemployment and converge with low labour mobility have haunted policymakers for more than a decade. COVID-19 is driving ‘The Great Acceleration’: businesses have greater incentives than ever to exploit big data, artificial intelligence and robotics. There is a problem: state tax systems encourage investment in machines, rather than people. At the same time, pressures to raise taxes and deliver safety nets are growing. Ryan Abbott explores a possible win-win: inventive changes in tax systems, creating neutrality between people and AI.

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Title: Beware Blindspots
Approx. Reading Time: 9 minutes
Author: Peter Kingsley

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Beware Blindspots

The defining characteristic of human consciousness is that we project ourselves forward, exploring possible future worlds.

Peter Kingsley argues that innate neurophysiological forces are fundamental to how we think about long-term strategy, interpret emerging complex risks and how mental models can either inspire invention, or act as barriers. One of the recurring lessons of recent history is that risk management shrinks the world to events that can be priced or codified, rather than on the broader vulnerability of complex infrastructures, social systems and financial markets. The challenge is to re-invent strategy, then risk.

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Long Read Overview

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Title: Health is Made at Home, Hospitals are for Repairs
Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes
Author: Lord Nigel Crisp

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Health is Made at Home, Hospitals are for Repairs

COVID-19 has exposed fundamental weaknesses in national and global health systems. Nigel Crisp explores how the crisis may mark a turning point, accelerating cross-border medical invention and collaboration. It may shift focus towards a revolution in ‘health creation’ in the home and community, leaving hospitals ‘for repairs’ and transforming policy to address the underlying causes of poor health, from pollution to social inequality.

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Briefing

The Great Acceleration:
panic sets in?

A single, rarely explicit narrative has underpinned scientific and political dialogues about the global climate over the last thirty years: that by reducing carbon emissions, temperatures come under control. It may be flawed.

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Briefing

China’s Economy Grinds to a Halt?

Simon Tilford argues that although China has so far confounded Western sceptics of its development model, there is plenty to be concerned about.

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Briefing

Euro Zone Split

Could diverging economic performance within the euro zone as a result of the varying impact of COVID-19 (and different degrees of fiscal capacity) split the currency union?

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Briefing

Bio-Weapons: engineered pandemic

COVID-19 may have blurred the picture about bio-engineered pandemics, one of the primary systemic risks facing humanity.

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Briefing

Inflation

Simon Tilford explores the impact of unprecedented public spending and central bank stimulus on the emerging macroeconomic environment. While higher public debt does pose a problem, structurally weak demand and inflation pose a bigger one, making the current policy activism the lesser of two evils.

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Briefing

Re-Imagining Nuclear Catastrophe

“A nuclear weapon catastrophe must be one of the most underestimated existential risks in the world”. The consequences, as Sir Adam Thomson explains, are so vast that they are numbing and unimaginable.

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Climate and Biodiversity: rhetoric and reality

There is growing competition amongst world leaders to demonstrate their commitments to both reducing carbon emissions and dealing with the biodiversity crisis. Activist pressure may be beginning to tell on political leaders.

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Briefing

China and Europe: from uneasy partnership to distrust?

Simon Tilford explores the EU-Chinese trade relationship—the world’s biggest. Uneasy partnership is giving way to distrust. Will it inevitably go the way of US-Chinese relations? If so, what would the consequences be?  

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Briefing

Ageing: can it be cured?

As the WHO recognises old age as a condition, perceptions are changing. More active research into ageing itself, rather than its debilitating consequences, is bringing the prospect of much longer healthy lifespans.

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Briefing

Global Politics: too little, too late?

There is a gap between the rhetoric of ‘climate emergency’ and the realities of urgent global action. Runaway global warming may be already inevitable—the signs are there. Time to re-invent politics, before it is too late.

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Briefing

Inventive States: success stories and imitators

As tensions over trade, supply chains and ‘industries of the future’ continue to rise, the search for national innovation models is more intense than ever. DARPA is seen as the prime example of radical invention, sponsored by government. Until recently it has not been successfully imitated.

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Briefing

Politics, Machine Language and Misinformation

Failures of the imagination and weak policy are primary drivers of ‘hybrid war’ and sources of systemic political risk. Machine-generated manipulation is endemic and normalised.

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