How COVID-19 Vaccination Became a Climate Metaphor

A version of this story first appeared in the Climate is Everything newsletter. If you’d like sign up to receive this free once-a-week email, click here. For years, climate policy experts have watched as the issue has been pushed off the stage at global summits to make way for the geopolitical conflict dujour. That trend…

How COVID-19 Vaccination Became a Climate Metaphor
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For years, climate policy experts have watched as the issue has been pushed off the stage at global summits to make way for the geopolitical conflict dujour. That trend has long frustrated climate advocates who sought to make leaders understand that the scientific reality of climate change is just as urgent—if not more so—than other flavor-of-the-month topics.

With this in mind, it was notable when many of these same climate advocates sharply criticized last week’s G7 leaders summit hosted by the United Kingdom for failing to adequately address another issue: the COVID-19 pandemic. In statement after statement, climate watchers homed in on what they often characterized as inadequate support from the world’s wealthy nations to address the pandemic in their poorer counterparts. Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, described the pandemic and climate change as “twin crises” and said the summit did “not measure up” to them. Nick Mabey, head of the E3G climate group, called out the G7 for failing to offer “enough financial firepower to tackle the global COVID, economic and climate crises.” And Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, called for a vaccine patent waiver.
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It’s a remarkable turnaround. When COVID-19 first emerged, many in the climate world feared efforts to address the pandemic would distract from efforts to address climate change. Today, climate advocates are arguing that the two need to be addressed hand in hand. This change is in part practical: leaders in many developing countries will understandably remain focused on the pandemic rather than climate change if their on-the-ground situation doesn’t improve. And, with the November UN climate summit in Glasgow fast approaching, the situation on the ground may need to change quickly to give officials adequate time to prepare.

But, in some sense, the rhetorical shift among climate activists may be just as symbolic as it is practical: climate advocates fear that failure to muster a strong response to COVID-19 will send a signal to developing countries that wealthy nations will leave them high and dry as the impacts of climate change start to mount. That, many believe, would hamper the motivation to take on mitigation efforts in the developing world—just as the needs grow more urgent. “In some ways, the vaccine issue is a metaphor for the larger climate issue,” says Alden Meyer, a longtime international climate policy expert who serves as senior associate at E3G.

When you look closely, there are a number of issues related to fighting COVID-19 that map directly onto fighting climate change. Patent waivers have become a point of contention, as some argue that freeing the intellectual property surrounding vaccines would enable poorer countries to manufacture vaccines locally. In the climate fight, developing countries have for years called for their wealthier counterparts to share the technological know-how to allow them to reduce emissions—even if that meant companies losing out on potential revenue.

Ponying up the money has also been a key point of contention in both COVID-19 and climate conversations. Ahead of the Paris Agreement, a group of rich countries committed to sending some $100 billion annually to the developing world to help finance climate efforts. Wealthy countries have repeatedly reaffirmed that promise—including at the G7 last week—but the money has yet to materialize at that scale. (You can read my colleague Ciara Nugent’s piece on climate finance and the G7 here). The fact that many poor countries facing pandemic-related budget crunches haven’t gotten much assistance from their wealthier counterparts doesn’t inspire much confidence in how things will play out when it comes to climate change.

Events like the upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow typically draw tens of thousands of participants from all across the globe. And, unlike many geopolitical settings, delegates from poorer countries, particularly those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, often hold significant sway. What happens if those countries don’t have adequate access to vaccines by then? The U.K. has promised vaccines to “accredited delegations who would be unable to get them otherwise,” but the optics aren’t great. Will climate negotiators from developing countries get vaccinated while the elderly at vulnerable at home remain at risk? Even if they do show up, will those government leaders fear making aggressive climate commitments as their people suffer from a pandemic?

Time will tell. Ultimately, though, there is one inescapable conclusion: tackling the pandemic will help the world tackle climate change.

Source : Time More   

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The Affordable Care Act Survives After Supreme Court Dismisses Latest Challenge

The third major attack on the law at the Supreme Court ended the way the first two did

The Affordable Care Act Survives After Supreme Court Dismisses Latest Challenge

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court dismissed a major challenge to the Obama era health care law on Thursday, turning aside an effort by Republican-led states to throw out the law that provides insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, left the entire law intact in ruling that Texas, other GOP-led states and two individuals had no right to bring their lawsuit in federal court. The Biden administration says 31 million people have health insurance because of the law popularly known as “Obamacare.”

The law’s major provisions include protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services and the expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people, including those who work in jobs that don’t pay much or provide health insurance.
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Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress rendered that provision irrelevant in 2017 when it reduced the penalty to zero.

The elimination of the penalty had become the hook that Texas and other Republican-led states, as well as the Trump administration, used to attack the entire law. They argued that without the mandate, a pillar of the law when it was passed in 2010, the rest of the law should fall, too.

And with a more conservative Supreme Court that includes three Trump appointees, opponents of Obamacare hoped a majority of the justices would finally kill off the law they have been fighting against for more than a decade.

But the third major attack on the law at the Supreme Court ended the way the first two did, with a majority of the court rebuffing efforts to gut the law or get rid of it altogether.

Trump’s three appointees to the Supreme Court — Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — split their votes. Kavanaugh and Barrett joined the majority. Gorsuch was in dissent, signing on to an opinion from Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the states and people who filed a federal lawsuit “have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”

In dissent, Alito wrote, “Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue.” Alito was a dissenter in the two earlier cases, as well.

Because it dismissed the case for the plaintiff’s lack of legal standing — the ability to sue — the court didn’t actually rule on whether the individual mandate is unconstitutional now that there is no penalty for forgoing insurance. Lower courts had struck down the mandate, in rulings that were wiped away by the Supreme Court decision.

With the latest ruling, the ACA is “here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Larry Levitt, an executive vice president for the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care.

“Democrats are in charge and they have made reinvigorating and building on the ACA a key priority,” Levitt said. “Republicans don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for continuing to try to overturn the law.”

Republicans pressed their argument to invalidate the whole law even though congressional efforts to rip out the entire law “root and branch,” in Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell’s words, have failed. The closest they came was in July 2017 when Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died the following year, delivered a dramatic thumbs-down vote to a repeal effort by fellow Republicans.

Chief Justice John Roberts said during arguments in November that it seemed the law’s foes were asking the court to do work best left to the political branches of government.

The court’s decision preserves benefits that became part of the fabric of the nation’s health care system.

Polls show that the 2010 health care law grew in popularity as it endured the heaviest assault. In December 2016, just before Obama left office and Trump swept in calling the ACA a “disaster,” 46% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the law, while 43% approved, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. Those ratings flipped and by February of this year 54% had a favorable view, while disapproval had fallen to 39% in the same ongoing poll.

The health law is now undergoing an expansion under President Joe Biden, who sees it as the foundation for moving the U.S. to coverage for all. His giant COVID-19 relief bill significantly increased subsidies for private health plans offered through the ACA’s insurance markets, while also dangling higher federal payments before the dozen states that have declined the law’s Medicaid expansion. About 1 million people have signed up with since Biden reopened enrollment amid high levels of COVID cases earlier this year.

Most of the people with insurance because of the law have it through Medicaid expansion or the health insurance markets that offer subsidized private plans. But its most popular benefit is protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions. They cannot be turned down for coverage on account of health problems, or charged a higher premium. While those covered under employer plans already had such protections, “Obamacare” guaranteed them for people buying individual policies.

Another hugely popular benefit allowed young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Before the law, going without medical coverage was akin to a rite of passage for people in their 20s getting a start in the world.

Because of the ACA, most privately insured women receive birth control free of charge. It’s considered a preventive benefit covered at no additional cost to the patient. So are routine screenings for cancer and other conditions.

For Medicare recipients, “Obamacare” also improved preventive care, and more importantly, closed a prescription drug coverage gap of several thousand dollars that was known as the “doughnut hole.”


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Source : Time More   

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