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Ian Bremmer in Conversation: The Pandemic and a Changing Geopolitical Landscape

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As BMO opened its 30th annual Global Metals and Mining Conference amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there was plenty to reflect on about how the industry, and indeed the world, has changed.

To talk about how the pandemic and new trends in geopolitics are shaping the world, this year’s conference opened with a keynote address by Ian Bremmer, political scientist, author, and President and Founder of Eurasia Group and GZero Media. Dr. Bremmer spoke to our guests, metals and mining producers and investors, about reasons for the industry and the world to be optimistic, including global vaccine developments, massive stimulus and infrastructure spending in the United States, and rapid technological advances

He also spoke on some of the bigger challenges facing a world with shifting geopolitics, including recent political divisiveness in the United States and the vying ambitions of the U.S. and China.

Dr. Bremmer, whose Eurasia Group is one of the world’s leading geopolitical risk research and consulting firms, described a world that is on track to be as different 30 years from now as it was when our conference first launched.

He started with the good news.

Vaccine successes

Bremmer  pointed first to the successful development of multiple vaccines in multiple countries, all in record time, meaning that vaccine nationalism will be less of a problem a year from now.

“At the beginning of the winter,” he said, “there were no epidemiologists that I was talking to that could have hoped that we would be where we are today,” noting the recent FDA emergency use approval of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine – the first single dose type – bringing the number of highly effective vaccines available in the United States to three, as well as parallel vaccine developments in countries like Russia, Brazil and India.

Of note, Bremmer said, was Brazil, where he anticipates a highly coordinated and successful vaccine rollout in the spring after the country was among the world’s hardest hit by the pandemic

Record Stimulus and the U.S. Response

Despite having among the world’s worst early responses to the pandemic, Bremmer said, the U.S. has managed to have among the world’s best vaccine rollouts, and an even stronger economic response to COVID-19.

“Let’s keep in mind that in addition to one of the best vaccine rollouts in the world after the United Kingdom … (it) also had one of the best economic responses in the world,” said Bremmer, noting that success came despite political divisions.

The outlook is even brighter under the stimulus planned by the nascent administration of President Joe Biden, providing “extraordinary” reason for optimism in the near and medium term, both on the monetary and fiscal side

And it goes beyond the $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus package, he said

“By the end of this year, you will have an additional $2-3 trillion of infrastructure spend in the United States. That is an extraordinary, a staggering, an unprecedented amount of fiscal stimulus in the United States, in the world's largest economy.”

New Horizons for Climate Change

Without a doubt, the biggest difference between the Biden and Trump presidencies, Bremmer said, is on climate policy, with Biden driving a 180 degree turn away from fossil fuels and toward green energy, increased spending on green infrastructure, and a redrawing of the regulatory environment.

He acknowledged that, while there will be winners and losers as a result of this shift, it also means that as the U.S. leans into climate change, the world will have a much higher chance of success in the global fight against rising temperatures.

Similarly, he underscored massive European spending that is aligned with green objectives, and movement by Japan and China in a positive direction.

All this, he said, will come to the fore in November, at the next United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) summit.

“The COP Summit coming up in Scotland in November will have historic successes in coordination that otherwise would not have been expected pre-pandemic,” said Bremmer.

And Now for the Bad News

Looking forward, Bremmer predicted a changing geopolitical landscape that will impact the growth prospects of the global economy, and put countries in the developing world under duress as they deal with the fallout from the pandemic, including higher debt loads, and the impacts of climate change and a transition to a lower-carbon economy.

“You could start seeing financial crisis in some of the poorly governed developing markets as a consequence of those sorts of stresses,” he said.

Recent political division and dysfunction will weigh on the world’s largest economy – the U.S. – more than on any other in the G7, he said.

Bremmer said the relationship between China and the U.S. is worse as a result of the pandemic. For example, he pointed at how each country is already restricting access to the other when it comes to advanced technology, and pressuring allies to do the same.

The result, he said, would be a decoupling of the vying powers and, going forward, a world where nations become more commercially aligned with either China or the United States.

“Suddenly, the geopolitical underpinnings of the global economy are becoming much more fractured, and that of course is going to be a constraint on growth,” he said.

Reasons for Optimism

Bremmer said the pandemic has served to accelerate change in the right direction, and will likely, over the long term, bear fruit across nations and peoples in a way that a more focused crisis, such as a cyber-attack, may not have.

What he described as a “K-shaped” recovery from the pandemic, he said, has meant that the human capital and companies doing the best right now are the ones most oriented towards 21st century solutions that could drive more equal development.

“And that investment into not just vaccines, but into things like distance learning and distance medicine far faster than otherwise expected,” he said, “into digital commerce and currencies,  means that far more of the world's poorest are going to have opportunities to participate in the global economy on a faster trajectory than you would have otherwise expected.”

Asked whether he felt our 31st Annual Global Metals and Mining Conference next year will be in person, virtual or hybrid, Bremmer predicted it would be a combination of formats.

“It can be as in person as you would like it to be,” he said. “But I would be stunned if you don’t have at least a significant hybrid component because a lot more people can participate.”

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Global Metals & Mining 33rd Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference

Feb. 25 - 28, 2024 Hollywood, Florida

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