EPA-EFE/BIONTECH SE / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

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German drugmaker BioNTech on Wednesday announced that the European Union will buy an additional 200 million doses of its Coronavirus vaccine, that will be delivered in the second quarter of 2021. “This afternoon, I will be signing a second EU Commission contract with BioNTech/Pfizer for up to an additional 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses,” the bloc’s health chief Stella Kyriakides tweeted on Wednesday. We are continuing to evaluate, together with governments, authorities, and partners at all levels, how we might address an even higher future supply requirement for our vaccines,” said Dr. The new agreement between Pfizer/BioNTech and the European Commission brings total supply to the EU to 500 million doses, with an option for an additional 100 million doses. Britain?s Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted on 02 December the authorization for emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine BNT162b2. He added that along with US drugmaker Pfizer, they have taken additional steps to boost their production capacity in Europe. EPA-EFE/BIONTECH SE / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

An undated handout made available by the German pharmaceutical company Biontech shows a hand holding an ampoule with BNT162b2, the mRNA-based vaccine candidate against COVID-19, in Mainz, Germany (reissued 02 December 2020). style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>EU orders extra 200 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine

By Zoe Didili
Journalist, New Europe

epa08856436 (FILE) – An undated handout made available by the German pharmaceutical company Biontech shows a hand holding an ampoule with BNT162b2, the mRNA-based vaccine candidate against COVID-19, in Mainz, Germany (reissued 02 December 2020). ✅ This afternoon, I will be signing a second @EU_Commission contract with @BioNTech_Group/@pfizer for up to an additional 300 million #COVID19 vaccine doses. “We will initiate production at our Marburg facility this month and have strengthened our manufacturing network with additional partners. Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech. This follows up on our 8 January agreement reached with the company.➡️ https://t.co/gZu4eQADJg
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) February 17, 2021

 

The distrust is not confined to the think tank community. Shortly before assuming his new position, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Turkey a “so-called ally” and openly questioned Erdogan’s trustworthiness. Washington and her European allies will join forces. It did not take long for the State Department to act on Biden’s new – one is tempted to say ‘traditional’ – guiding principles of US diplomacy. German mediation has been the main driver of the resumption of the Turkish-Greek diplomatic process. The Washington-based analyst goes on to paint a grim picture of the state of US-Turkish affairs: “The Turkish government views the United States as a strategic threat rather than an ally, and a growing majority in Washington have come to view Turkey the same way.”
Listening to the pundits, it’s hard to overhear that Erdogan’s Turkey has an image problem in the United States. EU-Turkey relations have deteriorated dramatically. The appointee is a staunch loyalist of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Among the various controversies at hand, the S-400issue is arguably the most serious. For the Americans, Ankara’s S-400 deal with Putin’s Russia has been, and will continue to be, a red flag. For similar but not necessarily identical reasons, the Europeans too are not on good terms with Erdogan. Meanwhile, the Turks have engaged in a notable diplomatic effort to repair the damaged relations with the European Union. What we are seeing for the moment is a good-cop-bad-cop scenario with Washington cracking the whip and Europe, particularly Berlin, playing the mediator and showing a friendly face.     The coming months will show whether this division of labor will lead to a behavioral change in Turkish politics. Ever since, not a week has gone by without verbal scuffles between the two governments. No state can give order to Turkish courts on judicial proceedings”, the Turkish foreign ministry said as it lashed out. In response to the police crackdown against students protesting against Erdogan’s appointment of a highly unpopular new rector at Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University, Washington made a fundamental point: “The US prioritizes the protection of Human Rights and stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for democratic freedoms,” the spokesman of the State Department said. “Turkey is a state of law. This, in turn, led to a de-escalation of a potentially explosive situation on NATO’s southeastern flank. Among the first statements on Turkey from the Biden camp after coming into office was that the US stands firm on the sanctions: “We continue to urge Turkey not to retain the system,” the State Department said. Russia and Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in Syrian Idlib starting from 06 March. In recent years, the quality of this relationship has gone from bad to worse. Since its founding, the head of the university was chosen in a free election process, February 13, 2021. “Turkey has increasingly found itself on the wrong side of almost all of Washington’s friends,” writes Nicholas Danforth. The Turks argue they had no choice but to buy Russia’s rockets after the West refused to sell weapons of an equal quality. The United States – and with it, the world in general – is seeing the first indications of a radical policy shift, with possible far-reaching implications. Since his incarceration in 2017, Kavala has become a symbol of the peaceful resistance against Erdogan’s surging authoritarianism. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Good cop, bad cop? His policy towards Turkey will be more pro-active and value-based. Shortly thereafter, the State Department called for the immediate release from prison of Turkish philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala. It is not clear yet how Ankara will cope with Washington’s tough talk. EPA-EFE//SEDAT SUNA
The war of words is proof of the degradation of the bilateral relations. For the Americans, the purchase of the weapons is a political sin akin to betrayal and needs to be corrected before things get back to normal. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, used the term “watershed moment” when talking about EU-Turkey relations. Clinical Psychologist Melis Akyurek sits in her Istanbul home with an ankle bracelet attached to her right leg after she was placed under arrest for having taken part in a protest against the appointment of a new rector of Bogazici University. When Erdogan invested in the hyper-modern weaponry he must have been aware that by so doing he crossed a red line. US policy was guided by a laissez-faire-approach towards Trump’s personal friend – Erdogan. Under the threat of EU sanctions, Ankara has withdrawn its research vessels from the disputed maritime zones. I advise against too much optimism. Biden will end the coziness. In the final days of the Trump administration, the US Congress imposed sanctions on Turkey over its possession of the Russian missile system. The government in Ankara will sooner or later need to get used to the new rhetoric, and possibly more. The main reason for the downward spiral are – to quote from the conclusions of the EU leaders’ summit in December – Turkey’s “unilateral actions and provocations” in the dispute over energy claims in the Eastern Mediterranean. epa08272926 Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shake hands during a joint news conference following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 05 March 2020. EPA-EFE//MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV

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These are not good times for Turkey’s relations with the West. With Donald Trump in the White House, everything was more relaxed. The new president’s emphasis on democracy, freedom and the rule of law as guidelines for American foreign policy have not go unheard in the Turkish capital. Berlin has made it clear it will continue to work for a rapprochement between Athens and Ankara. The Americans and Europeans have announced that they intend to work together to address global challenges, including on how best to deal with Erdogan’s Turkey. While Ankara’s democratic backsliding, the dismal state of human rights and the rule of law used to top the list of Western concerns, Erdogan’s assertive – one may also call it aggressive – foreign policy decisions are now the main cause of discord. One major point of contention that radiates beyond the bilateral level, and affects Turkey’s relationship with the Western Alliance as a whole, is the issue of Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system. More than other problems, it symbolizes the advanced alienation in the strained relationship. How the US and Europe want to deal with Erdogan’s Turkey

By Ronald Meinardus
Political commentator and analyst, he heads the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s office in Istanbul. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shake hands during a joint news conference following bilateral talks in the Kremlin. European diplomats in Ankara refer to a downward spiral to describe the relationship.

Reacting to the announcement, the Commission’s chief Ursula von der Leyen once again warned against the acquisition of vaccines that are not included in the EU’s portfolio. EPA-EFE/RDIF HANDOUT NO RESTRICTIONS, ALLOW TO USE IN SOCIAL NETWORK HANDOUT

A handout photo made available by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows containers with a new two-vector COVID-19 vaccine at Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, 06 August 2020 (issued 13 August 2020).  
“Each government must take care about the health of its citizens. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Croatia in talks with Russia over Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine

By Zoe Didili
Journalist, New Europe

epa08600542 A handout photo made available by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows containers with a new two-vector COVID-19 vaccine at Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, 06 August 2020 (issued 13 August 2020). Europe’s medicines watchdog has so far approved only the jabs developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford University, while it is currently considering the Coronavirus vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. It is not illegitimate to seek solutions also outside the European Union, especially if there is a delay in deliveries within the EU framework,” said Vili Beros, the country’s Health Minister, during an interview with a state radio. EPA-EFE/RDIF HANDOUT NO RESTRICTIONS, ALLOW TO USE IN SOCIAL NETWORK HANDOUT

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Budapest is negotiating with Moscow the possibility of buying the Russian-made Coronavirus vaccine, namely Sputnik V, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Russia registered the new called Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus Sars-Cov-2 and opens the stage of its massive testing. Now it is up to (our) experts to acquire information on the efficiency and safety of the vaccine and on necessary regulatory requirements,” Beros said, adding he had discussed the acquisition of Sputnik V vaccine with the Russian ambassador. Local media also reported that the Russian-made jab could arrive to Croatia within two to three weeks, provided that the two countries reach such an agreement. “We are thinking about securing that vaccine earlier for us. Von der Leyen also asked Moscow to explain why it was offering to sell millions of its jabs abroad “while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating its own people.” 

epa08981714 People get vaccinated against COVID19 in a gymnasium hall in Hod Hasharon near Tel Aviv, Israel, 02 February 2021. Together, they provide national coverage, but separately they compete with one another. Israel’s famed cybersecurity expertise has led to the development and implementation of advanced data security systems. One such development was the decision to digitize, benefitting medical practitioners and patients alike. The international community would do well to take a similar long-term approach. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization will send a delegation to Israel this month, to examine the outcomes. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN

Israelis get vaccinated against COVID-19 at a gymnasium hall in Hod Hasharon, near Tel Aviv, on February 2, 2021. In short, over a period of decades, Israel has built a well-oiled health system, fueled by the integration of data and innovative technology. EPA-EFE//ABIR SULTAN

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Israel is rolling out the coronavirus vaccine at breakneck speed, having already given a first dose to almost 50 per cent of the population. Perhaps the most important lesson that other countries can learn is that Israel’s ability to conduct a lightning vaccination program is the result of decades of development. Policymakers should also understand what made Israel the ideal test laboratory in the first place. If this knowledge does prove to be the magic dust that the global medical community is looking for, it will not have been plucked from thin air. In addition, over the years, each HMO developed digital communication networks. Quite the opposite. The data that this will glean from the vaccination drive, can generate powerful insights into the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and the optimal way of administering them. These are employed by HMOs to enable anonymization, the creation of synthetic databases, or access to aggregated data only (based on non-identifiable statistics). Naturally, questions about data privacy come to mind. EPA-EFE/.ABIR SULTAN
Unsurprisingly, this has opened the door to big data analysis. Crucially, this platform can be used in emergency situations, like today’s COVID-19 vaccination operation.  In other words, advanced digitization means that Israel’s health system is today primed for the perfect pandemic trifecta — to prioritize vaccination, treatment, and follow-up. Israel was one of the first countries to receive vaccines against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, if the world really wants to learn from Israel’s unprecedented vaccine drive, it should look beyond the raw data. This integration of innovation is the real lesson of Israel’s vaccination drive. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>The world can learn more than meets the eye from Israel’s vaccine program laboratory

By Wendy Singer
Executive Director of Start-Up Nation Central, an independent non-profit providing in-depth insights on Israeli innovation. As a result, they are constantly searching for an edge on their rivals, including the implementation of advanced technologies. It may just be the key towards ensuring that the global community is in a better position to tackle the next global health crisis.  Although such critical information is shared between different players, it does not mean that data privacy is compromised. However, using the country as a beta site has only been made possible through a unique combination, fusing advanced technological capabilities with a highly digitized national healthcare system. They are using a variety of analytical tools, including artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies. They serve the entire population. Over a decade ago, the Israeli Ministry of Health made a significant investment in the development of a complementary software platform that allows sharing patients’ medical records across healthcare organizations, including HMOs and hospitals in real-time. A COVID-19 vaccine center located at a shopping mall in Givatayim, near Tel Aviv. It is the product of an extensive process.  Consequently, the country is truly under the global microscope. Uniform (single ID) Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) contain all patients’ medical history and enable real-time segmentation according to gender, age, place of residence and medical background. The national healthcare system is administered through four Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), which were established decades ago (some, almost 100 years ago). Another innovation has also been key to this effort. Israel is one of the first countries to to receive the vaccine and has so far vaccinated over three million of its around nine million citizens with the first dose of the coronavirus and two million have been given the second dose. Much like a mathematical equation, understanding this process is the key to arriving at the correct answer. Pharmaceutical companies and global leaders alike are closely observing the process and its impact. Yes, Israel is an optimal beta site for Pfizer and Moderna to validate their vaccines and for the World Health Organization to formulate a global immunization strategy. Secondary access to the medical records of millions of Israeli citizens opens vast possibilities for in-depth analyses and research.  This has enabled better coordination and treatment. In an effort to keep up with one another, they have combined mobile apps, websites, emails, and text messages to enable automated direct communication to patients. Many scholars, as well as companies, big and small, have already signed agreements with the HMOs (which own the data registries). The result is advanced and safe data sharing.

Slovakia should argue for a looser cooperation at the European level so long as its strategic priorities differ from those of Poland or Hungary. Hungary has also flirted with alternatives to Western alliances – developing relations with Russia and China, from vaccines to nuclear power plants.  
For Slovakia to be perceived through the lenses of the Visegrad 4 is both injustice and a burden. It has had ups and downs in the past before. In her first act after being elected president, Caputova lit a candle at an unofficial memorial for Kuciak and Kusnirova. Its natural instinct is to go for a Scandinavian type of consensual politics. It makes sense for Slovakia to draw a line and distinguish what kind of Visegrad 4 it is ready to accept: initiatives that bring societies together – yes; politically divisive tirades and Eurosceptic offensives – no.   
The Visegrad 4 today is a shadow of its former self. Together we joined the EU and NATO bringing Central Europe back into relevance. Objectively speaking, these countries are linked together: they are a special partner of Germany, they are exposed to the revisionist politics of Russia and China, steadfast allies of the US. In October 2020, the Hungarian Minister of Justice, Judith Varga, announced that a Christian-Democratic institute will be established under the auspices of the Visegrad 4. Today, however, Central Europe is divided and the Visegrad 4 is less of an obvious choice. It used to steer or co-shape some initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership and the enlargement agenda for the Balkans. It used to be a symbol of successful EU and NATO enlargement, as well as a systemic transition.  
The celebrations this week are muted and subdued, partly due to the ongoing pandemic. 30 years ago, in February of 1991 and on the banks of Danube, the leaders of four countries in Central Europe (echoing another meeting of kings from the 14th century) joined forces to better integrate with the West. John Paul II, during a Visegrad Group Foreign Ministers meeting in Wadowice, Poland on July, 7 2020. The Visegrad 4 is far from doomed. This is a true value of the Visegrad 4 today – church choirs, basketball teams, local theatres acquiring little funds from the International Visegrad Fund for common projects. epa08532153 Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok (4-L), Polish FM Jacek Czaputowicz (3-L), Hungarian FM Peter Szijjarto (2-L) and Czech FM Tomas Petricek (L) lay flowers at the Monument of the St.  
The current government understands it well. To be the smallest member does not mean to have less rights. Prague and Bratislava have noticed that the Visegrad 4 is considered in Poland and Hungary as a tool to further the influence of nationalistic, ultra-conservative, Eurosceptic of Budapest and Warsaw. Without ditching the Visegrad 4, Slovakia needs to begin playing on more instruments such as the Slavkov, or Austerlitz, format of a loose cooperation agreement with Austria and the Czech Republic.   The Slovaks were livid at this usurpation of the Visegrad 4 brand to what was rightly considered in Bratislava as a propaganda tool against Brussels. In the 1990s, the Visegrad 4 developed extremely useful platforms and channels of communication and cooperation among public administration, local government officials, transborder communities and other civil society representatives, academia, arts and more – this is a lasting effect to this day, which is not connected to (the sometimes toxic) politics and politicians themselves.  
The patience is wearing thin in some parts of the quartet. Societies and political establishments can turn back, sometimes unexpectedly, from divisive confrontational politics. Think of the Vladimír Meciar-era in Slovakia’s politics, which used to affect the dynamics within the Visegrad 4. In her acceptance speech, Caputova said, “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.” There could hardly be a starker contrast with statements of Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This is the first meeting at this level under Poland’s annual presidency of the regional lobby, which was inaugurated on 01 July 2020. It’s Budapest and Warsaw who have the rule of law problems; not us, both Slovaks and Czechs rightfully assume. The Visegrad 4 is now known for its “niet” (no) policies to several important EU initiatives, such as the immigration package of 2016. It has a terrible image of troublemakers who love to throw spanners in the work of the European Council. The societies share a common mindset different from say, Austria to the west and Ukraine to the east. Other grouping formations take the lead on various issues such as the Baltics and relations with Belarus and Russia.  
These days, at the European level, the Visegrad 4 is heard of mostly though rhetoric – Hungary and Poland benefit the most by claiming – less and less successfully – that their “cultural counterrevolution” in Europe is on behalf of the whole of Central Europe. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Troubled anniversary

By Jakub Wisniewski
Vice President of GLOBSEC and the former Polish Ambassador to the OECD. The murders of Jan Kuciak, a 27-year-old investigative journalist, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018 and the subsequent mass protests began the rejuvenation of the country. Do not put off the Visegrad 4 just yet, although be prepared for some “strategic pause” in regards to activist Visegrad 4 policies at the European level. The face of this process was Zuzana Caputova. Not anymore. EPA-EFE/LUKASZ GAGULSKI POLAND OUT

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok (4-L), former Polish FM Jacek Czaputowicz (3-L), Hungarian FM Peter Szijjarto (2-L) and Czech FM Tomas Petricek (L) lay flowers at a Monument to former pope, St. EPA-EFE//LUKASZ GAGULSKI

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The Visegrad 4 of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland has been a tremendous success. John Paul II, during the Visegrad Group Foreign Ministers meeting in Wadowice, southern Poland 07 July 2020.

They must be tackled together. epa08978266 People enjoy a sunny winter day after snowfall at the nature biodiversity trail in Zilie Kalni (Blue Mountains), Ogre, Latvia, 31 January 2021. The ask is for all countries to deliver stretched nationally determined contributions ahead of the climate COP and immediately kickstart the transitions to net-zero. But governments must take the lead, starting with a smart and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that invests in the right places. In the three planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution, we face an even greater threat than COVID-19. Governments would shift trillions of dollars in subsidies to nature-positive farming and clean energy and water. Next week, the temperature throughout Latvia will remain below zero degrees Celsius. This year, we must make peace with nature and, in every subsequent year, we must make sure that this peace lasts. But experts have developed solutions. These summits must show that the world is finally serious about tackling our planetary emergency. They must give citizens a voice in these far-reaching decisions, even if it is virtual. There are no more excuses. The pandemic has shown humanity’s incredible ability to innovate and respond to threats, guided by science. This month, the Dasgupta review reminded us what UNEP has long warned: the per capita stock of natural capital – the resources and services nature provides to humanity – has fallen 40 per cent in just over two decades. They must ensure that transitions are fair and equitable, creating jobs for those who lose out. The result is a blueprint for a sustainable future that can secure human well-being on a healthy planet. Our environmental, social and economic challenges are interlinked. The report pulls together all the evidence of environmental decline from major global scientific assessments, with the most advanced ideas on how to reverse it. This year, the UN will bring governments and other players together for crunch talks on climate action, biodiversity and land degradation. And the mechanisms and institutions to implement them are already in place. Addressing our planetary emergency is a whole-of-society effort. We can do it. For years, scientists have detailed how humanity is degrading Earth and its natural systems. The economic rationale is clear. EPA-EFE//TOMS KALNINS

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Even amid a pandemic, 2021 can go down as the year we made peace with nature and set the planet to healing. In 2020, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that, despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the pandemic, the world is still headed for global warming of more than 3°C this century. There are signs of progress, but the problems are escalating faster than our responses. It takes time. We have no choice but to transform our economies and societies by valuing nature and putting its health at the heart of all our decisions. If we did this, banks and investors would stop financing fossil fuels. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Making peace with nature is possible if we start now

By Inger Andersen
Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. As COVID-19 upends our lives, a more persistent crisis demands urgent action on a global scale. People everywhere would prioritize health and well-being over consumption and shrink their environmental footprint. At the climate COP, governments must also finally agree on the rules for a global carbon trading market. We can create an amazing economy by moving to circular economic systems that reuse resources, reduce emissions and weed out the chemicals and toxins that are causing millions of premature deaths – all while creating jobs. For example, we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including ending poverty, by 2030 if climate change and ecosystem collapse are undermining food and water supplies in the world’s poorest countries. The $100 billion that developed countries promised to provide every year to help developing nations cope with the impacts of climate change must finally flow. To guide decision-makers toward the action required, the UN has released the Making Peace with Nature report. We all need to not step up, but leap up, in 2021. Yet the actions we are taking – from governments and financial institutions to businesses and individuals – fall far short of what is needed to protect current and future generations from a hothouse Earth, beset by mass species extinctions and poisonous air and water. The number of countries promising to work towards net-zero emissions stands at 126. As we also seek to agree to an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework that ends fragmentation of our ecosystems, the ask is for us is to feed the world without destroying nature, felling forests and emptying our oceans. They must create opportunities for future industries that generate prosperity. EPA-EFE/TOMS KALNINS

People enjoy a winter day after snowfall at the nature biodiversity trail in Ogre, Latvia, January 31, 2021. Finding answers to such daunting problems is complex. Three environmental crises – climate change, nature loss, and the collapse of nature, and the pollution of air, soil and water add up to a planetary emergency that will cause far more pain than COVID-19 in the long-term. Again, this is no excuse for inaction. COVID-19 has delayed these summits and complicated their preparation. And we know that a staggering 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air.