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Climate change worries push travelers to these ‘last chance’ locales

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Travel interest boost: 68 percent

The Maldives has seen the biggest spike in travel, as the island nation uses mass tourism to raise the funds necessary to adapt to climate change. That includes relocating thousands of people and building the necessary infrastructure to accommodate them.

The paradise atolls, famous for their turquoise waters and idyllic beaches, may be under water by 2100, according to the United Nations. That’s a fate the Maldives is trying to avoid.

Last year, tourists flocking to the Maldives insured an average of $3,593 in nonrefundable costs, an 11 percent increase from the year before, according to Squaremouth. Those costs could include airfare, hotel, and recreational activities.

Round-trip plane tickets from New York City to the Maldives cost around $1,000 on the low end, while hotels can range from under $50 to around $2,000 per night, depending on the level of amenities.

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U.S., Europe condemn arrest of poisoned Putin critic

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen at the passport control point at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — The U.S. and several European governments have expressed deep concern following the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, urgently calling for his immediate release from Russian detention.

Police arrested Navalny, 44, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday shortly after his flight from Berlin, Germany landed in the country’s capital city.

The activist, who is widely regarded as the most prominent and determined critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was returning home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.

Navalny had been recuperating in Germany after narrowly surviving what has since been independently confirmed as poisoning by a Novichok nerve agent on August. 20.

The opposition politician believes Putin ordered the poisoning to go ahead, reportedly saying in October last year that he does not see any other explanation.

Putin’s government denies poisoning Navalny, though investigative reporters have since published evidence to support Navalny’s claims.

In response to Navalny’s arrest, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said via Twitter on Monday that he was “deeply troubled” by the development and called for his immediate and unconditional release from detention.

“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents,” Pompeo said.

Separately, President-elect Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan pushed for Navalny’s immediate release. Sullivan said: “The perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable.”

“The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard,” he added.

‘I’m returning to my home town’

Speaking onboard the plane in Berlin ahead of takeoff, Navalny had said he did not expect to be arrested when he arrived in Russia.

His flight had been due to land at Vnukovo airport where supporters and media had been waiting despite bitterly cold weather, but his route was reportedly diverted to Sheremetyevo airport due to “technical reasons.”

“I feel great. Finally, I’m returning to my home town,” Navalny said aboard the flight back to Moscow, according to a Reuters report. Navalny was accompanied on the flight by his wife, Yulia, as well as his spokesman and lawyer.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen in a Pobeda plane after it landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP | Getty Images

On arriving in Moscow on Sunday evening, Navalny was last seen saying goodbye to his wife at passport control before being led away by Russian authorities.

“Aleksei Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said in a statement on Sunday.

“His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels,” Zviagina said.

The Russian Embassy in London did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Punitive action

In Europe, several world leaders issued statements sharply critical of Navalny’s arrest, but most stopped short of calling for punitive action.

European Council President Charles Michel on Sunday described Navalny’s arrest as “unacceptable” and called on Russian authorities to “immediately release him.”

Crowds gather as they await the arrival of Alexey Navalny, Russian opposition leader, at Vnukovo International airport in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The foreign ministries of the U.K., Germany, France and Italy all separately issued statements to rebuke Navalny’s arrest and demand his immediate release.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said via Twitter on Monday that Navalny must be released “without delay,” adding that others arrested on his arrival should also be freed. “Russia should investigate Navalny’s poisoning, protect rights of opposition which belongs to any democracy,” Marin said.

A joint statement by the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three former Soviet republics, issued a call for the EU to consider the “imposition of restrictive measures in response to this blatant act” if Navalny is not released from detention.

They described Navalny’s arrest as “completely unacceptable.”

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World’s ‘moral failure’ WHO says

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Healthcare workers administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents living in the Jackson Heights neighborhood at St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church on January 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.

Octavio Jones | Getty Images

LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization said Monday the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines is at “serious risk.”

Warning of a “catastrophic moral failure,” WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “the recent emergence of rapidly-spreading variants makes the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important.”

But he added that this distribution could easily become “another brick in the wall for inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.”

“As the first vaccines begin to be deployed, the promise of equitable access is at serious risk,” he said, speaking at a session of the WHO’s executive board.

While more 39 million doses of several different vaccines have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, he said, just 25 doses had been given in one lowest-income country.

“I need to be blunt, the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”

Beginning his speech, Tedros had emphasized that the development and approval of safe coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the virus’ emergence in China, in late 2019, was a “stunning achievement and a much needed source of hope.”

However, he added that “it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

“There will be enough vaccine for everybody, but right now we must work together as one global family to prioritize (those) most at risk of serious diseases and death in all countries.”

Without naming names, Tedros said some countries and companies speak the language of equitable access but continue to prioritize bilateral deals, bypassing COVAX, which is driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the line. “This is wrong,” he said.

COVAX is a global scheme co-led by an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and also the WHO. It was established to ensure equitable vaccine access for every country in the world. It aims deliver 2 billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification by the end of 2021.

The WHO called on wealthier countries that had pre-ordered millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines, such as the U.S., U.K. and Europe, to share a portion of those vaccines with COVAX, so it can then redistribute these to poorer countries.

Wealthier nations have been accused of “hoarding” more vaccines than they need, although the supply of vaccines is still in its early days as mass inoculation drives — which began in the West in December — are mainly still in their first distribution stage.

Tedros called on countries with bilateral deals with vaccine makers, and on controls for supply, to be “transparent with COVAX on volumes, pricing and delivery dates,” and to share their own doses with COVAX once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations.

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Who will be Germany’s next leader after Merkel?

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference following a meeting of the German government coronavirus cabinet task force during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic on November 2, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Germany moved another step closer to a post-Angela Merkel era at the weekend, with her ruling Christian Democratic Union electing a new chairman.

Armin Laschet beat off competition from conservative rival Friedrich Merz to win 521 votes to 466 in the party leadership election that took place online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Laschet, who leads the North Rhine-Westphalia region, is seen as a centrist and able to unite the ruling CDU’s broad church of members, from conservatives and pro-business members of the party to environmentalists, and is seen as a continuity candidate following Merkel’s pragmatic approach.

Still, while winning the party leadership puts Laschet in the ring as a possible contender to become Germany’s next chancellor, it’s by no means a done deal.

What to watch for?

In the next few months, Laschet will need to decide with Markus Söder, the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party called the Christian Social Union, who will be the CDU-CSU’s joint candidate for chancellor.

Whether the candidate will become chancellor will then depend on the outcome of the national election on September 26, which also marks the end of Merkel’s fourth and final term in office.

As well as Laschet, Söder is a key contender for the chancellery although he has not yet expressed whether he will run. Nonetheless, he remains a popular choice.

A poll published on Sunday by Civey for the Focus Online magazine showed that 43% of Germans would prefer Söder as the candidate to succeed Merkel, with only 12.1% backing Laschet. In third place, with the backing of 8.7% of those surveyed, was Health Minister Jens Spahn, an ally of Laschet.

Mujtaba Rahman and Nas Masraff, managing director and director of Europe research at Eurasia Group, said in a note Saturday that Laschet faces an “uphill battle to prove his strength and leadership over the coming weeks and months.”

“We still think he is the frontrunner in the race (a 55% probability) as he will play hard and won’t give in to Soeder easily. Laschet also has history on his side: The CSU has only put forward a chancellor candidate on two previous occasions to represent the Union parties and both times they were defeated in elections.” However, they added, “Soeder is extremely popular.”

“If this remains the case, the CDU base and the parliamentary group may calculate that they will be better off in September’s elections under Soeder’s leadership and put pressure on Laschet to give up the post.”

Eurasia Group sees a 30% chance that Söder will run for the chancellery candidacy and succeeds. Regardless, they noted that Laschet and Söder “get along pretty well” so any decision is likely to be a smooth rather than disruptive one.

Decisive regional elections

A final decision over who will run as the CDU-CSU candidate is expected to be made in spring, after several prominent regional elections in mid-March.

Jana Puglierin, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in Berlin, told CNBC Monday that the regional elections in Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) and Baden-Wurttemberg are crucial in determining which candidate is fielded.

“If the CDU does well in these elections, and if Laschet guarantees the backing of the party and brings the different camps (within it) together … then he will be the candidate for chancellor,” she said.

If regional elections did not go well for the CDU, then, Puglierin said, Söder might be the preferred candidacy for chancellor.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg, told CNBC Monday that what investors need to watch out for is not whether Laschet or Söder is the candidate to replace Merkel, but the “tail risk that the conservatives may not be in power at all once Merkel leaves office later this year and that Germany may get a green-red-red coalition instead.”

This would entail a coalition government formed of the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party (currently a junior coalition party with the CDU-CSU) and Die Linke, the Left Party.

“Such a government without the CDU/CSU may harm the economy through some reform reversals and more regulations. As most major fiscal decisions would need to be approved by the upper house of parliament in which the CDU/CSU would still have a veto, the size of any future stimulus and Germany’s support for its European partners would only be affected modestly,” Schmieding noted.

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