Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
COP26 is now in full swing, having started in Glasgow last Sunday. The summit hopes to find solutions to the ever-growing issue of climate change and limit the rising temperatures witnessed across the globe. So far, there have been four significant pledges that aim to tackle climate change, which includes tackling deforestation, cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030, shifting away from coal, and lastly shifting $130 trillion of private assets to back clean technology. Combined, efforts to achieve these goals and local government goals will help to minimise global warming to 1.5C and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of a climate catastrophe. Although 25,000 delegates from 200 countries aim to tackle climate change, many believe that firms and governments are not focused on fixing existing issues; instead, they are focusing efforts on greenwashing: where a country or company exaggerates environmental credentials. Thus, the event has been met with large protests across the country and are expected to continue until the event closes next Friday.
This week has hit Boris Johnson and his government hard, as they have come under scrutiny from opposition parties and prominent political figures, including John Major. The former prime minister labelled recent decision making by Boris Johnson’s government as “odious and un-conservative”, with some conduct being marked as “politically corrupt”. These comments come after Johnson’s failed plan to protect Owen Paterson, a former conservative MP, who stepped down this week after being exposed for breaking Commons rules. Paterson had lobbied ministers on behalf of two companies, each paying him £100,000 a year. On Wednesday, Johnson had urged his MPs to scrap the anti-sleaze rules in Westminster, which would have helped Owen Paterson; however, 24 hours later, he U-turned on this decision, following a significant opposition across the board. Not only did many see this vote as a corrupt plan, but reports also highlighted that Government members were told to back the amendment or face the sack. This adds fuel to the hypothetical fire for the independent standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, who has already investigated the prime minister on three occasions in the past three years.
India: Rudra Sen
Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time pledged to cut India’s emissions to net-zero by 2070 at COP 26. In contrast, China has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2070 and the US by 2050. India is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. However, its emissions per capita are significantly lower than other major economies. For instance, India emitted 1.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per head of population in 2019 compared to the US’s 15.5 tonnes. PM Modi also promised that India would get 50% of its energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by the year 2030. Furthermore, he has called on developed nations to provide $1 trillion of climate financing to facilitate the effective mitigation of climate change by developing countries. While experts have raised their concerns over India’s plan to mitigate climate change, it faces a difficult challenge like many developing countries to balance environmental considerations and not compromise its economic potential.
The festivities of Diwali have unfortunately led to the rise of air pollution in Delhi. The Air Quality Index level in Delhi continues to remain in the ‘severe’ category. This has led to hospitals observing an increase in the number of patients coming in with respiratory ailments and burning eyes. Experts claim that the increase in air pollution can be attributed to both the bursting of firecrackers in Delhi and stubble burning in neighbouring states. Doctors have also raised concerns particularly over the effects of air pollution on children’s lungs and brain development. The Delhi government has deployed 114 water tankers to sprinkle water on roads to settle dust which contributes to air pollution in the state to a great extent. Delhi’s Pollution Control Committee has also shut down 92 construction and demolition projects for violating dust control rules.
India’s controversial indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, has finally been granted Emergency Use Listing (EUL) status by the World Health Organisation. The WHO’s approval comes as a huge relief to those looking forward to international travel. It also offers reassurance to those apprehensive about its safety and efficacy. Covaxin is 78% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 by the WHO. The WHO has stated that Covaxin is extremely suitable in poorer countries due to its easier storage requirements compared to other vaccines. The vaccine’s manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, is now increasing its production in an attempt to export significant quantities of the vaccine. To date, over 60 countries have expressed their interest in procuring Covaxin due to the possibility of it being administered to children as well.
Africa: Laura da Silva
The president of Tunisia has called on citizens to help bail out the state as Tunisia sinks deeper into an economic crisis. While chairing the Council of Ministers on Thursday, President Kais Saied appealed to the public to contribute to state finances: “We will work to involve all Tunisians to get out of the crisis …. And I appeal to citizens to help find the financial balance required”. Whilst Saied did not specify the nature or implementation of these contributions, he did reassure the public that “the money collected, which could alleviate the financial crisis, would be under the control of the presidency and the government”. This plea for public assistance comes shortly after Tunisia was downgraded by rating agency Moody’s from B3 to Caa1 in mid-October. This drop in the country’s rating is due to “the weakening governance and heightened uncertainty regarding the government’s capacity to implement measures that ensure renewed access to funding”. The downgrade takes the North African country seven levels below investment grade, reflecting the myriad of economic challenges they are facing. Tunisia is battling a deep economic and social crisis as GDP has decreased, inflation is high and unemployment sits at nearly 18%, whilst still being highly indebted and dependent on international aid.
Zambia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have initiated conversations on an aid package to bail out Zambia from the debt owed to its creditors. Although no time frame has been agreed upon, an agreement with the IMF would help advance Zambia’s attempt to restructure its debt burden under the common G20 framework agreed with the Paris Club at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Zambia’s debt is staggering as external debt reached US$14.48 billion this year, over 60% of gross domestic product. Of Zambia’s total debt, China is the largest foreign creditor and currently Zambia owes China US$6.18 billion including unpaid interest. Much of this huge debt bill is attributed to former president Edgar Lungu who borrowed heavily to fund infrastructure projects. This crippling foreign debt led to the Southern African country defaulting during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although an agreement with the IMF would offer Zambia great relief, the time frame and terms of these discussions have not yet been agreed upon, and Director of Communications at the IMF Gerry Rice said that “the IMF would need sufficient funding assurances from creditors before an agreement on an extended credit facility could be made.”
Middle East: Dhruv Shah
In a breakthrough for the international community, Iran has agreed to resume stalled talks over its nuclear deal with global powers on November 29th. The deal will see representatives from China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK convene with Iran at Vienna in a meeting which is co-chaired by the EU, with the US notably absent. The move comes after Tehran, last month, stated it was prepared to restart international talks; likely the result of the significant US sanctions, which have crippled Tehran’s economy. This diplomatic breakthrough has been argued by many political analysts to come at a good time, given that the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog has warned that monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities are no longer “intact.”
Last week, four Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia withdrew their envoys from Lebanon, a country currently grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades. The move comes after representatives from Lebanon criticised the Saudi led war in Yemen. In response, Saudi Arabia has banned Lebanese imports, cut off financial support and expelled diplomats. For Lebanon, an extremely cash strapped country, these retaliatory measures are likely to hurt, given that exports to Saudi Arabia in 2020 amounted to $200m.However, at a deeper level, the diplomatic row between the countries is representative of much graver problems for Lebanon in the region. In recent months, many of the Gulf countries have become increasingly worried about the rising influence of Iran backed Hezbollah militant group, and the government’s inability to reform Lebanon.
North America: Amelia Brown
After three months of reworking in the House, President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ infrastructure bill passed Congress on Friday and awaits his signature into law. The $1.2 trillion bill got the support of 13 Republicans along with all Democrats, except for 6 progressives. This likely comes after major concessions were made on the bill to get it passed, like cutting free community college, increased taxes on the ultra-wealthy, paid family and medical leave, and reduced medicare prescription costs. Additionally, the bigger social spending package that is part of the Build Back Better agenda that progressives were promised would go through the chambers at the same time was delayed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving the government unsure up until late Friday night whether enough progressive Democrats would sign onto the bill. The bill includes billions of dollars for each state for their public transportation, highways, bridges, electric charging stations, and water infrastructure.
On Thursday another big government announcement was made: the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Osha) gave a deadline for companies to implement a mandate that workers must be vaccinated or tested weekly for coronavirus. Employers with over 100 employees now have until January 4th to comply before fines as large as $130,000 come into effect. Many Republican congressmen and governors are trying to push back against the measure. The Louisiana attorney general got the authorization halted on Saturday in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, although the Justice Department is confident with Osha’s authority to call the shots in the end. The law of the federal government would overrule state laws on the matter, as covid is also declared a public emergency, giving extra power to the federal government to enforce.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will finally reach Canada. Public Services and Procurement Canada said that doses of the single shot vaccination will reach the country from France in the coming weeks, and finally get distributed to provinces to try to increase uptake. A shipment of hundreds of thousands of doses of J&J has reached Canada before, but was rejected for use after an investigation and concerns about the Michigan manufacturer.
Latin America: Leo Le Borgne
President Pedro Castillo’s cabinet was approved by the Peruvian Congress on Thursday. The moderate-left wing cabinet marks a stark contrast to Castillo’s original far-left envisionment of his new government, drawing ire from members of his own Marxist-Leninist Peru Libre party. Longtime Peru Libre member Guido Bellido was originally supposed to lead the president’s cabinet, and voted against the confirmation along with other members of Castillo’s party in Congress. With moderate Mirth Vasquez leading the new cabinet, Castillo hopes to assuage concerns regarding the left-wing economic policies suggested by Bellido that would have nationalised Peru’s gas sector, instigating social unrest in the nation’s economically vital mining sector. Castillo won the presidential election against right-wing Keiko Fujimori by a razor thin margin earlier this year, promising a radical restructuring of Peru’s socio-economic and political fabric. However, in a bid to not alienate himself from the private sector and the opposition-controlled Congress, Castillo has distanced himself from his own party with his newly reformed cabinet selection.
President Guillermo Lasso announced earlier this week the extension of the protected marine area surrounding the Galapagos Islands. Speaking at COP26 in Glasgow, Lasso explained that the new initiative will be funded through the trading of debt for conversion.The expansion will provide greater protection to the Galapagos’s diverse marine wildlife, which is often vulnerable to fishermen. The move received praise from many environmentalists and conservationists, including Sarah Darwin, head of the Galapagos Conservation Trust and a descendent of Charles Darwin.
Business: Aoife Doyle
Speaking at the COP26 climate summit, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the UK would be the first-ever net-zero global financial centre in line with the 2050 net-zero target. The proposed plan announced that 450 firms controlling 40% of global financial assets, $130tn, have signed up to the 2050 net-zero goals including limiting global warming to 1.5C. An expert panel will set the standards businesses’ plans need to meet to ensure that they hit the target. However, any firm-level net-zero commitments will not be mandatory. Campaign groups have said that without regulation and strict monitoring the pledges are doomed to fail. None of the banks and financiers announced are currently aligned with net-zero and have no intention of meeting the Paris target by continuing to invest in fossil fuels. In practice, the commitment to net-zero means that banks need to divert investments to renewable energy or investments that align with ESG considerations. By changing the financial system, the hope of many is that every economic sector will decarbonise on its own accord.
The two largest mobile phone companies in Nigeria, MTN and Airtel, have received partial approval from the Central Bank of Nigeria to facilitate mobile device payments in the country. This partial approval has been granted three years after the Central Bank initially announced they would allow non-financial companies to apply for mobile banking licenses. The guidelines set out state mobile network operators are allowed to provide financial services to millions of unbanked Nigerians. Companies can also do so through Payment Service Banks – accepting deposits from individuals and smaller businesses, offering payment and remittance services – or through a subsidiary separate from their core operations. This could make a huge difference for the 38 million unbanked adults (36% of the population) in Nigeria.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
The much anticipated COP26 climate change event in Glasgow finally happened on the 1st of November. However, since its occurrence, it has been widely criticised by climate activists, scientists and even politicians. Most notably, Greta Thunberg announced to a mass rally in the city that the whole conference has been a complete ‘failure’ claiming that ‘we cannot solve this crisis using the same methods… we need immediate drastic annual emission cuts unlike anything the world has ever seen’ illustrating the current and existential threat that climate change has on Earth. It should also be mentioned the lack of focus on developing countries that are already feeling the impacts of global warming; for example Lazarus Chakwera has stated that richer (also high emitting) countries have promised to pay poorer ones in the form of reparations since 2009 but have since updated this promise so that funds would be received in 2023. Chakwera was highly critical of this decision, citing that developing nations need help to build climate resilient systems to withstand the effects of climate change that developed nations have mainly caused with their populations living very wasteful lifestyles filled with overconsumption. Nicola Sturgeon was in full support of the protests led by Thunberg saying ‘there’s a gap that needs to be bridged, protest is part of that bridge’ expressing her agreement with protestors that climate policies and agreements need to be more rigorous.
Last week, pro footballer Joshua Cravallo came out as gay making him the first openly gay professional footballer in the world, a historical mark considering the homophobia and hyper masculinity surrounding the sport. This single act of courage has already spurred more footballers to come out anonymously as bisexual. but has stressed that even though he is not revealing his name, ‘the message itself is no less important’ but in the same vein stated that ‘as much as professional football seems accepting, unfortunately it’s not quite like that yet’ highlighting the culture that still exists around the sport and its players.
One of the largest Chinese queer advocacy groups has announced its withdrawal from Chinese social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat after fighting countless legal cases in their efforts for better queer representation in the country whilst also had to close dozens of accounts set up by university students discussing LGBT+ topics. China’s Ministry of civil affairs claims that it has ‘dealt with’ 3000 illegal social organisations that were not registered with a government entity. The closure of one of the biggest queer advocacy groups follows a public clampdown on queer activism in China.
Science & Technolgoy: Abi Byrne
If all the pledges and promises made so far at COP26, currently being held in Glasgow, are kept, it is projected that global warming could be curbed at 1.9 °C above pre-industrial levels. However, that is a very big ‘if’. Pledges from big players in global emissions such as China and India to curb their carbon footprint are promising, and although it will certainly be a challenge these could allow emissions to still be within the upper threshold that was agreed upon at the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In a statement from climate resources it is claimed that “For the first time in history, the aggregate effect of the combined pledges by 194 countries might bring the world to below 2 ℃ warming with more than a 50% chance”. The group is headed up by the lead author of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, climate scientist Malte Meinshausen.
The abrupt decline in global CO2 emissions that occurred since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic will be all but erased this year. An association of scientists have predicted that carbon emissions will continue to rise to 36.4 billion tonnes, increasing a further 4.9% in 2021 compared to last year’s figures. However, there is hope in the assessment of conversion of land to cropland which when taken into consideration suggests that global Carbon dioxide may have effectively plateaued over the last decade.