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Donald Trump’s America and China

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]ccording to official news agencies, the recent phone call of February 8 last and the subsequent letter by President Trump to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was “long” and “extremely cordial”.

In particular, official sources recall that, just upon the Chinese leader’s request, the US President reaffirmed he would honour the so-called “One China” policy in the US bilateral and multilateral relations, which means that the United States do not oppose – now or in the future – the Chinese ambitions over Taiwan that China still considers the “renegade province.”

As reported by Chinese sources, President Trump also formulated to the Chinese people his wishes for the New Lunar Year – the year of the Rooster, running from January 28, 2017 to February 16, 2018 – and for the upcoming Lantern Festival, celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the new year.

Those who really know how to make foreign policy are always very attentive to symbols and traditions. They are not befuddled by GDP percentages or daily talk, but set great store by the various peoples’ symbols and old traditions, which are the fabric of each State community.

According to Xi Jinping who made his first phone call to President Trump, the two major countries, namely China and the United States, are bound to cooperate to manage the world’s fate. The Chinese leader also defined the substantial and non-formal mainstay of China’s foreign policy in recent years: the reaffirmation of the peaceful, but primary role played by China among all world countries.

The concept of a “win-win” relationship, the cornerstone of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, was expressed – for the first time – by the Chinese President in his speech delivered at the Moscow Institute for International Relations in March 2013.

Later the concept was reiterated and applied in China’s State visits to Serbia, Poland and Uzbekistan last June, as well as in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s 12th Summit – and this is certainly not a coincidence, but a symbol.

In Xi Jinping’s mind, the “win-win” relationship between States can be defined as an organism consisting of a skeleton of political mutual trust, blood vessels of economic cooperation and nerves of cultural exchanges, with concrete cooperation projects as its cellular tissue.

Within this intellectual and political horizon, when the countries develop a clear understanding of the international situation and unite to meet security and economic challenges, they form a community shouldering responsibility together, namely a “responsibility community”. When they respect the various cultures and political systems, they form a group sharing a common fate, namely a “fate community”.

Finally, in Xi Jinping’s mind, a “win-win” relationship enables the traditional multilateral and bilateral treaties to work better.

This will be exactly China’s great offer to the European Union, which is based on three levels: the EU as the nerve centre of world economy, as well as a great Mediterranean region – and, in the future, China will focus on the Mare Nostrum – and finally as a strategic factor for rebalancing Asia, the United States and the emerging countries.

I wish there was – within the European Union – at least some strategic and geopolitical thinking about Europe living up to China’s.

The theory of “win-win” relations also means that China plans to extend its theory of “creative, coordinated and green” development to the rest of the world.

This is exactly the conceptual foundation of the Belt and Road Initiative that Xi Jinping launched by following up Li Keqiang’s policy line during his state visits to Asia and Europe of September and October 2013.

It is worth noting, however, that while Trump only called the Heads of State and Government of allied and friendly States, in the case of Xi Jinping he even wrote a letter – which is clearly a sign of great respect for China and its government.

The tension recently mounted between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister, Turnbull, is the last thing that China wishes to see. In fact, China is very interested in a strategic – and hence economic, political and military – relationship with Australia. In particular, it wants a special link to be created with the United States through that country.

Hence, in Xi Jinping’s mind, America is a factor of stability and multipolar balance, in a Pacific Ocean where China is expanding northwards and is establishing new “win-win” relations and bonds with all coastal countries and with Japan, in particular.

Trump had also alarmed the Chinese government by calling the President of the Republic of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, last December.

Furthermore, Donald Trump repeatedly stated – during the election campaign and after rising to power – he would impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States, by accusing China of artificially devaluing its currency so as to stimulate its exports and “stealing jobs from Americans” – just to recall the terminology used by the future President during the election campaign.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, stated in the Senate that China should not have free access to the artificial islands it built in the South China Sea. He also stated that the United States would anyway protect the free waterways between the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea.

However, is it true that China manipulates its currency?

Let us see whether this is true.

The (Chinese) capital is fleeing the country because international investors – and many of these are also Chinese – are not optimistic about the future of the Chinese economy.

The pace of growth is slow, the lowest rate in 25 years. A reduced growth rate, which is recorded for many good and useful reasons. In fact, the government is reducing the interest rate of government bonds and is also cooling real estate prices, as well as implementing reforms that will reduce excess production capacity and increase the production efficiency of public companies.

Hence a vicious cycle has been triggered off, which shows that the market is not suitable for playing the role of supreme judge of economies.

Therefore investors are selling yuan and buying US dollars or other hard currencies. This creates downward pressure on the yuan exchange rate, which further stimulates the sale of Chinese currency and the purchase of US dollars and other hard currencies.

If there is capital fleeing the country, the yuan lowers its exchange rate, as always happens in these cases.

Since the time of double devaluation in August 2015, 1.2 trillion US dollars have left China. The Chinese currency reserves dropped by as many as 800 billion dollars in two years, just to defend the yuan parity – dollars obviously sold only to support the yuan.

Over time, the Chinese government has blocked the companies’ yuan transfers until rebalancing revenue and expenditure. It has also restricted the purchase of foreign currency by Chinese traders and businessmen, stimulated State enterprises to sell foreign currency and blocked the use of credit cards up 5,000 US dollars of spending.

These efforts now seem to be successful.

The latest data shows that capital is coming back to China and, therefore, the currency value should stabilize quickly.

Hence it is true that the Chinese government is “manipulating” its currency – although rescuing its reforms, economic stability and domestic policy – but said manipulation takes place upwards and not downwards. Therefore there is no yuan devaluation which favours Chinese exports in the United States or in the rest of the world.

Furthermore, it is worth recalling that the accusations of currency manipulation were also typical of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It is also worth recalling, however, that the Sino-US trade deficit is currently 232.25 billion dollars and that this is a problem that must be solved anyway.

In other words, the government keeps the yuan value “up”, thus de facto subsidizing imports from China.

Furthermore, China needs to provide jobs to a much greater mass of unemployed people than the US workforce and it does not want to encourage downward competition by Japan, India or Vietnam.

Moreover, Donald Trump’s economic positions, or what the Republican candidate maintained during the election campaign, are such as to strengthen the dollar, while the US economy is still the locomotive of global recovery.

And we assume it will remain so for long time.

In Trump’s mind, the maximum income tax rate will be   33% as against the current 39.6%; the real estate tax will be abolished altogether but, anyway, no company shall pay over 15% of their income in taxes.

On the other hand, however, there will no longer be domestic tax havens or tax tricks and stratagems, which has greatly alarmed many traditional voters and especially funders of the Republican Party.

Moreover, President Trump has threatened China also with regard to intellectual property and subsidies to exports he deems illegal.

Another theme in common with the previous Administration. In partial contradiction with these opinions, Trump has also supported the idea of transforming the United States into a more attractive country for foreign investment than China itself, by also trying to reduce the US public debt so as to avoid the hidden pressure of China, which is still the largest holder of US Treasury Bonds.

However, as international economic experts show, the United States record an aggregate trade surplus with 20 of the countries with which they have trade agreements, while 1 billion US dollars worth of exports supports approximately 6,000 US jobs, bearing in mind the fact that the jobs resulting from export activities are paid, on average, 18% more than the others.

Hence, finally President Trump will greatly change the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), i.e. the trade agreement between the United States, Brunei, Australia, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

However, currently the export tariffs of North American products to Asia are too high and the cooling of the TTP would largely favour only China.

No one in Trump’s administration likes TTP and the President prefers bilateral trade agreements rather than multipolar economic alliances.

Hence the paradox of the bilateral situation between the United States and China is the following: if the yuan rises – as it is expected to happen soon – the US dollar will fall significantly and it will be easier for President Trump to stimulate US exports.

And, for the law of unintended consequences, the freezing of TTP could become the primary stimulus to the recovery of the Chinese economy.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Indictment of Trump associate threatens UAE lobbying success

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This month’s indictment of a billionaire, one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the United Arab Emirates highlights the successes and pitfalls of a high-stakes Emirati effort to influence US policy.

The indictment of businessman Thomas  J. Barrack, who maintained close ties to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed while serving as an influential advisor in 2016 to then-presidential candidate Trump and chair of Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee once he won the 2016 election, puts at risk the UAE’s relationship with the Biden administration.

It also threatens to reduce the UAE’s return on a massive investment in lobbying and public relations that made it a darling in Washington during the last four years.

A 2019 study concluded that Emirati clients hired 20 US lobbying firms to do their bidding at a cost of US$20 million, including US$600,000 in election campaign contributions — one of the largest, if not the largest expenditure by a single state on Washington lobbying and influence peddling.

The indictment further raises the question of why the Biden administration was willing to allow legal proceedings to put at risk its relationship with one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, one that last year opened the door to recognition of Israel by Arab and Muslim-majority states.

The UAE lobbying effort sought to position the Emirates, and at its behest, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed’s counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman, at the heart of US policy, ensure that Emirati and Saudi interests were protected, and shield the two autocrats from criticism of various of their policies and abuse of human rights.

Interestingly, UAE lobbying in the United States, in contrast to France and Austria, failed to persuade the Trump administration to embrace one of the Emirates’ core policy objectives: a US crackdown on political Islam with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed views political Islam and the Brotherhood that embraces the principle of elections as an existential threat to the survival of his regime.

In one instance cited in the indictment, Mr. Barrack’s two co-defendants, a UAE national resident in the United States, Rashid Al-Malik, and Matthew Grimes, a Barrack employee, discussed days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration the possibility of persuading the new administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated foreign terrorist organization. “This will be a huge win. If we can list them. And they deserved to be,” Mr. Al-Malik texted Mr. Grimes on 23 January 2017.

The unsuccessful push for designating the Brotherhood came three months after Mr. Barrack identified the two Prince Mohammeds in an op-ed in Fortune magazine as members of a new generation of “brilliant young leaders.” The billionaire argued that “American foreign policy must persuade these bold visionaries to lean West rather than East… By supporting their anti-terrorism platforms abroad, America enhances its anti-terrorism policies at home.”

Mr. Barrack further sought to persuade America’s new policymakers, in line with Emirati thinking, that the threat posed by political Islam emanated not only from Iran’s clerical regime and its asymmetric defence and security policies but also from the Brotherhood and Tukey’s Islamist government. He echoed Emirati promotion of Saudi Arabia after the rise of Mohammed bin Salman as the most effective bulwark against political Islam.

“It is impossible for the US to move against any hostile Islamic group anywhere in the world without Saudi support…. The confused notion that Saudi Arabia is synonymous with radical Islam is falsely based on the Western notion that ‘one size fits all,’ Mr. Barrack asserted.

The Trump administration’s refusal to exempt the Brotherhood from its embrace of Emirati policy was the likely result of differences within both the US government and the Muslim world. Analysts suggest that some in the administration feared that designating the Brotherhood would empower the more rabidly Islamophobic elements in Mr. Trump’s support base.

Administration officials also recognized that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt constituted a minority, albeit a powerful minority, in the Muslim world that was on the warpath against the Brotherhood.

Elsewhere, Brotherhood affiliates were part of the political structure by either participating in government or constituting part of the legal opposition in countries like Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Indonesia.

The affiliates have at times supported US policies or worked closely with US allies like in the case of Yemen’s Al Islah that is aligned with Saudi-backed forces.

In contrast to UAE efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood is crushed at the risk of fueling Islamophobia, Nahdlatul Ulama, one of, if not the world’s largest Muslim organization which shares the Emirates’ rejection of political Islam and the Brotherhood, has opted to fight the Brotherhood’s local Indonesian affiliate politically within a democratic framework rather than by resorting to coercive tactics.

Nahdlatul Ulama prides itself on having significantly diminished the prospects of Indonesia’s Brotherhood affiliate, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), since the 2009 presidential election. The group at the time successfully drove a wedge between then-President Susilo Yudhoyono, and the PKS, his coalition partner since the 2004 election that brought him to power. In doing so, it persuaded Mr. Yudhoyono to reject a PKS candidate as vice president in the second term of his presidency.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s manoeuvring included the publication of a book asserting that the PKS had not shed its links to militancy. The party has since failed to win even half of its peak 38 seats in parliament garnered in the 2004 election.

“Publication of ‘The Illusion of an Islamic State: The Expansion of Transnational Islamist Movements to Indonesia’ had a considerable impact on domestic policy. It primarily contributed to neutralizing one candidate’s bid for vice president in the 2009 national election campaign, who had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said militancy expert Magnus Ranstorp.

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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