When history is written, then President Trump’s decision on 8th May to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran may well be seen as a historic turning point.
In fact the origins of President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance against Iran may lie in his ‘Energy Week’ speech on June 29 which saw a historic change in U.S. foreign policy doctrine and language, when the world heard from President Trump for the first time in addition to America First, a new U.S. rhetoric of Energy Dominance.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, May 21, threatened to place “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran if its government doesn’t comply with Trump Administration policies. He called for a new nuclear agreement with Iran following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. He said that the Trump administration prefers for it to be a treaty that is ratified by the U.S. Congress.
In response, Iran’s foreign minister criticized the U.S. secretary of state, tweeting that he saw U.S. diplomacy as a “sham” that was “imprisoned by delusions & failed policies.” Minister Zarif wrote: “It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards.”
An Iranian VIP delegation participated at the pre-eminent European annual Flame natural gas conference in Amsterdam last week, during which speakers and delegates from Mediterranean Sea to Iran, Korea to Kazakhstan (Caspian Sea) and the U.S. to Russia discussed gas market and infrastructure development while elsewhere, heads of state and diplomats were meeting to address the JCPOA fallout, called for depoliticizing the energy industry.
Energy dominance & America first
I asked Chris Cook from University College London who participated at the Flame as speaker about the U.S. new policy on Iran. He said: “I first analyzed the U.S. Energy Dominance doctrine announced by Trump on June 29, 2017 in an article published on August 2, 2017 and since then this U.S. strategy has become much clearer.”
He added: “ Firstly, the oil price has been re-inflated from around $45/bbl (Brent) & $42/bbl (WTI) to over $80/bbl & $75/bbl respectively as so-called ‘funds’ crowded in, buying over one million barrels of oil futures contracts of 1,000 barrels each. The outcome for China – who historically overtook the U.S. as the greatest global net buyer – is that they are now paying an additional $30/bbl for 8m barrels per day of imports….this represents an astonishing $250m per day or $7.5bn per month to producers, and this massive cost has recently placed China in a trade deficit for the first time.
Secondly, just weeks after Gary Cohn (the architect of Energy Dominance) and Rex Tillerson left office within a week of each other, a fundamental shift in the foundations of global markets took place, on or around April 18, 2018. At this point unprecedented changes took place in the oil market ‘curve’ (forward pricing structure) while oil and the dollar began to rise together, which is extremely unusual. Meanwhile, the currencies of many emerging and developing nations, including Iran, have fallen dramatically against the U.S. dollar.”
Oil prices and U.S. dollar?
Mr. Cook is correct since while historically, crude oil prices have had an inverse relationship with the U.S. dollar the recent trends has seen crude oil prices increasing as the U.S. dollar rallied along with it. In fact, by looking at the U.S. dollar rate against other currencies and the crude oil prices, it can be seen that the rally in crude oil prices over the last year has mostly coincided with a decline in the U.S. dollar. But, over the last six weeks, oil prices and the U.S. dollar are rallying in the same cycle: this coincidence has only occurred 11 times since 1983 and is drawing the attention of market commentators & analysts such as Mr. Cook.
Mr. Cook says: “In my analysis, this sudden shift is a result of a new direct linkage of the dollar to the oil price through opaque Enron-style tripartite ‘prepay’ funding of U.S. shale oil reserves. If I am correct (and I invite your readers to bear witness to my forecast) then when (not if) oil prices fall the U.S. dollar will fall with it.”
He continues: “In that context, I do not expect major consumer nations such as China and India to continue to accept market prices set by producers indefinitely. China launched a new physically delivered Shanghai crude oil contract on 26th March 2018 and has accumulated over 700m barrels of strategic oil reserves in the last three years. If I were in China’s position as the largest buyer of oil in the market, I would switch my purchases to Shanghai; invite producers and traders to sell priced against the benchmark contract I had created; and in the event that producers refused to sell, simply draw upon my reserves until they capitulate.”
Declaring war on Iran?
By what the U.S. foreign minister declared on 21st May there is no doubt that the U.S. Iran strategy is to weaponise the dollar by using access to the dollar clearing system to coerce compliance by any country with U.S. secondary sanctions. The effect was evident at Flame, as Total announced they could not risk sanctions, and would have to pull out of Iran’s South Pars natural gas Phase 11 project unless they receive a U.S. exemption, which U.S. foreign minister announced on May 21 that will not be granted.
Meanwhile, discussions continue at the EU Central Bank level as to how Iran may access the euro clearing system. But European companies operating internationally, particularly those who operate in the U.S., point out that simply obtaining Euro payments and finance would not resolve their problems in relation to U.S. control of a dollar system on which they largely rely, and access to U.S. markets.
Whereas the relationship between Russia and Turkey has long been strategic, Russia’s relationship with Iran has tended to be tactical, due to competition in respect of gas supply where Russia zealously protects its market in Europe. However, the recent evolution of energy markets suggests that this relationship may be changing in important respects from competition to cooperation.
Dr Ali Vakili – who recently retired from Ministry of Petroleum as a senior, highly experienced and influential Iranian energy official – was among the Iranian VIP delegation to Flame and in his first engagement since retiring as Senior Advisor to Petroleum Minister Bijan Zangeneh and Managing Director responsible for fuel efficiency together with his colleague Mahmood Khaghani outlined how Iran’s strategic energy policy has long been to use natural gas to replace petroleum products wherever possible. Statistics show that as Iran’s natural gas production has grown, it has almost entirely been used domestically, with relatively restricted exports to neighboring countries including Turkey, Armenia, and to Iraq.
As documented in the Tehran Times in the past, at a major conference in Ashgabat in December 2014, Mr. Ramazani, former Director at the NIGEC, gave an early insight into Iran’s evolving energy strategy, as he pointed out that it made more economic sense for Turkmenistan to convert gas to power locally and dispatch electricity regionally in a new High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Caspian Energy Grid, than to export gas thousands of kilometers into Europe, as envisaged in the U.S. & EU sponsored Southern Corridor initiative which aimed to displace Russian and Iranian gas supply.
Iran has 3.5 million cars fuelled by compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as fleets of buses and commercial vehicles. Iran has also massively increased domestic use of natural gas instead of naphtha as a petrochemical feedstock. The original Iranian rationale for domestic use of gas was national security (oil product import substitution). However, as Mr. Cook suggests: “With oil prices at current levels it now makes commercial sense for CNG vehicles to displace diesel & gasoline fuelled vehicles. In fact this point was driven home at Flame by VW’s Group Head of Strategy, Jasper Kemmeyer in his plenary presentation on VW’s strategic move into what VW call CNG Mobility.”
America first or energy first?
During a joint presentation at the Flame, Mr. Khaghani and Mr. Cook put this question at the Flame workshop. Mr. Khaghani began by outlining how during decades of high level experience in Iran’s Petroleum Ministry he had developed what became known as Iran’s energy diplomacy in the Caspian region.
In particular, he outlined innovative Iranian energy swaps, such as the Caspian Oil Swap of Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Republic of Azerbaijan’s oil into North Iran for Iranian Oil delivered out of the Persian Gulf. Perhaps his proudest achievements were the supply of gas to Armenia in exchange for power to Iran, and the supply of gas to Nakhchivan which was termed Energy for Peace.
While historically producers of upstream oil and gas compete for sales, Mr. Khaghani and Mr. Cook proposed in respect of downstream heat/cooling, mobility & power that is in the interests of all to cooperate in respect of costs. They brought to the attention of the Flame participants that Western energy infrastructure and commodity markets in oil and gas which are capital intensive are now evolving into smart markets in energy services based on intellectual capital rather than finance capital.
Three weeks earlier in Moscow at the invitation of Russia’s Deputy Energy Minister for Oil & Gas, H.E. Mr. Kirill Molodtsov, and Mr. Cook outlined how generic swaps of gas flow may be combined with issuance of simple credits (GasCoins) by gas producers as financing instruments returnable in payment for gas supplied.
Following an article published in Tehran Times, the GasCoin concept has attracted a great deal of attention in Iran and Mr. Cook during his presentation at the conference in Moscow fleshed out the concept by explaining how such GasCoin instruments may be practically implemented through a Gas Clearing Union (GasClear). As he explained: “This consists of suitable guarantee (Protection & Indemnity/P&I) agreements for mutual assurance of performance, so that gas producers accept each other’s’ credits, and then account to each other, with administration and risk management by a trusted service provider.”
During a conversation he said: “In this way, a GasCoin, if driven by key gas producers such as Iran and Russia through the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) could mobilize the next Energy Fintech wave of financial technology, building on the current flood of unsustainable Blockchain/Coin initiatives.”
Mr. Khaghani and Mr. Chris Cook in their joint presentation at the Flame on 15th May 2018 suggested that “such a GasClear system is complementary to the existing energy commodity market and opens the way for payments through issuance, exchange, return and settlement (‘clearing’) of energy credits. The beauty of energy credits is that they are not bound by any national government currency or unit of account e.g. $ or €.”
Mr. Cook says: “The same GasClear platform may then be used by investors and consumers to invest directly in gas supplies and even gas savings. In this system, the role of banks is transformed from capital intensive middlemen who take credit risk, to a new and smart role as a risk service provider & administrator who manages credit risk and performance.”
Gas first and the European Union?
We saw only recently how important the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline route through the Baltic Sea is to Germany and Russia, and that U.S. resistance to it is based purely upon narrow commercial considerations of export of cheap shale gas. Both Russia and Germany are well aware that even at the height of the Cold War, the USSR reliably supplied gas to Germany who equally reliably paid for it, and it is ironic that the well documented breakdowns in supply via Ukraine involve difficult and often opaque relationships between oligarchs, particularly in Ukraine.
It was also interesting to hear from officials of the EU Commission that the politically motivated Energy Union initiative originated by Donald Tusk as President of the European Council to aggregate EU energy market power to better negotiate with Russia is, in their view, completely un-implementable. However, according to Mr. Cook: “The ongoing market trend from commodity transactions to services applies as much to energy markets as to all others. I believe that there exists an opportunity to create complementary networked Energy Tech financial infrastructure – a Eurasian Energy Clearing Union – in which all regional nations may participate.”
So, Iranian VIP delegation and Caspian Energy Grid founders participated at the Flame were offered the opportunity to lead the creation of smart markets in energy – where credit is accounted in the positive value of energy rather than the negative value of debt. This enables a new pathway – through energy economics rather than dollar economics – to a Transition through Gas to a low carbon economy.
In such an energy credit clearing system, Mr. Cook says: “Banks would no longer create credit (because they are not energy producers) but may manage transparent credit creation by producers. This opens the way for the € unit of account to be fixed against an agreed amount of energy and for the Euro to explicitly follow Denmark onto an energy standard (based on provision of energy as a service).”
He suggested: “In terms of institutions, countries like Iran could create a new Energy Treasury, in which representatives of oil and energy ministries participate in overseeing issuance by energy companies, alongside representatives of Iran’s Central Bank, who could not of course issue energy credits, but whose role would be as an independent monetary authority.”
Chris Cook concluded: “The current trend which sees oil and the dollar rise together may be an anomaly and the usual relationship between oil prices and the U.S. dollar exchange rate against other currencies may shortly resume. But, if as I suspect the U.S. has essentially fixed the dollar to oil then we may expect the oil price to fall as and when U.S. dollar falls.”
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Europe leads the global clean energy transition
An ambitious political agreement on increasing renewable energy use in Europe was reached today between negotiators from the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. Today’s deal means that two out of the 8 legislative proposals in the Clean Energy for All Europeans package (adopted by the European Commission on 30 November 2016) have been already agreed by the co-legislators. On 14 May, the first element of the package, the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, was adopted. Thus, progress and momentum towards completing the Energy Union is well under way and the work started by the Juncker Commission, under the priority “a resilient Energy Union and a forward-looking climate change policy” is delivering its promises.
The new regulatory framework includes a binding renewable energy target for the EU for 2030 of 32% with an upwards revision clause by 2023.Thiswill greatly contribute to the Commission’s political priority as expressed by President Juncker in 2014 for the European Union to become the world number one in renewables. This will allow Europe to keep its leadership role in the fight against climate change, in the clean energy transition and in meeting the goals set by the Paris Agreement. The rules agreed today serve also to create an enabling environment to accelerate public and private investment in innovation and modernisation in all key sectors. We are making this transition to a modern and clean economy taking into account the differences in the energy mix and economic structures across the EU. Beyond updating and strengthening our energy and climate legislation, the EU aims at developing enabling measures that will stimulate investment, create jobs, improve the skills of people, empower and innovate industries and ensure that no citizen, worker or region is left behind in this process.
Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said: “Renewables are good for Europe, and today, Europe is good at renewables. This deal is a hard-won victory in our efforts to unlock the true potential of Europe’s clean energy transition. This new ambition will help us meet our Paris Agreement goals and will translate into more jobs, lower energy bills for consumers and less energy imports. I am particularly pleased with the new European target of 32%. The binding nature of the target will also provide additional certainty to the investors. I now call on the European Parliament and the Council to continue negotiating with the same commitment and complete the rest of the proposals of the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package. This will put us on the right path towards the Long-Term Strategy that the Commission intends to present by the end of this year”.
- Sets a new, binding, renewable energy target for the EU for 2030 of 32%, including a review clause by 2023 for an upward revision of the EU level target.
- Improves the design and stability of support schemes for renewables.
- Delivers real streamlining and reduction of administrative procedures.
- Establishes a clear and stable regulatory framework on self-consumption.
- Increases the level of ambition for the transport and heating/cooling sectors.
- Improves the sustainability of the use of bioenergy.
Following this political agreement, the text of the Directive will have to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Once endorsed by both co-legislators in the coming months, the updated Renewable energy Directive will be published in the Official Journal of the Union and will enter into force 20 days after publication. Member States will have to transpose the new elements of the Directive into national law 18 months after its entry into force.
The Renewable Energy Directive is part and parcel of the implementation of the Juncker Commission priorities to build “a resilient Energy Union and a forward-looking climate change policy”. The Commission wants the EU to lead the clean energy transition. For this reason the EU has committed to cut CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030, while modernising the EU’s economy and delivering on jobs and growth for all European citizens. In doing so, the Commission is guided by three main goals: putting energy efficiency first, achieving global leadership in renewable energies and providing a fair deal for consumers. By boosting renewable energy, which can be produced from a wide variety of sources including wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass, the EU lowers its dependence on imported fossil fuels and makes its energy production more sustainable. The renewable energy industry also drives technological innovation and employment across Europe.
The EU has already adopted a number of measures to foster renewable energy in Europe. They include:
- The EU’s Renewable energy directive from 2009 set a binding target of 20% final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. To achieve this, EU countries have committed to reaching their own national renewables targets. They are also each required to have at least 10% of their transport fuels come from renewable sources by 2020.
- All EU countries have adopted national renewable energy action plans showing what actions they intend to take to meet their renewables targets.
As renewables will continue to play a key role in helping the EU meet its energy needs beyond 2020, Commission presented on 30 November 2016, as part of the Clean Energy for All Europeans, package, its proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive.
A Clean, Secure Future: Reshaping Turkey’s Energy Sector
Turkey has limited fossil-fuel reserves other than coal, but has huge potential in renewable resources, including hydroelectric, solar and wind power, among others. As the demand for energy grows, it has become increasingly important for Turkey to diversify its energy sources and increase national contribution, while also pursuing greater efficiency to manage the growth in demand.
Between 2012 and 2015, The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) provided financing for the energy sector, supporting four renewable-energy development projects and six energy-efficiency projects. The IsDB extended a Financing Facility approach which worked through an implementing partner: The Turkiye Sinai Kalkinma (TSKB, known in English as the Industrial Development Bank of Turkey).
The combined costs of the projects amounted to US$641.2 million of which IsDB provided US$100 million. All ten projects are already proving to be mightily successful with the energy efficient projects having already decreased its greenhouse emissions by 1,006,000 tonnes, surpassing their target of decreasing emissions by 300,000 tonnes.
A New Approach in Islamic Financing
This was the first time IsDB used Restrictive Mudarabah financing. Under this mode of financing, The IsDB provides capital to Mudarib (in this case, TSKB) to invest in business enterprises, as per the agreed criteria. This approach eliminated the need for IsDB to enter into individual financing agreements for each sub-project being financed and gave a lot of freedom to TSKB as the local executing agency.
Two of the hydroelectric dams supported by the facility: Goktas I and Goktas II lie in a valley deep in the mountains north of Adana. The projects combined capacity, once both dams are operational will be 276MW. Additonally a 52KM road, built under the Facility to provide access to these dams has helped to open up the entire region as well as three new bridges crossing the Zamanti River. These have had a significant effect on people living in the area as previously isolated settlements are now connected to larger towns and cities. This means that people can access hospitals, schools and other services more quickly. The construction company: Bereket Enerji responsible for the dams created over 450 jobs during the construction phase of the project and this almost doubled during peak construction times. Mr Ahmet Yilmaz, from Boztahta Village, who works as a general foreman spoke of the benefits of the project. “Previously people were mostly goat herders or seasonal workers in a nearby chrome mine. But the salaries in construction are much higher”.
Solar Panel Projects
The facility has also supported smaller projects that allow companies to generate their own electricity. One beneficiary was Prokon, an engineering manufacturing company located just outside Ankara. In March 2013, Prokon installed 2,040 solar panels on the roof of its workshop. Solar power has huge potential in Turkey especially as the panels generate around 75-95 MW during the peak months of July and August. Between April 2013 and February 2016, Prokon generated around 1,835 MWh from the panels in total. The process has been so successful that Prokon now sells energy back to the National Grid. Prokon have also pursued development of other solar powered equipment such as solar-tracking systems that enable panels to rotate and ‘follow’ the sun thereby generating more power.
Re-using Heat to Reduce Costs
Batisoke, Cimento, a cement company that installed a waste heat recovery system at its plant near Aydin is an example of the country managing its growing demand for energy. This system recycles the heat produced by the clinker-producing process to generate electricity. The successful installation means that the system now provides a significant chunk of the plant’s electricity needs. By reducing costs, the company has become a national energy competitor.
Cheaper, More Efficient Steel Production
The facility has also supported projects in the steel sector. Turkey was the world’s eighth-largest steel-producing nation in 2014 (with around 34 million tonnes). One company taking the lead is Koc Celik, who installed an oxygen-burning system at its plant in Osmaniye. The system increases the amount of oxygen entering the furnace during the melting process making the chemical energy processes involved more efficient. Electricity use has fallen from around 400 kilowatt hours (kWH) per tonne to less than 340(kWH) and the project itself provided 25 new jobs for local people.
The ten projects in the facility have had a huge combined impact. Together, the renewable-energy projects have a capacity of 370 MW and have made significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These changes are making companies involved more internationally competitive while contributing towards global efforts to fight climate change. If future projects can build on this success, Turkey can look forward to a cleaner, more secure and efficient energy future.
Greece: Sky Is the Limit to Develop Energy Resources at Regional and National Levels
Greece has emerged as a key gas player in the national and East Mediterranean levels. In the regional setting, the acquisition of Israel’s Karish and Tanin offshore gas fields by a Greek company, Energean Oil & Gas, at the price of $148 million presents a milestone. The reason lies in that the approval of the Field Development Plan by the Israeli authorities and the securing of sales agreements guarantee the execution of the $1.3 billion investment plan to fully develop the two fields. The contract for the Karish field’s development foresees drilling in three wells in the first quarter of 2019, and the first gas is expected to flow in 2021. Interestingly, Energean Oil & Gas has secured sales agreements of more than 3 bcm of gas annually and has raised almost $1.2 billion of loans to develop the Karish and Tanin fields.
The Greek energy company has notably worked with arranger Morgan Stanley to secure funding from banks and institutional investors; the capital will finance a Floating Production Storage and Offloading Unit to extract natural gas from the two fields, and a pipeline that will transport gas to Israel.
Thanks to the acquisition of Israeli fields by Greek Energean Oil & Gas, Israel’s energy market is no longer dominated by a monopoly. The Greek energy company’s presence in the Israeli energy setting is accelerated by the granting of five new exploration licenses as result of Israel’s first offshore licensing round that ended in November 2017. The awarded licenses comprise blocks 12, 21, 22, 23 and 31 thus raising the total number of licenses held by Eneregan Oil & Gas to thirteen, providing upside potential for future growth and complementing the company’s East Mediterranean portfolio.
In addition to the Greek penetration of the East Mediterranean energy landscape, Athens also seeks to develop its own gas fields in the Ionian Sea and South of Crete. The Greek Ministry of Energy signed a contract with French Total’s JV ,Italian Edison and Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE) securing offshore Block 2, located west of the island of Corfu, as an outcome of the 2014 International Licensing Round. Additional bids that are expected to be evaluated include HELPE with Edison that have established a 50-50 partnership for a Gulf of Patras block; HELPE’s consortium with Total and Exxon Mobil that each hold 40 percent stakes for two offshore blocks south and southwest of Crete; and, HELPE with Spain’s Repsol that each holds 50 percent stakes in an offer submitted for another Ionian Sea block.
Greece envisions reducing dependence on energy imports and increasing public finances through investment incentives and new legislation for onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and production (E&P). Athens’ interest in the reform of the legal and institutional framework for the safety in offshore exploration and exploitation, including environmental rules, is evidenced in the July 2016 enactment of law 4409 by the Greek parliament that transposed the European Directive 2013/30/EE into national law. Despite the fact that oil and gas exploration and production is a prime strategy for Greece’s economic development, the Greek government has delayed the approval of licenses and permits not only for the onshore licensing round of areas in Southern and Western Greece, but also the second international licensing round that expired in July 2014. This stalling has impeded the opening of new licensing rounds.
No doubt that, there are certain preconditions for Greece to become an energy producer, namely delineation of the Greek EEZ with neighboring countries; a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem; involvement of foreign energy companies in exploration and production activities as means to help Athens realize the potential of its hydrocarbon resources; and, the alleviation of financial risks by the EU through project finance from the European Investment Bank. On grounds of investment decisions based on commercial viability, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development previously funded with two subordinated loans valued at 95 million dollars the Greek Energean Oil & Gas to expand exploration activities in the Greek Prinos field with fifteen new drills scheduled for 2015-2017. That said, there cent decision by Energean Oil & Gasto farm out a 60% interest to Spain’s Repsol for its onshore blocks in Western Greece was driven by the Spanish company’s expertise in conducting a geophysics campaign to process 400km during 2019 that can lead to new discoveries.
In the existence of significant exploitable hydrocarbons, Greece will get tangible benefits for the Greek national economy and the local Greek communities. But to enhance the energy exploration and development process at the national level, Greece should motivate foreign companies to get involved in oil and gas exploration and production activities and partnerships in the country as a means of helping Greek energy companies build knowledge and capacity. The launching of new tenders for exploration and production of hydrocarbons will undoubtedly provide new opportunities for domestic and international companies to work together to create jobs in Greece. This presupposes the enhancement of a stable and secure environment for doing business, i.e. granting licenses and permits on time, transparency in tenders, and evaluation of bids processes. Also critical is the advancement of plans to supply American liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the Balkans, through the Greek Revithoussa LNG Terminal that not only will establish the US as an alternative source of supply but will also bolster Greece’s geostrategic stand.
At regional levels, Greece should enhance cooperation with Israel on joint development of regional infrastructure for the transportation and marketing of gas, like the East Mediterranean pipeline as a potential route for Israeli gas to Europe, via Cyprus, Crete, continental Greece and Italy. Equal important is the speeding up of plans for the construction of the Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) near Alexandroupolis in Northern Greece, as it will provide an additional entry point for LNG to the Balkans and Europe.
Unquestionably, Greece is a uniquely positioned country that can transport energy from the East Mediterranean to Europe and a critical player in developing indigenous and regional gas fields. For the country to advance its multiple energy roles, sky is the limit.
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