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Sensemaker: Cop flop?

Sensemaker: Cop flop?

Friday 15 October 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • A federal US appeals court upheld the new Texas law that effectively bans abortion from six weeks including in cases of rape and incest, despite a Department of Justice lawsuit that seeks to strike it down. 
  • Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, secured the French Socialists’ nomination for next year’s presidential election.
  • Six people died and dozens were injured when shots were fired on a protest in Beirut against the judge investigating last year’s port explosion.

Cop flop?

It now looks certain that Xi Jinping won’t come to Glasgow for Cop26. The leader of the world’s biggest polluter and second-biggest economy won’t be at the conference billed as the last best hope for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, even though the US president will. Expectations are being managed down on all sides. The mood in the UK government’s Cop unit is gloomy when it should be giddy. Is the world giving up on the Cop process?

Steady on. In news terms we’re in the equivalent of that pre-Olympics phase when the easy stories are about what’s going wrong because participants are in the prep tunnel. There are 17 days to go. Anything could happen. That said the glide slope to Glasgow looks bumpy:

  • Xi’s absence makes it less likely China will choose the occasion to publish an ambitious new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). It needs to do this to play its part in controlling climate change. If it doesn’t, the lift gets that much heavier for everyone else. “The truth is that unless China comes with new commitments we’re not going to be able to keep 1.5 degrees alive,” a UK government source tells the Times, which has the scoop
  • John Kerry isn’t holding his breath. The US climate envoy told the AP yesterday “we’ve got to be honest” about the gap between emissions cuts promised and needed. He suggested it was bridgeable but admitted there was a lot to “still come across the transom”. Translation: it’s time for the big polluters to have a big change of heart.
  • Dream on. Half the G20 countries, including Saudi Arabia as well as China, still haven’t filed the updated NDCs they promised in Paris six years ago, even though the deadline was 30 July. 
  • We hear anecdotally that while some big corporates are still aiming to make a splash at Glasgow, others are bailing on it because they’re not clear about the agenda or where the host government thinks they fit into it, and haven’t actually been invited.

It doesn’t help that ScotRail workers plan to be on strike throughout the conference; or that a Cop26 registration website crashed when it opened this week; or that roadworks and lane closures for VIPs threaten gridlock on the M8 motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the Queen and Biden will be staying. But at least Her Maj and Greta Thunberg have been getting similar, sensible briefings.

The Queen was caught on an open mic at the opening of the Welsh parliament, complaining of countries not coming to Cop how irritating it was “when they talk, but they don’t do”. Which is a bit like Thunberg’s “blah, blah, blah” at the UN last month. Bang on. Action this day.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Moscow eats
Nine Moscow restaurants won Michelin stars in the Michelin Guide’s first foray into Russia. Two of them won two and 69 were recommended. Moscow’s mayor welcomed the “moral support” in the midst of a pandemic whose death rate is only now beginning to slacken. The guide’s international director said he was surprised by the abundance of seafood and especially caviar, which is barely affordable elsewhere. The surprise is that it’s taken Michelin so long to wake up to an unarguably positive transformation in Russian life since Soviet times. Food that used to be distributed by five-year planners if at all is everywhere and excellent. For those whose budgets don’t stretch to restaurants, supermarkets are full and corner shops open all night. For anyone seeking a reason popular protest against Putin isn’t more widespread, this might be it.


New things technology, science, engineering

Stop self-serving
Senators from both main US parties are backing a bill to stop tech firms steering users towards their own products ($) as the price of access to their platforms. This is not just about Amazon nudging you into buying an Alexa speaker. It’s about big tech purloining and abusing data from little tech in order to compete unfairly, and Google tweaking search results to favour Google’s products over others’. A similar bill passed in the lower House earlier this year, so legislation is likely. It’s not hard to argue against, as the giants will: if you build an online platform, who really has the right to stop you running it as you wish, especially when access is free and users always have the option of simply logging off? To which the answer is no one – unless at the same time you want to absolve yourself of all responsibility for the content your users upload. For now the platforms are protected from legal action over that content in the US by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which Congress wants to repeal. Section 230 will be the focus of the real fight.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

LatFlo rules
The cheap, quick Covid tests that were initially criticised as too unreliable to be much use are more accurate than first thought and will soon ease access to the UK for overseas visitors. Lateral flow tests need a few drops of buffer solution after your swab’s been dipped in it, and give results in about 20 minutes. A University College London study finds they detect infection 80 per cent of the time, and in 90 per cent of highly infectious cases. There is still a risk of false positives but any positives can be checked by PCR tests done in a lab. In the meantime the UCL guidance is to trust your lateral flows, and the UK government has taken it to heart. From 24 October a negative lateral flow is all visitors will need to show after arriving from a non-red list country. They will have to buy the test from a private provider, though. One question: why?


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Blue comforter
William Shatner, formerly of Star Trek, looked down on earth from the edge of space on Wednesday and choked up. “The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter,” he said after flying to an altitude of 100 km in Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket, aged 90. As guest of a billionaire who wants to colonise the cosmos he wasn’t entirely on message. The blue below was comfort, he repeated. The black above: “Is that death? Is that the way death is?” But in terms of relatability and gratitude he was the full package. And as the latest spacefarer to see the home planet in a new and affectionate light he’ll be pleased to know that France is leading the way to free the biosphere of plastic waste. From January single use plastic packaging for 30 types of fruit and veg will be banned from French shops. By 2026 all produce including raspberries will be covered by the law, which should save a billion pieces of plastic in year one alone. (The sun is still expected to consume the earth in fire in five billion years so Bezos’s mission remains important.)


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Gutted papers
The Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News and nearly 200 other American newspapers have something in common that most would rather they didn’t. They’ve been bought – and gutted, the Atlantic says – by a secretive hedge fund run by “a reclusive Palm Beach septuagenarian” and his 41 year-old protégé who “would be unrecognizable in most of the newsrooms he owns”. It’s easy to romanticise newspapers of old, this piece acknowledges, but it’s hard not to weep for the Tribune, which used to be America’s second-biggest paper by circulation and is now crammed into a space “the size of a Chipotle” next to its print plant on the outskirts of the city. For those who’ve not yet had the pleasure of a Chipotle, it’s a Mexican-themed fast food chain whose branches are… not big. The hedge fund is called Alden Global Capital. Its co-founders are Randall Smith and Heath Freeman. It’s always worth remembering there’s more than one villain in the upending of the American media landscape.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Produced and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images