Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Sensemaker: Don’t give up

Sensemaker: Don’t give up

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Jes Staley stood down as CEO of Barclays after two reviews of his account of dealings with the billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein (more below). 
  • Greta Thunberg made it to Glasgow by train despite storms that derailed others’ journeys, and invited city rubbish collectors to join her in a climate protest on Friday.
  • Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said the UK was “not going to roll over” in a dispute with France over fishing rights that France says is Britain’s to resolve.

Don’t give up

The readout from Rome was miserable: no new promises from any of the big G20 polluters except to stop funding new coal power abroad. At home, they’ll go on burning it. The scenes en route to Glasgow were chaotic: wild storms, cancelled trains, hundreds of Cop delegates and (hyperventilating) reporters renting cars or flying in instead. But there are reasons to believe the world could still turn a corner on climate in November 2021.

  • The G20 was never the forum at which the goal of “keeping 1.5 alive” was to be met. That’s Cop’s job, and 11 days are a long time in climate politics.
  • Agreeing a path to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees may prove impossible, but that need not mean failure. As the climate activist Greta Thunberg told the BBC yesterday, if 1.5 is out of reach, 1.6 becomes the target. It’s better than 1.7.
  • Beyond Cop, things are changing. The most important and least heralded news of the weekend was the G20’s confirmation that 136 nations will cooperate to enforce a 15 per cent minimum worldwide corporate tax rate to squeeze tax havens out of business. 

Corporate tax and climate. The two aren’t directly linked, but the indirect link is key: the 15 per cent scheme was dreamed up and will be administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose secretary-general, Mathias Cormann, now wants to turn his attention to carbon pricing. This is significant:

  • Carbon prices that reflect CO2 emissions’ real cost are the single most valuable innovation Cop or any climate initiative could achieve. They need to be “high and harmonised” as Yale’s William Nordhaus puts it. That would penalise polluters and incentivise anything that shrinks the global carbon footprint, from efficiencies to burying CO2 underground. But this needs global governance of the kind the UN has never been able to provide.
  • Maybe the OECD could provide it. It’s not a united world government of the kind that scares the US. It’s more technocratic than bureaucratic. It has 38 member states but global reach, as the 15 per cent tax scheme shows. And it feels it’s on a roll: “The tax agreement represents a major victory for multilateralism, which we should all seek to replicate in responding to another key global challenge – climate change,” Cormann said yesterday. 
  • Cormann is no tree-hugger. He’s a Belgian-born naturalised Australian who before moving to the OECD served as a minister in the Scott Morrison government that Cop has put on the international naughty step for refusing to abandon coal. If anyone can persuade India, China, Indonesia and Australia to get behind high, harmonised carbon prices, it could be Cormann. 

Cormann has a plan. He would soften proposed carbon-based EU border tariffs by taking into account non-EU exporters’ policies as well as carbon prices. So for example, if China undertook to phase out coal, that would lower or remove the tariffs it paid on goods exported to the EU even if it hadn’t explicitly mandated a high carbon price in the form of, say, carbon taxes.

Boris Johnson doesn’t. He’s in pleading mode. It’s one minute to midnight in climate terms, he’ll tell the world roughly as this newsletter reaches you. He still wants China, Russia, India and the US to help make Cop26 fly but the first two haven’t sent their leaders, India hasn’t updated its nationally determined contribution to the Paris agreement, and Biden’s $555 billion climate plan – though ambitious and potentially transformative – is still at the mercy of Congress. 

Greta is the only real rock star in Glasgow (she had to be protected from her own fans by a phalanx of police when she stepped off her train) but stand by for updates on Cormann and carbon pricing. 

Editorial note: for the next ten days we’ll be publishing a Net Zero Sensemaker special to guide you through Cop26. The first one lands tomorrow morning. 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Macron v the world
Not without justification, Emmanuel Macron is going through a period of thinking everyone is lying to him. Asked at the G20 if he thought Australia’s prime minister had lied to him about a £48 billion submarine deal with France ripped up to pave the way for a new one with the US, he said: “I don’t think, I know.” At the same summit he implicitly accused Boris Johnson of lying about Northern Ireland – the UK had to be honest about the protocol it signed to keep trade flowing to the province after Brexit, he said – and fishing: after a 25-minute bilateral meeting with Johnson on the escalating English Channel trawler war, his spokesperson sought icily to correct the impression given by Number Ten that the Brits had left the ball in France’s court. “If they say something else to journalists, that’s their business. I am telling you the facts.” And then there was Biden, who said the US had been “clumsy” over the sub deal. Honest to God, Biden added, he had no idea the French hadn’t been told what was happening months ahead of time. This is what an American president sounds like when his people have been caught… lying. 

Note on trawlers: the British line is that France needs to withdraw unreasonable threats to impound trawlers and cut power to the Channel Islands. The French line is that the UK has been unreasonably withholding licences for French trawlers to fish in UK waters. One party seems to be genuinely exasperated in this row. The other is pretending to be.

New things technology, science, engineering

Lying flat in China
China is trying to train up 40 million more skilled workers by 2025 as part of Xi Jinping’s scheme to move the country up the global value chain – i.e. to earn more for the work it does. But there’s a problem: a growing number of twenty somethings want no part of it. They’re the lie-flat generation, who’d rather stay with mum and dad and the telly than work “996” (nine to nine, six days a week). And who can blame them? As lie-flat specialist Fan Yuxuan tells the South China Morning Post, the 996-ers can work all hours for 10,000 yuan a month and still have no chance of buying their own place, while he can earn two thirds as much doing low-intensity work that doesn’t make him feel like a cog in a machine (in this case, working at an e-cigarette shop). Only about a third of China’s 200 million skilled workers are counted as “highly skilled”. Xi wants to boost that share by making vocational education more glamorous and turning China into a giant Germany. Oh yes.

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

Russia’s paid holiday
Russia is on a Covid holiday. That is not a break from Covid, unfortunately, but a national week-long paid holiday from last Saturday to next, ordered by Putin to try suppress infection levels currently running at around 40,000 a day, which is the most Russia has seen at any point in the pandemic. Part of the problem is a low 38 per cent vaccination rate. Another part is Russia’s reliance on its own Sputnik V vaccine, which hasn’t won regulatory approval in the US or EU. This has not enhanced its reputation among the vaccine-hesitant back home. Putin jumped on a video call to the G20 to express his anger about “dishonest competition” from other member states. Translation: stop dissing Sputnik

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Big biomass
Chinese and Russian reforestation and afforestation programmes have been sequestering 180 megatonnes of CO2 between them for the past decade, while Brazilian and Bolivian jungles have been losing 60 megatonnes a year on average, according to data made available by a new French consortium. The data comes from a European satellite that estimates the carbon content of big (40 square km) parcels of biomass from space. It indicates that American forests have also been storing more carbon than they’ve lost since 2011, and that the abandonment of old Russian collective farms north of the Caucasus and west of the Volga has been especially significant in boosting biomass volume. Amazing what you can see from space.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Staley out
Jes Staley stepped down as Barclays CEO with immediate effect this morning at the bank’s request, after its board saw the preliminary findings of a two-year investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority of his ties to the convicted billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Staley had previously said his relationship with Epstein – a former client from his time at JP Morgan – had faded around 2013. But the FCA found that he’d had a four-hour lunch with Epstein on Epstein’s private Caribbean island in 2015 shortly before taking the top job at Barclays. Staley had also visited Epstein in Florida in 2009 while the billionaire was serving a light sentence for child sex offences that allowed him to continue his work provided he returned to custody at night. Epstein died in a New York jail cell, apparently from suicide, in 2019. His associates haven’t had much peace since.

The week ahead


1/11 – Boris Johnson gives keynote speech at Cop26; court hearing for Met Police officer charged with rape; all remaining countries removed from UK red list, 2/11 – Boris Johnson has breakfast at Cop with first ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 3/11 – MPs vote on Commons report on Owen Paterson, politician facing suspension over lobbying accusations; hearing takes place in case brought against Prince Andrew by Virginia Giuffre over alleged sexual abuse, 4/11 – culture secretary Nadine Dorries speaks at select committee session on Draft Online Safety Bill; sentencing for Claudia Webbe, MP guilty of harassment, 5/11 – court hearing for Ali Harbi Ali, charged with murder of MP Sir David Amess; Greta Thunberg takes part in Cop 26 march; Bonfire Night held in UK and elsewhere in Commonwealth


1/11 – Hong Kong third-quarter GDP; Guantanamo pre-trial hearings begin for alleged 9/11 co-conspirators; South Africa municipal elections, 2/11 – New York mayoral election; BP and Pfizer issue third-quarter results; opening hearing of People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists at the Hague, 3/11 – Forbes lists wealthiest people in China; hearing for seven high school students charged under Hong Kong security law, 4/11 – Diwali marks Hindu New Year; Nasa holds briefing ahead of mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, 5/11 – Abba release new album Voyage; Joe Biden attends memorial service for former US secretary of state Colin Powell, 6/11 – Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, 7/11 – Nicaragua general election

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell

Xavier Greenwood

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images