The Risk of Nuclear War is Increasing

A new simulation depicts the consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange. Credit: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Sep 30 2019 – Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

Today, a new generation is mobilizing to demand dramatic action to address another existential threat: the human-induced climate emergency. The scientific consensus is that climate change causes and impacts are increasing, and little more than a decade is left to take the bold steps necessary to cut global carbon emissions in half and reverse the slide toward catastrophe.

The disarmament movement has achieved success in reducing nuclear dangers before, but there is no room for complacency. The nuclear threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is growing. The risk of nuclear war is increasing.

Just as dramatic action is needed to avoid climate change catastrophe, immediate and decisive action is required to counter the growing threat of nuclear war before it is too late.

A qualitative global nuclear arms race is now underway. The world’s nine nuclear-armed actors are collectively squandering hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and improve their arsenals. Tensions between nuclear-armed states are on the rise. Key treaties are under threat.

With the loss of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, the only remaining treaty verifiably limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in less than 17 months.

Washington and Moscow are pursuing the development of destabilizing types of weapons, including new lower-yield, “more usable” nuclear weapons. Each side still clings to Cold War-era nuclear launch-under-attack postures that increase the risk of miscalculation.

The use of nuclear weapons—even on a so-called “limited” scale—creates the potential for global catastrophe. A new simulation developed by scientists at Princeton University estimates that if, in a U.S.-Russian confrontation in the Baltics, one side resorts to the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons and the other responds, their current war plans could lead to an escalatory exchange involving 1,700 nuclear detonations against military and civilian targets.

Within five hours, nearly 100 million people would be killed or injured.

Many more people would suffer and die in the weeks and months afterward. A new study of the longer-term climatic effects of a large-scale U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange estimates that the resulting fallout and fires would inject 150 million metric tons of soot and smoke into the earth’s upper atmosphere within two weeks, resulting in a drop in global temperatures of 9 degrees Celsius and a 30 percent drop in precipitation within 12 months.

The resulting nuclear winter would wreak havoc on food production and lead to global famine.

Effective policies to address the nuclear threat must begin with the understanding that the only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step in this direction, but it is not an all-in-one solution to reduce today’s nuclear dangers.
Leading nuclear and non-nuclear states need to take overdue, common-sense steps necessary to halt and reverse the arms race, reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, eliminate the most destabilizing types of weapons, and create the conditions for nuclear disarmament.

To start, all nuclear-armed states should reaffirm the 1985 pledge made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The Kremlin has recently proposed that U.S. and Russian leaders reissue a joint statement along these lines, but Washington has demurred.

Nuclear-armed states should agree to adopt policies that reduce nuclear risks, such as no first use of nuclear weapons. Given the risks of escalation, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

Washington and Moscow also should extend New START by five years as allowed by the treaty and immediately begin talks on a follow-on deal to set lower limits on all types of nuclear weaponry, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons; a new agreement dealing with ground-launched, intermediate-range systems; and new restrictions on destabilizing missile defense deployments and long-range hypersonic weapons.

Further U.S.-Russian progress on disarmament would pressure the other nuclear actors, including China, to agree to freeze the overall size of their smaller but still deadly nuclear arsenals and agree to joint nuclear risk-reduction measures, such as ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and join talks on nuclear disarmament.

The catastrophic consequences of failure on climate change and nuclear weapons are well documented, the steps necessary to mitigate the risks are well known, and the public demand for action is powerful. But the political will to take action is weak.

To give future generations the chance to eliminate the nuclear danger, our generation must act decisively to reduce the threat of nuclear war and put us back on the path to global zero.

Right-Wing Politicians Fear “Invasion” of Europe & US by Migrants and Refugees

Credit: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNOHCR)

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2019 – The United Nations commemorated its annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR) on September 29 —- this time amidst rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and widespread xenophobia.

The right-wing populist attacks have come mostly from politicians and political leaders primarily in Europe, the United States and Australia.

“Those who do not put clear limits on migration will soon start to feel like strangers in their own land,” Austria’s former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, was quoted as saying.

Hungary’s hard-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has proclaimed his intention to protect Europe from “a Muslim invasion” says “in the world today, there are basically two types of leaders: globalists and patriots” –- a sentiment strongly asserted by US President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly September 24.

And as a follow-up, the Trump administration announced September 26 that the US will accept only about 18,000 refugees, out of an anticipated 368,000 claims, in 2020: down from the current limit of 30,000 and a fraction of the 110,000 the Obama administration allowed in 2016.

“At the core of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions made on reality, not wishes, and to drive optional outcomes based on concrete facts”, the US State Department said in its official announcement last week.

In France, and in several other European countries, there are fears of a “grand replacement” of the country’s original “white population” with newer arrivals, mostly from conflict ridden nations in Africa and the Middle East.

These fears have been vociferously reinforced by hard right politicians not only in the US, Hungary and Austria but also in Italy, UK, Poland, France, Sweden and Australia.

Germany was the only country in Europe to admit about one million refugees by the end of 2018, a decision that had heavy political costs for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a report released September 19, the United Nations said the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010.

Currently, international migrants comprise 3.5 per cent of the global population, compared to 2.8 per cent in the year 2000.

According to the report, titled International Migrant Stock 2019, a dataset released by the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in 2019, regionally, Europe hosts the largest number of international migrants (82 million), followed by Northern America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).

At the country level, about half of all international migrants reside in just 10 countries, with the United States of America hosting the largest number of international migrants (51 million), equal to about 19 per cent of the world’s total.

Germany and Saudi Arabia host the second and third largest numbers of migrants (13 million each), followed by the Russian Federation (12 million), the United Kingdom (10 million), the United Arab Emirates (9 million), France, Canada and Australia (around 8 million each) and Italy (6 million).

Meanwhile the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says so far this year, over 63,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea–almost 30,000, or almost half of the yearly total number of people have arrived in the past nine weeks.

About four out of five migrants or refugees enter Europe through Greece or Spain, with others arriving mostly in Italy, Malta or Cyprus.

The IOM has also launched five campaigns to prevent the risks of irregular migration and to encourage informed decision-making among young Central American migrants.

The campaigns are taking place in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Brandon Wu, Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid USA, told IPS: “Certainly, we expect migration trends to continue increasing.”

Instead of addressing the root causes of migration, he pointed out, governments are largely ignoring them.

“We are not investing in solutions to the climate crisis, either in terms of reducing emissions or supporting communities to adapt to climate impacts. We are not investing in food security or to support rural livelihoods”, he noted.

Wu said governments like the U.S. are not changing harmful foreign policies that are driving conflict and persecution.

“A deterrent strategy of persecuting migrants after they have already left their homes can only go so far – to reverse the trend of increasing migration, we have to address the reasons that people move, and no governments are truly tackling these issues at the right scale,” he declared.

He said the strategy used by Europe and U.S. to expand its borders outwards for the purposes of keeping migrants at arms’ length is fundamentally flawed.

“It’s a temporary solution at best, especially in the case of the U.S. which is now relying on terribly politically unstable countries like Honduras or El Salvador to absorb asylum seekers.”

The policy solutions that would actually best serve to protect the rights of migrants would be a combination of welcoming them into recipient countries and providing them the same social services afforded to citizens, and shifting policies (including foreign policy, foreign assistance, climate policy and more) to address the reasons why people are migrating in the first place, declared Wu.

Credit United Nations

Singling out the vulnerabilities of women in the refugee crisis, Jacqui Hunt, Director of Equality Now’s Europe and Eurasia Office, told IPS pre-existing sex inequalities mean that women and girls already face multifaceted disadvantages and this is compounded by other factors such as poverty, ethnic or cultural background, disability, and age.

Women generally have fewer assets to rely upon, lower levels of education, and are often absent from decision-making.

Also compounding their vulnerability are legal inequalities such as sex discriminatory citizenship rights, said Hunt, who has spearheaded several of Equality Now’s successful campaigns, including for the creation of a UN Working Group to focus on ending discrimination against women in law and in practice..

When people flee from conflict or natural disasters, they lose their home, livelihood and social network. Families that previously might have been able to afford to feed and educate several children may resort to marrying off their daughters in exchange for a dowry or simply because it means there is one less person to provide for, she pointed out.

Hunt said refugees and asylum seekers are often forced to live in impoverished and desperate conditions with limited choices, placing women and girls at greater risk of sexual assault, exploitation and trafficking.

“The international community needs to address the underlying sex discrimination faced by women and girls and how this also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls’ migration. It should position this dimension at the centre of policy discussions and implementation.”

This, she said, requires a gender responsive approach that involves women in all levels of decision making. Governments must strengthen their commitments to take action and be held accountable for their commitments and legal protections.

The Sustainable Development Goals and other international standards and objectives can help guide the way, she declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Watchdog Pushes U.S. to Publish ‘Duty to Warn’ Khashoggi Files

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The CPJ wants to know if they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi. Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2019 – A media watchdog has asked United States intelligence agencies to reveal whether they knew about an assassination plot against Jamal Khashoggi and failed to warn the Saudi journalist he was in mortal danger.

A legal brief, filed in a Washington DC district court by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), comes almost exactly one year after a Saudi hit squad butchered the renegade writer inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

CPJ’s advocacy manager Michael DeDora told IPS that his lawsuit against the U.S. government “asks a simple question: did the intelligence community know of yet fail to warn Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life?”

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist, who was once a royal Saudi insider and had grown critical of the regime, was reportedly lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in an elaborate and brutal plot to silence him.

Khashoggi was allegedly killed, dismembered and removed from the building; his remains were never found. The CIA reportedly assessed that crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, had ordered the operation.

The CPJ seeks disclosure of files under the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which demand officials alert folks in imminent danger. The brief, filed Thursday, follows the Trump administration’s rejection of a previous CPJ disclosure request.

“Nearly one year after Khashoggi’s murder, disclosure of these documents would provide transparency and help efforts to secure accountability,” DeDora told IPS in an email.

“But this lawsuit has broader implications: journalists around the world should have the security of knowing that the U.S. will not ignore threats to their lives.” 

Khashoggi’s assassination sparked global outrage, blighted MBS’ global standing and undercut his ambitions to improve the kingdom’s poor human rights record and diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. 

Saudi officials, who initially said Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, now say he was killed in a rogue operation that did not involve the prince. A domestic Saudi trial of 11 suspects is widely viewed as a sham.

Speaking with IPS among a small group of journalists in New York this month, Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s former fiancée, explained how she was saddened by the lack of global pressure on Riyadh to come clean about the affair.

MBS has not visited Europe or the U.S. since the murder. While the prince was briefly shunned by foreign leaders, Riyadh’s long-standing diplomatic support from the U.S., Britain and others has largely resumed.

“This silence and inertia created huge disappointment on my side,” said Cengiz. 

“Countries could have demonstrated a more honourable attitude instead of remaining silent, particularly the United Nations, the European Union and the five members of the U.N. Security Council.”

Cengiz was joined at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly by Agnes Callamard, the U.N. rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who investigated the killing and concluded it was a “deliberate, premeditated execution,” and called for MBS and other officials to be probed.

Callamard, a French academic, said she knew that achieving justice for Khashoggi’s murder would be an uphill struggle, given Riyadh’s deep pockets, clout in the world energy markets and powerful friends in Washington, London and elsewhere.

“This single year [since Khashoggi’s death] is just the first phase in our journey for accountability and justice. And that means that it will demand and deserve patience, resilience, and time,” said Callamard.

“Early on, I could see that justice for Jamal Khashoggi would have to be found beyond the usual path and beyond our usual understanding of accountability.”

Callamard urged the CIA to publish its files, while also calling for an FBI investigation and a public inquest in Turkey. Meanwhile, a draft U.S. law on human rights and accountability, if enacted, would unmask and sanction the culprits and send “ripple effects” towards accountability around the world.

Medical Centres Cover Every Village in Tibet

By Crystal Orderson
LHASA, Sep 30 2019 – Tibetan medicine is one of the world’s oldest known traditional medicines, originally developed during the pre-Buddhist era in the kingdom known as Shang Shung. IPS correspondent Crystal Oderson visited one of the major Tibetan health facilities in Lhasa…. and got a glimpse of the age old tradition.

Virgin Hyperloop One Commits to Becoming World’s Most Energy-Efficient Mode of Mass Transportation

Hyperloop set to be up to ten times more energy–efficient than an airplane, four times more efficient than Amtrak

VHO becomes the first mass transit company to join Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy 100

NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), the world's leading hyperloop company, announced that its groundbreaking hyperloop system is poised to be the most energy–efficient mode of mass transportation in the world. In conjunction with Climate Week NYC, Los Angeles–based Virgin Hyperloop One made its announcement from Rockefeller Plaza at Rockefeller Center in New York City, where it is showcasing its XP–1 test vehicle from its Nevada test track. VHO also announced that it is joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's CE100 network, which brings together businesses, innovators, cities, governments, and universities committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy.

"The only way to address this mounting crisis is head–on. We need big ideas like hyperloop to reach zero–emission transport while rapidly connecting people and goods," said Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.

"As the world's population grows, especially our urban populations, global demands for rapid, seamless travel, and more efficient deliveries will continue to rise. We must meet demand in a way that is efficient, clean, and protects the future of our planet," said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One. "Hyperloop technology can be that radical solution, setting the bar for the fastest, most energy–efficient, and sustainable form of travel ever created."

SUSTAINABILITY
Hyperloop will be able to transport people and goods at nearly 700 miles per hour in depressurized environments via magnetic levitation. It will be able to carry more people than a subway, at airline speeds and with zero direct emissions. By combining an ultra–efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low–drag environment, the VHO system will be 5 to 10 times more energy–efficient than an airplane and faster than high–speed rail using less energy. VHO's infrastructure can also support the creation of renewable energy by integrating solar panel technology across the outdoor transport tube system. Depending on the climate, the integration of solar technology could generate two–thirds of a route's projected energy needs.

VHO is currently working with the Indian government of Maharashtra on a route between Pune and Mumbai. With a combined population of 25 million, the regional city pair sees more than 75 million commuting trips annually, a number which is expected to skyrocket to 130 million by 2026. The implementation of a regional VHO system could reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by up to 150,000 tons (300 million pounds) annually while creating 1.8 million new jobs and $36 billion in economic impact across the region.

JOINING THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
In addition to VHO's commitment to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation industry, Virgin Hyperloop One joins the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Circular Economy 100 Network (CE100) as an "emerging innovator'. The CE100 brings together businesses, innovators, cities, governments, and universities committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy. By joining the CE100 network, VHO commits to creating a circular hyperloop framework that is restorative and regenerative by design, establishing methods to reuse decommissioned elements of its system and reducing its carbon output. VHO is the first mass transportation company to join the prestigious network, which includes companies like Google, Apple, and Unilever.

"We are delighted to welcome Virgin Hyperloop One to the CE100, the world's leading circular economy network. It is this collaboration among our diverse and dynamic network that enables members to realise circular economy innovation opportunities much faster than they could alone, and we are excited that Virgin Hyperloop One is now part of this community," said Joe Murphy, CE100 lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

"The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has done an excellent job of identifying how we can build a thriving, low–carbon economy, and is bringing together world–leading organisations to deliver it," said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One

HYPERLOOP PROGRESS & AMERICAN ROADSHOW
In the United States, ten states are now exploring hyperloop including Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, Indiana, and Oregon "" in addition to Nevada which hosts the test site. The United States House of Representatives recently fully funded the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's New and Emerging Transportation Technologies (NETT) Council, which was established to research and standardize hyperloop technology.

Today's event at Rockefeller Plaza introduced New Yorkers to hyperloop technology, showcasing the real–world XP–1 test vehicle and allowing passers–by to envision what the introduction of a hyperloop route could mean for their lives, when cities were connected like metro stops and location is no longer a constraint when choosing where to live or work.

The VHO stop in New York is part of a broader roadshow across the United States, which has already made stops in Dallas–Fort Worth, Kansas City, and Columbus. Following New York, VHO will make stops in Raleigh and Washington D.C. See more information on these stops here.

Media Assets

Download images and routes of Virgin Hyperloop One here.

About the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was launched in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the transition to the circular economy. Since its creation, the charity has emerged as a global thought leader, putting the circular economy on the agenda of decision–makers around the world. The charity's work focuses on seven key areas: insight and analysis; business; institutions, governments, and cities; systemic initiatives; circular design; learning; and communications. For further information please visit www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org and @circulareconomy.

About Virgin Hyperloop One

Virgin Hyperloop One is the only company in the world that has successfully tested its hyperloop technology at scale, launching the first new mode of mass transportation in over 100 years. The company successfully operated a full–scale hyperloop vehicle using electric propulsion and electromagnetic levitation under near–vacuum conditions, realizing a fundamentally new form of transportation that is faster, safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than existing modes. The company is now working with governments, partners, and investors around the world to make hyperloop a reality in years, not decades. They currently have projects underway in Missouri, Texas, Colorado, the Midwest, India, and the UAE. Learn more about Virgin Hyperloop One's technology, vision, and ongoing projects here.

Media Contacts

Virgin Hyperloop One
Madeline Kaye
Berlin Rosen
hyperloop@berlinrosen.com

Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Maha Daouk
pressoffice@emf.org

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/8a68349a–cf2f–490f–9c49–aa22c9413ad5

Q&A: A New Model for Independent Journalism in Slovakia

Slovak daily Dennik N marks the United Nations climate change summit in New York this week with a special ‘green’ edition and front page title “How To Cool the World”. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
Sep 27 2019 – In 2014, worried about editorial independence after local businessmen bought a substantial stake in the major Slovak daily newspaper they worked at, a small group of journalists left in protest and set up their own paper run solely by the journalists themselves to ensure impartiality.

Written off by many media analysts at the time who said starting a completely new independent newspaper would be an impossible task, Dennik N – Dennik is the Slovak word for daily newspaper and the N stands for Nezavislost, which means independence – is today one of Slovakia’s most popular news outlets with both print and web versions.

Determined to maintain its editorial independence, from the start the paper has used a subscription model to generate the majority of its funding.

A group of six people from the Slovak global IT security company ESET invested in the paper in its first year of operations, taking a 51 percent share in the company which publishes the newspaper. They still hold that share today with the remaining 49 percent owned by the paper’s journalists. Specific agreements with the six businessmen forbid them from having any editorial involvement in the newspaper.

They went on to develop the Readers’ Engagement and Monetisation Platform (REMP), an open source software and subscription platform that allows them to engage directly with subscribers so they can tell publishers what they want to read—effectively proving that Slovak readers want quality, independent journalism and are prepared to pay for it.

Lukas Fila, one of the original founders of Dennik N and now chief executive of the company which publishes the paper, speaks to IPS about the advantages of the paper’s subscription model, how growing numbers of readers consider it completely normal to pay for quality journalism content, threats to press freedom in Slovakia and helping media elsewhere copy their success.

Inter Press Service (IPS): Your newspaper was founded by journalists, including yourself, who left another Slovak daily because of fears over editorial independence after a major local business group took a large stake in the paper. Your newspaper decided to use subscription as its main funding source to try and ensure you could maintain editorial independence. Is it not possible for newspapers – in Slovakia or elsewhere – to be editorially independent without relying on subscriptions for the majority of their financing?

Lukas Fila (LF): Of course it is possible. Firstly, many would argue that editorial independence is not strictly related to economic independence. In other words – that you can do good journalism regardless of whether you’re earning enough to sustain your operation in the long run on a commercial basis. And you could probably find examples of this, although it is not a view we share. 

Secondly, there are also other business models that allow media organisations to earn enough money, especially through advertising revenue or specialised products, such as organising conferences, selling books, or providing specialised analyses. 

However, digital subscription has several advantages – the number of people who are starting to realise that it’s normal to pay for online content is growing. Moreover, it is most closely associated with the essence of journalism – providing quality content to your audience. It forces you to constantly think about ways of providing content that people feel is worth paying for.  

IPS: Simply being majority funded by subscriptions would not alone guarantee editorial independence. How do you ensure you remain editorially independent, especially given that a group of very rich local businessmen, have a majority stake in your newspaper?

LF: The six co-owners of ESET have a 51 percent stake in the company. The shareholders’ agreement has various provisions guaranteeing editorial independence, for example a clause which makes it impossible for them to fire the editor in chief. However, what is most important is that our owners have no dealings with the state or other commercial conflicts of interests, they currently have no role in the management of the company, and at no point have they in any way tried to influence the content of the paper. This is despite the fact that they have come under heavy attack from politicians who feel threatened by our reporting. Editorial independence is not really an issue at Dennik N, we have the greatest independence imaginable. 

IPS: Have any other major Slovak news outlets followed your subscription-based model and if so, have they done it to maintain editorial independence?

LF: Subscription-based models were being tried in Slovakia even prior to our launch. One of my colleagues, Tomas Bella, was the founder of Piano, which is currently a global leader in providing pay wall systems to publishers. There are several Slovak publications that are successful at running subscription schemes, their motivation is both editorial and commercial. 

 IPS: At a time when many news media all over the world are facing problems to remain financially sustainable, do you think the model you have adopted is sustainable in the long-term?

LF: Our model is probably most immune to changes on the market. While advertising revenue can change dramatically, having a loyal subscription base is something you can rely on in the long run. 

IPS: Your newspaper was originally largely a political and investigative news publication. Did you decide to take that specific relatively narrow focus because you believed there was a gap in the market for that and/or Slovak readers wanted a newspaper like that?

LF: The focus is no longer as narrow. We currently provide diverse content – we do sports, lifestyle, culture, science, we do podcasts, books, educational projects, and we just launched a business publication called Dennik E. 

In a good month our traffic exceeds 1 million unique visitors in a country of 5 million people. You can’t really achieve those numbers with a very narrow focus. The initial format was the result of several factors – the type of journalists that decided to start Dennik N, our idea about what type of content would best attract the first group of subscribers, an effort to keep costs down at what was already a costly and risky enterprise. We started with under 50 people and 6,000 people that supported us in our crowdfunding stage. We currently have more than 70 people working here and 42,000 subscribers. And we hope to expand further.  

IPS: Could REMP help other newspapers which want to move more towards reader-based funding to maintain their editorial independence?

LF: Yes. The system is being used by several Czech and Slovak publishers and is being tried out by several large publishers outside the [Central European] region. The advantage of REMP is that our whole survival was dependent on it. We really had no other major focus than the quality of our journalism and the ability to monetise it. That is a big advantage over those that develop similar products only as a product to be used by others.  

IPS: Slovakia has fallen down the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom index in recent years with the group, as well as the European Commission, raising concerns over editorial independence in local media as oligarchs have bought up media houses and politicians have repeatedly attacked journalists. Do you feel press freedom in Slovakia is under serious threat?

LF: We’ve had this feeling since we started Dennik N. That was the primary motivation [for starting the newspaper]. One could argue that our success helped the situation at least to a small degree – it is now obvious that the entire market cannot be controlled by oligarchs, plus it probably gave journalists in other editorial rooms more courage to speak up. But the ownership changes are still not over, and sadly, they are usually for the worse. If you add in uncertainty about the results of next year’s parliamentary elections [in Slovakia], the situation could deteriorate quickly. 

IPS: When local journalist Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, were killed last year because of what police said was his journalism work, many journalists said at the time that politicians’ attitudes to journalists had helped breed an atmosphere of hate towards journalists in which the murder could happen. Would you agree with that and do you think politicians have changed their attitudes to journalists since then?

LF: It is becoming more and more obvious that the primary responsibility of politicians [in the killings of Kuciak and Kusnirova] is in the fact that there existed a system in which oligarchs and mafiosi could control law enforcement agencies and the courts. That gave them a sense of being untouchable, which eventually led to the tragic events. That is a much more serious thing than just attitudes to journalists.  

But their attitudes are also important, and no, with the brief exception of a few weeks after the killings, they have not changed, and if so, perhaps for the worse. Among some leading politicians, there exists a mix of authentic paranoia and cynical delegitimisation through explicit attacks on journalists, which we now see even in parts of the West. 

IPS: Legislation passed this month in Slovakia will give politicians the chance to demand a ‘right to reply’ from newspapers which publish stories politicians say are untrue or misleading. Do you think this is an attempt to interfere in editorial independence in Slovak media?

LF: This was tried before [with the same legislation] and didn’t lead to any dramatic consequences. There are dangerous trends in Slovakia, but I would not see this piece of legislation as something we need to worry about too much.  

IPS: When President Zuzana Caputova took office earlier this year, did Slovakia’s journalism community think that press freedom in Slovakia might improve in any way, and if so, how and why?

LF: The role of president in Slovakia is largely symbolic. That is not to say that symbols are not important. I think President Caputova has brought good energy and represents the right values. And if democracy is ever threatened, she can play a vital role. But in terms of media legislation, the way in which politicians communicate with the press, or actual threats to journalists, her powers are limited. It is good to know that attacks against the free press will not go unnoticed, but the legislature and executive have a greater impact on the everyday functioning of the media. 

IPS: Slovakia is just one of a number of countries around the world where press freedom appears to be coming under increasing threat and concerns are being raised about media independence. How do you think media outlets around the world can maintain their independence?    

LF: We are trying our best to help others, at least in the region – last year we launched Dennik N in the Czech Republic, in cooperation with local investors and journalists. After less than a year, they have over 11,000 subscribers and we hope they can copy our success. Similarly, we are looking at other markets. This is the most we can do. But I have no universal answers, different markets have different problems. 

Investments to Cushion African Countries against Climate Shocks Not Enough

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has been investing in projects to assist African countries adapt to climate change. Seven out of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change are located on the continent even though Africa contributes less than 4 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). However, Africa needs between 7-15 billion dollars every year to adapt to the impacts of climate change, according to the AfDB. Pictured here is a wind energy generation plant located in Loiyangalani in northwestern Kenya. The plant is set to be the biggest in Africa, generating 300 MW. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2019 – African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina unveiled millions of dollars of new pledges at the United Nations this week amid growing fears of climate change ravaging the continent and derailing anti-poverty targets.

At a gathering of world leaders in New York, Adesina disclosed commitments on tackling global warming, a massive solar energy project in the Sahel, and an insurance scheme that poor countries can access when the next cyclone strikes. 

“Africa has been shortchanged by climate change, but it should not be shortchanged by climate finance,” Adesina told reporters at a press conference at the start of the U.N. General Assembly. 

The AfDB would double its climate financing to emerging economies to 25 billion dollars from 2020-2025, half of which would help governments adapt to droughts, rising tides and other impacts of climate change, said Adesina.

The bank would also help raise 250 million dollars to fund co-payments for insurance premiums so that disaster-prone countries get cashback when extreme weather events wreak chaos on their economies, said Adesina.

“Poor countries didn’t cause climate change, they shouldn’t be holding the short end of the stick,” said Adesina.

Another 20 million dollars would fund the Sahel’s new ‘Desert to Power’ solar scheme, for generating 10,000 MW of clean electricity for some 250 million people, including 90 million rural folks who live far from a power grid, said Adesina.

“This will make the Sahel the Baobab of energy,” said Adesina, referencing the hardy African tree. 

Such funding is welcome, but may not be enough. Africa needs between 7-15 billion dollars every year to adapt to the impacts of climate change, said Adesina. 

More broadly, the continent needs between 130–170 billion dollars of investment in power plants, internet cables and other infrastructure each year, leaving a funding gap of some 68-108 billion dollars, according to AfDB data.

Benedict Okey Oramah, President of Afreximbank, a trade finance body, said African economies had to work harder to train workers and expand their markets to lure investors to the continent.

“Countries which are fragmented are small markets, they cannot be of interest to people who want to put money to grow in a massive way,” Oramah told a meeting of African leaders at the U.N. on Wednesday. 

“We have to build again the technical schools that we used to have, we have to build universities of science and technology so that we can have the right skills to take up the kinds of jobs that are beginning to emerge.”

Talks came amid concerns from teen Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and many others that the world was not on track for slashing emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Guterres, secretary-general of the world body, warned that while countries were making progress towards the U.N.’s so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), more efforts were needed.

“Let us be clear — we are far from where we need to be. We are off track,” said Guterres. “Deadly conflicts, the climate crisis, gender-based violence, and persistent inequalities are undermining efforts to achieve the goals.”

The 17 SDGs were agreed by the U.N.’s 193 member states in 2015 in an effort to curb war, climate change, famine, land degradation, gender-based inequality, and other global ills by 2030.

Progress is being made in access to energy, to decent work, and in battling poverty and child mortality, but youth unemployment has plateaued and global hunger and gender inequality continue to rise, the U.N. says.

In an impassioned address to a U.N. climate summit on Monday, youth activist Thunberg raged at world leaders in a crowd that briefly included United States President Donald Trump and his entourage.

“You have stolen my dreams, my childhood, with your empty words,” said Thunberg, 16. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about are your fairy tales of money and eternal economic growth.”

Finance Global Green New Deal for Sustainable Development

A wind park in Oaxaca, Mexico. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 27 2019 – The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved by 2030 with the political will to change international economic rules and mobilize resources needed for a massive public sector-led investment push to reinvigorate world economic progress sustainably, says UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report 2019 (TDR 2019).

 

Global Green New Deal 

Existing international economic rules enhance market forces, corporate power and national policies which sustain, if not increase economic disparities and environmental destruction. TDR 2019 calls for a Global Green New Deal (GGND) which would at least reverse the austerity, stagnation and vulnerability since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

This new multilateral contract proposes reforms to ensure that banks, capital and debt help finance investments for more sustainable development with less economic inequality and environmental degradation. TDR 2019 argues for new trade and investment agreements as well as reforms to intellectual property and licensing regulations to support the GGND and the SDGs.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Global warming is already causing severe, albeit uneven damage all over the world and threatens much worse. Mitigating climate change will require large public-led investments, especially in renewable energy, sustainable food systems and clean transport, to complement effective industrial policies, with selective subsidies, tax incentives, loans and guarantees.

As one size does not fit all, developing countries will need appropriate investment and technology policy measures to bypass traditional carbon-intensive energy trajectories. The best policy package varies with context, but all will need fiscal stimulus, public infrastructure investment, renewable energy and better working conditions.

TDR 2019 offers a GGND proposal with developed economies’ growth rates 1~1.5% above those currently envisaged. The envisaged benefits for developing economies are greater, with growth rates around 1.5~2% more, although China will benefit less.

 

Win-win solution?

Are such win-win solutions still feasible in a world facing severe constraints and pressures? TDR 2019 doubts other proposals, e.g., the World Bank initiative to raise private finance using shadow banking and public finance to guarantee high private returns to investments. Thus far, such incentives have largely failed to boost productive investments.

Increasing total green investments by 2% of global income annually – around US$1.7 trillion, or a third of what governments currently spend on fossil fuel subsidies – could create over 170 million jobs, ensure cleaner industrialization in the South, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Instead, TDR 2019 proposes measures and reforms for the public sector to lead financing the GGND. Fiscal policy and strategic public investments can not only stimulate private investments, but also draw them in, rather than ‘crowd them out’.

Increasing total green investments by 2% of global income annually – around US$1.7 trillion, or a third of what governments currently spend on fossil fuel subsidies – could create over 170 million jobs, ensure cleaner industrialization in the South, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Investing much more to achieve the nutrition, health, education and poverty SDGs will require extensive international trade, finance and monetary reforms. But policy responses to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis have failed to enable more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable recovery, let alone longer-term development.

Fiscal expansion, to be financed with progressive tax increases and credit creation, needs to be consistently counter-cyclical, better coordinated, and capable of paying for itself. With many economies currently facing insufficient demand, TDR 2019 argues fiscal stimulus is necessary to boost private investment and productivity.

 

Innovative development finance

Rebuilding multilateralism and international cooperation around the GGND requires meeting Agenda 2030’s financing requirements. TDR 2019 proposes various reforms to ensure capital, banks and debt contribute to accelerating development, including:

  • providing better multilateral oversight, coordination and support of capital account management.
  • expanding special drawing rights as a flexible financing mechanism, without strict policy conditionalities or onerous eligibility criteria, beyond providing reliable liquidity for global environmental protection and emergency funding.
  • greater regional monetary cooperation to promote intraregional trade and value chains, moving beyond regional reserve swaps and pooling liquidity, while developing regional payments systems and clearing unions.
  • a rules-based facility, governed by agreed principles and international law, for orderly and equitable restructuring of sovereign debt that can no longer be serviced as per the original contract.
  • a global SDG-oriented concessional lending facility for low and lower middle-income developing countries, with a refinancing facility for borrowing on concessional terms, and an additional lending facility for the external share of public sector financing needs.
  • a global sustainable development fund, capitalized and replenished by donor countries paying their previously unfulfilled commitments to the official development assistance target of 0.7% of national income, thus compensating for past shortfalls, estimated at over US$3.5 trillion since 1990.
  • unitary taxation of transnational corporations’ (TNCs) profits with a global minimum effective corporate tax rate on all TNC profits set at 20~25%, i.e., the international average of current nominal rates, to check tax-evading illicit financial flows.
  • additional climate financing using unconventional monetary tools.
  • increasing finance for development, including strengthening South-South financing, e.g., by mobilising sovereign wealth funds, with assets of almost US$8 trillion, to finance development.

A Rising Youth Movement Picks Up Where Governments Have Failed

Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) and Greta Thunberg (second from right), Youth Climate Activist, at the opening of the UN Youth Climate Summit. Courtesy: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2019 – When the Youth Climate Summit concluded last week, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres predicted that if governments still lack the political will to make peace with nature, “there is huge hope in what the youth is doing all over the world”.

“And the youth is clearly telling my generation that we need to change course and that we need to do it now. And it is saying it in a very strong way,” declared Guterres, even as he warned of impending droughts, floods, hurricanes, and heatwaves triggered by climate change which has already displaced millions and killed thousands worldwide.

The rise of a new generation determined to lead the fight against climate emergency has led to a major youth movement worldwide, resulting in protest marches, with thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets of New York and in several world capitals.

And Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s pointed question at world leaders– “How dare you?” — was the rallying cry at the UN’s climate action summit on September 23.

Greta Thunberg addressing the UN Youth Climate Summit September 21.

Addressing delegates, she said: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth,” said Thunberg. “How dare you!” 

James Paul, a former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the young Swedish activist has been a major inspiration, with an ability to think clearly, speak directly and engage in powerful truth-telling

There have been spirited marches and rallies, as well as strikes, disruptions and other actions in cities around the globe. Nothing quite like it has ever been seen before, he said. 

In just over a year after she began a lonely vigil outside the Swedish parliament, Thunberg has drawn millions of students into this movement by her spirit and determination.

As Greta herself has often pointed out, the climate crisis is particularly an issue for youth, who are increasingly aware of the dangerous future world they may have to live and die in, he said. 

Disenchanted by the grown-up world and its lack to action, they are choosing to rise up, said Paul, author of the recently-released book titled “Of foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council.”.

Paul said the younger generation is connected together worldwide by social media and the internet.  They are exposed to climate information and news as never before. 

“And they see the dying planet in front of their eyes.  The relatively sudden youth mobilisation has been very impressive, but where do we go from here?” he asked.

Ranton Anjain, 17, from the Marshall Islands, speaks at a press conference announcing a collective action being taken on behalf of young people facing the impacts of the climate crisis. UNICEF/Radhika Chalasani

Joseph Gerson, President, Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security, told IPS that Greta Thunberg spoke of political leaders’ “betrayal” for doing little or “nothing: in the face of the climate threat to human survival.

“Much the same can be said about the nuclear weapons and umbrella states resistance to fulfilling their NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) and ICJ (International Court of Justice) obligations for nuclear disarmament,” he said.

“A youth strike would certainly be a very important contribution”, said Gerson, who is also Disarmament Coordinator American Friends Service Committee and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau.

“That said, we have a long way to go in helping people who came of age after the Cold War and certainly in this century to understand the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.”

He said they can see the impacts of the climate crisis from day to day and understand its threat to their futures, while the nuclear danger feels more abstract. (unless their families are down winders, atomic vets, etc.).

“Hopefully, with intersectional education and organising, linking the two existential threats we can regenerate a powerful force for both climate sustainability and disarmament,” declared Gerson.

“That’s one of the goals of our World Conference and mobilisation next April in New York on the eve of the NPT Review Conference,” he predicted.

Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at ActionAid, said young people have exposed the shameless lack of leadership from heads of state who have looked the other way for decades, as the climate crisis has escalated and the planet burned.

“At this late stage, when the window of opportunity is shrinking, we need leaders to show courage, not cowardice.”

Paul said the youth movement has taken hold in nearly every country and produced local leaders of impressive capability. 

The United Nations and other institutions have rushed to grab hold of this movement and bring the newly-produced leaders into the fold.  This is not entirely a bad thing.

“But we can also see that the process of co-optation has begun,” he noted. 

“Can the youth movement retain its militancy and its connection to a base if it sits down for “dialogues” with governments and business leaders?  Perhaps Greta will stick to her principles.” 

But what of the “youth leaders” who have themselves been selected by governments or UN officials?  Even Exxon will be looking for a “youth wash,” so to speak, warned Paul.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the young climate leaders have made it clear that they will not stop until they see action, and Oxfam continues to stand in solidarity, calling on politicians, business leaders and private citizens to join the life or death fight to save our planet for future generations.

Paul said: We would be well-advised to consider comparisons to the other global movements that reached maximum visibility in recent decades: the anti-war movement, the women’s movement, and the NGO movement, for example. 

“Will this newcomer build more strength and show more staying power then they managed to achieve?  Will it break out into a new level of global political energy?  We must hope so, without forgetting the enormous strength of the powers-that-be.”

To look on the bright side, he pointed out, the youth in the movement are offering important ingredients for a liveable future – ideas about international cooperation, solidarity and respect for nature. 

They are rightly skeptical about the political institutions that they are inheriting and about global consumer capitalism with its worship of growth and its culture of possessive individualism, he added. 

They also offer a welcome mix of fearless understanding and readiness for taking action – while most adults duck the truth and prefer to retreat into comfortable inaction, argued Paul.  

“Of course, the youth movement is diverse and contains many political currents, but above all it is an expression of positive action, hope for the future, and readiness for far-reaching change.”

As they say: “Another world is possible.”

The planet is probably not going to be rescued by youthful enthusiasm and determination alone, Paul said.

“But it just might be possible, though, in our eleventh hour, that the global youth movement would trigger a multi-generational, unstoppable process, that would transform our lives and our future. Youth of all ages had better sign up!  It’s now or never!” said Paul.

Meanwhile, as the movement spreads, climate leaders, including youth climate strike organisers, young entrepreneurs and activists will take centre stage at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, October 9-12..

Young people, from 30 countries will join 70+ mayors from around the world to develop concrete plans for greater global climate ambition.

Building on the momentum of the Global Climate Strikes, the C40 World Mayors Summit will include an important platform for youth voices driving urgent climate action. C40 mayors have welcomed the #FridaysForFuture movement, and in Copenhagen, mayors will invite young activists to join an open dialogue about how today’s leaders can create the future they deserve

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

10,000 People a Day Must be Freed to End Slavery by 2030

Slavery is still prevalent in a variety of disguises—including human trafficking, child soldiers, forced and early child marriages, domestic servitude and migrant labour—both in the global South (read: developing nations) and the global North (read: Western industrialized nations)

Modern Day Slavery. Credit: UN images

By External Source
GENEVA, Sep 27 2019 – “Six years after initiating my term as Special Rapporteur, it is sobering to say that the way to freedom from slavery remains long in spite of the legal abolition of slavery worldwide,” said UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola.

“Clearly, preventing and addressing slavery is not as simple as declaring it to be illegal but much more can and must be done to end slavery by 2030.”

According to the International Labour Organization, over 40 million are enslaved around the world. While presenting her latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bhoola pointed out that servitude will likely increase as the world faces rapid changes in the workplace, environmental degradation, migration and demographic shifts.

“Slavery is economically clearly unprofitable; it leads to broader public health costs, productivity losses, negative environmental externalities and lost income,”
Urmila Bhoola, UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery

She further indicated that over 64 percent of those enslaved work in the private sector, a quarter of global servitude is of children, and a chocking 98 percent of enslaved women and girls have endured sexual violence.

People in the informal sector, which represents 90 percent of the workforce in developing countries, are at higher risk of being exploited or enslaved, Bhoola added.

“By 2030, some 85 percent of the more than 25 million young people entering the labour force globally will be in developing and emerging countries. Their perspectives to access jobs offering decent work will determine their level of vulnerability to exploitation, including slavery,” Bhoola said.

The figures she presented were a “wake-up call” for countries to prepare themselves to tackle slavery more effectively as “10,000 would need to be freed each day if we are to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery by 2030,” she added quoting recent figures from the NGO Walk Free.

Bhoola said that some States had already elected to exclude from public contracts suppliers whose supply chain presented risks of slavery. Other Governments were using anti-money laundering systems to encourage companies to prevent proceeds of slavery from entering the financial system.

The expert regretted, however, that efforts to end slavery had been insufficient. She pointed out that convictions against perpetrators and their risk to face justice remain minimal.

“Slavery is economically clearly unprofitable; it leads to broader public health costs, productivity losses, negative environmental externalities and lost income,” Bhoola stressed, proposing a new approach against slavery that is “systematic, scientific, strategic, sustainable, survivor-informed and smart.”

Bhoola urged States to commit more resources to end slavery, and adopt and implement public policies that effectively address that scourge.

This story was originally published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights