BNP Paribas And Eric Holder's "Nuclear Option"

A reported multi-billion-dollar U.S. fine against BNP Paribas, the eurozone's biggest bank, puts the very heart of transatlantic relations at risk, writes France's leading business daily.

France's leading bank
France's leading bank
Nicolas Barré

PARIS It is a declaration of war. An unprecedented blow to transatlantic relations so long based on trust and common values. This open affront to Europe both reveals and deepens the continent's growing weakness.

By threatening to cut access to the dollar for France's BNP Paribas — the eurozone's largest bank — the United States has crossed more than a red line, as it pushes for an unprecedented $10 billion penalty for the bank's alleged violation of an embargo against Iran and other countries.

In the economic and financial order, this amounts to the proverbial nuclear option.

And it was taken against allies, moreover — because the U.S. would never consider this against its Chinese creditor. And how can we not see it more specifically as a very deliberate act of aggression towards France, which, from Libya to Mali or Syria, has yet acted as a model ally to Washington?

It is crucial that Barack Obama’s visit on the D-Day beaches this week brings back reason in a case that has become surprisingly irrational. It is important to measure the strength of the earthquake that would hit the world if one of its five most active banks no longer had access to the dollar. The cataclysm would be global.

The bolting of this affair is undoubtedly linked to the American political context. Public opinion is decidely angry towards banks and a federal administration that has been permissive with them.

So this is why U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is playing politics. This activist, who enjoys being filmed in his office as a righter of wrongs, announced a few days before leaking the name of the French bank, that he wouldn’t hesitate targeting “the largest financial institutions” because they are not “above the law.”

His campaign, wrapped in the central principles of law, screams instead of a media strategy while Obama, the hesitant figure in the White House, is standing idly by, as is so often the case.

These political maneuvers must cease. The French bank must pay for its mistakes, as many other banks have done before. But nothing justifies the magnitude of the sanctions suggested, especially considering the much heavier turpitudes committed by the American banks themselves.

Double standards are unacceptable. There is no worse hypocrisy than filling a state’s coffers with the money of others, when this state let the biggest crisis since the 1930s happen. The world should be holding the U.S. accountable, and not the opposite!

If the White House does not act very soon — it is a matter of days, not weeks — the Federal Reserve, guarantor of the integrity of the financial system, though surprisingly silent until now, must end the game. The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, must come to the fore to remind it of it. It is time for the building tensions to be released, and let reason return.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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