Welcome to Monday, where China is on high COVID alert as Lunar New Year celebrations kick off, Tonga reels from a massive underwater eruption, and a veteran FBI agent may have found out who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis. Meanwhile, Russian daily Kommersant recounts how Kazakhstan has passed from one strongman to another.
[*Sundanese - Indonesia]
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• COVID update: China is on high alert as travel begins for Lunar New Year celebrations; travels now have to report their planned trips before arrival. France’s parliament has voted to turn its health pass into a vaccination pass, meaning vaccination (and not a negative COVID test) are required to go to restaurants, cultural and sports venues as well as for long-distance travel. And the chairman of Credit Suisse, Antonio Horta-Osorio, has been forced to resign after it was revealed he twice broke COVID quarantine protocol.
• Suspected Houthi drone attack in Abu Dhabi: A drone strike by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is suspected to have killed three near the airport of the United Arab Emirates capital. The attack also included three tanker trucks carrying fuel.
• Ukraine’s Poroshenko returns to face treason charges: Former president Petro Poroshenko was greeted by thousands of supporters after returning to Ukraine to face treason charges in a criminal case he blames on his successor, Volodymyr Zelensky. The clash comes as Ukraine faces the threat of a Russian invasion after a week of failed talks between Moscow and Washington.
• Texas synagogue taker was British citizen, 2 arrested in UK: Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was identified as the hostage-taker in an 11-hour stand-off at a synagogue in Texas. Akram was killed, and the four hostages released unharmed.
• Tonga damaged following underwater volcano eruption: The Pacific Island nation of Tonga was hit by massive eruptions that started last week from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano that triggered tsunami waves. The amount of damage is unclear, as Australia and New Zealand have sent planes to assess the situation.
• Djokovic’s Australia visa ban: Unvaccinated Serbian tennis star Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday after a long battle over whether he could compete in the Australian Open. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that under the right circumstances, the three-year ban could be shortened. Meanwhile, he’ll have a hard time participating in the French Open this spring, as the country just announced that all athletes competing in the country have to be vaccinated.
• UK island looks for a new “monarch”: It may be true that no man is an island, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in charge of one. Piel Island, off the coast of Cumbria, is looking for a new “monarch” to manage its 300-year-old pub and the 50 acres of land, including a camping area and 14th-century castle for a 10-year lease. Of course, the position comes with a unique coronation ceremony: Alcohol is poured over the new royal’s head.
Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports on the findings of a team of investigators, led by a veteran FBI agent, about the 1944 arrest of Anne Frank and her family who had been hiding in Amsterdam for two years during World War II. Using new technologies and artificial intelligence, the team determined there was a high probability that a Jewish notary named Arnold van den Bergh was the one who gave away the Frank family’s hiding place to the Nazis. The Diary of Anne Frank remains one of the world’s most widely-read books.
China's birth rate dropped for a fifth consecutive year to hit a new record low in 2021 in spite of the government’s efforts to encourage couples to have more children in the face of a looming demographic crisis. The world’s most populous country reported 10.62 million births in 2021, in comparison to 12 million in 2020, with a birth rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people according to the National Statistics Bureau — marking the lowest level since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Kazakhstan, when one strongman replaces another
Violent unrest in Kazakhstan has resulted in a new authoritarian leader finally assuming proper power in the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor, write Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov in Russian daily Kommersant.
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power in 2019. However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. What will happen is still uncertain, but this much is clear: strongman rulers are able to keep power in Kazakhstan, but they can't ensure its peaceful transfer.
💰 On Jan. 11, Tokayev declared an almost revolutionary slogan: to build a "new Kazakhstan." The wording alone indicates an intention to do away with the former Kazakhstan built by Nazarbayev. The protests that have rocked the country were ostensibly about an increase in gas prices, but they illustrate Kazakhs' frustration at a rising cost of living and massive inequality. Under Nazarbayev, a small elite accumulated huge wealth while the economy stagnated. Tokayev announced a policy of economic reforms.
❌ Tokayev's speech draws a firm line under the Nazarbayev era. He said directly that the old social contract, including the intra-elite contract, is over and that the groups that enriched themselves under the first president should accept the new rules of the game. To begin, they have to pay their dues to the people's fund. Apparently, this should be seen as an offer to the old elite — pay or we will deal with you.
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“Confrontation does not solve problems, it only invites catastrophic consequences.”
— Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a speech at an all-virtual Davos Forum, warning world leaders against the "fanning of ideological antagonism and the politicizing of economic, scientific, and technological issues."
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The Colombian president recently said that the country had exported one million barrels of carbon-neutral or offset oil. But in an unregulated carbon market, such a claim is pure greenwashing.
BOGOTÁ - In March this year, various national and corporate leaders met in Houston, Texas, for CERAWeek, an annual conference to discuss the world's energy challenges. Colombia's President Iván Duque took the opportunity to remind participants that his country produced just 0.6% of the world's carbon emissions even as it had raised crude production to one million barrels a day.
He said oil should not be seen as an enemy, since the fight was really against greenhouse gas emissions. He also revealed at the event that the country's national oil firm, Ecopetrol, had sold the Asian market its first million barrels of carbon-neutral or offset crude, consisting of the entire extraction, production and exportation chain.
Carbon compensation or offsetting may sound like a half-baked idea, but expect to hear it increasingly in the context of measures to tackle the climate crisis. The idea is to capture the same amount of CO2 emitted in your production process through a compensatory project, like preserving a stretch of forest. But with oil production, can you really curb the emissions of one of the economy's most polluting sectors? Is compensation the right strategy or response to the climate crisis?
Beyond carbon offsetting
Ecopetrol told El Espectador that the million barrels cited by the president were the Castilla Blend sold to PetroChina and shipped from the port of Coveñas in northern Colombia in February. The country specifically compensated for 32,000 tons of CO2 (or a fraction of Colombia's total emissions of around 258.8 million tons).
Ecopetrol's head of crude production, Juan Carlos Fonnegra, says the firm committed itself in 2021 to reaching zero net emissions by 2050, which he said would make it the first Latin American oil and gas firm to set this target. This is part of its sosTECnibilidad y cambio climático, or sustainable transition plans. He did point out that the offsetting cited covered the Scopes 1 and 2 emissions generated throughout the million barrels' value chain.
What does this mean? The IDEAM, a state technical and environmental agency, divides carbon offsetting into three stages. Scope 1 emissions are those generated inside the firm, say, by a gas heater in your factory.
Second scope emissions, which Ecopetrol also offset, are those generated through a purchase and not inside the firm. They might be generated by the electricity used by the firm.
It's time to start extracting carbon from the atmosphere.
Scope 3 emissions, which were not offset by Ecopetrol, are outside a firm's control. IDEAM gives the example of emissions from the decomposition of a firm's waste at a skip. Waste-related emissions are the biggest emissions in most productive processes. Which is why, as the Carbon Trust organization points out, there are mounting calls on firms to offset this stage of emissions. This would be of greater urgency when it comes to oil as 90 to 95% of emissions from its entire life cycle are Scope 3 emissions, according to data from S&P Global.
Felipe Corral, an energy transition researcher at the Berlin Technical University in Germany, says we are past the point of offsetting, and must start extracting carbon from the atmosphere.
Colombia's President Iván Duque attending CERAWeek annual conference to discuss the world's energy challenges in March 2022
Renewables or bust
Another point to consider with Iván Duque's claims concerns the project to offset emissions from the Castilla Blend shipment. The tradeoff is typically done through forestry projects to capture carbon from the air. Thus, one firm (Ecopetrol) buys from another (a forestry firm) carbon credits equivalent to the tons of carbon not being emitted. There is usually a third firm to certify that the purchase of five carbon credits did indeed entail non-emission of five tons of carbon.
How were Ecopetrol's 32,000 tons offset? The firm says this was done through a renewable energy project in the department of Antioquia (in central Colombia). Which project, and how did it work? Ecopetrol did not give details and since April 4, El Espectador has sought out details from SGS, the certifying firm, without success.
Corral explains that while details are pertinent, the deal broadly is that if "a firm installs a solar park in Antioquia with absolute certainty that in its absence there would have been a power station there, then it can sell carbon credits as it is potentially avoiding greater emissions." Corral sees this as very weak offsetting.
Some would call this greenwashing, says Juan José Guzmán Ayala, a finance and climate specialist. He says Ecopetrol can act this way as the Colombian government has yet to create an obligatory and regulated carbon market.
In 2018, the government of former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos passed the Climate Change Law (Law 1931/2018) that required among its stipulations a regulated carbon market within three years. It had to be ready in 2021 in other words.
But Guzmán Ayala says "not only were the deadlines not met, but the Duque government... is now coming out [abroad] and speaking of oil compensation measures, when it has not carried out this task." The carbon market in Colombia remains voluntary for now, and firms merely have to show that they offset emissions in order to avoid paying the carbon tax. In voluntary trading markets, says Guzmán, "costs are very low, like standards, which could mean an advantage" for the industry.
The firm insists its carbon purchase met the "highest international certification standards (known as Verra)." Colombia's deputy environment minister, Nicolás Galarza, told the daily in turn that the law underestimated the complexities of this process and that with progress made so far, the government was now working on the regulations themselves. By 2023, he said, it should have readied the institutional bases the market would need before it could start functioning between 2023 and 2025. It is a "matter that requires time," he said, citing Mexico, which passed a climate law in 2012 and only began to test its regulated market in 2020.
Colombia passed a Climate Action Law in 2021, which created a national register of emissions known as ROE or Obligatory Emissions Report, and a Carbon Markets Experts Commission, which will both aid it in forging regulations. Galarza says Colombia is the only South American state actually "developing" offsetting measures as cited on the carbon markets' ICAP ETS map, ahead of Chile and Brazil.
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