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Photo of two fishermen cross through a layer of toxic foam floating on the sacred Yamuna River in India. According to the city government, the foam has been generated by critically high levels of air pollution, untreated sewage water, and industrial waste discharged into the already very polluted river.

Fishermen cross through toxic foam floating on India's Yamuna River.

Jane Herbelin, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Laure Gautherin

👋 Moien!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where COP26 draft calls for higher pledges by 2022, Poland accuses Russia of orchestrating the migrant crisis at the Belarus border, and a vintage Apple computer sells for a whopping $400,000. Meanwhile, Germany daily Die Welt argues that China will be the geopolitical winner in the battle over climate change.

[*Luxembourgish]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Poland accuses Putin as Belarus border crisis escalates: Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki accused Russian President Vladimir Putin, of being the driving force behind the migrant crisis at the Belarus-Poland border. Polish police said they have detained more than 50 people near Bialowieza after they illegally entered Poland from Belarus.

• China ready to "work with U.S.": Ahead of a virtual meeting with President Joe Biden, President Xi Jinping said China is ready to cooperate with the United States over issues including global trade and militarization in the Asian region.

• 16 UN staffers detained in Ethiopia: Amid widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, an additional 70 drivers working for the UN have been arrested in the capital Addis Aba. Police have denied that these arrests are ethnically-motivated, saying they are targeting supporters of Tigrayan forces challenging the government. Many Tigrayans are fleeing to neighboring Sudan, escaping deadly attacks and forced military conscription.

• COP26 draft: The first draft of the "COP cover decision" published by the United Nations climate agency, asks countries to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries will work from the draft to strike a final deal before the summit ends Friday. Meanwhile, a new analysis says the world is still on course to be 2.4 °C hotter by the end of the century, far more than the 1.5 °C limit nations committed to.

• Former reality star at center of MidEast political crisis: George Kordahi, former host of Lebanon's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire turned minister of information, is in hot water for comments he made angering Saudi Arabia. While his statements — defending Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who Saudi Arabia is fighting — go back to before his current position, it's causing geopolitical tension, given Saudi Arabia's financial support for Lebanon.

• Manhunt ends in arrest for Australia's "most wanted": Mostafa Baluch, 33, was found inside a car in a shipping container on a lorry after a 17-day manhunt. Baluch, who is suspected of smuggling drugs, allegedly cut off his ankle bracelet tracking his location.

• Big price tag for vintage Apple: When it was first sold in 1976, the Apple I cost $666.66 (about $3,200 in today's dollars), but 45 years later, a still functioning model went for $400,000 at auction. The computer — which was sold by its second owner — is one of 200 Apple-1 models that were designed and tested by Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Too green to be true," titles Dutch daily de Volkskrant, asking whether COP26 promises from companies are realistic, after the publication of a first draft of an agreement setting out how countries will cut emissions to avoid temperature rises of above 1.5 °C.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

2.42 billion euros

Google's parent company Alphabet lost its appeal against a 2.42-billion-euro ($2.8-billion) fine by Europe's antitrust authorities, part of EU efforts to regulate big tech. The General Court stood by the ruling that Google abused its dominant position by favoring its own comparison shopping service over competing services. Google can still appeal to Europe's top court of justice.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why China will be the winner in the geopolitics of climate change

Energy issues are power issues. That is why the fight against climate change will also lead to geopolitical upheavals — to Europe's detriment. China, one of the biggest climate sinners, is likely to benefit from this because the People's Republic has a strategic ace up its sleeve, Clemens Wergin writes for German newspaper Die Welt.

🌍 The European Union and the United States want to become climate-neutral by 2050. This is despite the fact that more than 70% of the EU's total energy needs are still covered by climate-damaging fossil fuels. One thing should therefore be clear: The rapid energy transition will transform our economy and our societies. Like the coal and oil revolutions, it will also dramatically change geopolitics. In his book The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations, Daniel Yergin — renowned expert on the political implications of the energy industry — outlines a new world order: "China is poised to be the big winner, Russia and Middle East oil exporters the big losers. The U.S. is likely to fall somewhere in between."

⚡ With its market power and pioneering role, Europe could deliver global standards for the green transition, but at the same time, it would replace the current dependence on fossil energy suppliers (i.e., Russia) with a new dependence on the raw materials needed for the energy turnaround. These come in large part from China, a country that, like Russia, sees itself as a systemic competitor to the West. Another risk factor for Europe is the destabilization of its neighbors if energy exporting countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia or Russia fail to develop new business models.

🧩 Europe is one of the most important customers for Russian energy exports. And if demand falls, this will leave a clear mark on the Russian budget and economy. Moscow has therefore been trying for some time to open new markets in Asia, such as China. But even if it succeeds, declining world demand for fossil fuels will cause prices for them to plummet, which in turn will mean that new deposits will not be developed if the cost of doing so is higher than the prices that can be obtained on the world market. Moscow's strategic weight will therefore decrease and the aggressive foreign policy that Russia is currently pursuing will no longer be so easy to finance.

🔋 Switching to renewable power could make China the new Saudi Arabia of a climate-friendly world. This is because China is the Earth's most important producer of lithium, currently the irreplaceable raw material needed for making batteries like those used in e-cars, e-bikes and e-scooters. According to the ECFR report, the EU sources more than 60% of the critical raw materials needed for a move toward net-zero emissions from China. The country also currently dominates the production chain for these products: For example, according to Yergin, 80% of batteries worldwide are produced in China, and so are 70% of solar cells. That's what a dominant market position looks like. So despite its refusal to move quickly on its own energy transition, Beijing is well positioned to lead the developed world down this path first.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Today marks a precious day in my life.

— Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai took to social media yesterday to announce her marriage to partner Asser, sharing pictures from her wedding, which was "a small nikkah ceremony at home in Birmingham" with their families.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Laure Gautherin

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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