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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Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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