Does The UN Suddenly Matter Again?

The United Nations' proactive response in the Ivory Coast and Libya has rejuvenated its image worldwide, though some question the motives of Ban Ki-Moon's prompt intervention.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the center of things on Libya
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the center of things on Libya
Luis Lema

NEW YORK – France may have led the way during the operations in Libya and the Ivory Coast, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not to be outdone.

One week ago, the South Korean-born diplomat authorized an attack against soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. With his last line of defense destroyed, today he is under lock and key, and his rival Alassane Ouattara has taken his place. The United Nations may not have resolved the situation but with its helicopters, piloted by Ukrainian peacekeepers in their blue helmets, it at least contributed to the reversal of the course of events in the Ivory Coast.

As in Libya, the reasons put forward for intervention by the United Nations were above all else humanitarian. Ban Ki-moon said repeatedly that it was a question of defending the civilian population, as well as UN staff who were under threaten from the heavy artillery fire in Abidjan.

However, no one is fooled. In both cases, the organization -- and the international community behind it -- has taken a previously unknown path, moving with unprecedented alacrity to intervene in order to change the regime of one of its member States.

Of course, Bosnia and Iraq set precedents. But whereas in the past the sovereignty of the states was consistently upheld, today the UN has shifted its priorities away from this concept, toward one never used by the Security Council until its recent resolution 1973 on Libya: the responsibility to protect civilians.

"We are living in a very important moment," confirms General Assembly president Joseph Deiss, who, as "number two" at the United Nations, is experiencing that "moment" close-up. "It is still too early to know if this shift in priorities will become effectively irreversible. But for now, the image of the United Nations is emerging strengthened."

Ironically, the United Nations will have taken what might be described as a giant stride forward under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon, who has been strongly criticized up until now for his "halfhearted" leadership.

In dealing with Burma or China, the Secretary General seemed to take an extremely cautious approach toward international relations. This time, the South Korean declared with great force that Colonel Gaddafi "has lost all legitimacy," and that he saw no other solution except his departure. "We are living an opportunity that only presents itself once in a generation," he explained during an interview about the entire Arab Spring.

In fact, these words are practically the same ones pronounced by U.S. President Barack Obama on the same subject. For the United Nation's rehabilitation is also a reflection of a more general transformation. "We are living in an era of immediacy," French President Nicolas Sarkozy remarked on this issue. Alongside the United States, France played an essential role in bringing these questions without delay in front of the UN Security Council. Before the Iraq invasion by the George Bush-led United States, Paris and other capitals were using the Council as a last resort. Now, Obama and Sarkozy, who seem to be split sharing duties for this goal, have used the Council as a springboard to propel forward the notion of protecting civilian populations. Neither China nor Russia have considered it opportune to stop them, probably because doing so would make them appear as accomplices of the Gaddafi regime.

In reality, no one knows if the United States' new approach signals a permanent change in the paradigm. The "Obama doctrine" gives the impression of being a work-in-progress. The fact remains that resolution 1973, adopted by the Security Council at the drop of a hat, did not just allow the legitimate use of "all means' to stop Colonel Gaddafi's troops. It also authorized the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes committed in Libya. This type of support by the United States is without precedent. The country originally campaigned against the creation of tribunal based in The Hague, and is not even a member of it.

Will the events in Libya and the Ivory Coast be used to establish a new kind of "jurisprudence?" Those most critical of Ban Ki-moon, who is seeking reelection, say he was afraid of alienating his most important future supporters, and thus did not act out of principle but rather to woo Paris and Washington. In addition, the most skeptical of them draw attention to the actions of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the bloodily repressed protests in Syria, and the free reign given to the Yemenite president as the ultimate proof of a "double standard" that continues to reign in the game of international relations.

One thing is clear: the shine on this new-look United Nations and its Secretary General will depend on the outcomes of the operations in Libya and the Ivory Coast. Should the situations deteriorate and become messy, Ban Ki-moon might regret his newfound activism. In the immediate future, however, the new approach has many dreaming. Already in the hallways of the United Nations, one can hear the Arab countries suggesting that a no-fly zone be established over Gaza. Does this mean the United Nations is going to send helicopters to protect Palestinians civilians?

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Greek Foreign Ministry

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!