Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Banking on solar power
brings ray of hope

Amid all the din of negativity concerning environment, a ray of hope has emerged all the way from the sun and it is indeed pleasant news.

According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report, released this week by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), solar energy dominated global investment in new power generation like never before in 2017.

Solar power attracted far more investment than any other technology, at $160.8 billion, up 18 per cent.

A driving power behind last year’s surge in solar was China, where an unprecedented boom saw some 53 gigawatts added — more than half the global total — and $86.5 billion invested, up 58 per cent.

The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and what the economic benefits are of such a shift, as UNEP chief Erik Solheim points out.

Investments in renewables bring more people into the economy, deliver more jobs, better quality jobs and better paid jobs. Clean energy means less pollution, which means healthier, happier development.

Last year was the eighth in a row in which global investment in renewables exceeded $200 billion – and since 2004, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in these green energy sources.

The UAE too has been expediting the pace of clean and renewable energy projects in order to secure a happy future.

Incidentally, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, broke ground on the 700MW fourth phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the biggest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project in the world last month.

The project advances the UAE’s global leadership in the use of clean and renewable energy.

Sheikh Mohammed made it clear that the UAE is developing a new model for sustainability and innovation and is keen to find creative solutions based on international best practices and benchmarks.

The CSP project, based on the Independent Power Producer model, will generate 700MW of clean energy at a single site.

The project, which features the world’s tallest solar tower measuring 260 metres and the world’s largest thermal energy storage capacity, will provide clean energy to over 270,000 residences in Dubai, reducing 1.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

This project has achieved the world’s lowest Levelised Cost of Electricity of USD 7.3 cents per kilowatt hour (kW/h).

This is certainly a grand global achievement for the UAE.

Nothing can justify

a chemical attack

Barbaric is a mild word to describe the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Syrian city of Douma during an attack that killed dozens of people, including women and children.

Renewed violence in Douma is a matter of serious concern as sustained airstrikes and shelling have killed civilians, destroyed infrastructure and damaged health facilities.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out “there is not a good war and a bad one, and nothing, nothing can justify the use of such devices of extermination against defenceless people and populations.”

Just a week ago, Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the UN Security Council, that the persistent allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria underscore the need to identify solutions and reach agreement on an appropriate accountability mechanism.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN was created in 2015 by the Council, but its mandate expired in November 2017.

While allegations of the use of chemical weapons have not stopped, consideration of a mechanism for accountability has apparently slowed, if not come to a standstill, as Markram pointed out.

In November last year, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution to renew the mandate of an international panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, due to the use of the veto by permanent member, Russia.

An angry US President Donald Trump has already stated that there will be a "big price to pay" after what he called a "mindless chemical attack" in Syria.

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world," the president tweeted.

With allegations and counter-allegations flying around, it is the helpless Syrian population that is paying the price.

Syria has been bleeding for long and the fighting has entered the eighth year. As per UN data, the conflict has produced more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.1 million internally displaced people, with more than 13 million people inside the country requiring humanitarian assistance, including nearly six million children.

The use of chemical weapons, under any circumstances, is totally unjustifiable. The international community cannot afford to remain silent. The perpetrators should not be allowed to get away with this kind of monstrous act.

UAE a humanitarian

role model for world

The naming of the UAE as the world's largest donor of development assistance in proportion to its gross national income (GNI) for the fifth consecutive year by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development is a matter of pride and honour for the entire nation.

The path of benevolence has effectively been laid down by the founding father of the nation, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. To this day, his generous legacy has been kept alive, crossing all borders and barriers to touch the hearts of people in almost every country.

The UAE has exceeded the United Nations’ target of 0.7 per cent official development assistance in proportion to its GNI ratio by donating Dhs19.32 billion, a growth of 18.1 per cent over 2016, representing 1.31 per cent of its GNI for official development assistance in 2017.

It should be noted that up to 54 per cent of the value of the aid is non-refundable grants that are aimed at supporting the developmental plans of the beneficiaries, which totalled 147 countries, 40 of which are among the least developed in different world continents.

As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, points out, the UAE support has helped secure the lives of millions of people around the world, establishing international peace and security, creating better opportunities and a brighter future for people in developing countries.

Right since its establishment, the UAE has been contributing tremendously to international sustainable development efforts and humanitarian response to global crises and disasters.

The nation’s commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian assistance is total and inspirational. In December 2016, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared 2017 as the “Year of Giving,” in which three key pillars were highlighted throughout the year: Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, Volunteering, and Serving the Nation.

The Year of Giving saw the development of various comprehensive frameworks via various initiatives, strategies and programmes that cemented the values of giving and philanthropy amongst the UAE’s citizens and residents.

Sheikh Zayed once stated: “We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.” It is pleasing to note that the announcement on UAE being the world’s largest humanitarian donor coincides with the celebration of the centennial of Sheikh Zayed and marking of 2018 as the Year of Zayed.

If the words kindness and Emirati are considered synonymous, now one well knows the reason.

Accelerate efforts to

cut global emissions

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ warning that “climate change is still moving much faster than we are” calls for serious attention of the world community.

Climate change is a matter that affects each and every living organism on earth. Without rapid cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement.

Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems that could lead to severe ecological and economic disruptions.

The Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by world leaders in December 2015, aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees.

The year 2017 had been filled with climate chaos and 2018 has already brought more of the same.

Recent information from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows the relentless pace of climate change.

For instance, as the UN chief points out, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 per cent, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes.

Weather-related disasters caused some $320 billion in economic damage, making 2017 the costliest year ever for such losses.

In social as well as economic terms, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating, washing away decades of development in an instant.

In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people.

In Africa, severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes.

As if these were not enough, wildfires caused destruction across the world.

Arctic sea ice cover in winter is at its lowest level, and the oceans are warmer and more acidic than at any time in recorded history.

According to WMO officials, last year was one of the three warmest on record, and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. From November 2016 to December 2017, 892,000 drought-related displacements were recorded. Both the Artic and Antarctica are warming up fast.

Guterres is absolutely right in stating that this tsunami of data should create a storm of concern.

The international community has no choice but gear up and meet the level of the climate challenge.

It will be irresponsible for the present generation to leave an inhospitable planet for the future generations to inherit.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):

Guns are not symbols

of non-violence

When guns fall into the wrong hands, innocent people pay with their lives. Repeated incidents in the United States have shown that they indeed landed in wrong hands on many occasions. Rampant gun violence kills roughly 30,000 people per year in the US. Status quo on gun control regulations, hence, is not acceptable.

At least, that’s the loud and clear message from hundreds of thousands of teenagers and supporters, rallying across the US for tougher laws to fight gun violence.

The fact that the "March for Our Lives" events have drawn massive crowds, marking the largest youth-led protests since the Vietnam War era, sends a message with absolutely no ambiguity: Something needs to be done about gun control.

The shooting in Florida last month was the 18th in a US school this year. The massacre was the deadliest ever at an American high school, surpassing the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher and then themselves.

It’s not just the scared children from campuses who are speaking out. Celebrities too are lending their voice in increasing numbers. For Pop star Paul McCartney, who was among those marching next to New York's Central Park, it’s a personal stake in the debate. "One of my best friends was shot not far from here," he told CNN, referring to Beatles bandmate John Lennon, who was gunned down near the park in 1980.

The young US organisers have also won kudos and cash from dozens of celebrities, with singers Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, as well as "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Actor George Clooney and his human rights attorney wife, Amal, donated $500,000.

Making a rousing appearance at a protest in Washington, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. sent a crisp and powerful message: "I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world — period."

Since the Parkland attack, the state of Florida and the US Congress have made only modest tweaks to gun laws and President Donald Trump's proposal to arm teachers has already met with widespread resistance.

The fact remains that thousands of school pupils have experienced a shooting on campus in the US. Kids don't feel safe at schools. If this situation does not trigger a change of attitude towards the dangers of unbridled gun violence, what else will?

UAE presses right keys

in digital adoption

Digitisation has taken the global economies by storm. Smart technology is fast reshaping the future of the world. The “man and machine” debate is intensifying by the day. Lethargy cannot be an option anymore when it comes to digital transformation.

Thankfully, the UAE has not only recognised the tremendous power of technology, but also pressed the “smart” key well ahead of others.

The impressive results are already showing.

As per a report by Al Masah Capital Limited titled, "Digital Banking - ME Trends," the UAE is leading the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with an impressive 16.4 per cent in digital penetration.

The MENA region offers promising opportunities for the banks and other financial institutions, with UAE and Saudi Arabia emerging as two of the most active markets in the development of a digital ecosystem.

The MENA region enjoys a large millennial population, which is expected to further drive the future of digital banking industry.

All sectors are well geared up to embrace digital transformation. For example, the world’s first automated, artificial-intelligence-powered renewable energy digital utility is set to be established in Dubai.

The utility is proposed by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for the Dubai 10X Initiative, an ambitious venture overseen by the Dubai Future Foundation. Dewa is pioneering a new model of utility services leveraging innovation in renewable energy, energy storage, artificial intelligence, and digital services.

On the healthcare front, the Dubai Health Authority has geared up to showcase some of the latest innovations. This includes Dubai Genome, which aims to map the genomes of the entire population (including residents) and use artificial intelligence to analyse genetic data to change the face of medical care through personalised medicine and prior detection of individuals at risk.

The Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai processed 547,461 online transactions relating to vehicle licensing services in 2017. The transactions have been handled via smart channels and are part of RTA’s strategic plans for transformation of all services under the Smart City initiative.

In another interesting development, the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Authority recently launched the first stage of the "National Early Warning System," by adopting a unified electronic system and activating a feature to send warning messages through telecommunications networks, to reach the general public through their mobile phones.

In a fast-changing world, digital adoption is a must and it is heartening that the UAE is far ahead of others on this front.

Conserving water

everyone’s duty

No water, no life.

That sums up what water means to all lives on earth. 

It is true that three-quarters of planet earth is covered with water, but only 2.5 per cent is fresh water, and of this, less than 1 per cent is available to sustain all terrestrial life and ecosystems.

Conservation and optimum utilisation of water are, hence, key words that every human being should bear in mind.

According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. more than two billion people worldwide lack access to safe water and over 4.5 billion to adequate sanitation services.

By 2050 at least one in four people may live in a country where the lack of fresh water will be chronic or recurrent.

Growing demands for water, coupled with poor water management, have increased water stress in many parts of the world.

As with most development challenges, women and girls suffer disproportionately. For example, women and girls in low-income countries spend some 40 billion hours a year collecting water.

The UN World water Development Report released this week states that the global demand for water has been increasing at a rate of about 1 per cent per year as a function of population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns, among other factors — and it will continue to grow significantly over the next two decades.

UN officials have well pointed out how a resolute will can bring about positive change.

In 1986, the province of Rajasthan in India experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. Over the following years, a non-governmental organisation worked alongside local communities to regenerate soils and forests in the region by setting up water harvesting structures. This led to a 30 per cent increase in forest cover, groundwater levels rose by several metres and cropland productivity improved.

Faced with an ever-increasing demand for water, China recently initiated a project, entitled “Sponge City,” to improve water availability in urban settlements with the aim of recycling 70 per cent of rainwater.

Ukraine has been experimenting artificial wetlands to filter some pharmaceutical products from wastewater based on evidence that wetlands alone can remove 20 to 60 per cent of metals in water and trap 80 to 90 per cent of sediment from runoff.

Individuals as well as governments should work together towards protecting this vital resource.

Greater global cooperation, investment and innovation are the ways forward to tackle the water challenge.

Slash emissions,

protect planet

Climate change and extreme weather patterns are serious issues that are said to push 26 million people into poverty every year.

Events unraveling throughout the world present huge challenges on the climate front and blind denial of such occurrences just does not help.

This time around, Europe has descended into a deep freeze while the Arctic experiences record high temperatures, leaving scientists to ponder the role global warming may play in turning winter weather upside down.

Sea ice cover in Antarctica has dropped to its second-lowest on record and it is not yet clear what is driving the reduction after several years of record-highs.

According to Bureau of Meteorology Antarctic scientist Phil Reid, since August 2016, the sea ice coverage has been tracking well below the long-term average.

A decade ago, a thick layer of ice covered the Collins Glacier on Antarctica's King George Island. Now, the rocky landscape is visible to the naked eye well highlighting how the region is a victim of climate change.

The World Meteorological Organisation has cited consolidated data from five leading international weather agencies to confirm that 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been the three warmest years on record.

Last year was the second or third warmest on record behind 2016, and the hottest without an extra dose of heat caused by an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean.

There is unanimity amongst almost all countries that joint effective action needs to be initiated to tackle global warming. It is consoling that the climate deal under Paris Agreement has now been ratified by 175 nations.

The crucial agreement has set a goal of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial times, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. The world has already warmed by about 1 degree.

Unfortunately, Washington holds a view on the subject contradictory to what is perceived by the rest of the world.

It would definitely be better and safer for the planet if US President Donald Trump changes his mind on withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change and stays in the 2015 global deal.

Time is running out and countries need to take serious action by expediting measures to slash heat-trapping emissions to meet the Paris targets.

Complacency could lead to serious repercussions, the signs of which are already in the air.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
‘Forever Xi’ shakes up
Chinese politics
With one masterstroke, China’s Xi Jinping has shaken up the era of collective leadership and added to himself the tag “President for life.”
Sunday's historic vote by the parliament to abolish presidential term limits has thus placed the destiny of 1.4 billion-plus Chinese effectively in one leader’s hand.
Ironically as well as comically, one of the first positive reactions came all the way from Washington which never tires of preaching the values of democracy.
US President Donald Trump not only greeted with joy the consolidation of power by Xi Jinpingb, but also went to the extent of suggesting the United States might one day “give that a shot.”
With the turbulent one-man rule of Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong still lingering in memory, concerns about the decision are natural.
But, fortunately, the China of today is not the same as the one under Mao.
The country is now increasingly connected with the rest of the world and is a key global player.
Surmising China’s return to the era of isolation and violent political struggle makes little sense, at least as of now.
As per International Monetary Fund official, David Lipton, China is a key partner for over 100 countries, which represents more than 80 per cent of global GDP. The Chinese success story is, hence, deeply intertwined with the fortunes of the world economy.
China alone is providing one-third of the global growth, and is outweighing other countries in areas of digital commerce, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Xi is a tough leader with a soft countenance. When he was appointed party secretary of Shanghai in 2007, he was a "compromise candidate" who the party's elders hoped to "co-opt," according to a US embassy analysis written at the time.
The leader’s no-nonsense approach was soon on display when he launched an anti-corruption campaign that punished one million officials. The campaign also toppled top politicians who posed a threat to him, sending an unmistakable message to any potential adversaries.
What’s behind Xi's decision to become a permanent president? Not much is clear but there are suggestions that he needs more power to crush endemic corruption, a goal that is within reach thanks to another constitutional amendment creating an anti-graft authority with power to punish and purge.
The future path depends on which role Xi dons more significantly — reformer or dictator. The Chinese and the rest of the world would be happy if he embraces the former choice.
Senseless violence in
Sri Lanka should end
Despite a state of emergency, reports from central Sri Lanka indicate that violent Buddhist mobs have been sweeping through towns and villages, burning Muslim homes and businesses and leaving victims barricaded inside mosques.
Colombo cannot afford to remain passive in the face of such mob brutality. Sterner action should be initiated against those indulging in the atrocities.
It’s true that the government has ordered popular social media networks blocked in an attempt to stop the violence from spreading, and thousands of police and soldiers have been spread out across the worst-hit areas.
A curfew has also been ordered across much of the region.
However, the fact that even such stringent measures have not helped is an indication that it is organised violence and hardline groups with dangerous agenda are behind it. The perpetrators should not be allowed to get away.
The situation on the ground is worrisome. Hundreds of Muslim residents of Mullegama, a village in the hills of central Sri Lanka, were forced to barricade themselves inside a mosque after Buddhist mobs attacked their homes. Several Muslim homes have been badly damaged.
Instead of helping the victims, police personnel prevented them from saving their property, while doing nothing to stop the attackers.
The violence in Kandy is just the latest targeting Muslims in the country.
Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week over an issue involving a chef.
Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.
In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured. That bout of violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial, accused of fostering religious conflict.
Sri Lankans love cricket and should heed cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya’s peace appeal. “Disgusting and sickening to see the acts of violence in Sri Lanka. I request people of Sri Lanka to be wise and stay together in these tough times,” the sports star has mentioned on Twitter.
The Sri Lankan government should act sternly against groups that are inciting religious hatred. Appropriate measures should swiftly be taken to restore normalcy in affected areas. The rule of law should be upheld by ensuring the safety and security of one and all.
The perpetrators of the mindless violence should be brought to justice at the earliest.
Trump-Kim summit plan
lights up wick of hope
Months of raging tensions between the United States and North Korea, involving personal insults and threats of war from both sides, have suddenly given way to diplomacy.
This is certainly a stunning, but hugely welcome development.
The announcement of a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un sounds indeed "like a miracle," as South Korea's President Moon Jae-in put it.
This is especially so because no sitting US president has ever met any of the North Korea's leaders, much less gone to Pyongyang.
From deriding each other as a "little rocket man" or a "mentally deranged US dotard," the two leaders have come a long way to give dialogue a chance.
The nuclearisation in North Korea has been a source of great concern for the entire world. Last year alone, Pyongyang carried out 20 ballistic missile tests.
Pyongyang's race to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the continental United States has proved a problem for successive US administrations.
North Korean leaders have sought face-to-face talks with consecutive US presidents, who have rebuffed the idea as an effort to achieve strategic parity that does not exist.
On multiple occasions, Kim's father Kim Jong Il dangled the prospect of talks and denuclearization as a means of buying time, easing sanctions and dividing South Korea from its allies.
Pyongyang now seems to have achieved its goal, while agreeing to a suspension of nuclear tests.
The summit would be the biggest foreign policy gamble for Trump since his taking office in January 2017.
Trump aides are convinced that immense pressure has worked. They see Kim Jong Un's invitation to Trump to a historic summit as evidence that the latter’s efforts to isolate his counterpart are bearing fruit.
"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearisation — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," insists US Vice President Mike Pence.
His argument is that the US made "zero concessions" and "consistently increased the pressure."
Whatever the true reasons, Pyongyang’s change of tone is as dramatic as the way it inflamed passions by repeatedly rejecting United Nations’ appeals and snubbing international opinion.
Almost all world leaders view the latest announcement as a positive development. The push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons programme seems to be working. At least, it seems so as of now. And that surely is heartwarming news.
Bring Boko Haram
atrocities to an end
Reports that more than one hundred schoolgirls have been abducted by Boko Haram insurgents after an attack on an educational institution in north-eastern Nigeria comes as hugely disturbing news.
The dreaded Boko Haram group has been crossing all limits. Repeated abduction of innocent, little girls shows that the militants are sheer cowards with no human feelings.
The hardliner militant group had earlier attained international notoriety after abducting more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. The girls were forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven manage to flee.
That case drew global attention to the insurgency and spawned high profile social media campaign Bring Back Our Girls.
According to the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – which works for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict – schools in north-east Nigeria continue to be attacked at an alarming rate.
It is estimated that as many as 1,400 of educational institutions have been destroyed since the beginning of the insurgency in 2009.
As per UN officials, the attacks overwhelmingly focus on the abduction, forcible recruitment and use, killing and maiming as well as sexual abuse of innocent Nigerian girls whose only crime is to be female and to dream of an education.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers went to the extent of issuing a statement demanding a "24-hour military patrol around all schools" in the region to better protect students and teachers.
The union’s stand is understandable, especially because some parents of students who survived the attack say their children are too frightened to return to class.
Nigeria's security forces have now been ordered to defend all schools in "liberated areas" of the country's northeast to avoid further mass abductions from schools by Boko Haram extremists.
The order by Nigeria's interior minister "has become necessary to forestall a re-occurrence of the attack on innocent school children," as per a statement. Only time would tell how effectively the decision is implemented. 
What is adding to the concern is that the extremist group remains alive and active. The group continues to attack civilian and military targets.
The entire world shares the anguish of the families of the girls and the people of Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities should act swiftly and work for the safe return of the girls to their families. Those militants responsible for the act should be brought to justice.