Monday, July 29, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Climate change naysayers better wake up
Merely halfway through 2019, the world has already witnessed temperature records smashed from Europe to the Arctic Circle and the year could prove to be one of the hottest ever recorded.
This June was the hottest on record, beating out June 2016 — so far the hottest year ever.
The first half of 2019 also saw intense heat waves in Australia, India, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East, according to the World Meterological Organisation (WMO).
Soaring temperatures broke records in Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands last week as a heat wave gripped Europe for the second time in a month and this should definitely be seen as a wake-up for action against climate change.
As a cauldron of hot air from the Sahara desert moved across the continent, drawn northwards by high pressure, Paris saw its highest temperature since records began and Britain reported its hottest weather for the month of July.
An all-time high was measured in Germany for a second day running, at 41.5 degrees Celsius in the northwestern town of Lingen on Thursday.
The impact was harsh and residents were forced to face the brutal impact of the heat wave.
The abnormal conditions even brought a reduction in French and German nuclear power output, disrupted rail travel in parts of Britain and sent some Europeans, not habitual users of air conditioning in their homes, out to the shops in search of fans.
Health authorities were forced to issue warnings to the elderly, especially vulnerable to spikes in temperature.
The seriousness of the situation could also be gauged by the warning issued by the United Nations that the hot air which smashed European weather records this week looks set to move towards Greenland and could cause record melting of the world's second largest ice sheet.
As per Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the UN WMO, the hot air moving up from North Africa had not merely broken European temperature records but surpassed them by 2, 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, which she has described as "absolutely incredible."
Three papers released this week showed that Earth's temperature was currently warming at a rate and uniformity unparallelled in the past 2,000 years.
There are enough alarm bells ringing over climate change. The heat waves in Europe, drought and storms in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching corals, the Arctic ice melting — do we need to add more?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report spells out that by the end of the 21st century temperatures must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, not enough is being done to achieve that.
The challenge comes on multiple fronts. Ocean heat also hit a record high in 2018 raising urgent new concerns about the threat global warming is posing to marine life.
Scientists have repeatedly linked intense heat waves to manmade climate change and indications on the ground are substantiating their arguments.
The sequence is alarming. The last four years are the hottest on record. Last year was fourth on the list, with an average surface temperature of 1°C above pre-industrial levels. The year 2016 still holds the crown as the hottest year in human history — 1.2C above average.
There is a need for everyone to unite, connect to nature and stand together for the planet.
The planet is heating up fast, and if the counter-measures are not equally swift, the repercussions could be unimaginable.
Slow global growth calls for fast remedy
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that global trade expanded by merely 0.5% in the first quarter of 2019, marking the slowest year-on-year pace of growth since 2012.
This certainly comes as disturbing news as there are also signals that a more significant slowdown is possible.
With the IMF lowering its forecast for global growth this year and the next, the world community should take a more serious note of the issue and address prevailing concerns caused by factors such as additional US-China tariffs, technology tensions and a disorderly Brexit.
These could compound problems by further slowing growth, weakening investment and disrupting supply chains.
IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath has indicated that she does not see signs of a recession, but does see significant downside risks for global growth going forward, including escalating trade wars.
The negative consequences of policy uncertainty are visible in the diverging trends between the manufacturing and services sector, and the significant weakness in global trade.
Manufacturing purchasing manager indices continue to decline alongside worsening business sentiment as businesses hold off on investment in the face of high uncertainty.
Euro zone business growth was weaker than expected in July, hampered by a deepening contraction in manufacturing.
A recession in Germany's manufacturing sector worsened in July while French business growth also slowed unexpectedly in the month.
Amid the worrisome trend, the positive development is that the US and Chinese negotiators are expected to restart trade negotiations in Shanghai on July 30, aimed at improving the trade relationship between the world's two largest economies,
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will lead the American team, while Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will lead negotiations for China, as per a White House statement.
The discussions are likely to cover a range of issues, including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, the trade deficit, and enforcement.
Protectionist and unilateral approaches on trade are not the best way forward and only tend to fuel fear among investors.
In a highly connected world, moving further away from an open, fair and rules-based trade system cannot be termed sensible.
Economic issues can have a direct impact on lives of people across the globe and could even lead to social and health problems in the form of joblessness and depression.
It is hence necessary that the international community take remedial measures swiftly before things get out of hand. 
The global economy clearly remains at a delicate juncture and it would be pertinent to adopt policies to support growth, as suggested by IMF officials.
Monetary policy should remain accommodative especially where inflation is softening below target. But it needs to be accompanied by sound trade policies that would lift the outlook and reduce downside risks. With persistently low interest rates, macroprudential tools should be deployed to ensure that financial risks do not build up.
Fiscal policy should balance growth, equity, and sustainability concerns, including protecting society’s most vulnerable.
The need for greater global cooperation is urgent. In addition to resolving trade and technology tensions, countries should work together to address issues such as climate change, international taxation, corruption, cybersecurity and the challenges of emerging digital payment technologies.
Primarily, tariffs should not be used to target bilateral trade balances or as a general-purpose tool to tackle international disagreements.
Instead, the rules-based multilateral trading system should be strengthened to encompass areas such as digital services, subsidies and technology transfer.
India’s moon mission a victory for science
As India’s rocket soared on a historic attempt to put a landing craft on the surface of the moon, so did the joy of millions of Indians across the globe.
The thrill of the take-off drowned the dejection of the halting of the initial launch of Chandrayaan-2 (Moon Chariot 2) a week earlier.
This is India’s most ambitious mission yet in an effort to establish itself as a low-cost space power and become only the 4th nation to soft-land on the moon, thereby joining an elite space force.
The new mission comes almost 11 years after the launch of India's first lunar mission — Chandrayaan-1 — which orbited the moon and searched for water.
China, Russia and the United States are the only other nations to have sent missions to the moon.
If successful, $146-million mission will allow Indian scientists to carry out studies regarding the presence of water at the moon's south pole, unexplored by any other nation before.
Incidentally, the United States — which is marking the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first human on the moon — spent the equivalent of more than $100 billion on its Apollo missions.
Nonetheless, the Chandrayaan-2 task has just begun and the path to success is laden with huge challenges. A total number of 38 soft landing attempts have been made so far. The success rate is 52 per cent.
It may be recalled that earlier this year, Israel's first moon mission crash-landed while attempting to touch down.
"Today is a historic day for space, science and tech in India," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief K. Sivan stated as he hailed the efforts made to fix a fuel leak that forced the earlier launch to be postponed.
But Sivan has also made it clear that the mission's next stage would be critical to its success, with scientists set to conduct some 15 crucial manoeuvres of Chandrayaan-2 over the next month-and-a-half to position it around the moon.
In his own words: "After that, D-day will come — and that day we are going to experience 15 minutes of terror to ensure that the landing is safe."
The 2.4-tonne orbiter is expected to circle the moon for about a year, taking images of the surface, looking for signs of water, and studying the atmosphere.
ISRO scientists will remotely control the rover named Pragyaan — "wisdom" in Sanskrit — as it carries out experiments. It will work for one lunar day, the equivalent of 14 Earth days, studying rocks and soil on the moon's surface.
The country’s space ambitions have been soaring. India's 2019/20 budget for space research stood at Rs124.7 billion ($1.81 billion), rising by some 75% since 2014.
In March this year, India shot down one of its own satellites to demonstrate its anti-satellite weapon capabilities.
India also put a satellite into orbit around Mars in the nation's first interplanetary mission in 2013 and 2014.
India has also announced plans for a manned space mission with a targeted flight in December 2021, besides proposing missions to study Venus and the sun.
Besides, India puts into orbit foreign satellites for a fee using its PSLV rocket. Revenue for launching satellites depends on the weight of the satellite — higher the weight, higher the revenue.
Any development in science and technology will at the end of the day benefit entire humanity. India does deserve a pat for the tireless efforts to fulfill its space ambitions.
Continuing turmoil taking toll on HK
Hong Kong has for long been seen as one of the safest cities in the world, but its recent troubles in the form of protests show no sign of abating and that’s a huge cause for worry.
The demonstrators are seeking direct elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory's leader, the resignation of the current leader and an investigation into police use of force to quell earlier protests.
An unrelenting administration has refused to heed such calls and the situation only seems to be worsening with each passing week.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The demonstrations over the last few weeks were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
The unprecedented protests with huge turnouts, as well as frequent clashes and the sacking of parliament, have had little luck persuading Beijing or Hong Kong's leaders.
City leader Carrie Lam has also shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill.
Her administration has faced down weeks of public anger and she has made few public appearances beyond visiting injured officers and holding a handful of press conferences.
The disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians, the de facto expulsion of a foreign journalist and the jailing of democracy protest leaders are among several issues that have sparked anxiety.
The deteriorating situation could be gauged by the fact that police fired tear gas at protesters for the second night in a row on Sunday.
Chaotic scenes filled several blocks in the western part of Hong Kong on Sunday night as police pushed protesters away from the Chinese government's liaison office and a police station.
The situation reached such a stage where the police appealed to people to stay indoors with their windows shut as officers use tear gas to try to drive protesters from the streets.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees its people freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.
Beijing vehemently denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs, but many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of freedoms and a relentless march towards mainland control.
Last Sunday, protesters took police by surprise with a swoop on the Liaison Office, scrawling graffiti and throwing paint bombs at walls, the national emblem and a plaque.
Chinese officials have described the vandalism as an attack on China's sovereignty which would not be tolerated.
Anger against police is also too evident. Many of the marchers chanted slogans against the police. Some held up banners reading: "We rise as one, we fight as one" and "Stop violence."
Adding to fears is the fact that the protesters appear to be getting more organised and willing to use violence to achieve their aims.
Continuing turbulence is not good for Hong Kong. It is unfortunate that the city's leadership seems unable or reluctant to end the chaos. The level of public anger and frustration is visibly high. The administration should do its best to address all genuine grievances of the protesters.

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