A 165-strong international group including 92 former presidents and prime ministers, along with current economic and health leaders in the developed and developing world, have come together to demand the creation of a G20 executive task force and an immediate global pledging conference which would approve and co-ordinate a multi-billion dollar coronavirus fighting fund.
In an open letter addressed to G20 leaders, the group – which wants both to speed up the search for a vaccine, cure and treatments and revive the global economy – urges global collaboration and commitment to funding ‘far beyond the current capacity of our existing international institutions’.
“The economic emergency will not be resolved until the health emergency is addressed: the health emergency will not end simply by conquering the disease in one country alone but by ensuring recovery from COVID-19 in all countries,” the statement says.
The plea is for agreement within days for:
$8 billion to rapidly hasten the global effort for vaccines, cure and treatment;
$35 billion to support health systems — from ventilators to test kits and protective equipment for health workers; and
$150 billion for developing countries to fight the medical and economic crisis, prevent a second wave of the disease flowing back into countries as they come out of the first wave. This means waiving debt interest payments for the poorest countries, including $44 billion due this year from Africa.
$500-$600billion issue of additional resources by the IMF in the form of special drawing rights.
The letter also urges the co-ordination of fiscal stimuli to avoid a recession becoming a depression.
While welcoming the G20’s first communique on the COVID-19 crisis, the group is pressing the G20 to speed up an action plan.
The group states: “All health systems – even the most sophisticated and best funded – are buckling under the pressures of the virus. Yet if we do nothing as the disease spreads in poorer African, Asian and Latin American cities which have little testing equipment, hardly any ventilators, and few medical supplies; and where social distancing and even washing hands are difficult to achieve, COVID-19 will persist there – and re-emerge to hit the rest of the world with further rounds that will prolong the crisis.
“World leaders must immediately agree to commit $8 billion – as set out by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board – to fill the most urgent gaps in the COVID-19 response. This includes $1 billion this year for WHO, $3 billion for vaccines and $2.25 billion for therapeutics.
“Instead of each country, or state or province within it, competing for a share of the existing capacity, with the risk of rapidly-increasing prices, we should also be vastly increasing capacity by supporting the WHO in coordinating the global production and procurement of medical supplies, such as testing kits, personal protection equipment, and ITU technology to meet fully the worldwide demand. We will also need to stockpile and distribute essential equipment.
“$35 billion will be required, as highlighted by WHO, to support countries with weaker health systems and especially vulnerable populations, including the provision of vital medical supplies, surge support to the national health workforce (70% of whom in many countries are underpaid women) and strengthening national resilience and preparedness.
“According to WHO, almost 30% of countries have no Covid\\\OVID-19 national preparedness response plans and only half have a national infection prevention and control program. Health systems in lower-income countries will struggle to cope; even the most optimistic estimates from Imperial College London suggest there will be 900,000 deaths in Asia and 300,000 in Africa.
“We propose convening a global pledging conference – its purpose supported by a G20 Executive Task Force – to commit resources to meeting these emergency global health needs.”
On the global economic outlook, the group proposes a range of measures and says:
“Much has been done by national governments to counter the downward slide of their economies. But a global economic problem requires a global economic response. Our aim should be to prevent a liquidity crisis turning into a solvency crisis, and a global recession becoming a global depression. To ensure this, better coordinated fiscal, monetary, central bank, and anti-protectionist initiatives are needed. The ambitious fiscal stimuli of some countries will be all-the-more effective if more strongly complemented by all countries in a position to do so.
“The long-term solution is a radical rethink of global public health and a refashioning – together with proper resourcing – of the entwined global health and financial architecture. “The UN, the G20 and interested partners should work together to co-ordinate further action.”
The value of a liberal arts education has become a pivotal discussion within the global higher education sector over the last decade. No longer confined to the hallowed halls of ivy-covered American colleges, this multidisciplinary approach, which focuses on developing creative thinking skills, has begun to transform the curricula of institutions worldwide.
To examine this further, the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020, taking place at NYU Abu Dhabi on 10-12 March, will explore the benefits and challenges of broadening the liberal arts educational model across Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Fostering discussions on how to prepare students for a variety of career paths after graduation is high on the list of the summit’s objectives. Hoda Mostafa, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, will share useful practices to facilitate the leap between an interdisciplinary education and careers both in and out of academia.
Wasif Rizv, founding president of Habib University, Pakistan’s first liberal arts and science institution, will provide an instructional model from south-east Asia to demonstrate how a liberal arts education can develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce.
Another key focus will be enhancing the research culture in countries where talent attraction has faced challenges. Rana Dajani, associate professor at Hashemite University, who established stem cell research ethics law in Jordan, will debate with other panellists which tools are needed to support the next generation of researchers in the MENA region.
Safwan Masri, the current vice-president for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, who has written extensively on the role of Tunisia in the Arab Spring, will deliver the summit’s closing keynote, underlining the power of research and knowledge transfer in the region to ultimately promote a greater cultural understanding and bridge political boundaries.
The summit will include an exclusive THE rankings masterclass that will dissect the methodology behind the World University Rankings, giving an analysis of the MENA region’s successes and future opportunities. Additionally, delegates will enjoy a deep-dive into THE’s new University Impact Rankings, which are based on universities’ successes in working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
John Gill, editor of THE, said: “We are at a crucial moment for the world on numerous fronts – from how to respond to global threats such as climate change, to how to navigate a path to greater understanding and collaboration. Higher education and research will play crucial roles in finding the answers.
“At this summit, we will discuss the role of liberal arts education, at a time of debate about how best to prepare students for the new economy, and how to support societies in transition. We will consider how a global perspective can transform the impact of education, and address the interplay between education and research in the MENA region. These topics touch on every aspect of what universities do, as institutions that educate, create new knowledge, and drive economic and social progress, so we are delighted to have such a diverse programme of speakers, and to be meeting at NYU Abu Dhabi, itself a great example of innovation.”
The Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020 will take place 10-12 March at NYU Abu Dhabi. Find out more.
The 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum (IREF) that brought together leading experts, scientists and researchers from all over the world was held in Abu Dhabi this past week. It was about the latest research and innovation in rain enhancement science together with possible collaborations to address the challenge of global water stress. The Future direction of rain enhancement research reviewed was reported on by all local media.
Emirates News Agency (WAM) — 25 January 2020
The UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, UAEREP, hosted a workshop to update its solicitation document, which will define the future calls for research proposal submissions. The workshop built on the productive discussions that took place during the 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum and its various plenary sessions.
UAEREP organised the 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum from 19 to 21 January 2020 under the supervision of the National Center of Meteorology. The event convened prominent national and international experts, researchers, scientists, and stakeholders to highlight the latest scientific and technological advancements in rain enhancement.
The full-day event brought together leading scientists and experts in atmospheric research and technologies, and centered around two main themes: ‘Cloud to Ground Science: Identifying Knowledge Gaps’ and ‘New Approaches and Technologies for Rain Enhancement’.
The session opened with a welcome speech by Alya Al Mazroui, Director of UAEREP, who outlined the programme’s purpose and ambitions.
Alya Al Mazroui said: “This workshop follows the successful fourth edition of the International Rain Enhancement Forum and the productive discussions we had over the course of the three days of intensive sessions and the Town Hall Meeting. The workshop is crucially important for our call for new research proposals and the shaping of the future direction of UAEREP’s research objectives.”
She added: “As we move forward with our efforts to enhance collaboration and seek viable solutions for global water stress, it is essential to build stakeholder consensus around our research goals and priorities to ensure the relevance and quality of proposals for the future of the our research program.”
Al Mazroui also revealed that the content of the new solicitation document will be shared publicly in mid-2020 as part of the call for research proposal submissions for the Program’s 4th cycle starting in 2021.
Participants at the workshop were provided with a detailed overview of UAEREP’s previous solicitation and management plan and the workshop structure by Dr. Richard Behnke, chair of UAEREP’s international reviewers committee.
In his presentation, Dr. Deon Terblanche, Weather and Climate Consultant at World Bank and former Director of Research at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), highlighted the achievements and challenges of past UAEREP awardees, and the latest advances in precipitation enhancement research.
Dr. Deon Terblanche also chaired a session titled ‘Cloud to Ground Science: Identifying Knowledge Gaps’, covering key topics such as quantifying the evaporative loss between cloud-base and the surface, improving areal precipitation estimation through a combination of remote sense and ground-based measurements, and translating seeding effects on single storms into areal effects. Panelists also discussed inter-cloud interactions in a convective environment, rainfall-runoff-groundwater relationship and the impact of cloud seeding and environmental and ecological changes due to long-term cloud seeding.
The workshop also facilitated productive discussions around ‘New Approaches and Technologies for Rain Enhancement’. Chaired by Dr. Steve Griffiths, Senior Vice President for Research and Development at Khalifa University, the session provided an insight into the technologies for observing physical phenomena, data modeling, analysis, and evaluation and experimental design, technologies, and instrumentation.
Summarising workshop outputs, Dr. Robert Robinson, co-chair of the committee, outlined the key takeaways and observations from the workshop participants.
The outcomes of the IREF town hall meeting, which took place on 21 January under the theme of “Determining Future Directions for Rain Enhancement Research”, provided important input for the discussions during the workshop, and for the shaping of the new UAEREP solicitation and the research proposal calls.
Despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
Despite 2020 looking to be a year of volatility, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council expressed his optimism at the “remarkable” human potential of the MENA region.
In statements ahead of the fourth annual Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, Frederick Kempe noted that despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
“One of them is to reduce conflict, to wind down the tensions of the region. But at the same time, you have to unlock the remarkable human potential of the Middle East and the GCC,” he said.
He told the Emirates News Agency (WAM), his predictions for 2020, noting that it would be a volatile year, particularly in the energy industry.
“Geopolitical uncertainty will play a larger role on energy prices this year,” Kempe added.
Reflecting on 2019 events, he noted, “It’s remarkable that energy prices have remained so low through everything we’ve gone through – Iranian sanctions, Libyan turmoil, Iraqi uncertainty.”
However, he added, “despite all that and partly because of the glut of oil we’ve had on the market, and the US oil and gas production, we’ve kept prices remarkably stable for a long period of time.”
“I think the big question is can that hold out in 2020,” he continued.
“You see prices rise by four percent when you get into a crisis, suddenly it seems as we’re in a de-escalatory phase if prices drop by five percent, and I think that’s what we’re going to see.”
Commenting on recent US-Iran tensions, and their impact on clean energy transitions, Kempe said, “A lot of people are focusing on the wrong lessons from the last few days. No doubt, there’s been a lot of tension.
“No doubt there was, for a period of time, increased risk of violent conflict. On the other hand, both parties stood back from that,” he added.
“No one in the region wants an escalation of the current tensions,” he stressed, adding, “Everyone that participated in de-escalating came to that. I think that’s promising.”
“I think all parties see no gain in war. The US doesn’t see any gain, Iran doesn’t see any gain; certainly, the Arab and GCC countries don’t see any gain,” the Atlantic Council President emphasised.
When asked to comment on how GCC countries, like the UAE, can play a role in the 2020 energy agenda, Kempe said, “If you look at the GDP of this region, and if you took the size of the Middle East population and put it anywhere in the world, you would have three times the GDP.”
World Bank figures indicate the GDP figures for the Middle East and North Africa reached $3.611 trillion in 2018.
“So imagine how much low-hanging fruit there is here and how much opportunity there is,” he said.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, figures, the adoption of renewable energy technologies created 11 million new jobs at the end of 2018.
When asked to comment on how countries and international bodies can partner further to see effective climate action, Kempe revealed that through the Council’s Adrienne Arsht Centre for Resilience, the MidEast Centre, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a new initiative will see one billion individuals become resilient to climate change, tensions and crises.
More details on the announcement will be made as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2020 next week.
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum is an international gathering of government, industry, and thought leaders to set the energy agenda for the year.
Taking place in the UAE capital from January 10-12, the 2020 iteration of the forum will focus on three key themes: the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition, financing the future of energy and interconnections in a new era of geopolitics.
At its December 2019 12th edition in Dubai, the Arab Strategy Forum affirmed that a Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report. This gathering run under the theme of ‘Forecasting the Next Decade 2020-2030’ concluded that after all, it’s business as usual with no ad-hoc surprises at all.
DUBAI — The global economy is not likely to witness another Great Recession-style collapse, despite several indicators to the contrary in recent months, according to a newly-published report by the Arab Strategy Forum in partnership with Good Judgement Inc., the world’s leading geopolitical and economic forecasting institution.
Titled ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’, the wide-ranging and far-reaching findings and themes of the report, will be discussed in depth by former ministers, decision-makers and politico-economic thought leaders, including former US Vice President Dick Cheney, at the 12th edition of the annual Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Dec. 9 at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre.
The ‘state of the world’ style report– tackles 11 vital mega-trends and questions that will define the global social, political and economic landscape in the 10 years ahead. Unlike previous editions, this year’s report looks to predict the future leading up to 2030 – a crucial time for many Middle Eastern economies whose visions are set to come to fruition by that year.
‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ analyses 11 major political and macro-economic situations – or ‘mega-trends’ as the report terms them – and their likely consequences to determine where the world is headed, come 2030. Topics covered range from the global recession to the fragmentation of superpowers and Brexit to the Iranian regime and America’s anticipated fall from dominance, to the emerging US-China tech war and the prospective ‘splinternet’, water scarcity in the region and the growing crop of gas fields in the East Mediterranean region.
Qualitative and quantitative feedback and data was garnered for the report’s 11 sections following rounds of discussions on Good Judgement’s online platform, with a series of ‘ignition questions’ posed to ‘Superforecasters’ – 150 experts from diverse backgrounds, such as political scientists, economics researchers, scholars, and subject-matter experts in professions ranging from finance to intelligence, to management and medicine. The ignition questions for each topic seek answers to the issues at the heart of major economic change in the years ahead. The Superforecasters’ answers serve as indicators and monitors of predicted change based on the outlined global mega-trends.
Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, said: “The report provides answers to the most pressing questions today, these outcomes will have a significant impact on regional and global policies. It explores a range of scenarios that will support the decision-makers of today and tomorrow to guide progress and prosperity for generations to come.
“Unlike previous years, this year’s reports predict the future of the region and the world over the next decade in the context of the current events that will have a major impact. They provide an up-to-date analysis of the increasing need for decision-makers to understand future scenarios on which to base their plans.”
As the world’s first platform for forecasting geopolitical and economic events, both regionally and globally, and targeting the most influential leaders and decision-makers in the Arab world and beyond, the Arab Strategy Forum will provide invaluable insights from the world’s foremost thought leaders on the crucial topics addressed in the report and elsewhere. Below is a list of the mega-trends, their related ignition questions, and a brief summary of the findings from the ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ report.
• Will the world avoid another Great Recession through 2030?
Based on current global economic performance records and data from the last 100 years of economic cycles, the report sought to find out whether the next recession will be a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis / Great Recession (2007-2009) or whether we are likely to see a return to an earlier pattern of a brief economic downturn followed by resurgent and steady growth.
The report’s Superforecasters said there is a 76 per cent chance that the world will not undergo another global financial crisis similar to the one in 2007 in the next decade, citing central banks’ improved technological ability to adapt and steer skidding economies out of difficulty. In their analysis of the last 100 years’ of business cycles, the Superforecasters concluded that the Great Recession was an outlier rather than the expected norm.
• Will China, Russia, or a G7 country leave the World Trade Organization by 2030?
Considering the emerging tendency of two, or a group of countries, setting out to establish new regional trading systems, such as the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Russian-backed European-Asian Economic Union, the report noted that such new trading entities pose a populist threat to long-established global trading systems.
It goes on to rule out the possibility of China, Russia or one of the G7 countries withdrawing from the World Trade Organization by 2030, as doing so would cost more than the gains are likely to be worth in the long run. However, considering the relentless pressure on the WTO in the face of populism, the post-World War II trading body faces a big challenge in maintaining its status and platform in the next 10 years.
• Will China, Russia, the US, or the EU lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030?
After the fall of empires in the 20th century, the question lingers over whether countries and blocs will fragment in the 21st century. The Superforecasters anticipate a 5% likelihood that the EU will lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030, a 2% likelihood that Russia or China will, and 1% likelihood that the United States will. Though the uncertainties and problems hanging over the United Kingdom are mainly considered ‘peaceful’, market volatility and decreased consumer confidence could have an impact on the EU’s territory and population in the next decade. The Superforecasters also said that a split or fragmentation in China or Russia, will only occur through a violent disruption.
• Will the US economy be ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 2030?
Despite being the largest economy in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, the US’s position as the world’s number one is under threat from the formation of a multipolar system and the emergence of several countries and regions that contribute today to the international community.
The report claims that there is a 65 per cent chance that the US will still be the world’s largest economy a decade from now, and a 33 per cent likelihood it will be second, after China.
The most prominent countries competing with the United States, in terms of nominal GDP, the report adds, are China, the European Union bloc, and India. And, as the US economy shrinks to the size of other countries, it will be less able to influence other nations of the world.
• Will OPEC’s share of global crude oil production remain above 33% in 2030?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) currently holds a share of about 40 per cent of the world’s crude oil production. But the future of the organization and its domination is likely to be called into question, with the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and new oil discoveries outside the Middle East and North Africa.
There is a 90 per cent chance that OPEC will supply more than a third of the world’s crude oil supply in 2030. However, its fiscal revenue is likely to result in a decline in its production. Given its resilience and adaptation to multiple challenges in past decades, including wars, revolutions and global recessions, the organization is viable in a carbon-free world, but new and innovative adaptation measures are needed later, the report pointed out.
• Will a cyberattack shut down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for 1+ days before 2030?
The Superforecasters see a 66 per cent likelihood of a cyberattack shutting down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for at least one day before 2030. Outside of the G7, there are countries perhaps more vulnerable. “It will be worth monitoring these situations as harbingers of larger-scale attacks elsewhere. For instance, in the Philippines, government hearings recently raised concerns that China could remotely ‘turn off power’ in the country,” the report noted.
• Will Lebanon be involved in a major military conflict by 2030?
After the discovery of the East Mediterranean gas fields off the coast of Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, questions have arisen over whether the East Mediterranean gas fields will enhance the stability of the region or pose a security risk. The report said there’s a risk that offshore gas fields could escalate tensions between nations over disputed drilling rights, but potential energy revenues are worthwhile, and will lead to a strengthening of the region’s economic stability, as well as the internal stability of the concerned countries and reduce risks of war.
• Will water scarcity cause a deadly conflict between Jordan & Israel, Egypt & Ethiopia, or Turkey & Iraq before 2030?
Water scarcity is unlikely to drive any regional conflict in the MENA region over the next decade, the report stated. There is a small, 1 per cent chance of a conflict on the flow of water between Jordan and Israel, according to the Superforecasters. Meanwhile, the chance of a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia or Turkey and Iraq during the next decade will reach 3per cent.
• China-US tech war and peace
Will a ‘splinternet’ – with one Internet led by the US and one led by China – be avoided as of 2030?
The Superforecasters offer an 80 per cent chance that a ‘splinternet’ – one Internet led by the United States and one led by China — will not be in place by 2030. “Information will continue to flow across global networks, even as other types of political or ideological information will be blocked,” the report pointed out.
NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is set to take over the G20 presidency for a year as it seeks to bounce back from an uproar over its human rights record and last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Foreign ministers attend a dinner during the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, in Nagoya, Japan November 22, 2019. Charly Triballeu/Pool via REUTERS
The kingdom’s new foreign minister, a prince with diplomatic experience in the West, landed in Japan’s Nagoya city on Friday to meet with his counterparts from the Group of 20 nations.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was appointed in October in a partial cabinet reshuffle, joining a new generation of royals in their 40s who rose to power under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 34, the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter.
Saudi Arabia – a key U.S. ally in confronting Iran – has faced heavy Western criticism over the murder of Saudi national Khashoggi, its detention of women’s rights activists and its role in the devastating war in Yemen.
Diplomats say the G20 might help put Riyadh’s problems behind it and could prompt it to close more disputed files such as the Yemen war and the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar, though they have yet to see much progress.
King Salman has hailed the kingdom’s G20 presidency as proof of its key role in the global economy. [nL8N28041F]
Prince Faisal will pick up the baton at a ceremony on Saturday in Nagoya, where G20 foreign ministers have gathered for talks.
Japan – which headed the G20 this year – was the kingdom’s second-largest export market last year, at $33 billion, according to IMF trade data.
Apart from its reliance on Saudi oil, Japan has deepened its ties to the kingdom thanks to Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group. Riyadh has been a big supporter of SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Prince Faisal he was pleased to meet him for the first time and both sides wanted to boost relations, according to a read-out from Japan’s foreign ministry.
Motegi praised Saudi work to stabilise southern Yemen, where Riyadh orchestrated a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s government, which it backs, and southern separatists. [nL8N27L6J1]
King Salman also said this week Riyadh wants a political settlement in Yemen, where it has battled Iran-aligned Houthis in a nearly five-year war that has killed tens of thousands and drive parts of the country to the brink of famine.
A diplomatic source said there had been an “apparent de-escalation” in Yemen’s conflict in recent weeks. The source said Saudi airstrikes killing civilians would not be “a great backdrop for hosting the G20” and would not mesh with the kingdom’s message of opening up.
Diplomats said that Saudi Arabia plans more than a dozen G20 summits throughout the year on tourism, agriculture, energy, environment and digital economy.
Top diplomatic and business contacts suggest Riyadh has already gotten over much of the opprobrium it received over Khashoggi’s murder, but it still struggles to attract foreign investors, said analyst Neil Partrick.
A Saudi court charged 11 suspects in a secretive trial and Western allies imposed sanctions on individuals. But Riyadh still faces heat from some governments saying the crown prince – known as MbS – ordered the murder. He has denied this though said he takes ultimate responsibility as de facto ruler.
Riyadh has sought to fix its image or turn attention to its social reforms since Khashoggi’s 2018 killing at the hands of Saudi agents in Istanbul.
A share sale of giant Saudi state oil firm Aramco this month and a bond sale earlier this year – under a drive to diversify the largest Arab economy away from oil – attracted interest in the traditional sectors of energy and finance.
After boycotting the Saudis’ annual “Davos in the Desert” summit in 2018, Western executives returned to the 2019 gathering last month. “Davos in the Desert” is unrelated to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Reporting by Ellen Francis in Nagoya and Stephen Kailin in Bahrain with additional reporting by David Dolan in Nagoya; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich
What happened in Geneva this Wednesday, in terms of finally bringing peace to Syria, could not be more significant: the first session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
The Syrian Constitutional Committee sprang out of a resolution passed in January 2018 in Sochi, Russia, by a body called the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.
The 150-strong committee breaks down as 50 members of the Syrian opposition, 50 representing the government in Damascus and 50 representatives of civil society. Each group named 15 experts for the meetings in Geneva, held behind closed doors.
This development is a direct consequence of the laborious Astana process – articulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Essential initial input came from former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Now UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is working as a sort of mediator.
The committee started its deliberations in Geneva in early 2019.
Crucially, there are no senior members of the administration in Damascus nor from the opposition – apart from Ahmed Farouk Arnus, who is a low-ranking diplomat with the Syrian Foreign Ministry.
Among the opposition, predictably, there are no former leaders of weaponized factions. And no “moderate rebels.” The delegates include several former and current parliament members, university rectors and journalists.
After this first round, significantly, the committee’s co-chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, said: “We hope that our next meeting could take place in our native land, in our beloved Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited capital in history.”
Even the opposition, which is part of the committee, hopes that a political deal will be clinched next year. According to co-chair Hadi al-Bahra: “I hope that the 75th anniversary of the United Nations next year will be an opportunity to celebrate another achievement by the universal organization, namely the success of efforts under the auspices of a special envoy for political process, who will bring peace and justice to all Syrians.”
Join the patrol
The committee’s work in Geneva proceeds in parallel to ever-changing facts on the ground. These will certainly force more face-to-face negotiations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, as Erdogan himself confirmed: “A conversation with Putin can take place any time. Everything depends on the course of events.”
“Events” seem not to be that incandescent, so far, even as Erdogan, predictably, releases the whiff of a threat in the air: “We reserve the right to resume military operation in Syria if terrorists approach at the distance of 30km to Turkey’s borders or continue attacks from any other Syrian area.”
Erdogan also said the de facto safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border could be “expanded,” something that he would have to clear in minute detail with Moscow.
Those threats have already manifested on the ground. On Wednesday, Turkey and allied Islamist factions launched an attack against Tal Tamr, a historic Assyrian Christian enclave 50km deep inside Syrian territory – far beyond the scope of the 10km patrol zone or the 30km “safe” zone.
Poorly-armed Syrian troops pulled out under fierce attack, and with no apparent Russian cover. The Syrian military on the same day issued a public statement calling on the Syrian Democratic Forces to reintegrate under its command. The SDF has said a compromise must be reached first over semi-autonomy for the northeastern region. Thousands of residents in the meantime fled farther south to the more protected city of Hasakeh.
Two facts are absolutely crucial. The Syrian Kurds have completed their pull out ahead of schedule, as confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. And, this Friday, Russia and Turkey start their joint military patrols to the depth of 7km away from the border, part of the de facto safe zone in northeast Syria.
The devil in the immense details is how Ankara is going to manage the territories that it now actually controls, and to which it plans to relocate as many as 2 million Syrian refugees.
Your oil? Mine
Then there’s the nagging issue that simply won’t go away: the American drive to “secure the oil” (Trump) and “protect” Syrian oilfields (the Pentagon), for all practical purposes from Syria.
In Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – alongside Iran’s Javad Zarif and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu – could not have been more scathing. Lavrov said Washington’s plan is “arrogant,” and violates international law. The very American presence on Syrian soil is “illegal,” he said.
All across the Global South, especially among countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, this is being interpreted, stripped to the bone, for what it is: the United States government illegally taking possession of natural resources of a third country via a military occupation.
And the Pentagon is warning that anyone attempting to contest it will be shot on sight. It remains to be seen whether the US Deep State would be willing to engage in a hot war with Russia over a few Syrian oilfields.
Under international law, the whole “securing the oil” scam is a euphemism for pillaging, pure and simple. Every single takfiri or jihadi outfit operating across the “Greater Middle East” will converge, perversely, to the same conclusion: US “efforts” across the lands of Islam are all about the oil.
Now compare that with Russia-Iran-Turkey’s active involvement in a political solution and normalization of Syria – not to mention, behind the scenes, China, which quietly donates rice and aims for widespread investment in a pacified Syria positioned as a key Eastern Mediterranean node of the New Silk Roads.
Robert Malley in this article titled The Unwanted Wars published in September / October 2019 of Foreign Affairs gives some answers to this question that has been marauding everyone for millennia. Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever, would, sarcasm apart, be a good start to try to understand the multi-layered mess of all past and passing powers. Here are some excerpts of the article.
war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his
presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’
entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not
changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows
it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq,
Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that
could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to
push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the
conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in
conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of
a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could
theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group,
as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to
debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If
Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could
in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies,
an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle
East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development
anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing
a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility.
it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied
Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local
politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not
long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central
government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts
barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the
Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper
U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a
popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly
the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an
international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in
the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and
has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of
war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.
is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has
become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most
integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate
actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the
Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as
its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one
poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly
effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly
regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the
United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to
engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating
them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort
LOCALLY, THINK REGIONALLY
story of the contemporary Middle East is one of a succession of rifts, each new
one sitting atop its precursors, some taking momentary precedence over others,
none ever truly or fully resolved. Today, the three most important
rifts—between Israel and its foes, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between
competing Sunni blocs—intersect in dangerous and potentially explosive ways.
current adversaries are chiefly represented by the so-called axis of
resistance: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and, although presently otherwise occupied,
Syria. The struggle is playing out in the traditional arenas of the West Bank
and Gaza but also in Syria, where Israel routinely strikes Iranian forces
and Iranian-affiliated groups; in cyberspace; in Lebanon, where Israel faces
the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and even in Iraq, where Israel has
reportedly begun to target Iranian allies. The absence of most Arab states from
this frontline makes it less prominent but no less dangerous.
those Arab states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been nudged to the
sidelines by the two other battles. Saudi Arabia prioritizes its rivalry with
Iran. Both countries exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their
respective constituencies but are in reality moved by power politics, a
tug of war for regional influence unfolding in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and
the Gulf states.
there is the Sunni-Sunni rift, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE vying
with Qatar and Turkey. As Hussein Agha and I wrote in The New Yorker in March, this is the
more momentous, if least covered, of the divides, with both supremacy over the Sunni
world and the role of political Islam at stake. Whether in Egypt, Libya,
Syria, Tunisia, or as far afield as Sudan, this competition will largely define
the region’s future.
Together with the region’s polarization is a lack of effective communication, which makes things ever more perilous. There is no meaningful channel between Iran and Israel, no official one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and little real diplomacy beyond rhetorical jousting between the rival Sunni blocs.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) – Climate change is an urgent concern for heads of state gathering at the General Assembly of the United Nations this week. As young climate activists such as Greta Thunberg have made clear, this challenge will outlast the political lives of everyone gathered in New York. It is easy to become gloomy, but economists can bring some comfort. Three positive trends can help the world tackle man-made warming.16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg departs after speaking at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019.
The first is rising prosperity. In many dimensions, the overall global economic situation is better than it has ever been. Take life expectancy. This is a basic index of prosperity because longer lives are a sign of the availability of many of modern life’s essential goods and services.
The news is good. Globally, infants born in 2015 can on average expect to live for 71.7 years. That’s 6.6 years longer than those born two decades earlier, according to Our World in Data, which aggregates the latest available numbers. The gains have been largest in poorer countries. Life expectancy has risen by 8.3 years in India and 15.7 years in Ethiopia, compared with four years in Japan and a 2.8-year gain in the United States.
The spread of more comfortable lifestyles in the poorer parts of the world not only leads to longer lives. It also typically adds to the climate challenge, since increased prosperity tends to require the emission of more climate-warming greenhouse gases.
However, more educated, healthier and richer people living in societies with more economic resources are also much better equipped to cope with the difficulties caused by warming. The average number of annual deaths worldwide caused by natural disasters has been lower this decade than in the 1970s, according to Our World in Data, even though the global population is almost twice the size.
The resilience matters, because the world has not yet found any technically and politically plausible way to do much more than gradually slow the rate of warming. The wait for breakthroughs will be a lot less painful if people have the resources needed to change agricultural practices or move to more suitable places.
The second comforting economic trend is technological. The world has not lost its inventive momentum, despite dire predictions from economists such as Robert Gordon of Northwestern University. The most recent successes involve telecommunications. Our World in Data reports that since 2000, the number of internet users in the world has risen from 413 million to 3.4 billion. Penetration of mobile phones has increased from 12% of the world’s population to 104% over those years.
These revolutions required developments in the relatively new field of electronic engineering. The challenges of climate change require a revision of older technologies, particularly energy production and storage. The scientists, industrialists and planners seem to be coming up with the goods. Solar and wind power are becoming viable economic alternatives for coal-fired and gas-fired plants, while batteries are becoming efficient enough for electric-powered cars to become a big business.
Even with these breakthroughs, the global use of greenhouse-gas emitting hydrocarbons is very unlikely to decline quickly, because the world still relies so much on these energy sources. They accounted for 93% of energy production in 2016, and their use had increased a 1.4% annual rate in the preceding decade, according to Our World in Data.
Engineers, industrialists and governments can work together to reverse this trend. They can also explore carbon capture and other more exotic ways to manipulate the atmosphere. Despite the pervasive pessimism, the historical record suggests that the chances of success are high.
The third economic support is that the population boom is coming to an end. The number of people in the world is 4.7 times higher than in 1900, but women now have an average of 2.5 children. That is not far above the 2.1 at which the population would eventually stabilise.
Actual stability requires the high birth rates which are still prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa to follow the global pattern of falling as prosperity rises. Ethiopia is a good example of how fast things can change. The average woman there had seven children 20 years ago. Now she can expect 4.3.
The downward demographic shift raises various problems, such as funding retirements. For climate change, however, it is an unmitigated positive. Slower population growth leads to fewer energy users and less energy-intensive expenditure on new housing and its related infrastructure.
These economic trends will help the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, there is one necessary and powerful economic force which is not pointing clearly in the right direction.
Governments have to play the central role in organising the response to climate change. Only the political authorities have the scale and clout needed to mobilise existing economic resources and create new ones around the world.
The clout is there, but the will often seems to be weak. The contrast between the earnest and ambitious enthusiasm of the young climate action protesters and the cynical platitudes of many of the political leaders gathered in New York is striking. Economists can line up with the new generation.
EGYPT PULSE of Al-Monitor of September 24, 2019, reports that Ethiopia again rejects Egypt’s vision for Renaissance Dam. It is written by Ayah Aman. In the article summary, the author explains how “After more than a year of stalled negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s diplomatic moves at the regional and international levels seem to have led nowhere.”
CAIRO — Egypt has initiated several international diplomatic moves expressing its deep concern about what it says is Ethiopia’s stalling and failure to reach a comprehensive agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which it sees as a threat to its water supply.
This comes after a year and four months’ lull in negotiations, since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Cairo in June 2018 and repeated after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the famous oath, “I swear to God, we will not cause any harm to Egypt’s Nile water.”
Technical, political and security negotiation rounds have been taking place for more than four years now, since the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. At the time, the declaration was seen as a breakthrough in the crisis, which continues to go unresolved. Since then, Sisi has made many statements seeking to allay the Egyptian public’s fears about the dam. In January 2018, he announced the crisis with Ethiopia was over and said there were several paths to a solution.
Yet just this month, on Sept. 14, his statements at the annual National Youth Conference were alarming. Speaking of the dam construction that started in 2011, Sisi said Egypt has been “paying since 2011 for one mistake … a price we’ve paid and will continue to pay.” He asserted, “Dams would not have been built on the River Nile … was it not for 2011,” in reference to the January 2011 Revolution.
Responding to a question concerning the dam at the “Ask the President” session held on the sidelines of the Youth Conference, Sisi recalled the Iraqi water shortage after the fall of the Iraqi state. He said, “Iraq in 1990 received 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water, but now it only receives 30 bcm.”
In early September, Egypt had launched official diplomatic efforts with other countries.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry briefed foreign ministers attending a Sept. 10 Arab League meeting in Cairo on the difficulties marring the dam negotiations. He said Ethiopia has been inflexible recently and has even attempted to manipulate the situation. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at a press conference that day that the Arab ministers had expressed solidarity in protecting Egypt’s water supply, which they agree is an integral part of overall Arab security.
As well, during a Sept. 12 meeting with ambassadors of European countries to Cairo, Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Ambassador Hamdi Loza briefed them on the latest developments regarding the dam and stressed Egypt’s uneasiness over the extended length of negotiations. A statement by the ministry after the meeting said Ethiopia has demonstrated “an insistence to impose a unilateral vision while disregarding the interests of others’ interests and without giving due diligence to avoiding damages to two estuary countries, especially Egypt, which depends on the Nile as the lifeblood of the Egyptian people.”
After a round of technical negotiations, Sept. 15-16 with Sudan in Cairo, Ethiopia and Egypt remain at odds.
Despite Egypt’s diplomatic mobilization ahead of the meeting, Ethiopia did not respond to any diplomatic pressure to approve or even discuss the Egyptian vision. Egypt had proposed filling the dam’s reservoir within seven years and releasing 40 bcm of Nile water annually to downstream countries.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Seleshi Bekele voiced his country’s rejection of Egypt’s requests. Ethiopian news website Addis Standard cited a classified document outlining Ethiopia’s rebuke of Egypt’s proposals. The Egyptian vision would “prolong the filling of GERD indefinitely” and “compensate for the Egyptian water deficit by serving as a second backup reservoir to High Aswan Dam,” according to the document. Egypt’s plan would mean the dam wouldn’t “deliver its economic return to Ethiopia … [and would] infringe on Ethiopia’s sovereignty.”
The document added, “Ethiopia [would] forfeit its rights to equitable and reasonable utilization of the Blue Nile water resources.”
Shoukry summarized Egypt’s position in dealing with the dam crisis by not yielding to the de facto policy that Ethiopia has been imposing since 2011. In remarks at a press conference Sept. 15, he said, “The will of one party will not be imposed by creating a concrete situation that is not being dealt with within the framework of consultation and understanding.”
Days later, Shoukry spoke about the dam in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview Sept. 21 with Al-Monitor at the United Nations in New York, where he emphasized the “life and death” nature of the negotiations. “I don’t think anybody would agree that the Ethiopian development should come at the expense of the lives of Egyptians,” he said.
A diplomatic official familiar with the Renaissance Dam negotiations told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview, “The continued stumbling of the negotiations and the failure of commitment or implementation of any of the items of the agreements reached in the previous meetings at the political, technical and security levels have become a source of grave concern. It’s not easy, but the Egyptian negotiators have offered many solutions and middle ground visions to achieve the best interest of all parties by filling the dam reservoir in a way that doesn’t harm Egypt and benefits Ethiopia.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of this topic, added, “Egypt [gave up] many of its demands so as not to disrupt the course of negotiations, such as the World Bank intervention, which Ethiopia had rejected. Cairo has been dealing in good faith with all proposed visions and solutions, but the continued Ethiopian refusal, without offering any realistic alternative that reduces the risk of damages caused by the dam filling and operation, makes it difficult for negotiators to work [and] is a mere waste of time.”
The source went on, “Egypt will knock on all doors and use all international and regional diplomatic methods to guide the Ethiopian side to find a serious and comprehensive agreement on the filling, operation and management of the dam to safeguard the interests of the three parties (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) and make the dam damage tolerable.”
Regarding the preliminary results of Egypt’s international efforts, the source sees a strong understanding and support at the Arab and European levels for Egypt’s concerns. “Egypt will take other measures in other international forums, including the United Nations General Assembly meetings,” said the source.
The water ministers of the three countries will meet again Oct. 4-5 to again discuss terms of the agreement on filling and operating the dam.
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