Illustration by Ben Beechener

Global Temperatures likely to increase by 1.5 degrees in the next five years

At the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, global leaders restated their commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. This goal is coming under threat as research from the UK Met Office suggests that there is an approximately 50% chance that global temperatures will increase by more than 1.5 degrees within the next five years. There is near-certainty that the hottest year on record will be seen by 2026, bringing with it further rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. The Met Office researchers state that fossil fuel use must be reduced as soon as possible to prevent further temperature increases. However, an investigation from the Guardian this week revealed that large oil and gas companies are planning highly profitable ‘carbon bomb’ oil and gas projects which threaten the 1.5 degree target. It remains to be seen how governments will navigate climate change policies to meet the conflicting demands of scientists and big businesses.

Saudi Aramco overtakes Apple to become world’s most valuable company

The Saudi Arabian oil company’s market capitalisation on Wednesday was $2.426tn compared to Apple’s $2.415tn. Apple and other tech companies profited from the increased demand for technology during the pandemic, however, lockdowns in China have put pressure on the supply chain, and there is concern from investors that inflation will affect consumers’ spending habits. At the same time, oil prices have increased to levels not seen since 2008 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has contributed to oil and gas companies making record-breaking revenues in the first quarter of 2022. This change highlights how the war in Ukraine, inflation and lockdowns in China are affecting the global economy.

Spain removes intelligence chief over phone-hacking

Spain has sacked Pez Esteban, the head of the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) over continued fallout following revelations that Spain hacked the phones of over 60 political leaders of the Catalan separatist movement, including the Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès. The allegations, which were made public in April, indicated that phones had been accessed using the controversial Pegasus spyware software created by the Israeli based NSO Group, which since 2016 has been linked to a range of hacks ranging from human rights activists in Bahrain to members of the French cabinet. Esteban admitted to a parliamentary investigative committee last week that the CNI had been involved in the phone hacking of 18 Catalonian politicians.

The sacking not only reflects demands to act by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party which props up Spain’s minority government led by President Pedro Sanchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, but also revelations around the phone hacking of Sánchez by the same software, something revealed earlier this month.

UK Government signals Northern Ireland protocol change

The UK Government has signalled that it could suspend sections of the Northern Irish Protocol – the international agreement which governs trade and customs between the European Union and the UK on the island of Ireland. The protocol places a de facto customs border in the Irish Sea to allow frictionless movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with goods checks being conducted in ports in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The planned bill would remove the need for checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but as this would in-effect also allow goods to flow between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom unchecked, such a move would violate EU rules on goods checks between member and non-member countries.

There has been growing hostility to the Protocol by the more hawkish Brexiteers within the Johnson cabinet, but the timing of this proposed bill so close after the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections on 5th May could also be a factor. Political Unionism in Northern Ireland (those who wish Northern Ireland to remain inside the UK) had been rocked by the protocol, which many saw as treating Northern Ireland as a separate entity to GB and increasing economic ties with the Republic of Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have refused to re-enter into power-sharing at Stormont unless the Protocol is rescinded.

Indian Supreme Court puts colonial-era sedition law on hold

The controversial law from India’s colonial era that has been allegedly used by the Modi government to prosecute journalists, activists and other opposition figures has been suspended by India’s Supreme Court, putting all current trials on hold and preventing the government from bringing any new cases under the law. The controversial Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code, established under British rule allows a maximum sentence of life in prison, with those being tried under the law are required to give up their passports and are ineligible for government jobs. Recently the law has been used against student activist Disha Ravi, who shared a document with advice to farmers on how to protest the controversial new agriculture laws, and many accuse the government of using the law to crack down on dissent. 

Cryptocurrencies crash

There has been significant and continued financial decline and uncertainty across the Cryptocurrency sector since Monday following the collapse in value of two of the largest Stablecoins, TerraUSD and Tether. Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies pegged to underlying assets, with the most popular, including Terra and Tether, pegged to the dollar. Though Terra and the other largest Stablecoin, USDCoin (USDC) have reserves in traditional holdings to match the value of outstanding tokens, Terra’s reserve currencies were in another bitcoin, Luna, and the crash of Terra has resulted in wider shockwaves throughout the Cryptocurrency landscape, halving the combined market value of all cryptocurrencies as of the time of writing (13th May). While Tether has now regained its dollar peg, and Bitcoin and Ethereum have also gained back losses, Terra has now completely ceased trading.

New South Korean President takes office

Yoon Seok-youl of the conservative People’s Power Party took office as the thirteenth president of South Korea on Tuesday. He won the election in March with a historically narrow margin of 1% over the centre-left Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung. Voters in the election were primarily concerned about rising house prices, the cost of living, and youth unemployment. Mr Yoon is known for being socially conservative. He has stated that there is not gender discrimination in South Korea, and in his manifesto pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. While less than 3% of the budget of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family goes towards promoting gender equality, it is thought that this pledge was popular amongst the voting base of young men. In terms of foreign policy, Mr Yoon intends to take a tougher stance against North Korea and China, a significant shift from the previous president, Moon Jae-in, who aimed to create positive engagements with North Korea.

Democrats set to challenge Amazon as they regain Trade Commission majority

The confirmation of Alvaro Bedoya as the new member of the Federal Trade Commission  by the Senate on Wednesday 11th has ended a period of deadlock (with both the Republicans and Democrats having two appointees) and has awarded the Democrats a majority on the commission. This will allow the progressive Trade Commission chair to pursue the Democrats’ policies more strenuously. These include investigating Amazon for breaking anti-monopoly laws for their acquisition of film studio MGM, challenging Elon Musk’s potential takeover of Twitter and putting in stricter regulations on data protection for consumers.

UK makes defence pacts with Sweden and Finland

As the two historically neutral Nordic countries are moving ever closer towards NATO membership in face of the growing Russian threat, the UK has signed mutual defence pacts with Sweden and Finland. Under the terms of the agreement the UK has promised to offer assistance to both countries if they come under attack, while they would also come to the UK’s aid in a similar emergency. Boris Johnson has also not ruled out the deployment of direct military intervention, saying that any decision would be based on “the request of the other party”.

Trudeau’s government announces funding to improve abortion access

The Canadian government has announced the provision of C$3.5 million intended to provide better information about abortion access and removing any remaining barriers for women to find and use abortion services. Abortion funding was an important part of the Liberals’ 2021 election manifesto, and this will be the first part of a much wider plan. C$45 million was promised for improving abortion services, while they also pledged to update the Canada Health Act to mandate the provision of publicly funded abortion services. Currently, the only legal basis for abortion in Canada is a Supreme Court decision from 1988 which only decriminalises abortion, and there are calls for the Liberals to enshrine the right to abortion in legislation. The announcement is possibly intended to coincide with the Conservative Party’s leadership election, since a number of Conservative MPs are openly anti-abortion.

Guinea’s opposition rejects a proposed 3-year democratic transition plan

The military junta that seized power in Guinea in September 2021 has proposed a timeline for a transition back to civilian democracy, which they say will take 39 months. However the three largest opposition parties along with many other smaller groups have rejected the plan, on the grounds that it hasn’t been approved by the National Transitional Council, which is acting as an interim parliament. The Council has however passed a 36-month timeline, amid mass walkouts by the party of the former President. The regional body for West Africa, ECOWAS, has not ruled out imposing sanctions on Guinea’s economy if elections are not held swiftly.

North Korea confirms first death from Covid-19

North Korea has previously denied the presence of Covid-19 in the country. However, this week, North Korea declared a national lockdown after confirming first cases and the deaths of six citizens. There is thought to have been an outbreak of the Omicron variant in the capital, Pyongyang, with a reported 350,000 across the country showing fever symptoms. North Korea has a population of 25 million unvaccinated citizens, and has refused the offer of vaccinations several times. The country is experiencing food shortages after restricting trade at the start of the pandemic, and has a limited healthcare system. That North Korea has admitted to cases of Covid-19 suggests that this is a serious outbreak and the population are likely to face harsh conditions in the coming months.