What you need to know this week — Global democracy lowest in over a decade, IS returns to Syria, Canada labels The Proud Boys terrorist group, and plants that send emails.
Exports from UK to EU down 68% since Brexit trade deal. Exports from Britain fell by 68% in January as trade was disrupted after the end of a transition period following Britain’s departure from the European Union, according to a trade body representing hauliers. However, the government says disruption is minimal.
Carbon border taxes priority for the UK’s G7 presidency. The Prime Minister wants to prompt a discussion and reach an agreement on carbon border adjustments, which may include penalties for imported goods produced in countries that do not uphold minimum climate standards.
Oil prices climb back to pre-pandemic levels. Brent crude, the major benchmark for oil, has been steadily increasing, while West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for US oil, last week rose above $55 a barrel for the first time in over a year.
Biden ends deadlock over first African and first woman to lead WTO. The Biden administration has ended the deadlock over the next head of the World Trade Organization by expressing its “strong support” for Nigeria’s ex-finance minister.
A shortage of computer chips is slowing down manufacturing. Major electronic companies like Samsung and Qualcomm, as well as automobile industries and 5G infrastructure, will be significantly affected by the overflow of demand combined with supply-line shortages of chip manufacturing.
Global democracy at its lowest in over a decade. The 2020 Democracy Index shows that global democracy has severely declined as a result of major rollbacks in civil liberties due to the pandemic and government-imposed lockdowns. However, the number of full democracies in Asia increased from 2 to 5 – Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
Putin’s approval rating holds steady despite Navalny crackdown. Nationwide protests over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a sweeping police crackdown have had little impact on Putin’s approval rating, a survey by independent pollster Levada found.
Netanyahu pleads not guilty to corruption charges ahead of elections. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to corruption charges at the resumption of his trial, six weeks before voters again head to the polls to pass judgment on his leadership.
Pacific island unity faces problems on multiple fronts. Micronesian states threaten to withdraw from the Pacific Forum after failing to gain the top position. On the same day Fiji deported the Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific which is co-owned by 12 Pacific countries after he raised corruption allegations.
US returning to “flawed” UN human rights forum. The United States said it would return as an observer to the UN Human Rights Council, which it quit under the Trump administration, while seeking reforms of the “flawed body”.
MIT scientists create spinach plants which can send emails. The spinach plants are engineered to emit a signal which, when detected, can send an email. In the future, scientists believe, such plants could also offer warnings about pollution, the presence of explosives or even climate change.
China to build city on Papua New Guinean island near Australian border. The proposal for ‘New Daru City’ includes an industrial zone, seaport, business and commercial zone, along with a resort and residential area, over a 100 km2 area. The seaport will be a hub for Chinese fishing vessels in the region.
50% of Afghans need humanitarian aid as violence rises. Rising violence is preventing aid deliveries, a senior European Union humanitarian official said, reiterating calls for a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban. EU will provide 32 million euros in 2021 for humanitarian assistance.
Chinese scientists use sound waves to make it rain. A team from Tsinghua University used sound energy to increase rainfall on Tibetan Plateau by up to 17 per cent. Researchers say technique has no detrimental impact on the environment, but more data is needed to prove its efficacy.
Indoor farms disrupting the fresh produce industry. The indoor farming industry is still trying to figure out the best model, whether that looks like distributed or centralized indoor farms to produce food efficiently and sustainably is still debatable. But the trend is clear.
Canada labels The Proud Boys a terrorist group. Canada follows a growing trend of labelling right wing organisations as terrorist groups. Three other right-wing groups were added to Canada’s list, including Attomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group whose members were involved in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and The Base.
Myanmar general repeats pledge of new election as tens of thousands join protests against coup. Myanmar’s military leader said his junta would hold a new election and hand power to the winner as tens of thousands of people took to the streets amid a general strike. General Min did not set a date for the election.
IS returning to Syrian towns. The Islamic State (IS) group has launched more than 100 attacks in north-eastern Syria over the last month alone and is terrorising many towns and villages at night. The violence is concentrated in the largely desert province of Deir al-Zour.
International Criminal Court clears way for war crimes probe of Israeli actions. The ICC’s chief prosecutor said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
Ugandan rebel commander from LRA convicted of war crimes by International Criminal Court. A former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) faces life imprisonment for crimes including torture, murder and including the killings of babies.
China’s English-language satellite news channel, CGTN has been taken off-air in Britain. The British media regulator ruled that it was controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. CGTN will also face sanctions over its reporting on the Hong Kong protests, including for broadcasting forced confessions.
Vaccine diplomacy: India seeks to rival China with international shipments. India has approved the shipment of the locally made AstraZeneca vaccine to Cambodia and plans to supply Mongolia and Pacific Island states and has supplied Afghanistan – all part of the country’s widening vaccine diplomacy.
Obesity is spreading across Africa and often co-exists with malnutrition. Processed food drives the obesity epidemic in African cities while many Africans, mainly boys, suffer from malnutrition.
Tigray medical services in Ethiopia struggle after turmoil of war. Some hospitals are barely functioning, with no water, electricity or food. Most were looted of medicines; staff members fled. International aid agencies found that out of Tigray’s 40 hospitals, only 11 were fully functional.
The Indonesian government has banned compulsory religious attire. This decision has evoked national discussion over religious intolerance and religious rights, with the government supporting individual rights within religious practice. Schools that do not comply with the ban could face sanctions.