The World Today for November 24, 2023
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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently journeyed to the foot of Mount Everest in Nepal to issue a warning.
He and his colleagues want to prevent Earth’s temperature from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times, reported Euronews. In the last 100 years, the temperature has risen by about half that much, meaning humans must do much more to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
But in the Himalayas, the problem is worse. A third of the ice on Nepal’s mountains, for example, has melted in the past 30 years due to global warming, said Guterres. “I am here today to cry out from the rooftop of the world: stop the madness,” he said, adding that the world needed to bring the “fossil fuel age” to an end.
Climbers who have scaled Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, have noted that the peak is dryer and greyer than what previous generations would have encountered, Reuters reported. Scientists have also forecast that glaciers in the mountainous region could lose as much as three-fourths of their volume by 2100. Their absence could lead to serious water shortages.
Climate change has harmed Nepal in other ways. Monsoons have caused floods and landslides, leading villagers to flee destroyed villages, wrote Asia News Network. Warmer weather has also attracted mosquitoes that have brought new diseases like dengue, added Foreign Policy magazine. The country needs major investments to deal with these shifts, especially because many Nepalese have built their homes on steep slopes that are changing as the ice melts and more water flows down, the World Bank found.
These issues might have been at the forefront of the minds of officials from around the world who elected Nepali atmospheric scientist Maheswar Rupakheti to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He’s the first Nepali on the panel, noted Third Pole, an environmental organization that works in the Himalayan region.
Working with the UN as well as European partners, the Nepalese government has adopted a plan to deal with these challenges as much as possible, argued researchers in an opinion piece on environmental news site Mongabay. This plan likely needs to focus more on the lowest classes of Nepali society, they said, but the country has the capacity to improve. Nepal has been open to new projects to combat climate change, like new agricultural techniques, for example.
It’s a small country, however, whose fate is largely in the hands of other countries and their tolerance level for pollution.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Breaking the Dam
The far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) made a historic win at the Dutch general election on Wednesday, sending shockwaves throughout the European Union and paving the way for complicated coalition talks, the Associated Press reported.
The party, led by populist veteran politician Geert Wilders, doubled its seats in the lower chamber of parliament, reaching a staggering 37 seats. This makes it the largest party by far in the 150-seat legislature, followed by the left-wing Green-Labor alliance with 25.
The PVV led a successful campaign based on anti-immigration rhetoric. The outgoing government, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), had collapsed over disagreements on asylum rules. This made migration the central point of contention in this year’s snap election.
With such a large majority, Wilders might become the Netherlands’ first-ever far-right prime minister. He would be the latest of a series of far-right populists landing the top job among the EU’s member states, after Italy’s Giorgia Meloni last year.
Another core element of his political manifesto was his country’s exit from the European Union – “Nexit” for short. While the Dutch are unlikely to support this proposal, Wilders does not seem to be toning down his Euroskeptic stance, Politico reported.
Nonetheless, he would still be a head-scratcher for Brussels. Giving another seat to the far-right at the European leaders’ table could tip over the continental bloc and lead to the reversal of key policies, such as military support for Ukraine.
For the moment, it is unclear whether Wilders will manage to form a government under his leadership.
The Dutch electoral system entails near-perfect proportional representation and a fragmented parliament, which makes coalitions difficult to achieve, the Guardian explained.
The VDD and the Green-Labor alliance said they would not work with Wilders. However, Pieter Omtzigt, who founded a new center-right party and was hitherto opposed to ruling with the PVV, now seems to have left the door open to discussion.
An alliance of all centrist parties against the PVV could also be seen as a betrayal of Dutch voters, Politico argued.
US authorities prevented the attempted assassination of a Sikh activist on American soil by alleged Indian government agents, according to a recent report that has prompted questions about India’s involvement in plots targeting Sikh separatists and advocates living abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Financial Times wrote this week that the United States thwarted the attempted killing of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen who is a lawyer for a group called Sikhs for Justice.
Unnamed sources told the FT that Washington had warned New Delhi this summer it had intelligence suggesting the Indian government was involved in the conspiracy.
On Wednesday, US officials noted that their Indian counterparts expressed “surprise and concern” about the allegations, and said “activity of this nature was not their policy.”
Following the allegations, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement acknowledging that Washington has “shared some inputs” and that the information was a “cause of concern for both countries.”
Meanwhile, Pannun – a vocal critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – accused the Indian government of trying to assassinate him. He then called for “Sikh sovereigntists” to “continue to campaign for (the) liberation of Punjab from the Indian occupation.”
The recent allegations come months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused India of being involved in the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia earlier this year.
Trudeau’s comments came after Canadian intelligence intercepted communications among Indian diplomats, suggesting New Delhi’s involvement in the Nijjar killing. India rejected the allegations.
The accusations caused a diplomatic row between the two countries, leading to the expulsion of diplomats and the temporary suspension of visa services.
The Sikh community – primarily residing in the north Indian state of Punjab and with a significant diaspora in Canada – has been in conflict with Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
This tension has revived discussions about a separate Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, which gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s. Although India suppressed the separatist movement in the 1990s, advocating for Khalistan remains a sensitive issue.
The recent accusations have come to light during a tricky period for the Biden administration, which is actively seeking to strengthen its relationship with India as a strategic move against China, according to the Washington Post.
Brazil’s upper house of parliament passed a draft constitutional amendment this week to limit the ability of Supreme Court judges to rule on issues individually, a move supporters say is aimed at curbing the judicial overreach of the country’s top court, Reuters reported.
The bill, still pending approval from the lower chamber, mandates that decisions made by Brazil’s Congress can only be overruled by the full plenary of the Supreme Court or a chamber of justices, and not by an individual judge.
It also introduces deadlines for case resolutions when judges request additional time for study, emphasizing that such requests be made collectively rather than as individual requests.
The amendment comes amid backlash from Brazil’s conservative-led Congress against a judiciary that played a crucial role in safeguarding the country’s democratic voting system against attacks by former President Jair Bolsonaro.
Lawmakers have accused the Supreme Court of overstepping into legislative functions after a series of rulings on social issues, such as facilitating gay marriage.
The tipping point for Congress was the court’s rejection of restrictions on Indigenous land claims that had been advocated by the influential farm lobby.
New disputes are expected to take place as the Court moves to decide on decriminalizing abortion, and marijuana possession.
Meanwhile, legislators are proposing other amendments, such as term limits for Supreme Court justices, and empowering lawmakers to overturn its decisions later deemed unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Roberto Barroso criticized the congressional movement, viewing it as detrimental to democracy.
This week, Ukraine celebrated the tenth anniversary of the pro-Europe Maidan Revolution, which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the “first victory” against Russia, Al Jazeera reported. The series of mass protests taking place on Kyiv’s Maidan Square in 2013 called on the Ukrainian government to distance itself from Russia and work towards integration into the European Union. Despite violent clashes that killed nearly 100 civilians, the “Revolution of Dignity” led to the resignation of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. Zelenskyy drew a link between the European spirit of the protests and Ukraine’s progress towards becoming part of the EU. While European leaders, including the German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and European Council Minister Charles Michel, visited Kyiv on the anniversary to show their continued support for Ukraine, Russia made comments blaming Ukraine and the West for the war.
Also this week:
- Frontex, the EU’s border agency, sent reinforcements to Finland this week amid suspicions that Russia is involved in a surge of migrants arriving in the country, the Associated Press noted. More than 800 migrants without proper visas have arrived since August, with at least 700 in November alone. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo called it a “serious disruption of border security” and accused Russia of initiating and being able to stop the influx. The Kremlin denies these allegations. Finland has closed four busy border crossings with Russia, leaving one Arctic crossing open for asylum seekers. Frontex plans to send 50 border guards, patrol cars, and equipment to assist. The Finnish government has noticed a change in Russia’s behavior at the border since Finland joined NATO in April. Estonia, Russia’s Baltic neighbor, has also experienced a surge in migrants attempting to enter the country, with Estonian officials blaming Moscow for the arrivals.
- Russia is planning to ban activities by what it calls the “LGBT movement” by labeling it as extremist, the BBC reported. Amongst the accusations of “extremist activity” is the inciting of “social and religious strife.” The ban would leave LGBT activists in danger of prosecution. Observers said this motion was designed to support Putin’s campaign to win a fifth term as president next year. His government has a history of cracking down on gay and queer rights, including an anti-propaganda law on LGBT content and a ban on gender-reaffirming surgery. Russia’s anti-LGBT rhetoric has increased in intensity since the beginning of the war and has become a sort of casus belli, as Putin opposes Western ideology and promotes “traditional Russian values.”
- Russian people have less trust in their military than before, although support is still high, as indicated in a Gallup poll that Euronews reported. Around 75 percent of Russians still say they have confidence in their army, but that is down from the 80 percent measured when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started. The decline is universal among age, gender, and wealth groups. The pollsters attributed this to the unkept promise made by the Kremlin that the war would be quick, as it approaches its second year. Setbacks against Ukrainian troops and the paramilitary Wagner Group’s coup attempt could have also played a part. While Russians had long distinguished between the army and the government, the poll shows that faith in the army had decreased much faster among anti-Putin citizens, down to an all-time low of 40 percent.
Scientists recently found evidence that the majestic Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt is not entirely man-made, Popular Mechanics reported.
Located near the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx is one of the many monuments that define the craftsmanship of ancient Egyptians.
But archaeologists have pondered over its origins.
In 1981, geologist Farouk El-Baz questioned whether the ancient builders made the Sphinx from scratch similar to the pyramids. He suggested that desert winds formed the overall contours of the lion-like figure and stonemasons then carved the rock with its unique features.
In a new paper, a research team initially focused on studying how water can erode clay. They constructed clay mounds with non-erodible plastic at the upstream end, simulating “hard inclusions.” As water flowed over the mounds, it eroded the clay, but the non-erodible plastic retained its shape, resulting in formations resembling seated lions.
The team explained the findings draw parallels with geological features called yardangs, which are sharp, irregular ridges of compact sand. When they added dye to the water, they observed how winds might shape structures like the Sphinx if met by a compact yardang upstream.
“Releasing dye upstream reveals compressed streaklines under the head, and this accelerated flow digs the neck and reveals the forelimbs and paws,” they wrote in a poster about their study. “These results show what ancient peoples may have encountered in the deserts of Egypt and why they envisioned a fantastic creature.”
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