Welcome back to Axios World. I wanted to rebrand as Shane's World for the duration of Dave's vacation, but alas, the higher-ups at Axios weren't on board. Party on!
The number of undernourished people around the globe increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, the third straight year of growth and the highest figure since 2009, according to a new report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
Why it matters: Along with conflict and instability, this rise in global hunger is driven increasingly by climate change and related extreme weather events, putting some of the world's most vulnerable citizens at even greater risk.
The big picture: Climate change has the potential to erode the gains made toward fighting global hunger over the past decade — which were largely due to political stability, economic growth and greater social protections in the developing world — as extreme weather kicks off more and more societal crises around the world. Some specific weather trends are triggering the worst climate shocks on food stores:
Of the 51 countries that faced food crises in 2017, 34 had climate shocks, per the UN report. The food security threat deepened in the 14 countries that simultaneously faced conflict and regional instability in addition to climate shocks.
The bottom line: Without significant action to address climate change, some of the world's most vulnerable citizens may face increasing risk from global hunger, which was on a marked downward trend just 5 years ago — and the UN had hoped to eliminate fully by 2030.
The two suspects in Salisbury on March 4. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images
The suspected Russian intelligence officers charged by the U.K. with carrying out a nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal sat down for an interview with Kremlin-funded RT to let the world know they were definitely just in Salisbury, England, in March as normal tourists.
What they're saying:
"Amazing. Two Russian men claim they went to Salisbury as tourists but were frustrated by all the snow on the ground, so they immediately went home ... to Moscow. In March. Where it was covered in snow."— Christopher Miller, a journalist covering Ukraine and Eastern Europe
The intrigue: Just yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the two men to come forward for a media appearance, per the NYT:
The U.S. Embassy in Havana. Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images
Russia is now the primary suspect in a series of mysterious attacks that led to traumatic brain injuries and other strange symptoms for American diplomatic personnel working in Cuba and China, according to an NBC News report.
Why it matters: Should the suspicions prove correct, it would mark a stunning escalation by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin against the United States, expanding the field of conflict beyond election meddling and electronic disinformation to actual physical attacks against U.S. government personnel.
What they're saying: The State Department pushed back against NBC's report on Tuesday. Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, "Our position has not changed. ... We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into this."
"Success turned liberals into a complacent elite. They need to rekindle their desire for radicalism," writes The Economist in its 175th anniversary issue:
Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images
The European Parliament passed a rare motion Wednesday condemning Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for violating the European Union's founding values, which center on democracy and respect for the rule of law, reports Axios' Zach Basu.
The big picture: The motion could trigger a vote to strip Hungary of its EU voting rights, but it would require unanimous approval, and several of Orbán's allies have already said they would vote no. But even a symbolic move to censure Hungary is significant given that members of Orbán's own coalition in the European Parliament, the center-right European People's Party, have finally taken a stand against his autocratic rule.
The bottom line: The European Parliament's elections are next year, and the EPP must decide whether to engage Orbán in dialogue or eject him from its ranks — and risk facing off against a potential far-right alliance he could form with other populists.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir returns to Juba. Photo: Akuot Chol/AFP/Getty Images
"South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel factions in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday to end a civil war that has killed at least 50,000 people," reports Reuters.
The big picture:
The other side, via John Prendergast, co-founder of African watchdog The Sentry with George Clooney:
An aerial view of a Catalan pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona this week. Photo: Roser Vilallonga/AFP/Getty Images
"We examine the market, look if there is something new — some biologically active additives, amino acids, vitamins, microelements. We pick up the most necessary, come here and decide how to deliver the new products from this market here."— Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the U.K.'s suspects in the Skripal poisoning told RT about their "careers" in sports nutrition that brought them to Salisbury
Thanks for reading! See you again on Monday for my second week at the helm.