Dec 16, 2019

Axios World

Welcome back to Axios World. This is our lucky 175th edition, and it's a crisp 1,489 words (5.5 minutes).

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1 big thing: Fiddling while the planet warms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The UN’s annual climate conference ended in failure yesterday, with big decisions on how to slow the relentless rise of global temperatures pushed off to 2020 and beyond.

Why it matters: World leaders gathering at global forums like the UN often frame climate change in existential terms. But their views of what remedies are necessary and fair tend to be colored by their own national interests.

  • Brazil and Australia — which both appear to be headed in the wrong direction on climate change — were accused of thwarting a proposed carbon trading system by insisting they be allowed to recycle past credits.
  • India, the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, opposed more ambitious emissions targets and called for an "examination of whether richer countries have done enough," per the BBC.
  • Saudi Arabia and Russia, both big oil producers, also opposed new targets.
  • China, the world's top emitter, will watch what direction the U.S. takes on climate after 2020 before deciding on its own commitments, analysts tell the NY Times.
  • The U.S. — the second-biggest emitter and the only country pulling out of the Paris Accord — helped block a proposal that would see developing countries compensated for extreme weather events linked to climate change.

Zoom out: The sense of urgency is much more acute in some parts of the world.

Leaders from small island nations expressed dismay over the lack of progress.

  • "Water covers much of our land at one or other point of the year as we fight rising tides,” President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands said in Madrid.
  • “It's a fight to the death for anyone not prepared to flee. As a nation, we refuse to flee. But we also refuse to die."

Meanwhile, the defense ministers of Finland and Sweden described climate change as a top security concern on a joint visit to Washington last week.

  • Russia is investing heavily in military capabilities in the Arctic, they told reporters, and countries are eyeing natural resources opened up by melting ice.
  • Asked by Axios about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's description of a warming Arctic as an “opportunity” for the U.S., Finland’s Antti Kaikkonen said he hadn’t seen Pompeo’s speech but added, “I see climate change more as a threat than a possibility.” His Swedish counterpart concurred.

What to watch: Meaningful progress on climate change will mean less burning of fossil fuels. That won't be easy.

The bottom line: 2019 saw a surge in activism around climate change, but not the results to match.

2. People in the streets: Global protests roundup

Thanathorn (waving) leads the protests in Bangkok. Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

1. Protests have raged across India over a law that would fast-track citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring countries.

  • The big picture: Some protesters are angry that the law excludes Muslims, while others fear it will incentivize illegal immigration.
  • Zoom in: Police raided Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on Sunday, resulting in violent clashes, dozens of arrests and at least 100 injuries.
  • What they’re saying: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for calm. Sonia Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress Party, accused the government of intentionally stoking religious tensions.

2. Demonstrations in Lebanon have intensified in anticipation of Saad Hariri — who resigned as prime minister amid an uprising against corruption and poor government services — being renamed to the post.

  • The big picture: The political parties in Lebanon, where top roles are divided among religious groups, failed to come up with an acceptable alternative to Hariri. The protesters are demanding a complete political overhaul.
  • Zoom in: “[S]ecurity forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters for a second straight day … in the toughest crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in two months,” per AP.

3. Thousands protested in Bangkok on Saturday in the biggest protests there since a 2014 military coup led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s current prime minister.

  • The protests were called by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 41-year-old billionaire, after Thailand’s electoral commission voted to disband his political party.
  • “Thanathorn has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of the government headed by Prayuth, 65, since an election in March that the opposition said was manipulated to favour the army,” The Guardian notes.
3. Beijing slams soccer star over Xinjiang criticism

China's state broadcaster pulled a match between English soccer giants Arsenal and Manchester City yesterday after Arsenal's Mesut Özil criticized Beijing for its mass detention of Uighur Muslims.

Why it matters: China's returning to the playbook it used when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support to protesters in Hong Kong. As in that case, the team distanced itself from the statement in an attempt to appease Beijing.

What they're saying:

"Korans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned. Religious scholars are being killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet."
— From Özil's statement
“As a football club, Arsenal has always followed the principle of not interfering in politics."
— From Arsenal's response
"What Özil said has clearly hurt his Chinese fans and Chinese people in general. It is unacceptable.”
— Chinese Football Association

Between the lines: Özil, a Turkish-German midfielder and global star, is right. It's not just sports teams but also countries that are refraining from criticizing China because they know Beijing will retaliate.

Expand chart
Data: Axios research; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Go deeper:

4. Africa news roundup

Protesters last month in Conakry, Guinea. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP via Getty Images

1. The State Department and U.S. senators are framing the case of a journalist arrested this month in Nigeria “as a test of the democratic credentials of Africa’s largest economy and one of America’s top counterterrorism allies,” per WSJ.

  • Omoyele Sowore, the journalist, “has been held on treason charges after calling for nationwide demonstrations to try to push President Muhammadu Buhari from power.”
  • “Critics say his treatment fits an alarming pattern of a media clampdown under Mr. Buhari.”

2. Guinea has seen rolling protests in recent weeks over suspicions President Alpha Condé plans to change the West African state’s constitution to seek a third term.

  • “At least 20 civilians have been killed since protests began, and one gendarme has also been killed,” per AFP. Conde, 81, “has neither confirmed nor denied his intentions.”

3. Former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, 75, was sentenced to two years in a rehabilitation facility (Sudan doesn’t imprison people over 70) for corruption and money laundering on Saturday.

  • Bashir faces more charges in Sudan, and he is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

4. The wife of Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was charged today with attempting to kill him, per Al Jazeera.

5. Ukraine Pt. 1: Zelensky still wants to visit

Trump and Zelensky at the UN in September. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The first official visit to Washington from Ukraine's new government took place last week, but it did not include President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Driving the news: Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on Friday that Ukraine was still working to schedule a White House visit for Zelensky.

  • It emerged in the impeachment proceedings that U.S. officials said the date for the meeting would be set only after Zelensky announced investigations sought by President Trump.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did get an Oval Office meeting with Trump last week, directly after negotiations in France on the war in eastern Ukraine.

The big picture: The U.S. remains Ukraine's most important partner, but the relationship has been complicated by impeachment.

  • Zelensky lamented recently that Trump's repeated descriptions of Ukraine as corrupt were undercutting his efforts to secure needed investment.
  • He also said Trump shouldn't have suspended military aid, adding: "We're at war."
  • Kuleba expressed appreciation for U.S. support, but said it needed strengthening even amid the current "turmoil."

Zoom in: Kuleba's agenda in Washington included meetings on Capitol Hill and with members of the National Security Council and State Department.

  • He said none of the administration officials he met with asked about Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden or impeachment. "As you can imagine, nor did I mention it," he added.
  • Kuleba joked that since the officials he'd met had been quite positive toward Ukraine, "maybe I was meeting with the wrong people."
6. Ukraine Pt. 2: Rudy's man in Kiev

Yuriy Lutsenko. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko has been a source for Rudy Giuliani, a foe of former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and one of the most-cited figures in the impeachment proceedings to date.

  • Adam Entous explores the strange story of a man without whom the whole impeachment saga may never have happened in this week's New Yorker.

Zoom in: Lutsenko is generally viewed as "an unscrupulous politician prone to telling lies to further his personal ambitions," but it wasn't always that way.

  • "Before becoming prosecutor general, he was considered one of Ukraine’s most promising pro-Western politicians," Entous writes.
  • "In 2004, he helped lead the country’s first major post-Soviet protest movement, known as the Orange Revolution."
  • "In 2010, he was incarcerated for his political opposition to Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia Ukrainian President, and his release became a cause célèbre for the European envoys who’d visited him in prison."

Once in office, though, American officials began to view him as an enabler (and likely beneficiary) of corruption.

  • Lutsenko's efforts to save his job, rehabilitate his image and settle scores brought him into Trump's outer orbit, where he collided with Giuliani. His story has only grown stranger since.

Read the piece.

7. Stories we're watching

Evening in Doha, Qatar. Photo: FIFA via Getty Images

  1. Bolivia to issue arrest warrant against Evo Morales
  2. U.S. accused of blindsiding Mexico with USMCA provision
  3. North Korea conducts satellite test for second time in a week
  4. Scottish leader: U.K. election results are mandate for independence vote
  5. 44,000-year-old cave paintings discovered in Indonesia
  6. Asylum claims from Brazilians spike in U.S.
  7. Trade war freeze: China suspends tariffs; Big Pork wants to cash in


“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way. She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”
— Giuliani to Entous in the New Yorker piece. Go deeper.