M. C. Escher Reptiles 1943
May is likely to ask for a few months’ delay, but Brussels won’t have that.
Brexit could be delayed until 2021 under plans being explored by the EU’s most senior officials, at a time of growing exasperation over Theresa May’s handling of the talks, the Guardian can reveal. A lengthy extension of the negotiating period is gaining traction as the EU’s default position should the Commons continue to reject May’s deal, and a request emerge. Replacing the 21-month transition period with extra time as a member state would allow the UK and the EU to develop their plans for the future relationship with the aim of making the contentious Irish backstop redundant. Brussels is determined to avoid offering a short extension only to have to revisit the issue in the summer when the government again fails to win round parliament.
“If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches,” one EU diplomat said. “A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework [the EU’s budget period] and make things easier. Provided leaders are not completely down with Brexit fatigue, and a three-month technical extension won’t cut it, I would expect a 21-month kick [of the can]. It is doing the rounds in Brussels corridors. Martin Selmayr [the European commission’s secretary-general], among others, also fond of the idea.”
Exasperation with May’s handling of Brexit is growing in Brussels as senior insiders put the chance of the UK crashing out without a deal at “more than 50%”. Informed sources say there is dismay that senior government figures are focused on seeking domestic political advantage and appear wilfully blind to the opposition to reopening the withdrawal agreement. [..] There is also bewilderment that the recent flurry of meetings in Brussels involving May’s Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, and the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, are being characterised in London as “negotiations” when the reality is the EU is still waiting for the prime minister to show them the alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop for which she claims to have a majority in support.
Why is May not in London, but in Egypt with the EU she wants to leave in a month and change? Arms deals?
MPs will be able to have a fresh vote on the Brexit deal by 12 March, Prime Minister Theresa May has said. Speaking as she travelled to an EU-Arab League summit in Egypt, Mrs May ruled out holding another so-called “meaningful vote” this week. But she said “positive” talks with the EU were “still ongoing” and leaving on 29 March was “within our grasp”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “recklessly running down the clock”. In a tweet, he said the move was intended to “force MPs to choose between her bad deal and a disastrous no deal”.
Labour, he said, would “work with MPs across the Commons to prevent no deal, break the deadlock and build support for our alternative plan”. On the plane to Sharm el-Sheikh for a summit between EU and Arab league leaders, Mrs May said her team would be returning to the Belgian capital on Tuesday for further talks. “As a result of that, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by 12 March,” she added.
He wants No Collusion fully documented. Oh, wait, no, he wants to see if there are any scraps left that can serve to divert attention from the fact that there’s No Collusion.
A top Democrat threatened on Sunday to call special counsel Robert Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill, subpoena documents and take the Trump administration to court if necessary, if the full report on the Russia investigation is not made public. House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff told ABC’s This Week his committee will be watching Attorney General William Barr to see if he were “to try to bury any part of this report”. There will be intense scrutiny and pressure on Barr, he said, to fully release the report. “We will take it to court if necessary,” Schiff said. “If he were to try to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy and it will be a tarnished legacy.
So I think there’ll be immense pressure not only on the department, but on the attorney general to be forthcoming.” Schiff is not alone in calling for the report to be made public, or in promising aggressive investigations by Democrat-controlled committees. He himself has made such calls. But the pressure is mounting as Mueller is showing signs of wrapping up his nearly two-year-old investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election. Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can. But during his confirmation hearing last month, he also made clear that he ultimately will decide what the public sees and that any report will be in his words, not Mueller’s.
On Sunday, Schiff suggested that anything short of Mueller’s full report will not be enough to satisfy Democrats. He pointed to a public interest in seeing some of the underlying evidence, such as information gathered from searches conducted on longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman. Schiff has said his committee planned to expand its own investigations by examining, for instance, whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates.
From negotiations to dancing.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to delay a planned tariff increase on Chinese exports after both sides hailed “substantial progress” in trade talks, raising the prospect of a summit with President Xi Jinping to seal the deal. Trump said Sunday there could be “very big news” in the next two weeks, and he planned to meet with Xi at the US leader’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida if more progress is made. Top negotiators met in Washington for four days of talks that ended on Sunday in an effort to resolve a months-long trade war that analysts feared could torpedo the global economy.
The United States had been due to increase tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods on March 1, but Trump said he would now delay the punitive duties following the “very productive talks”. “I am pleased to report that the U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The official Xinhua news agency used almost the exact same language, reporting “substantial progress” on those thorny issues in the talks led by Xi’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He.
Warning: someone will try to sell this to you as a positive for green.
Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade will rise 11 percent to 354 million tonnes this year as new facilities increase supplies to Europe and Asia, Royal Dutch Shell said in an annual LNG report on Monday. Shell, the largest buyer and seller of LNG in the world, said trade rose by 27 million tonnes last year, with Chinese demand growth accounting for 16 million tonnes of those volumes. Shell’s forecasts, which see LNG demand climbing to 384 million tonnes next year, reflect a burgeoning industry with new production facilities opening in Australia, the United States and Russia and more countries becoming importers by constructing receiving terminals. Asia dominates the market with Japan remaining the top buyer.
China became the second largest in 2017 as demand soared due to a government-mandated push for power stations to switch from coal to cleaner-burning gas to help reduce pollution. Due to the uneven progress of developing liquefaction-export facilities on the one hand and regasification-import terminals on the other, many analysts see the global market becoming oversupplied if not this year then next year. But most also see a supply crunch around the mid-2020s because, at the moment, there are not enough liquefaction facilities being planned, financed and built. Such projects are underpinned by long-term supply contracts struck years in advance by their operators. Between 2014 and 2017 buyers were signing shorter-duration contracts for smaller volumes, making financing difficult to complete.
Actually, it’s perhaps mostly about primary care.
As the US struggles with declining life expectancy (as deaths from suicides, drug overdoses and other “deaths of despair” climb), rising infant mortality and ballooning health-care costs that preclude access to preventative care for millions of Americans – not to mention the attendant ills of rampant obesity and tobacco use), America has seen its position among the world’s healthiest nations deteriorate, while, across the Atlantic, more European nations are claiming spots in the highest echelons of the global rankings. According to Bloomberg’s 2019 World Health Rankings, Spain has supplanted Italy as the world’s healthiest country. In the most ranking, published in 2017, Spain had placed sixth.
Four other European nations ranked among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, climbing three ranks to place fourth overall, and supplanting Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Rounding out the top ten were Australia and Israel, which ranked seventh and 10th, respectively. Variables including life expectancy are used to rank countries, while factors like tobacco use and obesity work against the overall ranking. Environmental factors like access to clean water and sanitation are also taken into consideration. Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among EU nations. Out of all 169 nations that BBG tracks, only Japan and Switzerland rank higher. By 2040, Spain is forecast to have the highest lifespan, at roughly 86 years, followed by Japan, Singapore and Switzerland.
The reason? Access to primary care. “Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain. Over the past decade, this has helped bring about a decline in deaths from heart disease and cancer. While China ranked 52nd overall, it’s on track to surpass the US by 2040, according to the Institute for health metrics and evaluation.
“When the EU wants something, it usually gets it..”
The African Union is seeking to kill off the EU’s latest blueprint for stemming migration, claiming that it would breach international law by establishing “de facto detention centres” on African soil, trampling over the rights of those being held. A “common African position paper” leaked to the Guardian reveals the determination of the 55-member state body, currently headed by Egypt, to dissuade any of its coastal states from cooperating with Brussels on the plan. The EU set plans for “regional disembarkation platforms” in motion last summer to allow migrants found in European waters to have their asylum requests processed on African soil.
Brussels has a similar arrangement in place with Libya, where there are 800,000 migrants, 20,000 of whom are being held in government detention centres. The Libyan authorities have been accused of multiple and grave human rights abuses. A UN report recently stated that migrants in the country faced “unimaginable horrors”. Some northern states, including Morocco, have already rejected the EU’s proposal over the new “platforms”, but there are concerns within the African Union (AU) that other member governments could be persuaded by the offer of development funds.
Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has called for the centres to be based around the Sahel region, in Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan. An inaugural summit between the EU and the League of Arab States is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Sunday and Monday, and migration is expected to be discussed. “When the EU wants something, it usually gets it,” said a senior AU official. “African capitals worry that this plan will see the establishment of something like modern-day slave markets, with the ‘best’ Africans being allowed into Europe and the rest tossed back – and it is not far from the truth.”
I’m sure this means Australia is going for some kind of award. Just don’t know which one.
Australia plans to dump one million tonnes of sludge in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite strict laws on dumping waste, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) gave the go-ahead. A loophole was found – the laws don’t apply to materials generated from port maintenance work. It comes one week after flood water from Queensland spread into the reef, which scientists say will “smother” the coral. The industrial residue is dredged from the bottom of the sea floor near Hay Point Port – one of the world’s largest coal exports and a substantial economic source for the country. Larissa Waters, senator for Queensland and co-deputy leader of the Greens Party, called for the license to be revoked.
“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” she told the Guardian. “One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.” It’s just “another nail in the coffin” for the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is already under stress due to climate change, according to Dr Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton. “If they are dumping it over the coral reef itself, it will have quite a devastating effect. The sludge is basically blanketing over the coral. “The coral relies on the algae, that’s what give them their colour and what helps them feed – without this partnership the coral will suffer dramatically.”
“..we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. ”
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England. After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with around 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.
The material is the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over the heads of billions, fortifying our defences against natural disaster and providing a structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry. Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitise us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses. Our blue and green world is becoming greyer by the second. By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet.
Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly. All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The concrete industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally seen as less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. Which is exactly why we have come to rely on it.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Britain’s first farmland worm survey has revealed that nearly half of English fields lack key types of earthworm and may help explain the alarming decline of one of the country’s most loved songbirds. The citizen science project, in which farmers dug for worms in their own fields, has prompted 57 per cent of them to pledge to change their soil management practices – a move that may benefit the song thrush, for whom worms are a vital food source. The English population of the song thrush, popular for both its voice and its habit of using stones as an “anvil” to smash the shells of its other favourite food – snails – declined by more than 50 per cent between 1970 and 1995, leading to it being listed as a species of conservation concern.
The #60minworms survey, led by Dr Jackie Stroud, a Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) soil security fellow at the Rothamsted Research centre, adds to the evidence that the song thrush is being affected by a reduction in farmland earthworm populations, along with the loss of hedgerow nesting sites. In a statement about the survey, Rothamsted Research said: “The results indicate widespread, historical over-cultivation, and may explain observed declines in other wildlife, such as the song thrush, that feed on these worms.” Stressing the importance of earthworms, Dr Stroud added: “Earthworms play vital roles in plant productivity and are great bird food as well. They are really important in our soil systems. “They influence carbon cycling, water infiltration, pesticide movement, greenhouse gas emissions, plant productivity, the breeding success of birds and even the susceptibility of plants to insect attack.
Stop any and all trade with any and all countries where animal parts are traded.
An elephant has been found dead with its tusks and tail sliced off in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where wild elephant numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred due to poaching and deforestation. The Southeast Asian nation has emerged in recent years as a key transit hub for the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade, with demand for products made from tusks, pangolin scales and rhino horns high in China and neighbouring Vietnam. According to the Mondulkiri Project, an animal rescue NGO, there are about 400 elephants in the wild in Cambodia, and about 50 held in captivity.
The body of the male Asian elephant was found on Sunday in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Mondulkiri province, said Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra. “The elephant’s tusks were missing and its tail was also cut off,” he told AFP on Monday, adding the animal was killed about 10 days ago. “There was a wound from a gunshot under its right eye,” Neth Pheaktra said, adding authorities are still hunting for the poachers. A baby elephant was found dead last year in the same sanctuary when it was caught in a trap set by poachers, he said. The Asian elephant is hunted for its precious tusks, while its tail hair is considered lucky and embedded in rings and bracelets.
The body of a male Asian elephant was found in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Cambodia on Sunday (AFP Photo/Handout)
“..Tanzania lost 60% of its elephant population in five years..”
One of the last elephant sanctuaries in Africa has “a significant elephant-poaching problem”, according to the final results of an aerial wildlife survey in Botswana seen by the BBC. Elephants Without Borders, which conducted the four-yearly survey with the government, said there was a six-fold increase in the number of “fresh” or “recent” elephant carcasses in northern Botswana amid “obvious signs” of poaching. Mike Chase, the scientist who carried out the survey, sparked a fierce debate in the country when he went public half-way through his study in August last year with accusations there was a poaching problem and alleging the authorities were ignoring him. He told the BBC at the time that while flying over northern Botswana, he had discovered 87 recently killed elephants in one “hotspot” area – a number now revised to 88 – and 128 overall.
The government called his figures “false and misleading” and criticised “unsubstantiated and sensational media reports”. He received death threats and has since had one of his two research licences suspended by the government. President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the time described the allegations as the “biggest hoax of the 21st Century” and denied there had been a spike in poaching in the country. But the final report identifies four poaching hotspots, provides photographic evidence from ground surveys and has been peer-reviewed by nine international elephant experts. “The response from… various people was to try and deny or whitewash – label me a traitor and a liar – without having actually verified the evidence we bore witness to,” said Mr Chase.
Botswana is home to 130,000 elephants – a third of the total number in Africa – and it is an obvious target for poachers. Even when extrapolating poaching figures from the sample found in the survey, the numbers killed will not have a major impact on such a large population. “If we are talking about a number of carcasses that have accumulated over a period of two years, given the population of elephants in Botswana it doesn’t really raise eyebrows,” said national parks director Mr Tiroyamodimo. This was not satisfactory for Mr Chase. “At what point do we say we have a problem?” he asked.
“Is it at 10? 50? 100? 150? 1,000? Lessons have taught us – when we look at Tanzania that lost 60% of its elephant population in five years – that’s how quickly poaching can settle into a population. “We saw with our own eyes 157 confirmed poached elephants. We estimate that the total poached in the last year is at least 385 and probably far more because that is based on what we actually saw and have not had time or finances to visit all carcasses on the ground.”