World Review: COP26, French fishing, Taiwan territory and Russian gas

COP26 finished its first week with a super abundance of world leaders making a plethora of pledges about climate change. Deforestation is to end (except maybe in Indonesia). More money is to be made available for green technology in developing countries. Eighteen countries (most of them small) have agreed to move away from coal generated energy. Now the leaders have flown home in their gas guzzling carbon emitting private jets and left it to officials to hammer out the devilish details and attempt to wring out concessions from the biggest polluters, mainly China and India who together are responsible for over a third of the planet’s carbon emissions. On the latter point they will have a tough job. India refuses to commit to climate change targets until 2070 which most climatologists reckon is much too little much too late. China, for its part, is continuing to build and export electricity stations powered by its massive coal reserves. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon emissions are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, with India rising by 12.6% and China by 4% between 2020 and 2021. The climate watchdogs predict that 2022 could see record levels of carbon emissions as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Europeans heaved a temporary sigh of relief this week when at the 11th hour French President Emmanuel Macron called off a trade war with Britain. The catalyst was a dispute over fishing rights. But the real cause was anger over treaty commitments. All of which means that the respite is likely to be temporary, especially as Britain appears to be on the verge of imposing Article 16 over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sir Peter Ricketts, former British Ambassador to France, writing in the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche said: “the relationship between France and the United Kingdom is at its lowest point in my entire career as a diplomat.” The British claim that the French threats are posturing aimed at winning votes in the April presidential elections. That is doubtless a major factor. Pro-European Macron is eager to prove to French euro-sceptics that withdrawal from Europe comes with a heavy price. But Sir Peter reckons that that is only part of the story. He maintains Boris Johnson’s anti-European position and “failure to meet its commitments “allows him to divert the attention of public opinion from the internal problems in the UK.”

It was a bad week for US President Joe Biden and America’s Democrats. First, the president was caught napping (or did he just rest his eyelids?) at COP26 in Glasgow. Then the Democrats lost the Virginia governorship to Republican Glenn Yongkin and barely won the governorship in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. This is a bad sign for the election chances of Biden’s Democrats in the mid-term congressional and senate elections a year from now. Virginia was seen as a referendum on the Biden Administration. It is a divided state. In the heavily populated Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC the electorate is overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. But outside of the Washington suburbs, born-again conservative Republicans rule the roost. In 2020, Joe Biden surprised the pundits by winning the state with a clear ten point lead. But over the past six months his national approval ratings have dropped by more than ten points. Rising inflation, the continuing pandemic, a deadlocked legislative agenda, and the debacle of Afghanistan, have all combined to put Biden and the Democrats on the political back foot. But if “a week is a long time in politics” as the late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, then a year is an eternity.

Taiwan’s Pratas Island on the northern edge of the South China Sea covers 590 acres of which 190 are a lagoon and a big chunk of the rest is an airport. There are no permanent inhabitants, just 500 Taiwanese marines to protect the island from a Chinese attack. According to National Security Bureau Director-General, Chen Ming-ton, those marines will have their job cut out for them within six years as the Chinese intend to invade and annex the island. Pratas Island is a likely target. Its diminutive size means it can only be lightly defended. On top of that, it is 250 miles away from Taiwan. But as Beijing piles on the pressure, others are lining up behind the US to offer support to Taipei. The latest is the European Parliament which this week sent their first official delegation to Taipei. Raphael Glucksman, the French MEP leading the delegation, told Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen: “You are not alone. Europe is standing with you.” Beijing responded by saying that the visit and comments sent “the wrong signals.”

Russia—in the form of gas and oil monopoly Gazprom—continues to pile on the pressure as world energy supplies dwindle and prices rocket. Last week it was tiny, impoverished Moldova. This week it is the turn of big rich Germany. For the past week Gazprom has not delivered gas supplies to northern Germany and only half of the normal supplies have reached Austria and southern Germany. Most experts believe that the non-deliveries are related to the EU dragging its feet on final approval of the Nordstream Two gas pipe line which will pump supplies directly to Germany from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone on television to dismiss these claims as “unjustified blather.” He said that Gazprom was honouring all of its contractual obligations. This is probably true. The problem is that roughly half of Russian gas Germany buys circumvents long-term fixed contracts by going through the spot markets. In the past, this helped to keep down energy prices as spot market prices were traditionally lower than fixed Gazprom contracts. But the energy crunch has changed that. In the past few months, prices have risen by 18 percent and expected to rocket as winter descends.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • Brad Barrows 7th Nov '21 - 9:21am

    …“and annex the island.”
    I am quite sure that the Taiwanese politician is correct in his assessment that China may consider invading the Pratas island in the near future but, if they do, I think it is more difficult to argue that this would also represent ‘annexation’. Taiwan today may, indeed, be a de facto country having managed to avoid being taken over along with the rest of Chinese territory by communist forces, but it is not recognised as an independent country by the United Nations and most countries continue to follow a one-China policy. If the international community wants to recognise Taiwanese independence it will have to be willing to fight to enforce it as China has made clear that it will resort to force to reunite Chinese territory should a formal move to independence for a Taiwan ever be made. In this context, if China were to invade to take over the Pratas Island, keeping it would not be annexation of one country’s territory by another.

  • Steve Trevethan 7th Nov '21 - 7:19pm

    Might America’s foreign policy have reached a hinge point in accepting the reality of a tri-polar World?

  • Charles Smith 8th Nov '21 - 8:12pm

    This conflict pits France against Britain — and not for the first time. Think of the Napoleonic wars in the 1800s, the Seven Years’ War in the 1700s (when Canada was a prize) and, of course, the big one: the Hundred Years’ War. That was some time ago. It ended in 1453.

    At stake in the current conflict are — wait for it — a couple hundred fishing licences for small French boats. These were introduced after the Brexit vote in 2016, when Britain took back control of its coastal waters. They allow the French boats, as agreed in the Brexit accord, to fish off the English coast and the coasts of the Channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey — as they have for decades.

    But the French say the British are deliberately refusing many licences to their boats. In retaliation, the French seized one English trawler and took it to the port of Le Havre and fined a second skipper on Oct. 27.

  • Brad Barrows 8th Nov '21 - 8:44pm

    @Charles Smith
    Groan…so the Hundred Years’ War was not between France and Britain, but between France and England, with Scotland a key ally of the French!
    And the English fishing boat taken to Le Havre is registered as Dumfries…Scotland!

  • Peter Hirst 14th Nov '21 - 3:16pm

    What a gift to China? An island scarcily defended, 250 miles from the Taiwan mainland. I hope the western allies have a good plan for if it’s invaded. I don’t envy the decision makers.

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