Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

New SPD leader has tough job: saving his party

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Two years ago Sigmar Gabriel came into the Reuters office in Berlin for an interview about climate change, the environment, renewable energy policies and the state of his Social Democrats.

The burly minister, who was elected leader of Germany’s struggling centre-left SPD party on Friday, had clearly lost weight on his summer holiday that had just ended so, while my colleagues were still streaming into the conference room, I asked: “You’ve lost some weight, haven’t you?”

Gabriel smiled briefly. Colleagues later told me they were horrified that I had asked him about his weight. It was merely an attempt to break the ice. There was, after all, another German political leader a few years ago who was once even heavier and lost more than 50 kg with an intensive jogging and diet programme that began one summer: Joschka Fischer of the Greens.

“Yeah, I did,” Gabriel said. “I got some exercise on my holiday. But I won’t be able to keep it off if people keep putting things like this in front of me like you’ve done here,” he added with a laugh as he munched on some cookies.

from Environment Forum:

Will Nobel Prize also take Obama to Copenhagen climate talks?

The surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama just nine months into his presidency on Friday may put pressure on him to visit a 190-nation meeting on a new U.N. climate treaty in Copenhagen.

The prize will be handed over in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of the award's founder Alfred Nobel, and the U.N. talks will run in Copenhagen from Dec. 7-18. It takes about an hour to fly between the two Scandinavian capitals.

from Environment Forum:

A green Nobel Peace Prize next week? Or one too many?

Will the guardians of the Nobel Peace Prize make another green award in 2009 to encourage sluggish talks on new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in Copenhagen?

Or is it too early after environmental prizes in both 2004 and 2007?

The five-member Nobel panel likes to make topical awards to try to influence the world -- a prize announcement on Oct. 9 linked to climate change could hardly be better timed since 190 nations will meet in Copenhagen in December to agree a new pact for fighting global warming.

Norwegian memo sparks PR crisis for UN’s Ban Ki-moon

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Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
    
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
    
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
    
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.

So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
    
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
 
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
    
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
    
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
    
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
    
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.

Quake tours, spartan rooms at no-frills G8 summit

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    Hiking through rubble-strewn streets, taking in a quake exhibit or bedding down in a concrete police compound — leaders at this week’s G8 summit in the Italian town of L’Aquila  are in for a change of pace from the routine luxury spa and resort experience of past summits.******    Devastated by an April earthquake that killed nearly 300 people and ringed by tent camps with portable toilets, L’Aquila is a far cry from previous G8 host cities like the Baltic seaside town of Heiligendamm, French lakeside resort Evian and Scottish golf resort Gleneagles.************ ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******    U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders are being housed in a grey police school building on the outskirts of the mountain town, where they are to stay in spartan rooms with granite floors and cream-coloured walls and furnished with little more than simlpe wooden beds with white sheets.******    “There won’t be the luxuries of hotels on (Sardinia’s) Emerald Coast or (Rome’s) Via Veneto, but there will be dignified accommodation worthy of welcoming such important people,” said Italy’s emergency services chief, Guido Bertolaso.******    Room service menus will be absent, but each room will be supplied with instructions on what to do in the event of another earthquake.  Aftershocks have been persistent and plentiful in the run-up to the summit.******    In their free time, leaders can browse through an exhibit on “100 years of earthquakes” in Italy or take up Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s offer of a guided tour of areas laid to waste by the tremor, like Germany’s Angela Merkel did on Wednesday.******Earthquake victims have even welcomed leaders with a giant sign on a hill near the summit site declaring “Yes we camp” to protest the slow pace of reconstruction in the area.******   ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******For all the lack of luxury, L’Aquila does guarantee voters back home will see images of their leaders rolling up their sleeves under the hot Abruzzo sun at a time of recession and financial turmoil.******    “I think it’s better to have (the summit) in a damaged zone than in an ultra-touristy region where people are spending millions of dollars on their vacations, while the leaders are there to discuss solutions to the global economic crisis,” said Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ahead of the summit.******    Italy was initially set to host the annual summit of leaders from the world’s richest nations on the picturesque island of Sardinia, but hastily moved it to L’Aquila citing solidarity with victims when faced with complicated logistics and spiralling costs.******    One thing that won’t be lacking at the summit is fine Italian cuisine, since good food is not a luxury given up easily in Italy.  Among the local delicacies on offer are goat on skewers, baby lamb, rabbit from the small town of Goriano Valli, artichokes from Prezza and red garlic from nearby Sulmona.

EU President Sweden to lead by example on climate change

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A lush green residential area in the south of Stockholm embodies Sweden’s determination to lead from the front in its efforts to combat climate change during its presidency of the European Union.

 

A decade ago, Hammarby Sjostad was a run-down industrial area with pollution problems. Today it is an environmentally friendly suburb which exemplifies the battle against climate change – one of Sweden’s priorities in its six-month presidency which began on Wednesday.

Cattle Rustling, Pythons and Boogie Angola Style …. the best reads of May

Climate health costs: bug-borne ills, killer heat
Tree-munching beetles, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and deer ticks that spread Lyme disease are three living signs that climate change is likely to exact a heavy toll on human health. These pests and others are expanding their ranges in a warming world, which means people who never had to worry about them will have to start.  

Spain rearranges furniture as economy sinks

Moving a 17-metre high monument to Christopher Columbus 100 metres down the road is how the Spanish government is interpreting the advice of John Maynard Keynes. The economist once argued it would be preferable to pay workers to dig holes and fill them in again, rather than allowing them to stand idle and deprive the economy of the multiplier effect of their wages.

Sex, drugs and toxic shrubs: the best reads of March

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Cubans indulge baseball mania at Havana’s “Hot Corner”

For all the shouting and nose-to-nose confrontations, visitors to Havana’s Parque Central might think they had walked into a brawl or counter-revolution … but here in the park’s Hot Corner,  the topic almost always under discussion is baseball, Cuba’s national obsession.

Iraq’s orphans battle to outgrow abuse

At night, Salah Abbas Hisham wakes up screaming. Sometimes, in the dark, he silently attacks the boy next to him in a tiny Baghdad orphanage where 33 boys sleep on cots or on the floor. Salah, who saw both his parents blown apart in a car bomb, can never be left alone at night.

Best reads of February

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Exotic animals trapped in net of Mexican drug trade - From the live snakes that smugglers stuff with packets of cocaine to the white tigers drug lords keep as exotic pets, rare animals are being increasingly sucked into Mexico’s deadly narcotics trade.

End of an era for the Amazon’s turbulent priests - They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

“Dilemma of Australian bushfires: Defend homes or outrun the flames”.

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 (A bushfire burns through a forest on the outskirts of Labertouche, east of Melbourne on Feb. 7 REUTERS/Mick Tsikas)

    By Mark Bendeich

    No matter how clever we become at predicting disasters, or how quickly we can respond to them, your last and best defence against an Australian bushfire could still turn out to be a good plan and plenty of courage to stick with it.

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