The Great Debate UK

Starting with the Arctic, could some effects of global warming be reversed?


By Julian Hunt, Visiting Professor at Delft University of Technology, a member of the UK House of Lords, and former Director General of the UK Meteorological Office. The opinions expressed are his own.

Governments are in the midst of preparations for the 2014 UN Climate Summit, which begins in Peru on December 1, in advance of potential agreement of a new global climate treaty next year.  The scientific basis for these international attempts to reduce fossil fuel consumption is data from cutting-edge research which has recently yielded conclusions showing how at least some effects of global warming could be reversible.

The atmospheric warming from climate change varies greatly over the Earth and is greatest in the Arctic regions.  The annual average surface temperature in the Arctic has now risen by about 2.5 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial period.  This is more than 1 degree warmer than the global average.

The latest measurements, presented last month at London’s Royal Society, also showed how warming leads to melting of sea ice in summer months to such an extent that, in some years, ice now only covers about 10 percent of the Arctic ocean.  Summer ice coverage in the Arctic is now predicted to be less than 1 percent within the next 20 years, or sooner, based upon latest radar data from satellites, acoustic data from submarines, and more detailed computer models of how the melting is accelerating as less solar radiation is reflected and the water temperature rises in open spaces between the ice, and as the ice is broken up by winds and wave motions in these spaces.

The coming of age of challenger banks


By Andrew Wingfield, Partner in the Financial Institutions Group at law firm King & Wood Mallesons. The opinions expressed are his own.

With Metro Bank and the soon-to-be-launched Atom Bank offering exciting blueprints for multi-platform banking, and other new entrants making headway into the UK banking market, it seems an appropriate time to ask whether so-called “challenger banks” are finally coming of age.

from The Great Debate:

Sykes-Picot drew lines in the Middle East’s sand that blood is washing away


Last week British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said the struggle against Islamic State was “effectively Iraq’s last chance as nation state.”

That somber assessment followed his visit to Iraq a few days earlier, where he had used the expression “last chance saloon” to describe Iraq’s dire predicament.

from The Great Debate:

What the Synod of Bishops that discussed divorced, LGBT Catholics did – and didn’t – do


If you told me a few years ago that a synod of bishops would make the front page of almost every newspaper, be featured prominently on almost every news website, and be the topic of heated conversation among Catholics worldwide, I would have said that you were -- to use a theological term -- crazy.

The interest generated by the Synod of Bishops on the Family, the two-week meeting of bishops, priests and lay people that concluded last weekend at the Vatican, surprised even veteran Vaticanologists. In recent years, synods did not garner much enthusiasm, to put it mildly. One reason for the renewed interest this year was Pope Francis’s urging participants to be as open as possible. And they were. Not only to one another, but also in the daily media briefings, which brought their candor before the general public.

from The Great Debate:

Why the world shouldn’t write off the Iraqi Army just yet

Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, parade down a street in Kerbala

On Sept. 10, President Barack Obama outlined an overall strategy for countering the al Qaeda’ist movement that grandiosely calls itself the Islamic State. The president vowed to defeat and ultimately destroy it.

How is that campaign going? What are its prospects for success over the next few months to several years? Is it promising in both Iraq and Syria? My answer is a guarded yes, especially for Iraq (the Syria strategy is incomplete and will take longer to develop).

from The Great Debate:

Being the ‘indispensable nation’ is killing American democracy

U.S. military personnel take pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama as he speaks during visit to Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory in Baghdad

America -- proudly dubbed the “indispensable nation” by its national-security managers -- is now the entangled nation enmeshed in conflicts across the globe.

President Barack Obama, scorned by his Republican critics as an “isolationist” who wants to “withdraw from the world,” is waging the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan, boasts of toppling the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya, launches airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State and picks targets for drones to attack in as many as eight countries, while dispatching planes to the Russian border in reaction to its machinations in Ukraine, and a fleet to the South China Sea as the conflict over control of islands and waters escalates between China and its neighbors.

from The Great Debate:

Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion

Militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

It is easy to look to religion for an explanation of why young men -- and some women -- become radicalized. But it is psychology, not theology, that offers the best tools for understanding radicalization -- and how best to undo it.

The appeal of Islamic State rests on individuals’ quest for what psychologists call “personal significance,” which the militant group’s extremist propaganda cleverly exploits. The quest for significance is the desire to matter, to be respected, to be somebody in one's own eyes and in the eyes of others.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why markets ignore good news from U.S. to focus on bad news from Europe

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

What’s spooking the markets?

One thing we can say for sure is that it is not the slightly weaker-than-expected retail sales that triggered the mayhem on Wall Street on Wednesday morning. Most U.S. economic data have actually been quite strong in the month since Wall Street peaked on Sept. 19.

So to find an economic rationale for the biggest stock-market decline since 2011, we have to consider two other explanations.

from The Great Debate:

‘In Putin’s mind, Ukraine is not a nation’


How dangerous is Vladimir Putin?

Reuters Editor-at-Large Sir Harold Evans moderated a panel of experts searching for answers to that question at a Newsmaker event hosted at the company's Times Square offices in New York on Oct. 14. The panel was comprised of New Yorker Editor David Remnick, author of the award winning Lenin's Tomb, former chess champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen and Roger Altman, who served in the Treasury Department under presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and is currently chairman of investment advisory firm Evercore.

The conversation ranged over topics including Putin's personal psychology, what threat Russia now poses to the world economy, and whether his regime might be toppled from within.

from The Great Debate:

Under assault by U.S.-led coalition, Islamic State may shift tactics

Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province

This summer, Islamic State fighters swept into the expanse of desert straddling the Iraq-Syria border. Riding in pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, supported by skilled snipers and at least one tank, the Islamists captured the town of Rabia on the Syrian side of the border.

Kurdish militia fighters from the People's Protection Units -- known by its Kurdish acronym YGP -- rushed to the neighboring town of Al Yarubiyah, on the Iraqi side, in a desperate effort to contain the militants' advance. What followed was a two-month stalemate, as both sides harassed each other with machine guns, mortars and snipers.