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The IPCC warns of a final chance to avoid 1.5 C warming, Somalia’s drought kills 43,000, and AI thre͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 21, 2023


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Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers

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The World Today

  1. IPCC’s final 1.5 C warning
  2. Somalia faces starvation
  3. China’s diplomatic mission
  4. AI threatens high-paid jobs
  5. Banking crisis fears remain
  6. IMF agrees Sri Lanka bailout
  7. Latin America’s growth stalls
  8. Hunt for India’s rebel preacher
  9. Amazon lays off more staff
  10. Microsoft challenges App Store
  11. Biggest hydrogen plant planned

PLUS: Predicting Japan’s cherry-blossom season, and the return of Haruki Murakami.


Last chance, says IPCC

Lake Mead

There is a “rapidly closing window of opportunity” to keep warming below the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, but the world has “multiple, feasible and effective options” to do so, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said. The discussions went over time because of a dispute about whether to emphasize carbon-capture technology, as oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia suggested. Critics argued it was a way for those countries to stick to business as usual, the Financial Times reported. The report’s authors ultimately noted the role carbon capture could play, but said that it came with “feasibility and sustainability concerns.”


Drought kills 43,000 in Somalia

Somali refugees in Kenya
REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

An estimated 43,000 people, half of them likely children under five, died in Somalia’s drought last year, the World Health Organization said. At least 18,000 more are expected to die in the first half of this year. The country, along with neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, has had six consecutive failed rainy seasons, Somalia’s longest drought on record. Rising food prices driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and an ongoing battle with al-Shabaab insurgents, have exacerbated the situation. Nearly half a million children are expected to be severely malnourished this year, although the United Nations is unlikely to formally declare a famine.


China and Japan take stage

Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin/Pool via REUTERS

China and Japan showcased their growing diplomatic ambitions on opposite sides of the war in Ukraine. In Moscow, Chinese leader Xi Jinping held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though did not mention Ukraine in his televised remarks. Moscow said that it supplied China with a record amount of gas today, and that Xi invited Putin to visit Beijing this year. Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida headed to Kyiv to “show solidarity” with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Tokyo said, shortly after he visited New Delhi, where he labeled India an “indispensable” ally.

Amid growing signs of Republican division over American support for Ukraine, Zelenskyy appealed to critics, including presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, who argue that helping Kyiv is not a vital American interest. Speaking to The Atlantic, Zelenskyy argued, according to the magazine: “Help us defeat them here, and you won’t have to fight them anywhere else.” Nikki Haley, another challenger for the Republican nomination, separately wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “If Russia wins in Ukraine, China wins too.”


AI hits high-paid jobs most

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Artificial intelligence chatbots like GPT-4 will have the biggest impact on high-paid jobs, according to new research. Jobs requiring higher education — such as programming, law, or journalism — were the most “exposed” to advances, meaning much of their work could be automated by AI, University of Pennsylvania and OpenAI researchers found. Jobs requiring less education, or that required apprenticeships or “science and critical thinking skills,” were less exposed. In total, about 20% of workers could see more than half of their tasks automated. Meanwhile OpenAI’s boss warned that other AI developers won’t use “the safety limits that we put on,” and that as they get better at writing and coding, those AIs could be used for cyberattacks and disinformation.


Bank concerns linger

REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo/File Photo

Western regulators failed to quell fears of a banking crisis after folding three U.S. banks and selling off a major Swiss one. American lenders were crafting new support for the troubled First Republic Bank while U.S. authorities were considering guaranteeing all deposits across all banks, Bloomberg reported. A separate Swiss decision to, in effect, favor equity over debt — the opposite is typically true — in the Credit Suisse-UBS merger triggered fears among bondholders and implicit criticism from other Western regulators. A growing number of big investors, meanwhile, began placing bets ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting beginning today that major central banks would soon begin reversing the rate hikes of the past year.


IMF bails out Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka will receive a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The country is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, with inflation at 50%, regular power blackouts, and a lack of medicines and fuel driven by a shortage of foreign currency. Mass protests toppled the government last year as the then-prime minister, now-president, admitted that Colombo was “bankrupt” after defaulting on foreign debt. Negotiations with the IMF for a bailout have been going on for a year, but China, Sri Lanka’s biggest creditor, has been wary. The IMF warned Sri Lanka that the money must go towards tax reform, a social safety net, and reining in corruption.


Latam’s slow growth

Latin America and the Caribbean’s GDP will grow by just 1% in 2023, the Inter-American Development Bank estimated, hit by soaring inflation and a slow post-COVID-19 recovery. Inequality in the region — already the highest in the world — grew rapidly during the pandemic, pushing millions below the poverty line, while more than three million children left school permanently. Jaime Saavedra, the head of the World Bank’s education division, estimates missed schooling will cost this generation $11 trillion in future earnings globally. “In some countries, it’s as if the pandemic wiped out 10 years of progress,” he told The Economist last year.


India shuts down internet, again

Indian authorities restricted internet access in a major northern state for a third day over a manhunt for a separatist Sikh preacher. Amritpal Singh supports creating a separate Sikh homeland, a reprisal of the Khalistan movement that evolved into armed insurgency in the 1980s but has for decades been largely subdued. The search operation was sparked by Singh’s supporters storming a police station to demand the release of one of his aides. India, which in 2022 topped the global list for the number of times it shut down the internet, frequently resorts to widespread online clampdowns, often to deal with unrest, but sometimes to avoid disruption in school exams and elections.


Big Tech makes big cuts

Amazon said it would cut 9,000 more staff, in addition to 18,000 it laid off in recent months. The second round of firings followed a similar announcement by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Huge layoffs across the tech sector — more than 300,000 jobs have been cut this year and last — contrast with an otherwise strong U.S. labor market. Big Tech may be following Elon Musk’s lead: Musk slashed Twitter’s staffing after buying it last year. “People can quibble with how Elon went about the change … but the reality is he lit a fuse in Silicon Valley,” the investor Bradley Gerstner said on the All-In podcast.


Microsoft takes aim at App Store

Microsoft plans its own gaming app store on iPhones and Android devices if its proposed takeover of Activision Blizzard goes ahead. The European Union is expected to force Apple and Google to allow rival app stores on their phones. If that happens, Microsoft thinks it will be easy to adapt its systems to work on mobile devices. Activision Blizzard owns several major mobile-gaming hits, including Candy Crush Saga and Call of Duty Mobile. The $75 billion takeover will, if given the go-ahead, give Microsoft a ready-to-deploy rival to Apple’s Arcade. U.S., EU, and U.K. regulators have concerns over the deal but may be softening, the Financial Times reported.


Dutch plan on hydrogen plant

The Netherlands will build the world’s largest offshore hydrogen plant in the North Sea. The government designated a site off the country’s north coast for a 500-megawatt-capacity plant, enough energy to power about 500,000 homes. It will accept tenders from would-be builders from 2025, and hopes the plant will start operating in 2031. It’s just one of several hydrolysis plants the Dutch government aims to build: A smaller, pilot plant, creating between 50 and 100 megawatts of power, will be developed first. Hydrogen is a good store of green energy, and is useful in industrial processes which require high temperatures that electric heating struggles to achieve.

  • New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, travels to China to meet her counterpart Qin Gang.
  • Los Angeles school employees begin a three-day strike over a pay dispute.
  • Commitment, a new novel by U.S. writer Mona Simpson, is published.

Japan’s feverishly anticipated sakura or cherry blossom season is under way. Few countries have perfected the science of predicting the first bloom like Japan: Forecasters employ mathematical models, algorithms, and even crowdsourcing techniques alongside their monitoring of the temperature. Last week the Meteorological Agency declared the first bloom had been detected at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, earlier than average due to warmer-than-usual weather. The early onset matched a record last seen in 2020 and 2021, a trend partially attributed to climate change. The season begins as COVID-19 mask rules are eased, The Japan Times reported, making it easier for crowds to gather for hanami or cherry-blossom-viewing parties after the pandemic-related lull.

Adobe Stock/anant_kaset

A new Haruki Murakami novel will be published next month. The City and Its Uncertain Walls, at 1,200 pages long in Japanese, will be the bestselling author’s first book since 2017’s Killing Commendatore. So far no details have been released about an English translation. But the publisher said the book, which shares a title with an earlier 1980 short story by Murakami, involves a tale “that had long been sealed.” It’s not clear if the plots are linked in any way. Staff at the publisher said details are being withheld, as many fans prefer reading the writer’s work without knowing what the story is about, the Associated Press reported.

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