• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

Ireland, Spain, and Norway will recognize Palestine as a state, the EU agrees a way to fund Kyiv usi͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm Tehran
cloudy Rome
sunny Johannesburg
rotating globe
May 22, 2024


newsletter audience icon
Americas Morning Edition
Sign up for our free newsletters

The World Today

  1. Palestine state recognized
  2. Raisi funeral begins
  3. Russian cash for Kyiv
  4. Pope’s China concessions
  5. Indian coal scandal
  6. SAfrica blackouts over?
  7. Hydrogen forecasts slump
  8. Scientific red-teaming
  9. Latam’s obesity crisis
  10. Kairos wins Booker

Chinese steel exports to Latin America, and a new psychedelic arts magazine.


European states to recognize Palestine

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Erik Flaaris Johansen NTB via Reuters.

Ireland, Norway, and Spain will officially recognize Palestine as a state from next week. The decision angered Israel, which said it was withdrawing ambassadors from Dublin and Oslo, while Hamas called it a “turning point.” The Irish prime minister, though, insisted that the decision was in support of the Palestinian people, not Hamas, which offers nothing “but pain and suffering to Israelis and Palestinians alike,” while his Spanish counterpart said the recognition “is not against the people of Israel … and much less is it against the Jews.” No G-7 countries recognize Palestinian statehood, but 140 of 193 United Nations members do, with Belgium, Malta, and Slovenia mulling formal recognition too.


Iranians indifferent over Raisi funeral

The Iranian government urged citizens to publicly mourn President Ebrahim Raisi, who was extremely unpopular. Raisi died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning, with his funeral held today. But Iranians disliked Raisi: He was among hardliners who ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s and as president told police to fire into crowds during widespread protests in 2022. Fireworks were set off in parts of Iran at news of his death, The National reported. Dissidents told Sky News that authorities were “desperate” for displays of sadness but that many Iranians were indifferent, and likely to use the holiday to go shopping.


EU to give Kyiv frozen Russian assets

The European Union agreed to use windfall profits from frozen Russian assets to buy weapons for Ukraine. The roughly $3 billion is just 1% of the total value of Russian funds held, but “represents an innovative first step” in using the cash without facing legal challenges or spooking other investors, The Washington Post reported. Kyiv needs the money as its forces come under pressure from a new Russian offensive: Ukraine’s national security chief called for the US to lift its “unfair” ban on using American weapons to strike inside Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky likewise called for NATO help, including shooting down Russian aircraft inside Ukrainian airspace. In a New York Times interview he dismissed fears of nuclear escalation, although Russia has started tactical nuclear drills near the border.


Vatican makes China concessions

Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

The Vatican appeared to make fresh concessions to China in a bid to normalize historically troubled relations with Beijing. The keynote speaker at Vatican-hosted commemorations for a landmark 1924 Shanghai meeting was the head of China’s bishops conference, notable for having been unilaterally appointed Bishop of Shanghai by Chinese authorities. During the ceremony, Pope Francis also admitted to missionaries’ “erroneous approach” in years past. Francis’ deputy meanwhile said the Vatican wanted to open a permanent office in China, an approach conservatives have criticized for conceding too much to Beijing but which the church says is a worthwhile compromise to encourage dialogue and help Catholics in China.


Coal price markup alleged in India

Amit Dave/Reuters

A powerful, politically connected Indian conglomerate passed off low-grade coal as high-quality fuel in trades with a state power firm, the Financial Times reported. Citing documents obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the FT said Adani Group — led by Gautam Adani, a billionaire who has strong ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — in 23 instances bought low-quality coal before selling it on as higher-end, cleaner coal. A company spokesman denied the allegations. The claims come amid long-running concerns of coal-price markups in India, which remains heavily dependent on the dirty fuel for its power sector and is the world’s second-largest consumer of coal after China.


SAfrica power crisis ‘fixed’

South Africa has “fixed” its electricity blackout crisis, according to the head of the country’s state-owned power utility. Customers are skeptical: South Africa has long relied on outdated, unreliable coal plants, the refurbishing of which is costly and time-consuming, and the claim comes days before a general election. The blackouts — which have repeatedly stymied Africa’s biggest economy in recent years — have become “a symbol of the economic mismanagement of the ruling African National Congress,” which polls suggest will see its worst electoral result in 30 years. South Africa’s dependence on coal in particular is unlikely to abate: The country is currently negotiating with groups funding its transition to cleaner power sources to delay the closure of coal plants in order to maintain electricity supplies.


Hydrogen estimates downgraded

The world will likely use far less hydrogen in the coming decades than Big Oil projects, according to new forecasts. Whereas a fossil fuel trade group envisions hydrogen providing 22% of total global energy in 2050, recent estimates by BloombergNEF and a group of US researchers concluded the share could be as low as 9% or 3% respectively. Proponents tout hydrogen as a green “Swiss Army knife” to replace gas, but analysts say it will be too expensive for use in sectors including commercial or residential buildings, trains, and power. That has huge implications for fossil fuel companies, many of which are betting that they’ll be able to pivot much of their existing business to hydrogen, Semafor’s climate editor noted.

For more, subscribe to Semafor’s twice-weekly Net Zero newsletter. →


Discover a fresh perspective on what is happening around the world with Nice News. Delivered in an easy to read, 5-minute daily digest, each issue is packed with uplifting, interesting, and intelligent stories. Join 750,000 readers — subscribe here for free.


New scientific bounty hunters

Researchers are pioneering a “bug-hunting” program in science to detect errors in published studies. The psychologist Malte Elson wrote in Nature that the US Department of Defense and tech companies financially reward people who find vulnerabilities in their products, because undetected errors can be damaging. Similarly, scientific errors “translated into health care, policymaking or engineering can harm people.” But the publishing system relies on volunteers for peer review, part of why many scientific findings do not stand up when others try to replicate them. Elson’s team launched a bounty program, paying up to $2,700 for each error found. The program will run for at least four years, and a first review, revealing minor errors in one paper, has already been completed.


Latam labels food to beat obesity

Latin America is leading the world in the movement to print nutritional warning labels on food packages, highlighting the region’s struggles to reduce obesity. Over the past 30 years, obesity rates have shot up rapidly as Latin Americans have increased their calorie intake from ultra-processed foods, The Guardian reported. Although labeling programs have had some success, decades of increasing weight levels are taking a significant toll on the region’s economies: The Mexican Social Security Institute spent almost $3 billion on diabetes treatment in 2022 alone, a figure that some experts think will rise rapidly in the near future with obesity rates projected to increase further still.


Kairos wins International Booker

Jenny Erpenbeck. Wikimedia Commons

Kairos, a German novel about a doomed love affair in communist East Berlin, won the International Booker Prize. Author Jenny Erpenbeck and her translator Michael Hofmann will share the $60,000 award: The book follows the relationship between a 19-year-old student and a married 50-something man, set against the backdrop of the German Democratic Republic’s collapse. The International Booker is for works translated into English, and calls attention to the sometimes overlooked role of translators in creating literary art. The book “starts with love and passion, but it’s at least as much about power, art and culture,” one judge said, with the lovers’ “descent into a destructive vortex … connected to the larger history of East Germany.”

  • Defense ministers from the three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, meet in Vilnius.
  • Colombia’s Congress is set to debate a law banning bullfighting in the country.
  • The World Surf League Championship Tour begins in Tahiti.
Semafor Stat
$8.5 billion

China’s exports of steel to Latin America, on which countries across the region have begun imposing tariffs. Although regional imports of Chinese steel have increased roughly 100,000-fold since the turn of the century, they still account for a mere 1% of the production of China’s steel mills. However, sanctions — which come amid rising protectionism against Chinese imports in much of the West — were announced after plants in several Latin American countries announced massive layoffs due to a lack of demand this year.

Hillary Brenhouse/X

A new magazine of psychedelic art and literature will debut next spring. Elastic, a biannual print publication, wants to unleash the creativity of the first psychedelic era in the 1960s by stretching the possibilities of narrative. Hillary Brenhouse, the founding editor-in-chief who previously helmed Guernica magazine, told Literary Hub she would like to spotlight artwork and writing “that locates the sublime in the ordinary, that interrogates power by breaking form, and that extends the boundaries of the usual creative containers.”

Hot on Semafor