PLUS: The climate benefits of WFH, and a new illustrated edition of The Hobbit.
Weakened UN no longer the big draw
Only one leader of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will attend this week’s General Assembly. U.S. President Joe Biden will be among the 145 heads of state and government in New York. But Russia’s Vladimir Putin will not attend — unsurprisingly, since he would face arrest under war-crimes charges — and nor will China’s Xi Jinping, who has eschewed several major gatherings recently. More unexpectedly, France’s and Britain’s leaders are sending representatives in their stead. One former French official told Politico that the U.N. is “running out of steam, losing visibility,” and that France feels its diplomatic energy is better invested elsewhere: Paris has focused on Asian economic forums and last month sought an invitation to the BRICS summit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired six deputy defense ministers, part of an ongoing crackdown on alleged corruption in the government. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed two weeks earlier after a procurement scandal. The sackings come as Zelenskyy is in New York, asking the West for more support, and just as Congress plans to debate U.S. President Joe Biden’s request for up to $24 billion more in backing for Ukraine. A firm stance from Kyiv against graft could help that case. Despite the political upheaval, Ukraine made progress on the battlefield, capturing the village of Klishchiivka after months of fighting.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country is pursuing “credible” allegations that India was linked to the killing of a Sikh leader. Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who supported the creation of an independent Sikh state, was murdered in British Columbia in June. Trudeau told reporters that he raised the issue with his counterpart Narendra Modi at the G20 summit this month, and his government expelled a top Indian diplomat. New Delhi roundly rejected the allegations, calling them “absurd and motivated,” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in response, The Times of India reported. The affair puts an unusual cool over Canada-India relations, and an expected October trade mission has been paused.
Five U.S. citizens jailed in Iran for years were freed. Their release was mediated by Qatar, in return for the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korea. Iran had arrested the five on spying charges: Washington said those charges were baseless and the prisoners were hostages taken for political leverage. In the U.S., Republicans voiced concern that the deal would incentivize future hostage-taking, although the Biden administration said the money was restricted and could only be used for humanitarian reasons. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted that the release could lead to fresh talks on Iran’s nuclear program, although “the prospect for actually reaching a deal is very remote,” an analyst told Reuters.
The world is rapidly losing confidence in whether rich nations will sufficiently finance the green-energy transition both at home and in developing countries, the director-general of the upcoming COP28 summit in Dubai said. The global economy doesn’t need to ditch fossil fuels to get on track with the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, Majid Al-Suwaidi told Semafor’s Tim McDonnell on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. But “we’re rapidly losing confidence in the process,” he added, arguing that countries and companies were faltering in meeting their Paris goals because finance was not moving quickly enough, or at sufficient scale.
— Semafor is publishing a daily climate newsletter from New York to cover the U.N. General Assembly and Climate Week. Sign up here.
Thousands took to the streets in Guatemala’s capital to defend the country’s president-elect amid vote-fraud allegations. Government prosecutors have sought to ban Bernardo Arévalo — who ran on an anti-corruption platform and won last month’s elections in a landslide — from taking power in Guatemala, Central America’s largest country by population and GDP. Critics say it is a brazen attempt to hold onto power illegally, with the U.S. and the Organization of American States both condemning the intimidation efforts. “The coup that the prosecution is leading must be stopped,” one of the protesters told the Associated Press.
A plunge in the number of couples saying “I do” is threatening China’s marriage industry, estimated to be worth almost $500 billion a year. Chinese officials have attempted to revive marriage rates, which fell to 6.8 million last year, 800,000 fewer than in 2021 and the lowest since the government began publishing data in 1986. Fertility rates have also collapsed: Record-low births last year led to the country’s first decline in population since the 1960s. “The number of marriages is falling and few are willing to spend a lot on weddings,” a Chinese wedding planner told Reuters. “The future of this industry doesn’t look promising.”
Xenophobic gangs in South Africa are attacking foreign immigrants, blaming them for the spread of drugs in deprived communities. Soweto-based Operation Dudula, Zulu for “to force out,” is the most prominent anti-migrant group. One in three South Africans is unemployed, power and water supplies are collapsing, and migrants are an easy target: “Most of the problems that we have are caused by the influx of foreign nationals,” Dudula’s leader told BBC Africa Eye. Although foreigners are a small minority, many South Africans believe they make up a third or more of the country. Dudula is aiming to run in next year’s elections: At a rally in Johannesburg, its followers sang, “We will go to the garage, buy some petrol and burn the foreigner.”
Ohio will be home to a major factory producing hundreds of electric flying taxis, with the first aircraft rolling off the production line in 2025. Joby Aviation’s planned vertical-take-off taxis will carry four passengers up to 100 miles at speeds of 200 mph, and will — the company says — be all but inaudible. The $500 million project, backed by Toyota, Delta Air Lines, Intel, and Uber, is expected to create 2,000 jobs, AP reported. The factory will be built in Dayton, in the same valley where the Wright brothers opened their first airplane factory.
Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series, said that the Disney+ adaptation of his novels is “the one you’ve been waiting for.” That’s a more positive indication than it might seem: Riordan was vocal in his criticism of a 2010 movie version and its sequel, saying the experience was one of “pain and disappointment.” Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows the story of a boy who discovers he is the son of a Greek god. Since its advent in 1997, the series has sold 190 million copies, although to be fair there are roughly 190 million books in the ever-expanding series: The most recent, Daughter of the Deep, came out in 2021.
The reduction in office workers’ greenhouse gas emissions if they worked full-time from home, according to a new study. Cornell University researchers found that dropping the daily commute cut carbon emissions by more than half, although hybrid working was less effective. The COVID-19 pandemic changed working practices, the study found, as millions relocated to the suburbs or rural areas, meaning that for people who still come into the office sometimes, the commute is often longer than it used to be.
A new illustrated edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit — with paintings, sketches, and maps made by the author himself — was released. Originally published in 1937, the classic fantasy novel, the prelude to the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has sold more than 150 million copies. This latest edition contains more than 50 illustrations that “have never appeared within the pages” of the book, its publisher said, including colored drawings. “We’ve likely seen some of this Tolkien artwork before,” Nerdist reported, referring to previous exhibitions of Tolkien’s art. “But there’s nothing like seeing illustrations in-situ with the text they imagine.”