Latest Developments, July 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Carbon glut
Reuters reports that despite plummeting carbon prices, the UN still believes its carbon offset market will play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“U.N-backed carbon credits, called certified emissions reductions (CERs), have plunged around 70 percent over the past 12 months as a massive supply of credits has built up because of a drop in demand due to a slowing economy. The benchmark CER contract hit record lows below 3 euros this week.
Low carbon prices have stalled new investment in low-carbon technology, raising doubt about whether there is any point to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and its market-based mechanisms, notably the [Clean Development Mechanism].”

Sustainable friendship
The New York Times reports that, at a meeting where China promised $20 billion in loans to Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma described his continent’s relationship with China as preferable to the one with Europe, but problematic nevertheless:

“ ‘Africa’s commitment to China’s development has been demonstrated by supply of raw materials, other products and technology transfer. This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies,’ [said Zuma].”

Reconstruction corruption
iWatch News reports that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has issued his penultimate report in which he estimates $6 billion to $8 billion worth of US funds were lost:

“SIGIR’s investigation also uncovered instances of bid-rigging and bribe-taking by State and Pentagon officials.

Many of the challenges described in the Iraq report mirror those depicted in similar reports by its cousin, the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. In a May report to Congress, for example, that office concluded that ‘corruption remains a major threat to the reconstruction effort’ and said contractors were taking advantage of lax oversight in Afghanistan.”

Owning genes
Bloomberg reports that a US court is set to consider whether or not human genes can become the property of corporations:

“Madeleine Ball, a Harvard University geneticist, said entire regions of the human genome are at risk of becoming inaccessible to anyone who can’t afford to pay for patent licenses, stifling the information-sharing that’s vital to scientific progress. For personalized medicine companies like Optimal Medicine Ltd., the patents are about protecting billions of dollars invested in years of research.

Aspects of seven [Myriad Genetics Inc.] patents were being challenged by the American Society of Human Genetics, the American Medical Association and other scientific groups. They argue that isolated DNA is the same thing as what is in the human body. The Supreme Court in March said that patents cannot be obtained on things that prevent others from the use of a natural law.”

Food aid, cash cow
The Guardian reports on the “special interests” that are blocking reform of America’s overseas food assistance system:

“Under US law, the majority of American food aid must be shipped on US-flagged vessels, and the shipping industry is another aggressive defender of the system. A 2007 report by the US government accountability office (GAO) found that nearly two-thirds of the US food aid budget was spent on transportation and other non-food costs.

Together, agribusiness, shipping companies and NGOs form what some have called the ‘iron triangle’ of special interests, blocking reform of the controversial in-kind system.”

Cartel clients
The Daily Beast reports on HSBC’s “complicity” in laundering Mexican drug money and the obstacles to an international crackdown:

“The understated element of the war on organized crime in Mexico—and in fact, around the world—has been the fight against the money launderers: the companies and banks that allow drug cartels to flood their illicit cash back into the global economy.

HSBC executives admitted that a large portion of some $7 billion transferred by their Mexican subsidiaries into the bank’s U.S. operation likely belonged to drug cartels.”

Suicide drone
Gizmodo reports that the British military has become the first customer for the “suicidal bird of prey” known as the Fire Shadow:

“According to missile systems manufacturer MBDA, this bird of death is a high precision, low cost flying missile that can be launched by a soldier from the ground, just like any other small unmanned air vehicle. After the launch, the Fire Shadow can hover over a large area for up to six hours or 62 miles (100 kilometers). Once the operator points out a target, the Fire Shadow will fall on it destroying it on contact.”

Classified Gitmo
ProPublica reports that the US government is being challenged over its decision to automatically classify everything said by Guantanamo detainees accused of involvement in 9/11, even accounts of their own torture.

“The ‘presumptive classification’ order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.”

Managing FDI
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie welcomes a new UN report that ranks countries according to the development impact of their foreign direct investment inflows:

“Along with this matrix – and possibly more significantly – Unctad is promoting a new investment policy framework for sustainable development (IPFSD) focused on balancing the rights of investors with the need for the state to take an active role to ensure investments benefit society. Suggested indicators for analysing the contribution made by particular investments include economic value added (such as capital formation and fiscal revenues), obviously, but also job creation and sustainable development (such as families lifted out of poverty, greenhouse gas emissions, technology dissemination).”

Bad society
Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, argues there are both moral and practical reasons to object to inequality at its current levels:

“There is a strange, though little-noticed, consequence of the failure to distinguish value from price: the only way offered to most people to boost their incomes is through economic growth. In poor countries, this is reasonable; there is not enough wealth to spread round. But, in developed countries, concentration on economic growth is an extraordinarily inefficient way to increase general prosperity, because it means that an economy must grow by, say, 3% to raise the earnings of the majority by, say, 1%.
Nor is it by any means certain that the human capital of the majority can be increased faster than that of the minority, who capture all of the educational advantages flowing from superior wealth, family conditions, and connections. Redistribution in these circumstances is a more secure way to achieve a broad base of consumption, which is itself a guarantee of economic stability.”

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