Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute



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Why even a little bit of exercise can go a long way to helping your mental health

During the pandemic, Nikola Sowry made a decision that helped her become happier and healthier.

After feeling challenged and disconnected during recurring lockdowns, the 29-year-old decided to try out a community football team in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. 

“Finding footy and this club genuinely changed my life,” she said.

Before football, Nikola struggled to find exercise that suited her.

Nikola at pre-season training with the South Melbourne Districts Football Club. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

While she never had a diagnosed mental health condition, she credits the South Melbourne Districts team with transforming her physical and mental health.

“I’m just such a happier, healthy version of myself by being here,” she said.

What Nikola experienced is backed by research. 

The link between mental health and physical activity is strong enough that studies are showing exercise can be used on its own as a treatment for mild to moderate depression or anxiety. 

A woman in a red footy jumper handballs a yellow football.

Nikola says she always leaves footy training with a better mindset. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

Physical activity has also been shown to prevent the onset of common mental health conditions in the first place.

With the latest figures pointing to declining mental wellbeing and an alarming rise in mental illness, particularly among younger Australians, experts say increasing the use of exercise for mental health should be part of the solution.

Exercise can change the brain, researchers say

Last year, a group of Australian researchers published a review summarising what we know about the effects of physical activity on symptoms of depression, anxiety and mental distress in adults.

The scope of the study was large, and looked at previous reviews that captured the results of more than 1,000 trials involving 128,000 participants. It was peer-reviewed and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“What we found was that basically any type of exercise is effective for improving our mental health,” said University of South Australia researcher Ben Singh.

A bearded man in a blue collared shirt sits on a park bench, with a serious expression.

Ben Singh says there’s strong evidence for using physical activity to improve and treat mental health conditions. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)

The review found that using physical activity to treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety was more effective than conventional treatments like therapy.

“And on average, we found that it was about 1.5 times more effective than medications,” Dr Singh said.

Exercise has also been shown to prevent the onset of mental disorders like depression. 

“There is a lot of strong evidence to show that people who are regularly active over a long period of time have a lower rate of being diagnosed with a mental health condition,” Dr Singh said.

Female footballer players high five each other on an oval at training

The social element of exercise is believed to help protect against anxiety and depression. 

Part of this is due to the sense of community and achievement physical activity can provide, the research suggests.

Exercise has also been shown to trigger structural and biological effects on the brain.

While there’s still more to learn, exercise has been proven to help reduce brain inflammation, promote the growth of neurons and trigger the release of mood-boosting chemical messengers like serotonin.

And even a small amount of physical activity can help. 

From tai chi to swimming, all exercise can bring benefits

Dr Singh and his co-authors found all kinds of physical activity could help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, or distress.

That included cardio such as walking, cycling, swimming, running or playing a team sport. 

A group of walkers walk up a dirt hill during a parkrun event.

Even low-intensity exercise like walking can improve mental wellbeing. (Supplied: parkrun)

Strength and resistance training was found to have the biggest impact on symptoms of depression.

Mind-body exercises like tai chi and yoga were most effective at reducing anxiety and were shown to help with symptoms of depression too, the study found.

Dr Singh said it was important people chose the type of exercise that suited them. 

In general, the review found the more vigorous the exercise was, the bigger the improvement in mental wellbeing.

“But what was important is we found that also low-intensity exercise — so just getting outdoors for a leisurely stroll — is still extremely beneficial,” he said.

A checklist graphic for the use of exercise for mental health concerns. 

Key advice on how to use exercise for mental health concerns. (ABC News: Magie Khameneh)

The national physical activity guidelines recommend adults aged 18 to 64 should aim to be active on most days, if not every day. The advice is to aim for 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity and between 1.25 and 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity a week.

For some people, that might sound like a lot.

But Dr Singh’s research found even those doing less than 2.5 hours of physical activity per week experienced mental health benefits.

A young woman wearing a red footy jumpy braces herself to take a mark.

Nikola had never played Aussie Rules before joining a community footy team. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)

Exercise should be used more often for mental health conditions, researcher says

Jodie Sheehy, a PhD candidate with Melbourne’s Victoria University, thinks exercise should be used more often to treat mental health conditions and promote mental wellbeing. 

Her current project is investigating how to encourage general practitioners to prescribe exercise specifically for mental health concerns.

“There’s actually been a number of studies that look at GPs prescribing physical activity for mental health, and they really don’t,” she said.

A curly-haired woman wearing a blank singlet sits in a gym, surrounded by weights.

Jodie Sheehy says more Australians could benefit from using exercise to address mental health concerns. (ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

“Some recommend it, but they seldom prescribe it.”

She said using physical exercise to treat mental health concerns was not a big part of the GP training curriculum, despite the fact most people saw their doctor more than any other mental health professional.

“What I would like to see happen is for there to be something specific, so that a GP can actually prescribe the exercise — the type, the dose and the frequency,” she said.

Challenges for using exercise in mental health treatment

Caroline Johnson is a Melbourne GP who delivers mental health training to doctors wanting to become general practitioners. 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said exercise was included in medical school curriculum on mental health. The college also produces resources for GPs on this topic.

Dr Johnson admitted it was a small mention in a “jam-packed” curriculum. 

“But most GPs know that exercise is good for depression. It’s more about how do you deliver that message to the person in a way that will actually help them engage with it,” she said.

An older woman wearing a red top and glasses is pictured  in her GP consulting room. She is smiling.

Caroline Johnson says a GP can help a patient consider what type of exercise might work for them. (ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

She said the more pressing issue was whether patients had the time, money or ability to actually do it.

“Depression really does affect your sense of self — you lose motivation, you lose interest in doing things and sometimes you even lose a belief that you’re worth working on,” Dr Johnson said.

She said it was easy to portray exercise as free and easy, but that was certainly not the case for people of different abilities or those who were time-poor. 

“If you’ve got low income, or you’re not in an urban environment where walking is easy to do, where there’s not parklands, those kinds of things, then that’s a much harder thing for you to change,” she said.

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Europe’s Silicon Valley? No thanks

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CAMBRIDGE, England — This city wears many crowns: the fastest growing in Britain, the world’s most intensive research cluster and the university with the highest number of tech founders.

It also has Britain’s second highest level of inequality and one of the lowest amounts of rainfall of any U.K. city.

The tension between those titles has come to a head in the government’s bid to turn Cambridge into “Europe’s Silicon Valley.” Housing Secretary Michael Gove wants to build more than 150,000 new homes there by 2040, more than doubling the city’s size and triple the number local planners had earmarked for the area.

“Nowhere is the future being shaped more decisively than in Cambridge,” Gove said in a speech in December. “Its global leadership in life sciences and tech is a huge national asset. But until now… its growth has been constrained.”

He envisaged a new quarter with “beautiful Neo-classical buildings, rich parkland, concert halls and museums.” A new development corporation would be established to deliver the vision “regardless of the shifting sands of Westminster,” Gove said.

But in the face of mass house-building and water shortages; the investors, city leaders, businesses and environmentalists POLITICO spoke to for this article were skeptical of the scale of the government’s ambitions for their city.

They say they have other ideas.

Growing in a drought

The biggest obstacle to the city’s growth plans is a shortage of water. 

Plans for 9,000 homes and 300,000 square meters of research space, including a new cancer hospital, are being held up after the Environment Agency raised fears about water scarcity. Meanwhile, the area’s local water utility, Cambridge Water, is having to rework its latest management plan to account for the government’s inflated target.

The city pumps its water from underground chalk aquifers, but its rivers and streams are drying up. Levels in the River Cam have been 10 centimeters below their 2013 average for the last four summers.

“There is absolutely no point talking to us about expansion… unless you can solve the water problem,” said Cambridge Science Park director Jane Hutchins.

The science park wants to build a new campus and Hutchins said “we need to be able to accommodate growth at pace and in a timely manner, but we are all very conscious that we can’t do it at the cost of the environment.”

The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire has expressed similar concerns.

Plans for 9,000 homes and 300,000 square meters of research space are being held up after the Environment Agency raised fears about water scarcity | Cambridge City Council

The government has put £3 million into a water scarcity group and hopes a new reservoir in the Fens will solve the problem. But that is at least ten years away. In the meantime it is looking to rainwater harvesting, reducing consumption and a new pipeline.

Gove said in December that “new steps to help manage demand for water in new developments” would come in the new year.

Investors, tech founders and university leaders told POLITICO the water supply problem can be overcome, but environmentalists see it as an existential threat.

Sitting in a rooftop restaurant above the Cam, Tony Eva, whose film Pure Clean Water examines the city’s water crisis, said: “How many times can you say we will solve the problems caused by growth with more growth?”

“The shortage of water is not a new feature, we have known [about it] for 60 to 70 years… These clever people have sat on their hands and now they are having to do something. In one sense it is too late.”

Grow your own way

Wendy Blythe, chair of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, agreed.

She argues that Cambridge has had enough growth and the “goodies” should go to less affluent parts of the country. Critics of Gove’s plan point out that the minister in charge of “leveling up” is putting forward a policy that could do the opposite.

“Lots of things are happening to Cambridge to become a ‘Silicon Valley,’ and ordinary residents are paying for it,” Blythe said.

Grappling with these problems is Tabitha Goldstaub, a tech entrepreneur and executive director of Innovate Cambridge, a group set up by the university and investors to come up with a more sustainable innovation strategy.

“We’d like to be as successful [as Silicon Valley] but we don’t want to be as socially unequal,” she said.

Income inequality in Cambridge, measured as the gap between the poorest and richest residents, is the second highest in England and Wales, only behind Oxford, and it is widening.

But Goldstaub said the city had “woken up” to the challenge and that supporting local people was a key pillar of an innovation strategy which it unveiled in October.

Income inequality in Cambridge is the second highest in England and Wales | Cambridge City Council

Innovate Cambridge hopes to get the wider population behind that strategy by showing the benefits of living close to so much research, such as better cancer survival rates at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

It has also set up a community fund for founders to pledge a percentage of money they make from selling their startups in the future. 

Pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise at Cambridge University, Andy Neely, said: “We need to make it clear to people why the research and cluster is improving the quality of their lives.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities says investing in Cambridge will reduce regional inequality. A spokesperson for the department told POLITICO: “We must be ambitious and expand the city and we will only do that through sustainable development.”

We’ll think, you’ll make

On the three-minute walk from the city’s main railway station to the office of VC firm Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), you pass offices for Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. But the city is more proud of the startups which have spun out of its university.

New arrival Gerard Grech, who has joined the university to lead a program supporting tech founders, said he was astounded by the innovation in the city. “In my first week here I met someone who had sold businesses to Google, to Apple and to Microsoft. I could not believe it,” he said.

The area around the station is also where Goldstaub hopes to build a new innovation center, where she sees VCs, researchers and startups mingling and coming up with new ideas.

But despite its concentration of creativity, some say the government’s “Silicon Valley” ambitions should be spread across larger parts of the country, rather than focusing on Cambridge.

The city has recently signed a partnership with Manchester to pitch their respective tech hubs as a single cluster to investors, and Goldstaub says such deals should be “the exemplar” going forward.

Semiconductor firm Pragmatic provides a model for this type of development. The company is aiming to become the U.K.’s biggest semiconductor manufacturer, and its founders moved from Manchester to Cambridge for its talent. It is still headquartered in Cambridge, but does most of its manufacturing in Sedgefield, north-east England.

CIC was an early investor in Pragmatic, which completed a £500 million funding round this month.

Andrew Williamson, managing partner at CIC, said this was an example of “a hub and spoke” model which Cambridge excels in.

A report on the university’s economic impact suggests it is generating £30 billion of economic value in the U.K. and supporting 86,000 jobs | Cambridge City Council

“Where the model differs from Silicon Valley is Cambridge is 150,000 people… so we are tiny. What we can do here is fundamental research and the first few steps of the commercialization of that research, but we’re clearly not going to do manufacturing at scale.”

Sai Shivareddy has learned that over the last two years. He co-founded Nyobolt, which designs and manufactures super-fast chargers and batteries for EVs.

The company spun-out from the university and was valued at £300 million last year, but it has struggled to find suitable manufacturing sites in Cambridgeshire. Shivareddy said he is now looking to manufacture in north England or Scotland, as well as Asia.

Giving out the goodies

A report on the university’s economic impact suggests it is already helping the leveling up agenda by generating £30 billion of economic value in the U.K. and supporting 86,000 jobs, more than 30,000 of which are outside the east of England.

“The way the U.K. will compete with Silicon Valley is to think in large clusters,” Neely said, pointing to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and the Manchester partnership. 

“Cambridge can play a really powerful role providing the boosters but it can’t just be Cambridge.”

Rebecca Simmons, chief operations office at Cambridge quantum firm Riverlane, agreed. “I don’t think Cambridge can do it all,” she said. “If we want to get bigger, we have to do it across the country. Particularly in the quantum world — Oxford, Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, they’ve all got good hubs mostly based around universities.”

“It’s important that we step up and connect the dots between the various cities in this country,” said Grech, who led startup incubator Tech Nation for a decade. “For me, Silicon Valley is a mindset. I think we should basically adopt its mindset and apply it everywhere.”



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Of love letters and distant galaxies: Uplifting stories from 2023

It was a turbulent year from start to end, but 2023 was not just about devastating wars, natural disasters and the cost-of-living crisis. The past 12 months also saw the approval of a revolutionary new malaria vaccine, a sharp drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, and an historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Nepal. FRANCE 24 lists the top good news stories of the year.

  • Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies

The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. Four months later, the European Space Agency released the first five images captured by the telescope – and they were as stunning as they were enlightening.

One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. The images also included a nebula resembling a horse’s head, part of the Orion constellation.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.

This undated handout obtained on November 2, 2023 from the European Space Agency shows an astronomical image of a Horsehead Nebula taken during ESA’s Euclid space mission. © ESA via AFP

  • Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. This build-up is the pathological hallmark of the illness, and its detection could help diagnose the condition long before symptoms appear. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.  

“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.

There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. The implant comprises an electrode field placed against the spinal cord as well as an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, which stimulates the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson's patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis.
Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson’s patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis. © Gabriel Monnet, AFP

  • WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’

In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine –the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.

“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya.
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya. © Brian Ongoro, AFP

  • Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.

Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. Meanwhile, the previously “critically endangered” saiga antelope, found mainly in Kazakhstan, was reclassified as “near threatened” thanks to local anti-poaching measures.

Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.

Une jeune antilope Saïga dans la steppe à la frontière des régions d'Akmola et de Kostanay au Kazakhstan, le 8 mai 2022.
A newborn Saiga calf lies in the steppe on the border of Akmola and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan on May 8, 2022. © Abduaziz Madyarov, AFP

  • Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory

A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.

The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.

Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. Discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, which dates from the same period as the Archaeopteryx but has very different features, implies that there may have been not just one, but a variety of different dino-birds around the world at the same time.

Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Un fossile d'Archaeopteryx, considéré comme
A 150-million-year-old fossil of an Archaeopteryx, considered the world’s oldest bird, pictured in 2010. © AFP

  • A much-needed respite for the Amazon

When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. While that goal is still far off, the incoming government’s efforts have already started to pay off.

In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22.3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.

According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of the country’s total emissions.

La déforestation de l'Amazonie a diminué de 22,3 % en un an en 2023 pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis cinq ans.
Deforestation in the Amazon fell by 22.3% year-on-year in 2023 to its lowest level in five years. © Michael Dantas, AFP

  • COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund

The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.

The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.

“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.

Le président de la COP28, Sultan al-Jaber annonce le vote de l'accord final mentionnant les énergies fossiles, le 13 décembre 2023, à Dubaï.
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber applauds as delegates reach an agreement at the climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. © Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

  • LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal

LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.

Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.

In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”

Ram Bahadur Gurung, femme transgenre et Surendra Pandey, lors d'une conférence de presse après avoir officialisé leur mariage, le 1er décembre 2023, à Kathmandou, au Népal.
Transgender woman Ram Bahadur Gurung and her partner Surendra Pandey hug each other after their wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal, on December 1, 2023. © Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters

  • Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on

“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. But Chamberlain never received them.

Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. It remained unopened in British archives until history professor Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge finally unsealed the missives.

The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.

Une lettre d'Anne Le Cerf à son mari, rédigée au 18e siècle, a finalement été ouverte et lue plus de 250 ans plus tard, en 2023.
A letter from Anne Le Cerf to her husband, written in the 18th century, was finally opened and read more than 250 years later, in 2023. © The National Archives via AFP

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed

Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.

The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.

Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Deux momies ont été découvertes à un mois d'intervalle, plusieurs mètres sous terre, dans la nécropole de Saqqarah, dans la région de Memphis, en Égypte.
Two mummies were discovered a month apart, several metres underground, in the Saqqarah necropolis in the Memphis region of Egypt. © Khaled Desouki, AFP

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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The right to breathe: how policymakers can tackle severe asthma

Asthma impacts over 330 million people worldwide. While severe asthma makes up only 5-10 percent of cases, it is accountable for over half of asthma-related costs globally.[1] It profoundly affects patients’ lives, undermining their physical, mental and economic well-being, and increasing the risk of preventable deaths. Despite its significance, severe asthma is often overshadowed by other health priorities, leading to inadequate resource allocation and substandard care, further straining already pressured health systems.

Severe asthma outcomes, like many other chronic diseases, are deeply entangled with a wide range of environmental and socio-economic factors. Therefore, addressing it is not merely about medical intervention, but about creating and implementing comprehensive, holistic strategies.

The challenges presented by severe asthma are not beyond our capabilities. Around the globe, there is a wide range of best practices, treatments, and approaches to asthma management. Yet, the path to transformation demands a unified commitment from a broad set of stakeholders, from policymakers to medical professionals, industry, patients and beyond. While the blueprint for a future unburdened by severe asthma exists, it is up to decision-makers to realize it together.

While the blueprint for a future unburdened by severe asthma exists, it is up to decision-makers to realize it together.

And the good news is that progress is already underway. Since autumn 2022, we have collaborated as an international expert group to support the development of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies’ (CIFS) Severe Asthma Index. This tool assesses how 29 OECD countries manage severe asthma across various indicators, such as national strategies, treatment access, hospitalizations, societal costs and air quality, among others.

While the Severe Asthma Index is an important stride in tackling severe asthma, the true test lies in how its insights are applied in practice. Among the many actions needed to be taken to improve severe asthma care, the most pressing concern is policy change.

We have identified three actions, derived from the work we have conducted to date, for policymakers to kickstart strengthening health systems’ approaches to and management of severe asthma:

  1. Development and implementation of national asthma plans and strategies

The Severe Asthma Index has found that less than half of the countries analyzed have a national strategy for asthma, prevention, and management. There is, therefore, a need to formulate and actively implement dedicated national asthma programs, tailored to the unique challenges of individual health systems. These programs should not only emphasize prevention, early detection and diagnosis but also adapt best practices to specific national and local contexts.

Importantly, plans should be situated in the context of long-term strategies for improving population health outcomes.

“In England, work around respiratory illness is gaining traction,” notes Sir David Behan, chair of Health Education England, NHS, and expert group member. “Part of the initiative being developed [is] to ease pressure on the emergency care pathways and hospitals.”  

All approaches should promote awareness on respiratory diseases, support personalized care plans, empower patients and improve training and opportunities for training health care professionals working in respiratory care.

2. Coordination and harmonization of policies and care guidelines

There is a patchwork of country approaches to severe asthma, illustrated by the observation that more than two-thirds of the country guidelines assessed in the Severe Asthma Index do not fully align with the Global Initiative for Asthma’s (GINA) guide for Difficult-to-treat and Severe Asthma in Adolescence And Adult Patients. Policymakers must strive to coordinate their approaches to severe asthma by harmonizing policies and guidelines for asthma care to the greatest possible extent, with the aim of reducing outcome disparities, bolstering equity and promoting health system sustainability.

In doing so, there should be an emphasis on identifying and scaling best practices, promoting cross-border collaboration, and championing holistic solutions informed by the widely-acclaimed Health in All Policies approach.

The Australian National Asthma Council’s Australian Asthma Handbook is a strong example of a best practice in this area that policymakers could draw inspiration from in acting on this point.

3. Supporting improved data collection and the development of a more robust evidence base for severe asthma

Policymakers should incentivize and ultimately mandate improved production, recording and utilization of asthma- and severe asthma-specific data, as well as identifier data such as prescription data, adherence to treatment regimes, lung function analysis and demographic and socioeconomic indicators, following a set of common standards.

Currently, despite the existence of clinical codes for severe asthma, the condition remains significantly underreported in clinical settings due in large part to inconsistent coding practices, leading to an increased probability of patients receiving inadequate care and suboptimal allocation of health system resources. The dearth of severe asthma data and barriers to accessing the few datasets that do exist render it difficult to develop a comprehensive and consistent understanding of the full impact of severe asthma.

National policymakers need to prioritize financial and logistical support for country-level asthma research. Research activities should aim to produce a solid evidence base that will offer a nuanced understanding of each country’s needs, challenges and opportunities regarding asthma care. Support for research activities granted over the long term will enable longitudinal studies so that national trends and progress can be accurately tracked.

Only 3 percent of the European Union’s budget for health [is] spent on lung health, although 13 percent of Europeans have lung disease.

“Only 3 percent of the European Union’s budget for health [is] spent on lung health, although 13 percent of Europeans have lung disease,” says Susanna Palkonen, director of the European Federation of Allergy & Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) and expert group member.

The International Severe Asthma Registry (ISAR) initiative provides a strong basis for continued work in this area.

The path ahead requires that these actions evolve in tandem with the latest advancements in respiratory care and approaches to the management and prevention of noncommunicable diseases. This is not simply about updating and developing new policies — it’s about crafting robust and well-rounded solutions that proactively address a health challenge that is both global and local and supporting a much-needed vision for improved respiratory health outcomes.

As we look forward, we cannot just treat asthma. We must transform our approach to ensure that every patient’s right to breathe becomes a global reality.


Author(s):
Patrick Henry Gallen, senior advisor and futurist at Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

Bogi Eliasen, director of health at Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

Professor Dr. Vibeke Backer, MD, DMSci, chief respiratory physician at Department of ENT and Centre for Physical Activity Research (CFAS), Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark

Sir David Behan, chair Health Education England, National Health System (NHS), U.K.​

Dr. Mark Levy, board member, Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), U.K.​

Mikaela Odemyr, chair European Lung Foundation (ELF) Patient Advisory Committee; chair Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association, Sweden

Susanna Palkonen, director, European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA)  

Professor Dr. Arzu Yorgancıoğlu, chair European Respiratory Society (ERS) Advocacy Council; member of Global Initiative on Asthma (GINA) Board; chair of GINA Dissemination and Implementation Committee; chair of the WHO GARD Executive Committee Turkey 


References:
[1] Al Efraij K, FitzGerald JM. Current and emerging treatments for severe asthma. J Thorac Dis 2015;7(11):E522-E525



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Speed is everything for patients: together we can bring medicines faster

Working in our industry brings huge responsibility. We deal with people’s lives, and our  medicines give people an opportunity to improve their health, often at the most overwhelming time for them. I had a strong reminder of that recently.

Last month, I met with a colleague, Heiko, who lives in Germany. His young daughter has central nervous system (CNS) neuroblastoma — a type of cancer that tends to affect children under the age of five.

Heiko and his family have been navigating the health system for months, including an overload of information in the form of complex ‘oncological-speak’, treatment guidelines and health insurance claims. They have also been dealing with constant travel to specialist centers — all while juggling the emotional burden of caring for a sick child and the daily challenges of home and work life.

He shared something that stuck in my mind the night I spoke with him, which serves as an important reminder for all of us working in health care.

“Trust must be bigger than fear.”

When their health is at stake, friends, families and colleagues put their trust in their local health care system — every part of it, including industry — in the hope of protecting the future for them and their loved ones.

As Heiko put it to me, “Speed is everything. If you gain enough speed, you gain enough time. And if you have time, you have the hope of more options that can help you.”

Faster, more equitable access to new, life-saving medicines for people living in Europe is a goal that I believe we all share. There are challenges in achieving this, but we at Roche are committed to addressing these, together with everyone involved.

It is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable.

Teresa Graham, CEO, Roche Pharmaceuticals, and chair EFPIA’s Patient Access Committee | via EFPIA

The average time that patients in the EU wait to get access to a new medicine is around 517 days. Uptake of new technologies can be low and slow, but it is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable. If you have cancer in Germany, you may need to wait, on average, 128 days to access a new medicine, but if you are a patient in Romania it will take you 918 days to receive the same treatment.

I am concerned that Europe’s policymakers believe this can be fixed with legislation alone. And, even if it could, families like Heiko’s do not have the luxury of waiting four to five years for the ongoing revision to the EU pharmaceutical legislation to attempt to resolve these issues.

Improving access to medicines requires solutions that are developed in partnership with everyone who has a stake in their delivery: industry, member states, health regulators, payers, patients and health care providers. With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

The crucial first step is for governments and policymakers to treat spending on health care and innovation as an investment in economic growth and societal advancement. Improving health care and expanding access to innovation are vital for reducing pressure on health care systems, maintaining a healthy and productive society, and driving future economic growth.

Governments and policymakers have a pivotal role in enabling and encouraging this cycle of improved health and economic benefit. We must take a strategic view of investing in innovation, acknowledging the wider societal value it provides, and find sustainable ways to manage immediate fiscal challenges that do not limit or delay access to new medicines and technologies.

The industry is also driving changes. One concrete commitment pharmaceutical companies have made is to file new medicines for pricing and reimbursement in all member states within two years of EU approval of a new medicine. This will improve timely access to the latest innovations.

The industry has also established a portal for tracking access delays and ensuring companies are held accountable in meeting the two-year filing commitment.

With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

With multiple ongoing legislative changes currently taking place in Europe — from the revision of the EU’s Pharmaceutical Legislation, to the EU’s reform of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and the introduction of the European Health Data Space (EHDS) — we have a unique opportunity to build a stronger and better European environment for life sciences and health care that serves patients’ best interests. One major opportunity for collaboration is the implementation of the EU’s HTA regulation. This aims to address access delays by streamlining and accelerating highly fragmented HTA processes across Europe. There is only one year to go before this either becomes a meaningful contributor to faster access decisions for patients or — if not adequately in focus during 2024 — risks becoming an additional hurdle for patient access to essential treatments. In order to avoid this scenario, industry involvement in the implementation of EU HTA is crucial to leverage expertise, co-design relevant processes, and ultimately ensure a workable system.

Such actions can reduce some of the delays in accessing new medicines, but they will not solve everything. The majority of delays come from the variation and delays in individual countries’ reimbursement and health care systems. That is why it is critical that member states, payers and health systems collaborate with industry to develop tailored access solutions. 

However, there are also proposals on the table today that are concerning and at face value will not lead to improved access for patients. For instance, the EU Commission is proposing to reduce a company’s intellectual property rights — specifically regulatory data protection (RDP) — if a medicine is not available in all member states within two years of receiving marketing authorisation. This would only hinder innovation, without delivering faster, more equitable access to new medicines.

If this were to go ahead as proposed, Europe would become a less attractive place for research. A recently-published study on the impact of the European Commission’s proposal estimated that it would reduce Europe’s share of global R&D investment by one-third by 2040.

I firmly believe this proposal must be reconsidered and focused on policy solutions that ensure patients in Europe continue to benefit from innovation.

As Heiko says, speed, time and hope are all people have. Often, patients are waiting for the next innovation, during which time, their disease progresses or their condition deteriorates. This makes the next clinical trial, the next regulatory approval, the next standard of care, the next reimbursement decision absolutely vital for those who simply cannot wait.

Across industry, there are more than 8,000 new medicines in the global pipeline today. This is the hope Heiko needs, and families like his are trusting us all to deliver.

Speaking with Heiko reminded me that the most effective treatment is the one that makes it to the patient when they need it. It is now our collective responsibility to find the path to making this happen for patients everywhere in Europe.



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The state of the planet in 10 numbers

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

The COP28 climate summit comes at a critical moment for the planet. 

A summer that toppled heat records left a trail of disasters around the globe. The world may be just six years away from breaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, setting the stage for much worse calamities to come. And governments are cutting their greenhouse gas pollution far too slowly to head off the problem — and haven’t coughed up the billions of dollars they promised to help poorer countries cope with the damage.

This year’s summit, which starts on Nov. 30 in Dubai, will conclude the first assessment of what countries have achieved since signing the Paris accord in 2015. 

The forgone conclusion: They’ve made some progress. But not enough. The real question is what they do in response.

To help understand the stakes, here’s a snapshot of the state of the planet — and global climate efforts — in 10 numbers. 

1.3 degrees Celsius

Global warming since the preindustrial era  

Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been driving global temperatures skyward since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and the mass burning of fossil fuels began to affect the Earth’s climate. The world has already warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s. In the last 50 years, research suggests, global temperatures have risen at their fastest rate in at least 2,000 years.  

This past October concluded the Earth’s hottest 12-month span on record, a recent analysis found. And 2023 is virtually certain to be the hottest calendar year ever observed. It’s continuing a string of recent record-breakers — the world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. 

Allowing warming to pass 2 degrees Celsius would tip the world into catastrophic changes, scientists have warned, including life-threatening heat extremes, worsening storms and wildfires, crop failures, accelerating sea level rise and existential threats to some coastal communities and small island nations. Eight years ago in Paris, nearly every nation on Earth agreed to strive to keep temperatures well below that threshold, and under a more ambitious 1.5-degree threshold if at all possible. 

But with just fractions of a degree to go, that target is swiftly approaching — and many experts say it’s already all but out of reach.

$4.3 trillion  

Global economic losses from climate disasters since 1970  

Climate-related disasters are worsening as temperatures rise. Heat waves are intensifying, tropical cyclones are strengthening, floods and droughts are growing more severe and wildfires are blazing bigger. Record-setting events struck all over the planet this year, a harbinger of new extremes to come. Scientists say such events will only accelerate as the world warms. 

Nearly 12,000 weather, climate and water-related disasters struck worldwide over the last five decades, the World Meteorological Organization reports. They’ve caused trillions of dollars in damage, and they’ve killed more than 2 million people.  

Ninety percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries. Compared with wealthier nations, these countries have historically contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming – yet they disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.  

4.4 millimeters  

Annual rate of sea level rise

Global sea levels are rapidly rising as the ice sheets melt and the oceans warm and expand. Scientists estimate that they’re now rising by about 4.4 millimeters, or about 0.17 inches, each year – and that rate is accelerating, increasing by about 1 millimeter every decade.

Those sound like small numbers. They’re not.  

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are losing a whopping 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Those losses are also speeding up, accelerating by at least 57 percent since the 1990s. Future sea level rise mainly depends on future ice melt, which depends on future greenhouse gas emissions. With extreme warming, global sea levels will likely rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century, enough to swamp many coastal communities, threaten freshwater supplies and submerge some small island nations.  

Some places are more vulnerable than others. 

“Low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the frontlines of the fight against sea level rise,” said NASA sea level expert Benjamin Hamlington. “In the U.S., the Southeast and Gulf Coasts are experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world and have very high future projections of sea level.”  

But in the long run, he added, “almost every coastline around the world is going to experience sea level rise and will feel impacts.”

Less than 6 years

When the world could breach the 1.5-degree threshold

The world is swiftly running out of time to meet its most ambitious international climate target: keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Humans can emit only another 250 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and maintain at least even odds of meeting that goal, scientists say. 

That pollution threshold could arrive in as little as six years.

That’s the bottom line from at least two recent studies, one published in June and one in October. Humans are pouring about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, with each ton eating into the margin of error.  

The size of that carbon buffer is smaller than previous estimates have suggested, indicating that time is running out even faster than expected.  

“While our research shows it is still physically possible for the world to remain below 1.5C, it’s difficult to see how that will stay the case for long,” said Robin Lamboll, a scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the most recent study. “Unfortunately, net-zero dates for this target are rapidly approaching, without any sign that we are meeting them.”

43 percent 

How much greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 2030 to hit the temperature target

The world would have to undergo a stark transformation during this decade to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious 1.5-degree cap. 

In a nutshell, global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall 43 percent by 2030, and 60 percent by 2035, before reaching net-zero by mid-century, according to a U.N. report published in September on the progress the world has made since signing the Paris Agreement. That would give the world a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

But based on the climate pledges that countries have made to date, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to fall by just 2 percent this decade, according to a U.N. assessment published this month

Governments are “taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell said in a statement this month. “This means COP28 must be a clear turning point.” 

$1 trillion a year 

Climate funding needs of developing countries

In many ways, U.N. climate summits are all about finance. Cutting industries’ carbon pollution, protecting communities from extreme weather, rebuilding after climate disasters — it all costs money. And developing countries, in particular, don’t have enough of it. 

As financing needs grow, pressure is mounting on richer nations such as the U.S. that have produced the bulk of planet-warming emissions to help developing countries cut their own pollution and adapt to a warmer world. They also face growing calls to pay for the destruction wrought by climate change, known as loss and damage in U.N.-speak. 

But the flow of money from rich to poor countries has slowed. In October, a pledging conference to replenish the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund raised only $9.3 billion, even less than the $10 billion that countries had promised last time. An overdue promise by developed countries to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures was “likely” met last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month, while warning that adaptation finance had fallen by 14 percent in 2021. 

As a result, the gap between what developing countries need and how much money is flowing in their direction is growing. The OECD report said developing countries will need around $1 trillion a year for climate investments by 2025, “rising to roughly $2.4 trillion each year between 2026 and 2030.”

$7 trillion 

Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies in 2022

In stark contrast to the trickle of climate finance, fossil fuel subsidies have surged in recent years. In 2022, total spending on subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal reached a record $7 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said in August. That’s $2 trillion more than in 2020. 

Explicit subsidies — direct government support to reduce energy prices — more than doubled since 2020, to $1.3 trillion. But the majority of subsidies are implicit, representing the fact that governments don’t require fossil fuel companies to pay for the health and environmental damage that their products inflict on society. 

At the same time, countries continue pumping public and private money into fossil fuel production. This month, a U.N. report found that governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5-degree target. 

66,000 square kilometers

Gross deforestation worldwide in 2022

At the COP26 climate summit two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, nations committed to halting global deforestation by 2030. A total of 145 countries have signed the Glasgow Forest Declaration, representing more than 90 percent of global forest cover. 

Yet global action is still falling short of that target. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment, produced by a collection of research and civil society organizations, estimated that the world lost 66,000 square kilometers of forest last year, or about 25,000 square miles — a swath of territory slightly larger than West Virginia or Lithuania. Most of that loss came from tropical forests. 

Halting deforestation is a critical component of global climate action. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that collective contributions from agriculture, forestry and land use compose as much as 21 percent of global human-caused carbon emissions. Deforestation releases large volumes of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and recent research suggests that carbon losses from tropical forests may have doubled since the early 2000s.  

Almost 1 billion tons

The annual carbon dioxide removal gap 

Given the world’s slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, scientists say a second approach is essential for slowing the Earth’s warming — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The technology for doing this is largely untested at scale, and won’t be cheap.  

A landmark report on carbon dioxide removals led by the University of Oxford earlier this year found that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less would require countries to collectively remove an additional 0.96 billion tons of CO2-equivalent a year by 2030.

About 2 billion tons are now removed every year, but that is largely achieved through the natural absorption capacity of forests. 

Removing even more carbon will require countries to massively scale up carbon removal technologies, given the limited capacity of forests to absorb more carbon dioxide. 

Carbon removal technologies are in the spotlight at COP28, though some countries and companies want to use them to meet net-zero while continuing to burn fossil fuels. Scientists have been clear that carbon removal cannot be a substitute for steep emissions cuts. 

1,000 gigawatts 

Annual growth in renewable power capacity needed to keep 1.5 degrees in reach  

The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but the transition is still far too slow to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

To keep 1.5 degrees within reach, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to add 1,000 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity every year through 2030. By comparison, the United States’ entire utility-scale electricity-generation capacity was about 1,160 gigawatts last year, according to the Department of Energy.

Last year, countries added about 300 gigawatts, according to the agency’s latest World Energy Transitions Outlook published in June. 

That shortfall has prompted the EU and the climate summit’s host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to campaign for nations to sign up to a target to triple the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 at COP28, a goal also supported by the U.S. and China.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol said last month. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.



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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.



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PTFE ban: The hidden consumer costs and employment losses

As part of the EU’s landmark Green Deal package, the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability called for an ambitious concept: achieving a toxic-free environment by 2030. A central pillar of this ambition is the proposal for a universal PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — restriction, addressing contamination and emissions from the controversial family of substances sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’.

Action to tackle this family of chemicals is overdue, and European industry is ready to do its part. As the president of the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Houseware Industries (FEC), I welcome the initiative. FEC members pride themselves on providing safe and durable products to consumers, and were early to phase out these problematic substances. Despite this, the current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects, impacts on carbon emissions and circularity.

While many elements of the proposed restriction are well justified, some risk damaging the EU industry’s competitiveness and hindering progress on the green and digital transitions, all while banning substances which are known to be safe. The European authorities need to understand the impacts of the proposal more thoroughly before making decisions which will harm consumers and the European workforce, and perhaps even result in worse environmental outcomes.

The current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts, and take the time to clearly understand the unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts on every sector.

The PFAS restriction proposal is broad, covering over 10,000 substances, many of which were not considered part of the PFAS family in the past. In an effort to catch all possible problematic chemicals that could be used in the future, the member countries which proposed the restriction have cast a net so wide that it also includes substances which pose no risk. Even the OECD, the source of the broad scope used by the authorities, concedes that its definition is not meant to be used to define the list of chemicals to be regulated.

In addition to the legacy PFAS substances, which have serious concerns for human health and the environment, the proposal also includes fluoropolymers in its scope, which are not mobile in the environment, not toxic and not bioaccumulative — a stark contrast to the controversial PFAS substances at the center of contamination scandals across Europe and around the globe.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety, and unlike legacy PFAS, technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Fluoropolymers are not only safe, their safety is a primary reason for their widespread use. They provide critical functionality in sensitive applications like medical devices, semiconductors and renewable energy technology. They are also used in products we all use in our day-to-day lives, from non-stick cookware to electrical appliances to cars. While in some cases there are alternatives to fluoropolymers, these replacements are often inferior, more expensive, or have even more environmental impact in the long run. Where alternatives aren’t yet identified, companies will need to spend large sums to identify replacements.

In the cookware industry, for example, fluoropolymers provide durable, safe and high-performing non-stick coatings for pots, pans and cooking appliances used by billions of people across Europe and around the globe. Decades of research and development show that not only are these products safe, but their coatings provide the most high-performing, durable and cost-effective solution. Continued research and development of these products is one of the reasons that the European cookware industry is considered a world leader.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and … technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy. In the cookware industry alone, the restriction could cost up to 14,800 jobs in Europe, reduce the economic contribution of the sector to the GDP by up to €500 million, and result in a major shift of production from Europe to Asia, where the products would be made under much less stringent environmental rules. Consumers will also suffer, with new alternatives costing more and being less durable, requiring more frequent replacement and therefore resulting in a larger environmental impact.

Beyond this, companies that enable the green transition, deliver life-saving medical treatments, and ensure our technology is efficient and powerful will all be required to engage in expensive and possibly fruitless efforts to replace fluoropolymers with new substances. What would be the benefit of these costs and unintended consequences, when fluoropolymers are already known to be safe across their whole lifecycle?

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

The scale of the PFAS restriction is unprecedented, but so are the possible unintended consequences. Industry has contributed comprehensive evidence to help fill in the blanks left by the initial proposal, it is now up to the institutions to take this evidence into account. With such a far-reaching initiative, it is essential that the EU institutions and the member countries thoroughly consider the impacts and ensure the final restriction is proportional, preserves European competitiveness and does not undermine the broader strategic objectives set for the coming years.

Founded in 1952, FEC, the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Housewares Industries, represents a strong network of 40 international companies, major national associations and key suppliers spread over Europe, including in Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Our mission is to promote cooperation between members, and to provide expertise and support on economic and technical topics.



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