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Under The Radar – 23 April

This week, we discuss:

  1. Boris Johnson’s ambitious climate targets

  2. Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS

  3. No.10’s move to cancel the proposed televised briefings

Johnson’s Green Card

What happened?

This week, the UK government announced radical new commitments to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.

Hitting the target will require changes to most industrial activity, including an electricity system that operates without generating carbon emissions, a reduction in meat and dairy consumption across the UK, low-carbon heating systems in homes and planting more woodland.

What does it mean?

While China and the U.S. battle for pre-eminence in climate leadership, Boris Johnson is keen to champion Britain’s credentials. And in the Prime Minister’s defence, he’s making significant progress.

The latest commitments are the most ambitious among leading economies because they incorporate our share of international aviation and shipping emissions. His effort is being met with similar commitments by world leaders, including Biden’s pledge to cut emissions by 50%.

While the UK’s contribution to global emissions is relatively small (1.1% as of 2017), Johnson is looking to persuade his counterparts that it’s possible to cut emissions while stimulating economic growth. This is a sound principle, which could involve less focus on carbon taxes – which antagonise and burden normal people – and more focus on retraining programmes and creating jobs.

Despite impressing on the international stage, Johnson could do a better job communicating his green agenda at home. While research suggests that over 50,000 green jobs could be created in Red Wall seats over the next two years, many in these areas are still concerned that the loss of existing industries will devastate their communities.

Russia walks out on the ISS

What happened?

Russia has announced it will be withdrawing from the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, ending more than two decades of cooperation with the US in space.

What does it mean?

The withdrawal is the culmination of increased clashes between Russia and the US – cyber-attacks, election meddling and geopolitical disputes over the Crimean Peninsula have all contributed to a steep decline in relations. Now, with space becoming the new battleground for global supremacy and strategic dominance, the two global superpowers are set to take diverging paths forward.

The US continues to expand its ‘Space Force’ ambitions through a blossoming partnership with Elon Musk’s Space X, which saw its first successful human space launch with NASA in 2020.

The US is also set to continue working with the European Space Agency aboard the ISS, whereas Russia is awaiting the green light from Putin to build its own space station in time for 2030. Coupled with the memorandum it signed with China last month to jointly build a base on the surface of the moon, it would appear the battle lines for space domination have now been drawn.

Though the impending rise of a new era of geopolitical space wars may seem trivial to some, others will rightly be feeling an unnerving sense of trepidation – a wrong turn, or a hostile act, could have devastating consequences for the critical satellite infrastructure above us, which provides everything from GPS technology to operating systems for nuclear weapons.

The battle for space dominance is more important than we realise.

What a waste of money!

What happened?

After spending £2.6 million on a new briefing room, plans for televised White House-style press briefings at Downing Street have been abandoned.

Boris Johnson’s aide Allegra Stratton, who had been hired on an £100,000 salary to front the briefings, will become the spokeswoman for the COP26 climate summit instead.

What does it mean?

Masterminded by former Downing Street comms director, Lee Cain, and inspired by the Trump administration’s punchy comms strategy, the televised briefings were intended to reduce the influence of journalists and give politicians the chance to address the public directly. A noble aspiration for sure, but, from the get go, the idea was met with scepticism.

Televised briefings were important during the early stages of the pandemic, when it was crucial for ministers and experts to communicate why lockdown was necessary and the current state of public health. But with fewer updates to share, many No 10 insiders began to worry that these press briefings would become an opportunity for journalists to catch the Government out. And after unsuccessful rehearsals in January or February, many doubted whether Allegra Stratton was the right person to keep the “Gotcha!” moments at bay.

After months of kicking the start date down the road, No. 10 eventually put the press briefings out of their misery, sneaking the news of their cancellation into a day dominated by the European Super League. Despite this cancellation, ministers insist that the venue was not a waste of money, adding that the press facility would be used by future governments (assuming whichever party is in power is happy to be surrounded by Tory-blue panelling).

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘One Reason Why the Super League Failed’ by Grace Robertson for Grace On Football

  2. ‘Welcome to the YOLO Economy’ by Kevin Roose for The New York Times

  3. ‘Jacinda Ardern is now the West’s woke weak link’ by Con Coughlin for The Telegraph

  4. ‘Celebrating Derek Chauvin’s conviction is not enough. We want to live’ by Derecka Purnell for The Guardian

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