Climate Change, Australia, President Trump: Your Thursday Briefing
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Earth’s temperatures spike, Australia locks out a wealthy political donor and Chinese workers protest worsening conditions. Here’s the latest:
Last year was the fourth hottest on record
NASA scientists announced that the Earth’s average surface temperature for 2018 was more than one degree Celsius above the average of the late 19th century — among the highest in nearly 140 years of record keeping.
The trend is unmistakable. The last five years have been the five warmest on record.
“We’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future,” said the director of the group that conducted the analysis. “It’s here. It’s now.”
Analysis: What sets the recent warming apart from the past is its relative suddenness and its clear correlation with increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity.
A reminder: To avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, scientists have said that global temperatures must not rise by more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels (meaning those in the era before the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).
Even an increase of 1.5 degrees will have dire consequences, a U.N. report has found, but despite a global climate compact, it appears likely that Earth’s temperatures will rise beyond the two-degree threshold.
Chinese workers protest as economy falters
As families gathered for the Lunar New Year, many workers said they were struggling to pay basic expenses, like food and rent.
Over the last year, thousands across the country have held small scale protests to fight efforts by businesses to cut their hours and hold back wages — a stark example of the destabilising impacts of China’s economic slowdown.
The protests present a growing challenge for President Xi Jinping, who has propagated the “Chinese Dream” — his vision for greater wealth and a fairer society. They also undermine the main philosophical pillar of the Communist Party: the protection of workers.
Details: At least 1,700 protests or strikes have been recorded in the last year, according to an advocacy group in Hong Kong that tracks labor disputes. Given stepped up censorship, many more are likely to have gone unreported. The authorities have detained more than 150 people, including taxi drivers, teachers, construction workers and student activists.
Australia cancels residency of Chinese political donor
Australian officials confirmed that they had revoked permanent residency for Huang Xiangmo, a Beijing-linked developer who has lived in Sydney since 2011, in a widening conflict over Chinese influence. They also rejected his citizen application.
Background: Mr. Huang was leading an organization connected to the Chinese Communist Party that promotes Beijing’s foreign policy when he donated millions of dollars to both major parties. He also financed a think tank run by a former Australian foreign minister who has been reliably pro-China.
Though foreign donations are legal in Australia, Mr. Huang has drawn increasing suspicion that reflects a deeper skepticism of China’s efforts to shape Australian policies.
Mr. Huang has denied that his donations have been tied to Beijing.
What’s next? Mr. Huang has the right to appeal, but in the meantime, he is stranded overseas. It’s also unclear whether his family can stay in Australia.
House Democrats strengthen oversight of Trump
A day after President Trump denounced “ridiculous partisan investigations” in his State of the Union speech, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the House Democrats wouldn’t back down from holding his administration accountable.
“It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in that,” she said.
Fellow Democrats immediately pushed ahead with several inquiries, including one focused on Mr. Trump’s tax returns.
Catch up: Here are our takeaways from Mr. Trump’s speech and a fact check of his claims.
North Korea: The president revealed that he planned to sit down with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, on Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam. A senior American negotiator, Stephen Biegun, has arrived in Pyongyang to sort out the crucial details.
Progress toward the denuclearization of North Korea has stalled since Mr. Trump first met with Mr. Kim in Singapore in June.
Go deeper: The State of the Union put the Democrats’ resurgence on full display, from the striking sea of white attire to their reluctance to applaud the president, writes our chief Washington correspondent.
Here’s what else is happening
Islamic State: Thousands of people have been streaming out of the Syrian village of Baghuz as government forces and U.S.-backed fighters close in on the last bit of Syrian land under the militant group’s control. But the Islamic State still has thousands of fighters in the region, and it is flourishing overseas, including in the Philippines and Nigeria.
India: A government religious board that initially opposed allowing women into the centuries-old Sabarimala Temple reversed course, saying women have the right to worship there.
Fast fashion: A new report has found that much of India’s garment manufacturing industry is made up of girls and women from oppressed ethnic communities who work in informal, unregulated settings, earning as little as 15 cents per hour.
A recent letter to the editor took The Times to task for not running enough letters from women. We asked one of the letters editors, Sue Mermelstein, to explain how The Times responded.
The fact that our letters page skews male is something we’ve struggled with. The letter from Kimberly Probolus gave us a perfect opportunity to address it. When we published it, we also urged more women to write, and committed to work toward parity.
We’ve already seen an uptick in correspondence from women, thoughtful and telling. “It has never occurred to me that someone would want to hear my voice,” one said.
Men and women alike expressed concern that we might begin selecting letters on the basis of gender rather than merit. We won’t, but we are inviting letters from a broader range of readers, via newsletters like this one, the Reader Center and The Times’s social media.
This weekend we plan to publish readers’ thoughts on why women are underrepresented in opinion pages.
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