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Parental alienation and the unregulated experts shattering children’s lives | Family law

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Amanda wept as she recalled her children being removed from her home several years ago – her youngest clinging to her as they were dragged away screaming. They were frightened. After all, they had made their feelings clear: “We want to stay with Mummy. We love Daddy but he scares us.” Yet their wishes were attributed to their mother’s “brainwashing”.

The cracks in Amanda’s relationship appeared years earlier. Her husband persuaded her to give up work. “He would shout at me and demand sex. I became isolated as a full-time mum and became depressed, my creativity was gone,” she said.

She said he became violent and she found the courage to leave. There was a shared arrangement over the children. But after they complained about their father’s angry outbursts, she said, a “parental alienation” expert found her to have psychological issues. She had turned the children against their father, it was claimed.

Meanwhile, she said, her evidence of his violence was discounted. Her children were transferred to live with their father and all contact was cut with immediate effect. Months later, she was allowed two hours of supervised contact once a fortnight.

The Observer is aware of a number of cases in which mothers, and sometimes fathers, have lost custody of their children after being accused of “parental alienation” (PA) – meaning a child is manifesting unjustified hostility towards one parent as the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.

The concept stems from the theory of “parental alienation syndrome” coined in the 1980s by US child psychiatrist Richard Gardner. The “syndrome” went on to be largely rejected. But the idea of parental alienation as a pattern of behaviour gained traction and has become complex legal territory in English and Welsh family courts. Julie Doughty, a law lecturer at Cardiff University, notes in a 2018 study: “The argument appears to have created confusion in attaching an unnecessary label to the very rare instances of a parent instilling false beliefs in a child, which is a form of emotional abuse. While such extreme cases are rare, they clearly fall within definitions of significant harm in statutory guidance.”

Formal photographic portrait of Claire Waxman
Victims’ commissioner Claire Waxman: ‘There is no way of getting your children back unless you admit you have alienated them.’ Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

The family lawyer Jenny Beck QC said: “There are arguments about whether it is even a concept, or if it is used as a counter-allegation to domestic abuse. There are rows about how to hear the child’s voice and about experts and their qualifications – and there is deep concern about unregulated experts who have an economic interest in both diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.”

When a finding of alienation is made, a PA expert can recommend all contact is cut with the “alienating” parent while therapy is undertaken. They can be prevented from seeing or speaking to their children for several months.

“Resumed contact can depend on the success of therapy recommended by the expert, mandated by the court and either paid for by the parent themselves or another source,” said Dr Adrienne Barnett, senior lecturer in law at Brunel University, London. “In cases where the court instructs the ‘alienating’ parent to foot the bill, they can find themselves held to ransom – either pay up or risk losing their children indefinitely.”

In particular, there has been growing anxiety about the potential conflict of interest presented where an expert could be financially incentivised to make a finding of PA in a system that allows them to recommend their own therapy or that of colleagues. The Family Justice Council has just published a memo about expert witnesses in cases where there are allegations of alienating behaviour and conflicts of interest. It points to guidance updated last month to include a new stipulation that the court should be alert to “when a psychologist expert recommends an intervention or therapy that they or an associate would benefit financially from delivering”.

Dr Jaime Craig, lead author of the guidance and a consultant clinical psychologist who has been an expert in the family courts for 20 years, said: “There has been longstanding worry about inappropriately qualified psychologists giving evidence in sensitive cases involving children. We wouldn’t let a psychologist who wasn’t regulated by the HCPC [Health and Care Professions Council] work in the NHS or in the forensic services, and the assessments being made in the family court are no less complex.

“If anything, the decisions being made have a greater impact on children’s lives.”

An expert report can cost as much as £10,000, but the costs of therapeutic interventions can run into tens of thousands of pounds. This is in addition to legal fees, which can prove crippling to parents embroiled in drawn-out litigation.

“Several mothers reported they had lost their homes and life savings during lengthy court battles that ultimately resulted in the removal of their children,” said Natalie Page of the Survivor Family Network.

Worryingly, some of these women also claimed to be victims of domestic or emotional abuse by a former partner that, on occasions, had been recognised by the court.

The victims’ commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, has written to the head of the court, the president of the Family Division, raising concerns about experts who are not regulated and therefore cannot be held to account. In a seven-page briefing, seen by the Observer, she provided a list of experts used by the courts who had been raised in her casework. Subsequently, the Family Procedure Rules Committee concluded that the current rules – which allow unregulated experts to be appointed at the court’s discretion – were sufficient, but that there should be more training for judges.

Not all experts who are involved in these cases are unregulated. But Waxman argues current processes are insufficient to prevent recommendations from experts who “mislead about their credentials, are affiliated to lobby organisations and have a history of complaints against them”.

Her concerns are shared by the Association of Clinical Psychologists, which published a statement warning that mothers were having their children removed by “psychologists without the necessary qualifications”.

It says that only psychologists holding one of nine protected titles – and therefore regulated by the HCPC – should be making diagnoses and therapeutic recommendations.

Waxman does not deny that children are weaponised in acrimonious separations and that this behaviour is harmful.

However, she said: “In some extreme cases, children have disclosed very serious abuse and were told by experts and judges they haven’t been abused but rather have been ‘alienated’ by the parent they deem to be safe. That is potentially hugely dangerous for those children, who are at risk of being removed from their protective parent.”

An illustration of a man and a woman staring at each other in profile with the scales of justice in between them such as the two containers of the scale form the eye of each face. A child in the foreground looks at them both
Psychologists warn claims of ‘parental alienation’ can be used to neutralise otherwise credible allegations of domestic abuse. Illustration: Steven Gregor/The Observer

A report by the Ministry of Justice in 2020 found: “Fears of false allegations of parental alienation are clearly a barrier to victims of abuse telling the courts about their experiences.”

The same report notes that the Family Law Bar Association raised the challenges posed by the small number of cases in which the court is satisfied that children have been emotionally abused by a parent who has made false allegations of abuse against the other parent.

However, it added, “these cases are indeed small in number in comparison to the large number of cases where mothers … fear false allegations of parental alienation”.

It is mandatory for all family judges and magistrates to complete training in domestic abuse. Updated digital training was launched in October last year and new live training sessions that address the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 were launched in April.

The barrister Charlotte Proudman says that parental alienation has become a “go-to tactic” used by alleged or found perpetrators of domestic abuse.

“In some cases they call on a PA expert to assess the family dynamics before there is even a hearing to determine whether allegations of abuse are legitimate,” she said. “Once PA is found, any suggestion of domestic abuse is downplayed and it is very hard to turn a case around. I’ve seen a couple of cases where a mother has never seen their child again and must wait until they are 18.”

But Beverley Watkins, a family law solicitor based in Bristol, said allegations of parental alienation were not uncritically accepted by the courts, which were becoming increasingly alive to its misuse. “A large part of my caseload involves domestic violence cases, representing mothers, and the father will often raise parental alienation, but generally speaking the courts are very hesitant to accept such claims,” she said.

Now Waxman is calling for a review of how experts are appointed. “We need systems to ensure they have relevant qualifications and where we have identified experts as problematic we need a review of all their cases.”

The children’s charity the NSPCC gave evidence to a House of Lords committee, published in May, stating that the credence given to claims of parental alienation resulted in “claims of domestic or other abuse being dismissed or minimised”. It added: “The NSPCC does not believe there is sufficient evidence to support the concept of parental alienation.”

Formal photographic portrait of Hannah Jones
Hannah Jones: ‘Anyone selling therapy to treat parental alienation is doing so without any evidence base.’ Photograph: Handout

However, proponents of parental alienation say it is so widespread that tens of thousands of UK parents are victims.

Asked about the issues of unregulated experts and the interplay of allegations between domestic abuse and parental alienation, the organisation Parental Alienation UK said: “We welcome any reasonable rigour that is introduced into the court process regarding experts in proceedings involving children. That can only be to the benefit of those involved, especially the children.” A spokesperson added: “Parental alienation is not a ‘gender issue’. It affects thousands of safe and loving mothers as well as fathers. We work alongside many affected mothers. It is preventing harm to the child that is paramount.”

Bob Greig, co-founder of Only Dads, said the debate was becoming increasingly toxic because the term parental alienation was being misunderstood. “It has become a buzz term, and what is described in the many messages I get is not anything like the way it is described in court. Many men use it when what they mean is they have a horrible ex who is trying to frustrate contact. A loving father might have a legitimate grievance with the amount of contact they have, and that may be the subject of bitter dispute, but that’s not parental alienation.”

Hannah Jones, a chartered forensic psychologist who has been appointed in the family courts as an expert since 2014, said: “True alienation of a parent where that parent is entirely unproblematic is rare enough that it does not need its own concept.”

In 2020, the World Health Organization dropped the term from its index of diseases, saying: “There are no evidence-based healthcare interventions specifically for parental alienation”.

Jones said: “ Anyone selling therapy to treat PA is doing so without any evidence base.”

She said when alienation is found as a form of brainwashing, children are not trusted as messengers of their own experience and there is a risk that claims of abuse can be chalked up as a product of “alienating” behaviour.

Hayley, from the north of England, said she did not feel listened to after her father was accused of PA. “My birth mum was controlling and had abusive tendencies,” she explained. “When I said aged 13 that I wanted to live full-time with my dad he made an application to the court. However, she alleged he was manipulating me and alienating me against her.

“I said this was a lie but, at first, I wasn’t believed. I felt like the court took my mother’s side. Her lawyers said it [the application] was my dad’s idea and not what I really wanted.”

Eventually it was ruled she could live with her father full-time, although assessments were not undertaken by a designated “PA expert”. Had they been, the outcome might have been different.

The options for a parent who believes they have been wrongly accused of alienation are limited and costly. “There is no way of getting your children back unless you admit you have alienated them,” said Waxman. “Not wanting to do the therapy is seen as resisting.”

When an expert is proposed, all parties in a case have an opportunity to comment on whether they oppose the expert and make representations to the court, says the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). The service, which says it does not instruct experts or make recommendations to the court, added: “It is the responsibility of the court dealing with any given case to satisfy itself that a proposed expert is suitably qualified to deal with the matters they are instructed to report to the court on, regardless of who has proposed the instruction.”

In October, the president of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, issued a memo on court-appointed experts stating that “pseudo-science” would be “inadmissible” in court. In a speech the same month, he said: “Where the issue of parental alienation is raised and it is suggested to the court that an expert should be instructed, the court must be careful only to authorise such instruction where the individual expert has relevant expertise.”

There is little research in the UK into the types of therapies and interventions prescribed to “treat” alienation or their success rates, and, according to the 2018 Cardiff study, the evidence base for parental alienation is “very limited because of a lack of robust empirical studies”. Critics claim the therapies being prescribed are not based on evidence and can prove harmful to victims of abuse.

The Observer has attended a number of hearings where parental alienation has been a key feature but, due to reporting restrictions, is unable to publish details of them. In some recent published judgments, names of experts have been redacted, prompting concerns about transparency.

One judge blocked the media from naming an expert after a woman in a private court dispute in Croydon in October complained about a psychologist appointed to her case, arguing the expert was not regulated. District Judge Delia Coonan ruled in her favour and appointed a different expert – but blocked the media from naming the original “Expert X”. Coonan did not criticise the expert and said her decision to appoint another professional was “pragmatic”.

In a published judgment, Brian Farmer, a journalist who applied for permission to name the expert, is quoted as saying: “If a parent has any concerns about X they ought to be able to read about your decision. Most parents assume that all experts are regulated and will be surprised by your decision.” He added: “Reports by experts such as X can be the basis for decisions that children should leave home … If they’re paid to provide expert reports which can change people’s lives shouldn’t they also be accountable to the public?”

In January 2014, the then president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued guidance stating: “Public authorities and expert witnesses should be named in the judgment approved for publication, unless there are compelling reasons why they should not be.”

McFarlane recently signalled a shift in culture towards increased transparency in the family court, and there is a consultation process on a number of planned rule changes. A spokesperson for the judiciary said: “The need for increased transparency must always be balanced against the need to protect the privacy of vulnerable children and families. The welfare of the child is paramount and remains at the heart of family court proceedings.”

It is proposed that, in future, journalists will have more freedom to report the details of family court cases so long as children’s identities are protected. Under the changes, parents would also have increased rights to speak more openly.

For mothers such as Amanda, the changes can’t come soon enough. “My children want to come home,” she said. “People ask how I am but I don’t know how to respond. I just hide away.”

Some names have been changed to protect identities

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Greece finally aids refugees stranded on scorpion and snake-infested islet | Global development

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A group of adults and children who spent a month stuck on a scorpion- and snake-infested spit of land between Greece and Turkey – and denied help by both nations – were finally taken to temporary accommodation by Greek police this week.

Among the group of nearly 40 Syrian refugees forced to seek refuge on the islet in the Evros river was a five-year-old girl, Maria, reported to have died from a scorpion sting. Her nine-year-old sister remains gravely ill.

Migration minister Notis Mitarachi said on Tuesday that Greece would try to retrieve the body of the dead girl.

The ordeal is the latest incident to highlight what Niamh Nic Carthaigh, EU policy director at the International Rescue Committee, calls a “political game of gross irresponsibility” between the two countries that is costing lives.

One of the group, Baida Al-Saleh, 27, said the Syrians arrived on the islet on 14 July. Lawyers acting on their behalf obtained an interim measure from the European court of human rights on 20 July to allow them to remain, yet days later they were forcibly pushed back to Turkey and taken into custody.

In early August they were sent back to the islet. They survived by drinking river water and eating corn and leaves, while insects bit their skin in the heat. “They are treating us like animals,” said Al-Saleh in a voice note from the islet last week.

Civil society groups have put pressure on Turkey and Greece to rescue the group. Ankara made no comment but Athens claimed it was unable to help as the islet, charted as Greek on maps, was in Turkey.

Greece-Turkey interactive
In recent months thousands of people have attempted to cross the Evros River, dividing Turkey and Greece, taking advantage of shallow summer waters.

Both sides claimed to have searched for the group but found no one. The NGO Uluslararası Mülteci Hakları Derneği – which has ties to the Turkish government – said in a statement that security officers from the nearby city of Edirne came within 75 metres of the coordinates supplied by the migrants on 10 August and used a megaphone, but received no response.

The claims are disputed by lawyers and journalists, such as Giorgos Christides, who closely documented the group’s plight for the German news website Der Spiegel. They say they have collected evidence to support the group, including live locations and verified photo metadata.

In the end, the group crossed to Greece in a boat left by other migrants, fearful of a violent pushback but driven to seek help for nine-months pregnant Nor, who was in pain and bleeding.

A Greek police statement said 22 men, nine women and seven children were found, and that government services “rushed to their aid” with “food and water, and transported them to a place of temporary accommodation”.

Al-Saleh said the group were given medical care and they believe they will now be registered for asylum.

In recent months thousands have attempted to cross the Evros, dividing Turkey and Greece, taking advantage of shallow summer waters. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported 3,225 recorded arrivals in Greece through the land border at Evros this year.

While the Syrians’ plight is not unique, it captured the sympathy of Greeks, in part due to the children in the group.

It is feared that an increasing number of Syrians could attempt the dangerous journey to Europe as Turkey starts to implement plans, announced in May, to return a million migrants to areas of Syria under Turkish military control.

Turkey is home to the world’s largest refugee population, with 3.6 million Syrians registered there alone, and the strain of this has led to anti-immigrant sentiment. Greece has long faced accusations of carrying out violent migrant pushbacks that continue, despite an EU warning in June that Athens risks losing funding.

Louise Donovan, UNHCR spokesperson in Greece, said the agency is deeply saddened by the child’s death, and urged both countries to observe international law. “While states have the legitimate right to control their borders, this must be done in accordance with national, European and international law, with full respect for human rights, most importantly the right to life.

“The urgent humanitarian imperative to protect human life must always be prioritised,” she said.

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Rwanda Gov’t Accused of Using Torture, Killings as ‘Accepted Methods’ of Control: Report

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In April, the UK clinched a deal with Rwanda that stipulates illegal migrants arriving in Britain via the English Channel will be sent to the East African nation, where their asylum claims will be processed.

An unnamed Foreign Office official has accused Rwanda’s government of resorting to “arbitrary detention, torture and even killings” as “accepted methods of enforcing control,” in light of Britain’s upcoming High Court review of the legality of the London­-Kigali deal to send some asylum seekers to the East African nation.

The official also claimed that “There are state control, security, surveillance structures from the national level down to [households]” in Rwanda, according to The Guardian.

This comes as the UK government is seeking to keep parts of the documents secret for fear the contents could damage international relations and threaten national security. In particular, No 10’s application for a public interest immunity (PII) certificate calls for keeping “10 short passages confidential.”

The Guardian, along with the BBC and The Times, urges the disclosure of all 10 passages, insisting that it is in the public interest, a view supported by the PCS union, as well as the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action.

A government spokesperson, in turn, praised Rwanda as “a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.” They underscored that the government remains “committed to delivering this policy to break the business model of criminal gangs and save lives.”

A draft ruling from Lord Justice Lewis on the PII application is expected tomorrow, while a full High Court hearing into the London-Kigali deal on asylum seekers is scheduled for September 5.

Rwanda Deal

The London­-Kigali asylum pact, which was inked by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta on April 14, 2022, stipulates that adult migrants who illegally arrived in the UK seeking sanctuary since January would be given a one-way ticket for the 4,000-mile (6,400-km) trip to the East African nation for processing and resettlement.

Under the deal, those relocated to Rwanda will receive “support, including up to five years of education, vocational and skills training, as well as integration, accommodation, and healthcare, so that they can resettle and thrive.”

UK Border Force officers help migrants, believed to have been picked up from boats in the Channel, disembark from Coastal patrol vessel HMC Speedwell, in the port of Dover, on the south-east coast of England on August 9, 2020. - The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.06.2022

‘Deeply Un-British Policy’: Critics Slam Rwanda Deal as First Deportation Flight to Leave Mid-June

The outgoing UK prime minister’s government described the Rwanda scheme as a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that send migrants on risky journeys across the English Channel.

The implementation of the deal is currently on standby after a last-ditch order by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) led to the cancellation of the UK’s first flight to take asylum seekers to Rwanda in mid­-June. Home Secretary Priti Patel made it clear that the ECHR’s move would not prevent London from going ahead with its plans to send some illegal migrants to the East African nation.



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Global instability: Global plagues bring to its knees a world unable to face them together | International

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A brutal pandemic; frightening climate change; a devastating war that drives widespread rearmament; severe trade disruptions; gigantic multinationals that take advantage of loopholes to avoid paying much-needed taxes. The world faces colossal global challenges that shake it intensely and whose solutions necessarily pass through close international cooperation. As the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, stated at the end of July, with respect to global warming, the dilemma is clear: collective action or collective suicide. However, signs of growing polarization and rift abound, between the West and the authoritarian giants of the East, or between the North and the South of the planet. Against the backdrop of the great geopolitical fracture caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the current situation throws up an unequivocal sequence of alarm signals of different kinds.

The meeting on climate change held in Bonn in mid-June to prepare the COP27 in November in Egypt ended without progress and with acrimony; The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in mid-July that the negotiation it leads to implement a global tax framework for multinationals is delayed and it will not be possible to apply it before 2024 in the best of cases; at the end of July Russia announced that it is withdrawing from the international space station project; the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has begun in New York takes place in the midst of strong geopolitical turmoil that does not induce the greatest optimism; In early August, China announced the breaking off of dialogue with the United States on key issues such as the environment or high-level military meetings in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Not all are disasters. The ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held in July achieved a consensus statement that, although minimal, represents an important sign of vitality for a badly wounded international institution. A recent deal to allow Ukraine to export grain has begun to bear fruit. The US has approved an important piece of legislation that contemplates investments of more than 300,000 million euros over a decade to facilitate the green transition, a national episode but with great global repercussion. There are inspiring episodes of transnational cooperation, such as the EU anti-pandemic crisis funds.

But the achievements seem insufficient given the magnitude of the crises, and the underlying currents are not at all promising for the near future in the fundamental field of truly global cooperation, apart from national, bilateral or regional initiatives. The stark rivalry between powers hinders the essential constructive attitudes; the economic slowdown encourages selfish instincts; The specter of a new rise of nationalist and protectionist recipes is serious, whether it materializes in the extreme form of a seizure of power —as is likely to happen in September in Italy— or in the inhibiting effect that this strength has on the rulers of another country. political inspiration.

Below is a review of the state of the art in some of the key areas in which global responses to global problems would be necessary – and where, however, more friction than solution is in sight.

Weapons

The war launched by Russia in Ukraine has highlighted, in addition to the impotence of the UN system in cases like this, the seriousness of the collapse of the security architecture that had been built during the Cold War, an important framework of treaties of gun control that set limits, increased transparency, decreased the risk of dangerous misunderstandings. The collapse began two decades ago. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and more recently withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty for a wide range of reasons, while Russia took the lead in withdrawing from the Armed Forces Treaty. conventional in Europe.

This gap is especially serious in a context like the current one, with a clear arms race. World military spending is increasing and, for the first time in decades, according to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), nuclear arsenals are on the way to not only a qualitative improvement, but also a quantitative one. “We have to be aware that the lack of dialogue on nuclear risks and arms control between powers is in itself dangerous, because it makes it easier to misunderstand and miscalculate in a crisis,” says Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Gun Control Association.

A Chinese soldier observes the movements of a frigate during maneuvers in the Strait of Formosa on August 5.
A Chinese soldier observes the movements of a frigate during maneuvers in the Strait of Formosa on August 5.Lin Jian (AP)

This dangerous trend has been seriously accentuated by the recent breakdown in dialogue between Beijing and Washington. If the conflictive relationship between the West and Russia is worrying given the high military potential at the Kremlin’s disposal, the deterioration with China is even more so. The Asian giant will most likely be a 21st century hyperpower. He is determined to develop war-fighting capabilities commensurate with that status and is traditionally reluctant to engage in arms-control deals in the style of those that helped keep the Cold War from turning hot.

“Unlimited spending on increasingly sophisticated military equipment only fuels an arms race that no one can ultimately win. We need to get back to a point where the major powers are engaged in a constant and fruitful dialogue,” Kimball continues. “With Russia the relationship is broken, and as for China, Washington should recognize that its actions can have a negative influence and Beijing should understand that the US has concerns about its behavior.”

The current NPT review conference in New York is a perfect compendium of the difficulties that complicate the road in this sector. The nuclear powers recognized by the Treaty are in the midst of massive efforts to modernize their arsenals. Russia and North Korea make thinly veiled threats to use it. Iran is leaps and bounds closer to having the capabilities to have a nuclear weapon if it wanted to. Dozens of countries, meanwhile, have ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. But both the dialogue between nuclear powers and that between them and the abolitionists seem very complex. A final consensus statement from the conference looms as virtually impossible. The hope is that at least a declaration backed by a “supermajority,” as Kimball defines it, will come about. This, however, is “possible, but not likely,” acknowledges the expert.

Climate change

Nor does it seem likely that the world will make coordinated and consistent progress in the fight against climate change in the near future. While the brutal heat waves that hit Europe ―with terrible droughts and fires that devastate the territory― remind us of the urgency of speeding up the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, multiple dark elements accumulate on the table .

Political action in the US to facilitate the green transition is extremely important and will increase the pace of US emission reductions. However, as important as it is, the package is not even enough, according to expert calculations, to meet the 2030 emission reduction goals assumed by the Joe Biden Administration. Meanwhile, disruptions in the energy market linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine have precipitated a return to coal in several European countries. China, for its part, has increased the pace of permitting the construction of new coal plants very consistently, according to a Greenpeace report. In the first quarter of 2022, plants for a power of 8.6 gigawatts were authorized, almost half of the capacity approved throughout 2021, when Xi Jinping gave a boost to strongly advance decarbonization. The breakdown of cooperation between Washington and Beijing in this section is a huge blow, as they are the two main emitters.

Several people walk through the reservoir of La Viñuela (Malaga), which is at 12% of its capacity.
Several people walk through the reservoir of La Viñuela (Malaga), which is at 12% of its capacity.García-Santos

“We live in a very complex context, of concatenated crises that interact. In this context, energy security is emerging as the preponderant variable over the others. Short-term signals are undesirable. And, in the general picture, the commitments made to reduce emissions are clearly insufficient. Even so, we are much better off than a decade ago thanks to the legislative and executive framework that has been built to tackle the energy transition”, observes Lara Lázaro, principal investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute and an expert in the field.

The difficulties in international cooperation in this sector and at this time were exposed at the meeting held in Bonn in mid-June to prepare the COP27 scheduled for November in Egypt, which ended without tangible progress. If, on the one hand, the need for energy security drives polluting bets in the short term, and the economic slowdown stirs up East-West competition, the Bonn meeting illustrated, on the other hand, the validity of the pulse between the North and the South , with the latter accusing the former of not fully assuming its responsibility for the damage caused to all as a great historical polluter. The issue of mobilizing aid to developing countries to deal with this impact is an open wound.

The decision of the G-7 held in Germany at the end of June to accept exceptions to the commitment to avoid public investment in the fossil fuel sector caused much concern among the supporters of a decisive acceleration in the fight against climate change. The taxonomy recently approved by the EU, according to which gas is cataloged in a green label that favors investments, also caused controversy.

“At COP26 in Glasgow, among other things, it was proposed to reach COP27 with revised objectives. But I see it unlikely that Europe will get there with greater goals. Perhaps more closed implementation plans. Nor do I see the US or China arrive with increased objectives. Egypt will hold the presidency in a devilish context”, comments Lázaro.

The pandemic

Contributing to the devilish context is a pandemic that has prostrated the planet for two and a half years. The situation is clearly better than in the previous summer thanks to the deployment of the vaccines, but the emergency cannot be considered resolved nor, above all, the way of dealing with it shows the desirable signs of an effective international cooperative attitude.

The WHO (World Health Organization) continues to record around 15,000 weekly deaths from covid this summer, and the disruptions to the economy due to confinements, as China shows, are consistent. At this point, Africa still has a proportion of citizens with full guideline of only 20%. The north-south gap and west-east distrust mark this scenario.

“The international reports that have been prepared – such as that of the Monti commission, to which I was linked – coincide in indicating that the north-south international response has been clearly insufficient and not very supportive”, comments Rafa Bengoa, former Minister of Health of the Government Vasco, former director of the WHO health systems area and currently co-director of the Institute of Health and Strategy.

“Many countries, including Spain, are trying to provide both vaccines and medicines and infrastructure to the countries of the south, but this has been slow, it is not going at the speed at which the virus is going. We are playing more to the security of the north than to the solidarity that we should have, “says the expert.

The most visible combat scenario has been that of the release of intellectual property from vaccine patents. India and South Africa have spearheaded the claim. After a time of uncertainty, the Biden Administration backed the idea. But the issue remains stalled, opposed by several major European producing countries. The recent WTO ministerial conference has addressed the issue in its final consensus statement. However, the result has been considered practically irrelevant by supporters of liberalization and by independent experts. “It doesn’t change things much,” says Uri Dadush, an analyst at the Bruegel think tank, and a former World Bank executive and president of The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In this context, hopes for better international cooperation are pinned on a process launched within the framework of the WHO to outline a new legal framework. “The idea is to have a legal and binding mechanism that goes much further than the international health regulations of 2005, which were established after SARS-1, and which have proven to be insufficient due to lack of teeth,” observes Bengoa.

The expert points out how the WHO faced serious problems in investigating what happened in Wuhan, China, the likely epicenter of the pandemic, because it does not have the power to act without authorization from member countries. “The framework agreement is going to have to say things about these issues.” Once again, the growing mistrust between powers embodied in a traumatic way by the breakdown of the dialogue between Washington and Beijing is emerging as a potential obstacle to endow an international institution with penetrating powers. It should be remembered that Donald Trump, a possible candidate for the next US presidential elections, promoted the withdrawal of his country from the WHO.

Trade

Trade is another area subject to strong tensions for geopolitical reasons or because of the disruptions linked to the pandemic. Precisely under the Trump presidency, the conflict between the US and China fully broke out, in which the arrival of Biden has meant a certain containment, but not a solution. The highest arbitration panel of the WTO for disputes between States is inoperative as the necessary judges have not been appointed, with the United States convinced that the court exceeded its powers in the past. The relationship between the other great world trade giant, the EU, and China is not serene either. The sinking of the investment agreement between the two, once heavily sponsored by Germany, is a symbol of growing suspicion in Europe about Chinese attitudes and excessive interweaving with that market. The Russian war in Ukraine has, of course, been shaken up again, with a wide range of retaliatory sanctions against Russia by some 40 democratic countries.

Still, the recent WTO ministerial conference concluded with a consensus agreement. “This is positive. The WTO is a fundamental institution, and many other ministerial ones ended up without it,” says Dadush, who, however, points out that the agreements found are of a “minimalist” nature, and that the declared intention to reactivate the arbitration panel by 2024 “It doesn’t really commit anyone.”

A man pushes a cart past containers at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on November 4, 2021.
A man pushes a cart past containers at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on November 4, 2021.WILLY KURNIAWAN (REUTERS)

Dadush points out that the current turmoil — tariff conflict between the US and China, sanctions on Russia or the UK’s exit from the EU — while significant, nevertheless represents “a small part of global trade.” The expert believes that the most likely future scenario is that of “free trade that will go ahead, a globalization that will continue, with many difficulties and tensions, but without a global trade war.”

The hypothesis of an open war between China and the United States is the only circumstance that can profoundly alter this central perspective, Dadush observes. “But I think that everyone is aware that we cannot afford an open war between Washington and Beijing, that it is necessary to find a modus vivendi, and that is why that is not the most likely scenario,” Dadush continues.

“I also believe that”, he continues, “even if nationalist and protectionist options come to power in Western countries, they will also be limited, in the transition from campaign rhetoric to government action, by the reality that trade is essential. for economic development and pressure from business environments that are often close to right-wing political families. Therefore, I believe that the most realistic scenario is that of free trade that, although with difficulties, will go ahead”. In this sense, it should be noted that the right-wing coalition dominated by protectionist parties that is the favorite to win the elections in Italy issued this week supposedly reassuring signals in the face of the European integration process, in which free trade is a central issue. It will be necessary to see, in case of victory, how much the facts will correspond to the words of now.

Taxation

Another blow to the hopes of finding global solutions to global problems came this July when it was confirmed that the negotiations to implement a global corporate tax system are facing many difficulties and will not be able to conclude this year as many expected. Last year, 140 countries agreed to establish a framework that allows taxes to be collected more fairly from large multinationals that take advantage of their size, the characteristics of their business and jurisdictions with negligible tax levels to avoid paying taxes on their profits. The agreement provides for a minimum corporate tax of 15% and that at least part of the profits of multinationals be registered in the jurisdictions where their clients are, and not where their headquarters are, conveniently located.

But the application in the real world is complex, and the OECD, which is leading the negotiation, has reported that at least one more year will be necessary and the implementation would not be possible before 2024. The legislative package approved this Friday in the US contemplates various tax measures but, as recognized by the Treasury Department itself, promoter of the global agreement, they do not serve to place the country in line with the framework agreed upon in the OECD.

As if the obstacles to global cooperation in all these sections were not already notable, others are on the way, such as the US legislative elections in November, which could break Democratic control of Congress. It is to be hoped that, with the Republicans in control of one or both Houses, Washington’s willingness to cooperate internationally will be diminished, giving yet another turn to a spiral that goes in the opposite direction to the direction required by the plagues that afflict the world.

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