My review on Goodreads: 4 stars – really liked it!
I approached this book with some diffidence – in my opinion, the Nobel in Literature is often oddly chosen, picking out writers that in fact, you wouldn’t read, and then when you do (just because they won the prize and you want to know why), you’re (predictably) disappointed. I won’t name names here because when I don’t like authors I never write about them, I just retreat in a (diplomatic) silence and that’s that.
Well, you’ve guessed it, this time was different. Totally different, I loved it! This is a remarkable memoir that captures the anxiety and deep inner contradictions of our society – indeed, as the book cover blurb claims (but justifiably so), it has universal appeal. It’s short, fast-paced, written in a sober style, the author herself defines it as a “flat style”. Flat or not, it’s very effective, it will keep you riveted as it depicts in an unforgettable way the rise of the middle class in the 1950s following World War II, and what it did to those left behind.
In this case, poignantly, it’s the daughter who rises (Annie Ernaux, the author) and the person left behind is her father.
Biden’s first trip was to Europe – significantly so, and I wanted to take a step back and try to evaluate what he set out to do and what he achieved. Here’s the result of my analysis, published on Impakter:
President Biden significantly chose Europe as his first trip abroad. As he boarded the plane to attend the G7 Summit in the U.K., he announced that “the U.S. is back”. And that is in fact the biggest result of his “week of summits”. The week began on Thursday 10 June with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a 90-minute meeting that resulted in reconfirmation of the “special relationship”, a term first used by Winston Churchill in a 1946 speech and a feature of US-UK relations since then.
Beyond a series of memorable photo ops, the Biden trip produced results that were often not in line with what the public expected. Notably, the hype around his meeting with Putin at the close of his trip was intense while the results were thin. By contrast, little attention was paid to the EU-US Summit, yet that meeting was, in many ways, the most notable one, with more concrete “key deliverables” than any of the other two summits, the G7 and NATO.
The EU-US Summit was arguably a “historic” event, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen put it, marking the acknowledgment by a U.S. President that the EU – a regional group that is still mostly an economic union though it has federal ambitions – is in fact a major partner and ally of the United States.
Here’s a breakdown of what was achieved and what we can look forward to in the future. Because, in a very real way, what President Biden has done – and done very successfully – is lay down the groundwork to build back up the kind of strong relationship the U.S. had always maintained with its European allies since the war and that Trump had destroyed. And at the same time, he has left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who America’s biggest adversary is: China.
US-UK Special Relationship: Coming Together on China
…Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Let me know what you think!
The next G20 Summit Meeting of heads of state will be held in Rome on Oct. 30 and 31, 2021, under the Italian G20 Presidency. The agenda, with the title “People, Planet, Prosperity”, addresses major obstacles to achieving a sustainable world; a series of lower-level “working” meetings prepares the Summit, including, most recently: G20 Empower to identify measures to accelerate women’s empowerment; the Youth 20 Inception Meeting to open a two-month (virtual) dialogue for young delegates (between 20 and 30 years of age) to discuss global challenges; the G20 TechSprint Initiative under the sponsorship of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub and the Bank of Italy focusing on the most pressing challenges in green and sustainable finance.
With “People, Planet, and Prosperity” focused on achieving a sustainable world, the G-20 agenda is fully in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that covers the whole gamut of sustainability issues from environment/climate change to social justice issues and economic development. The hope is that this G20 meeting will be powerful enough to move us toward a more sustainable world as defined by the SDGs – something we all seek, including advanced industrialized countries, according to the latest OECD paper calling for a “Green Transition”.
But how to get there? The time has come to decide not what should be done – the UN 2030 Agenda tells us that – but how to do it.
No doubt, there are many possible solutions, but here, I offer a (non) modest proposal. Not modest because it is very ambitious. But it has the advantage of being practical. And it is addressed to the G20 and everyone involved in the run-up to the upcoming Summit.
Why the G20? Because today this is the one international organism most representative of the world’s geopolitical composition, as it includes both the most important leaders and the largest economies.
The idea is simple and could be summarized in five points:
The goal of a sustainable world has been clearly spelled out in the UN 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs but the implementation – how to get there – has been left in the hands of national governments:
No international organization as presently organized is equipped to carry through the necessary coordination to achieve the 17 SDGs; the UN cannot deliver, it has no coercive authority over its member states and in the hands of geopolitical powers;
A new governance system needs to be set up to achieve the 17 SDGs, an international institution able to coordinate national governments in a way that the United Nations system cannot: Strong, independent, and innovative, it could be modeled after a successful government agency such as NASA was after it was tasked by President Kennedy to take a man to the moon ;
Call it the Commission for a Sustainable World (CSW); while it could follow the NASA model, it would be mandated to achieve a far bigger task – namely, to make the world sustainable for eight billion people – and therefore require adequate funding and regulatory powers;
The CSW must be independent like the European Commission is in its relations with EU member states; it would report on progress to the UN General Assembly and the G20,subject to review, say every 3-5 years, and limited in duration by a “sunset clause” to ensure that once the SDGs are achieved, the CSW would be terminated.
The key idea here is that the CSW is a hybrid institution, modeled after the European Commission but anchored in the UN system, yet much stronger than the UN.
But it should not become a permanent new international organization or replace the UN.
Also, the CSW would pose no threat to national sovereignty as it would only operate in the areas agreed to by the UN General Assembly: UN 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. That means only two broad areas: The environment (which includes Climate Change) and social justice. And the CSW would regularly report to the UN and the G20 (should the G20 take it upon itself to promote and fund it) and be subject to review to ensure that management flexibility does not cause it to sink into corruption and that it remains within its mandate.
A note of caution: Some flexibility will be needed as the SDGs’ general timeframe is 2030 except for SDG13 (Climate Action) that includes the Paris Climate Agreement’s target to achieve zero-net emissions set at 2050. Also, problems evolve and unexpected events occur – for example, the COVID pandemic was barely mentioned under SDG#3. It would seem wise therefore to have the Commission established for at least 10-15 years. By going for even 10 years you have it running beyond the 2030 Agenda’s current life.
The goal is to give the new governance system a chance to show its worth and, if need be, adapt it to new circumstances. Here is what it would take to create such an institution. And it starts with our changing view of the role of government.
Sounds like a good idea? Interested in finding out more about the Sustainable World Commission? Click here to read the rest.
When I learned about the EU exporting COVID vaccines, I got angry (I’m still waiting to be vaccinated!) and then I investigated the question: It turns out that the issue is far more complex than expected. So here is the opening of the article I wrote about it, just published on Impakter magazine:
Why Europe Engages in COVID Vaccine Exports Despite Slow Roll-out in Vaccination
On 10 March, the New York Times, basing itself on “closely-held” European Commission documents they were “able to access” in Brussels, made the shocking revelations that, despite the slow roll-out of vaccination, Europe engages in COVID vaccine exports, fully 34 million doses last month. Within hours of the New York Times revelations, the European Commission, far from denying the numbers, proudly announced that the EU “continues to be the leading provider of vaccines around the world” and will be extending the measure which allows for such vaccine exports till the end of June.
Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Since the measure was introduced, shipments were authorized to more than 30 countries. This confirms that even during a very critical health situation, the EU has made a considerable effort to be a reliable and responsible trading partner.” The statement can be viewed as a direct answer to WHO accusations in January that the EU had introduced vaccine export control measures, setting off a “worrying trend” in “vaccine nationalism”. The EU of course defends its position, pointing out that the measures simply give power to the EU to deny authorization for COVID vaccine exports if the company making them (and whose facilities are based in the EU) has not honored existing contracts with the EU.
Read the rest on Impakter, click here. And let me know what you think! Are you as angry as I am (was)?
Headlines trumpet the news when BMW beats Mercedes and vice-versa in the race for the world’s top luxury car – the two German carmakers tend to be first, ahead of their conational Audi. In 2020, the crown went to Mercedes on a global level but BMW won in the United States. But what about another kind of news, which one is better at going green? Which has adopted the more sustainable methods of production and is more socially responsible?
The answer given by the Impakter Sustainability Index (developed after 2 years of hard work by a team of evaluation experts) surprised me. I bet it will surprise you too, and here is how I wrote it up in the article:
So where do BMW and Mercedes stand in the race to sustainability?
To get an answer, I turned to the Impakter Sustainability Index, taking advantage of the deep digging the Impakter Index team did to unearth the reality of both carmakers’ claims to have green plans. And to be moving fast towards sustainability in production and social responsibility vis-a-vis all stakeholders.
The answer may come as a surprise for some, it certainly surprised me. They are not doing as well as expected, not by a long shot. To sum up:I expected BMW, in particular, to do better than that since it’s supposed to produce the high-performance car par excellence. Could it be that it’s not “high-performance” when it comes to sustainability?
Check out why both are doing so badly, click here.
Stuck at home because of Covid-induced lockdowns, we all love to shop on Amazon. We love to order online and get our favorite products without having to brave Covid-infested shops. We might also hear negative stories about Amazon mistreating its employees, but we tend to dismiss them. Instead, we listen to Bezos announcing a slew of green policies. And the latest news that Amazon is the biggest corporate buyer of clean energy tends to confirm that good impression. So we ignore the complaints from Amazon workers and feel good about buying from Amazon. But are we right? Is Amazon really as green as it claims to be?
The Impakter Index has just given Amazon a C rating. That means Amazon is “mediocre” on the front of sustainability. Why? How did that happen?
It’s a complicated story and it’s worth telling. Because the “green” claims are strong and yet the gap with reality is a chasm.
First the facts. As a result of the pandemic, Amazon, like all online marketplaces and cloud businesses, has grown exponentially in 2020. For now, Amazon enjoys an extraordinary moment of unalloyed success with the public. As Wired recently noted in an article exploring Amazon, both consumers and employees think of Amazon highly: Forbes rated Amazon the second-best employer in the world and YouGov placed Amazon fifth among the top ten brands according to consumers:
EXIT TRUMP, ENTER BIDEN: CAN AMERICA MAKE A COMEBACK?
Can Biden mop up Trump’s disastrous legacy and enable America to make a comeback? Many see him as a savior, as coming to the rescue of a broken America. Make everything right again. A big task. As we all know, Trump skipped Biden’s inauguration, the first outgoing leader to do so since the 19th century, and in fact, the inauguration was radically different from any recent ones. The New York Times had to dig back into history to wartime stories in order to find similar crowdless, clouded inaugurations. It found three cases: in 1945, at the end of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration was “a spartan affair”; in 1861, on the verge of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was the target of an assassination plot; in 1865, coming out of the war when smallpox was raging.
This singular attempt of the NYT gives one a sense of how profoundly America feels wounded: Trump’s legacy is similar to a war. It tore apart the country and destroyed America’s image abroad.
Unsurprisingly, Biden in his inaugural speech, noted grimly that the pandemic, notoriously mismanaged by Trump, had already killed 400,000 Americans, as many as World War II.
Read the rest of the article on Impakter, click here.
I’ve just had the pleasure (and honor) to co-author a piece on COVID-19 and…religion (!) – yes, a serious matter – with Richard Seifman, former World Bank advisor and health expert. Here’s the opening of the article published on Impakter Magazine:
While bench scientists around the world continue to work on designing a safe and effective vaccine and therapeutics, drug manufacturing companies deal with the production aspects, and public health systems grapple with future distribution constraints, a different factor may await in the wings, one which can either help or hinder the achievement of prevention goals, namely religious tenets. World religions can make a difference in the race to distribute vaccines, for better or for worse, and we are already seeing their impact around the world.
Then, as I looked back on my blog, I realized I’ve abandoned you, my friends, since…August! Way too long!
To remedy (just a bit), here’s the list of my articles published on Impakter since then – and for those of you who are writers (like me – I’m writing a children’s book series of fantasy travel), I draw your attention to the article about the launch of the Publishers SDG Compact. That’s pretty important for us writers!
It happened today, 16 November. Hungary and Poland have managed to block Europe’s €750 billion Recovery Fund. Europeans rarely agree on anything and now the Visegrad group of East European countries led by Hungary and Poland is threatening Europe’s path to
Biden’s victory, as welcome as it is, means very different things for America and for the world. Here I will try to look beyond the coming eleven weeks of recriminations, accusations and lawsuits that Trump appears set to unleash. I
More Americans are beginning to realize what has been evident all along to impartial observers in Europe: If Trump gets another four years at the White House, it will mark the definitive decline of American power. Much to China’s and
Today, 14 October, something special happened at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair: The SDG Publishers Compact was launched (SDG stands for Sustainable Development Goals). This is important first of all because of the venue: The Frankfurt Book Fair is the
Once again the European Parliament and the Council are at loggerheads over the EU’s seven-year budget. The “only” difference compared to previous negotiations is that, in this case, the 2021-2027 budget is anchored to a crucial instrument for economic recovery:
The new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman ever to hold the job in its 63-year history, has set out to change Europe, pushing it into a new direction. In the few months, she has been in
Ok, that’s it for now. If you want to read any of those articles, it’s easy, just click on the article’s title. I hope you enjoy them, Let me know what you think!
I worked on the Index for two years – yes, it all began in early 2018 with a request from the founder of Impakter Magazine to create a new tool for rating “green” products and companies that are engaged in CSR policies. Of course, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index exists, and many others, not to mention sustainability certificates and labels. So many of them that for most consumers and investors, it’s a veritable jungle. You can get lost among all the claims for sustainability! Which one is credible? Reliable? Trustworthy? Who knows…
Well, now, thanks to the Impakter Index, you will know – you’ll know as a consumer when you purchase a so-called “green” product and you’ll know as an investor when you engage in “impact investing” and sustain CSR in businesses. Yes, if we are to contain climate change and arrest environmental degradation, we need to “vote with our wallets” for socially-responsible and eco-friendly companies.
We must stop purchasing from businesses that damage the environment and hurt people. And we can do that thanks to the easy-to-use Impakter Index. Now online with the first 100 companies that we have ranked at Impakter (with a team of 37 experts) using a reliable system (based on meta-analysis techniques) to identify the sustainability certification systems that are credible and discarding those that are not.
More to come by September, until all relevant companies are covered by the Impakter Index. Take a look, click here: https://index.impakter.com/
Here’s the opening of my article:
Few would disagree that we need a more sustainable world, where climate change is finally under control and the degradation of the environment is stopped. But as consumers, we feel helpless, caught in the vortex of endless consumerism. As investors, it is hard to discern the real deal among all the so-called “impact” investment opportunities. We all are unwilling contributors to the general disaster. This is where the just-launched Impakter Index can make a difference: It is the first sustainability index that empowers people, consumers and investors alike, to vote for sustainability.
At the launch (July 31, 2020), the Impakter Index found immediate endorsement in Common Place, a publication of the Knowledge Futures Group (founded as a partnership between the MIT Press and MIT Media Lab). As noted in the foreword by the Common Place editor, Quincy Childs, she “reached out to Impakter earlier this week about the necessity of sustainability badging, not realizing they were in the process of finalizing a sustainability index that has been two years in the making”. And, in just a few words, she summarized why the index is important: it “empowers the public to use their purchasing power for planetary and social benefit.”
The Impakter Index empowers the public because it is intuitively simple and easy to use, with a five-letter system that ranks business sustainability. Companies classified A are “great” in terms of their carbon footprint and social responsibility, those ranked F “fail”. You type in the name of a company – for example, Danone as you stand in front of the yogurt section in a supermarket – and you instantly get a reliable indicator of where this company stands on its way to sustainability:
Likewise, the certification of products in the consumer goods market, with a wide range of catchy labels and badges, is intended to help the consumer to extricate herself from the avalanche of organic products and fair trade that vie for her attention.
But the Impakter Index is different. It builds on the work of other certification systems, picking out the best and weeding out the less reliable systems. In other words, in constructing the Impakter index, no certification system was accepted at face value, no matter how popular: Each certificate and index was independently reviewed and assessed by the Impakter team before it was used. That approach follows the concept of mega-evaluation (evaluation of evaluations), aka meta-analysis, widely used, particularly in medical research, to quantitatively combine and pull together the findings of a wide range of studies that are often at varying levels of quality.
Why was meta-analysis deemed necessary in constructing the Impakter Index?
The 2019 European Parliament elections mark a real watershed for Europe. We are in new territory. European politics will never be the same again. Where there was at best indifference to the dream of a United States of Europe, there is now enthusiasm. And interest in reforming the European institutions to make them work better and bring them closer to the people.
Paradoxically, this upsurge in “more Europe” (to use Merkel’s term) is the result of the populist-nationalist- sovereignist parties’ own campaigns across Europe. With an explicit agenda to undermine European institutions and turn the clock back to the 1960’s – to a De Gaulle vision of a “Europe of Nations” stunningly unsuited to a globalized world, whether one likes globalization or not – they scared people into voting against them. Europeanists, already shocked by the Brexit mess, could not allow them into the control room of either the EU Parliament or the EU Commission.
Populists are both winners and losers in this election: they gained votes but not enough to get into that control room. They are certainly here to stay but they also hit a glass ceiling that they are not likely to ever break through. Because, policy-wise, they bet on the wrong horse: migration instead of climate change. And on migration, they are not able to offer a solution. It is a divisive issue for everyone, populists included. While climate change concerns everyone and the solution exists: Containing greenhouse gas emissions and working towards a sustainable circular economy is something everyone can embrace.