🌍 World's top court wades into climate justice

Plus: Malaysia looks for new palm oil partners

Hi there Intriguer. 31 March was a busy day in world history. The Eiffel Tower opened in 1889, the Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959, Georgia voted to leave the Soviet Union in 1991, and Armenia’s Velvet Revolution kicked off in 2018. So go forth and make history, dear reader, for there’s no better day. Or just chill. It’s also Friday.

Today’s briefing is a 4.2 min read:

  • 🌱 The World Court to weigh in on climate change.

  • 🇲🇾 Malaysia looks to the Middle East amid EU spat.

  • Plus: Musk’s AI letter, how the papers are covering Finland’s upcoming election, and your beloved Friday quiz.

🎧 Today’s Intrigue Outloud: We journey to the centre of the world to explore a new geopolitical hotspot.

  1. 🇰🇷 South Korea: Economists expect South Korea’s exports to decline by 17.5% in March from a year earlier. The significant decline is mainly attributed to weaker demand from China.

  2. 🇷🇺 Russia: Moscow has detained Wall Street Journal reporter and US citizen ​​Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges. Russian intelligence alleges he was collecting information about a Russian military enterprise (a claim the newspaper denies).

  3. 🇦🇺 Australia: Canberra has passed climate legislation to force the country’s top polluters to cut emissions by 4.9% a year by 2030. Australia has struggled to reduce pollution from its coal and gas sector, a major contributor to the nation’s US$282 billion in energy and resource exports.

  4. 🇧🇷 Brazil: Former president Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil yesterday (Thursday) after nearly three months abroad. He’s expected to lead Brazil’s opposition, but also faces investigations into the storming of Brazil’s Congress and lavish gifts from Saudi Arabia.

  5. 🇬🇭 Ghana: Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off the first leg of her week-long Africa tour in Ghana where she pledged $1B towards women’s economic development across Africa. Harris's trip through Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia is aimed at countering China’s influence.


Can the ICJ help put out the climate fire?

UN brings climate change to the World Court

Briefly: On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly agreed to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on countries’ obligations to address climate change. The resolution was put forward by the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu.

Some 130 countries co-sponsored the resolution, which ended up passing without a vote - a small miracle, considering a) the US and China (the world’s top emitters) were notably ‘meh’ about the proposal, and b) the UN loves voting.

Vanuatu said China didn’t respond to a request to co-sponsor the resolution. For its part, the US said taking the matter to court “will likely accentuate disagreements”. But in the end, the two rivals found some rare (if uninspiring) common ground: they neither sponsored nor opposed the resolution.

It passed just weeks after Vanuatu was hit by two back-to-back cyclones, the severity of which the country’s leaders attributed to global warming. Vanuatu already has the highest disaster risk in the world.

The ICJ will now take up to 18 months to deliver its opinion, which will be highly influential but not legally binding.

Intrigue’s take: Wednesday’s news was the culmination of four years of campaigning led by Vanuatu. And it all started as an idea from law students at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. So it’s hard not to cheer the David & Goliath angle.

But this win is also being celebrated across the entire Pacific Islands community, which has chafed at being seen as a mere prize in the US-China rivalry. The region has long identified climate as a top priority, and yet neither China nor the US backed Wednesday’s resolution. Something’s gotta give.

Also worth noting:

  • This isn’t the first time Vanuatu has played a lead role on climate issues: the UN’s COP27 climate summit last year agreed to create a loss and damage fund, which Vanuatu first proposed back in 1991.

  • The Pacific Island nations of Palau and the Marshall Islands attempted to pass a similar climate resolution at the UN in 2011.


How different newspapers covered: Finland’s general elections this Sunday.

Today’s briefing is sponsored by Highland Titles

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Lawmakers in Scotland legally recognised ‘souvenir’ plots of land in 1979. These gift-sized plots of land can be bought and sold with ease.

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The land is managed as a nature reserve, and thousands of people find their plots yearly! Prices from less than $50.


Malaysia looks to the Middle East amid EU dispute

Briefly: Malaysia is responding to tighter EU rules on deforestation by shifting its palm oil sales to North Africa and the Middle East instead.

Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil on earth, used to whip up stir-fries (yum!), bake bundt cakes (scrumptious!), and blend hazardous biofuels (delicious!). But producing it at scale often means ripping up tropical forests and displacing wildlife to clear the way for palm trees.

Last year, the EU agreed to combat deforestation by forcing importers to prove their products weren’t made on deforested land.

Indonesia and Malaysia (the world’s largest and second largest producers) immediately filed complaints, calling the legislation protectionist and disputing its definition of deforestation. Earlier, they even accused the EU of “crop apartheid”.

They continue to lobby for changes before the EU rules take effect in 2024. But the fact Indonesia and Malaysia are already finding new buyers elsewhere suggests they hold little hope of changing the EU’s mind.

Intrigue’s take: This case is a reminder that policies don’t always work as intended: the EU hoped its rule would halt deforestation in South-East Asia. But for now, the palm oil producers are merely switching customers instead.

It’s also a reminder that Western aims are more easily thwarted in a multipolar world. As the world’s third largest consumer of palm oil, the EU has clout. But can you guess the top two palm oil importers? A hint: they’re the same two buyers rescuing Russian oil from EU sanctions. Yep, China and India.

Also worth noting:

  • Malaysian palm oil exports to the EU declined 22% in February from the same time last year. Meanwhile, they jumped 32% to the Middle East and 51% to North Africa.

  • The UK agreed to eliminate tariffs on Malaysian palm oil in exchange for joining the CPTPP.


By popular demand, our co-founder Helen is back with an intriguing crossword! You can also play online here.


Generative AI poses “profound risks to society”...

… according to an open letter signed by more than 1,000 tech leaders including Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and the scientists behind the Doomsday Clock. But magical things (be they genies or chatbots) are rarely, if ever, put back in their bottles.


The theme for this week’s quiz is independence!

1) When did Mauritius gain independence from Britain?

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2) Which of the following South East Asian countries was never colonised by Europeans?

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3) Which of the following activities do Indonesians engage in to celebrate their independence day?

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Quiz answers: 1-a, 2-b, 3-d.

Crossword answers:
Across: 1. Fish 3. Cars 6. Petroleum 8. Tobacco 9. Cream
Down: 2. Soya 3. Copper 4. Coal 5. Sri Lanka 7. Gold


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