Britain must honour its obligations to the people of Hong Kong

China has shown that it is prepared to break a treaty and go back on its Word

Chris Patten




In 2015, Tony Abbott, then Australian prime minister, told German chancellor Angela Merkel that his government’s policy on China was based on a mixture of fear and greed. The view of many other western leaders during the years of China’s economic rise has been much the same.

Quite properly welcoming the growing prosperity of China, too many who regard themselves as driven at home by a concern for human rights and pluralist values have found it convenient not to pack too much of that vocabulary when accompanying a trade mission there.

So how should Britain handle its relations with China? Should we regard our responsibilities for the freedom and wellbeing of Hong Kong as an unfortunate complication in our pecuniary ventures?

The conduct of foreign policy has often had difficulty in finding a place for values. I take the rather old-fashioned view that doing the right thing in foreign affairs is usually the right thing to do. This opinion was partly formed by my experiences in Hong Kong as the last British governor. I was told over and over again that having an argument with China about protecting Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and pluralist freedoms would damage British trade with China.

As it happened, British exports to China fell in the years before my alleged trade-wrecking arrival in Hong Kong. In the years when I was there our share of OECD exports as a whole grew faster than the average in this group of countries. All this proves is that over time whatever huffing and puffing emits from China’s “struggle school” of diplomacy, on the whole politics do not have too much impact on trade. Trading with China is always difficult.

This is the attitude that inevitably affects my attitude to British obligations to Hong Kong. For many years the UK was responsible for this great Asian city with an understanding of the relationship between economic and political freedom deep in its bones. Unlike with almost every other British colony, we were not in a position to prepare it for life as an independent democracy. Under the terms of the original accord which ceded most of Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years, it always had to be handed back to China. But in a historic agreement with former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that was probably originally intended to speed Taiwan’s reunification with the rest of China, the basis for the return of Hong Kong was his formula that two different systems could coexist in one country.

So we were in no position to promise Hong Kong that it could decide on its own future. We assured its citizens that, under a treaty with China signed in 1984, it would be guaranteed a high degree of local autonomy and the survival of its freedom under the rule of law for 50 years after the handover in 1997.

The treaty, called the Joint Declaration, did this explicitly. It was lodged at the UN. It placed responsibilities on Britain before 1997. We managed them pretty sensitively, despite the deep anxieties engendered by the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, keeping China fully informed about what we were doing. China has to undertake similar responsibilities until 2047, and the UK has every right to discuss with China what is happening in its former colony.

China now denies that the Joint Declaration has any meaning or effect after 1997. Beijing officials say that this treaty is simply a historic document. This abrogation of legal responsibility is a declaration that China is prepared to break a treaty and go back on its word when it wants. The world should take note. If you cannot trust China on Hong Kong where can you trust it?

Hong Kong did pretty well for over a decade after 1997. By and large China let things be (though it went back on its promises to allow the continued development of democratic accountability). But the arrival of Xi Jinping as China’s president has changed things. He has rolled back Deng’s approach of a slow but steady opening up of the economy and to some extent politics. The party is now in charge of everything and Mr Xi has promoted a cult of personality.

In Hong Kong, China has tightened its grip. That is why people have been demonstrating in such huge numbers. Beijing interferes more. People have been abducted. Freedom of speech has been whittled away. Elected politicians have been banned from the legislature. The chief executive, Carrie Lam, does more or less what she is told. That is why Beijing put her there.

The proposed extradition legislation was the last straw. It would demolish the firewall between the rule of law and the rule of the Communist party in mainland China. In Hong Kong, people protested in their hundreds of thousands. They knew what was involved.

China’s ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, seems to think that Britain is trying to impede Hong Kong’s embrace by the motherland. But it is precisely that embrace by the Communist party which worries people in Hong Kong.

The violent scenes at the Legislative Council building earlier this week played into the hands of Chinese propagandists and hardliners. But they should not distract attention from the peaceful marches by up to 2m Hong Kong citizens. Anyway, one way of dealing with minority violence and with concerns about how the demonstrations have been handled would be to establish an independent and open inquiry into what has happened in recent weeks.

The British government should press for this and argue for a complete withdrawal of the previous extradition proposals. It should also make clear, as UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt did in his remarks this week, that there would be serious consequences if the international and binding legal agreement with China were not to be honoured. We must hope that Britain has rediscovered its sense of obligation to the citizens whose bravery and seriousness of purpose put to shame our current insular and often delusional political debate.

Britain may have lost some of its soft power recently. It would be nice to think, however, that it still understands how to behave with integrity. Our own “golden age” with China should put more emphasis on honour and less on “fear and greed”. That is where our national interest really lies.


The writer was the last British governor of Hong Kong

Raising the stakes

Swiss stocks are collateral damage in a worsening trade row

Switzerland bans trading of its shares outside its borders in response to the EU’s strong-arm tactics



IT IS A country famed for avoiding conflict. Yet on July 1st, in a serious escalation of a trade spat with the European Union, Switzerland barred the trading of Swiss-listed companies’ shares on EU platforms. Last December the trade bloc had given Switzerland an ultimatum: sign up to a revamped deal replacing the patchwork of 120 bilateral agreements that governs trade relations between the two by June 30th, or lose stockmarket “equivalence”—a status bestowed by the EU that allows seamless trading of shares across borders. Rather than fold, Switzerland retaliated.

Before the ban traders based in the EU accounted for 60-80% of trading in Swiss shares by volume, some of that on Swiss exchanges and some on multilateral trading platforms in EU countries. Now those platforms have suspended trading in Swiss shares, as have the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Börse. Swiss shares are available only on Swiss exchanges—and on far-distant ones, such as American and Asian trading hubs.

This does not mean that Swiss giants such as Nestlé, Novartis and Roche have suddenly become untradeable from within the EU. Though the bloc usually requires its traders to trade on its own venues, or those it recognises as equivalent, it makes an exception when too few of a company’s shares would be available.

So EU traders keen to buy Swiss shares can use Swiss exchanges. But the Swiss retaliation has nonetheless caused uncertainty: there is no formal definition of how few is too few. “It is up to individual trading venues to assess how to adjust their operations,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.

Straight after the ban it was business as usual for SIX, Switzerland’s biggest stock exchange, and big Swiss firms saw no unusual trading activity. But unless the row is quickly resolved, Swiss shares will become less liquid. The harm to the Swiss stockmarket could be significant, says Charlotte de Montpellier, an economist with ING, a big Dutch bank. Trading costs are likely to rise and, in the long term, some Swiss companies may choose to go public outside Switzerland on exchanges with greater competition and more liquidity.

The row could ripple out into the wider economy. Switzerland is integrated with the EU not only in its trade and capital markets, but also in other areas such as research funding and electricity markets.

The Swiss federal government wants to close the deal, says André Simonazzi of the Swiss Federal Council. But it has asked the EU for clarification on provisions that have aroused domestic opposition, including on state subsidies and protections for wages and working conditions. Without tweaks the deal would probably be rejected by Swiss citizens in a referendum. Federal elections due in October make a speedy resolution less likely: no party wants to be seen as giving in to the EU.

A no-deal Brexit might break the logjam. Many EU traders and trading platforms are based in London, which could arrange equivalence with Switzerland itself after leaving. But Brexit is also a cause of the impasse. The EU is using Switzerland to signal to Britain’s next prime minister that it is no longer willing to tolerate a pick-and-mix relationship like that it has long had with the Swiss—and that it is prepared to follow through on threats. The result, says Ms de Montpellier, is that both Switzerland and the EU are losers. “The EU can survive without Switzerland economically, but it is damaging a relationship with a reliable and stable trading partner.”

Martín’s manoeuvre

Martín Vizcarra tries to end his presidency early

Peru’s president issues a startling call for fresh elections



MARTíN VIZCARRA, Peru’s mild-mannered president, knows how to spring a surprise. As he wound up his 94-minute Independence Day speech to congress on July 28th, he called on lawmakers to end their terms, and his, a year early by voting to hold a general election next April. Peru’s 32m citizens are crying out for “a new beginning”, the president declared. They should decide the country’s destiny “even if this means that all of us have to go”.

Mr Vizcarra’s gambit is a sign of frustration. He became president 16 months ago, when his predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, was forced out of office over allegations that he had helped secure public contracts for Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm that has bribed officials and politicians across Latin America. Mr Vizcarra has spent most of that time trying to reform a political and judicial system so rotten that all living former presidents are under house arrest, in jail or trying to avoid that fate. Congress, whose largest party is the opposition Popular Force (FP), has tried to stop him. 
It has not succeeded entirely. Last year congress reluctantly passed four reforms of politics and the judiciary. Three of those were enacted after a referendum in December. They included barring sitting congressmen from being re-elected. In April this year Mr Vizcarra submitted another 12 political reforms. When congress resisted he selected six that he deems vital. His priority is to empower a committee chosen by the supreme court to decide whether a lawmaker charged with a crime would lose immunity from prosecution. Now, congress itself makes that decision. It has so far refused to enact Mr Vizcarra’s proposal and has modified other reform ideas. For example, it has delayed by ten years until 2031 the date for requiring parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates.

Until now, Mr Vizcarra has tried to deal with congressional intransigence by submitting his government to votes of confidence. These operate under peculiar rules in Peru. A first government defeat in a presidential term leads to the dissolution of the cabinet and the appointment by the president of a new one. That happened in September 2017, when Mr Kuczynski was still president (and Mr Vizcarra was vice-president). A second would trigger not only the cabinet’s downfall but congressional elections, while leaving the president in office.


Mr Vizcarra used the leverage this gives him in September last year. Congress voted its confidence in his government, then enacted the first set of reforms he sought. He tried the same tactic in June this year, with less effect. Congress backed the government but thwarted some reforms. Hence Mr Vizcarra’s call for new general elections.

What will happen now is uncertain. Opposition lawmakers want to get rid of the president without leaving office themselves. Tamar Arimborgo, an FP congresswoman, called him a “dictator” for advocating early elections. His foes could try to impeach him. The vice-president, Mercedes Aráoz, would then take his place.

But the constitution makes it hard to take out the president in a surgical strike. If Mr Vizcarra resigns, and induces Ms Aráoz to follow, the president of congress would be obliged to call general elections. Mr Vizcarra could call for a third vote of confidence. This would put congress in a quandary. An endorsement of the government would clear the way for the early vote that Mr Vizcarra wants. A no-confidence vote would allow him to call for a new legislative election. In either case, the 130 lawmakers would be out.

One way or another, Mr Vizcarra and the current congress may well be gone next year. Government ministers argue that the country cannot afford another two years of gridlock. The economy is adrift. GDP expanded by 1.5% in the first five months of 2019, compared with 4.9% in the same period a year ago, according to the central bank. Mr Vizcarra is right to say that Peru needs a functioning government.

But it is not clear that fresh elections will provide one. More than 20 political parties are registered to put up presidential and congressional candidates. Many have been tarnished by the Odebrecht scandal. FP and APRA, another leading opposition party, have no credible presidential candidates. FP’s founder and leader, Keiko Fujimori, has been in detention since October awaiting trial for accepting illegal contributions from Odebrecht in 2011, when she ran the first of two losing presidential campaigns. APRA’s long-time leader, Alan García, a former president, committed suicide in April this year as he faced arrest for taking bribes from the Brazilian firm.

Mr Vizcarra does not have a party or a political heir. When Ipsos, a pollster, asked Peruvians recently for their views on 16 politicians, just one had an approval rating of higher than 10%. That was George Forsyth, a former football goalkeeper who since January has been mayor of La Victoria, a district of Lima, Peru’s capital. A third of Peruvians support no politician. Mr Vizcarra’s proposed election, if it happens, would be a leap into the unknown.

He knows that the way out of Peru’s impasse is better political parties and leaders. Unfortunately, it is being barred by the very system he wants to change.

Another Truce in the EU-Italy Budget Feud

Bravado made way for compromise, just as it did last year.

By Ryan Bridges

In the midst of last October’s budget battle with the European Union, Italy’s firebrand deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, said the government would “not backtrack by a millimeter” on its spending plans. The next month, Salvini said the government’s target 2019 deficit of 2.4 percent of output was non-negotiable. But a week later, he acknowledged that the government might cut the deficit target by 0.2 percentage points – but no more. By mid-December, Rome and Brussels had settled on a deficit nearly 0.4 percentage points below the government’s starting point (though still above what the EU wanted). All the tough talk from both sides, it turned out, was part of a negotiation.

This is by no means unusual, in Europe or elsewhere, and yet somewhere in the ensuing seven months the lesson was forgotten. Until this week, Italy was once again vowing to ignore “old and outdated” EU spending rules and let its ballooning deficit lift it out of stagnation. The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, had resumed threats of disciplinary procedures against Rome that could lead to unprecedented fines. But on Tuesday, Italy’s prime minister sent a letter to the commission highlighting unexpectedly high revenues and minor spending cuts to bring the 2019 budget back in line with the targets agreed last December, and on Wednesday the European Commission agreed to hold off on opening a so-called excessive deficit procedure.

But don’t celebrate yet: In the coming months, Rome will begin work on its 2020 budget, which Salvini insists will include a flat tax that, by the Treasury’s own estimate, could cost as much as 60 billion euros ($68 billion). (That’s about 3.4 percent of gross domestic product; estimates from Salvini’s League party have ranged from 15 billion to 30 billion euros). The fall is sure to bring another showdown, but the next round will probably end like the last two – with a compromise – because neither side can afford the alternative, and because as long as there is an EU, Italy (and Salvini) is more influential inside than out.
 
An Italian Exit?
At issue is Italy’s inability to get its public debt under control. The EU’s Stability and Growth Pact requires, among other things, that member states work to bring their debt down to 60 percent of GDP. As of 2018, Italy’s debt stood at 132.2 percent of GDP and is expected to reach 135.2 percent next year. Rome argues that austerity hasn’t worked and that it needs to be permitted an expansionary fiscal policy to return to growth. Brussels argues that Italy hasn’t really tried serious reforms and that no amount of spending will help if the government doesn’t make changes to improve competitiveness.

Both arguments contain some truth. The twist, however, is that the EU has no direct power to force Italy to do anything. Its toolkit contains only barely intelligible bureaucratic processes that culminate in gradually increasing fines. These can hurt, but they can’t force compliance. Yet the EU has formidable allies in the form of investors and credit ratings agencies. Whether Italy’s government is right about taking on new debt is irrelevant if no one will lend to it, or if it can’t afford the rates that investors demand. Were Italian bonds to fall below investment grade (S&P and Fitch rate Italy two levels above junk, and Moody’s and DBRS score it only one notch over the threshold) it would be dropped from investment-grade indexes. The European Central Bank could also refuse to accept Italy’s bonds as collateral and cut its banks off from ECB credit if its rating falls to junk status, further decreasing demand for Italy’s bonds and, therefore, raising its rates.

Italy’s only real leverage, meanwhile, is to try to spook Brussels into a compromise. In the most recent iteration, Rome has flirted with introducing a “parallel currency” that critics – and many supporters – say would be the first step toward abandoning the euro. The plan calls for the printing of small-denomination, zero-coupon bonds known as mini-BOTs, short for Buoni Ordinari del Tesoro, or Ordinary Treasury Bonds. The state would use mini-BOTs to settle its public administration arrears, which according to the Bank of Italy amounted to about 53 billion euros at the end of 2018. Recipients could then use the mini-BOTs (which would exist in paper form) to pay future taxes, or to pay for public goods and services. Mini-BOTs could also be traded around the economy, though crucially the state would not require the private sector to accept them nor mandate that they maintain parity with the euro.

There are several technical problems with the idea, but it’s the political constraints that are least surmountable. ECB President Mario Draghi, himself an Italian, succinctly summed these up in June: “‘[Mini-BOTs]’ are either money and then they are illegal, or they are debt and then the stock of debt goes up.” (EU law prohibits the creation of parallel currencies.) Defenses and counterarguments presented by proponents of mini-BOTs miss the point; on matters of European law, the only judgments that matter are those of the EU institutions.

Most Italian politicians still advocating mini-BOTs surely understand this and are trying to convince not EU officials but the Italian public that their plan is sound. It’s not going well. In the most recent Eurobarometer survey, in October 2018, 65.5 percent of Italians said the euro was a good thing for Italy (when undecided and neutral responses are removed). This was the highest level of support for the euro among Italians since the EU began systematically asking the question in 2013, and comparable to slightly differently worded questions from before the eurozone crisis. A July 2018 survey for Sky Tg24 found support for the euro at 74 percent, and a survey in May 2019 by the Italian Center for Electoral Studies at the University of Florence found 67.5 percent want to keep the euro.

Public opinion matters because the decision to leave the euro, or to take action that could force the country out of the euro, would be so economically, politically and socially disruptive for Italy that it is unlikely a government would move ahead without consulting the public, whether via a public referendum or a general election where the parties clearly state their intention. And even in the League party, the most anti-euro of the major parties, support for leaving the euro was at less than a third according to the Sky Tg24 poll. Indeed, this is why Salvini has consistently downplayed his party’s interest in leaving the single currency, saying instead that the League wants to change EU rules on spending from within. (Salvini has been more ambivalent on mini-BOTs; he has repeatedly said the government is open to alternative ideas, though his close adviser Giancarlo Giorgetti said last week that the parallel currency idea was “implausible” – a significant shift.)

The time may come when Italy can no longer afford the status quo, when things have gotten so bad that the chaos of an “Italexit” – default, a massive banking crisis, corporate failures and skyrocketing unemployment, a hyperinflating new currency, and possibly even the credible return of the northern secessionist movement – wouldn’t look so bad. But Italy is not there yet.
 
Waiting Game
At the same time, neither is the European Union closing in on imposing fines on a member state for the first time. An overlooked aspect of the excessive deficit procedure is that even if one is triggered, the decision to impose fines is at the discretion of the EU. In summer 2016, the European Commission determined that the Spanish and Portuguese governments had failed to take effective action to address their excessive deficits. Yet in both cases, the body canceled the fine, which could have amounted to as much as 0.2 percent of the offending state’s GDP.

Aside from the fact that a fine isn’t going to make a country like Italy’s fiscal situation any better, the biggest danger is the potential of creating a rally-around-the-flag effect that strengthens the forces the EU is trying to defeat. More likely, the EU will use the threat of an excessive deficit procedure (and, if needed, ambiguity about the fines) to worry investors about Italy’s economic future. Besides the importance of credit ratings, greater uncertainty pushes the spread between Italian and German bond yields higher. During last year’s spat, the spread on 10-year bonds reached 340 basis points. Credit Suisse has estimated that a spread above 400 basis points would be unsustainable for Italian lenders, eating away at capital buffers, raising private borrowing costs and damaging profitability. And it isn’t only the banks that are hurt; the European Commission’s June 5 progress report noted that because of the elevated spreads, the Italian government’s interest expenditure in 2018 was 2.2 billion euros (more than 0.1 percent of GDP) higher than it had projected in its 2018 spring forecast.

None of this changes the fact that Italy’s debt and chronic stagnation are a huge problem for Italians and for the eurozone. Eventually, Italy will be caught up in (or cause) a wider slowdown, and even in the most optimistic scenario it will not have much more fiscal space than it has now. One of two things will have to happen: Either Rome implements difficult structural reforms, possibly as part of a bailout or debt restructuring deal, or it will have to leave the currency union, potentially bringing the whole thing down on its way out the door. It is hard to calculate what that exit would entail, but it is the sort of decision whose results would likely be so chaotic and debilitating that no government – even one that pretends to be as confrontational as this one does – would go through with it while alternatives remain.


'Hell Is Coming'

What Lies Ahead for Europe's Climate

By Marco Evers

Crowds beat the heat at a public swimming pool in Hannover.

Half of Europe has been slammed by a massive heat wave in recent days, with many regions experiencing temperatures never before seen in June. But it may just be the beginning.

It's starting again. After the once-in-a-century summer of 2018, with its heat waves, droughts and forest fires, another once-in-a-century summer has arrived in Germany and many parts of Europe, this time with air from the Sahara and even higher temperatures.

After a cool May, it finally warmed up in June in Germany. A lot. Last Wednesday, the thermometer near Guben in the northern German state of Brandenburg reached 38.6 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). That marked the first time since measurements began in 1881 that a temperature that high was reached in Germany in June.

The record lasted for three days. On Sunday, thermometers in Bernburg, just northwest of Leipzig, hit 39.6 degrees. The average temperature for June is 20 degrees Celsius.

Almost half of the continent, from Portugal to Poland, was hit by a heat wave in recent days that was extremely unusual for this time of year. Madrid recorded temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius on Friday and Saturday, with one Spanish TV meteorologist tweeting "Hell is coming" just before the heat wave arrived. The Swiss town of Sion recorded 37 degrees on Sunday, the highest mark ever recorded in June in the country. In the Czech Republic, temperatures reached 38.9 degrees on Wednesday, also a June record for the country.

In France, where some regions saw temperatures of over 45 degrees, schools had to delay their final exams on Thursday and Friday. In Paris, many parks and outdoor pools remained open at night so that people could escape their hot apartments. The heat wave is conjuring terrible memories of the one from 2003, when almost 15,000 people died.

'Already Extreme'

The world will soon find out how much of the current temperatures can be blamed on man-made climate change. German physicist Friederike Otto at Oxford University is currently putting together a quick study about the situation in Toulouse and France generally. The results should be available this week. This June, she says, was "quite extreme."

Otto and her team has already carried out similar investigations of seven northern European cities that suffered under last year's abnormally hot summer. The results show that, depending on the geographical location, climate change has increased the likelihood of such heatwaves by two- to tenfold.

In a world without climate change, Utrecht in the Netherlands would expect temperatures like these only once every 20 years. Now, though, they will occur every five years. The same, they claim, is likely true of many German cities.

Monday saw the heat wave break, with more normal temperatures expected through early July. But it remains unclear how the rest of the summer will unfold.

The private American weather service Accuweather is predicting a series of especially long heat waves for Europe in July and August -- over 38 degrees in Germany, Belgium and Poland, over 40 degrees in southern France and over 43 degrees in parts of Spain and Portugal.



A severe drought like last year is also in the cards, one of the company's meteorologists predicted in late May. He also warned of an abnormally high danger of forest fires, especially in Portugal and the Alps regions, and that the Balkans face a heightened threat of thunderstorms, perhaps even tornados, and floods. Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, he said, would largely be spared of the extreme weather.

Many meteorologists, though, tend not to take such long-term forecasts seriously. Respected members of the field make predictions for five days in advance at the most. Beyond that, they release only short-term trend predictions.

One of the Hottest Years on Record

But even though the details of the forecast for the 2019 summer in Europe are fraught with considerable doubt, the global situation can be predicted pretty accurately. The year 2019 will again be one of the hottest since the beginning of temperature records.

A heat wave devastated Australia in January, with temperatures of up to 49.5 degrees Celsius; Alaska experienced its warmest spring; and Greenland has experienced an unusually early and strong melting of the ice sheet. Many cities in Japan measured their highest-ever May temperatures. That same month, parts of India stewed at temperatures of up to 50.8 degrees Celsius, which has already caused more than 200 deaths.

The El Niño year 2016 holds the absolute record for global temperature averages, and 2015, 2017 and 2018 were only slightly cooler. An El Niño pattern has developed again in 2019, and though it is weak, it explains why many regions of the world are heating up more than normal.

The Era of Hot Temperatures Has Begun

In the past 22 years, we have now seen the 20 warmest years on record. This accumulation alone is enough to show that climate change is already here. The climate that today's 40-year-olds experienced in their childhoods, a climate that had been quite stable for 11,000 years, is a thing of the past. The era of hot temperatures has begun.

The warming in the Arctic is particularly strong, at twice to three times as fast as the rest of the world. The mean temperature high in the north is already 2 degrees higher than it was 50 years ago. In parts of Alaska, it is even up to four degrees warmer. Much of the permafrost soil there are thawing at a rate that is shocking researchers, and as it thaws, it releases large amounts of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

In late summer, the sea ice only covers an area half the size of what it covered 40 years ago. Without the ice, the incoming sunlight isn't reflected as strongly back into space and its energy is absorbed by the water.

This has knock-on effects, including on the jet stream. This strong wind current at an altitude of seven to 12 kilometers in the Northern Hemisphere, blows from west to east and has a decisive influence on the weather below.

The strength of the jet stream is determined by the temperature differences between the Arctic and the tropics. With the polar region now becoming so much warmer, the jet stream is getting thrown off track more easily. In its weakened state, it meanders far to the north and far to the south, its course and speed now resembling a snaking country road more than a high-speed autobahn.

The result of these "Rossby waves" is that weather systems don't get blown away as quickly as they use to; they often stay in one place for a long time. Depending on the location of the low- or high-pressure areas, this can lead to prolonged rain or extended heat waves.

Researchers have shown that a special formation of Rossby waves ("wave 7 pattern") was rare before 1999 but has occurred more frequently since that time. And when it does, it almost always leads to extreme heat as seen in the European record summers of 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2018.

German climate researcher Kai Kornhuber at Columbia University's Earth Institute has reported that this wave pattern has formed again in the troposphere. "We're expecting an extreme heat wave over Germany and Western Europe," says Kornhuber.

A Record CO2 Concentration

That wouldn't be in any way surprising. The greenhouse gas CO2 has reached a record concentration -- higher than ever seen in at least the last 3 million years. That CO2 concentration has been measured on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii since the end of the 1950s. Back then, it measured 315 parts per million (ppm). Since then, it has risen from year to year due to the continued combustion of fossil fuels, to the present high of 415.7 ppm in mid-May.

That figure will fall again slightly in the coming months because more plants grow in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer and they absorb CO2 in the process. But then emissions will cause it to rise again and a new record will be set next April or May.

Although the countries of the world committed themselves in 2015 to reducing their CO2 emissions significantly through the Paris Climate Agreement, nothing meaningful has happened. Indeed, global greenhouse gas emissions have been rising since 2016, to a level that is currently more than 50 billion tons per year. Almost all the countries on the planet are to blame, but particularly China, India, the European Union and the United States.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program found that limiting the global warming caused since the Industrial Revolution to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, would require global CO2 emissions to reach a turning point in 2020. And they would need to drop by an enormous 55 percent by 2030. By 2050, it would have to be zero. Those who do continue producing CO2 at that point would also have to find a way to pull it back out of the atmosphere at another spot.

The authors of the report wrote that none of these goals will be achieved through the current policies being pursued by the international community. And if things stay the way they are, the global average temperature will rise by at least 3.2 degrees by 2100.

And that would mean that the summer of the century seen in 2018 would indeed remain a rare event -- because the normal temperature would in fact be a lot hotter.