The threat spectrum

Planet A

A recent study on climate-change-related mortality, published in Nature Climate Change, found that an average of 37% of heat-related deaths in recent decades is directly attributable to human-induced climate change. The authors analysed temperature and mortality data from 732 locations in 43 countries—including Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane—between 1991 and 2018 and found evidence of increased heat-related mortality on every continent. The report also found that nearly 3,000 heat-related deaths in these Australian cities were linked to climate-change-induced temperature increases and suggested that heat-related deaths may be higher in rural areas.

This study is the first to quantify the climate-change-related deaths that have already occurred, rather than project estimates into the future. The authors say that their findings ‘support the urgent need for more ambitious mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize the public health impacts of climate change’. Alongside this, the study raises questions about future demand for cooling technology and infrastructure.

Democracy watch

Samoa has been embroiled in a constitutional crisis since the country’s 9 April election, with incumbent Prime Minister Tuila‘epa Sa‘ilele Malielegaoi of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) and PM-elect Fiame Naomi Mata‘afa of the FAST party both claiming the title of prime minister.

After the official ballot count on 12 April, the FAST party held a slim majority of 26 seats in the 51-seat parliament. However, Samoa’s electoral commission then decided to install an extra female MP for the HRPP, based on a disputed reading of the Samoan constitution’s stipulation that 10% of Samoa’s parliament be female. This interpretation was rejected by Samoa’s supreme court.

On 24 May, Fiame and her FAST party colleagues arrived for the first sitting of parliament only to be locked out of the building. A swearing-in ceremony was held outside instead. Tuila‘epa and the HRRP maintained that Fiame’s government was illegitimate and appealed the supreme court ruling.

In a judgement handed down on 2 June, the court rejected the appeal, affirming the FAST party’s majority win in the election. The region is now watching to see whether this result will facilitate an orderly transition to the new government.

Information operations

A fake recording of People’s Party legislator Tsai Pi-ru has been circulating on social media in Taiwan, spreading disinformation about bogus Covid-19 cures. While the source of the recording is still unconfirmed, many similar disinformation campaigns have been linked to the Chinese government and Taiwanese citizens seeking to discredit domestic political actors and promote a more pro-China stance than that currently held by President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party government.

This is the latest in a series of pandemic-related disinformation—also termed ‘infodemic’—campaigns that have surged since the country’s newest and most serious Covid-19 outbreak began on 12 May. In largely Covid-free Taiwan, the campaigns have succeeded in causing some public panic.

Taiwan is also embroiled in a vaccine dispute with China, which Taiwan’s government has accused of blocking access to international vaccines. The recent surge in cases has increased vaccine demand, challenging Taiwan’s steadfast commitment to acquire international vaccines and adding domestic pressure to accept doses from China.

Follow the money

As China encounters social and economic challenges from its decreasing birth rate, the government has discarded its two-child policy for one that allows couples to have up to three children. China has tightened its control on population growth since 1980, when it first introduced the one-child policy. China has benefited from a demographic dividend which over several decades has provided the nation with low-cost labour, though the population is now ageing. While the government is hoping that loosening the birth limit will reduce some of the pressures caused by an ageing population, the move may be ineffective.

Official limits on family size are no longer the main reason China’s birth rate is decreasing. The increasing cost of raising children has become a major concern and amendments to birth limits are unlikely to work if the government doesn’t provide enough financial support. Parents in China struggle to access expensive childcare and healthcare systems, a problem exacerbated by pay cuts for women on maternity leave.

Terror byte

On 23 May, Belarusian authorities diverted a commercial flight from Greece to Lithuania that was travelling through its airspace to apprehend dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. The diversion was labelled ‘an act of state terrorism’ by Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte. While en route, the flight was redirected to land in Belarus’s capital city Minsk, accompanied by a Belarusian MiG-29, due to what authorities claimed was a bomb threat. Protasevich is a prominent critic of President Alexander Lukashenko and since his arrest has appeared on state television confessing to organising protests.

The international community has strongly condemned the incident, and many Western leaders are set to increase sanctions on Belarus, including by removing aviation links with the country. The long-term implications of the incident could be significant, as it’s raised questions about the vulnerability of other commercial flights to political interception and the likelihood that other authoritarian regimes will follow Belarus’s example of diverting a flight under false pretences in order to arrest a dissident.