‘Nobody reads the communique’: top G20 moments in Osaka

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French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker attend a meeting on world economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (AFP)
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US President Donald Trump (R) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (AFP / Brendan Smialowski)
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President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) talks to US President Donald Trump as they attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (AFP / POOL / Jacques Witt)
Updated 30 June 2019

‘Nobody reads the communique’: top G20 moments in Osaka

OSAKA, Japan: From quips and surprise trips, to candid confessions about the final communique, this year’s G20 summit offered surprises as well as relief in the form of a US-China trade truce.
Here are some of the top moments and bon-mots from the two-day meeting hosted by Japan in the city of Osaka:

• It was the summit within a summit: the long-awaited meeting between US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping to thrash out a truce in the trade war between the world’s top two economies.
And when the meeting was over, Trump delivered the news everyone had been waiting for: “We are right back on track,” the US president said after talks he described as “excellent.”
There were precious few details on what the two leaders had agreed, beyond a commitment to resume trade negotiations and hold off on tariffs, offering the world economy some breathing space for now.

• At a summit expected to be dominated by trade, climate change proved an unexpected hot potato, with France’s Emmanuel Macron saying the issue was a “red line” before talks even began.
“My lines don’t have colors,” joked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who nonetheless agreed that strong action was needed.
Negotiators worked through the night to agree language that mirrored that of the last G20, claiming it as a small victory.
“We avoided going backwards ... but we must go much further,” Macron said after the summit.

• With tensions spiraling in the Gulf, Iran was expected to be a key focus at the summit and bilateral meetings, but it was barely mentioned, with Trump instead stealing the show in a surprise tweet ... on North Korea.
“If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” Trump tweeted, inviting Kim Jong Un to meet for a historic handshake at the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula.
The tweet came before Trump headed to South Korea, and he insisted he would have “no problem” stepping into the North with Kim if invited.

• In person, Trump played nice with world leaders who he has not hesitated to criticize in tweets and interviews, but he appeared most at ease in the company of some of the group’s most controversial members, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pair smiled and joked about “fake news,” and when Trump was asked if he would tell Putin not to interfere in US elections, he turned to the Russian president with a grin.
“Don’t meddle in the election, president, don’t meddle,” he said, wagging his finger jokingly at the Kremlin strongman.

• Negotiators labored through the night to get agreement on a final communique that warned “most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified,” endorsing language in a hard-won statement from the group’s finance ministers earlier this month.
On climate, they won a deal to repeat the so-called 19+1 formula, with 19 countries endorsing the “irreversibility” of the Paris climate agreement while Washington repeated its plans to withdraw from the accord.
But Juncker made a candid admission even as negotiations were ongoing, saying jet lag had prompted him to break a longstanding tradition of not reading the communique.
“I’m not the only one in this room who does not read the communique. Nobody in fact reads the communique.”


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”