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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

The Soapbox: COP28 in the UAE, Chinese visit to Vietnam, AI legislation in the EU

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN covering major news developments at NYU’s campuses and study away sites abroad. Global consciousness for a global university.
Max Van Hosen
The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Max Van Hosen for WSN)

In the UAE, milestone agreement introduced at climate conference 

Members of the United Nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel use worldwide on Wednesday, a move many climate activists see as long overdue. The decision came at the end of the COP28 summit, the UN’s annual climate change conference, which was held in the United Arab Emirates this year.

The UN itself has previously identified fossil fuels as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. If companies continued to extract them at the current rate, global temperatures would be on course to rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to The Guardian

The deal faced its greatest opposition from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which urged its members to reject any wording specifically targeting fossil fuels, rather than emissions more broadly. A record-setting 2,400 lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry attended the talks in Dubai, putting pressure on negotiators.

While diplomats did not succeed in passing legislation calling for the “phasing out” of fossil fuels, as many vulnerable island nations had hoped for, the deal advocates for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner … so as to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Similar notions of equity were apparent in other agreements made at the summit. COP28 also saw a pledge of at least $2.1 billion to reduce the climate impact of agriculture and increase aid for vulnerable communities, an important tenet of environmental justice efforts.

Even after such advances, activists believe the conference has not been ambitious enough. Despite calling the agreement an important milestone, former presidential candidate Al Gore expressed criticism and caution.

“The influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes included in the final agreement,” Gore told Reuters. “Whether this is a turning point that truly marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era depends on the actions that come next and the mobilization of finance required to achieve them.”

In Vietnam, Xi Jinping makes a diplomatic visit

For the first time in six years, Chinese president Xi Jinping visited neighboring Vietnam in an effort to advance diplomatic ties. The two-day trip, which wrapped up on Wednesday, reportedly came in response to Hanoi’s growing relationship with the United States and Japan.

China and Vietnam share what the latter country calls a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” typically the highest level of diplomatic standing in Vietnam. This status was also granted to the United States in September, during President Joe Biden’s trip to the Vietnamese capital. The designation raised Chinese concerns over Western influence in Southeast Asia. 

Vietnamese prime minister Pham Minh Chinh signed 36 agreements with China on Tuesday, regarding telecommunications, cross-border rail and patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin. The meeting came with a tangible takeaway, however, it was largely an expected and symbolic move in Hanoi’s effort at “bamboo diplomacy,” attempting to keep both the United States and China satisfied.

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute scholar Nguyen Khac Giang said this concession to China “doesn’t mean Vietnam supports China-led political initiatives, but rather [is] a delicate act of hedging, particularly after its upgrade with the U.S. and Japan recently.”

Vietnam has long resisted forming a closer relationship with Beijing, fearing “Chinese hegemony” in Southeast Asia. Additionally, clashes between the two nations in the South China Sea since the 1970s have created tension over competing claims to land and energy reserves. While the meeting temporarily assuaged concerns over the countries’ relationship, Vietnam continues to walk a fine line between Western and Chinese interests.

In Europe, EU introduces leading AI legislation

On Friday, the European Union introduced the world’s first comprehensive artificial intelligence legislation. The deal, which was initially floated in 2019, comes after weeks of negotiations and concerns that it would not be ready before European Parliament elections next year.

The initial draft of the legislation, introduced in 2021, attempted to classify types of AI by level of risk, comparable to a consumer safety check. However, this regulation model was complicated by a boom in generative AI, which can create original content from a library of data, such as synthetic data and deepfakes.

European lawmakers responded to this development by extending the deal’s regulations, requiring generative AI companies to “draw up technical documentation, comply with EU copyright law and detail the content used for [machine] training,” according to the Associated Press.

Civil rights groups have emphasized the importance of increased accountability concerning AI inputs, as the content used to train an AI system influences the material it produces. This has raised concerns about mass disinformation and manipulation, and questions about how the government will determine which content is acceptable without hindering free speech.

Along with the issue of generative AI, negotiations grew tense over the issue of biometric surveillance. The technology would allow intelligence systems to analyze existing facial images, learning how to identify people based on racial, political, religious, philosophical or sexual categories. While the EU banned untargeted use of the technology, it will allow real-time surveillance to identify suspects in extreme cases, including during terrorist attacks.

Ella Jakubowska, the senior policy adviser for privacy rights group European Digital Rights, said that “whilst the Parliament fought hard to limit the damage, the overall package on biometric surveillance and profiling is at best lukewarm.”

Despite some criticism, the AI Act is a landmark step toward confronting political threats posed by the emerging technology. While the legislation must still undergo a vote early next year, EU negotiator Brando Benifei said it is merely a formality. The law would take effect in 2025 at the earliest.

Contact Anna Baird-Hassell at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Anna Baird-Hassell
Anna Baird-Hassell, Copy Chief
Anna Baird-Hassell is a junior studying Sociology with a minor in Irish Studies. She is an at-home barista fond of hugs, meditation, speaking her limited Irish Gaelic and reviewing films on Letterboxd @abairdhassell. You can also find her on Instagram @annabairdhassell or email her at [email protected].

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