Global Markets Analysis

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Brazil - Politics

The political sentiment in Brazil is highly polarized between the left and right-wing supporters. Some highly discussed policy changes in Brazil include the new reforms about the pension system, pro-gun laws, economic reforms, taxation system, crime laws, and pro-business reforms.

Overview of Political Climate in Brazil

  • In the last Brazilian elections, more than 57 million people voted for the far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro. Alternatively, a recent survey by XP Investimentos revealed that nearly 36% of Brazilians consider the government to be weak and terrible.
  • A widespread political polarization is seen among the left and right-wing supporters in Brazil. Conservative Brazilians support Bolsonaro's government and Lula's conviction. Alternately, most progressive Brazilians find Bolsonaro as an authoritarian leader and Moro as a corrupt judge.
  • According to a recent survey, it is noted that nearly 30% of Brazilians do not want to talk to a person supporting opposite political views. Also, about 65% of respondents feel that the president's rhetoric is affecting the country and government.
  • A disagreement and lack of cohesion are seen between the president and his aides. Further, the Economy Minister, Chief of Staff, congressmen, and armed forces have opposed the views of the president on multiple instances.
  • Many people consider the Brazilian president as the "Trump of the Tropics."

Most Discussed Policy Changes in Brazil

1) Environmental Policy Changes

  • In August 2019, the Brazilian president made it clear that he intends to open the Amazon rain forests for agribusiness development. As a result, Norway and Germany withdrew their financial support to the Amazon Fund due to the new government's stance on deforestation.
  • During the election campaign, the president suggested to follow Donald Trump's footsteps and withdraw from the Paris climate pact. Additionally, the country withdrew its offer to hold the UN climate change conference and canceled the UN preparatory workshop for climate change in Brazil.
  • Further, the president has selected Tereza Cristina, as the agriculture minister for Brazil. He was a part of a powerful agribusiness caucus in Brazil.
  • During the election campaign, the president promised not to convert a single centimeter of the rain forest as indigenous and develop pro-business policies.

2) Economic and Trade Reforms

3) Pension Reforms

  • In October 2019, the government approved a landmark bill to reform the pension system in Brazil. The main change includes the retirement age for men to be 65 years and women to be 62 years.
  • The special rule will affect people working as teachers, prison guards, federal police officers, and rural workers.
  • The new rule will lead to a generation of more than $195 billion in savings over the next 10 years.
  • Pension rule has been a tricky affair for the government because it needs to have a mandate of more than 2/3rd of congress representatives. Further, the reforms have been seeking a clear mandate over the past 30 years.

4) Tougher Crime Laws

  • In February 2019, Justice Minister Sergio Moro proposed changes to 14 laws concerning corruption, violent crimes, and organized crime.
  • The proposal seeks the convicts to be jailed on the first appeal to prevent impunity of well-connected criminals as their trials tend to crawl through conventional proceedings.
  • The new proposal calls for a stricter punishment against habitual offenders and mandating gang leaders to fulfill entire sentences in a high-security prison.
  • In August 2019, the president supported the new proposed reforms, "excludente de ilicitude," by stating that the criminals should die like cockroaches on streets.

5) Tax Reforms

  • The newly elected government is working towards simplifying the country's complex taxation system into one single tax. Currently, the country features five types of indirect taxes, leading to confusion and conflict between the federal, state, and municipal governments.
  • In August 2019, a new bill was proposed in Congress as the Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 45/2019. The bill will replace the existing consumption taxes by a single tax on goods and services, and it will be in accordance with the international value-added taxation standards.
  • Additionally, the new system will imply a single tax rate across all businesses, and the VAT will be charged according to the consumer's destination. The destination-based taxation will end the "tax-wars" between different jurisdictions and will increase security for investors.

6) Relaxed Gun Ownership Rules

  • In May 2019, the president implemented two new decrees regarding the ownership of guns and ammunition. The decree allowed adult citizens (aged 25+ years) to acquire up to four firearms if they qualify the necessary requirements.
  • The decree also relaxed the ownership criteria for acquiring a firearm. As a result, truck drivers, lawyers, and elected politicians were allowed to carry a gun without proving the necessity for the same.
  • In November 2019, the lower house approved the proposal for ownership of firearms with suggested changes.
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Mexico - Politics

Just over 12 months ago, populist left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador swept to power and became President of Mexico. Any misgivings from the international markets were minimized when Carlos Uruzua, a seemingly calming influence, was appointed Minister of Finance. Yet less than seven months later, Uruzua had quit, leaving behind a scathing resignation letter, highly critical of the appointment of unqualified government officials and the extremist economic policy being implemented. This is the background to the current political climate in Mexico.

Current Political Environment

  • Obrador promised the people of Mexico sweeping changes if appointed president, changes that would rebalance the scales. The corruption that runs rife, in both the public and private sphere, was at the top of his list. Other promises included education, training, salary increases, infrastructure to marginalized communities, and improvements to personal security issues. These promises resulted in him receiving the overwhelming support of the Mexican people.
  • Excitement was high among the people, when Obrador was elected. The difficulty he faced was his promises all cost money, and he had promised that there would be no increase in taxes over the first three years of his presidency. The solution — he declared war on government overspending and privilege — budgets were cut and government spending put under the spotlight.
  • The budget cuts and corresponding job losses have had huge implications on the current political climate, as services have ground to a halt, in some instances. Cuts to hospital budgets have seen surgeries canceled, patient tests canceled, the dismissal of contract workers, and no money for nursing and maintenance staff. The judiciary rebelled following salary cuts, and wildfires burnt out of control due to a lack of firefighters to attend to them. The tide of public support Obrador once experienced is slowly receding.
  • The democracy that Mexico fought so hard for is looking increasingly shaky. The economy has slowed completely, and there are concerns that Mexico may be entering a period of recession. Violence and serious crime has increased, rather than decreased as Obrador promised.
  • Some who thought the political change that saw Obrador become president would be the start of a new era for Mexico, are realizing this may not be the case. While support may be down for Obrador, many remain hopeful that he will be true to his word. The mood of the country is anywhere on the spectrum of mild optimism to general disappointment.

Immigration Policy

  • The immigration policy adopted by Obrador since his election has been one of the most discussed topics of a political nature in recent times. Many consider Obrador to be Trump's newest guard on the wall, despite his rhetoric during the election campaign to the contrary.
  • With Trump threatening to devastate the Mexican economy by imposing hefty tariffs on all imported goods if Mexico did not assist in slowing the progression of illegal immigrants from Central America, Obrador responded accordingly.
  • He deployed the national guard to complete highway checks, replaced the head of the immigration service with the head of a federal prison, and agreed to the return of 40,000 Mexicans from the US, despite their claims for asylum. Further, reports suggest Mexican Immigration Services have implemented a quota for the establishment of detention centers, immigration raids are imminent, and 6,000 national guards are stationed on the Guatemalan border.
  • Thousands of migrants are facing increasingly vulnerable lives as a direct result of Mexico's new stance. The unrest in Central America and the rigorous enforcement of immigration laws by US officials, accompanied by the emergence of Mexico as a developing country, is contributing to an influx of immigrants into Mexico.
  • The change in policy has been heavily criticized by those that are required to enforce it. The potential is huge for tens of thousands of dangerous immigrants to be left in border towns and detention centers.
  • This has the potential to increase the crime rate and violence in Mexico. Despite increasing levels of concern from the population, Obrador refuses to change the current policy, insisting that by meeting Mexico's border obligations, the threat of tariffs by the US has been addressed.

Labor Law Policy

  • For the last 50 years, any Mexican company or employer could recognize a union and sign a contract with that union without the workers being given any input at all.
  • This changed in May 2019, when changes to labor policy prohibited Mexican employers from interfering with worker's rights. Workers were given the right to join a union. A new court and federal agency have been established to assist in the implementation of these new laws.
  • It is hoped that these changes will be the start of a more meaningful role for unions, and increased flexibility for the Mexican labor force. Other changes, improved workers' rights around termination, outsourcing, salary discounts, employer obligations, and domestic work.
  • The policy is important for Mexico on an international level, where it is considered an advanced and revolutionary reform, consolidating gender, labor, equality, and democracy rights for Mexicans.
  • With a history of failing to observe the rights of the worker, much of the discussion and debate around this new policy centers around the likelihood of employers complying.

Crime and Violence Policy

  • Despite promises to the contrary before the election, crime and violence have continued to escalate under Obrador's regime. Much of the violence is drug-related.
  • To address this issue, the Mexican military has been used to deal with aggressive townspeople. Strict orders have been given by Obrador that should intervention be necessary, it is to be done in a "non-confrontational" manner.
  • The military operation is directly at odds with Obrador's election promises, where he talked of a new approach to dealing with the war on drugs and an era of peace with drug cartels. The order of "non-confrontation" is clearly an effort to minimize the conflicting statements.
  • This deployment is the largest one of the larger roles assigned the military for some time, but the accompanying "non-confrontational" mandate has placed the army in an increasingly precarious position, with crowds humiliating and acting aggressively toward them, aware they can not retaliate.
  • Previously cartels and criminals have learned to use townspeople as human shields in situations of this nature, which raises the likelihood of similar incidents occurring again. The confrontations are becoming increasingly more daring, humiliating, and aggressive toward the soldiers, and the signs are starting to suggest the military will not allow this for much longer.
  • Total withdrawal would leave the rural communities exposed, which is unacceptable. Yet the current situation of non-confrontation is untenable and unlikely to prevail.
  • Considerable discussion has been generated among the Mexican population due to the unenviable position Obrador has found himself in, caught between his promise to reduce crime and violence, but needing to adopt a violent approach to prevail.

Drug Policy

  • Amidst the increasing violence and crime, Mexico is attempting to redefine its current drug policy. Obrador has indicated he sees a need to reformulate the policy around how drugs are dealt with.
  • He considers the current approach unsustainable due to the ongoing violence and poor health outcomes. Changing the structures of penalization and adopting new security strategies are important aspects of his plan.
  • The judiciary is clearly on the same page in Mexico City. Two adults were charged with use of a small amount of cocaine. As a result of papers filed by Mexico United Against Crime (MUAC), the court, in a landmark ruling, found that people should be allowed to use cocaine legally.
  • This is a hugely significant decision, and in effect will change to Mexican law, although ratification of the decision by a higher court is required first. The Supreme Court has previously ruled a blanket ban on marijuana use is unconstitutional, which adds another layer to the matrix.
  • MUCD has said it marks a change in the attitude of the Judiciary to drug use. They consider it an opportunity to end the war on drugs, and a chance to redistribute public resources to more needing benefactors.
  • There is considerable public discussion around drug policy at the current time, not only because of the implications on the Mexican people but because it seemingly places Obrador and the Judiciary at odds with a significant proportion of the population, who vehemently oppose such policies.

Research Strategy

We initially reviewed a range of media stories, financial market information, political opinion articles, and personal blogs to determine the current political client in Mexico. The election last year meant the political client and public opinion at that time could be determined easily. We then considered the events of the last year and evaluated how they had affected public mood, general opinion, and any other political factors.

Having identified the current climate of uncertainty, and the background, we reviewed the aforementioned resources, to determine the policies that had generated the most discussion. Four clear policies were easily identifiable. All will be significant in Mexico's future. These policies stood out from the rest due to the amount of online chatter and media interest they attracted.

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Russia - Politics

Russia's current political climate is in a period of transition, with older Russians remaining apolitical but the newer generation becoming increasingly activist and managing to successfully move opposition leaders into positions of power at the municipal level despite Putin's United Russia party passing legislation to create new barriers to entry. These laws, combined with widespread deployment of facial recognition technology, have many fearing that Putin means to quash any potential opposition before it can gain momentum.

Note: It is our understanding, based on the research criteria, that an unusual degree of brevity is desired in this brief. We have therefore endeavored to provide as much information as possible within each bullet point.

Russia's Current Political Climate

  • Over the last four years, Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval rating has steadily declined from a height of 86% to 66% (its lowest level since 2006) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's disapproval rate has risen to 66%, largely because of Russia's 6-year economic slump and the unpopular decision to raise the retirement age.
  • This has resulted in opposition parties to make small gains, including winning 17 municipal districts surrounding the Kremlin, demonstrations in Moscow by the (mostly younger) supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny (leading to 1,300 arrests in one demonstration alone), and a very close call involving the loss of 15 of its 40 seats for Putin's United Russia party in the 2019 Moscow municipal election.
  • However, "the political apathy of the Russian population and its general aversion to political change," the redirection of blame to Ukraine, and, despite the recession, a decent economic situation has served to prevent serious opposition from yet forming on a national level, a problem exacerbated by laws passed by the Kremlin (see below).
  • Even so, as The Conversation notes, "This election revealed that the old system of electoral control is breaking down... increased repression makes Putinism appear brittle. Russian voters are looking beyond President Putin and Putinism for solutions to everyday problems. The opposition has given unexpected voice to their demands."

Recent Russian Policy Changes

  • Over the past several years, the Kremlin has put many legal and bureaucratic barriers "to prevent popular mobilization and free electoral competition" by creating impossible entry requirements and disqualifying opposition candidates on technicalities. These laws enabled Putin's party to successfully bar 30 opposition candidates from even competing in the election and even to raid the homes of nearly 200 opposition activists.
  • In late 2019, Russia enacted a controversial "sovereign Internet" law, which gives Russia the ability to detach its Internet from the rest of the world "in the event of a cyberattack from abroad." Officially, the law was enacted in response to "the aggressive nature" of the US cybersecurity strategy, but critics claim that its real purpose is "to quash dissent inside the country."
  • Russia is in the process of building a camera system with AI-based facial recognition on a nationwide scale that will rival China's, building on an existing system that launched during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Many fear that the system will be used to identify and track protesters and enable police corruption, leading RosKomSvoboda to campaign "for a nationwide moratorium on the technology."
  • While Putin's government has backed off from threats to block Wikipedia in an attempt to stave off natural linguistic evolution, undercut "cave-dwelling Russophobes," and stem the flow of "uncredible" information, it is devoting billions of rubles to develop an alternative, the Great Russian Encyclopedia.
  • Prime Minister Medvedev has "ordered the repeal of thousands of obsolete but still enforceable Communist statutes in September." The task is about 60% complete, but an inability to find the original legislation for the rest (which are known only by references in other laws) is hampering the effort. The effort heralds a change of strategy in which, rather than trying to tweak current legislation, it was found to be easier to simply cancel the old laws altogether.
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South Africa - Politics

The current political climate in South Africa indicates that South Africans are not happy with their government due to the high rate of unemployment and crime. Women have also been the victim of violence, a situation that has led to protests. The government has several policies and strategies aimed at combating gender-based violence (preventing GBV), economic empowerment of women, and improvement of the criminal justice system, among other policies.

Political Climate

  • The political atmosphere in South Africa indicates that South Africans are not happy with their government due to the high rate of unemployment, crime rates, drug-related violence, among other vices. According to Mail & Guardian, some irresponsible leaders are manufacturing an atmosphere of crisis in the country, and xenophobic sentiments are common.
  • According to TRT World, the roots of violence, as well as anti-immigrant sentiments, are deeply rooted in the South African society in a sophisticated manner and often get mixed up across social, economic, and political lines. For over two decades, South Africa's 58 million inhabitants, have "been grappling with xenophobia."
  • A 2019 BBC report reveals that there are concerns/fears that "gangster politics" has taken root in some parts of South Africa as recent waves of attack seem to have left behind them "a sense of confusion and guilt."
  • According to facts revealed by Pew Research Center, a majority of South Africans (64%) are not satisfied with the current state of their democracy. A majority of South Africans had an unfavorable view of their countries ruling party (the ANC) as of May 2019.

South Africans Are Not Happy With Their Government

  • South Africans have displayed "anger and frustration" for numerous failed attempts to meet with government representatives.
  • A group known as the Sisonke People's Forum revealed that its representatives have been trying without success to meet with government officials since at least January 2019. The group desires to raise its concerns relative to "rising crime levels, unemployment," inadequate housing as well as the proliferation of drugs within their communities.
  • A recent shutdown in demonstrations that reflected the anger of South African citizens claimed the lives of at least 12 people as xenophobic attacks spread across Johannesburg.
  • Some recent articles indicate that South Africans are not happy with their government. Such media articles include the South African Times, and The Guardian, among other resources.

South Africans Feel Foreigners Are Taking Their Jobs

  • According to the South African Times Newspaper, South Africans feel foreigners are taking over their jobs.
  • Recently, protesters from eastern Johannesburg marched in protests against immigrant workers carrying weapons, such as knobkerries and sang songs such as "foreigners must go back to where they came from."

Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

  • Gender-based violence has reached a level that the government of South Africa has declared a national crisis based on its frequency.
  • Several reports disclose insights credited to the government of South Africa that, "a woman is murdered every three hours" within South Africa. Many of these women get assaulted as well as raped before being murdered.
  • According to Google trends, South Africans have searched gender-based violence in 2019. Their searches on this topic reached the most significant levels between September 1, 2019, to September 7, 2019. Some media reports have also covered gender-based violence in South Africa, including VOA News (September 20, 2019), the Guardian, among other resources.
  • About 3,000 women were murdered in South Africa between April 2018 and March 2019.
  • Violence against South African men leads to the murder of about 50 men per day.

Anti-Immigrant Violence (Xenophobic Attacks) Have Spiked in South Africa

  • According to Google trends, South Africans have researched anti-immigrant violence (known as xenophobic attacks). Their research related to this topic spiked for some time in 2019. The regions most associated with the topic include Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, and Northwest.
  • A media allegation recently accused the South African government of failing to control xenophobic violence against foreigners, which led to the loss of the lives of several immigrants. In defense, South Africa's defense minister explained that "no government could stop the type" of unrest currently experienced in the urban areas of the country.
  • According to Google trends, between September 1, to September 7, 2019, most searches from South Africa from residents were almost 100% related to violence/Xenophobia.
  • Some media publications that covered the topic of Xenophobia between September 1, 2019, to September 7, 2019, include the South African Times (Monday, September 2, 2019), (Mail & Guardian, in an article, titled xenophobia and party politics within South Africa, on September 3, 2019), and Quartz Africa on September 4, 2019.
  • Several other media publications covered political news related to xenophobia between September 1, 2019, to September 7, 2019, and after the time. Some of such resources include The Washington Post (September 9, 2019), TRT World (September 11, 2019), BBC News (September 26, 2019), Human Rights Watch (March 25, 2019), and several other resources.

Policy Change: National Action Plan

  • The South African government plans to implement a policy known as the National Action Plan to combat xenophobia, racism, and other "forms of discrimination and prejudice."
  • When fully implemented, the National Action Plan will stem the "dangerous tides of intolerance" for the good/benefit of residents.

Policy Change: Care for the Victims

  • South Africa plans several legal and "policy frameworks" to combat the recent spate of violence against women.
  • One of the frameworks includes a provision for the care of victims of violence.
  • The government pledges that new policies will provide adequate support structures for all women that are victims of gender-based violence.

Policy Change: Strengthening the Criminal Justice System

  • South Africa plans several legal and "policy frameworks" to combat the recent spate of violence against women.
  • The government of South Africa has promised to implement policies that aim at improving the criminal justice system as a means of combating gender-based violence in South Africa.

Policy Change: Economic Empowerment of Women

  • South Africa has planed several legal and "policy frameworks" to combat the recent spate of violence against women.
  • The government of South Africa seeks to implement policies that empower women economically as a strategy to reduce their vulnerability to gender-based violence.

Policy Change: More Funds

  • The South African government has pledged to implement an action plan that includes setting up a $68 million fund to combat gender-based violence in South Africa.

Policy Change: Life Sentence for Gender-Based Violence

  • The president of South Africa Ramaphosa recently suggested that people found guilty of gender-based violence/crimes should not benefit from parole. He suggested that they should be "sentenced to a life sentence," and live the rest of their "life in prison."

Most Frequently Discussed Policy Changes

  • The government of South Africa has revealed plans to implement several policies and strategies aimed at combating gender-based violence. These policies include preventing gender-based violence (GBV), economic empowerment of women, improvement of the criminal justice system, enhancing existing policy as well as legal frameworks, and the provision of adequate support structures for those who fall victim of GBV.
  • Some articles that discuss the above policies include:
  • A report on crucial steps in South Africa's path to restoring justice and equality by Human Rights Watch.
  • An article that reveals what the South African government intends to do regarding gender-based violence.
  • An article that discloses how unions are supporting the government's plan to end gender-based violence within South Africa.

Research Strategy

The study has investigated the current political climate in South Africa, and the policy changes are top of mind. Several resources that have discussed these policy changes and political climate are in the study. The study has included them based on how often they were encountered during the research. Google trends also indicated that South Africans are researching several terms related to the uncovered media articles. Survey reports and several news publications suggest that a majority of South Africans are not happy with the government of their country.
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South Korea - Politics

Over the recent weeks, Seoul has experienced a series of protests by various groups. One faction supports President Moon's commitment to weed out corruption using judicial systems and the other brands him a traitor for targeting corrupt government officials. The standoff between South Korea and Japan is among the most discussed topics. South Korean citizens have boycotted Japanese products in protest against Japan's action against the country. A detailed report on the political climate and policy issues is presented below.

Current Political Climate and Mood

Corruption

  • On November 9th 2019, protesters numbering in the hundreds of thousands gathered in central Seoul to support President Moon Jae-in and his administration's campaign against corruption. The crowd sang and clapped in support of the current use of justice reforms to weed out corruption.
  • A few meters from the pro-government group, there was another group of opposition protesters. They shouted and branded the president a traitor and wanted him out of office.
  • In the previous weeks, there have been several opposition protests fueled by the appointment of Mr. Cho Kuk as justice minister. Mr. Kuk stepped down on Monday after several weeks in his new docket.
  • The protests and slowing economic growth in South Korea "have driven Mr. Moon’s approval ratings down to their lowest" since he ascended to power in 2017. The dwindling support from the public and government officials will compromise his drive to accomplish his election manifesto promises.

Japan-South Korea Standoff

  • Seoul and Tokyo are at " loggerheads over historical and territorial disputes," but the recent incident has been the worst. It was sparked by a South Korea court ruling which allows people to claim compensation from Japanese companies for wartime servitude.
  • However, the South Korean administration turned a deaf ear and upheld the court ruling. Consequently, Japan has imposed several export controls on materials crucial to the South Korean tech industry.
  • The public has been angered by Japan's actions against South Korea and have boycotted various Japanese products including beer, cigarettes, and clothes. At garages and petrol stations, service providers are not servicing or fueling Japanese vehicle models. Korean airlines have reduced flights to Japan, and a faction of politicians propose a travel ban.

Current Policy Issues in South Korea

Feminism Leaning

  • President Moon's commitment and leaning towards feminism has angered young men in their 20s and 30s who feel left out. According to one group, "Feminism is no longer about gender equality. It is gender discrimination and its manner is violent and hateful."
  • When mainstream feminist voices came into the limelight, campaigners received support from Moon who promised to "become a feminist president" just before he was elected. There have been a series of high profile and regular prosecutions for sexual harassment. This trend has resulted in a disgruntled crowd of young men demanding inclusivity.
  • In a recent study, at least 76% of men in their 20s and 30s strongly oppose feminism. This segment of Korea's population is also against the compulsory military service for men aged 18-35 years. They say "it's unfair that only one gender must serve during their early 20s."
  • When Moon was vying for president, he received great support from men in their 20s. Currently, Moon is supported by less than 30% of men in this age group due to his stance on feminism. However, the support from women is overwhelming.

Population and Demographics

  • A recent report highlighted the challenges facing South Korea's policymakers regarding the country's demographics. The fertility rate is dwindling and if the demographics continue on the current downward trend, the economy will struggle due to the impending static growth.
  • By 2065, the seniors in South Korea will account for more than 50% of the population putting the country's military programs in jeopardy. Considering the first wave of demographic decline is set to hit Korea in the early 2020s, concerns about the current conflict with North Korea have sparked debates in the media.
  • While the policies to deal with the issue are in place, the media feels that Moon has not given the task force the necessary support. Instead of focusing on North Korea, he should address the demographic threat which could bring the country to its knees.

Defense Policy

  • Critical policy changes are taking place in South Korea's defense landscape. This is amidst Moon's priority to engage with North Korea and end the animosity. In 2019, the defense budget was increased by 8.2% and it is expected to increase by 10.3% in 2020.
  • The policies are evolving to account for the shifting security order in the region and the unidirectional focus instead of the Peninsula. Threats from China, Japan, and the west are the main drivers of the policy change.
  • With the current tensions between the U.S. and China, South Korea is adopting defense policies that re-balance the country's threat perceptions. However, Moon's current standpoint on dialogue with North Korea has slowed the process.

Slowing Economy/Recession

  • Exports account for at least 40% of the South Korean GDP but they have been at their lowest point for the last ten months. According to reports from the Central Bank, South Korea will have a difficult time meeting lowered growth projections.
  • The media is concerned about the Central Bank's approach to deal with the problem when the need for economic stimulation is evident. At the same time, President Moon Jae-in introduced "income growth policies" that seem to contradict the integrity of the economy. According to the numerous media outcry, the country will suffer economically if the reforms are not implemented on time.
  • The Moon government introduced policies aimed at raising the "incomes for individuals in the middle- and low-income brackets by substantially raising minimum wages". While these policies were meant to improve the lives of these citizens and bridge the economic disparity gap, the consequences have been fatal. Most businesses are struggling to pay the new rates and some say they won't be able to operate if the policies remain in place.
  • The central bank governor has prioritized the issue and promised the public that policymakers will look at all possible remedies in their next meeting.


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UK - Politics

Britons are reasonably pleased with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's performance, while members of parliament are bent on stopping his government from accomplishing its agenda. On the other hand, the Conservatives are perceived to be divided. Brexit policy and the UK drug policy are among the policy changes that are discussed by people and the media.

Overview of the current political climate in the UK

Policy Changes Most Discussed by Media/People


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Japan - Politics

The current political climate in Japan is driven under the ruling of the Liberal Democratic Party led by current prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has maintained considerable popularity in recent elections and is the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history. The policy changes that are considered to be top of mind in Japan include the immigration policy, the new climate change policy, the Labour law revision, and the consumption tax policy.


Current Political Climate in Japan

  • The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has sustained positive approval ratings in the recent Upper House election, as well as the reshuffling of his Cabinet, and is expected to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister. As political analysts note, when compared to some of the world's other advanced democracies, Japan's political climate is stable because of the absence of strong opposition.
  • The nation's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is viewed as its sole option capable of presenting steady policies regarding the U.S. alliance and national security, which are the leading priorities for many its citizens. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which serves as its largest opposition party, slightly expanded its strength, yet it continues to maintain less than a third of the seats that the LDP controls in the Upper House.
  • Based on the data from a recent internet panel survey, individuals residing in the nation's more affluent households (¥7 million-¥10 million in annual household income) favor the Japanese Communist Party and are assumed to possess a clear political ideology. They also prefer Reiwa Shinsengumi (opposition party) as they view the party as being more radical.
  • In Japan, the current political climate is facing the greatest value gap based on "the ideological divide regarding constitutional and security policy" between the LDP government's critics and its supporters.


Policy Changes Discussed by the Japanese Media/People

Immigration Policy

  • As proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party led by Shinzo Abe, the most extensive reform of the nation's immigration policy was approved in December 2018 and went into effect in April 2019. Part of this reform package extends both the type and number of migrants that the country will induct.
  • This change produces two brand-new visa segments, which are referred to as Technical Intern Class 1 and Technical Intern Class 2. The changes in immigration policy will directly impact around 350,000 semi and lower-skilled workers, while supporting small and medium-scale businesses affected by diminishing worker productivity.

New Climate Change Policy

  • The country is contemplating the adoption of a long-range climate policy aimed at committing Japan towards reaching net zero emissions, potentially during the second half of the 21st century.
  • Japan's government is attempting to complete its policy, wherein the recommendations on the strategy "included working vigorously on the 80 percent goal by 2050, and to achieve a "decarbonized society" as early as possible in the second half of the century."

Labour Law Revision

Consumption Tax Policy

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Brazil - Environment

Some environmental concerns that are frequently reported by the Brazilian media are air pollution, plastic waste, water pollution, and deforestation. The natural disasters that have been reported frequently in Brazil are the Amazon forest fire, dam collapse, and flood and landslide. Continue below for a deep dive into our findings.

Top Environmental Concerns for People Living in Brazil

Air Pollution

  • In 2019, a study by the Ministry of Health reported a 14% increase in the number of deaths caused by air pollution over the past ten years.
  • Air pollution has not only increased the death rate in Brazil, but it has also been reported that air pollution stunts the growth of trees, one of the very elements that can attenuate this typically urban environmental problem.

Plastic Waste

  • According to the Informamarkets report, plastic waste in Brazil has received attention from the public, industries, and the media in recent years.
  • According to Guardian News, plastic waste has contributed to deadly floods in Recife, Brazil. Coca-Cola and Fanta bottles, water containers, crisp packets, and wrappers are some plastic waste products in Brazil.

Water Pollution

  • In October 2019, a seemingly mysterious oil spillage became a new environmental crisis for Brazil. According to the New York Times, the spill, which resulted from unspecified criminal activity, polluted shores along a vast area of Brazil’s Northeast.
  • According to the Ministry of Environment, over 132 beaches spanning 61 municipalities in nine states have been affected.
  • As a result of the mysterious oil spill, authorities have warned residents to stop going to certain beaches.

Deforestation

  • The Amazon forest fire has lead to major deforestation. According to the Brazilian Minister of Environment, dry weather, wind, and heat were some major factors that lead to the rising number of forest fires in the Amazon.
  • The Brazilian authorities banned land clearance blazes for 60 days.
  • Brazil’s environment minister reported that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is a result of criminal networks, which is becoming a lucrative business in the region.

Natural Disasters

Amazon Forest Fire

  • In 2019, the BBC reported that the Amazon in Brazil was on fire. According to the report, huge fires were burning across the border in Bolivia, destroying swaths of the country's tropical forest and savannah.
  • In Brazil, smoke from the Amazon forest fires engulfs Sao Paulo, baffling and alarming thousands of people. According to Nationalpost, the number of forest fires in Brazil rose by over 80% in 2019.

Brazil Dam Collapse

  • In 2019, a dam collapse in Brazil destroyed villages by surging sludge.
  • According to ABC News, 60 persons were reported dead, and 300 persons were missing after the dam collapsed.
  • The dam-water flood in Brazil’s Bahia State destroyed houses leaving people displaced.
  • Authorities reported that after the collapse of Brazil's dam, 7 bodies were recovered, while 200 were missing after the dam collapse flooded a community in sludge.

Flood and Landslide

  • In June 2019, heavy rains resulted in flood and landslide, killing seven persons in Brazil. Five of the deaths were caused by a landslide that buried four houses in the town of Camaragibe.
  • In Rio de Janeiro, lives were reported to have been lost following the rain which triggered widespread flash flooding. According to Aljazeera News, the death toll rose to 10. According to the fire department, schools were closed, and people were urged to avoid non-essential traffic until further notice.
  • According to AA News, the death toll from floods and landslides reach 13. The report was confirmed by the fire department in the northeastern Pernambuco state with a breakdown of five deaths in Recife, five in Abreu e Lima, and three in Olinda.

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Mexico - Environment

Top environmental concerns for Mexican citizens are (1) climate change, (2) drought, (3) air pollution/smog, and (4) water supply. Major natural disasters in Mexico are (1) wildfires, (2) hurricanes/tropical storms/flooding, and (3) earthquakes.

Top Environmental Concerns in Mexico

1. Climate Change

  • Areas in Mexico that are especially prone to the adverse impacts of climate change are the Yucatán peninsula, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas, due to their proximity to oceans.
  • A study found that climate change has the potential to impact "84% of Mexico’s most important fisheries."
  • This link is to an article about climate change published by a Mexican news source.

2. Drought

  • Mexico has "been suffering from drought for some time."
  • In August 2019, it was reported that "Mexico is experiencing a drought that is lasting longer than most expected . . . ."
  • Mexico's droughts have significantly impacted its production of limes and lemons. For example, it was reported that 70% of limes harvested in the country were thrown out during 2019 due to poor quality directly resulting from the severe drought conditions.
  • This link is to an article about climate change published by a Mexican news outlet.

3. Air Pollution/Smog

  • In May 2019, the Mexican government declared an environmental emergency in Mexico City.
  • Within the first 133 days of 2019, there were just nine days that the quality of Mexico City's air was deemed clean.
  • The vast extent of air pollution problems led to Mexico City being described as "the smog-wreathed capital."
  • Air quality has been declining in Mexico City over the past few years.
  • This article published by BBC News includes pictures and videos that show the smog that enveloped Mexico City earlier this year.
  • This link is to an article about air pollution published by a Mexican news channel.

4. Water Supply

  • A major environmental concern in Mexico, including Mexico City specifically, is its lack of water supply, which is strikingly unusual considering that the city is known for its flooding.
  • According to Mexico news source El Universal, about nine million people in Mexico "have no access to drinking water."
  • With regard to Mexico City specifically, BBC News described the city's water supply issue as "one of the world’s largest water crises."
  • The lack of water in Mexico City, in particular, has been cited as "exacerbating" earthquakes, ground subsidence, and sewage spills.
  • The serious water supply issue is attributed to Mexico City's large population (approximately 21 million) and crumbling water-supply infrastructure.
  • If the current trends are left unchanged, it's estimated that natural reserves of water in Mexico City could dry out completely within the next 30 years.

Major Natural Disasters in Mexico

1. Wildfires

  • Wildfires have been a natural disaster causing tremendous damage across Mexico.
  • Between January 2019 and April 2019, there were "at least 2,538 forest fires" across Mexico.
  • In April 2019 alone, the number of wildfires across 18 states in Mexico totaled 95.
  • Pollution in Mexico has been cited as a factor contributing to Mexico's wildfire problem because it slows down the biodegradation process, leaving forest floors primed to ignite in short order.
  • This link is to an additional Mexican news source that wrote about the wildfires that spread across Mexico.

2. Hurricanes/Tropical Storms & Their Resulting Flooding

  • Hurricanes/tropical storms and the flooding that often accompanies them are major natural disasters that transpire in Mexico.
  • Recently, in September 2019, Tropical Storm Fernand arrived in Mexico and brought with it a risk of flooding.
  • Mexico's peak hurricane season is September through October.
  • Mexico's San Pedro Pochutla municipality experienced "206.6mm of rain in 24 hours."
  • Mexico's proximity to oceans (Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico) makes the region prone to these natural disasters.
  • This link is to a news article about a recent hurricane/tropical storm that landed in Mexico, which was published by a Mexican media outlet.

3. Earthquakes

  • Earthquakes are a serious natural disaster that Mexico has experienced and continues to be at risk for due to its geology.
  • In 2017, Mexico experienced its "most powerful earthquake since" 1985. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1.
  • In February 2018, the Mexican city of Oaxaca experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2.
  • The reason why earthquakes are such a serious natural disaster for Mexico is because the country is situated upon "three of the Earth's largest tectonic plates."
  • This link is to an article published by a Mexican news source about a recent earthquake in Mexico.

Research Strategy

To identify the top environmental concerns and major natural disasters in Mexico, we conducted wide-ranging media scans to look for articles that were frequently published about these topics. We reviewed numerous articles about environmental concerns and natural disasters in Mexico. Since most of the Mexican news sources are published in Spanish, we cited to a mix of Mexican and English Sources. Examples of that mix of many sources we consulted throughout our research included El Universal, BBC News, Bloomberg, EFE Servicios, Accuweather, Puerto Vallarta Daily News, and The Guardian. The information we provided from sources outside of Mexico clearly demonstrated the magnitude of the environmental concerns and natural disasters for the people of Mexico, due to the widespread impacts these issues have had and continue to have on those individuals. Thus, that content clearly demonstrated that these are top/major environmental concerns and natural disasters for the people of Mexico. Additionally, we included links to articles about those issues specifically published by Mexican news sources, to show that they are also discussed by Mexico's press. Each environmental concern and natural disaster we included was frequently discussed by media sources, which is how we determined these to be top/major issues for the people of Mexico. Lastly, each environmental concern and natural disaster we included is a current issue in Mexico.
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Russia - Environment

Pollution, climate change, nuclear waste & accidents and deforestation represent the top environmental concerns for people living in Russia. Meanwhile, flooding, heat waves, earthquakes and ice rain represent the most widely discussed and anticipated natural disasters in the country.

Top Environmental Concerns

Pollution

  • In March 2019, a poll by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) revealed that 94% of Russians viewed pollution as a "pressing concern."
  • As such, Russian-based media including Moscow-based The Moscow Times and Russian cultural outlet Russian Life have similarly emphasized the deleterious social and environmental impacts of pollution.
  • Partly in response to such social outcry, The Moscow Times recently reported that Russia has allocated approximately 1.55 trillion rubles ($22 billion) on a new environmental program to promote air pollution reduction, among other environmental efforts.

Climate Change

  • The Moscow Times also recently highlighted statements by Russia’s environmental ministry that the country will face an "apocalyptic future" as a result of climate change, including epidemics, drought, mass flooding and hunger.
  • Similarly, local reporting by Russia-based writers representing top-tier outlets including Bloomberg and the Financial Times have highlighted climate change as a top social concern for Russians, despite the fact that Russia is one of the few countries expected to receive some economic benefits from a modest rise in global temperatures, such as more economic activity during the winter months.

Nuclear Waste & Accidents

  • Local media including Russian Forbes and The Moscow Times widely circulated a recent analysis from October of 2019 which revealed that radiation and nuclear accidents represent one of the top two fears of those living in Russia.
  • Notably, nuclear waste and accidents are particularly significant environmental and safety concerns in Russia after two high-profile nuclear accidents "sparked fears" of radiation.

Deforestation

  • Deforestation and resulting erosion issues is perhaps one of the more longstanding environmental concerns of Russians, with local media ranging from environmental trade WWF Russia and government outlet Ministries of the Republic of Tatarstan to the widely distributed The Moscow Times all regularly highlighting social concerns surrounding deforestation and its economic, environmental and social consequences.
  • In particular, more recent media discussion on this subject has emphasized Russia's efforts towards combating this issue with reforestation, ranging from the government's trillion-dollar environmental program to new reforestation rules in outlying Russian territories.

Top Natural Disaster Concerns

Flooding

  • According to Russian lifestyle outlet Russia Beyond, Central Russia has historically suffered from severe flooding disasters, including the infamous Far East flooding of 2013 and Krasnodar Territory flood event of 2012.
  • Such flooding events, which represent some of the "most devastating" natural disasters in Russia's history, are a frequent subject of event reporting and related discussion in local outlets including The Moscow Times.

Heat Waves

  • Russian media and lifestyle outlets including The Moscow Times and Russia Beyond also regularly discuss the somewhat extreme natural disaster event that heat waves can bring to the country.
  • Specifically, extreme heat waves such as the Central Russia heat wave of 2010 can raise temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius and result in fires and "apocalyptic smog."

Earthquakes

  • Although more rare, earthquakes represent a natural disaster of significant concern in the Russian zeitgeist, with the regions of the Far East, North Caucasus and Eastern Siberia all representing seismically dangerous areas.
  • While reporting of these events may be slightly less frequent given their less common occurrence, local media including Russian broadcaster RT News and Russia Beyond frequently discuss the risk earthquakes pose to these vulnerable regions of the country.

Ice Rain

  • Similarly viewed as a less frequent phenomenon, ice rain events have nonetheless become a subject of major discussion related to natural disasters within Russian outlets including Russia-based broadcaster Sputnik and Russia Beyond.
  • Notably, the recent past has seen numerous, devastating instances of ice rain events, including the summer of 2010 in Russia, the winter of 2013, the winter of 2015 and multiple ice rain disasters in 2016.


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South Africa - Environment

Some environmental concerns frequently reported by the Media in South Africa include deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, and climate change. The Media in South Africa have also been frequently reporting on floods, drought, and tornadoes.

South Africa — Environment

Deforestation
  • A news article by Iol News details how unregulated harvesting of timber, bark, and poles in the Eastern Cape forests is destroying indigenous forests and impacting the bird diversity.
  • Deforestation is allowing more sunlight to penetrate the forest canopies as more trees are felled and this is also impacting the insects found on the forest floor according to Iol News.
  • The most affected places with regard to deforestation are the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hots pot on the east coast of Southern Africa and the Succulent Karoo of South Africa according to South World news.
  • The South Africa Daily Sun reveals that there is an effort being made by the government for more trees to be planted.
Air Pollution
  • South Africa faces a big issue in air pollution as caused by the coal-fired, electricity-generating power stations, along with other industries that emit dangerous chemicals into the air according to City press News.
  • Mpumalanga’s Highveld region's air is so polluted that according to City Press news residents who inhale the polluted air suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
  • Studies done by Greenpeace have highlighted that Kriel is now the Earth’s second-worst area for sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution as reported by City press news.
  • An article done by Mail and Guardian reveals that the air people breathe is often so dangerous that it is killing them in cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town.
  • Midrand, Gauteng in South Africa has been labeled ‘airpocalypse’ due to the air pollution levels revealing how bad this is according to a news reportage by Mail and Guardian.
  • Mail and Guardian's article shows that the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that 7 million people die per year with 20,000 being in South Africa.
  • Africa news has reported that the government is concerned at the air pollution in the Mpumalanga region due to coal being used to generate power.
Water Pollution
  • There was an increase in water pollution due to mines as per the statistics tabled in parliament that revealed how around 118 mines in South Africa are polluting rivers and thus dirtying the waterways.
  • Coal mining on the high veld overlaps with the country's 22 designated strategic water sources provide 60% of all South Africans with water.
  • CNBC Africa reported that the issue of clean water is a very thorny one that has for years embattled Emfuleni Local Municipality.
  • Iol Daily News has published an article urging the government and the community to work together to combat water pollution.
  • Mail and Guardian on reviewing the "Clear The Rivers Campaign" urged the department of water and sanitation, in partnership with citizens and various civil society organizations across the country to focus on protecting the water sources in the country.
  • CNBC Africa reported that the Vaal River system that supplies water to millions of South Africans is choking in sewage and pollution and thus is very filthy.
Climate Change
  • An article appearing on Mail and Guardian reveals that South Africa is already 2°C hotter than it was a century ago and warns that this could double all due to climate change.
  • The article further asks the government, especially the environmental ministry, to take seriously the issue of climate change and start providing solutions.
  • The South Africa Daily Sun describes the issue of climate change as a 'Health Emergency' in South Africa.
  • Many people turned out for the climate change run to support there is a need for change.
  • There is also a need to plant trees in South Africa to fight climate change.
  • Many people in South Africa are pushing for changes to be made now to fight climate change.

Potential Natural Disasters

Floods
  • According to News 24, severe thunderstorms and floods are causing havoc in South Africa.
Drought
  • An article by News 24 reveals how drought has ravaged South Africa with 37.44% of rural communities in South Africa currently affected by drought.
  • Engineering News of South Africa argues that the country has faced a drier climatic spell, leaving the farming industry reeling from massive financial constraints and decreasing yields.
  • The Daily Maverick published joined hands to voice concerns on the state of agriculture in South Africa and plead to the government to acknowledge that the current drought is a national crisis.
  • International media company Aljazeera has also reported the drought situation in South Africa, terming it the worst drought even as the Government imposes water cuts and gives aid to farmers as part of emergency measures to fight severe drought.
  • BBC has also reported the South Africa drought situation while revealing that some areas have gone without substantial rainfall for up to five years.
Tornadoes
  • Sowetan Live reported that a tornado hit KwaZulu-Natal. It injured a few and left a trail of destruction in New Hanover and Greytown.
  • According to News 24, a tornado destroyed homes, uprooted countless trees, and interrupted electricity supply as it ripped through New Hanover.
  • News 24 was also reporting an intense, category four storms to hit the areas that might also lead to flooding as per the weather forecasts.
  • South Africa Broadcasting Corporation reported the tornadoes have hit South Africa and have brought destruction.
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South Korea- Environment

Air pollution, water pollution, acid rain, and climate change represent the top environmental concerns for people living in South Korea. Meanwhile, forest fires, flash floods and landslides, and typhoons represent natural disasters or potential natural disasters that are hot topics in the country.

Environmental Concerns

Air Pollution

  • According to the Guardian, South Korean media reported a surge in levels of dust particles in most parts of the country in March 2019.
  • According to The Korea Herald, Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan areas have put in motion measures to cut fine dust.
  • Seven major cities in South Korea suffered high concentrations of "dangerous PM 2.5 particles" early this year.
  • Air pollution is a key issue in South Korea. The country's national assembly passed several bills this year to "give authorities access to emergency funds" for measures to curb air pollution.
  • Air pollution was ranked as the number one concern among South Koreans, according to a national survey done by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

Water Pollution

  • Water pollution was ranked among the top five concerns for South Koreans, according to a national survey done by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
  • According to The Korea Herald, there were concerns about the contamination of water sources by pig remains disposed of due to African swine fever.
  • River ecosystems and coastal South Korea have been harmed by pollution from sewage and industrial sources.
  • South Koreans are concerned by water pollution and tend to filter or boil their tap water.

Acid Rain

  • According to Yonhap News Agency, waste sulfur is an environmental issue in South Korea. Sulfur is cited as a cause of acid rain.
  • According to Nation Master, acid rain is a current environmental issue for South Korea.

Climate change

  • According to South Korean media, including The Korea Herald, climate change represents a pressing and widespread environmental concern in the country. The Climate Change Performance Index 2019 indicated that South Korea was ranked "lowly in terms of response to climate change".
  • Korean media, including Yonhap News Agency and The Korean Herald, carried articles on the demonstration done by Korean students who took part in global climate strike.

Natural Disasters

Forest Fire

  • In April 2019, a giant forest fire was witnessed in the far northeast of South Korea. The fire was declared a national disaster by the South Korean government. One person died and 35 were injured in the fire.
  • According to The Straits Times, South Korea is "vulnerable to wildfires due to its topography". The country has steep slopes that are heavily forested. This accelerates blazes and makes them hard to contain.

Flash Floods and Landslides

  • In October 2019, torrential rainstorms in Seoul and surrounding areas caused flooding and landslides. According to the Telegraph, 32 people died from the landslides.
  • According to Agu100, 1,728 people have died from landslides in South Korea from 1970 to 2018. The causes of landslides in South Korea include high erosion rates, strongly seasonal rainfall, and dense human occupation.

Typhoons

  • According to various South Korean media sources, South Korea regularly experiences typhoons, which are tropical cyclones that result in strong wind and heavy rain.
  • According to The Postech Times, South Korea was affected by a total of seven typhoons this year. The typhoons caused flooding and landslides which eventually caused loss of lives.
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Japan - Environment

Climate change, waste, renewable energy and pollution represent the top environmental concerns for people living in Japan. Meanwhile, earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and tsuya season represent the most discussed natural disasters in the country.

Top Environmental Concerns

Climate Change

  • According to Japanese media, including Japan's largest and oldest daily newspaper, The Japan Times, climate change represents the most pressing and widespread environmental concern in the country.
  • Notably, The Japan Times highlighted that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken numerous steps towards addressing climate change in response to popular sentiment, including his “Long-Term Strategy” for meeting Japan’s Paris climate accord obligations, while a separate article also discussed the participation of the country's youngest generations in movements towards improving national and global climate conditions.

Waste

  • Japan's national government outlet JapanGov, Japanese broadcaster Nippon News and other local outlets also regularly highlight waste management and reduction as a top environmental concern for the country.
  • Notably, the subject is of such significance that Japan has partnered with neighboring countries (e.g., Sri Lanka) to help improve their waste management systems, while also actively supporting the development of related technologies such as biodegradable plastic.

Renewable Energy

Pollution

  • Nippon News highlighted pollution as perhaps the most longstanding environmental concern within the national zeitgeist, discussing the decades of pollution crises and diseases impacting Japan's people.
  • Similarly, local outlets including The Japan Times and Japan for Sustainability regularly discuss the health risks posed by pollution and how residents can mitigate such dangers.


Top Natural Disasters

Earthquakes

  • According to Japan Travel Magazine Matcha, earthquakes "occur often" in Japan, particularly due to the country's location on the Circum-Pacific Belt, also known as the Ring of Fire.
  • Unfortunately, local press including The Japan Times and Nippon News regularly report on the most recent earthquakes in Japan, as well as government forecasts related to this natural disaster.

Tsunamis

  • Matcha and other Japan-based news outlets such as Nippon News also often highlight tsunamis, which are ocean waves that are triggered by earthquakes.
  • Notably, Japan has experienced waves as high as 17 meters high (55 feet), estimated from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

Typhoons

  • In the summer and autumn months, Japan regularly experiences typhoons, which are tropical cyclones that result in strong wind and heavy rain, according to Matcha, Japan Wireless and Japan Rail Pass, among other news outlets.
  • Generally speaking, it is unsafe and nearly impossible to be outside or travel during a typhoon, and these weather events are often accompanied by retail closures and transportation service suspensions.

Tsuya Season

  • Similar to typhoon weather events, Japan is also subject to a particularly heavy rainy season in June, called Tsuya.
  • Japanese media including The Japan Times and Matcha warn potential travelers to avoid outdoor activities during this month, and stay away from mountains and rivers, which could be subject to landslides and significantly rising tides.
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UK - Environment

Some environmental concerns that the media frequently reports in the UK are climate change, plastic waste, threats to wildlife/wildlife conservation, air pollution and deforestation. The natural disasters that have been reported frequently in the UK are flooding, winter storms and heatwaves.

Top Environmental concerns for people living in the UK

  • Environmental concerns are at the highest in the UK with 27% of Britons now citing the environment in the country’s top three problems, with only 67% of Brexit and health (32%).

1) Climate Change

  • BBC News has been reporting on research of the effects of climate change to the world and to the UK giving details of why hurricanes are bigger and more damaging.
  • Inews has been reporting on how the UK has fallen short in meeting its targets as it tackles climate change.
  • Reuters has been covering the protests done by climate change activists who have been drawing attention towards the UK government’s failure to avert a looming climate cataclysm.
  • The Wired recently reported on the climate change emergency and how the UK government is not doing enough about it.
  • The Times have been reporting on how climate change matters are affecting the 2019 election, with many voters deciding to go green.
  • According to BBC, There has been an acceleration to climate change per data compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which reveal the year 2019 as the warmest on record.
  • The BBC News reported on a government bill to tackle environmental priorities that had been published by the government.

2) Plastic Waste

  • The report by the Evening Standard revealed that the UK was sending some of it’s plastic waste to Malaysia for recycling since it did not have the capacity to recycle all of its plastic waste.
  • The Guardian recently revealed that the UK plastic recycling rates have stagnated in recent years with more waste being burned in incinerators and energy-from-waste plants.
  • The Independent reported how Malaysia was sending back plastic waste to the UK and other foreign nations to avoid becoming ‘dumping ground’.
  • BBC News recently revealed that in the year 2016, the UK generated 222.9 million tonnes of waste which was up 4% from the year 2014.
  • CNN recently revealed how a UK company wanted to turn plastic waste into fuel for hydrogen cars.

3) Threats to Wildlife/Wildlife Conservation

  • According to the Guardian, “priority species” in the UK had shrunk by 27% which included the hedgehogs, hares and bats, many birds such as Turtle dove, and insects such as the high brown fritillary butterfly.
  • The Telegraph recently published concerns of how the UK was in danger of losing a quarter of its mammal population as revealed by a major wildlife report.
  • The BBC published a report that showed concern as there was mass wildlife loss caused by human consumption.
  • The BBC has also published how humans are causing a nature crisis by being the main culprits in threatening the extinction of more than one million species.
  • The National Geographic also published a UN report showing how more than one million species are at risk of extinction.

4) Air Pollution

  • The hashtag #BeatAirPollution for the World Environment Day 2019 went viral in the UK and was widely reported by the media.
  • The theme for the World Environment Day 2019 was Beat Air Pollution, and it was a call for action to be able to combat this as one of the greatest environmental emerging challenges.
  • The Standard gave details of research that was showing that around four million children develop asthma due to air pollution, and this brought out the concern in regard to air pollution.
  • BBC News reported that higher air pollution in the UK was triggering hundreds more heart attacks, strokes and acute asthma each year in the UK based on recent research.
  • The Telegraph reported on the concerns that had been raised by the National Health Service (NHS) regarding air pollution.
  • Sky News has recently been reporting on the increase of respiratory diseases caused by air pollution in the UK.
  • The Times note that air pollution is causing strokes and cardiac arrests to surge in the UK and thus a need for cleaner air.

5) Deforestation

  • The BBC recently published a report by the Global Forest Watch that revealed how 12 million hectares of forest in the world’s tropical regions were lost in 2018.
  • There was recent coverage by the BBC asking whether UK’s barbecue charcoal could be fueling global deforestation.
  • The Independent reported concerns by campaigners that reveal that the UK is suffering deforestation with only 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of woods planted in England well below targets to increase woodland in the country.
  • Sky News recently reported the alarming rate of deforestation that is ongoing in Brazil.
  • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism published a report that revealed that British companies were buying beef from suppliers that have been linked with ranches causing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Potential Natural Disasters

1) Winter Storms

  • The Sun published an article that gave details of what causes winter storms and the chaos they cause to traveling and schools.
  • The Mirror published a report that showed weather forecasts that reveal the return of winter storms that can be very brutal.
  • Recently the Wired published how the Meteorological department chooses names for storms.
  • Inews published a report seeking to know whether the UK will experience winter storms.

2) Flooding

  • In November 2019, BBC News is reporting severe flooding in northern England and how the government is being criticized for handling the situation.
  • The Independent is reporting that the current flooding situation is going to be worse due to the increase in autumn and winter rainfall caused by climate change.
  • The Telegraph has reported on the flooding situation in Europe and has looked at Venice to reveal this flooding is due to climate change.

3) Heatwaves

  • The BBC recently published an article that revealed an increase in deaths when Britain had its hottest day on record during the summer.
  • BBC reported that a temperature of 38.7C was recorded On 25 July in Cambridge which exceeded the record of 38.5C in Kent in 2003.
  • The Guardian wrote an article that revealed how the heatwaves were to continue in the UK.
  • The BBC wrote about the disruption to travelers or commuters after the Network Rail reported several heat-related incidents on the railway. Forecasters warned that heat in some areas could lead to heavy rain, causing traveler disruption.
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Brazil - Culture

Brazil is the 5th most populous country in the world. It is known as a melting pot due to its ethnic background. Over the past few years, the country has seen significant shifts in relation to gender roles, ethnic relations, the class system, politics, and marriage.

CULTURAL CHANGES

Gender Roles

  • Brazil has always been a highly patriarchal country with machismo being a common attitude among men in the country.
  • Machismo came about from the Catholic Church. Men were encouraged to show strength, while women were encouraged to be submissive to men. As a result, domestic violence and contempt for women increased.
  • In 2015, the president at the time "launched a zero tolerance policy towards violence against women and girls." It includes tough sentences of 12 to 30 years for discrimination, domestic violence, and contempt for women, resulting in their deaths.
  • While most rural areas in Brazil are still conservative, urban areas in the country are full of women with higher educational opportunities and occupational roles.
  • There are now more women's rights organizations in Brazil than there were a decade ago - although some are frequently underfunded.
  • Although gender violence and inequality in Brazil is still high, changes are being made to close the gap and ensure that women have more rights. The rise of the feminist movement is influencing how women are seen in the country.

Ethnic Relations

  • Following Brazil's independence in the 1800s, slavery was abolished. However, racism still ensued. The breach between white and black people in the country remained wide.
  • People of darker brown skin have always been economically and socially disadvantaged.
  • Afro Brazilian women in the country have always been marginalized and are known to have domestic roles like maids.
  • Recently, the Afro-Brazilian Feminist movement - which has been fighting for inclusion - has grown.
  • Over the past few decades, broad efforts have been made to reduce racial inequality in the country. In 2002, the country introduced Affirmative action.
  • Currently, Brazil's population is made up of 54% Afro-Brazilians. As a result, the level of discrimination against Afro-Brazilians has significantly dropped.

Classes and Castes

  • Since its independence in the 1800s, almost everything in Brazil has been dependent on class.
  • People in urban areas have always had more educational opportunities and social development.
  • The upper and middle class "often have only brief interaction with the lower class who are typically made up of maids and drivers."
  • The lifestyle and social aspirations of these different classes vary as well.
  • While the class system is still apparent, there are now social welfare programs that have been put in place to bridge the gap between the upper and lower class.

Politics

  • Following its independence from Portugal in the early 1800s, Brazil struggled with political uncertainty for years. It remained an empire until 1989.
  • In the 1980s, it fully adopted democracy with the military allowing open elections.
  • The country thrived politically until the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro, known as a "divisive far-right firebrand and self-styled political outsider."

Marriage

  • There are different types of marriages in Brazil, including civil and religious marriages.
  • For a long time, it was tradition for Brazilians to marry at a young age. This concept is rapidly changing in contemporary society.
  • Young Brazilians now want to finish college and attain financial security before discussing marriage. Religious marriages in Brazil are declining, as well.

Changes in the Perception of Beauty

  • For years, the standard of beauty in Brazil was associated with long straight hair. Since over half of the country's population consists of Afro-Brazilians with curly hair, using relaxers to achieve straight hair was common.
  • Nowadays, Afro-Brazilians are embracing their natural curly hair. The resurgence of natural hair "has mirrored a rise in black empowerment in Brazil."
  • Brazilians have always been accepting of all body types and shapes. Currently, people in the country are subscribing to international standards of beauty.
  • Women in Brazil are now going under the knife to get the perfect toned butt, breasts, and tummy.
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Mexico - Culture

Four of the biggest changes happening in the culture of Mexico include an increased tendency to share domestic chores as women get more involved in work outside the home, a fall in the siesta tradition due to company mandated lunch hours, western music becoming more popular than traditional music, and the increasing popularity of processed food that is imported into the country. Detailed information is below.

An Increasing Tendency To Share Domestic Chores

  • In the culture of Mexico, women have been traditionally responsible for home chores. However, this societal norm is shifting as women increasingly get involved in work outside the home.
  • There is an increasing tendency to share domestic chores, such as infant child care, especially among the middle and upper classes. Women in the lower classes are still responsible for work that is traditionally labeled as women's work, though.

A Fall in The Siesta Tradition

  • Although many households and families still come together for a large midday meal, the culture of having a siesta or afternoon nap after the meal has become less common.
  • This is due to people being required to respect company-mandated lunch hours, farm and factory workers working far away from their homes, and long commutes to and from work in cities such as Mexico City.
  • According to Trip Savvy, siestas were common in countries like Mexico because of the afternoon heat that made it unbearable to sit and work in offices. However, modern buildings with air conditioning have reduced the need for a siesta.

Western Music Has Become More Popular Than Traditional Music

  • Music and dance have been important cultural aspects of the Mexican life with traditional music celebrated by many cross-generational people and providing a social glue for regional and national culture.
  • However, traditional music such as mariachi and ono songs have had to compete with western music such as hip-hop which has become more popular in the country.
  • In addition to hip-hop, many Mexicans also enjoy Latin imports such as danzón and cumbia and other music styles including pop and rock music.

Increasing Popularity of Processed Imported Foods

  • The Mexican cuisine has been popular in Mexico for some time. The food varies greatly by region but depends heavily on corn, beans, rice, guacamole, and squash.
  • However, even many Mexicans including the poor ones have started consuming cheaply imported processed foods that have started to contribute to high incidences of diabetes and heart disease among the middle classes and elites.

How Perceptions of Beauty are Changing in Mexico

  • In Mexico, beauty has mostly been defined by the color of one's skin. The belief has been that "fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed people" were beautiful and darker skinned people were not.
  • However, this seems to be changing with more people embracing darker skinned beauty including mainstream media and publications such as Vogue. In December 2018, Vogue México put an indigenous darker-skinned woman, Yalitza Aparicio, on its cover for the first time. This move went viral with many people praising the magazine for the change and showed how perceptions of beauty are changing in the country.
  • The indigenismo movement in Mexico has tried to address beauty as a political force using artists such as Frida Kahlo who have rejected white, colonial beauty standards by painting herself dressed in pre-modern hairstyles and clothes, with visible facial hair.

Research Strategy

To identify four of the biggest changes happening in the culture of Mexico, our first strategy was to find a directly available list with relevant information. This strategy was not successful as no list was forthcoming. Our second strategy was to search reputable reports, news sites, and publications for relevant information. This strategy led us to sources such as Britannica, Document Journal, and NPR, which provided information on the biggest changes. We looked for changes that were labeled as big or significant and found four that we included in our findings.
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17

Russia - Culture

Russia's cultural shifts are occurring primarily among the young, who have largely embraced Western styles and values and are organizing in the attempt to advance the opposition to Putin's government.

Note: It is our understanding, based on the research criteria, that an unusual degree of brevity is desired in this brief. We have therefore endeavored to provide as much information as possible within each bullet point.

Russian Cultural Changes

  • The Russian government, like its predecessor in the USSR, has long attempted to craft the "national idea" from above, both through movies like the "Brat" ("Brother") action films of the late 90s or the state's "official quasi-ideology." However, since 2012, Russia's culture has been increasingly shaped by "ideology from below," spread by YouTube, popular music, and "the work of street artists," which has inspired a new type of "local patriotism: A feeling of belonging not to a sovereign abstraction, but to a specific place that needs to be treated with care, respect and attention," leading to more local care and activism.
  • Despite being noted as an "ultraconservative" outpost, Russia's youth are notably adopting Western fashion and viewpoints, with a BBC report on the trial of a protester noting that his supporters' "dyed hair, trainers and tattoos stood out sharply among prosecutors in high heels and bailiffs in protective vests; as did a young reporter with a Foucault paperback in her string bag."
  • In addition to adopting Western affectations, Russian beauty standards have shifted towards a "healthy" look, focused on minimalistic and naturalistic makeup and "a more natural and organic treatment" that aims at making skin, hair, and nails moist and glowing. A natural look includes the possibility of heavier bodies, "scars, burns and other perceived defects," with the body positivity movement recently gaining traction on social media via the #AllIsFineWithMe hashtag.
  • In contrast to the general "political apathy of the Russian population and its general aversion to political change," the younger generation is far more active in politics, organizing protests, raising money to support "political prisoners" of the Putin government, and even managing to win 17 municipal districts surrounding the Kremlin and very nearly gain control of Moscow's municipal government as well.
  • Likewise, older Russians are less likely to approve of the movement to a capitalist economy (30-36%, trending down as respondents grow older) than those age 18 to 34 (51%). However, this still leaves Russian adults pessimistic about capitalism, with 53% saying that their economic situation has worsened and 62% agreeing with the statement, "It is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists," up from 50% in 2011; whether this will change as the older generations pass away likely depends on the future of the Russian economy.

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South Africa - Culture

The movement against violence towards women, the racial tensions aggravated by social media, the banning of the Apartheid Flag, and the surge in LGBT-targeted violence are cultural shifts happening in South Africa. The following information presents the details about the changes.

South African Women Fight Back

  • As previously reported, gender violence is a massive issue in South Africa; however, women are demanding changes.
  • Although South Africa’s murder rate has declined since 2000, it still has one of the highest murder rates for women in the world. For many years the government has been suppressing or ignoring protests and movements that try to instill changes; nonetheless, women in South Africa have had enough.
  • The murder of 19-year-old Uyienene Mrwetyana by a post office male employee led to protests during the World Economic Forum on Africa. “For the women of South Africa, there is a pervasive sense that the time for empty promises is over. No longer can strong words and political rhetoric satisfy the demands for justice and protection. Women are fighting back.”
  • Thousands of people, including local celebrities, have taken to social media to state their anger and frustrations at the crimes under the hashtags #NotInMyName #AmINext and #SAShutDown.
  • They created a group called “SA Women fight back” and began to share the names of victims and abusers. Some have credited the movement as responsible for ensuring that alleged murderers are denied bail. The group, which only admits women, was created in August and already has over 240,000 members.
  • The movement has generated optimism among analysts as an important step to change violence against women in the country.

Racial Tension and Social Media

  • In 2018 a survey revealed that 64% of black respondents thought race relations improved since 1994, while 20% believe it had gotten worse. Interestingly, 47% of whites and 44% of Indian respondents said race relations became worse since 1994.
  • Comparing to the results in 2001, black people are more likely to say race relations are better now. By contrast, white people are more likely to say it is worse now than they did before. For Indian respondents, the belief that race relations improved fell from 61% to 37% in 2018.
  • Social media has provided an outlet for magnifying the coarsest racial slurs. The South African Institute of Race Relations argues that social media persists as a “key vehicle for racial invective and sometimes for racial threats.”
  • Groups such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and African Nationalist Congress (ANC) were accused of stoking racial tensions. The attack on white farms has deepened the sense of alienation, while right-wing groups have spread the myth of a white genocide abroad.
  • On Facebook pages, such as Stop White Genocide in South Africa, images are regularly posted that show bloodied white victims of crime or attacks on farms. However, between April 2016 and March 2017, 74 people — of all races — were killed on farms in South Africa, compared to more than 19,000 murders nationwide in the same period.
  • BBC analyzed the numbers being shared on social media by right-wing groups and discovered that there are many problems with how the research was conducted and concluded there is a great possibility of extrapolation. Nevertheless, the idea of a white genocide elevated the tension and found support from politicians around the world.
  • Overall, racism on social media has created controversy in the country. Accusations of racism recently overshadowed South Africa's Rugby World Cup campaign. Adam Catzavelos trended on Twitter after saying a Greek beach was “heaven on earth” because there were no black people.
  • White people in South Africa boycotted a restaurant after it sided with a black woman who had a conflict with a white man in the establishment. Six months following the protest, the chain's sales dropped by more than 9 %.
  • In 2018, Vicky Momberg was sentenced to three years in prison after a video of her using racial slurs went viral. It was the first case of someone being sent to jail for using the "k-word" in South Africa.
  • The racial slur she used, the "k-word," was used to humiliate black people during the apartheid years and it is considered the worst racial slur in South Africa as it is a symbol of dehumanization.
  • Velaphi Khumalo was found guilty of hate speech for having called for whites to be ''hacked and killed like Jews''. The court instructed him to apologize to the nation and ordered him to pay the HRC’s legal costs.

The Banning of the Apartheid Flag

  • The South African court recently banned the gratuitous display of the Apartheid flag. In August, Judge Phineas Mojapelo ruled that apart from few exceptions, displaying the flag amounted to hate speech, racial discrimination and harassment under the Equality Act.
  • The case relates to a 2017 protest, led by predominantly white, Afrikaner nationalists groups, against attacks and killings of farmers where the "Apartheid Flag was displayed.
  • After public outrage, the Nelson Mandela Foundation petitioned for an order declaring “gratuitous display” of the flag as hate speech, unfair discrimination and harassment based on race.
  • There is controversy surrounding the ban, as AfriForum, a nonprofit that represents the interests of descendants of white European colonizers in South Africa, opposed the ban citing it impinges on South African’s free speech.
  • The group does discourage displays of the flag but believes the ban will create a precedent, leading to other icons and ideals facing the same treatment. Hours after the ban, Ernst Roets, AfriForum’s Head of Policy, Tweeted a picture of the flag, saying, “Did I just commit hate speech?”
  • He was taken to court by the Nelson Mandela Foundation but found not guilty of hate speech due to a weak case and the court finding that Justice Mojapelo's initial judgment a declaratory one.

LGBTQ Community

  • South Africa has passed laws to protect the LGBTQ community, including legalizing same-sex marriage and complete constitutional protection against discrimination; nonetheless, these laws may be ahead of society.
  • A recent surge in LGBT-targeted violence, corrective rapes and violent crimes has caused outrage in the LGBTQ community.
  • A survey of more than 2,000 LGBTQ people in South Africa unveiled that within a two-year period, 39% had been verbally insulted; 20% had been threatened with harm; 17% chased or followed; and nearly 10% physically attacked.
  • 2018 was accompanied by events like couples being abused and told to undress by the police or a church accused of beating homosexuals and then forcing them to pay for damages.
  • The brutal murder of a lesbian married couple, who were tortured, raped, beaten, and then set alight shocked the country. Discrimination against lesbians is not uncommon in rural areas of South Africa, with some being subjected to “corrective rape.”
  • For refugees, the problem is magnified as they are already dealing with the rise in xenophobic behavior. Since 1998, South Africa has granted asylum to those being persecuted for their sexual orientation; however, the system is flawed and "often fails to protect victims." Legal Resources Centre, a local nonprofit, noted “systemic problems and inefficiencies” in the application process, many of them due to prejudice among officials.

Perception of Beauty

  • Beauty enhancements through medical interventions are a growing trend among women in South Africa, including skin bleaching, long hair extensions and weaves, slender bodies, and buttock augmentations. Young women, in particular, are driving the surge in the “Brazilian butt lifts,” influenced by social media and celebrities.
  • The concept of “good hair” is still present among young women, and many wear weaves that hide their natural hair. One researcher studied the idea of “beautiful” hair amongst young black South African women and found that many young black women do not wear their natural hair as a result of many stereotypes and issues with social acceptability.
  • In South Africa, many black women have embraced the global trend of wearing weaves made from synthetic or natural human hair, which is associated with class and a Western notion of beautiful hair.
  • Skin bleaching is also not uncommon, as “the lighter the complexion, the more attractive a woman is perceived to be.” It is estimated that 35% of South African women use skin lighting products, despite doctors being against it.
  • Ayanda Tshabalala, a KwaZulu-Natal scholar, claims that this a result of issues of race and identity, saying “in spite of strides being made to empower South Africans post-democracy, the country seemed to be regressing when it came to issues of race and identity.
  • Her research showed that young African women are under the impression that men are more attracted to women with lighter skin tones, and concluded that “A lighter skin tone therefore becomes the prestige complexion that men desire.”
  • The desire to achieve a look called “yellow bone”, a slang for light-skinned black men and women, has led to a booming yet illegal trade of skin bleaching products.

Research Strategy

To unveil shifts happening in the culture of South Africa, the research team scoured through multiple articles and studies. Each case was chosen based on the impact on society, according to quantitative studies, think pieces and media coverage.

The women’s movement is growing exponentially and symbolizes that women in South Africa are no longer accepting oppression and violence. Racial relations are also changing, which is illustrated by white South African’s perception, the discussion about free speech and hate crimes, outrage and repercussions for racism behavior on social media, and the Vicky Momberg case, a first for South Africa’s court.

The ban of the Apartheid flag not only showcased a change in what is considered right or wrong but is currently sparking discussion about hate speech and laws. Finally, the surge of violent crimes against LGBTQ may indicate a rejection of the country's progressive laws.
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South Korea - Culture

The biggest shifts happening in South Korean culture are the movement away from K-Beauty and cosmetic surgery standards, a new embrace of luxury and consumerism, changing social norms around the importance of family and shifts in the country's historically aggressive work culture.

Dissolution with K-Beauty & Cosmetic Surgery

  • Until recently, beauty in South Korea has been inextricably linked with the K-pop music culture and cultural pressure to achieve such idealized images of femininity through the use of cosmetic surgery.
  • As a result, South Korea has the highest number of plastic surgery procedures per capita globally (13.5 per 1,000 people), is a major producer and exporter of fillers and botox and is a premier destination for medical tourism in the region.
  • However, global media (e.g., The Telegraph, NPR) and to-tier regional outlets (Nikkei Asian Review) have highlighted a shift in these perceptions of beauty and local attitudes towards the cosmetic surgery industry in South Korea.
  • Specifically, South Koreans are starting to question the prevalence of cosmetic procedures and their association with achieving westernized beauty standards.
  • For example, a rising tide of talent and model agencies have started to discourage models and actors from undergoing cosmetic surgery, and a recent study found that an increasing number of Asian facial surgeries have shifted from achieving western beauty standards to optimizing intrinsic Asian features.
  • This change in social norms is also visible in recent public outcry and activist movements, including a recent peace march in protest of plastic surgery as a form of "cultural violence against women," and a deluge of complaints about cosmetic surgery advertisements in the Seoul Metro.

Shift Towards Luxury

  • In a marked shift away from South Korea's traditional Confucian ideals, the younger generations in South Korea are leading a new movement towards luxury, pleasure and consumerism as a demonstration of status, according to luxury trade CPP Luxury.
  • South Korean newspaper The Korea Herald reported that, for the first time in South Korean history, adults in their 30s have become the primary consumers of luxury brands, representing 32% of all luxury brand dollars.
  • Similarly, the average age for a first vacation in South Korea has shifted to the early 20s for younger generations, as compared with the traditional abstention from such an indulgence until the age of 40 of 50.
  • Moreover, younger South Koreans are leading a related movement towards eating in restaurants, with analysis demonstrating that this younger cohort is between two and three times as likely to "eat out" than older generations.
  • Even in terms of luxury car purchases, South Koreans are increasingly moving away from ascetic ideals towards a focus on enjoyment through the more frequent purchase of these luxury items.

Movement Away from Family Building

Change in Work Culture

  • Partially to combat the decline of families and falling birth rates, South Korea's government is also leading a cultural movement away from more aggressive work schedules, according to The Washington post.
  • Most notably, South Korea recently implemented a new 52-hour workweek in order to change the country's current culture of overwork, according to the World Economic Forum and top-tier outlet, CNN.
  • Beyond the government's efforts to shift standards in work-life-balance, top-tier business outlet Reuters reported that younger generations are also expressing a shift in work preferences by increasingly moving away from traditional, white-collar career path towards alternative options such as international blue-collar jobs or farming.
  • Overall, this ongoing shift in work culture preferences and sentiment of dissolution with historic work practices is reflected in the latest data by the OECD, which revealed that only 55% of South Korean's are satisfied with their jobs, as well as that South Korean's having the shortest job tenure among OECD countries.
  • Consistent with this data, a review of social media sites also highlighted that one of the top ten new year resolutions for South Koreans in 2019 was "quitting jobs."

Research Strategy

Please note, for the purpose of this analysis, the biggest cultural changes happening in South Korea were identified as those trends or cultural shifts that were discussed as top culture change in South Korea by credible resources and/or highlighted as the significant cultural movements within a preponderance of regional, trade and global media.
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Japan - Culture

Four of the biggest changes happening in the culture of Japan include changes in the country's long-hour work culture with younger people expecting a different system and the government introducing work style legislation to cap working hours, a change in role specialization between men and women, and a fall in three-generation household numbers as a result of more Japanese remaining single. Detailed information is below.

Japan's Long-hours Work Culture is Changing

  • In Japan, workers have regularly been overworked, scarring Japanese family life and society. According to the Financial Times, around 20% of companies have employees who work over 80 hours of overtime per month.
  • Many postwar Japanese have grown up hearing that overwork is a necessary ingredient in the nation's economic growth. However, young Japanese are helping to change the long-hours work culture as they have different expectations of the workplace than their forebears, and the labor shortage is helping push the changes in working hours that the labor market previously lacked.
  • The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also moving towards changes in Japan's long-hour work culture by pushing through work style legislation intended to cap working hours, the most significant reforms since the 1947 Labour Standards Act.

Role Specialization Between Men and Women Has Been Changing

  • Role specialization between men and women, which was once widespread in Japan, has gradually been changing. In Japanese society, men traditionally are the breadwinners in the family, while women are in charge of child-rearing, home finances, and caring for the extended family.
  • However, this societal norm is changing with married women increasingly working outside the home, even though they mostly do part-time jobs.
  • In rural areas where agriculture is practiced, women have taken over the running of agricultural operations as many male heads of households have moved away from family farms to work full-time jobs in manufacturing plants.

Western or Westernized music Has Become More Common Than Traditional Japanese Music

  • In many societal settings in Japan, traditional Japanese music has mostly been replaced by Western or Westernized music.
  • The Japanese, especially those born after World War II enjoy modern Jazz, blues, rock, and popular music. Japanese songs have been half-Westernized and are sung to the accompaniment of Western musical instruments, with Karaoke being a popular form of nightlife entertainment.

A Fall in Three Generation Household Numbers

  • The traditional family unit in Japan called Kazoku has always comprised of a father, mother, and children. Traditionally, the family normally lives with their elderly parents.
  • However, this is changing as three-generation household numbers have gone down in favor of more modern family structure arrangements. According to The Washington Post, three-generation households were common not so long ago but the trend is changing as more Japanese are remaining single, while couples are increasingly having fewer, if any, children.
  • In Japan, a quarter of the population is aged 65 and over, and with a fall in three-generation household numbers, there has been an increase in incidents where old people are dying alone. This has led to an increase in the number of companies that clean up after "lonely deaths" in Japan.

How Perceptions of Beauty are Changing in Japan

  • According to Savvy Tokyo, Japan is among countries that have a set of beauty standards considered unhealthy or hard to reach. Being underweight or thin is preferred by Japanese women and generally in Japan. Japan’s Health Ministry and The Japan Association for Eating Disorders found that women aged in their 30s-50s are using extreme measures to be as thin as younger pop icons.
  • However, the country has made strides to be more accepting of plus-sized women with celebrities such as singer and comedienne Naomi Watanabe being embraced and featured on TV and mainstream media platforms such as the cover of The Cut magazine.
  • There is no one standard to female beauty and empowerment, and more Japanese women have started embracing their true selves and being unapologetic about their shapes.

Research Strategy

To identify four of the biggest changes happening in the culture of Japan, our first strategy was to find a pre-compiled list with relevant information. This strategy was not successful as no list was forthcoming. Our second strategy was to search reputable reports, news sites, and publications for relevant information. This strategy led us to sources such as Forbes, Financial Times, and The Washington Post, which provided information on the biggest changes. We looked for changes that were labeled as big or significant and found four that we included in our findings.



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UK - Culture

The decreasing number of Christians, equality in access to business opportunities and education, changes in the fashion industry, high rate of meals bought from commercial eateries, single-parent families, divorce, and same-sex marriages are some of the most significant shifts happening in the UK culture.

Religion

  • The United Kingdom was founded under the Anglican church, and it was the leading denomination. However, with time, the UK is becoming less of a Christian country with a notable decrease in the number of people going to church. Other religions like Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism are gaining large followership.
  • According to COMMISCEO Global, about a third of the UK population are not affiliated to any religion, while 30% are affiliated to the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Church, and 10% are Roman Catholics. According to the publication on Countries and their Cultures, 60% of UK adults don't believe in God.

Family and Marriage

  • Marriage was the standard for many British families in the mid 20th century. However, in the past two decades, single-parent families are on the rise, with couples preferring to cohabit than marry. In the medieval period, divorce was unthinkable, but over the years, it has become acceptable.
  • In the medieval period, premarital sex was unacceptable, and marriage was strictly between the opposite sex. However, this also has changed as premarital sex the and of same-sex marriages are now acceptable.
  • Initially, wedding couples were limited in wedding venues due to a law that restricted their choices. A 2015 report by the Law Commission found the law, which dates back in 1836, as too restrictive and outdated. Therefore, couples would be allowed to marry on military bases, in their homes, or even by the sea.

Social stratification

  • Historically the aristocracy and the upper class were known to have access to education, and they held hereditary titles, privileges, and wealth. The middle class had no social opportunity, and unlikely to access education, but were hardworking.
  • In the past decades, this cultural trend has changed as people from all backgrounds can equally access education and other business opportunities, "which is leveling wealth distribution and allowing for upward mobility. Hence, the middle class and the working class have become more homogeneous, although there is still very much an elite and privileged class in Britain."

Fashion

  • The fashion industry has evolved remarkably over the years. Today's fashion is different from the Victorian era. In the past, fashion was more restrictive and conservative, which is different from today's fashion trend.

British Cuisine

  • In the past centuries, British cuisine comprised mainly locally sourced ingredients, and most families were preparing their meals at home. However, currently, UK citizens are increasingly getting their meals from commercial eateries because they spend more time at work and school and less time at home.

How the Perception of Beauty is Changing

  • Since the rise of the Kardashian family, cosmetic surgery has been on the increase in the UK. One in five UK women has considered cosmetic surgery, and 42% would do it to improve their self-esteem, while 20% to enhance their beauty.
  • Agencies like the Model Agency are promoting body positivity by hiring curvy models and from different ethnic backgrounds. Initially, fairness was considered as the standard of beauty.

Research Strategy

To identify the biggest changes happening in the culture of the UK, we first searched for sources with a pre-compiled list, but after a thorough search, none was forthcoming. We then shifted our approach to search for articles, blogs, and other relevant publications that discussed the UK culture and the changes therein. We were able to find such information from sources like COMMISCEO GLOBAL, Word Atlas, International Student, Countries, and their Culture, Project Britain, Historic UK, and others. We chose cultures that were discussed as having gone through notable changes over time and have been discussed in multiple sources.


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Brazil - Technology

Listed below are three scientific advancements and three technological advancements coming from Brazil. The scientific advancements include the discovery of new species and the development of new agricultural methods, while the technological advancements include the development of advanced warheads and using photons to fight bacteria and viruses.

Brazilian Study Discovers New Species of Silky Anteaters

  • Before 2018, zoologists and biologists have long thought that there was only one type of silky anteater called the Cyclopes didactyla. This anteater is found in tropical forests in Central and South America.
  • A Brazilian group of geneticists, taxonomists, and zoologists have proposed that the silky anteater should be divided into seven distinct species as the slight differences seen in populations in Central and South America are based on actual genetic differences.
  • In their research, they sequenced mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from 287 specimens and found the minute morphological differences are due to differences in their DNA.

Brazil Develops New Missile Capable of Reaching Any South American Country

  • The Armed Forces of Brazil developed long-range missiles that can reach targets 300 kilometers away. This means they can target all South American countries except Chile.
  • These missiles were developed by weapons manufacturer Avibras Aeroespacial.
  • Production and sale of the weapons will be ready by 2021.

EMBRAPA Develops Heat-Resistant Crop Planting Technology

  • Heat affects the planting and growing of lettuce and other crops because it intensifies evapotranspiration. Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) developed planting techniques to combat this problem.
  • The new variety of frizzy lettuce registered as BRS Leila can withstand ten more days of temperatures above 25°C.

Scientists Develop Technology for Sterilizing Organ Transplants

  • University of Sao Paolo researchers found a way to use light to eliminate viruses or bacteria that he donor may carry.
  • This process is known as biophoton therapy and is set to reduce the number of complications that happen after surgery.
  • This research was conducted with scientists from the University of Toronto, where the Brazilians made the technology and the Canadians did clinical tests.

New Risers Technology Developed by Petrobras

Brazil Develops First Genomic Assessment System for Cattle

  • A public-private partnership with EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Association of Girolando Cattle Breeders, CRV Lago, and Zoetis has developed the first genomic assessment system of dairy herds to find genetically superior cows.
  • The system is based on a chip called Clarifide Girolando which contains the genetic information of superior dairy cattle, which producers could use to compare their own cattle with to find great milk-producing cattle.
  • The system is currently on the market and is being sold by Zoetis and CRV Lagoa.


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Mexico - Technology

Some major technological advances emerging from Mexico include therapy for the eradication of HPV, project event horizon telescope, a breakthrough solution to decades old equation, and an innovative smartwatch to improve elderly care.

Therapy For Eradication of HPV

  • In 2019, Eva Ramon Gorales, a Mexican medical doctor, discovered a breakthrough therapy that 100% eradicates Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer.
  • The discovery is as a result of 20 years of research work and the Gorales and her team demonstrated that photodynamic therapy achieves 100% elimination of the virus as well as premalignant cervical cancer lesion.
  • The photodynamic therapy is done using a drug called delta aminolevulinic acid. The drug is applied to the cervix where it is converted to a fluorescence compound that eliminates the virus.

Project Event Horizon Telescope

  • The Project Event Horizon Telescope is a project in which eight Mexican scientists participated and that won the Oscars of Science award in the fundamental physics category.
  • The Project Event Horizon Telescope captured the first image of a supermassive black hole.

Mexican Physicist Solved 2,000 Year Old Problem

  • Rafael G. González-Acuña, a PhD student at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey, has developed an equation "that provides an analytical solution for counteracting spherical aberration, which had been previously formulated back in 1949 as the Wasserman-Wolf problem which stumped scientists for decades."
  • This is seen as a breakthrough for photography lens makers as it could revolutionize how lens are manufactured.
  • It can also improve scientific imaging in devices such as telescopes and microscopes where improved imagery sharpness could lead to other discoveries.

Smart Watch for Ederly Care

  • Emiti, a company based in Mexico, developed a smartwatch that that can take care of the elderly. The innovation was one of those chosen to represent Mexico in CES in 2018.
  • Through "advanced sensors and thanks to the innovation of our Vital Algorithms®, Emiti is able to monitor physical activity, detect falls and even geolocalize its owner."

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Russia - Technology

Over the past two years, major scientific advances emerging from Russia include the discoveries of a new butterfly species and new mineral. Recent major technological developments emerging from the country involved air taxis, new annealing technology, autonomous combine harvesters, and automated trains.

New Butterfly Species

  • In November 2017, entomologists from the St. Petersburg-based Zoological Institute and Moscow State University discovered a new butterfly species in the Caucasus mountains located in southern Russia.
  • The new species was named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus).
  • Similar to humans, the South-Russian blue possesses 46 chromosomes instead of 68 chromosomes that its closest relative possesses.

New Mineral

  • In July 2018, scientists from the Ural Federal University, Novosibirsk State University, and Russian Academy of Science discovered a new mineral in the remains of a meteorite in Siberia.
  • The new mineral was named uakitite.
  • Uakitite has a “yellow and transparent phase with a metallic sheen and is as hard as a diamond.”

Air Taxi

  • In October 2018, Russian startup Bartini and engineers from Moscow-based National University of Science and Technology (MISIS) successfully flight-tested a prototype air taxi.
  • The dimensions of the EVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) air taxi is 5m x 5m, and features “ducted propellers that rotate perpendicular to the vehicle’s body to enable horizontal flight.”
  • The prototype has demonstrated “good maneuverability and stability during repeated tests in open space.”

New Annealing Technology

  • In November 2018, Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom used a new technology developed by researchers at the Kurchatov Institute to apply thermal annealing to the VVER-1000's reactor pressure vessel (RPV).
  • It was the “world’s first annealing of a large-capacity RPV.”
  • The new annealing technology will help extend the service life of the VVER-1000's RPV by 15 years.

Autonomous Combine Harvesters

  • In July 2019, Russia-based agricultural holding company Rusgaro and artificial intelligence firm Cognitive Technologies began a pilot program that involved using autonomous combine harvesters for crop management in the Belgorod region.
  • The technology is expected to “help reduce crop losses while also improving farming efficiency.”
  • During the pilot, a human operator will be present, and the setup of the combine harvesters included “a control system called the Agrodroid, a video camera, a display screen, and connecting cables.”

Automated Train

  • In August 2019, Russian Railways successfully tested a high-speed electric train equipped with an unmanned driving system in Moscow.
  • The test included “using communication technology between the train and the tracks, technical vision tests, train self-regulation, as well as driving in a remote-controlled mode.”
  • The technology used allowed the train to “operate smoothly without human intervention, adhere to timetables, as well as slow down when the train detects any obstacle in the way.”
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South Africa - Technology

Over the past two years, some major scientific advances emerging from South Africa include the discovery of a new ARV treatment protocol, development of a new Doppler device, and launch of the world's largest radio telescope. Recent significant technological developments emerging from the country involved power generation from Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technologies (HFCT) and developing solar-powered energy micro-hubs for rural areas.

Tshwane Khulelwe Project

MeerKAT Telescope

  • Unveiled in July 2018, the MeerKAT is the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope of its kind, i.e., L-Band interferometer.
  • Once completed, the 64-dish radio telescope will be 50 to 100-times more sensitive than any other telescope on the planet.
  • The telescope is being built with the help of consortium comprising 20 participating countries and 100 companies from around the world. Additionally, nearly 75% of all components are sourced locally from South Africa.

AIDS Treatment Breakthrough

  • In July 2019, a breakthrough in the anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy was achieved by a research group from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
  • The ADVANCE study was conducted by the research group to identify and compare the therapeutic efficacy of dolutegravir and efavirenz-based therapy among the diverse African population.
  • The ADVANCE study confirmed dolutegravir therapy to be effective and well-tolerated in people undergoing anti-retroviral therapy in Africa. Additionally, the WHO approved the new drug regimen for the treatment of AIDS in Africa.

Solar Turtle

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

  • The South African government has been supporting the development of the Hydrogen energy generation program (HySA). The project has collaborated with a local municipality to power about 200 rural homes through hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) technology in 2019.
  • The government has identified the HFC technology to provide a clean and reliable source of energy for a nine-point development plan.
  • In 2018, the company installed a first Hydrogen fuel cell system at the Poelano Secondary School in the North West region of South Africa.
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South Korea - Technology

Over the past two years, major scientific advances emerging from South Korea included the developments of a new drug candidate for hair loss, biocompatible and adhesive silk, and plastic bags made with pulp and crab shells. Recent major technological developments emerging from the country involved liquid propulsion technology, 5G mobile networks, and new braking technology.

New Drug Candidate for Hair Loss

  • In November 2017, Yonsei University’s Professor Choi Kang-yeol and his research team developed a biochemical substance named PTD-DBM that can be used to treat hair loss.
  • The new drug candidate is capable of instigating the “growth of new hair follicle, a mammalian skin organ that produces hair, while reducing the side effects of existing hair loss drugs.”
  • During the study, the research team discovered the growth of new hair follicles after applying PTD-DBM on the laboratory mice’s bare skin for 28 days.

Orbital Rocket Powered by Liquid Propulsion Technology

  • In November 2018, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) test-launched an orbital rocket called KSLV-II (Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle II).
  • KSLV-II was the first South Korean orbital launch vehicle to use “liquid propulsion technology, with all of its engines being powered by a Liquid Oxygen/Kerosene combination.”
  • KARI plans to make KSLV-II operational by 2021 and use it to launch the country’s lunar probe program.

Biocompatible and Adhesive Silk

  • In December 2018, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology’s Professor Jenny Lee Hyun-joo and her research team developed a “flexible, silk-like material that is biocompatible and adhesive.”
  • The new material was created by embedding “Calcium ions in silk fibroins to capture water and boost the cohesion force of the material.”
  • Its potential applications include wearable electronics and drug delivery devices that require users to attach the devices to their skin.

5G Mobile Networks

Plastic Bag Made with Pulp and Crab Shells

  • In October 2019, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology created plastics bags with substances from pulp and crab shells.
  • The new plastic bags are “stronger and more durable” than existing bags.
  • While existing bags take centuries to decompose completely, the new bags require only six months.

New Braking Technology

  • In November 2019, Hyundai Mobis developed a “new rear-autonomous emergency braking technology (R-AEB) that prevents the vehicle from colliding with pedestrians or nearby obstacles when parking.”
  • Instead of cameras and ultrasonic sensors, ultra-short-range radar (USRR) was used to develop the new R-AEB technology.
  • USRR allows the vehicle to “respond more quickly and monitor further distances compared with existing ultrasonic sensors.”
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Japan - Technology

Over the past two years, major technological developments emerging from Japan include an artificial intelligence-driven facial recognition system, lithium-ion batteries equipped submarine, new hydrogen gas technology, and flying car. Recent major scientific advances emerging from the country include an artificial intelligence-driven platform capable of decoding thoughts and uncovering of a new dinosaur species.

Decoding Thoughts with Artificial Intelligence-Driven Platform

  • In December 2017, scientists from Kyoto University announced that they have successfully used the artificial intelligence-driven scientific platform BioRxiv to decode thoughts.
  • The scientists utilized deep neural networks to develop a new technique that allowed the platform to “decode more sophisticated hierarchical images, which have multiple layers of color and structure.”
  • BioRxiv works by scanning the brain activity of the subject and then reverse-engineering (decoding) the information to create visualizations of his/her thoughts.

Artificial Intelligence-Driven Facial Recognition System

  • In August 2018, Japan-based NEC unveiled a large-scale facial recognition system that will be used to identify over 300,000 people attending the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.
  • The system is built around an artificial intelligence engine called NeoFace, and the “implementation will involve linking photo data with an IC card to be carried by accredited people.”
  • The authentication process for NEC’s facial recognition system requires only 0.3 seconds to complete.

Submarine Equipped with Lithium-Ion Batteries

  • In October 2018, the Japanese Navy launched a diesel-electric submarine equipped with long-endurance lithium-ion batteries.
  • The technology was developed by Japanese firms Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation, and the addition is designed to give the submarine “an extra acoustic edge during sensitive operations and combat operations.”
  • Japan is the first country to equip lithium-ion batteries in submarines.

Eneco Hybrid HHO Gas

Flying Car

New Dinosaur Species

  • In September 2019, Professor Yoshitsugu Kobayashi from the Hokkaido University Museum and his team of researchers uncovered a new dinosaur species found in Mukawa Town, northern Japan.
  • The new species of duck-billed dinosaur has been named Kamuysaurus japonicus (deity of Japanese dinosaurs).
  • The nearly complete skeleton found during the excavations is the “largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Japan.”
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UK - Technology

Over the past two years, major scientific advances emerging from the UK include the discoveries of the new highest mountain in the UK, site of the biggest meteorite collision in the UK, and new artificial intelligence technology for predicting heart attacks. Recent major technological developments emerging from the country included a self-recharging battery, new technology for spotting hidden weapons, and hypersonic jet engine technology.

New Highest Mountain in the UK

  • In December 2017, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) discovered that Mount Hope in the British Antarctic Territory is 377 meters taller than it was previously recorded, which means that it has overtaken Mount Jackson as the highest peak in the UK.
  • The explorers in the 1930s relied on dog-sleighing teams to record the original height measurements.
  • Cartographers from the BAS used “satellite technology to measure the mountains in the region,” a technique that offers an accuracy of five meters.

Site of Biggest Meteorite Collision in the UK

Self-Recharging Battery

  • In August 2019, UK-based ConFlow Power launched a “low cost, environmentally benign, solid-state battery/generator.”
  • Instead of storing energy like a traditional battery, the self-recharging battery harvests energy by “capturing electrons from the surrounding air.”
  • During the thousands of hours of intensive testing, the device managed to recharge itself no matter how many times it discharged energy.

New Artificial Intelligence Technology for Predicting Heart Attacks

  • In September 2019, scientists from the University of Oxford announced that they have used artificial intelligence to developed a technology capable of identifying people “at high risk of a fatal heart attack at least five years before it strikes.”
  • Machine learning was utilized to develop a new biomarker called the fat radiomic profile (FRP).
  • The FRP can detect signs of future heart attacks such as “inflammation, scarring, and changes” to the perivascular space lining blood vessels.

New Technology for Spotting Hidden Weapons

  • In September 2019, British Transport Police trialed a technology developed by UK-based Thruvision that is capable of safely detecting weapons such as “guns, knives and explosive devices concealed under clothing at distances of up to 30 feet.
  • The technology works by “revealing objects concealed in clothing that block a person’s body heat.”
  • It allows police officers to see the concealed item without revealing any intimate body parts and the “gender, age, or ethnicity from the imagery it produces.”

Hypersonic Jet Engine Technology

  • In October 2019, UK-based Reaction Engines completed a test that proved its Sabre jet engine is capable of handling the intense temperatures created by hypersonic speed.
  • The Sabre’s precooling system can prevent overheating by bringing down the air entering the engine to “minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.”
  • The successful cooling test has paved the way for hypersonic flight, and the precooling system could also be utilized for other applications in the automotive, energy, and aerospace industries.
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Brazil - Economy

Brazil's economic growth rate went down from 7.5% in 2010 to minus 3.6% in 2016, recovering in 2018 with a growth rate of 2.1%. On the bright side, inflation reduced from 8.7% in 2016 to 3.6% in 2018 as the country produced $3.4 trillion worth of goods and services. However, Brazil's currency, the real, has witnessed an unsteady fall, going from R$0.4 to R$0.25 against the US dollar between 2015 and 2019.

The Monetary Situation

Top GDP Contributor

  • From 2007 up to 2017, the services sector has been the most significant economic driver in Brazil.
  • In 2017, the services sector contributed 63.08% of the country's GDP, followed by the industrial and agricultural sectors at 18.35% and 4.63%, respectively, according to Statista.

Recent Economic Shifts in Brazil


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Mexico - Economy

In the last 18 months, the Mexican economy has been subjected to a variety of external and internal challenges. It narrowly avoided entering into a recession in the last quarter. The reliance Mexico places on the US, as the primary destination for exports, means that Mexico is likely to feel the impacts of the slowing American economy soon.

Monetary Situation

  • The Mexican Peso fell to an 18-month low against the US dollar in June 2018. This was due primarily to market uncertainty regarding the outcome of the Mexican Presidential election and ongoing threats by Trump to impose trade tariffs on Mexican goods imported to the US, unless illegal immigration was addressed.
  • Progress in the renegotiation of NAFTA, and the election of left-wing President Obrador, who promised to rein in spending, ensure central bank independence, and support the private sector, contributed to the recovery of the peso at the end of 2018.
  • Global trade tensions and ongoing uncertainty over the NAFTA renegotiation have contributed to a lower than expected peso in 2019. Obrador's failure to implement reforms to boost productivity and attract investment meant Mexico only narrowly avoided recession in the first half of 2019. This has contributed to a slightly more volatile market than expected.
  • This volatility is expected to continue over the next year with the peso is expected to fluctuate in the $18.80 to $21 USD region. It currently sits around $19.66 USD.

Biggest Economic Driver

  • In the 1960s, manufacturing was at the center of the Mexican economy. The country had completed the transformation from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Since then, the service industry has assumed an increasingly dominant position in the Mexican market.
  • Now the service industry contributes approximately 62.7% of Mexico's GDP, making it the biggest industry in the country. 61% of the Mexican labor force is employed in the service industry,
  • While the Mexican economy is relatively strong (based on GDP), issues like corruption, a huge informal market, drug cartels, and inequality need to be addressed if it is to realize its maximum potential.

Obrador's Impact on the Economy

  • Several poor decisions by Obrador, including an $8 billion oil refinery that no foreign oil company could build, a high-speed train through the Yucatan Peninsula, and the cancellation of the partially completed $13 billion Mexico City airport, along with ongoing interference in the high profile energy reform, have shaken foreign investor confidence.
  • These behaviors have slowed foreign investment in the Mexican economy. Concern reached a fever pitch when Minster of Finance, Urzúa, resigned in July 2019, raising impractical economic policies as a contributing factor. This has slowed the Mexican economy and contributed to it nearly falling into recession over the last few months.
  • Obrador has also made statements to the effect redistribution of wealth remains a priority over economic growth, which is not something investors want to hear, especially when coupled with his ongoing statements regarding systemic gang violence, corruption, and economic inequality.
  • These actions contributed to Mexico almost entering a recession last quarter and economic forecasts for the year being reduced to a no-growth position.

Mexico's Reliance on US Trade

  • The threat of trade tariffs last year, and the failure to finalize the renegotiation of the NAFTA contributed to the slowing of the Mexican economy. 80% of exports from Mexico are sent to the US. While recently, this has been positive given Mexico's slowing economy, the slowing of the American manufacturing industry could result in issues for Mexico in the immediate future.
  • Mexico's reliance on trade with the US, has the potential to pull them into a full recession in the upcoming months. There is a recognition from Mexico that they need to look beyond the US for trade in the future.

The Budget and Fiscal Responsibility

  • Obrador plans to increase social spending, tax cuts, and invest in infrastructure without increasing debt. The jury is still out as to whether he can achieve this. If the savings plan is not sufficient to cover the increased welfare and new infrastructure, Mexican assets will come under pressure in the new year, and Mexico may be faced with a rating downgrade.
  • With the budget due in the next few weeks, the key question will be whether the government will rein in spending if the costs can not be met. Questions are being asked about plans to decrease unemployment, improve senior citizen housing, and new infrastructure, especially given debt yields, are already spiking. Government pay cuts have been signaled as sources of funds.
  • Speculation is rife, and with the budget due to be delivered, questions will continue to cast doubt over the economy until the current administration has illustrated they can be fiscally responsible. The budget will likely determine whether the economy recovers over the next quarter.

Research Strategy

We initially reviewed a range of media stories, financial market information, political opinion articles, and personal blogs to determine the current state of the economy in Mexico. We considered the events of the last year and evaluated how they had affected the monetary situation and economy drivers. Having identified the current state of the economy, we considered any recent changes or divides that may have impacted on it.
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Russia - Economy

Russia has the seventh-largest economy in the world with a restrictive monetary policy that helps to stabilize the country's economy, GDP, and currency value. The largest industry of the country is the machinery building representing 30% of the economy. The recent economic changes in the country have been the increase in exports of oil and gas, new budgetary rules, focus on decreasing foreign debt, and its effort to shift their reserves from foreign currency to gold reserves.

Monetary Situation

  • Russia has the seventh largest economy in the world with a monetary situation based on a restrictive policy, which has kept its economy stable with inflation between 4%-5% every year, their key interest rate high at 7%, and high growth rates of 1%-to2% per year.
  • While the Russian rouble suffered a strong devaluation between 2014 and 2015, due to financial and economic sanctions set on the country, since 2018, Russia has presented a constant increase in GDP, which has favorably affected the value of its currency, making it more stable.
  • Additionally, in 2019, the levels of foreign exchange reserves of the country reached USD$530 billion, an increase of 50% from 2015, thanks to a new budget rule that removes the dependency on gas revenues and oil prices.

Industry

  • The leading industry in Russian's economy is the machinery building industry, representing almost 30% of Russia's economy.
  • The other major industries of the country are the chemical and petrochemical, fuel and energy, metallurgical complex, and agro-industrial.
  • According to the International Monetary Fund, the country's GDP was USD$4.2 trillion in 2018, and its GDP per capita USD$29,032.
  • Based on their GDP share, the country's largest sector is Services with 62.3%, followed by the Industry sector with 32.4%, and finally, the Agriculture sector with 4.7%.

Economic Changes and Divides

  • In the past two years, Russia has been increasing its exports of oil and gas, and its government has been receiving more revenues and reducing expenditures, which has positively impacted its GDP, increasing it by 7%.
  • The country introduced a new budget rule that removes the dependency on gas revenues and oil prices, which has helped the country improve the levels of fiscal buffers and foreign exchange reserves, which reached USD$530 billion in 2019.
  • In the last years, Russia has been focusing on reducing foreign debt in the public and private sectors, which are now completely covered by the country's foreign reserves, and on shifting from reserves of US dollars, Chinese currency, and euros to reserves of gold, strengthening its economy by increasing its National Wellbeing Fund to USD$120 billion, its GDP by 7%, and making the country's economy more resilient.
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South Africa - Economy

In recent months and years, the South African economy has stood out within global markets for both the strength of its currency against the US dollar, as well as the weakness of is GDP growth rates and general economic situation. However, the economy in South Africa remains fairly diversified, with the finance industry representing the biggest economic driver for the nation.

Monetary Situation

Biggest Industry

  • The South African economy is fairly diversified, with finance representing its largest contributor to GDP (20%), followed by the government (18%), trade (15%) and manufacturing (13%).
  • Meanwhile, the mining industry showed the largest improvement in terms of GDP for the second quarter of 2019 (14.4%), the industry was followed by strong growth in finance (4.1%), trade (3.9%) and the government (3.4%).

Recent Economic Changes

  • South Africa's economy is in a state of tremendous stress, with little to no recent economic growth, tax revenue that consistently misses forecasts, national debt levels that are setting records in the country's post-apartheid era and the poor performance of state-owned enterprises.
  • Most notably, as of September of 2019, South Africa's economy entered its 70th month of a "downward cycle," with GDP rates in the country failing to exceed 2% since 2013.
  • However, South Africa recently surprised the larger international community with a strong 3.1% GDP growth rate for the second quarter of 2019, although the World Bank and global markets remain cautious.
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South Korea - Economy

South Korea's currency, the won, has been very unstable in 2019, was somewhat stable in 2018, and was very unstable in 2017. Electronics is likely South Korea's largest industry (explained in the Research Strategy section below). Recent economic changes in the South Korean economy include failed stimulus efforts, lowered GDP growth forecasts, and weak domestic spending.

South Korea's Monetary Situation, Leading Industry, & Economic Changes

1. Monetary Stability 2019

  • Despite starting 2019 stable, the South Korean won has been very unstable between April 2019 to the present (November 2019), as it experienced two significant declines in value and two periods of rising value.
  • From January through March 2019, the won hovered around the 1,120 won-per-dollar level. For reference, the won is considered strong when the won-per-dollar rate is below 1,100 (approximately). Also, the higher the won-per-dollar rate, the lower the won's value.
  • The two main periods of decline that ensued in 2019 occurred between April through mid May 2019 (dropped in value from about 1,133 to about 1,194 won per dollar in that time frame) and late June through early August 2019 (declined from about 1,153 to about 1,217 won per dollar in that span).
  • In June 2019, the Nikkei Asian Review published an article stating that "[t]he South Korean won has fallen to its lowest levels in nearly two and a half years [January 2017]."
  • The two main periods of the won's rising value in 2019 transpired from late May through late June 2019 (increased in value from about 1,194 to about 1,153 won per dollar in that time frame) and early October to the present (mid November) during which time it increased in value from about 1,204 to about 1,154 won per dollar.

2. Monetary Stability 2017-2018

  • Throughout 2017, the won was largely unstable, but that was a good thing because it's value significantly increased during the year (increasing in value from about 1,210 to about 1,070 won per dollar by year's end).
  • The won was relatively stable and strong in value during the first half of 2018 (hovering around the 1,075 won-per-dollar level), became sharply unstable for a brief period in mid 2018 (dropping in value from about 1,075 to about 1,125 won per dollar), and then was relatively stable through the end of 2018.

3. Top Industry

  • From our extensive research, electronics appears to be the largest industry in South Korea.
  • Among all countries, "South Korea is the fourth largest electronics producer."
  • In 2017, South Korea's economic output from electronics totaled $140.2 billion (USD).
  • Electronics accounted for 30.5% of South Korea's 2018 exports.
  • Samsung Electronics alone accounted for 14.6% of South Korea's GDP in 2017.
  • LG Electronics accounted for 3.8% of South Korea's GDP in 2017.
  • Within the South Korean electronics industry, consumer electronics accounts for approximately 67.3% of the market.

4. Economic Changes

  • South Korea's Finance Minister, Hong Nam-ki, recently said that the massive stimulus efforts that the South Korean government had previously enacted didn't fuel manufacturing job growth nor private spending. Specifically, he stated: "We have expected fiscal spending to play the supporting role in adding vitality to the private sector. However, it is not working well with limited spillover effects, making us worried."
  • In November 2019, the Korea Development Institute (the think tank run by South Korea) announced that it had lowered the country's growth forecasts pertaining to the remainder of 2019 and for 2020. The original growth forecast for 2019 was 2.4%, but it slashed that to 2.0%. The original growth forecast for 2020 was 2.5%, but it dropped that to 2.3% (for reference, South Korea's economy grew by 2.7% in 2018).
  • In late October 2019, it was reported that economic growth in South Korea "slowed more than expected in the third quarter." Furthermore, domestic spending has been struggling and continues to do so.

Research Strategy

The one data point we didn't find expressly stated in any of the many sources we reviewed throughout our research was which industry accounts for the largest share of South Korea's GDP. We looked for that information in three different ways. First, we reviewed databases such as Trading Economics and Statista, which publish a variety of GDP breakdowns. However, no comprehensive, industry-specific breakdown for South Korea was included therein. Rather, the data either applied to GDP values overall or provided some, but not all, of the industries. Second, we reviewed an array of articles published about South Korea's largest industries from sources such as Pulse. The article we found from Pulse was the most-applicable article we found, as it included relevant findings that enabled us to extrapolate the largest industry in the country. Third, we reviewed market research reports published by sources such as Goldstein Research, which provided additional, relevant insights about top industries in the country, which we combined with information we previously compiled from other sources. Through that approach, electronics appeared to likely be the largest industry in South Korea.

To find information about the current and recent stability of South Korea's currency, we used a combination of an article (published by Nikkei Asian Review) and the database source Trading Economics. Both those sources provided quantitative data showing the fluctuating stability levels for the South Korean won. The Trading Economics database provides very granular-level data about the won's value. Lastly, the information we found about recent economic changes within the country came from articles published by sources such as the Financial Times.
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Japan - Economy

Japan has one of the most stable currencies in the world and the second most developed economy. The biggest industries are manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism, and the largest sector, based on it's GDP distribution, is services. In the future, its economy will see changes in inflation and the workforce thanks to the recent plans to attract foreign workers.

Monetary Situation

  • While Japan's economy has been affected in the past years by low levels of consumer price inflation and a dented economic growth, they have the second most developed economy in the world, the third-largest based on nominal GDP, and the 4th largest based on PPP.
  • The country's currency is the yen, and due to its high stability, it is the third most traded one in the market of currency exchange. It also has one of the most secure prints and is very difficult to counterfeit.
  • Due to the high liquidity of its currency, the monetary situation has been stable in the past years, despite any economic changes.

Industry

  • Japan has an innovative economy, and the largest industry of electronic goods and patent filings of the world.
  • Based on the information provided by the International Monetary Fund, Japan's nominal GDP is $5.18 trillion, and its GDP per capita is $39,286.
  • Manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture/fishing are the largest industries in the country.
  • Based on their GDP share, the largest sector is Services with 71.4%, followed by Industry with 27.5%, and then Agriculture with 1.2%.
  • The country's economic growth is being led by consumption and private investments.

Recent Economic Changes and Economic Divides

  • Since Japan’s economy relies on the Services sector, one of the recent changes is to create more flexibility for working foreign immigrants. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is proposing to bring 345,150 foreigner workers from the shipbuilding, agriculture, lodging, and construction industries, who will be allowed to stay in the country for five years. This will help Japan's workforce, which has affected by the country's declining population.
  • Japan's inflation is expected to rise in 2020, following the Bank of Japan's targets and recent tax changes.
  • Additionally, Japan is working on eliminating its tradition of lifetime employment, which will impact the economy by increasing the employment of younger individuals with skills and competitiveness with other world economies.
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UK - Economy

Economic growth in the United Kingdom has been slowing since 2014 and the pound has depreciated substantially post the Brexit referendum (June 2016). A spate of recent corporate insolvencies, low foreign investments, a dip in the household savings rate, bleak manufacturing investment and profit warning forecasts, and the highest job-loss acceleration in almost a decade will make the Brexit tougher than expected for the United Kingdom.

Monetary Stability

  • The pound was trading at nearly $1.5 before the Brexit vote in June 2016 but remained volatile until recently owing to Brexit uncertainty. When Borris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, the pound was (once again) at its post-Brexit lows of around $1.22. It stayed range-bound until October when the pound rose from $1.22 levels on expectations of a Brexit deal getting finalized and peaked at around $1.29 the day (October 17, 2019) Mr. Johnson agreed on a Brexit deal with the EU.

The Largest Industry

  • The "distribution, transport, hotels and restaurants" industry (17.4%) is the largest component of the UK's GVA, followed by real estate (13.6%), and production industries (13.4%).

Overview of the Economy

  • The economic growth in the United Kingdom slowed from its "post-crisis peak of 2.9% in 2014 to 1.8% in 2017" and 1.4% in 2018. Though UK's economy grew at an overall rate of 1.4% in 2018, the "Flat White Economy"--the digital and creative services economy combined-- grew at over three times the rate (4.6%), although slightly slower than in 2017 (6.8%). In 2018, the "Flat White Economy" made up 14.4% of GVA and almost half (47%) of GVA growth.
  • The impact of Brexit uncertainty (post the referendum) on the economic GDP growth is estimated to be 1%. Although the UK had a relatively bad year in 2017, in the last seven quarters (leading to November 2019) the UK (2.2%) has grown at a faster rate than the eurozone (2%). However, consumption came at the cost of a healthy savings rate and foreign direct investment dropped substantially.
  • Corporate insolvencies over the last quarter--the highest since 2013, with construction and retail being most affected--profit warnings by companies, a bleak outlook of manufacturing investments over the next year, and the highest rate of job-loss acceleration since 2010 have raised greater concerns on the impact of Brexit. Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is expected to sacrifice 6.4% of national income over the next 10 years.
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Brazil - Executive Summary

In the political space, there is widespread polarization among right and left-wing supporters in Brazil, despite the country introducing some notable policy reforms. The country's environment has witnessed significant environmental concerns and disasters such as water & air pollution, forest fires, and others. Furthermore, while there is increased inclusion for Afro-Brazilian citizens, the country's economy is slowly recovering from its significant decline between 2010 and 2016.

Summary of Politics in Brazil

  • In the country's last elections, over 57 million Brazilians voted for the far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro; however, a survey by XP Investimentos showed that about 36% of people in the country currently consider the government to be terrible and weak.
  • There is widespread political polarization between the left and right-wing supporters in Brazil. In a survey, about 30% of Brazilian citizens refuse to talk to someone who supports an opposite political view, while 65% of respondents noted that the country's current president, "Jair Bolsonaro's rhetoric was affecting Brazil's and the government."
  • The most discussed policy changes in Brazil are the new reforms about pro-gun laws, the pension system, taxation system, economic & trade reforms, pro-business reforms, and criminal laws.
  • Recently in November 2019, Brazil's lower house approved the bill for firearms ownership with suggested changes.

Summary of Brazil's Environment

  • Environmental concerns most significantly reported by the Brazilian media include plastic waste, air pollution, deforestation, and water pollution. Air pollution is hampering the growth of trees in Brazil, as well as increasing the country's death rate by 14% in the past decade, according to a report by Brazil's Ministry of Health in 2019.
  • In October 2019, Brazil witnessed a mysterious oil spill, which polluted the country's water around its Northeast. Brazil's Ministry of Environment reported that more than 132 beaches across 61 municipalities in nine states were affected.
  • For natural disasters, those recently reported the most in Brazil are flood & landslide, the Amazon forest fire, and the dam collapse. In 2019, forest fires in Brazil grew by more than 80%.
  • Dam collapse in Brazil, which occurred in 2019, reportedly killed 60 people, while about 300 people got missing as the dam collapsed.

Summary of Culture Changes in Brazil

  • Within the past few years, Brazil witnessed significant culture shifts in areas such as marriage, gender roles, the class system, ethnic relations, and politics. Women's rights in Brazil has increased; in 2015, Brazil's presidency "launched a zero-tolerance policy towards violence against women and girls," introducing harsher sentences for domestic violence, discrimination, and others of up to 12-30 years.
  • The Afro-Brazilian Feminist movement started growing recently, due to their continued fight for inclusion. As a result, the population of Afro-Brazilians, which is about 54% of the country's entire population, now witnesses reduced discrimination.
  • In Brazil, religious marriages are dropping, and Brazilians have long had the culture of marrying at a young age. However, this concept is changing significantly in the country's contemporary society, as young Brazilians now prefer to complete college and become financially secure before considering marriage.

Summary of Technological Advances in Brazil

  • There are reportedly three technological and scientific advancements from Brazil, respectively. Such scientific advancements include the development of new agricultural methods and the discovery of new species, while Brazil's recent technological advancements include the creation of advanced warheads and using photons to combat viruses and bacteria.
  • Working in a group, Brazilian geneticists, zoologists, and taxonomists proposed the division of the silky anteater into seven distinct species, against the long-held belief that only one type of silky anteater existed. After sequencing nuclear DNA and mitochondrial from 287 specimens, they discovered that the minute morphological differences were as a result of differences in their DNA.
  • In the technological sector, Brazil's Armed Forces successfully developed long-range missiles, which could target up to 300 kilometers away, meaning the country now has indigenous weapons in its arsenal to target most South American nations. Also, the country plans to produce and sell these missiles from 2021.

Summary of Brazil's Economy

Research Strategy:

We started by examining all the previous research done on Brazil, including politics, environment, culture, technology, and economy. Next, we reviewed information in each one, as well as the sources used to develop the reports, respectively. Then, as requested, we provided a summary of each of the previous research on Brazil into this one-page report.
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Mexico - Executive Summary

A summary of highlights from Mexico's politics, environmental concerns, culture, technology advances, and economy are provided below.

Politics

  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected president of Mexico in 2018 primarily based on his promises to fight corruption, improve education, raise salaries, improve personal safety, and build a stronger infrastructure. Since Obrador also promised not to raise taxes for three years, services have been cut and the economy has slowed.
  • Immigration is a hot button topic in Mexico as Obrador has agreed to many of the demands made by the U.S. President, Donald Trump, including accepting the return of 40,000 Mexicans from the U.S. and deploying the national guard to help with containment at the border. Critics have stated that the current policies have the potential to leave thousands of dangerous immigrants at the border and in detention centers.
  • A new May 2019 law has given workers the right to join unions and prohibits employers from interfering with workers' rights. This policy is important for Mexico on the international stage as it shows the country is making progress on workers' rights.
  • Crime and violence have continued to escalate under Obrador, much of it drug related. Although Obrador promised that the military approach to dealing with violence would change, the military has still been deployed but have been ordered to be non-confrontational.
  • Obrador wants to change how drug violations are dealt with as the current policy leads to bad health outcomes and ongoing violence. New proposals include adopting new security strategies and changing the penal system.

Environment

  • Climate change is one of the top environmental concerns of Mexican citizens. The areas most prone to the impacts of climate change are the Yucatán peninsula, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas, due to their proximity to oceans.
  • Drought is a major concern, and in 2019 about 70% of the lime crops in Mexico were thrown out due to poor quality.
  • Only nine of the first 133 days in Mexico in 2019 where the air quality in Mexico City was deemed "clean." Air quality in the city has been declining over the past few years.
  • The large population of 22 million, as well as crumbling infrastructure, are contributing to a water supply shortage in Mexico City. If nothing is done to fix the problem, it is estimated that Mexico City's natural water reserves could run out in 30 years.
  • Wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes are all natural disasters that have caused serious damage in Mexico. There were over 2,500 wildfires in the first four months of 2019; tropical storm Fernand made landfall in Mexico in September 2019; and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Mexican city of Oaxaca in February 2018.

Culture

  • One way the culture in Mexico is changing is an increase in the sharing of domestic chores. This is mainly being seen for the middle and upper class populations, with women still handling most of the chores in poorer families. This change is being driven by the fact that more women are entering the workforce.
  • Western music is becoming more popular in Mexico, while traditional music, such as mariachi and ono, is still being passed down from generation to generation. Hip-hop, rock, and pop are the genres that are gaining ground in Mexico.
  • Although traditional Mexican food is still a big part of the Mexican diet, cheaply imported processed foods are being consumed in larger quantities and are contributing to health problems.
  • For many years, beauty in Mexico was defined by skin color, with fairer skin being considered beautiful, while darker skin was not. This is changing, and in 2018, Vogue Mexico debuted a cover with a dark skinned actress. This reflected the move to appreciate indigenous beauty, and the cover went viral.

Technology

  • In 2019, Eva Ramon Gorales, a Mexican medical doctor, discovered a breakthrough therapy that 100% eradicates Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer. The breakthrough was the result of over 20 years of research and utilizes photodynamic therapy.
  •  The Project Event Horizon Telescope is a project in which eight Mexican scientists participated, and that won the Oscars of Science award in the fundamental physics category. The project won for being the first to capture a photo of a black hole.
  • Rafael G. González-Acuña, a PhD student at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey, found a solution for the problem of spherical aberration when manufacturing camera lenses. The formula he developed may revolutionize how lenses are manufactured.
  • Emiti, a company based in Mexico, developed a smartwatch that can take care of the elderly. The innovation was one of those chosen to represent Mexico in CES in 2018. The device can detect falls, abnormal cardiac rhythms, and has an emergency button to call for help.

Economy

  • The Peso has not been very stable over the past couple of years due to trade tensions, the renegotiation of NAFTA, the election of President Obrador, and tariff uncertainty. The peso dropped against the dollar in mid 2018 and then recovered in late 2018. In the first half of 2019, the value dropped again, and the currency is expected to remain volatile going forward.
  • The service industry contributes approximately 62.7% of Mexico's GDP, making it the biggest industry in the country. Sixty one percent of the Mexican labor force is employed in the service industry. While the Mexican economy is relatively strong (based on GDP), issues like corruption, a huge informal market, drug cartels, and inequality need to be addressed if it is to realize its maximum potential.
  • President Obrador has made several decisions that have not been viewed positively by foreign investors, and this has resulted in slowing foreign investment. Some decisions that have not been welcomed are an $8 billion oil refinery that no foreign oil company could build, a high-speed train through the Yucatan Peninsula, and the cancellation of the partially completed $13 billion Mexico City airport.
  • Mexico's over-reliance on the U.S. as a trade partner is seen as a negative for the country. In order to improve their financial outlook, the country will need to expand its trade partners and diversify from its reliance on the U.S.
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Russia - Executive Summary

While Russia's political climate is in a transformation phase with an increase in political activity and the slow rise of opposition, the country's economy has been on a stable path since 2018. Russia's culture is increasingly getting impressed by western culture, especially when it comes to Russia's youth.

Politics

Economy

  • Russia has the seventh-largest economy in the world, with a restrictive monetary policy that keeps the economy stable with "inflation between 4%-5% every year." Since 2018, Russia has exhibited a constant increase in GDP, which has positively altered the value of its currency. Also, in 2019, the foreign exchange reserves levels reached $530 billion (an increase of 50% from 2015).
  • The Russian economy is led by the "machinery-building" industry, which represents 30% of the total economy. Other major industries are chemical and petrochemical, fuel and energy, metallurgical complex, and agricultural industry. The country's GDP was $4.2 trillion in 2018, with the "services" sector being the largest shareholder in the GDP.
  • Russia has been increasing its exports of oil and gas, which has resulted in increased revenues and reduced expenses. Its new budget rule to remove dependency on gas revenues and oil prices has helped improve the levels of fiscal buffers and foreign exchange reserves. Russia's prime focus last year was to reduce its foreign debt in the public and private sectors.

Technology

  • Air taxis, new annealing technology, autonomous combine harvesters, and automated trains are some technological advanced made by Russia in the last two years. Air Taxi is developed by Russian startup Bartini. Engineers from Moscow-based MISIS successfully tested its prototype in 2018.
  • Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom used a new technology developed by researchers at Kurchatov Institute to "apply thermal annealing to the VVER-1000's reactor pressure vessel (RPV)." This was the "world’s first annealing of a large-capacity RPV" and will extend the life of VVER-1000's by 15 years.
  • Automated trains and automated combine harvesters were also developed in Russia in 2019. The pilot for automated combine harvesters was initiated in July 2019 by Russia-based agricultural holding company Rusgaro and artificial intelligence firm Cognitive Technologies. Automated trains were successfully tested by Russian Railways in August 2019.
  • A new butterfly species named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus) and a new mineral named "uakitite" were major scientific highlights of Russia in the last two years.

Culture

Environment


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South Africa - Executive Summary

The majority of South Africans today are unhappy with their government amid gender-based violence and xenophobia, but the country is making cultural strides as policy changes and protests address these and other issues, such as discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Although the country has shown weak economic conditions in recent years, it has boasted several technological advancements, including those focused on improving healthcare and renewable energy.

Politics

  • The political atmosphere in South Africa indicates that South Africans are not happy with their government due to the high rate of unemployment, crime rates, drug-related violence, among other vices. According to one source, some leaders are manufacturing an atmosphere of crisis in the country, and a majority of South Africans (64%) are not satisfied with the current state of their democracy.
  • South Africa has strong anti-immigrant sentiments, deeply rooted in the South African society in a sophisticated manner and often mixed across social, economic, and political lines. For over two decades, South Africa's 58 million inhabitants have "been grappling with xenophobia." The regions most associated with anti-immigrant sentiments include Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, and Northwest.

Environment

  • Deforestation, including unregulated harvesting of timber, bark, and poles in the Eastern Cape forests is destroying indigenous forests, with Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany on the east coast of Southern Africa and the Succulent Karoo of South Africa especially impacted.
  • Floods and droughts both represent potential natural disasters, with flash floods causing damage in 2019 all over the country, and 37.44% of rural communities in South Africa currently affected by drought.

Culture

  • South African women have begun demanding change as reaction the massive issues with gender violence, after years of the government suppressing or ignoring protests and movements related to the issue. Participants have taken to social media with the hashtags #NotInMyName #AmINext and #SAShutDown to demand protection.
  • Racial tension is part of daily life in South Africa, with social media providing an outlet for magnifying the coarsest racial slurs. Groups such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and African Nationalist Congress (ANC) are also accused of stoking racial tensions.
  • The LGBTQ community in South Africa has gained traction, with the recent legalizing of same-sex marriage and constitutional protection against discrimination. However, a recent surge in LGBT-targeted violence, corrective rapes and violent crimes has caused outrage in the LGBTQ community.

Technology

  • One key tech advancement coming from South Africa is via the Tshwane Khulelwe Project. They developed the Umbiflow, a portable doppler device that can assist healthcare providers in detecting the risk of stillbirths by screening fetuses. The project aims to reduce maternal mortality; it has received funding from the WHO and is being expanded to countries like Rwanda, India, Ghana, and Kenya.
  • The MeerKAT telescope, the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope of its kind, was unveiled in July 2018. The 64-dish radio telescope is 50- to 100-times more sensitive than any other telescope on the planet.
  • In July 2019, a major breakthrough was made in AIDS treatment. The advance in anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy was achieved by a research group from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and later approved by the World Health Organization.
  • Technology in renewable energy has also been advanced by company Solar Turtle, which has developed an innovative technology that offers a renewable source of energy to micro-entrepreneurs working in rural settings. The project uses a renewable energy hub in a container that generates energy through solar panels in the day and securely locks solar panels during the night.

Economy

  • The South African economy has stood out within global markets for the strength of its currency against the US dollar. However, the strength of South Africa's currency somewhat reflects a return to stability after its "very low base" level due to the Nenegate crisis in 2015.
  • South Africa has shown weak GDP growth rates and general economic situation in recent years. As of Septe<