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Money 20/20 Europe – how far have we come?

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Money 20/20 Europe – how far have we come?

Paul Butterworth, Trustonic

The event has just finished, so a good time to think about the progress we’ve made as an industry over the last year.

It was all change for Money 20/20 Europe this year, with a move from Copenhagen to Amsterdam. Both cities are great, so there’s parity in that respect, but how did the two shows differ? I think the venue and layout is much better in Amsterdam, particularly for the expanded roster of exhibitors. The food was better, too, and so were the parties! Although there is a certain irony in that, at one of the world’s biggest payments events, I barely spent a cent.

But let’s get a little more serious and think about the progress we’ve made as an industry over the last year. To try and bring some structure, I’ve rummaged out my blog from last year’s event in Copenhagen. Let’s compare.

  • From payments to banking. Last year, one of my key takeaways was the need for more value in the various ‘Pays’ to drive adoption. I still think they need to solve the engagement angle to make me want to use them and, as someone who has been pushing the mobile wallet story for a decade now, this is rather disappointing. I think we can all agree that mobile wallets have not yet delivered on their considerable hype, but the dialogue shifted this year with PSD2’s focus on banking. PSD2 has not just shone a light on how the fintechs are trying to add value to consumers, it has reignited the discussion about how we protect data and authenticate users. This is reflected in several of the discussions that I had on the floor of the show, with many banks seeking to raise their game to protect themselves and their customers.
  • Invisible, seamless, frictionless [insert synonym here] payments. How many times did you see or hear those words at the show? As with last year, there is still a huge drive to push the ‘payment’ into the background to give users a better experience (definitely not to encourage them to spend more..!). While the retailers weren’t really out in force at the show, there was a lot of discussion around the vision for next gen commerce, whether that’s online with initiatives like 3DS 2.0, Secure Remote Commerce or tokenization, or in-store with Amazon Go and scan-and-go payments. Payment simplification is leading to decreased dropout rates, while better authentication of both users and transactions is going to be central to adoption.
  • PIN on glass/mobile. One year on from Copenhagen and the concept of PIN on mobile is more common parlance than snazzy concept. With specs from PCI published in February and vendor announcements following, it seems there is now genuine movement. There are still some challenges to be solved though, and not just technically speaking. Culturally, there will be behavioral hurdles to overcome. Would you be comfortable tapping your PIN into a slightly battered smartphone when you pay for your sandwich? I’m not sure that I would be just yet. It is going to be very interesting to see how quickly people get comfortable with PIN on mobile. There is no point having a technology if the public reject it. We, as an industry, must carefully consider the education process here. Solutions must be ready for prime time before they are released into the wild as, if there are a few high-profile compromises, the concept could be done for before it gets started. Hardware-backed security on devices will be key; trusted execution environment (TEE) technology can both protect the data on the device and the user’s interaction with it. We look forward to working on this in more detail in the coming months. So keep an eye on the blog, as I’m sure we will have more to say!
  • IoT, AI, ML. It’s buzzword bingo time again…! Once more there was a big focus on IoT and automation, but it was great to see the narrative progress from PoCs and theory to how it can be implemented securely, sustainable and, importantly, responsibly. Of course, the uses of AI and ML are many and wide ranging, but it seems many companies were treating it less like a silver bullet and more like a technology that can play a significant role if sprinkled in the right areas.
  • Blockchain is still a thing! Of course it is, but this year I think it actually warrants talking about. Events like this have been banging on about the chain for years, but this year it felt real. In previous years, I’d go to presentations and see demos and come away feeling a little dirty. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors and people were guarded about the nuts and bolts. This year we were seeing actual solutions that bring value. People were not just talking about the blockchain, but rather the specific use of it for the benefit of a use case / implementation / customer etc. And, what was doubly interesting, was the protection of it. Increasingly, the industry is happy with the distributed model, but is more cognizant of how to protect the value and satellite services. Progress indeed!

So, a big ‘dank je’ from to everyone that came to see us! It was a very productive show. But what were your highlights?

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EU recovery funds for telcom networks must help competition – Vestager

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EU recovery funds for telcom networks must help competition - Vestager 1

MILAN (Reuters) – European Union countries presenting plans to speed-up rollout of high-speed telecoms network should comply with rules aimed at protecting competition, the EU Antitrust head said on Tuesday.

The comments come as member states gear up to present projects eligible for the EU’s 750-billion-euro Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) – a fifth of which will go on plans to boost digital capabilities.

“Member States should ensure that the measures will be implemented in accordance with all applicable rules, including State aid and public procurement rules,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in reply to a question by an EU lawmaker.

Stéphanie Yon-Courtin asked Vestager if Brussels had put in place a mechanism to ensure RRF resources would not be used to distort competition in the telecoms industry, claiming the funds should not strengthen the position of dominant operators.

“The Commission encourages member states to include in their recovery and resilience plans investments and reforms aimed… at the fast rollout of very high capacity networks”, Vestager said.

Yon-Courtin also raised concern over a plan drafted by Italy last year aimed at merging network assets of former phone monopoly Telecom Italia with state-backed rival Open Fiber in a company that could be eligible for Recovery funds.

Under that plan, still to be finalised, Rome would create a single-unified network champion to speed up fiber-optic rollout across the country while avoiding a duplication of investment.

“The Commission will continue its vigorous enforcement of the existing EU rules, including the antitrust and merger rules, where applicable, to ensure effective competition in the telecoms market to the benefit of businesses and consumers.”

Italy’s new government, led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, has not said yet if it intends to implement the unified network project of its predecessor.

One of Draghi’s main tasks will be to redraft Italy’s Recovery Fund plan.

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Stephen Jewkes, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Mining magnets: Arctic island finds green power can be a curse

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Mining magnets: Arctic island finds green power can be a curse 2

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Eric Onstad

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – In the tenth century, Erik the Red, a Viking from Iceland, was so impressed with the vegetation on another Arctic island he had found he called it “the green land.” Today, it’s Greenland’s rocks that are attracting outsiders – superpowers riding a green revolution.

The world’s biggest island has huge resources of metals known as ‘rare earths,’ used to create compact, super-strong magnets which help power equipment such as wind turbines, electric vehicles, combat aircraft and weapons systems.

The metals are abundant globally, but processing them is difficult and dirty – so much so that the United States, which used to dominate production, surrendered that position to China about 20 years ago.

As Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers recede, two Australia-based mining companies – one seeking funding in the United States, the other part-owned by a Chinese state-backed firm – are racing for approval to dig into what the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calls the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth metals.

The contest underscores the polluting side of clean energy, as well as how hard it is for the West to break free of China in production of a vital resource. Rare earth metals have many uses, and last year China produced about 90% of them, according to Toronto-based consultancy Adamas Intelligence. As U.S.-China tensions mount, President Joe Biden’s administration said last month it will review key U.S. supplies, including rare earths, to ensure other countries cannot weaponise them against the United States.

Each Greenland mine would cost about $500 million to develop, the companies say. Both plan to send mined material away for final processing, an activity that is heavily concentrated in China. The only rare earth mine now operating in the United States – Mountain Pass in California – is partly owned by a Chinese state-backed company that currently sends material mined in the U.S. to China for processing.

The Greenland sites are less than 16 km (10 miles) from each other at the southern tip of the island, near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Debate on them has triggered a political crisis in the capital of Nuuk, forcing a general election on the island of 56,000, due in April. Many Greenlanders, while concerned about pollution, feel mining is key to develop their fragile economy. In a 2013 poll, just over half said they want raw materials to become the country’s main source of income.

The country may ultimately back either project, both, or neither, but for those Greenlanders open to mining, the two proposals boil down to a choice between one mine that would not produce radioactive material, and another that would.

The first mine, a private initiative from an Australian geologist who has presented it to U.S. officials, would not involve nuclear material. It has won preliminary environmental approval, but it needs cash and a processing plan.

The second one has already spent more than $100 million preparing to mine, has proven processing technology through its Chinese partner, and won initial political support from Greenland’s coalition government. But its plans include exporting uranium, a nuclear fuel, and it recently ran into strong opposition, including from residents of the nearby town of Narsaq.

“As indigenous people we have lived in harmony with nature for many, many years,” said Mariane Paviasen, an opposition lawmaker who lives in the town. “We use these lands to hunt and fish.”

Greenland, a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, has a gross domestic product of around $3 billion – similar to Andorra and Burundi. With its people living mostly on fishing and grants from Copenhagen, its government is keen to attract foreign investments.

It does not have an estimate for royalties from the first project, but expects around 1.5 billion Danish crowns ($245 million) each year from the Chinese-linked one – equivalent to roughly 15% of public spending.

Greenland’s government did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Acting Minister of Resources Vittus Qujaukitsoq said last month that if Greenlanders suddenly decide they don’t want the second project, “we’ll make a fool of investors. The credibility of the whole country is at stake.”

STRATEGIC RESOURCES

Greenland’s rare earth metals are also a chance for America and Europe to regain control of a strategic resource.

The island’s potential as a source of the raw materials needed for renewable energy technologies gained momentum in 2010, when China threatened to cut off its supply of rare earth metals to Japan, and tightened quotas to international buyers.

Prices for some of the metals have jumped in recent months, driven by surging demand for electric vehicles as well as concerns that Beijing may restrict sales.

Greenland’s position near the eastern flank of the United States makes it a sensitive location. Former U.S. President Donald Trump offered to buy the island in 2019, and he was not the first U.S. president to do so: In 1946 Harry S. Truman offered Denmark $100 million for it. A defence treaty between Denmark and the United States dating back to 1951 gives the U.S. military almost unlimited rights there, and Greenland houses the northernmost U.S. military base.

Friedbert Pflüger, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, says the revenues generated by a major mine could give its owner leverage over policies in Greenland, and a strong Chinese presence there may pose strategic threats.

“The very presence of Chinese companies in Greenland could be used as justification for China to intervene,” said Pflüger, a former German politician and ex-deputy defence minister.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that such comments politicise economic and trade issues through “groundless speculation,” adding “China has always supported Chinese companies to carry out foreign economic cooperation in accordance with market principles and international rules.”

The U.S. State Department said: “We encourage our allies and partners to carefully review any investments… that could give China access to critical infrastructure in ways that compromise their security or allow China to exert undue, adverse influence over their domestic economies.”

Denmark, which handles foreign affairs and defence for Greenland, has in the past headed off Chinese involvement in infrastructure projects, which government sources say was because of security concerns. Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod declined to comment on the security implications of China’s involvement. But he told Reuters that Copenhagen’s close ties with the United States “should not be seen as an obstacle to commercial investments in Greenland.”

China is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so it can import uranium from Greenland. But since the fuel is used in nuclear weapons, that would be sensitive. Copenhagen, which has the final say, declined to comment.

TRUMP’S OFFER

Trump’s offer for Greenland aimed to help address Chinese dominance of rare earth supplies. Those involved say he was partly following up on talks between U.S. officials and a privately held company called Tanbreez Mining Greenland A/S. Tanbreez is the owner of the first Greenland site – Kringlerne, or Killavaat Alannguat in Greenlandic.

The company’s owner, Australian geologist Greg Barnes, told Reuters he had met U.S. officials weeks before Trump made the offer, and the company website shows Barnes with them and the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark on a site visit. The USGS confirmed its officials had visited the site in 2019; Washington and a representative for the former president declined to comment.

Barnes said he had put A$50 million ($38.6 million) of his own cash into the Greenland project. New York-based investment banker Christopher Messina, managing director at capital markets advisory services firm Mannahatta Partners, is trying to assemble more financing. He says Kringlerne is “such a huge deposit that what comes out of it could satisfy manufacturing demands in the U.S. for years to come.”

Whether or not that pans out, Barnes says the metals produced by his project can be processed outside China, although he has not yet decided where, and declined to say at what cost.

He said the royalties it would generate for Greenland would be roughly the same as those promised by the China-linked plan. “We’ve managed to get our capital costs down without Chinese technology,” Barnes told Reuters.

The only major plant outside China that does the complex work of separating individual rare earth elements is in Malaysia. But others – including the Mountain Pass mine in the United States – are planning or have started to build such facilities.

“For the foreseeable future, China is going to be the major player in all of these supply chains simply because it’s so far advanced and because it’s not stopping and waiting for alternatives to catch up,” said Ryan Castilloux, head of Adamas.

Tanbreez says half the rare earth metals it mines would be lanthanum and cerium – relatively plentiful metals used in telescope lenses and auto catalysts to cut emissions. About a fifth would be yttrium, which is in demand for lasers and the superconductors used in quantum computing.

Neither of the Greenland projects would be pollution-free. Both plan for mined rock to be locally crushed and separated into concentrates to send for final processing.

Tanbreez’s mining waste will be piped to a lake which, while it does not contain fish, feeds a river with a large population of Arctic char. Turbid water could impact the char, according to the company’s environmental report, which says it plans to dump some 550 tonnes a day of waste material into the lake and will dam it to prevent disruption downstream.

Tanbreez’s plan has passed the public consultations stage and received a government permit in September. Now the company is working on parliament approval.

“CRITICAL PERIOD”

Both the Greenland projects, though run from Australia, are part of a European Union initiative, the European Raw Materials Alliance, to boost Europe’s output of critical minerals and cut dependence on China for rare earth metals..

The alliance, funded by the EU, is coordinating investment and providing seed money for European mines, processing plants and industries such as magnets.

Last year, the EU kick-started 10 billion euros ($12 billion) of investment into rare earth and other green-energy-related projects, and it says its demand for rare earth metals could surge as much as tenfold by 2050. It says China currently makes up 98% of its supply.

“This is a very critical period of time,” says the Alliance’s head, Bernd Schäfer. “We in Europe are facing raw materials scarcity on many levels and also the need for action.”

The rival mountaintop site not far from Tanbreez is called Kvanefjeld, or Kuannersuit in Greenlandic. For John Mair, managing director of its owner, Greenland Minerals Ltd, it’s a world-class opportunity at the right moment.

Kvanefjeld’s main offer is neodymium, needed for wind turbines. Brussels says the EU’s demand for the metal may reach 13,000 tonnes per year by 2050, three times more than it used in 2015. Neodymium is also used in combat aircraft.

Greenland Minerals is a listed firm in which Chinese company Shenghe Resources is the biggest shareholder, with just under 10%. Shenghe, which also has a similar size stake in Mountain Pass, declined to comment for this story.

Greenland Minerals, which bought its concession from Barnes, says its planned mine will, at least initially, send minerals it produces to China for final processing. It says it plans to find a site in Europe, but has not said when.

The company has a strong hand. Back in 2011, the estimated costs for setting up Kvanefjeld were $2.3 billion. By 2019, these shrank to $505 million, the company says: Shenghe, whose biggest shareholder is a state-run Chinese mineral research institute, has helped boost efficiency.

But Greenland Minerals faces public opposition. It is one step behind Tanbreez in the environmental vetting process – and its ores include significant amounts of radioactive materials.

When Greenland Minerals embarked on public consultations this year, protests erupted. At one meeting in Narsaq on Feb. 10, locals both inside and outside the hall banged windows and played loud music to disrupt presentations.

As opposition mounted, a small pro-mining party, Demokraatit, triggered a general election by pulling out of Greenland’s coalition in early February.

Polls suggest Greenland’s main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), which has a zero-tolerance policy for uranium, will become the biggest in parliament, so would be first to try to form a new coalition.

“Our aim,” IA lawmaker and Narsaq resident Paviasen told Reuters, “is to halt the (Kvanefjeld) mining project.” But IA says it has not expressed opposition to Tanbreez, which is seen as less of a threat to the environment.

Kvanefjeld would dump much more waste than Tanbreez – about 8,500 tonnes each day – into a lake on top of the mountain, the Greenland Minerals plan says.

Greenland Minerals says any increase in background radiation from its Kvanefjeld mine will be minimal. It plans to build a concrete 45-meter dam to contain the radioactive waste and to spray water on the ground to keep the dust from blowing away.

The dam will be built to international standards to “withstand even the worst imaginable seismic activity,” it said in a report submitted to Greenland’s government last year.

Even so, residents say they worry contaminated water will seep into nearby rivers or that the dam will fail entirely. They cite the collapse of a mining dam in Brazil two years ago that killed 270 people.

As the crisis has deepened, Greenland Minerals’ shares have dropped by more than 50%. If the mine goes ahead, Paviasen says, many people plan to move away.

(Corrects 10th paragraph to delete China as destination for uranium exports)

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen and Eric Onstad in London; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Tom Daly; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

 

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‘Turning point’: Cities urged to act on lessons learned in pandemic

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'Turning point': Cities urged to act on lessons learned in pandemic 3

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From better hygiene to greater awareness of inequality and recognition of “essential workers”, lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic could be harnessed to improve city life for years to come, city leaders and others said this week.

The health crisis has gutted urban economies, emptied offices and public transport and shuttered communal spaces, but it might mark a watershed as cities seek to get back on their feet, the annual CityLab global summit heard.

“One of the big headlines coming out of the pandemic is that the things we thought were impossible before are actually possible and really absolutely necessary,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the three-day event, this year held virtually.

COVID-19 has laid bare “a lot of the economic fault lines around race, around class, gender and inequalities that people believed were intractable – too big to actually solve,” Lightfoot said.

In the United States, the pandemic’s economic effects have taken a far heavier toll on Black and Hispanic families, while federal data from December showed women have been disproportionately affected by job losses.

“The crises we face have made clear the inequity and injustice that persist,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told the event. “We want our cities and countries to thrive, not just survive.”

There are hopeful signs, several participants said.

The pandemic creates an opening to tackle issues exposed over the past year, such as the financial struggles of low-paid workers and their lack of social protection, said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“Now we all see that some of the work that was least visible to us is actually essential – to our safety, health and our well-being,” Poo said.

She noted advances made amid the pandemic for domestic workers, most of whom are women and from minorities, including a new “bill of rights” in Philadelphia and a push in Chicago to ensure fair wages, time off and safe workplaces.

Such opportunities are not limited to rich countries, said Reuben Abraham, chief executive of the IDFC Foundation and IDFC Institute in Mumbai, suggesting the pandemic could be a “turning point” for cities in the developing world.

“Is there a way for us to embed the good behaviours that we’ve learned during COVID?” he said, noting the possibility of addressing “crowding” in cities through land use management, zoning and the provision of affordable housing.

Diseases such as cholera and typhoid have dropped substantially in Mumbai due to COVID-related hygiene practices such as hand-washing, Abraham said, while the wearing of face masks has had a significant effect on tuberculosis.

“(The pandemic) has been a disaster for all of us,” he said. “But if we do the right thing now, net-net we end up with a positive outcome.”

(Reporting by Carey L. Biron @clbtea; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

 

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