Thursday. 18/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Alexis Self

Forward thinking

It’s been a tough couple of years for optimistic soothsayers. In January, forbidden from congregating with family or friends, a vast proportion of the world’s population welcomed 2021 timorously from their houses and apartments. But as we near the start of 2022, the creation of a vaccine in record time offers a timely reminder of human resourcefulness under pressure. It is these qualities that offer hope in the face of our species’ next, greater challenge: climate change.

The Forecast – Monocle’s annual compendium of places, people and trends to watch out for in the year ahead – includes a list of 10 innovative companies that are solving problems related to the climate crisis, such as the world’s first carbon-negative clothing label and the number one food-sharing app. A year ago, as cities’ populations fell, excitable commentators wrote up their obituaries. These eulogies, as old as time itself, were found to be premature. Urban centres are flourishing once again, though people are perhaps more discerning than they were before the pandemic. For those considering a change, our Small Cities Index provides a rundown of esoteric settlements with a lot going for them – why not try Bolzano (pictured) on for size?

Speaking of which, those regions that are often neglected due to their distance from financial centres are experiencing a reflux of talent. In southern Italy, remote working and improved infrastructure have caused a reverse brain-drain, bringing home young people who are reinvigorating an ancient land. Our report from the Mezzogiorno features interviews and profiles of some of these exciting entrepreneurs alongside beautiful photography.

There are also intriguing pieces on Parisian hoteliers, Scottish cashmere mills and the future of weather forecasting. Under the circumstances of last January it might have been considered folly to try to predict the year ahead. Thankfully, 2021 is ending on a far more positive note. We hope you enjoy reading our annual forecast as much as we did putting it together.

‘The Forecast’ is available to have, hold and pore over, from all good newsagents. You can also purchase it here.

Image: Christopher Wise

Retail / UK

Shopping spree

Will Selfridges in London be the next acquisition by Thailand’s Central Group? The family-run business, which owns 60 department stores in its home country, has been buying and restoring high-end European emporiums including Rinascente in Italy, Kaufhaus des Westens in Germany, Illum in Denmark and Globus in Switzerland. Selfridges, founded in 1909, was unofficially mooted for sale for a reported £4bn (€4.7bn) by the Canadian Weston family earlier this year. This week, there was speculation that Central Group was preparing a bid – something hinted at in Monocle’s The Forecast, which includes an interview with the group’s CEO, Tos Chirathivat (pictured). Asked if he had a favourite department store, Chirathivat said, “Le Bon Marché in Paris is really beautiful. And Selfridges has done a very good job with its energy and excitement.” As a rare department store retailer to achieve success in a number of countries, Central Group will no doubt serve fans of Selfridges well if it adds the London institution to its stable.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Armenia & Azerbaijan

Support network

Deadly clashes at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border this week, one year after the last conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, ended in a Russia-mediated ceasefire for the second time. Each side accused the other of initiating the fighting, which was the most intense since November 2020. There are strong geopolitical interests in the region that risk a spillover – but it is notable that Russia responded with mediation rather than answering a call from Armenia for military support.

Meanwhile, nearby Turkey is a longstanding ally of Azerbaijan; its victory in last year’s war, which saw Baku regain swathes of territory, was due in no small part to Turkish military assistance. “What’s happened since 2020 is that regional powers now decide outcomes – Russia and Turkey in particular,” Laurence Broers, associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Moscow’s role in brokering the latest ceasefire will only increase its leverage.

For more from Yerevan on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Philippines

Family lines

A group of senior Filipino figures filed a petition yesterday to disqualify front runner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr from next year’s election, citing a past conviction for tax evasion. His dictator father ruled the Philippines for more than 20 years; Marcos has also announced that the daughter of the incumbent Rodrigo Duterte will be his running mate, cementing a powerful alliance between the families. The pointedly named Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law told the election commission that Marcos’s conviction from the 1990s should bar him from running. “Public officials who violate the internal revenue code are perpetually disqualified from holding any public office,” said former congressman Satur Ocampo. Marcos tweeted that the challenge is “without merit and has no legal basis”. Other candidates hoping to succeed Duterte in next year’s election – former boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, centrist Manila mayor Isko Moreno and current vice-president Leni Robredo – will be keeping a close eye on progress.

Read our essay on the Filipino election – and more predictions for 2022 – in ‘The Forecast’, which is out today.

Image: Getty Images

Automotive / Germany

Powering up

Earlier this month Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess, in a speech to workers at its headquarters in Wolfsburg, warned that Europe’s largest car-maker had to compete better against Tesla; the American rival is even challenging Germany’s manufacturers in its own backyard with a new giga-factory in Berlin. Now VW is stepping up its game. Elke Temme, who has been in charge of its European charging and energy division since January, told the news agency Reuters this week that her staff will be doubled next year to 300 as part of an effort by VW to boost its power infrastructure. The move makes sense: while VW has committed to spending €110bn on electric vehicles by 2030 – more than any other manufacturer – it currently ranks well behind Tesla in charging stations. And as anyone who has bought an EV in the past year knows, the mobility revolution is only as good as the number of charging stations you can find along your route.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Cop26: Design and the environment

We hear about what Cop26 means for the built environment and look at Audi’s transition to a green future. Plus: should the fashion industry’s environmental targets be more ambitious?

Film / Kenya

Nairobi: building better cities

Kenya’s Karura Forest offers not only respite from the bustling capital but also a sense of pride for its citizens.

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