UN climate talks a ‘lost opportunity’, says Guterres

UN climate talks a ‘lost opportunity’, says Guterres
Chile’s Minister of Environment and COP25 president Carolina Schmidt (C) attends the closing plenary session of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 at the ‘IFEMA — Feria de Madrid’ exhibition center, in Madrid, on Dec. 15, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2019

UN climate talks a ‘lost opportunity’, says Guterres

UN climate talks a ‘lost opportunity’, says Guterres
  • Compromises were squeezed from countries over global warming battle plan but fell well short of what science says is needed to tackle emergency
  • The lack of a strong outcome to reinforce the Paris accord raises the stakes for the next big climate summit

MADRID: A major climate summit wrapped up in Madrid Sunday with a compromise deal that left little to show, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lament a “lost opportunity” to act.
Almost a fortnight of COP25 talks just squeezed out hard-earned compromises from countries over a global warming battle plan that fell well short of what science says is needed to tackle the climate crisis.
“I am disappointed with the results of COP25,” Guterres said. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”
The summit’s final declaration “expresses the urgent need” for new carbon cutting commitments to close the gap between current emissions and the Paris treaty goal of capping temperature at below two degrees, host country Spain said.
“Today, the citizens of the world are asking for us to move ahead faster and better,” Carolina Schmidt, Chilean environment minister and President of COP25, told the closing plenary.
But Tina Eonemto Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, denounced the response as inadequate for facing an existential threat of rising sea levels.
“Unfortunately, the new text we adopted this morning does not reflect anything near what we would have wanted. It is the bare minimum and we regret that countries could not agree on a more ambitious text,” Stege said.
Green youth activist Greta Thunberg — named 2019 Person of the Year by Time magazine — on Friday slammed world leaders for “still trying to run away from their responsibilities” while demanding a “year of action” in 2020.
Following a year of deadly extreme weather and weekly protests by millions of young people, Madrid negotiators were under pressure to send a clear signal that governments were willing to double down.
The summit — moved at the last minute from Chile due to unrest — at times teetered on the brink of collapse as rich polluters, emerging powerhouses and climate-vulnerable nations groped for common ground in the face of competing national interests.
“Based on the adopted text, there is a glimmer of hope that the heart of the Paris Agreement is still beating,” Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift, said.
“But its pulse is very weak.”
Negotiators from nearly 200 nations came to Spain’s capital with the aim of finalizing the rulebook for the 2015 Paris accord, which enjoins nations to limit global temperature to below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
With the accord set to become operational next year, it had been hoped COP 25 would show the world that governments would be moved by protests, irrefutable science, and deadly storms and wildfires that marked 2019 to redouble their efforts.
But greater ambition — how far each country is willing to slash carbon emissions or assist less wealthy peers to do likewise — has largely failed to materialize, leaving some veteran observers aghast.
“Never have I seen such a disconnect between what the science requires and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a 28-year veteran of the climate process.
“Most of the world’s biggest emitting countries are missing in action and resisting calls to raise their ambition.”
The push for strengthening voluntary carbon cutting plans is led by small-island and least-developed states, along with the European Union.
These have called out nations they see as blocking consensus — notably the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
China and India, the world’s No. 1 and No. 4 carbon emitters, made it clear they see no need to improve on their current emissions reduction plans, which run to 2030.
These emerging giants chose instead to emphasize the historical responsibility of rich nations to lead the way and provide financing to poor countries.
“Major players who needed to deliver in Madrid did not live up to expectations,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and, as France’s top negotiator, a main architect of the Paris Agreement.
“But thanks to a progressive alliance of small island states, European, African and Latin American countries, we obtained the best possible outcome, against the will of big polluters.”
The summit was also meant to finalize a chapter on carbon markets in the Paris rulebook.
Instead, the focus now switches to next year’s COP 26 in Glasgow, when the true Paris deadline falls.
The US, which is leaving the Paris deal next year, was accused of playing spoiler on a number of issues.
This included so-called “loss and damage” funding to help disaster-hit countries repair and rebuild.
“The US has not come here in good faith,” said Harjeet Singh, climate lead with charity ActionAid.
“They continue to block the world’s efforts to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by climate change.”
Even if all countries implement their current plans under Paris, Earth is on course to warm more than 3C by 2100.


Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
Updated 52 min 39 sec ago

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
  • Police have not yet confirmed the incident

ABUJA: Kidnappers have abducted schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, the state governor’s spokesman said on Friday, the second such kidnapping in little over a week.

It was not clear how many children had been seized.

Zailani Bappa, a spokesman for Zamfara’s state governor, said he saw reports of the attack on social media and checked with a police official who told him there had been abductions at a school in the state. He was unable to provide further details.

A police spokesman for the state did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.

A surge in armed militancy in the northwest has led to a breakdown of security in the north of Africa’s most populous country.

Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.

Hundreds of people have been killed in northern Nigeria by criminal gangs carrying out robberies and kidnappings. The country is also struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies in the northeast and communal violence over grazing rights in central states.

President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid worsening violence, with the armed forces fighting to reclaim northeastern towns overrun by insurgents.


Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
Updated 26 February 2021

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
  • Incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally.

MOSCOW: A Boeing 777 airliner on Friday made an emergency landing in Moscow with engine problems, the operating airline said, days after another model rained down engine debris over the United States.
State-owned Rossiya airline said the crew had registered the “incorrect operation of the engine control sensor” on a cargo flight from Hong Kong to Madrid and that they “decided to make an emergency landing in Moscow.”
Online flight trackers confirmed the flight was carried out with a Boeing 777.
The airline said the unscheduled landing went ahead without incident and that no one was injured.
The aircraft will continue its onward journey to Madrid after a delay of several hours, it added.
The incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally resulting from the engine of a United Airlines plane catching fire and scattering debris over a suburb of Denver, Colorado.
It was not immediately clear whether the Boeing 777 that made the emergency landing in Moscow on Friday was equipped with the same engine that shed parts over Colorado last week.
The United Flight engine failure was a fresh blow for the beleaguered US aviation giant that was forced to ground another fleet of planes after a series of deadly crashes.


Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
Updated 26 February 2021

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
  • People age 60 and older and health care workers are among currently prioritized to receive vaccines
  • The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

HONG KONG: Hong Kong began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public Friday, kicking off its program that will eventually offer free vaccinations to all 7.5 million residents.
People age 60 and older and health care workers are among the some 2.4 million people currently prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong. The government said registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.
Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.
A poll published in January by the University of Hong Kong found that a majority of respondents in the city concerned about the Chinese vaccine’s efficacy.
“I don’t think I’ll get the vaccine for the time being. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach,” said Ken Cheung, a Hong Kong resident.
“I would like to see if others experience any side-effects after the injection. I’ll only consider the vaccine only when I’m sure that it has a high efficacy rate and no side-effect.”
Billy Au, a resident in his 60s, had no such concerns and was inoculated on Friday
“I’m never hesitant to receive the vaccination because I believe that there are many people in China who have received Chinese vaccines. I don’t see why I shouldn’t take it,” he said.
A panel of Hong Kong experts said the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine after two doses, 21 days apart, was 62.3 percent. In contrast, a study in Israel found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 92 percent effectiveness.
Hong Kong has since struck deals to buy a total of 22.5 million doses of vaccines, with 7.5 million shots each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to the city.
The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The first million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been slated to arrive Thursday but was delayed by export procedures, the government said in a statement.
“The latest scheduled arrival date is tomorrow, so we hope that the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong as scheduled,” Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s civil service minister, said at a news briefing Friday.
He said such a short delay was unlikely to impact the vaccination rollout.
Another 200,000 vaccination slots will be open for booking Monday next week, Nip said.


Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
Updated 26 February 2021

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces disperse anti-coup protesters
  • Confrontation underscores rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals
YANGON: Security forces in Myanmar’s largest city on Friday fired warning shots and beat truncheons against their shields while moving to disperse more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters.
The demonstrators had gathered in front of a popular shopping mall in Yangon, holding placards and chanting slogans denouncing the Feb. 1 coup even as the security presence increased and a water-cannon truck was brought to the area.
When around 50 riot police moved against the protesters, warning shots could be heard, and at least one demonstrator was held by officers. Security forces chased the protesters off the main road and continued to pursue them in the nearby lanes, as some ducked into houses to hide.
The confrontation underscored the rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals who toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.
On Thursday, supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government, using slingshots, iron rods and knives to injure several of them. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.
The violence erupted as hundreds marched in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defense Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.
Late Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of riot police who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.
No pro-military rally appeared to be scheduled for Friday.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, anti-coup protesters also took to the streets Friday. They included a contingent of Buddhist nuns holding placards that read “We Immediately Need Action by Force from US Army.” Other demonstrators carried signs reading “Free our leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” “Pray for Myanmar,” and “Reject Military Coup.”
By midday, security forces had blocked the main road in downtown Mandalay to prevent the protesters from gathering.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since the coup. Around 50 of her supporters held a prayer Friday opposite her home in Yangon. The rambling mansion on University Avenue is where she spent many years under house arrest during previous military governments, and the residence has long had iconic status among her supporters.
“Because of the situation, on this day of the full moon we are sending love to, and reciting Buddha’s teachings for Mother Suu, President U Win Myint and all those unlawfully detained,” said Hmuu Sitt yan Naing, who joined the prayer group.
It is believed Suu Kyi is currently being detained in the capital Naypyitaw. She is due to face a court on Monday on charges brought against her by the military junta that are widely seen as politically motivated.
Several Western countries have imposed or threatened sanctions against Myanmar’s military. On Thursday, Britain announced further measures against members of the ruling junta for “overseeing human rights violations since the coup.”
Amid the international outrage, Facebook also announced Thursday it would ban all accounts linked to the military as well as ads from military-controlled companies.

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
Updated 26 February 2021

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing

Indian coast guard rescues 81 Rohingya on drifting boat, 8 dead, one missing
  • The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat

NEW DELHI/DHAKA: India’s coast guard found 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat crammed with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea, an Indian foreign ministry official said on Friday, adding the survivors would not be allowed to enter Indian territory.
Another refugee was missing, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday, giving news of the rescue.
The United Nations refugee agency had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat, which had set off on Feb. 11 from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where refugee camps have been established for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled neighboring Myanmar.
After four days at sea the boat’s engine failed, and those on board had run out of food and water, Srivastava said. Many were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration by the time they were rescued.
Two Indian coast guard ships were sent to help the refugees, 23 of whom were children, and the Indian government is in discussions with Bangladesh to ensure their safe return, he said.
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. It does not have a domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a deadly crackdown by security forces in Myanmar in 2017.
“Bangladesh is respectful of its international obligations under the UNCLOS (The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
On earlier occasions when other littoral countries of the region repeatedly denied access to the Rohingyas adrift on the sea, it was the Bangladesh that came to the rescue, the ministry added.
The statement said the boat had been traced approximately 1,700 km away from Bangladesh and 147 km from India.
“Other states, particularly those on whose territorial water the vessel has been found, bear the primary responsibility and they should fulfil their obligation under international law and burden-sharing principle,” the ministry said.