BRICS club pursues strength in unity and numbers with ‘historic’ expansion plan

Special BRICS club pursues strength in unity and numbers with ‘historic’ expansion plan
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Leaders and senior officials of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa meet in Johannesburg on the final day of the 15th BRICS summit on August 24, 2023. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)
Special BRICS club pursues strength in unity and numbers with ‘historic’ expansion plan
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Leaders and senior officials of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa meet in Johannesburg on the final day of the 15th BRICS summit on August 24, 2023. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)
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Updated 25 August 2023
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BRICS club pursues strength in unity and numbers with ‘historic’ expansion plan

BRICS club pursues strength in unity and numbers with ‘historic’ expansion plan
  • Invitations for Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE came on the final day of the 15th BRICS summit
  • The Kingdom, which already enjoys strong relations with individual BRICS nations, is yet to decide on membership

JOHANNESBURG: The eagerly anticipated expansion of BRICS began on Thursday after existing members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa agreed to formally invite Saudi Arabia and five other emerging economies to join the bloc. 

“We have consensus on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday, the final day of the 15th annual BRICS summit, which was held in Johannesburg.

“We have decided to invite the Argentine Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to become full members of BRICS.

“We have tasked our foreign ministers to further develop the BRICS country model and a list of prospective partner countries and report by the next summit.”

Saudi Arabia, which already enjoys strong diplomatic and trade relations with individual BRICS nations, is yet to make a decision on whether to join the bloc.

 

 

A previous expansion of BRICS took place in 2010, during Brazil’s presidency of the summit, when South Africa was invited to join what was then known as BRIC.

Day three of the BRICS summit began on Thursday with a media briefing during which the heads of state of the five member nations announced the outcomes of the summit and the membership expansion plan.

“This summit reaffirmed the importance of BRICS people-to-people exchanges and enhancing mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation,” said Ramaphosa.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, said: “Our diversity strengthens the fight for a new international order.




Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the summit as China's Xi Jinping listens.  (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)

“Now the gross domestic product of BRICS is going up to 37 percent of the world’s GDP in terms of purchasing power and 46 percent in terms of world population.

“The relevance of BRICS is confirmed by the growing interest that other countries demonstrate to join our group.”

The group will remain open to requests from other potential members to join, and the criteria for doing so will be defined, he added.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “On the 15th anniversary of BRICS we have taken an important decision to expand it. I’m confident that together with these countries, we will be able to infuse new momentum and new energy into our cooperation.”




South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomes India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the meeting on August 24 as Russian FM Sergei Lavrov looks on.   (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)

The first BRICS summit took place in June 2009. This year’s gathering also marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the BRICS Business Council.

Xi Jinping, the president of China, said that the future is bright for BRICS nations and the expansion will bring a renewed “vigor” to its cooperation mechanisms.

“Further strengthening the force for world peace and development, the leaders of the five countries unanimously agreed to invite Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Iran and Ethiopia to the BRICS family as official members,” he said.

“China congratulates these countries and highly appreciates the efforts made by our chair, South Africa, and President Ramaphosa. This membership expansion is historic.”

He said it shows the determination of members to pursue unity and cooperation with the wider group of developing nations and added: “It meets the common interests of emerging market countries and developing countries.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that members will continue to work to “expand the influence of BRICS in the world.”

On Tuesday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington does not see “BRICS as evolving into some kind of geopolitical rival to the US or anyone else.”

He added: “We will continue to work on the strong positive relationships we have with Brazil, India and South Africa, we will continue to manage our relationship with China, and we will continue to push back on Russia’s aggression. But from our perspective … we do not look at this group through geopolitical terms.”

In other developments on the final day of the summit, Ramaphosa said that BRICS will work to develop a more fair global financial architecture. Discussions will take place among the leaders of member nations on topics such as local currencies, payment instruments and platforms, and they will report back on the outcomes at the next summit.

Members also adopted the Johannesburg Declaration II on reforms of economic policies, sustainable development, and the reform of multilateral systems.

The summit welcomed 65 leaders from countries in Africa and the Global South to a BRICS+ dialog session, as part of the BRICS Africa Outreach initiative. Ramaphosa said the aim of the session was to promote inclusive dialogue on key issues affecting developing economies.

One of the speakers during the session was Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who said the Kingdom is working to stabilize energy markets and has a good strategic relationship with BRICS members.

“The Kingdom enjoys strong friendship, trade relations and strategic partnerships with all the countries of the group,” he said.

Prince Faisal added that Saudi Arabia is making progress in its efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and has set lofty targets for its relationship with BRICS members.

“The Kingdom intends to be the largest trading partner of the BRICS group in the Middle East,” he said.

“The total bilateral trade with the countries of the group exceeded $160 billion in the year 2022, which reflects a strong relationship with the group, and we look forward to developing this cooperation, which creates new development opportunities that elevate our relations towards a hoped-for ambition.”

The Kingdom is keen to live up to its responsibilities to develop and sustain international cooperation within BRICS, he said.

“We look forward to this summit paving the way for a more effective partnership and progress between our countries, and our efforts contributing to expanding areas of cooperation in a way that maximizes common interests and enhances peace and international cooperation.”

In response to the announcement of the BRICS expansion plans, Prince Faisal told media organization Al-Arabiya that the Kingdom appreciates the invitation to join the group, will study the details and “take the appropriate decision.”

The group is “a beneficial and important channel” for strengthening economic cooperation, he added.

In a message posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Jasem Albudaiwi, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, offered his sincere congratulations to the leaderships and peoples of the UAE and Saudi Arabia on their invitations to join BRICS. 

He described the development as an important indication of the significance and strength of GCC decisions.

During his presentation of the summit’s final declaration, Ramaphosa said that this historic moment for BRICS is only the first phase of its expansion plans, and that he hopes the invited nations will be members by January 2024.

The foreign ministers of member states have been tasked with further developing the BRICS country model, with a list of prospective partner countries to be presented during next year’s summit, which is due to take place in Kazan, Russia.

 


Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say

Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say
Updated 21 sec ago
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Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say

Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say
  • Temperatures in Europe are rising at roughly twice the global average, Copernicus and WMO reported
  • Deaths related to heat have increased by around 30 percent in Europe in the last 20 years, the report said

BRUSSELS: Europe is increasingly facing bouts of heat so intense that the human body cannot cope, as climate change continues to raise temperatures, the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.
In a report on Europe’s climate, Copernicus and the WMO noted last year’s extreme conditions, including a July heatwave which pushed 41 percent of southern Europe into strong, very strong or extreme heat stress — the biggest area of Europe under such conditions in any day on record.
Extreme heat poses particular health risks to outdoor workers, the elderly, and people with existing conditions like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Parts of Italy recorded 7 percent more deaths than normal last July, with victims including a 44-year-old man painting road markings in the northern town of Lodi who collapsed and died.
Heat stress measures the impact that the environment has on the human body, combining factors like temperature, humidity and the body’s response, to establish a “feels like” temperature.

Parts of Spain, France, Italy and Greece experienced up to ten days of extreme heat stress in 2023, defined as a “feels like” temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point immediate action must be taken to avoid heat stroke and other health issues.
Deaths related to heat have increased by around 30 percent in Europe in the last 20 years, the report said.
The EU’s environment agency urged governments last month to prepare health care systems for climate change and called for EU rules to protect outdoor workers from extreme heat.
Last year was the world’s hottest since records began. Europe is the world’s fastest-warming continent.
Greenhouse gas emissions were the biggest cause of last year’s exceptional heat, the report said. Factors including the El Nino weather pattern also played a role.
The heat fueled extreme weather including flooding, since the warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, causing heavier downpours when it is released.
Floods in Slovenia last year affected 1.5 million people. Greece suffered the EU’s biggest wildfire on record which, at 960 square km, was twice the size of Athens. Alpine glaciers lost 10 percent of their remaining volume during 2022 and 2023.
“Some of the events of 2023 took the scientific community by surprise because of their intensity, their speed of onset, extent and duration,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

 


World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report

World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report
Updated 22 April 2024
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World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report

World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report
  • Several jurisdictions including the United Kingdom have adopted climate disclosure regulations

PARIS: Only 40 of the world’s 100 largest private firms have set net-zero carbon emissions targets to fight climate change, according to a report released Monday, lagging far behind public companies.
But for the world to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming 1.5 degree Celsius, all companies need to reduce their planet-heating emissions, the report by the group Net Zero Tracker noted.
The lack of market and reputational pressures on private firms compared to those publicly-listed, along with an absence of regulation are to blame for their slow uptake of climate commitments, John Lange of Net Zero Tracker told AFP.
“I think things are changing on all three of those fronts,” he added.
The report compared 200 of the world’s largest public and private companies based on their reported emissions reductions strategies and net-zero targets.
It found that only 40 of the 100 private firms assessed had net zero targets, compared to 70 of 100 publicly-listed companies.
Of the private companies that have set targets, just eight have published plans on how they will meet them.
“A pledge without a plan is not a pledge, it is a naked PR stunt,” the report said.
Only two firms — furnishing giant Ikea and US engineering giant Bechtel — ruled out using controversial carbon credits to achieve their net-zero goals, the report said.
Carbon credits allow businesses to offset their emissions by directing money toward a project that reduces or avoids emissions, such as protecting forests, but critics say they allow companies to keep polluting.
Meanwhile, none of the eight fossil fuel companies included in the report was found to have a net-zero target, compared with 76 percent of the sector’s largest public firms.
There was also little improvement in the figures compared with a previous analysis done in 2022, “despite a massive uptick in regulation around the world,” Lang said.
Several jurisdictions including the United Kingdom have adopted climate disclosure regulations.
Others have regulations on the horizon, with business hubs of California and Singapore requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting from 2027.
The European Union also introduced two climate regulations — the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) — which will soon require thousands of large companies to report their climate impacts and emissions, and to take action to curtail them.
“We’re trying to get private firms to understand what’s coming for them,” Lang said.
The EU policies will have far-reaching effects in particular, targeting firms not only based in the bloc but those that may be headquartered elsewhere with branches or subsidiaries within the member states.
Yet two European private firms, including French hypermarket chain E. Leclerc, were singled out in the report for having set any emissions reduction targets.
E.Leclerc told AFP that the company has made efforts toward more sustainable practices like eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags, and is “committed to setting near-term company-wide emissions reduction targets.”
But with the enforcement of EU regulations looming, firms will not be able to “dodge” climate targets much longer, Sybrig Smit of the NewClimate Institute told AFP.
“It’s actually quite watertight. If companies want to do business in Europe, they are going to have to face the consequences,” she said.
The firms analyzed account for roughly 23 percent of the global economy, with the majority based in either China, the United States or EU states — the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, Lang said.
Any changes the firms make to meet new regulations will have substantial benefits for the environment.
“They have such a trickledown effect. Whenever such a big company is implementing something real, it will have a huge effect on the rest of the sector that they operate in,” Smit said.


EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions

EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions
Updated 22 April 2024
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EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions

EU ministers to discuss air defense for Ukraine, Iran sanctions
  • The EU already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran – for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia

LUXEMBOURG: European Union foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss bolstering Ukraine’s air defenses and expanding sanctions on Iran.
While the ministers will also discuss the war in Sudan, most of their focus will be on the conflicts raging on the 27-member bloc’s eastern and southern doorsteps – in Ukraine and the Middle East.
With Russia having stepped up air attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and other targets, EU governments are under pressure to supply more air defense systems such as Patriots to Kyiv.
Kyiv and its European allies got a big boost at the weekend when the US House of Representatives approved a package worth more than $60 billion to address the war in Ukraine.
But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg have been urging European countries to step up their own efforts to give arms to Ukraine, particularly air defense.
After a video conference of NATO defense ministers with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, Stoltenberg said he expected announcements soon.
“NATO has mapped out existing capabilities across the alliance and there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine,” he said.
“In addition to Patriots, there are other weapons that allies can provide, including (the French system) SAMP/T,” he added.
So far, Germany is the only EU member to declare it will send an additional Patriot system in response to Ukraine’s latest pleas.
The ministers will be joined by their defense counterparts for Monday’s Ukraine talks, as well as Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers, before turning to the Middle East crisis sparked by the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 last year.

IRAN SANCTIONS
The ministers will seek agreement on how much further to go in sanctioning Iran, following Tehran’s missile and drone attack on Israel the weekend before last.
The EU already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran – for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia.
EU leaders agreed last week they would impose further sanctions against Iran. Many EU countries have called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to Iranian proxy forces in the Middle East.
EU countries are also debating whether to impose fresh sanctions related to missile production, according to diplomats.
Some countries are also pushing for the EU to find a way to designate Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards force as a terrorist organization.
But officials say they have not yet found a legal basis for such a step are not sure all EU members would favor it.

 


India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence
Updated 21 April 2024
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India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence
  • Friday marked start of voting by nearly 1 billion people in world’s most-populous country
  • The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations

NEW DELHI: India, staging the world’s biggest election, will rerun voting at 11 polling stations in the northeastern state of Manipur on Monday after reports of violence and damage to voting machines in the state torn by months of ethnic clashes.
The election authorities declared the voting void at the 11 locations and ordered the fresh poll, the chief electoral officer of Manipur said in a statement late on Saturday.
Friday marked the start of voting by nearly one billion people in the world’s most-populous country, in an election running through June 1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is forecast to win a rare third term on the back of issues such as growth, welfare and Hindu nationalism.
The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations, alleging that booths were captured and elections were rigged.
There were scattered incidents of violence on Friday in the state, including clashes among armed groups and attempts to take over polling stations under heavy security. Voters turned out in large numbers, despite the threat of clashes that have killed at least 220 people in the past year.
Manipur has been roiled by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people since May. It remains divided between a valley controlled by Meiteis and Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of no-man’s land monitored by federal paramilitary forces.


UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
Updated 21 April 2024
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UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
  • Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull"

TRIPOLI: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya called Sunday for an investigation into a political activist’s death while detained at an eastern military base controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
UNSMIL also demanded the “immediate release” of other prisoners it said were being detained “arbitrarily” by the war-torn country’s eastern-based authorities.
In a statement on X, the UN mission said it was “deeply saddened by the death of activist Siraj Dughman while in custody at Rajma military camp” and urged the Libyan “authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”
Plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between an internationally recognized government, based in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
The base at Rajma, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Benghazi, serves as Haftar’s headquarters.
In a video published on Saturday, the Haftar-affiliated Eastern Internal Security Agency confirmed Dughman’s death.
The agency said it had commissioned a forensic examination according to which Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull.”
The agency said he was arrested in October 2023 together with several others accused of “participating in a campaign” inciting the “overthrow of official state agencies” including Haftar’s forces.
UNSMIL said that Dughman “was arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2023” with other Benghazi-based staff members of the Libyan Center for Future Studies, an independent think tank, who “were never formally charged or appeared in court.”
Dughman was the director of the organization’s office in Benghazi, eastern Libya’s main city.
Extrajudicial arrests, detentions and assassinations of political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders have become common in Libya, particularly in the North African country’s east.
The Libyan Center for Future Studies said the security agency was “responsible for his death” which occurred in “obscure circumstances.”