British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside United Nations headquarters during the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York, US, September 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 September 2021

British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

  • Developing countries will pay the price of 200 years of economic growth in the developed world, says Boris Johnson after UN meeting
  • Egypt’s president outlines development plan designed to meet aims of UN Sustainable Development Goals while prioritizing needs of Egyptians

NEW YORK: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the developed world to take urgent action on climate change. He warned that countries that played the least part in causing the climate crisis are the ones now facing the prospect of paying the steepest price.

Speaking on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York, where the 76th session of the General Assembly is taking place, Johnson said a number of world leaders who attended a behind-closed-doors meeting he convened had presented “very powerful” arguments suggesting the developed world must take urgent action on climate change.

“We heard from some of the countries staring down the barrel — the Maldives, Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands — countries pleading with the developed world to step up to the plate and supply the finance needed to make the changes necessary to fight climate change in the developing world,” he said.

“It is the developing world that is bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change in the form of hurricanes and fires and floods, and the real, long-term economic damage they face. Yet it is the developed world that, over 200 years, has put the carbon in the atmosphere that is causing the acceleration of this climate change.”

The British PM said there are “faint signs of progress” from some developed countries that are beginning to take action, but that the US is in the best position to send out a clear signal that developed, Western nations are willing to act.

Long-term financing to help countries to grow without further contributing to harmful climate change is one of the cornerstones of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Developed countries pledged as part of that deal to contribute $100 billion a year toward funding for this until 2025.

That target was missed in 2019 and 2020 — and, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, this year’s fundraising effort looks likely to fall about $20 billion short.

Johnson said that there has been some progress toward achieving this financial goal, however, and that the US could make a “huge difference” to the efforts. An American contribution would send a “massively powerful signal to the world, to the developing countries, that we in the industrialized West do take this seriously,” he said.

Both Johnson and Guterres emphasized the key role that creative and sustainable financing — by those wealthy countries that can best afford it — can play in tackling climate change.

“Developed nations need to step up,” said Guterres. “Many asset owners and managers and other financial institutions are now shifting their investments toward a decarbonized, sustainable and resilient economy.

“But these private-finance flows will not cover the immediate needs of the many countries that need support now, or who cannot borrow money because of their debt burden.”

Therefore “increased support from international financial institutions is also crucial,” he added.

Earlier, leaders from a number of countries provided details of their plans to address climate change, while also developing their economies and civil societies.

They included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who said Monday’s meeting came at a “crucial time for the world.”

He reiterated Egypt’s support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of interlinked global targets relating to issues such as climate, poverty, education, healthcare and gender equality that are designed to be a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future.

“In addition to sustainable development we need to increase growth and eliminate poverty and unemployment,” El-Sisi said. “But we also have the complex political situation in very many areas of the world, and we also have climate change and its devastating impact on water and food security.”

These challenges must be addressed in a “comprehensive and sustainable” way, he said, adding that he will prioritize “the interests of the Egyptian citizen” — but that this approach is also in line with the aims of the SDGs.

He cautioned, however, that African countries have been struggling with a decline in the flow of international development aid throughout the pandemic.

“In that context, we hope to see a continuance of this important international effort, so that we can achieve our common goals and create a better future for future generations,” said El-Sisi.


India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

Updated 05 December 2021

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

  • The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21

MUMBAI: India on Sunday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 deaths since July after two states revised their death tolls.
The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.
A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected.
Indian states have continued to add unreported COVID-19 deaths in recent months, lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.


Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Updated 05 December 2021

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

  • Local media reports said Indian security forces had mistakenly opened fire on civilians
  • It was unclear what led to the incident in the state bordering Myanmar

GAUHATI, India: Angry villagers burned army vehicles in protest after more than a dozen people were killed by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants in India’s remote northeast region along the border with Myanmar, officials said Sunday.
Nagaland state’s top elected official Neiphiu Rio ordered a probe into the killings, which occurred on Saturday, and he tweeted, “The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting is highly condemnable.”
An army officer said the soldiers fired at a truck after receiving intelligence about a movement of insurgents in the area and killed six people. As irate villagers burned two army vehicles, the soldiers fired at them, killing seven more people, the officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
One soldier was also killed in the clash with protesters, he said.
Insurgents often cross into Myanmar after attacking Indian government forces in the remote area.
Nyamtow Konyak, a local community leader, said those killed were coal miners.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah expressed anguish over the “unfortunate incident” and said the state government will investigate the killings.
The army officer said the soldiers had laid an ambush for a week following intelligence that insurgents were planning to attack soldiers in the area, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote northeast whose demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.


Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

Updated 04 December 2021

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

  • The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants

MOSCOW: More than 400 migrants who had traveled to Belarus seeking to cross the border into the EU flew home on Saturday on an Iraqi Airways plane bound for the city of Irbil in northern Iraq, Minsk’s airport said.
The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants, mostly from the Middle East, and pushing them to illegally cross the Polish border to manufacture a crisis, something Minsk denies.
Minsk airport authorities said in a statement a Boeing 747-400 would fly 415 adults and four children on Saturday to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The airport’s website later listed the flight as having departed.
Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country last month having failed to get into the EU via a route that people smugglers promised them would work.
Russia, which supported Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government during mass street protests last year, on Saturday criticized the new EU sanctions as illegal, and said the issue should be settled through dialogue.


Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Updated 04 December 2021

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

  • Pope Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration
  • He has long championed refugees, calling them "protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey"

ATHENS: Pope Francis on Saturday blamed the EU’s nationalist divisions for a lack of coordination on migration as he began a landmark trip to Greece, aiming to improve complicated relations with the country’s Orthodox Church.
Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration during a meeting with EU vice president Margaritis Schinas, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among other officials.
The European community “continues to temporize” and “appears at times blocked and uncoordinated” instead of being an “engine of solidarity” on migration, the pope said.
“Today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” he said, warning against populism’s “easy answers.”
Francis has long championed refugees, calling them “protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey.”
On Sunday, he will return to the island of Lesbos which he visited in 2016 during the early years of the migration crisis.
The 84-year-old’s visit to the Greek capital is the first by a pope since John Paul II in 2001, which in turn was the first papal visit to Athens since the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Flying in after a two-day trip to Cyprus, the pope landed shortly after 0900 GMT in the Greek capital, where security was heightened over expected protests by Orthodox hard-liners among whom anti-papal sentiment remains strong.
Strong wind offered an unexpected challenge, with Francis coming down the stairs of the plane skullcap in hand.
Francis is scheduled to see the head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos later Saturday, followed by members of Greece’s small Catholic community, which represent just 1.2 percent of the majority-Orthodox population.
Francis flies back to Rome on Monday.
Up to 2,000 police are deployed in Athens to monitor possible disruptions by Orthodox hard-liners, who blame the Catholics for the Schism and the 1204 sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Reciprocal excommunications exchanged between the two churches after the Schism were only lifted in 1965.
Authorities banned protests in the Athens center, and many Greeks have expressed apathy over the visit.
“Perhaps it is important to migrants in Greece who are in need. We the Orthodox expect nothing in particular,” said Periklis, owner of a religious icon shop in Athens.
Relations with the Church of Greece are much better than they were ahead of John Paul’s visit, Pierre Salembier, head of the Jesuit Catholic community in Greece, told AFP.
But he said there were still some “known anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Church’s governing body.
The bishop of Piraeus called the pope’s visit “immoral,” according to the union of Orthodox journalists.
During his visit to Cyprus, Francis condemned “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps, drawing parallels with World War II.
The Cyprus government said Friday that 50 migrants, including two Cameroonians stuck for months in the divided island’s buffer zone, will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.
On Sunday the pope will again visit Greece’s Lesbos, a flashpoint of the 2015 refugee crisis and thereafter, “as a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity” to call for the integration of refugees.
The island’s sprawling Moria migrant camp, which the pontiff visited in 2016, burnt down last year and has been replaced by the temporary facility of Mavrovouni.
With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.
Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.
NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted.
Thirty-six groups active in Greece this week wrote to Francis raising the plight of people in the camps and requesting his help to halt illegal pushbacks of migrants allegedly by Greek border officers.
Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.
Addressing Francis on Saturday, President Sakellaropoulou insisted Athens “is making every possible effort to prevent the illegal traffic of people and their political exploitation.”
The pontiff is expected to visit the camp and will meet two “randomly chosen” families, an official said.
“We await him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp.
She said she hoped the pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have lived, through faith.”
On Wednesday, nearly 30 asylum seekers landed near the camp. On Friday, two migrants died when a speedboat overturned near the Greek island of Kos.


Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

Updated 04 December 2021

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

  • Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying "Medical Freedom Now!"

UTRECHT, Netherlands: Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.
Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.
It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s health care system.
The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.