Explainer: How will countries measure climate action at COP28? 

View of Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) Climate Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 30, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Explainer: How will countries measure climate action at COP28? 

  • In September, the United Nations offered an early stocktake assessment that revealed countries were far behind in meeting climate goals
  • It said action required “on all fronts” to keep global average temperature rise limited to 1.5 C beyond which irreversible climate impacts will occur

DUBAI: Countries will for the first time assess how far off track they are to curb global warming at this year’s COP28 climate change summit, a process known as the “global stocktake.” 

Governments will look at progress so far as well as what action is still needed to get the world on track. The aim is to yield a plan by the end of the two-week UN conference in Dubai. 

The assessment could become politically divisive as it sets the stage for the next few years of global action in cutting planet-warming emissions. 

WHY IS A GLOBAL STOCKTAKE IMPORTANT? 

Each country sets its own targets and policies for meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement’s overall goal of holding global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial times, and aiming for just 1.5 C of warming. 

Under the 2015 pact, countries must gauge their progress as of this year, and then every five years afterwards. Based on the results, countries may be pressed to set more ambitious climate policies or to contribute more financing to help developing countries adopt clean energy. 

This year’s stocktake could also offer important guidance as countries prepare to update their emissions-cutting targets again by 2025. For example, the stocktake could advise that CO2-cutting targets should cover a country’s entire economy, not just certain sectors. 

IS THE WORLD OFF COURSE IN MEETING CLIMATE GOALS? 

In September, the United Nations offered an early stocktake assessment that revealed countries were far behind in meeting climate goals. It said action was required “on all fronts” to keep the global average temperature rise limited to 1.5 C — the threshold beyond which scientists say more severe and irreversible climate impacts will occur. 

Despite a huge increase in the number of countries setting CO2-cutting targets since the Paris Agreement, current emissions plans still put the world on track to warm by at least 2.5 C, the UN estimates. 

Many countries also have yet to set strong enough short-term policies to steer their economies toward emissions targets for 2030 and 2050. 

The global average temperature has already warmed by 1.2 C since pre-industrial times, which is causing widespread drought along with more frequent deadly heat waves, wildfires and storms around the world. 

HOW WILL THE STOCKTAKE DRIVE CLIMATE ACTION? 

Before the stocktake has even started, countries are squabbling over the scope of future plans — including whether they should commit to phase out fossil fuel use, end investments in new coal power plants or triple renewable energy capacity within this decade. 

COP28 delegates will also need to decide if the stocktake should recommended action for specific sectors, such as the energy or manufacturing sectors. 

The UN’s report in September urged countries to cut CO2-emitting coal power by 67 percent to 82 percent from 2019 levels by 2030. 

The report also called for more finance to help poorer countries adopt clean energy, and noted that billions of dollars were still being invested in fossil fuels every year. 

The European Union wants the stocktake to produce “concrete policy signals” for countries to follow. 

Some developing countries have suggested the stocktake should focus on pressuring wealthy nations to do more, since they have contributed the most emissions to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, diplomats said. 

“This is where we take stock and see where we are — where are the gaps between the targets and our ambitions, and the actual action. What then needs to be decided... what do we then do from here,” Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s Global Climate Policy Minister, told Reuters. 


Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

Updated 24 February 2024
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Eight in hospital after reports of ‘odour’ at Sweden intel service

  • Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles
  • After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects

STOCKHOLM: Police opened an investigation Friday after a suspicious odour at Sweden’s Security Service office left eight people needing hospital treatment with respiratory symptoms.
Images from the scene showed police wearing gas masks alongside several ambulances and emergency vehicles as an area around the office of the agency, known as Sapo, was closed off.
“Around 1:00 p.m. today, there were indications that there was a dangerous substance at Sapo’s offices,” Patrik Soderberg, chief physician at the local health care authority Region Stockholm, told AFP.
“A total of eight people with symptoms have been treated at hospital,” Region Stockholm said in a statement, adding that the “cause of the leak was still unclear.”
After ending their emergency operation, police said they had started an investigation into “causing bodily harm” but did not have any suspects.
Police said an area of “a couple of hundred meters” around the building had been closed off after “a potential gas leak.”
Some of those taken to hospital were officers who had “smelled an odour when they arrived,” the service added in a statement.
Sapo spokeswoman Karin Lutz told AFP the intelligence agency had called emergency services after receiving an alarm.
Lutz said the building had been “partly evacuated” during the emergency but declined to give further details or comment on whether they suspected foul play.
In a later statement, Sapo said “emergency services ended the operation after confirming that there was no gas inside the premises or outside the building.”
The Nordic country is on high alert as it is expecting to clear the final hurdle to its bid to join NATO on Monday, with the last holdout Hungary scheduled to vote on ratifying its membership.
The Aftonbladet newspaper said witnesses had reported smelling something that reminded them of paint, and that locals had been told to close their windows.
Swedish media also reported that a gas sensor on the roof of the building had alerted the presence of phosgene, but these reports have not been confirmed.
The gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, but is also widely used in industry for the production of plastics and pesticide.


Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

Updated 23 February 2024
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Ukraine military destroys Russian surveillance plane — air force commander

  • The A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar
  • The operation was carried out by the air force and the intelligence directorate

KYIV: Ukraine’s military on Friday destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, the second time in a little more than a month that Ukraine has reported downing the sophisticated plane.
“The A-50 with the call sign ‘Bayan’ has flown its last!” Oleshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted military sources as saying the A-50 was downed over Russian territory, between the cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. The operation was carried out, it said, by the air force and the intelligence directorate.
Russian news agencies quoted emergency services in southern Krasnodar region as saying that fragments of an aircraft were found in marshland in Kanevskoy district and firefighters extinguished a blaze.
The report made no reference to the A-50.
Ukraine’s military in January said its air force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 surveillance plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large airborne early warning and control aircraft that can scan several hundred kilometers for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, told the Financial Times a month ago that Russia had eight A-50s at that time.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 23 February 2024
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

  • Alejo Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger
  • "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.