Climate Change: Code Red warning

As firefighters, troops and civilian volunteers battled blazes in forests across northern Algeria, as the country reeled at a death toll of at least 69 people in the latest wildfires to hit the Mediterranean, a major warning on the dangers of Climate Change has come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This warning from the IPCC says that global heating will see Earth’s average temperature reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels around 2030, a decade earlier than projected three years ago.

The report of the UN body of scientists was released 90 days before the key global climate summit, which seeks to keep the control of climate to within 1.5C, and draws attention to the carbon pollution caused by humans, is to be held in Glasgow, Britain, later this year.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the IPCC report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable”.

He noted that the internationally-agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global heating was “perilously close. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold, is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path…”We must act decisively now, to keep 1.5 alive.”

The report, prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, highlights that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.

In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least two million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years. For example, temperatures during the most recent decade (2011–2020) exceed those of the most recent multi-century warm period, around 6,500 years ago, the report indicates.

The document shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming between 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of heating.

With only 1.1C of warming so far, an unbroken cascade of deadly, unprecedented weather disasters bulked up by climate change has swept the world this summer, from asphalt-melting heatwaves in Canada, to rainstorms turning China’s city streets into rivers, to untameable wildfires sweeping Greece, California and Siberia.

Even if the 1.5C target humanity is now poised to overshoot is miraculously achieved, it would still generate heat waves, rainfall, drought and other extreme weather “unprecedented in the observational record”, the report concluded.

It has warned that at slightly higher levels of global heating, what is today once-a-century coastal flooding will happen every year by 2100, fuelled by storms gorged with extra moisture and rising seas.

Following the release of the IPCC report, focus now will shift to the political arena, where a non-stop series of ministerial and summit meetings, including a critical G20 in October, will lead up to the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, hosted by Britain.

One of the many findings of the IPCC report on Climate Change confirmed that the past six years were the hottest on record. Moreover, major climate changes, such as rising sea levels, are inevitable and irreversible. This report’s release comes amid months of deadly wildfires, record-high temperatures and floods, with southern Europe, Turkey, the US, Canada and China all hard hit by extreme weather.

Wildfires continue to blaze uncontrolled in Greece and in northern California. Fires in Greece have threatened ancient sites, annihilated forests, razed homes and even forced the closure of sites like the Acropolis at the peak of the country’s tourist season. In the densely populated capital of Athens, the heat – combined with smoke-laden skies and raining ash – have kept people indoors for days.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the fires in Greece are unmistakably linked “to the reality of climate change”.

Rains brought respite in neighbouring Turkey over the weekend in what President Recip Tayyip Erdogan described as the “worst wildfires” in the country’s history. The barrelling fires have scorched thousands and thousands of hectares of farmland and pristine forests in several countries this summer alone.

Wildfire weather is expected to become more frequent and strike more regions – even where extreme heat and fires have been less common – according to the IPCC report. And it will only get worse as the planet warms.

The global shift toward a “new normal” of more fires of increased ferocity may already have begun in late 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when towering blazes laid waste to bushland, forests and wildlife in Australia and Brazil.


Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a U.S. defence official has told Reuters on Wednesday citing U.S. intelligence, as the resurgent militants took control of a tenth provincial Afghan capital, as the US President Biden calls on Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland.

The Taliban has been making rapid gains around the country as the U.S.-led foreign forces leave.

The city of Ghazni, the 10th provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in a week — lies along the major Kabul-Kandahar highway, effectively serving as a gateway between the capital and militant strongholds in the south.

The loss of the Ghazni will likely pile more pressure on the country’s already overstretched air force, needed to bolster Afghanistan’s scattered Security Forces who have increasingly been cut off from reinforcements by road.

The Taliban now control more than 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or threaten to take more provincial capitals, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.

All gateways to Kabul, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, were choked with civilians entering the city and fleeing violence elsewhere, a Western security source in the city told Reuters, making it hard to tell whether Taliban fighters were also getting through.

Wednesday’s loss of Faizabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, was an earlier setback for the Afghan government, which has been struggling to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults.

It came as President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords to the defence of the biggest city in the north as Taliban forces closed in.

U.S. President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying he did not regret his decision to withdraw. He noted that the United States had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops.

The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.

The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces this month in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism.

The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdrew, but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government. A commitment by the Taliban to talk peace with the government side has come to nothing as they eye a military victory.

Meanwhile, Taliban militants have taken control of Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia’s Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday, citing Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, heightening security concerns for Moscow.

The Taliban took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days.

They control much of the country’s northern provinces adjacent to ex-Soviet Central Asia. An EU official said on Tuesday the militants now control 65% of Afghanistan.

Shoigu said the Taliban has promised not to cross the border, but that Moscow would continue holding joint drills with its allies in the region.

Russia operates a military base in Tajikistan and the former Soviet republic is a member of a Moscow-led military bloc, meaning that Moscow would be obliged to protect it in the event of invasion. Uzbekistan also has close ties with Russia.

The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, leaving after 15,000 of its troops were killed and tens of thousands were wounded.

China – US

China’s foreign ministry has condemned the United States for granting Hong Kong residents temporary “safe-haven status”, under which they can live and work there for 18 months.

The ministry’s statement, issued together with the one from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on Sunday, was the second broadside from Beijing in two days over the move, granted in a memorandum signed by President Joe Biden.

“The so-called memorandum blatantly defames and attacks the law of China on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and China’s Hong Kong policy,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, adding that it was another embodiment of Washington’s “vile behaviour” in interfering in the city’s affairs…“The Chinese side deplores and firmly rejects this and has lodged solemn representations with the US side.”

The US memorandum authorises the Department of Homeland Security to grant Hong Kongers “safe-haven status” for 18 months, allowing them to work in the US, and to “consider suspending” restrictions on those holding F-1 student visas. It applies to “any Hong Kong resident who is present in the United States on the date of this memorandum”.

Announcing the move on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We, alongside our allies and partners, strongly oppose the PRC’s wielding of the national security law to deny basic rights and freedoms, assault Hong Kong’s autonomy and undermine its remaining democratic processes and institutions.”

Hong Kong activists praised the arrangement for allowing some to work while providing a transition period for possibly a longer-term policy, but pro-Beijing figures dismissed it as a political gesture to challenge China rather than being a meaningful move.

It drew an immediate rebuke from the foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong, which on Friday accused the US of smearing the Beijing-imposed national security legislation, blatantly interfering in both the city’s internal affairs and China’s domestic policies, and trampling on the basic principles of international law and relations.

President Biden signed the memorandum, in direct response to Hong Kong’s sweeping new national Security law, and other measures that undercut the rights to Hong Kong citizens promised when the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997. It also comes as China and the US disagree over a range of foreign policy and trade issues.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Biden’s move “slandered and smeared Hong Kong’s national security law, nakedly intervened in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and blatantly trampled on international law and the basic norms of international relations”.

The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “Given the politically motivated arrests and trials, the silencing of media, and the diminishing of space for elections and democratic opposition, we will continue to take steps in support of the people in Hong Kong”.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in response to months of pro-democracy street protests in 2019. Police have arrested at least 100 opposition politicians, activists and demonstrators, imposed severe limits on political speech, reorganized the local legislature to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority and demanded that anyone holding public office prove their loyalty to China.

US Senate

The US Senate has passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, a huge step for Democrats as they try to push President Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda through Congress.

The legislation, which includes $550 billion in new funding for transportation, broadband and utilities, got through in a 69-30 vote, as 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats. The chamber in a 50-49 party-line vote then proceeded to a budget resolution that would allow Democrats to approve what they see as a complementary $3.5 trillion spending plan without Republican votes.

Biden pushed for its approval, as an investment that will “put people to work.” “This bill is going to help make a historic recovery a long-term boom,” he said, while acknowledging Democrats’ “work is far from done.”

The bill’s approval caps a months-long move for the White House and both parties in Congress to forge a plan to refresh American roads, railways, public transit, water systems, power grids and broadband. Congress for years failed to agree on a comprehensive infrastructure plan, which supporters in both parties say will boost the economy and create jobs.

Joe Biden described the Senate’s passage of the infrastructure bill as proof that bipartisanship is still possible, even in today’s bitterly divided Washington.

“For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage,” Biden said of the 19 Republican senators who voted “yes” on the infrastructure proposal.

“You have and no doubt you will disagree with me on many issues, but where we can agree, we should. And here on this bill, we proved that we can still come together to do big things, important things, for the American people.”

“Today, we proved that democracy can still work,” Biden said.

Poland – Media law

The Polish Parliament has voted in favour of a new law that critics say will curb media freedom and hit ties with the United States.

The media law would prevent companies from outside the European Economic Area from holding a controlling stake in Polish media companies.

That would force US group Discovery to sell its majority stake in TVN, one of Poland’s biggest private TV networks, whose news channel TVN24 is often highly critical of the government.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the law is needed to stop hostile foreign powers from taking control of powerful broadcasters and is in line with rules in other European countries.

But critics say it opens a path for a state-controlled company to take control of TVN, following a takeover of the regional newspaper group Polska Press by state energy giant PKN Orlen.

The vote came during a stormy session of Parliament. The media law passed by 228 votes in favour and 216 against in the 460-seat Lower House of Parliament.

Thousands of people took to the streets in rallies across Poland on Tuesday over the draft law.

It has also been strongly criticised by Washington, which has warned it could have a negative impact on foreign investment into Poland more widely.

Earlier in the session, the government lost four key votes, a day after a junior partner walked out of the governing coalition led by PiS. The lost votes do not mean that the government will collapse, as a formal vote of no confidence would be needed for that to happen — and PiS could potentially continue as a minority government.

New York Governor resigns

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned over a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, a year after he was widely hailed for his leadership during the darkest days of COVID-19.

The three-term governor’s decision came after New York’s attorney general released the results of an investigation that found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women.

Investigators said he subjected women to unwanted kisses; groped their breasts or buttocks or otherwise touched them inappropriately; made insinuating remarks about their looks and their sex lives; and created a work environment “rife with fear and intimidation.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a 62-year-old Democrat will now become the state’s 57th governor and the first woman to hold the post.

Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor in the 1980s and ’90s, and the younger Cuomo was often mentioned as a potential candidate for president. Cuomo still faces the possibility of criminal charges, with a number of prosecutors around the state moving to investigate him.

WHO on COVID vaccines

The World Health Organisation has urged the 20 most powerful world leaders to overturn the “disgraceful” global imbalance in access to COVID-19 vaccines to reverse the tide before October.

The WHO is calling for a halt on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September, its head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday, as the gap between vaccinations in wealthy and poor countries widens.

The call for a moratorium is the strongest statement yet from the UN agency at a time when countries deliberate the need for boosters to combat the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus.

“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” Tedros added.

High-income countries administered around 50 doses for every 100 people in May, and that number has since doubled, according to WHO. Low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.

“We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries to the majority going to low-income countries,” Tedros said.

To counter the spread of the Delta variant, some countries have begun to use or started weighing on the need for booster doses even as scientists debate over whether or not extra shots are needed.

“The fact that we are vaccinating healthy adults with a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines is a short-sighted way of thinking,” said Elin Hoffmann Dahl, infectious diseases medical adviser to Medecins Sans Frontieres’ access campaign.

“With the emergence of new variants, if we continue to leave the majority of the world unvaccinated, we will most definitely need adjusted vaccines in the future,” Dahl told Reuters.

Last week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a third shot of coronavirus vaccine, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to people aged over 60 in the country.

U.S. health regulators were still assessing the need for a booster dose.

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