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2021 Year in Review: Climate Action, or Blah, Blah, Blah?

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Conor Lennon/ UN NewsProtesters outside the COP26 conference siteWednesday, December 29, 2021UN News

Heading into uncharted territory

To avoid catastrophic climate change, global temperatures rises need to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but the odds of the world getting hotter in the next five years continue to increase.

The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) flagship State of the Global Climate report warned in April that the global average temperature had already risen by about 1.2 degrees, and a UN Environment study in October revealed that, unless commitments to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions are not improved, the world is on track to warm by 2.7 degrees this century. 

Several more reports from UN agencies showed that greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels, and that the planet is on a path towards dangerous overheating, with worrying repercussions likely for current and future generations.

The consequences of climate change, include more frequent extreme weather events, and there were many more of them this year, such as the catastrophic flooding in several western European countries that led to several deaths in July, and devastating wildfires in Mediterranean countries and Russia, in August.

Data from the WMO shows that, over the past few decades, the surge in natural disasters has disproportionately affected poorer countries and, last year, contributed to mounting food insecurity, poverty and displacement in Africa.

© UNICEF/Vlad Sokhin

With most of its land only a few feet above sea level, Kiribati is seeing growing damage from storms and flooding.

Bearing the brunt

Paradoxically, the countries suffering most from the climate crisis are also those that are least responsible for creating it, a point made with increasing stridency governments and activists, who have helped to push the topic of adaptation higher up the agenda.

Adaptation is a key pillar of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It aims to reduce different countries and communities’ vulnerability to climate change by increasing their ability to absorb impacts.

However, with time running out for some, particularly Small Island Developing States which risk being submerged by rising sea levels, a gulf in the financing needed to protect them remains.

A key UN Environment (UNEP) report in November pointed out that even if countries were to turn the emissions tap off today, climate impacts would remain, for decades to come. “We need a step change in adaptation ambition for funding and implementation to significantly reduce damages and losses from climate change,” said UNEP chief Inger Andersen. “And we need it now.”  

Production Gap Report 2021

Fossil fuels continue to burn

We also need to speed up the worldwide transition to cleaner forms of energy and end the use of coal, if we are to stand a chance of limiting temperature rises.

Progress on this front remains sketchy, however: under current plans governments will continue to produce energy from fossil-fuel sources in quantities that will lead to more warming, despite improved climate commitments.

Over the next two decades, governments are projecting an increase in global oil and gas production, and only a modest decrease in coal production. Taken together, these plans mean that fossil fuel production will increase overall, at least until 2040.

These findings were laid out in the latest UN Production Gap report, which included profiles for 15 major fossil fuel-producing countries, showing that most will continue to support fossil fuel production growth.

In a bid to change this trajectory, the UN held a High-Level Dialogue on Energy, the first of its kind in 40 years. National governments committed to provide electricity to over 166 million people worldwide, and private companies pledged to reach just over 200 million.

Governments also committed to install an additional 698 gigawatts of renewable energy from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and renewables-based hydrogen, and businesses, notably power utilities, pledged to install an additional 823 GW, all by 2030.   

CIFOR/Terry Sunderland

Restoring natural habitats can help to address climate and biodiversity crises.

Making peace with nature

The increasing incidents of extreme weather is a clear sign that the natural world is reacting to man-made climate change but working with nature is touted as being one of the best ways to restore balance.

This will require a lot of investment, and an overhaul of the way we interact with the natural world.

The UN has estimated that an area of land roughly the size of China will need to restored to its natural state, if the planet’s biodiversity and the communities who rely on it are to be protected, and annual investments in nature-based solutions to the crisis will have to triple by 2030, and increase four-fold by 2050, if the world is to successfully tackle the triple threat of climate, biodiversity and land degradation.

Meanwhile, with more than a million species at risk of extinction, UN chief António Guterres called on countries to work together to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet, as the first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference opened in October (the second part is scheduled to take place in Spring 2022).

The conference will develop a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade.

© WFP/Badre Bahaji

Improving irrigation systems in developing countries supports livelihoods and helps attain the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Show me the money

From renewable energy, to electric transport, reforestation and lifestyle changes, there are countless solutions to tackling the climate crisis, which many believe is the existential threat of our times. However, it is still not entirely clear where the money will come from to pay for it all.

More than a decade ago, developed countries committed to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in support of climate action in developing countries. However, the figure has never been met.

Nevertheless, the business world seems to be waking up to the fact that climate investments make economic sense. In most countries, for example, going solar is now cheaper than building new coal power plants, and clean energy investments could create 18 million jobs by 2030. 

In October, 30 CEOs and senior business leaders of major companies, collectively worth some $16 trillion, attended a meeting of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance, to develop guidelines and products that align the existing finance and investment ecosystem, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Since its creation, the GISD Alliance has developed standards and tools aimed at moving trillions of dollars to finance a more sustainable world.

This year, GISD published its latest tool to accurately measure the impact of companies on sustainable development targets and provide investors with key insights. The group is now creating funds that will create real life opportunities to finance the Goals.

UN News/Laura Quiñones

Demonstration outside the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, representing the victims of the climate crisis.

Promising the Earth at COP26

The centrepiece climate change event of the year, at least in terms of its profile in the media and amongst general public, was the COP26 UN Climate Conference, held in Glasgow in November.

The intensive two-week event was convened to move on definitively from the promises made at the Paris Agreement adopted at the 2015 Conference, and actually work out the detail of turning these commitments into concrete action.

There had been many warnings ahead of COP26 that the conference would not deliver the desired results, and there were huge demonstrations in Glasgow – witnessed by our UN News team on the ground – and around the world, from people of all ages demanding more action from governments. 

Some COP veterans, however, sensed a different atmosphere from previous conferences, with more positivity, and a sense that something tangible could be achieved, and the early days of the event saw a major pledge to restore the world’s forests, along with a list of commitments from public and private sector actors to combat climate change, curb biodiversity destruction and hunger, and to protect indigenous peoples’ rights.

A potential answer to the question of climate finance seemed to come on ‘finance day‘, with the announcement that nearly 500 global financial services firms had agreed to align $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, many world leaders were left disappointed by finance negotiations held in Glasgow.

Bhutan, representing the group of Least Developed Countries (LDC) lamented that public statements made by countries often differ to what is heard at the negotiations.

“We came to Glasgow with high expectations. We need strong commitments to ensure the survival of the billion people living in the LDCs in the future”, said the country’s representative on ‘adaptation day’.

On ‘energy day’, the Global Clean Power Transition Statement was announced, a commitment to end coal investments, scale up clean power, make a just transition, and phase out coal by the 2030´s in major economies, and in the 2040´s elsewhere.

Some 77 countries, including 46 countries such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile, 23 of which are making commitments on ending coal for the first time, are members. However, the biggest coal financers (China, Japan and Republic of Korea) did not join.

UN News/Laura Quiñones

Negotiators marking the closing of the United Nations climate summit, COP26, which opened in Glasgow, Scotland, on 31 October. The conference sought new global commitments to tackle climate change.

‘Keep pushing forward’

The final agreement of COP26 was not without heartbreak and drama. At the last, much delayed, plenary session, chairperson Alok Sharma was moved to tears by the tense negotiations when a seemingly last-minute intervention by India adjusted the wording related to fossil fuels, to the fury of some countries.

However, the agreement was notable for the inclusion, for the first time ever at a COP, of those two words – fossil fuels – which the nations of the world agreed to “phase down” (rather than the original “phase out”, to the chagrin of Mr. Sharma, and many delegates).

Whilst some commentators believe that the agreement did not go far enough to save the world from a climate-related catastrophe, others saw hope in the spirit in which the negotiations took place, and the possibility that each subsequent COP will see tangible, and worthwhile steps towards a sustainable future for people and the planet.

“I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line”, said the UN Secretary-General, in response to the deal. “Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.
 

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Original Article: globalissues.org

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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change

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A new way to recycle large amounts of coffee grounds; a platform connecting young African activists; technology to produce electricity from ocean waves or recycle plastic. A new energy-efficient construction method – an innovative carpooling app. 

Read the full story, “From Milan to Glasgow, young Moroccans commit to fighting climate change”, on globalissues.org

Original Source: globalissues.org

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Health Workers Lauded for Role in Leprosy Treatment During Pandemic

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Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, thanks participants at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. He is with other participants from Japan, India and Nepal in the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign event. by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi, kenya)Thursday, January 20, 2022Inter Press Service

Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative.

A leprosy-free world was one where “patients and those cured of leprosy live free of discrimination and, people around them will be free of the misunderstanding, ignorance and fear that perpetuate discrimination”, he told the webinar.

Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative is a strategic alliance between WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and problems related to the disease. The initiative spearheaded a campaign, “Don’t Forget Leprosy”, to raise awareness about the condition in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO Goodwill Ambassador envisions a post-COVID world where those affected by leprosy will be liberated from such stigma and discrimination in keeping with human rights.

Sasakawa says this world is now at risk of delaying leprosy elimination due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was a 37 percent drop in reported new cases and leprosy programs in many countries have stalled or scaled back.

Participants heard about the role of health professionals in combating leprosy, recognition of this role and the successes and challenges faced in addressing leprosy during the ongoing health pandemic.

Their role, Sasakawa said, was a central pillar to the vision of a leprosy free world as it helps reduce transmission and disability.

An estimated three to four million people live with some form of disability caused by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.

“The ‘Don’t Forget Leprosy’ is a global campaign because our voices alone are not enough. Stopping leprosy requires (the involvement of) all of us, from India and Nepal to all other countries around the world,” he said.

Dr Rashmi Shukla outlined efforts in India to identify and treat patients with leprosy. He was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Dinesh Basnet, Central President of the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA) in Nepal, said he was happy to see progress in recent years.

“More so Nepal’s efforts to track and eliminate leprosy. Even during the pandemic, detection and treatment interventions were uninterrupted, and this has been possible due to government commitment and unrelenting efforts of health professionals,” said Basnet.

“People affected by leprosy were not forgotten as communication continued through WhatsApp groups, and this was critical during the lockdown.”

Dr Indra Napit, a senior Orthopedic Surgeon at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal, spoke about innovative technology in the trial of Autologous Blood products to promote ulcer healing in Leprosy. He added that a new drug was on trial to manage reactions to this form of treatment at this leprosy mission.

In a video message, Birodh Khatiwada, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, spoke of Nepal’s undisrupted program to address leprosy, including the continued supply of leprosy medication despite the pandemic.

He says Nepal has already prepared the National Leprosy Roadmap, 2021-2030, National Leprosy Strategy 2021-2025, in line with the Global Leprosy Strategy, Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sasakawa emphasized that it was indeed the ultimate goal for India and other affected countries worldwide to reach zero leprosy cases by 2030.

Despite challenges in the fight to eliminate leprosy, a ray of hope shines through, with Anju Sharma sharing good practices in case finding in India amid the ongoing health pandemic.

Sharma is an accredited Social Health Activist and is considered a driving force behind India’s public health system and an essential link between the community and the public health system.

“Screening for leprosy during the pandemic is much more difficult. As COVID-19 cases increase, so does my responsibilities because I have to strictly follow COVID-19 protocols, and this takes a lot of time,” Sharma explained.

“Due to the pandemic, people are hesitant about getting screened. But I reassure them that protocols will be observed and remind them that failure to detect and treat leprosy can lead to disability.”

Dr Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju, acting team leader, WHO Global Leprosy Programme, emphasized that discussing the role of health workers was critical, and hearing from those in the frontlines helps efforts to eliminate the pandemic move forward.

WHO, he said, subscribes to the Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign. He lauded ongoing efforts to sustain counselling for those affected by leprosy and those who tracked and managed Nepal-India cross border leprosy cases despite challenges COVID-19 protocols like restrictions on movement and lockdowns.

Dinesh Basnet, a person affected by leprosy thanked health care workers and others for their efforts in eliminating the disease. He was talking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Similarly, Dr Rabindra Baskota, the Leprosy Control and Disability Management Section director in Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that health workers had been relentless to find new cases, raising awareness on leprosy and treating patients despite ongoing challenges.

“Still, there is a need to train community health workers to detect new cases and manage reactions to leprosy treatment even as older and more experienced health workers retire,” he said.

Dr Anil Kumar, the deputy director-general (Leprosy) in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who spoke about good practices in combating leprosy said that a leprosy-free India was not very far off.

Despite a notable decline in screening and detecting cases due to COVID-19, he said critical interventions were nonetheless rolled out, and that leprosy-related services continued at the grassroots level.

“Migrant labourers were screened for leprosy at point of return to home districts and patients on treatment tracked. Treatment defaulters were cross notified based on the address in treatment record,” Kumar said.

“A WhatsApp group titled Leprosy Action Group was created for cross notification, and members included state leprosy officers and partners. Supportive supervision and monitoring up to sub-district level using virtual platforms continues.”

Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, Dr Takahiro Nanri, moderated a panel discussion that included a session to further shed light on additional support needed to achieve leprosy elimination milestones.

Sasakawa suggested that health workers’ training included human rights, and the panel lauded health workers for their passionate and proactive steps to eliminate the disease.


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Ominous History in Real Time: Where We Are Now in the USA

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US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session last year. In his inaugural address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN, Biden called for a new era of global unity against the compounding crises of COVID-19, climate change and insecurity. Credit: UN Photo/Cia PakOpinion by Norman Solomon (san francisco, usa)Monday, January 17, 2022Inter Press Service

Dollar figures can look abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had asked for “only” $12 billion more than President Trump’s bloated military budget of the previous year — but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan hawkery in the House and Senate, which provided a boost of $37 billion instead.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of the federal government’s total discretionary spending — while programs for helping instead of killing are on short rations at many local, state, and national government agencies. It’s a nonstop trend of reinforcing the warfare state in sync with warped neoliberal priorities. While outsized profits keep benefiting the upper class and enriching the already obscenely rich, the cascading effects of extreme income inequality are drowning the hopes of the many.

Corporate power constrains just about everything, whether healthcare or education or housing or jobs or measures for responding to the climate emergency. What prevails is the political structure of the economy.

Class war in the United States has established what amounts to oligarchy. A zero-sum economic system, aka corporate capitalism, is constantly exercising its power to reward and deprive. The dominant forces of class warfare — disproportionately afflicting people of color while also steadily harming many millions of whites — continue to undermine basic human rights including equal justice and economic security.

In the real world, financial power is political power. A system that runs on money is adept at running over people without it.

The words “I can’t breathe,” repeated nearly a dozen times by Eric Garner in a deadly police chokehold, resonated for countless people whose names we’ll never know. The intersections of racial injustice and predatory capitalism are especially virulent zones, where many lives gradually or suddenly lose what is essential for life.

Discussions of terms like “racism” and “poverty” too easily become facile, abstracted from human consequences, while unknown lives suffocate at the hands of routine injustice, systematic cruelties, the way things predictably are.

An all-out war on democracy is now underway in the United States. More than ever, the Republican Party is the electoral arm of unabashed white supremacy as well as such toxicities as xenophobia, nativism, anti-gay bigotry, patriarchy, and misogyny.

The party’s rigid climate denial is nothing short of deranged. Its approach to the Covid pandemic has amounted to an embrace of death in the name of rancid individualism. With its Supreme Court justices in place, the “Grand Old Party” has methodically slashed voting rights and abortion rights.

Overall, on domestic matters, the partisan matchup is between neoliberalism and neofascism. While the abhorrent roles of the Democratic leadership are extensive, to put it mildly, the two parties now represent hugely different constituencies and agendas at home. Not so on matters of war and peace.

Both parties continue to champion what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.” When King described the profligate spending for a distant war as “some demonic, destructive suction tube,” he was condemning dynamics that endure with a vengeance.

Today, the madness and the denial are no less entrenched. A militaristic core serves as a sacred touchstone for faith in America as the world’s one and only indispensable nation. Gargantuan Pentagon budgets are taken for granted, as is the assumed prerogative to bomb other countries at will.

Every budget has continued to include massive outlays for nuclear weapons, including gigantic expenditures for so-called “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal. A fact that this book cited when it was first published — that the United States had ten thousand nuclear warheads and Russia had a comparable number — is no longer true; most estimates say those stockpiles are now about half as large.

But the current situation is actually much more dangerous. In 2007, the Doomsday Clock maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pegged the world’s proximity to annihilation at five minutes to apocalyptic Midnight.

As 2022 began, the symbolic hands were at one hundred seconds to Midnight. Such is the momentum of the nuclear arms race, fueled by profit-driven military contractors. Lofty rhetoric about seeking peace is never a real brake on the nationalistic thrust of militarism.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the third decade of this century is shaping up to unfold new wrinkles in American hegemonic conceits. Along the way, Joe Biden has echoed a central precept of doublethink in George Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984: “War is Peace.”

Speaking at the United Nations as the autumn of 2021 began, Biden proclaimed: “I stand here today, for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not at war. We’ve turned the page.” But the turned page was bound into a volume of killing with no foreseeable end.

The United States remained at war, bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere, with much information withheld from the public. And increases in U.S. belligerence toward both Russia and China escalated the risks of a military confrontation that could lead to nuclear war.

A rosy view of the USA’s future is only possible when ignoring history in real time. After four years of the poisonous Trump presidency, the Biden strain of corporate liberalism offers a mix of antidotes and ongoing toxins. The Republican Party, now neofascist, is in a strong position to gain control of the U.S. government by mid-decade.

Preventing such a cataclysm seems beyond the grasp of the same Democratic Party elites that paved the way for Donald Trump to become president in the first place. Realism about the current situation — clarity about how we got here and where we are now — is necessary to mitigate impending disasters and help create a better future. Vital truths must be told. And acted upon.

This article is adapted from the new edition of Norman Solomon’s book “Made Love, Got War,” just published as a free e-book.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State, published in a new edition as a free e-book in January 2022. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.


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