Fate of humanity weighing heavy on ministerial shoulders at UN Climate Change Conference

Government Ministers gathering in Poland will need extreme courage and conviction to make life-saving decisions if humanity is to be saved from the worst impacts of climate change, Oxfam and CARE International said.

Despite it forming the key scientific input to this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, COP24, a handful of countries blocked inclusion of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leaving it to ministers to ensure the report is put back into the heart of conference outcomes.

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s Global Policy Lead on Climate Change and Resilience, said: “The landmark science report on 1.5°C has shown that we need immediate action to reduce emissions now, not in the future. This week, we expect ministers to no longer hide behind the inaction of the United States and Saudi Arabia, to no longer stay silent, but to speak up for both agreed rules on implementing the Paris Agreement and enhanced national action plans. This is essential to lead us towards roughly halving emissions by 2030 compared to today.”

Kristen Hite, Oxfam Climate Change Policy Lead, said: “It’s unacceptable that despite the clear findings of the IPCC governments are still refusing to see the writing on the wall … There is real energy and leadership amongst from states, but how many more people need to die from drought-induced hunger or thirst before everyone agrees to limit global warming? How many more communities should burn, or drown?”

Oxfam and CARE are also calling on governments to agree on strict accounting rules which ensure that only dedicated funding for real climate action gets counted towards the $100 billion per year which developing countries have been promised.

[CARE/Oxfam]

Climate Change Conference in Poland

A wide range of scientists, engineers and thinkers agree that we have the technological capacity to stem global warming, keeping temperatures below the 1.5°C target that scientists warn would bring some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

This is the challenge that has drawn thousands of politicians, policymakers, scientists and advocates from around the world here to Katowice, Poland, this month for the most significant United Nations climate conference since the landmark gathering that resulted in the Paris Agreement in 2015. The more than 20,000 people assembled in this industrial city at the heart of Polish coal industry will play a pivotal role keeping the Paris Agreement on track to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, leading climate officials say. Failure could derail the delicate multilateral process that has taken decades to reach this point.

“After three years we’re still negotiating the work plan to deliver on the Paris Agreement,” María Fernanda Espinosa, president of the U.N. General Assembly, tells TIME. “We really need some political traction and some real commitment.”

The key issue at hand is the so-called rulebook, a technical document that lays out how countries report on their progress to address climate change. Do developing countries have to abide by the same standards as their wealthy counterparts? How can we ensure that the reporting is transparent? The questions may sound simple, but they’re enough to flummox seasoned climate policy experts whose views vary wildly.

And, climate negotiators warn that if the rulebook doesn’t come together, countries may not be willing to commit to take bigger steps to reduce their emissions.

[TIME]

South Sudan’s man-made crisis

Since gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has struggled to fulfill the promise of a new nation, eventually descending into civil war in late 2013. The country continues to bear the devastating human and financial costs of a complex conflict with ever-changing armed and political actors.

South Sudan has received significant humanitarian aid from the United States and the international community for decades. Since 2011, total humanitarian funding surpassed $9.5 billion. Aid organizations face an array of humanitarian access constraints while working to address the acute needs of 7 million people, roughly half of the country.

Since 2013, more than 4 million South Sudanese, or approximately 1 in 3 of its citizens, 85 percent of whom are women and children, have been forced from home. Of the 7 million people currently in need of humanitarian aid, 5.3 million are food insecure. A recent study showed that the conflict has led to almost 400,000 deaths since late 2013.

Although there is cause for cautious optimism after a peace agreement was signed in September 2018, these humanitarian needs will only grow in the absence of sustainable peace and a political solution to the man-made crisis in South Sudan.

[Center for Strategic and International Studies]

Rescue ship forced to terminate operations in Mediterranean

European policies and obstruction tactics have forced the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS Méditerranée to terminate the lifesaving operations carried out by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius, the last dedicated rescue boat operating in the Central Mediterranean.

“This is a dark day,” said Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”

Over the past two months, with people continuing to flee by sea along the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port in Marseille, unable to carry out its humanitarian work. This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimize, slander, and obstruct aid organizations providing assistance to vulnerable people. Coupled with the European Union’s (EU) ill-conceived external policies on migration, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS Méditerranée have no choice but to end the Aquarius’ operations.

The forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time: an estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

“Today, Europe is directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies. “Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women, and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape. … As long as people are drowning and trapped in Libya, MSF remains committed to finding ways to provide them with medical and humanitarian care.”

Since the start of its search and rescue program in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy, and Malta.

[MSF]

Nearly 4,000 migrants have died trying to get to the US

Associated Press revealed that nearly 4,000 migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, have died or gone missing along the route through Mexico toward the U.S. border in the past four years.

Associated Press pointed out that even its own number is “likely low,” with bodies being likely to have been lost in the desert, or families being reluctant to report their missing loved ones if they planned on entering the U.S. or other countries illegally.

The thousands of predominantly Central American migrants who have died or gone missing on the journey to the U.S. are among 56,800 people—including refugees and asylum seekers—worldwide who have died or disappeared since 2014, the AP has found in a separate report. That number is almost double the count found in the world’s only official attempt by the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The AP has said it compiled its data from information from international groups, forensic records, death records, missing persons’ reports and data examination from thousands of interviews with asylum seekers.

According to a Missing Migrants Project, a joint research project by IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center (GMDAC) and Media and Communications Division (MCD),  in the area around the U.S.-Mexico border, the Missing Migrants Project recorded 364 deaths in 2018 alone. The AP’s estimates suggest that those numbers, however, are likely higher.

[Newsweek]

Conflict and hunger fuel each other

The number of conflicts has risen in the past decade, particularly in countries already facing high levels of food insecurity, so has the scale of conflict-related hunger. In 2017, conflict and related violence were the primary drivers of food insecurity in 18 countries.

People living in areas affected by conflict are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in more stable developing countries.

On average, in countries affected by conflict, 56% of the population live in rural areas where livelihoods largely depend on agriculture.

Some parties to a conflict deliberately deny humanitarian assistance or target humanitarian workers and assets. In the worst cases, conflict actors have actively targeted civilians’ food access, agriculture and productive assets. The return of famine and near-famine conditions in several countries in recent years is a direct consequence of growing conflict and a disregard for international norms.

The gravity of this situation led the UN Security Council to act. The landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2417, unanimously adopted on 24 May 2018, strongly condemns the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access.

Addressing the underlying causes of hunger and supporting resilient small-scale agriculture can contribute to stabilization and recovery.

[ReliefWeb]

UN seeks billions of dollars to tackle humanitarian crises

The UN on Tuesday appealed to the international community to help raise $21.9 billion to tackle more than 20 humanitarian crises across the globe.

However, that figure does not include funding requirements for Syria, which would likely bring the total to more than $25 billion.

According to the UN, one in every 70 people is directly affected by a crisis. With their funding target, aid projects are hoping to assist more than 90 million people. But some countries require more humanitarian assistance than others, such as Yemen.

“The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said during a press conference in Geneva. Yemen has been dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian situation, with eight million people requiring food assistance monthly. That figure is likely to top 12 million by next year, Lowcock added.

Humanitarian crises have grown longer over the past decade despite a significant increase in fundraising, said a report published on Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). By 2017, the average length of a humanitarian crisis with UN involvement grew from four years to seven, “while the number of active crises receiving an internationally-led response almost doubled from 16 to 30.”

[Deutsche Welle]

New California governor stands with migrants, vows to withdraw troops from border

A month out from his inauguration, California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is staking out his own ground when it comes to immigration policy and relations with Mexico:

“What’s the point of our National Guard being there at this point? I can’t see any,’’ he told POLITICO in a phone interview from Mexico as he prepared to attend the inauguration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He said he would review current National Guard commitments — those made by Governor Brown under pressure from President Donald Trump. Those commitments are set to extend until March 31.

But Newsom said he believed those troops could be far better utilized. “There’s plenty for them to do on the Camp fire and recovery efforts,’’ as well as “on the humanitarian front’’ where the immediate need for shelter, food and medical care is clearly “not going away anytime soon,’’ he said.

Newsom directly challenged Trump’s characterization of migrant caravans at the border as a national security emergency and said the president should be “showing up and meeting” refugees to see for himself the immediate scope of a severe humanitarian crisis developing there.

“I don’t care who you are, Republican or Democrat,’’ said Newsom, who said he was shaken by the stories and desperate conditions of very young children and refugees at a border detention center, where he spoke with them directly. “The empathy, on a human level has to be considered here.” He said he was also deeply concerned to see hoards of desperate migrants at the border have no legal representation as they seek asylum, many from dangerous situations in Central America. They need “the benefit of some legal aide.“

Newsom said he will explore a role for California’s Office of Emergency Services to aid refugees who have already arrived in California and hopes to assist services being offered by nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army.

Newsom challenged Trump’s threats to close the border at length — purportedly because of security issues related to the caravans — saying it would have potentially catastrophic economic effects on California and the nation as a whole. Newsom also called on state, local and regional officials to immediately address the plight of migrants, some of who are awaiting asylum claims, and whom he said he learned are being dropped off by ICE in San Diego without shelter, food or medical treatment. The situation, he said, has left many vulnerable to human trafficking, crime and health issues that could impact California communities.

The Governor-elect has suggested he would take an interactive approach with the Mexican government and revive commissions and trade offices. Newsom appears to be culturally tied to California’s neighbor to the south: His wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, speaks fluent Spanish and speaks the language to their four children at home, believing fluency in the language to be critical in a border state.

[Politico]

At 87, her mission to help immigrants hasn’t slowed down

Growing up, Florence Phillips experienced first-hand the burden of being a child of immigrants who didn’t speak English. Helping her parents interact with the outside world fell on her shoulders. “I did all the translations for them,” Phillips said. “I saw how they struggled being new to a country and not knowing the language.”

For most of her life, Phillips worked various desk jobs. Then, in her late-50s, she enlisted in the Peace Corps. She served three tours—in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica—working on community-building projects and teaching English. After returning to the US in 1999, at age 69, Phillips realized there were countless people in her own backyard in need of her support.

She became an AmeriCorps volunteer and moved around the country, eventually settling in Nevada, where immigrants make up roughly one in five of the state’s population. Phillips met many adult immigrants who were struggling to learn English. To address the need, she started the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada, a nonprofit that provides free ESL (English as a Second Language), citizenship, GED and computer classes.

Today, at 87 years old—when most people are deep in retirement—Phillips shows no signs of winding down.

CNN’s Laura Klairmont asked Phillips, “How has your work affected the lives of your students?”

Phililips’ response:  I have students that were promoted to be supervisor. I get students who call me and say, “I was able to talk with the teacher about my child.” And I’m being told by the students that they went to the market and the clerk understood them. Those are the rewards I get as they progress. …I see the pride when they say, ‘I am an American.’”

[CNN]

US Congress passes measure to provide humanitarian aid to genocide victims

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure in late November to provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and to hold Islamic State perpetrators accountable. The Senate also has passed its version of the measure unanimously.

“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive — especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at risk,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said in remarks from the House floor before the vote. “We should commit to such a response whether the victims are the Rohingya in Burma or Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria.”

Smith, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, introduced the legislation in 2016 and again in 2017, with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California.

He noted that he had just met earlier that day Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, and the prelate told him: “Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. H.R. 390 is vital to our survival. If it becomes law, implementation must be full and fast. Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us.”

Among its key provisions, the bill directs the administration to:
— Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities.
— Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee.

In Iraq, the number of Christians is below 200,000, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before IS militants went on a genocidal campaign, according to figures provided by Smith’s congressional office. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Irbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. Of the 550,000 Yezidis who remain in Iraq, about 280,000 are still displaced and also need assistance to return to their homes.

[CNS]