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]

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]

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]

Iranians crossing the English Channel in dinghies

Since 3 November, 101 migrants – including four children – have attempted the 21-mile journey across the English Channel, which one policeman likened to “trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”. All claimed to be Iranian.

Why? The answer to the last question could lie 1,200 miles away in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Miodrag Ćakić, chief executive of Refugee Aid Serbia, which monitors migration through the Balkans, believes migrants arriving in the UK are among the thousands who flew into Serbia after the country began offering visa-free access to Iranians in August last year. The move was ostensibly intended to increase tourism and trade between Iran, the world’s 25th largest economy, and Serbia, the 90th. The visa scheme ended on 17 October, by which time some 40,000 Iranians were said to have flown to the Balkan nation. Serbian police estimate the number of Iranians who failed to return at 12,000.

Kaveh Kalantri, of the Iranian Association which supports refugees in the UK, said a lack of freedom and human rights violations were driving some Iranians out of their country. “People get arrested if they have liberal or left-wing views, or if they are from religious minorities. A lot of people experience violence on a daily basis.”

In the past two years, Iranian citizens have made more UK asylum applications than any other nationality, according to Home Office figures. In 2017, they accounted for 9% of the 26,350 applications. “Iranians coming to the UK is not unusual, but the way they are coming is,” Mr Kalantri said.

One theory as to why Iranians are choosing to risk their lives on boats stems from their comparative wealth to other refugees – simply put, they can afford to pay smuggling gangs to get them onboard a vessel.

[BBC]

Charities tell US ‘act now over Yemen’ or share blame for mass famine

The United States will bear shared responsibility for what may be the largest famine in decades if it does not cease its military support for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen, the heads of five major humanitarian organizations have warned.

In an unusually stark joint statement, the leaders of the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, CARE US, Save the Children USA and the Norwegian Refugee Council USA together urged the US government to act to save Yemeni lives.

“14 million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen if the parties to the conflict and their supporters do not change course immediately,” their statement says.

“If the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Ansar Allah, and other parties to the conflict fail to take steps, and if the United States does not use all levers of pressure to compel them to do so, responsibility for the deaths of many more Yemeni civilians will lie not only with the parties to the conflict, but with the United States as well,” the statement says.

Yemen’s war of three-and-a-half years has killed at least 10,000 people and pushed the nation to the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years, leaving 14 million people — about half the country’s population — at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Save the Children said Wednesday that an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war began.

The five humanitarian organizations acknowledge that the US is one of the most generous humanitarian donors in Yemen. But, they say, “these contributions pale in comparison to the harm caused by US military support and diplomatic cover to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”

[CNN]

US authorities fire tear gas to disperse migrants at border

A major US-Mexico border crossing in San Diego, one of the world’s busiest international crossings, was closed for hours on Sunday after a group of migrants on the Mexican side rushed the border area, leading US Border Patrol agents to fire tear gas at the group.

About 500 migrants on the Mexican side of the border overwhelmed police blockades near the San Ysidro Port of Entry Sunday afternoon. As the migrants tried to cross the border, authorities on the US side used tear gas to disperse them. Video of the scene showed a cloud of tear gas that sent people running and screaming, including families with young children.

US Customs and Border Protection said the migrants threw projectiles that struck several agents. “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety,” the agency said on Twitter.

The incident marked an escalation of tensions that have been mounting since groups of Central American migrants began arriving in Tijuana a few weeks ago on their journey to attempt to gain entry to the United States.

The migrants’ presence has drawn demonstrators — for and against them — and threats from President Donald Trump to close the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, Tijuana’s mayor has called on the Mexican government and the international community for help.

The melee closed San Ysidro Port of Entry to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, with all northbound and southbound traffic halted for several hours. Every day more than 100,000 people enter the U.S. there.

President Trump later tweeted: “Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”

[CNN/Fox]

Trump administration climate report says damage is ‘intensifying across the country’

The federal government on Friday released a long-awaited report with an unmistakable message: The effects of climate change, including deadly wildfires, increasingly debilitating hurricanes and heat waves, are already battering the United States, and the danger of more such catastrophes is worsening.

The report’s authors, who represent numerous federal agencies, say they are more certain than ever that climate change poses a severe threat to Americans’ health and pocketbooks, as well as to the country’s infrastructure and natural resources. The congressionally mandated document is the first of its kind issued during the Trump administration.

Already, western mountain ranges are retaining much less snow throughout the year, threatening water supplies below them. Coral reefs in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Florida and the United States’ Pacific territories are experiencing severe bleaching events. Wildfires are devouring ever-larger areas during longer fire seasons. And the country’s sole Arctic state, Alaska, is seeing a staggering rate of warming that has upended its ecosystems, from once ice-clogged coastlines to increasingly thawing permafrost tundras.

The authors argue that global warming “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” And they conclude that humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes “to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

“The impacts we’ve seen the last 15 years have continued to get stronger, and that will only continue,” said Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report. “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.”

That urgency is at odds with the stance of the Trump administration, which has rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations and incentivized the production of fossil fuels. Trump also has said he plans to withdraw the nation from the Paris climate accord and questioned the science of climate change just last month, saying on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that “I don’t know that it’s man-made” and that the warming trend “could very well go back.”

Some of the hundreds of scientists and federal officials who spent months working on the detailed document were frustrated, but not surprised, that the administration chose to release it on the day after Thanksgiving — typically one of the slowest news days of the year.

[Washington Post]

Death toll spikes as new European policies push migrants towards more dangerous sea routes

Desperate migrants are choosing ever more dangerous sea routes to Europe and using smaller and less seaworthy boats, causing a sharp increase in drowning deaths, warns the International Organization for Migration.

So far this year, at least 631 African migrants have died while attempting to reach Spain, a threefold increase from all of 2017. In one of the deadliest incidents, earlier this month at least two dozen North African migrants drowned in stormy seas near Cadiz, within sight of the Spanish shore.

The European Union’s success in cutting deals to close off the sea routes from Turkey to Greece, and from Libya to Italy, has resulted in an overall drop in the number of migrants arriving on the continent — 128,265 so far this year, compared to almost 187,000 in 2017, and 390,000 in 2016.

But it appears to have had a knock-on effect, pushing the migrants further and further west. Some are now even arriving in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago 100 kilometres off the Moroccan coast. Migrants are also now being plucked from the sea off the British coast, with at least 76 people rescued from nine boats off Dover over the past two weeks, although it appears that they are making the crossing from France.

Yet despite the concerns over the rising death toll, many European nations seem focused on enacting even tougher anti-migrant policies.

This week, prosecutors in Sicily moved to seize a migrant rescue vessel operated by Medecins Sans Frontières and another aid organization. And soon, Italy’s parliament will vote on a new immigration law proposed by the populist government that will remove humanitarian protections for migrants and block asylum seekers from accessing services. These are moves that UN human rights experts have said will “certainly” violate international law.

Meanwhile in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is ratcheting up his attacks on the European Union, calling it a “transport agency” for migrants that hands out funds and “anonymous bank cards” to “terrorists and criminals.”

[CBC]

Creative solutions for refugees, filling a country’s labor gaps

Nagham Abu Issa was working as an executive assistant in a cement factory in Damascus when the civil war started in Syria. Her family fled to Lebanon. She is a refugee, but she is also a valuable employee, with a degree from Damascus University in English literature and has studied human resources. Now she hopes to take that savvy to Canada, not through resettlement but to fill the country’s labor gaps.

She has interviewed with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), an international NGO that has started pilots in Canada and Australia to match a small number of refugees based in Lebanon and Jordan with employment opportunities abroad. The experiment is aiming high: to forge a new pathway for refugees to be recognized for what they can bring to a country, not for the state of the countries they were forced to leave. In so doing, TBB hopes to shift attitudes about refugees among Western nations and their immigration systems, some of which are under assault by the rise of populism and nativism. Bruce Cohen, co-founder of TBB and former chief counsel and staff director for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, created a searchable database for displaced jobseekers in Lebanon and Jordan that today holds more than 11,000 resumes. “It is really getting rid of this image of refugees as unskilled, poor, pitiful.”

In Canada jobs are plentiful. The government recently announced it will take in 350,000 immigrants in 2021, or 40,000 more than it expects to admit this year. Canadian employers have also expressed interest in hiring refugees. The TBB program works with federal and provincial governments in Canada on visas and connects employers to refugee talent. It helps businesses overcome legal barriers refugees face that traditional economic migrants would not, such as a lack of passports or access to education records.

Heather Segal, founder of Segal Immigration Law in Toronto, is working pro-bono with TBB because she says too many skilled refugees stagnate while nations like Canada face labor shortages. “Why are we obviating a group of educated, skilled people because their country fell apart?” she says. “There is a gap here that needs to be addressed…. We need creative solutions for the refugee system in the 21st century.”

In the United States, the Tent Partnership for Refugees works with businesses to facilitate refugee hires, both in countries to which they first flee and where they are ultimately resettled. Tent Partnership’s leaders argue that it is not just the right thing to do, it makes both strategic and business sense. A report released by Tent and the Fiscal Policy Institute in May, for example, showed higher retention rates and resilience among the refugee workforce in the US market.

[Christian Science Monitor]