Amazon Fires: Our House Is Burning – Macron

 

Paris and the United Nations called Thursday for the protection of the fire-plagued Amazon rainforest as Brazil’s right-wing president accused his French counterpart of having a “colonialist mentality” over the issue.

Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year — the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.

The extent of the area damaged by fires has yet to be determined, but smoke has choked Sao Paulo and several other Brazilian cities in the past week.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the fires.

“In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity,” he said on Twitter.

“The Amazon must be protected.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said the wildfires were “an international crisis” and called on the globe’s most industrialized nations to address it at their summit this weekend.

“Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen is burning,” Macron said on Twitter.

“It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let’s talk in two days about this emergency.”

That did not sit well with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

Neighboring Peru, which contains much of the Amazon basin, announced it was “on alert” for wildfires spreading from the rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia.

Paraguay and Bolivia are battling separate wildfires that have devastated large areas of their rainforests.

‘Rapid deforestation’

Environmental specialists say the fires have accompanied a rapid rate of deforestation in the Amazon region, which in July quadrupled compared to the same month in 2018, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Bolsonaro instead attributes the fires to increased drought, and accuses environmental groups and NGOs of whipping up an “environmental psychosis” to harm Brazil’s economic interests.

“This environmental psychosis lets you do nothing,” the president lamented, adding that it was hampering the country’s development.

“I don’t want to finish the environment, I want to save Brazil,” said Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic who had advocated opening up tribal lands and protected areas to farming and mining interests since assuming office in January.

Bolsonaro’s comments come as Brazil hosts a UN regional meeting on climate change in the northeastern city of Salvador ahead of December’s summit in Chile.

A senior Brazilian official defended Brazil’s environmental policy at the conference and said it complied with the Paris Agreement against global warming.

“We are teaching the world how to produce. In only 29 percent of our territory we produce food for everyone.

“Worldwide, the average land use for agriculture exceeds 50 percent — we only use 29 percent,” said Roberto Castelo, an environment ministry official who was roundly booed by greens at the conference.

Not ‘Captain Nero’

“I do not defend the burnings, because there always was and always will be burnings. Unfortunately, this has always happened in the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said, referring to dry season, land-clearing fires.

“But accusing me of being a Captain Nero setting fire to things is irresponsible. It is campaigning against Brazil,” the president told reporters outside his Brasilia residence.

The reference to Captain Nero appeared to be to the Roman emperor said to have fiddled while Rome burned. Bolsonaro is a former army captain.

Forest fires tend to intensify during the dry season, which usually ends in late October or early November, as land is cleared to make way for crops or grazing.

“Just think, if the world begins imposing trade barriers, our agribusiness will fall, we will start to go backwards, the economy will start to get worse — your life, the lives of newspaper editors, television owners, the lives of all Brazilians will be complicated, without exception. The press is committing suicide,” Bolsonaro said.

‘Environmental pariah’

However, there are signs of growing concern from within the powerful agribusiness sector over Bolsonaro’s environmental isolationism.

The governors of Brazil’s Amazon states have also criticized the government for recent decisions by Germany and Norway to suspend Amazon aid projects.

“This week two big German media outlets expressed the idea that it was time to start boycotting Brazilian products. It’s only a matter of time,” Marcello Brito, head of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, told the Valor daily.

“The question is, who is interested in transforming Brazil into an environmental pariah,” he asked.

“We cannot change the president of the republic. What our sector can do is work, in a unified way, to try to reverse the damage as much as possible.”

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Sets Sail For NYC

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg walks along the quayside to board an electric powered RIB. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / POOL / AFP

 

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg sets sail on Wednesday for New York, heading for a UN summit on a zero-emissions yacht skippered by a member of Monaco’s ruling family.

The 16-year-old Swede, whose school strikes have inspired children across the world to protest against global warming, refuses to fly because of the carbon emissions caused by planes.

But she has been offered a lift on the Malizia II racing yacht, along with her father Svante and a filmmaker to document the journey, that will allow her to attend the UN talks in September with a clear conscience.

The 60-foot (18-metre) boat is skippered by Pierre Casiraghi, vice president of the Monaco Yacht Club and a member of the principality’s ruling family, and German round-the-world sailor Boris Herrmann.

The journey takes about two weeks — the yacht can travel at speeds of around 35 knots (70 kilometres an hour) but will be heading into the wind for much of the time so will be slower, and the captain wants a smooth ride.

“The objective is to arrive safe and sound in New York,” Herrmann told AFP as he made final preparations in the English port of Plymouth.

‘Pressure on people in power’

Thunberg has become a figurehead for climate action with her stark warnings of catastrophe if the world does not act now to cut carbon emissions and curb global warming.

Speaking to AFP before she set sail, the activist said: “Of course there are many people who don’t understand and accept the science.

“I will just have to do what I have always done — ignore them and just tell the science as it is,” she added in reference to her North American trip.

“We create an international opinion and movement so that people stand together and put pressure on the people in power.”

The yacht is made for racing, with foils, or wings, that lift it out of the water for a faster and smoother ride.

Inside it is sparse, fitted with high-tech navigation equipment, an on-board ocean laboratory to monitor CO2 levels in the water, and four bunks — Herrmann and Casiraghi will share one, sleeping in turns.

The toilet is a blue plastic bucket, complete with a biodegradable bag that can be thrown overboard, and meals will be freeze-dried packets of vegan food mixed with water heated on a tiny gas stove.

But state-of-the-art solar panels adorn the yacht’s deck and sides while there are two hydro-generators, which together provide all the electricity they need on board.

Thunberg has never sailed before this week, and got seasick on their first journey out of Plymouth on Monday, but said she was looking forward to the adventure.

The teenager, who has spent hours on trains across Europe to spread her message, was relaxed about the basic conditions.

“You can’t really ask for that much if you get to sail across the Atlantic for free,” she said, adding: “I am grateful for what I have.”

Grannies For Future: 100-Year-Old German Enters Politics

Lisel Heise, one hundered years of age and member of the town council points at something as she walks on a street on July 4, 2019 in the southwestern German city of Kirchheimbolanden. DANIEL ROLAND / AFP

 

German great-grandmother Lisel Heise’s ambition to enter politics crystalised a few years before her 100th birthday when organisers of a public hearing cut off her microphone.

Heise, who retired from teaching school 40 years ago, was arguing for the reopening of an outdoor pool.

“When I started out, some people really didn’t want to listen to me apparently — they even pulled the plug!” she said, still stunned by the impudence.

“Now people from around the world are coming to talk to me. Who’s laughing now?”

What changed was Heise’s election, against the odds, to the town council of Kirchheimbolanden in southwestern Germany just weeks after she embarked on her second century on the planet.

It was no accident that the pool galvanised Heise, given two issues close to her heart: young people and public health.

Those concerns have also dovetailed in another pet cause: climate protection.

The remarkably spry Heise says she has taken inspiration from the Fridays for Future youth protest movement.

“The kids really give me hope. There is a tendency in politics to favour the car industry and that’s counterproductive,” she said.

“It’s great that the youth aren’t just waiting for the grownups to do something.”

‘Bundles of energy’

Heise, who takes daily walks through the quaint old town of Kirchheimbolanden, population 8,000, is part of a groundswell of seniors unwilling to sit out their dotage on the sidelines of public life.

The Omas Gegen Rechts (Grannies Against the Right) action group fighting extremism launched in Austria in 2017 and has since expanded to Germany. It regularly rallies elderly women, drawing on the lessons of history to stand up to racism.

Heise’s political career began in earnest earlier this year when a town council member, Thomas Bock, 59, saw her as a potential ally.

Bock runs the political group Wir fuer Kibo (WfK, roughly We for Kibo, the town’s nickname), which is agitating against the established parties for more transparency and accountability.

He needed a candidate who would have the gravitas and passion to fight the powers that be.

“She’s got a strong character and bundles of energy,” he said.

Bock said the fact that most middle-aged Kirchheimbolanden natives had had Heise as a teacher when they were young was also a distinct advantage.

“Everyone respects her,” Bock said.

‘Chance to right some wrongs’

The town has been governed for more than two decades by Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, most recently in a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats just like the one Merkel leads in Berlin.

But WfK’s success has helped shift the majority, and now a new alliance of left-leaning parties is ready to take over the 24-member council.

Heise said her election was pure luck. “But now that I have the chance to right some wrongs, I’m going to seize it,” she added.

Not only is Heise a political rising star but also, of course, a witness to much of Germany’s tumultuous 20th century.

Born in the aftermath of World War I, Heise said her father Fritz Waltgenbach, who owned a shoe factory, was also a town council member.

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, he spoke out before his peers against the torching of the local synagogue and the persecution of Jews in their midst.

“The Nazis always talked about freedom but (in fact) you had to do what the party said and it led to awful things,” Heise said.

Waltgenbach spent several weeks in prison until a friend intervened with well-placed connections in Berlin, preventing him from being packed off to a concentration camp.

Heise said she likes to think she inherited some of his civic courage.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she smiled.

‘Ashamed’ of Trump link

Heise lives a short walk from the site of the former synagogue, where a mature tree and a memorial now stand, in the sprawling house she once shared with her parents.

Widowed four years ago after more than seven decades of marriage, she now lives there with one of her four children and an adult grandson. She has eight great-grandchildren.

Heise regularly entertains visitors in her sitting room, which is filled with books including a prominently displayed volume of photos of Barack Obama.

“A politician needs to have a vision and think logically but also humanistically,” she said.

US President Donald Trump, whose ancestors came from the nearby village of Kallstadt, is “turning the world upside down”, she said.

“I’m ashamed his grandfather is from here.”

Heise stays physically and mentally fit working in her flower garden and watching political talk shows.

Cafe owner Sepandar Lashkari, 44, said Heise had been one of his first customers when he opened for business a few years ago and they’ve been close friends ever since.

Lashkari, who moved to Germany from Iran as a teenager, called Heise “great publicity for the town”. He said she had also drained some of the cynicism that tends to pervade politics.

“A lot of people have become more politically active because of her,” he said. “She inspires young and old in a really positive way.”

AFP

One Dead, 14 Wounded In Clash Near DR Congo Gorilla Sanctuary

 

 

One person was killed and 14 were injured in clashes near a gorilla sanctuary in DR Congo where there has been mounting friction between park guards and local Pygmies, sources said Friday.

The violence occurred near the Kahuzi Biega National Park, a UNESCO heritage site in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that is a haven for the world’s largest gorilla species.

“A conservation patrol which was pursuing two poachers was ambushed on Wednesday by Pygmies armed with machetes and bows and arrows,” park spokesman Hubert Mulongoy said.

“Thirteen park wardens were wounded in the clash, three of them seriously,” he said. “One of the seriously injured had his fingers severed by a machete.”

Separately, Ntavuna Cizungu, a representative of a Pygmy community that lives on the edge of the park, told AFP that a Pygmy named lwaboshi Simba was shot dead during the confrontation “and died immediately.”

Another Pygmy was injured, he said.

Mulongoy said there had been a “resurgence of tension in the past few days between indigenous people and the park.”

In April, a warden was killed in a clash, the park said, denying that this episode was associated with the death of a Pygmy the previous day.

The Pygmies are angry about being denied access to Kahuzi Biega.

The park says they illegally entered the sanctuary between August and October last year, and have been carrying out acts of “deforestation” since then.

The park wardens are chiefly recruited among former soldiers and police and include a number of Pygmies.

Kahuzi Biega, named after two extinct volcanoes, is the only place in the world where visitors can see eastern lowland gorillas in the wild, the park says on its website.

The 6,000-square-kilometre (2,300-square-mile) haven, created in 1970, is a magnet for well-heeled tourists, providing an important source of revenue for the DRC.

AFP

Kenya To Launch Africa’s Biggest Wind Farm

In this file photo taken on June 29, 2018 wind turbines of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP), which have been standing idle for nearly a year, are seen in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County, northern Kenya. YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

 

Kenya will on Friday inaugurate Africa’s biggest wind power plant, a mammoth project in a gusty stretch of remote wilderness that now provides nearly a fifth of its energy needs.

The $680-million (600 million euro) project, a sprawling 365-turbine wind farm on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana, will deliver 310 megawatts of renewable power to the national grid of East Africa’s most dynamic economy.

The largest private investment in Kenya’s history, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was beset with delays and took nearly a decade to rise from the arid landscape 600 kilometres (372 miles) north of Nairobi.

The Turkana project, lying in a natural corridor dubbed “the windiest place on earth”, is promised to harness this endless power at low cost, officials say.

“It has been an incredible journey. Clearly (this is) a very historic day,” Rizwan Fazal, the executive director of the Lake Turkana Power Project said ahead of a ceremony launching the project.

“It sends a very strong signal about Kenya being ripe for projects.”

The project, far more ambitious in scale than rivals elsewhere on the continent, has been closely watched as a case study of investing in renewables in Africa, where demand for energy is soaring as economies grow and populations swell.

In Kenya — which relies heavily on hydropower and geothermal — power is unreliable and costly, hindering business as energy-intensive sectors such as manufacturing look to take off.

READ ALSO: Two Killed, 12 Missing After Huge Blast Rocks China Gas Plant

President Uhuru Kenyatta has previously committed to 100 percent renewable energy for Kenya by 2020 — a pledge the government has been accused of betraying with plans to build a coal-fired power plant off the coast in Lamu.

That project — deemed unnecessary by experts — has been stalled by legal challenges.

The Turkana Corridor

The Lake Turkana wind plant, connected through a 428-kilometre power line to the national grid in Suswa, is now generating 15 percent of Kenya’s entire installed capacity.

The windmills, manufactured by Danish company Vestas, had to be brought one-by-one overland from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, some 1,200 kilometres away. More than 200 kilometres of road leading to the site had to be upgraded.

The nearly-50 metre turbines were engineered to handle the fierce gusts that tear through the “Turkana Corridor”, a wind tunnel that generates optimal conditions, year round.

The project involved years of planning and construction but the turbines went up quicker than one a day, with the last raised in March 2017, ahead of schedule.

But difficulties in financing the transmission line, being laid by state-owned power company Ketraco, and problems acquiring land, meant this landmark project didn’t connect to the grid for another 18 months — in September 2018.

The wind farm attracted a $200 million loan from the European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending facility, as well as finance from a consortium of European and African companies.

AFP

Trump Declares State Of Emergency As Storm Bears Down On New Orleans

 

US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Barry bears down on New Orleans, as the southern city braces for extreme winds over the weekend.

The weather system is expected to reach hurricane strength Friday or early Saturday when it nears Louisiana’s coast, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and has already caused major flooding in the low-lying city.

Trump on Thursday issued a national disaster declaration, which will allow federal agencies to participate in emergency relief efforts, in response to a request by Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.

“Thank you President Trump for quickly responding to my request… We appreciate the support of the White House and our federal partners as we continue our unprecedented flood fight,” the governor said in a tweet Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) separately announced that it would temporarily halt immigration enforcement activity in areas subject to the state of emergency.

It said that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency would not target migrant families who were evacuating during the storm, ahead of sweeping operations nationwide to detain and deport illegal immigrants expected to start this weekend.

“Our highest priority remains the preservation of life and safety. In consideration of these circumstances, there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to the storm, except in the event of a serious public safety threat,” the agency said in a Thursday press release.

The incoming storm has evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and deadliest hurricane in US history, which submerged about 80 percent of New Orleans as the city’s flood defenses gave way.

Katrina also pounded other parts of Louisiana as well as Mississippi and Alabama, leading to about 1,800 deaths and more than $150 billion in damage.

AFP

More Than 100 Arrested At London Climate Protests

Activists hold banners and wave flags as they continue to block the road on Waterloo Bridge on the second day of an environmental protest by the Extinction Rebellion group, in London on April 16, 2019.  Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

More than 100 people have been arrested in ongoing climate change protests in London that brought parts of the British capital to a standstill, police said Tuesday.

Demonstrators started blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on Monday at the start of a civil disobedience campaign that also saw action in other parts of Europe.

The protests were organised by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.

READ ALSO: Macron Pledges To Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral After Deadly Fire

London’s Metropolitan Police said that by early Tuesday 113 adults had been arrested.

The figure includes three men and two women who were arrested at the UK offices of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage. Campaigners daubed graffiti and smashed a window at the Shell Centre building.

The majority arrested were seized for breaching public order laws and obstructing a highway.

The protest saw more than a thousand people block off central London’s Waterloo Bridge and lay trees in pots along its length. Later, people set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations throughout the week.

 Police restrictions 

The police have ordered the protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of Hyde Park, the Oxford Street main shopping thoroughfare and the Park Lane street of plush hotels.

“The information and intelligence available at this time means that that Met (police) feels this action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing ongoing serious disruption,” the police said.

The group wants to governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice”.

Spokesman James Fox said the group had attempted to maintain a blockade overnight at four sites in central London before the police came to impose the new restriction.

People were arrested “mostly at Waterloo Bridge where the police came to try to stop everyone, but there were too many of us”, he told AFP.

Fox said the protesters attached themselves to vehicles and to each other using bicycle locks.

“We have no intention of leaving until the government listens to us,” he said.

“Many of us are willing to sacrifice our liberty for the cause.”

AFP

Baby Elephants Find New Life, Love At Kenyan Orphanage

An orphan elephant is fed with milk by a keeper at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya on March 12, 2019. Each calf at the nursery has a tragic story: orphaned by poachers, drought, or in conflict with humans encroaching ever further into the few wild places left. Elephants stay for about three years at the orphanage, where they are fed every three hours and sleep in individual wooden pens, each with a keeper. In 42 years, the trust has rehabilitated more than 230 orphan elephants. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

Luggard, a lively three-year-old, limps behind the rest of his ragtag troupe of orphan elephants, halting to graze or rub against a tree.

When he was just five months old, Luggard was found struggling to keep up with his herd in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park.

 

He had been shot twice.

One bullet pierced his left front foot, and another shattered his right, hind femur just above the knee joint.

The calf was discovered “too late for successful surgery,” said Edwin Lusichi, 42, head keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) elephant nursery in Nairobi National Park, Luggard’s new home.

 

With the rest of the gang of 20 elephant babies in this unusual orphanage, Luggard comes charging with great enthusiasm, though hobbling heavily on his deformed leg, out of the bush for a 9:00 am feeding.

The calves greedily slurp from oversized “baby bottles”, rumbling contentedly and trumpeting excitedly as they ingest the special mix of human baby formula, water and vitamins.

Each calf at the nursery has a tragic story: orphaned by poachers, drought, or in conflict with humans encroaching ever further into the few wild places left.

 

 

“We rescue them from just a few days old,” DSWT administrator Kirsty Smith told AFP.

The youngest elephant in the centre’s care is Larro, 10 months.

She was found lost and alone in the Maasai Mara game reserve, likely after her family clashed with humans.

“Sometimes the elephants get into the communities, farms and homes, people fight them, chase them away, and in the process of the fight they (the babies) get separated from their families,” Lusichi explained.

Without its mother, an elephant calf will die.

They are weaned between the ages of five and 10, when they enter adolescence. Adulthood starts around the age of 18, and left undisturbed, elephants can live to be 70.

But poaching claims many prematurely.

Killing for Ornaments

 

About 20,000 African elephants per year — 55 per day — are killed, mainly for their tusks, according to the WWF.

“You’re killing a whole elephant just to have the tusks! For what — just to have an ornament?” asks an exasperated Lusichi.

He points to Enkesha, a tiny two-year-old.

“You see the trunk? She was found trapped in a snare” which all but severed the appendage elephants use to breathe, eat, drink water, and communicate.

Enkesha was rescued, stitched up, and after a long rehabilitation, now uses her badly-scarred trunk almost as normal, ripping up grass to eat and sucking up water.

The nursery keeps babies like Luggard, Larro and Enkesha until they are about three — the age at which elephants start craving more independence.

But until then, they receive 24-7 care with a bottle feeding every three hours.

The babies sleep in single wooden rooms at night, and the youngest each have a keeper with them.

“It’s similar to spending a night in a bedroom with… a human baby,” said Julius Shivegha, 43, one of the caretakers.

“We have to make sure that they are well-covered with a blanket, to keep them warm… They keep waking up for the milk… We are around for reassurance and for company, just to make sure they don’t feel lonely.”

The bond between animal and human is a close one.

During the daytime, the keepers accompany the group as they wander about the savannah, browsing and playing.

They call their charges by name, and the elephants respond.

As a treat, the keepers prepare mud baths into which the babies dive with abandon, rolling and sliding about, blowing bubbles, and wildly splashing the wet earth around with their trunks.

‘Sometimes we just cuddle’

“We sometimes play soccer with them,” said Shivegha of the daily routine.

“Sometimes we just cuddle them, we hug them. Some of them will keep on trying to just grab your hands or suck your fingers like a pacifier. All of this makes them really close to us… We are their mothers.”

 

This makes for a “bitter-sweet” separation: when the elephants graduate from the nursery, they go to one of three reintegration centres at Tsavo.

Here they spend several years learning to live independently, eventually joining a herd or forming their own and setting off into the wider park.

For disabled elephants like Luggard, the SWT runs a haven in Kibwezi Forest with abundant food and water all year round, and no human settlements nearby.

In 42 years, the trust has rehabilitated more than 230 orphan elephants. Over 120 are living wild and have given birth to 30 known calves, said Smith.

Ending attacks on elephants will be difficult in a part of the world where poverty and the danger posed to human life and property by wild elephant herds, are seen as justification.

 

To try and change mindsets, the SWT takes children on excursions to cultivate a love for wildlife and provides schools with books and desks with money raised through its projects.

Shivegha called for “everyone’s support”, in creating alternatives to poaching, such as small business opportunities, for people who live near game reserves.

Also, crucially, “let’s try and stop the end product market, let’s tell people to stop buying (ivory),” he urged.

A Tale Of Two Delhis: Deadly Air Exposes Rich Poor Divide

Indian ragpickers collect usable material as smoke rises from a garbage dump at the Bhalswa landfill site in New Delhi, on October 29, 2018. Pollutants from vehicles, burning garbage dumps, building sites and farmers burning crops in regions outside the Indian capital spike in levels during winter in Delhi when air quality often eclipses the World Health Organization’s safe levels.
Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

Walls draped in lush vertical gardens and air filtered through purifiers insulate diners at a swanky New Delhi food court from the choking haze outside in one of the most polluted places on earth.

But these eco-eateries, offering cleaner air as well as modern menus to the well-heeled are beyond reach for the poor, who have little means of escaping the deadly smog which coats the city for much of the year.

Air pollution kills more than one million Indians every year, according to a study by Lancet Planetary Health, and Delhi is ranked one of the most toxic urban centres to live, regularly exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.

But for Ramavtar Singh there is no escape: like many of the city’s poorest, he eats, sleeps, and works outside.

“I work for six to eight hours every day and my children eat and sleep outside most times of the year,” the father of five tells AFP at a roadside food stall, gulping down a 50-cent dish of rice and lentils.

Singh earns a living by cycling passengers and cargo around Delhi on his rickshaw, a strenuous activity that means he’s inhaling dangerous concentrations of tiny pollutants deep into his lungs.

At best, he can wrap a rag over his mouth on smoggy days, a low-cost approach taken by labourers and rickshaw drivers that does little to prevent the most dangerous particles entering the bloodstream.

Delhi’s smog peaks from October to February, routinely exceeding WHO recommendations for PM2.5 — tiny and harmful airborne particles — and some days registers levels more than 20 times safe limits.

Experts warn the long term health consequences of living enveloped in pollution are disastrous, often causing chronic sickness and in some cases early death.

‘A quick oxygen shot’

Across town, Abhimanyu Mawatwal is settling down for lunch at a food court in Worldmark Aerocity, a grand commercial centre boasting purified air.

A meal here could cost twice Singh’s monthly salary, but it is a price Mawatwal is willing to pay because outside the smog is at hazardous levels.

“I love to come here for my meals. It is like getting a quick oxygen shot,” the office worker says, surrounded by creeper vines and a faux stream as he breathed lungfuls of filtered air circulating through expensive filters.

“We need to bring greenery to concrete jungles and create places where everybody can come for a breath of fresh air,” insists S. K. Sayal, CEO of Bharti Realty which owns Worldmark Aerocity.

Delhi’s affluent, who are often better informed about the dangers of pollution, increasingly expect the same safety measures they have in place at home, to be available when they are out.

High-end eateries, bars and cinemas are tapping into that demand — installing electronic air purifiers and creating dedicated areas of rich vegetation to help filter airborne toxins.

But for Singh, and the one in five Indians living on less than $2 a day, visiting such places is nothing more than a fantasy.

“What will I do if I spend all the money on one meal? How will I feed my family?” said the rickshaw cyclist, who earns about 1,200 rupees ($17) a month.

He cannot dream of buying the foreign-made air purifiers to protect his family at home – machines favoured by Delhi’s elite, expat communities and office workers – that easily cost Singh’s annual wage.

“The rich and the poor have to breathe the same poisonous air. But the poor are more exposed to pollution,” explains Sunil Dahiya, a campaigner for Greenpeace India.

He adds: “Most of the time, they don’t even know the effects the toxic air is having on their health. Poor communities are definitely at the losing end.”

World Leaders Appeal For ‘Urgent Action’ On Environment

From L) French president Emmanuel Macron, Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta and DR Congo president Felix Tshisekedi listen during the One Planet Summit on March 14, 2019, in Nairobi.
Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

World leaders gathered in Kenya on Thursday to lend political muscle to UN environment talks, calling for “urgent action” to slow the destruction of natural habitats and accelerate funding for green development.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta were among several heads of state in Nairobi for the fourth UN Environment Assembly — a vast gathering of ministers, legal experts, charities and business leaders.

The assembly aims to push countries to commit to slashing pollution and widening renewable energy, recycling and conservation.

But it lacks the legal teeth to compel nations to act, and there is no prospect of it reaching a binding international action plan this week.

READ ALSO: US, NGOs Call For Concerted Action On Marine Wildlife Conservation

“Current global statistics are quite sobering and projections for future generations are dire and demand urgent action,” Kenyatta told delegates.

“Climate change continues to be a major threat to sustainable development worldwide. And its impact places a disproportionately heavy burden on the poor and vulnerable.”

Thursday’s One Planet Summit, also in Nairobi, saw a number of pledges for green investment in Africa — a continent experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change despite producing a tiny percentage of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

“We need to act. We must put environment and biodiversity at the heart of the economy,” Macron said.

Earth is already experiencing fallout from its fossil fuel addiction, with climate change driving more frequent droughts, floods and superstorms fuelled by warmer, rising seas.

Pollution from toxic and non-toxic materials is having a dire effect on global health, the UN said this week.

At least eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, breaking up into micro-fragments that enter the marine food chain.

Macron was in Kenya — the first-ever visit there by a French head of state — a day before a global wave of school strikes by students demanding that governments act over the environment.

“Young people are telling us ‘you’re not going fast enough’. And they’re right because we have been too slow,” Macron said.

“We all have to move: governments, big business, citizens.”

AFP

Countries Agree Deal To Breathe Life Into Paris Climate Treaty

Heads of the delegations react at the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, southern Poland, on December 15, 2018. Photo: Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP

 

Nations on Sunday struck a deal to breathe life into the landmark 2015 Paris climate treaty after marathon UN talks that failed to match the ambition the world’s most vulnerable countries need to avert dangerous global warming.

Delegates from nearly 200 states finalised a common rulebook designed to deliver the Paris goals of limiting global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

“Putting together the Paris agreement work programme is a big responsibility,” said COP24 president Michal Kurtyka as he gavelled through the deal after talks in Poland that ran deep into overtime.

“It has been a long road. We did our best to leave no one behind.”

But states already dealing with devastating floods, droughts and extreme weather made worse by climate change said the package agreed in the mining city of Katowice lacked the bold ambition to cut emissions the world needed.

Egyptian ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, chair of the developing nations G77 plus China negotiating bloc, said the rule book saw the “urgent adaptation needs of developing countries relegated to a second-class status.”

Executive Director of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan said: “We continue to witness an irresponsible divide between the vulnerable island states and impoverished countries pitted against those who would block climate action or who are immorally failing to act fast enough.”

READ ALSO: Nations ‘Face Extinction’ Without Instant Climate Action

The final decision text was repeatedly delayed as negotiators sought guidelines that could ward off the worst threats posed by the heating planet while protecting the economies of rich and poor nations alike.

“Without a clear rulebook, we won’t see how countries are tracking, whether they are actually doing what they say they are doing,” Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told AFP.

At their heart, negotiations were about how each nation funds action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as how those actions are reported.

COP24 president Michal Kurtyka jumps at the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, southern Poland, on December 15, 2018. Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP

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French President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently backed down on anti-pollution fuel tax hikes in the face of country-wide “yellow vest” protests, said France must “show the way” as he welcomed the progress made at the talks.

“The international community remains committed to the fight against climate change,” he tweeted on Sunday.

“Congratulations to the UN, scientists, NGOs and all negotiators. France and Europe must show the way. The fight goes on.”

Developing nations had wanted more clarity from richer ones over how the future climate fight will be funded and pushed for so-called “loss and damage” measures.

This would see richer countries giving money now to help deal with the effects of climate change many vulnerable states are already experiencing.

Another contentious issue was the integrity of carbon markets, looking ahead to the day when the patchwork of distinct exchanges — in China, the Europe Union, parts of the United States — may be joined up in a global system.

The Paris Agreement calls for setting up a mechanism to guard against practices, such as double counting emissions savings, that could undermine such a market.

A major sticking point, delegates eventually agreed Saturday to kick the issue down the road until next year.

One veteran observer told AFP that Poland’s presidency at COP24 had left many countries out of the process and presented at-risk nations with a “take it or leave it” deal.

Progress had “been held up by Brazil, when it should have been held up by the small islands. It’s tragic.”

One of the largest disappointments for countries of all wealths and sizes was the lack of ambition to reduce emissions shown in the final COP24 text.

Most nations wanted the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to form a key part of future planning.

‘The system must change’

It highlighted the need to slash carbon pollution by nearly half before 2030 in order to hit the 1.5C target.

But the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected, leading to watered-down wording.

The final statement from the Polish COP24 presidency welcomed “the timely conclusion” of the report and invited “parties to make use of it” — hardly the ringing endorsement many nations had called for.

“There’s been a shocking lack of response to the 1.5 report,” Greenpeace’s Morgan, told AFP.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who made three trips to Katowice over the course of the talks, said the world’s climate fight was just beginning.

“From now on my five priorities will be: Ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition,” he said in a message read out by UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa.

With the political climate process sputtering on well into its third decade as emissions rise remorselessly, activists have stepped up grassroots campaigns of civil disobedience to speed up action.

“We are not a one-off protest, we are a rebellion,” a spokesman for the Extinction Rebellion movement, which disrupted at least one ministerial event at the COP, told AFP.

“We are organising for repeated disruption, and we are targeting our governments, calling for the system change needed to deal with the crisis that we are facing.”

AFP

EU Countries Back Single-Use Plastics Ban

FILES) In this file photo taken on July 19, 2018 Seagulls search for food near a sewage discharge area next to piles of plastic bottles and gallons washed away by the water on the seaside of Ouzai, south of Beirut. JOSEPH EID / AFP

 

European Union countries on Wednesday backed the outlawing of certain single-use plastics, bringing the bloc a step closer to an outright ban on the products which account for huge quantities of waste in the world’s oceans.

The approval by the 28 member states follows an overwhelming vote in the European Parliament last week to ban single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery, cotton buds and balloon sticks.

Work will begin next week to draft detailed legislation with a view to agreeing on a text in December and having it enter into law in 2021.

The European Council, which groups the member states, supported ending the use of plastic products for which there are sustainable alternatives and wants to go further in apportioning responsibility for clearing up waste.

While the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, has suggested that clean-up costs should be paid by plastic producers, the council wants to see companies which import and sell the products pay a share as well.

The council also called for national targets to cut the consumption of single-use plastics where there is currently no environmentally-friendly alternative.

Rethink Plastic, a coalition of NGOs, welcomed the move but expressed disappointment that the proposals were based on “voluntary agreements” rather than mandatory deals.

The commission has said single-use plastics account for some 70 per cent of the waste in the oceans and beaches, and research last week appeared to show for the first time the widespread presence of plastics in the human food chain.

 

AFP