US Sanctions Chinese, North Korean Firms Over Human Rights Abuses

File photo: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the situation in Afghanistan in the East Room of the White House on August 16, 2021 in Washington,DC.  (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

 

The United States unveiled a raft of new rights-abuse sanctions Friday on senior officials and entities in eight countries, with targets ranging from a Chinese firm specializing in facial recognition technology to a giant cartoon studio in North Korea.

Timed for International Human Rights Day and supported in part by Britain and Canada, the sanctions took aim at officials accused of abetting the crackdown on anti-coup protestors in Myanmar, the oppression of Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region and political violence in Bangladesh under the guise of a war on drugs.

“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression,” the US Treasury Department said.

READ ALSO: At Least 53 Migrants Killed In Mexico Road Accident

It said China’s artificial intelligence company SenseTime, and two ethnic Uyghur political leaders in Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir and Erken Tuniyaz, took part in sweeping oppression of Uyghurs.

Xinjiang surveillance

Zakir was the chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China from at least 2018 to 2021, and Tuniyaz is current acting chairman.

Zakir has defended the prison camps as “education centers” that teach people Mandarin and “the true meaning of religion.”

But international rights organizations have called them a central tool in the Chinese government’s “genocidal” policies towards Uyghurs.

“The mass detention of Uyghurs is part of an effort by (Chinese) authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region,” the Treasury said.

The Treasury said SenseTime’s facial recognition programs were designed in part to be used in Xinjiang against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities, more than one million of whom have been incarcerated in prison camps.

The move put new pressure on SenseTime, which was preparing to list its shares in the coming week on Hong Kong’s stock market in an initial public offering.

The company, which Washington says is part of China’s “military-industrial complex,” had already been placed on the US Department of Commerce’s blacklist in 2019 because its technology had been used for mass surveillance in Xinjiang.

First Biden sanctions on North Korea

The Treasury also announced the first new US sanctions to target North Korea since President Joe Biden took office, a move that comes after months of attempting to engage Pyongyang in talks on its nuclear program.

The Treasury accused North Korea’s government-run animation firm, SEK Studio, and companies and individuals related to it, of exploiting North Korean workers to earn much-needed foreign exchange and avoid sanctions on the country.

SEK Studio has an international reputation and has contributed work to big-budget animated features including Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Lion King.”

Also hit with sanctions was North Korean Minister of People’s Armed Forces, Ri Yong Gil.

The sanctions and blacklisting can prevent individuals from obtaining visas to the United States, block assets under US jurisdiction, and block the targets from doing business with US individuals or entities, effectively locking them out of the US banking system.

Myanmar, Bangladesh

In additional actions to mark Human Rights Day 2021, the Treasury added four Myanmar state and regional chief ministers to its sanctions blacklist, accusing them of participating in “brutal crackdowns” against the Myanmar people.

A Bangladesh internal security unit, the Rapid Action Battalion, which is accused of involvement in hundreds of disappearances and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, was also included.

Six current or former officials of the Rapid Action Battalion were also sanctioned.

In a parallel move, the US State Department announced Friday the blacklisting of 12 officials from China, Uganda, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Mexico “for their involvement in gross violations of human rights.”

“We are determined to put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and we reaffirm this commitment by using appropriate tools and authorities to draw attention to and promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

 

AFP

US Announces Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Winter Olympics

File photo: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

The United States on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, citing human rights abuses, in a move that will not stop US athletes from competing.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home.”

READ ALSO: Putin Heads To India With Eye On Military, Energy Ties

For months, the US government has been trying to find the best way to position itself with regard to the Winter Games, hosted from February 4-20, 2022 by a country it accuses of perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, northwest China.

Several human rights organizations have accused Beijing of having interned at least one million Muslims in Xinjiang in “re-education camps”.

Sending official representation to the Olympics would signal that, despite China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” the Games were “business as usual,” Psaki said.

“And we simply can’t do that,” she continued.

Earlier Monday China had threatened “countermeasures” if such a boycott were announced.

“I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in response to weekend media reports that a boycott could be imminent.

Speaking at a regular press briefing on Monday, he warned the US should stop “hyping” the boycott.

“If the US is bent on having its own way, China will take resolute countermeasures,” Zhao said.

There was no immediate reaction to Psaki’s statement from Beijing.

 

AFP

Biden-Putin Talks Set For Tuesday Amid Ukraine Tension

In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.
In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden are scheduled to hold talks by video conference on Tuesday, the Kremlin said, as tensions rise over Ukraine. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the conversation will take place in the evening Russia time and the two leaders will determine the duration, according to Russian news agencies.

Biden said Friday he would make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to launch any invasion of Ukraine, which warned that a large-scale attack may be planned for next month.

READ ALSO: Senegal Transport Workers End Strike

Washington and Kiev say Moscow has massed troops near Ukraine’s borders and accuse Russia of planning an invasion.

Russia has denied any bellicose intentions and accused the West of provocation, particularly with military exercises in the Black Sea, which it sees as part of its sphere of influence.

Biden and Putin had been expected since Friday to hold a video call.

Biden told reporters in Washington he was putting together “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do”.

Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has since backed separatists fighting Kiev in the east of the country. The conflict has left more than 13,000 dead.

Moscow meanwhile wants to see an end to NATO’s eastward expansion, after much of eastern Europe joined the alliance following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday called on his US counterpart Antony Blinken to provide “security guarantees” that NATO would not come closer to Russia’s borders.

Despite increased contacts between the two rivals since Putin and Biden met for the first time at a summit in Geneva in June, tensions remain high.

As well as the Ukraine conflict, Russia and the United States continue to argue over cyberattacks and the staffing of their embassies, after several waves of diplomatic expulsions.

AFP

Biden Opens Winter Battle Against COVID-19 Amid Omicron Concerns

US President Joe Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden announced Thursday a winter campaign against Covid-19, with new testing requirements for travelers and a surge in vaccination efforts as the new Omicron variant threatens to revive the pandemic.

Biden has brought steady leadership after the chaotic Donald Trump years, but the mutating coronavirus continues to defy him, helping drive his approval ratings deep underwater.

Urging the nation — in particular his political rivals — to unite behind the strategy, Biden unveiled a raft of actions designed to tamp down Covid-19 in the coming months, as the latest Omicron variant spreads worldwide.

READ ALSO: Five Cases Of Omicron Variant Confirmed In New York

“It’s a plan that I think should unite us,” Biden said, speaking from the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health in a Washington suburb.

“I know Covid-19 has been very divisive. In this country, it’s become a political issue,” he added. “A sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be, but it has been.”

Ten cases of the new strain have so far been confirmed in the United States, including five in New York announced Thursday evening by state Governor Kathy Hochul, one in Los Angeles County and one in the Pacific island state of Hawaii.

The Hawaii case and one in Minnesota both involved residents with no recent international travel history, signaling the strain is already circulating inside the country.

“This is a case of community spread. The individual has no history of travel,” the Hawaii Health Department said.

Biden’s updated actions include the requirement that all inbound international travelers be tested within one day of flying.

This will apply to all travelers, both American and foreign, regardless of vaccination status, a US official said.

For domestic travelers, Biden will announce he is extending a mask mandate on airplanes, trains, and other public transport through mid-March.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters testing and vaccine requirements could eventually be added to domestic flights too. “Nothing is off the table,” she said.

The barrage of measures is partly meant to reassure Americans that Biden is doing everything possible to prevent the pandemic from derailing the impressive US economic recovery — and the winter holidays.

In addition to his public rollout, Biden penned a column for the Friday edition of the large-circulation USA Today national newspaper to assuage Americans’ “unease” about the new variant and Covid in general.

“We will beat it back with science and speed, not chaos and confusion -– just as we did in the spring and again with the more powerful delta variant in the summer and fall,” the president wrote.

Biden and his aides have recently stressed there will be no return to mass shutdowns.

But the White House also faces the challenge that many Americans are not receptive to Biden’s appeals for collective action.

Despite ever-more creative attempts to encourage people to get their shots, about 40 percent of the country have yet to be fully vaccinated, and booster rates are lagging too.

Nationwide Campaign

Biden said a surge in outreach on vaccines and booster shots was being launched, with a nationwide campaign targeting recipients of Medicare public health care. The government will team up with AARP, a large lobbying group representing people aged 50 and over.

At the other end of the age scale, the Biden administration will try to ensure that schools do not return to mass lockdowns.

“We’re expanding our efforts to vaccinate children, ages five and up,” said Biden. “For any parent worried about the Omicron variant or the Delta variant, get your child vaccinated at one of the 35,000 locations in the country.”

In another bolstering of existing policies, the White House will encourage the use of home testing kits by announcing that health insurance must cover 100 percent of the cost.

For those without health insurance, there will be an increase in the availability of free kits.

The kits currently sell for around $25, as opposed to being available either for free or at nominal costs among peer nations in Europe.

Meanwhile, the White House stressed that the administration’s restrictions on travelers from eight southern African countries over growing Omicron fears were not a “punishment” to those nations but a safety measure.

“We of course are in close touch at a diplomatic level with leaders in these countries about the steps we’re taking,” Psaki said, referring to the ban imposed last week on US arrivals from South Africa, Botswana and other nations.

“It’s not meant to be a punishment,” she added. “It is steps recommended by our public health officials and medical experts in order to delay the spread of a variant.”

Biden Marks World AIDS Day With Plan To Eradicate Disease

File photo: US President Joe Biden announces Jerome Powell as his nominee for Chair and Lael Brainard as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Systems during an event at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 22, 2021.  (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden will mark World AIDS Day on Wednesday with a speech laying out his vision for ending the epidemic in the United States by 2030.

The White House said Biden will deliver a speech outlining the plan for “redoubling efforts to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

The target is for a 75 percent reduction in new infections by 2025 and 90 percent by 2030.

In the 40 years since US researchers encountered the first cases of what later became known as AIDS, there have been 700,000 US dead and more than 36 million fatalities worldwide.

Today, there are 1.2 million people in the US living with the disease, but “we celebrate the remarkable gains we have made,” the White House said in a briefing paper on the 2030 plan.

Between 2015 and 2019, new HIV infections fell eight percent, “a hopeful sign,” the White House said.

The shift Biden is ordering will aim to “aggressively reduce new HIV cases, while increasing access to treatment.”

According to a senior Biden administration official, one of the innovations will be to accelerate participation of the private sector in a “national effort.”

Focus will also be put on “addressing social determinants of health that influence an individual’s HIV risk or outcomes.”

READ ALSO: South Korea Detects First Omicron Cases, Tightens Travel Curbs

According to the official, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic could ultimately strengthen the healthcare system in the even lengthier struggle against AIDS.

The response to the coronavirus has spurred advances in self-testing at home and telehealth, as well as boosting the role for pharmacies — all ways to engage the public in a complex healthcare endeavor.

Top US infectious diseases specialists, including Biden’s lead medical advisor Anthony Fauci, brought years of experience from fighting AIDS to the Covid-19 crisis. Now, new lessons gained during the pandemic may be applied to AIDS.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what additional insights and knowledge and expertise researchers have gained through fighting this virus that can now be applied to our search for a vaccine and a cure for HIV,” the senior official said.

The United Nations said Monday that HIV infection rates are not slowing fast enough around the world to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS everywhere by 2030.

Biden Taps US Oil Reserves To Tame Fuel Prices

US President Joe Biden announces Jerome Powell as his nominee for Chair and Lael Brainard as Vice Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Systems during an event at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 22, 2021.  (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden reached for the US strategic oil reserves Tuesday in an attempt to flatten fuel price rises pummeling Americans at Thanksgiving — and hoping to reignite his own political fortunes.

The White House said the effort to tamp down the oil market by using emergency reserves was for the first time being done in conjunction with other countries, following weeks of negotiations.

“This release will be taken in parallel with other major energy consuming nations including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom,” the White House said in a statement.

READ ALSO: CBN MPC Retains Rates At 11.5%

As the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, oil production has not kept pace with rocketing demand, pushing prices up.

In the United States, the hike in gasoline prices is one of the main culprits in a wider surge of inflation.

And Biden’s announcement comes as Americans enter the holiday season, with millions traveling home or on vacation for this Thursday’s Thanksgiving.

Average fuel prices at filling stations are $3.41 a gallon, the highest level since 2014, according to latest figures from the AAA motorists’ association. This represents an increase of $1.29 over gasoline prices a year ago.

Biden and his wife Jill are also traveling to family or friends ahead of Thanksgiving, although in his case it will be on Air Force One later Tuesday for a short flight to the picturesque island of Nantucket.

But high fuel prices are not only making holiday travel expensive. High transport costs are also juicing costs throughout the economy, leading to soaring inflation for everything from second hand cars to the Thanksgiving turkeys.

While the economy is generally doing well, with employment rapidly rising, wages up and the stock market climbing ever higher, sticker shock at the pump and in the supermarket has soured the national mood. That in turn has badly weakened Biden.

In the latest average of polls from fivethirtyeight.com, Biden’s approval rating is just 42.8, with 52.2 percent disapproving.

Energy companies under scrutiny

The US strategic reserves, held in underground depots in Texas and Louisiana, are the largest emergency supply of oil in the world.

A senior administration official said the releases would start in mid- to late December, and that further intervention was possible to steady the market, “responding to a once-in-a-century pandemic.”

“As the president has said, consumers are facing pain at the pump right now,” the official said.

“The president stands ready to take additional action if needed and is prepared to use his full authorities, working in coordination with the rest of the world, to maintain adequate supply as we exit the pandemic.”

Against a backdrop of rising output, oil prices have already dipped nearly 10 percent in the last few weeks. But officials echoed Biden’s repeatedly stated concerns that despite easing of crude values, prices of gasoline for drivers have only gone up.

“There is mounting evidence that declines in oil prices and the cost of other inputs into gasoline are not translating into lower prices at the pump,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the government was looking into “anti-competitive practices” and will “examine whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump.”

The approach is “two-pronged. First, making sure that, you know, the price of oil is coming down, reflecting the fact that we have to have supply matching demand, but also making sure that those savings are passed through to consumers,” he said.

“We expect the industry to be passing through the savings to consumers as quickly as possible.”

Biden Celebrates Rare Win With US Infrastructure Bill Signing

U.S. President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as he is surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Cabinet during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as he is surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Cabinet during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on November 15, 2021, in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

 

Battered by critics and dire opinion polls, President Joe Biden signed into law the biggest US infrastructure revamp in more than half a century at a rare bipartisan celebration in the White House on Monday.

The $1.2 trillion package will fix bridges and roads, change out unhealthy lead water pipes, build an electric vehicle charging network, and expand broadband internet. It is the most significant government investment of the kind since the creation of the national highways network in the 1950s.

“We’ve heard countless speeches… but today we’re finally getting this done,” Biden told hundreds of invitees on the White House South Lawn.

READ ALSO: Man Arrested For Selling 130 Women In Afghanistan

“So my message to the American people is this: America is moving again and your life is going to change for the better.”

Most of the crowd were Democrats but there was also a visible handful of Republicans. Notable among the Democrats were senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two moderates who have warred with more leftwing members of the party, slowing down Biden’s agenda.

The bill is “proof that Democrats and Republicans can come together to deliver results,” Biden said. “Let’s believe in one another and let’s believe in America.”

Infrastructure spending is popular, but the goal eluded Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump for four years, turning his administration’s frequent promises of an imminent “infrastructure week” into a running joke.

Even now, Biden had to fight for months to get his squabbling Democratic Party to vote, risking a humiliating failure.

Democrats only narrowly control a bitterly divided Congress, but in a scarce moment of cooperation they were ultimately joined by a significant number of Republicans in the Senate and a symbolic handful in the House.

“We agreed this would be a truly bipartisan process,” Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, told the White House gathering. “This should be the beginning of a renewed effort to work together on big issues facing our country.”

Brutal poll numbers

The feelgood moment may be hard to sustain.

Biden’s ratings are in a downward spiral, with the latest Washington Post-ABC poll showing just 41 percent approving. Most worrying for the White House, support is ebbing away not just among the crucial independent voters but his own Democratic base.

And despite the reaching out by some Republicans, the bulk of the opposition party is in little mood to declare a truce.

Trump, who is widely expected to seek to return to the White House in the 2024 election, has savaged the 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted alongside the Democrats.

He says Republicans who crossed the aisle should be “ashamed” and are not real Republicans.

Hard-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an especially vocal Trump booster, called them “traitors.” She tweeted out office phone numbers of the 13 fellow Republicans, some of whom reported getting torrents of violent abuse.

The pressure is also on in the Senate, where Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for the bill, was among the prominent figures keeping away from the South Lawn celebration.

Portman, meanwhile, was freer to make generous comments toward Biden because he has already announced he is not seeking reelection.

With Republicans almost certain to make gains in midterm congressional elections in just under a year, Biden’s already tenuous grip on Washington faces growing strains.

But the White House hopes the bill signing will give Biden, who was due to hold a video-link summit with China’s President Xi Jinping later Monday, new momentum.

Still pending is a $1.75 trillion package for childcare, education and other social spending that Biden says amounts to a historic effort to redress social inequalities.

Again, internal party divisions are holding that up and the proposal has zero Republican support. However, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the White House gathering that “hopefully this week we will be passing” the bill.

After a first 10 months in power dominated by Covid-19 and congressional wrangling, Biden is “frustrated by the negativity and the infighting,” his press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters.

However, Biden’s infrastructure sales pitch will aim to change the tune.

Biden will travel Tuesday to New Hampshire to visit a bridge set for infrastructure funding and Detroit on Wednesday to meet union workers. Psaki said “the president wants to spend some sustained time out there communicating.”

AFP

Biden Condemns ‘Terrorist Attack’ On Iraqi PM

File photo of US President Joe Biden. Credit: AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Sunday condemned the attack that targeted Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi and said his administration would help Iraqi security forces identify those responsible.

“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack targeting the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhemi,” Biden said in a statement.

“I am relieved the Prime Minister was not injured and commend the leadership he has shown in calling for calm, restraint, and dialogue to protect the institutions of the state and strengthen the democracy Iraqis so richly deserve.”

READ ALSO: Brazil Bids Shocked Goodbye To Country Star Mendonca

Kadhemi escaped unhurt when an explosives-packed drone struck his Baghdad residence early Sunday. But the attack marked a substantial escalation in the country’s post-election turmoil.

The prime minister’s office described the attack as a “failed assassination attempt,” while Iraqi President Barham Salih called the strike, which was not immediately claimed by any group, an attempted “coup against the constitutional system.”

Biden said that “the perpetrators of this terrorist attack on the Iraqi state must be held accountable,” as he condemned “in the strongest terms those using violence to undermine Iraq’s democratic process.”

The US leader said he instructed his national security team “to offer all appropriate assistance to Iraq’s security forces as they investigate this attack and identify those responsible.”

COP26: China Slams Biden For Criticising President Xi’s No-Show

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, created on November 3, 2021.

 

China hit back Wednesday against criticism by US President Joe Biden, who had accused Beijing of not showing leadership after President Xi Jinping skipped the make-or-break COP26 United Nations summit in Glasgow.

Xi — who leads the planet’s largest emitter of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change — has not travelled outside of China since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and has not joined world leaders for COP26.

Biden on Tuesday had launched blistering criticism of the Chinese and Russian leaders for not attending the summit.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded Wednesday.

“What we need in order to deal with climate change is concrete action rather than empty words,” he added. “China’s actions in response to climate change are real.”

READ ALSO: Biden Says China, Russia Failed To Lead At Climate Summit

He also made a jibe at Washington by adding that the United States pulling out of the Paris Agreement under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had harmed global climate governance and the implementation of the accord.

Biden has apologised for Trump’s decision.

COP26 has been billed as vital for the continued viability of the 2015 Paris Agreement under which nations promised to limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2C and to work for a safer 1.5C cap.

At the summit on Tuesday, nearly one hundred nations joined the US and European Union initiative to cut emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — by at least 30 percent this decade, with China among notable absentees.

Experts say the initiative could have a powerful short-term impact on global heating.

“It just is a gigantic issue and they walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?” Biden told journalists before flying out of Glasgow.

“It’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China not showing up. The rest of the world looked at China and said: ‘What value are they providing?'”

COP26: US Pledges To ‘Sharply’ Reduce Methane Emissions

Oil pumpjacks operate on November 02, 2021 in Seal Beach, California. The Biden administration pledged to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production today. AFP

 

US President Joe Biden’s administration announced new regulations during the global climate summit on Tuesday aimed at “sharply” reducing methane emissions by the oil and natural gas industry.

The announcement came as Biden attended the COP26 in Glasgow, where dozens of countries joined an American and European Union pledged to cut emissions of methane — the most potent greenhouse gas — by 30 percent this decade.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was proposing “comprehensive new protections to sharply reduce pollution from the oil and natural gas industry.”

“The proposed rule would reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide,” the EPA said in a statement.

“That’s more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all US passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019,” it added.

READ ALSO: COP26: Jeff Bezos Hails Nigeria’s Resolve To Restore Degraded Lands

The emission reduction requirements would apply not only to existing oil and gas sources but to those built in the future.

US President Joe Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021.  Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

It requires states to “develop plans to limit methane emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide.”

The EPA said it expects to issue a final rule before the end of the year.

“As global leaders convene at this pivotal moment in Glasgow for COP26, it is now abundantly clear that America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The White House also announced that the Department of Transportation will upgrade and expand pipeline rules that will require operators to cut methane leaks.

The administration will also launch an “aggressive” program to plug hundreds of thousands of “orphan” oil and gas wells, including many that are still spewing out methane.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for around 30 percent of total methane emissions in the United States.

Biden has set a reduction target of 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels in greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

The Biden administration announcement was welcomed by environmental groups.

“Swiftly reducing methane emissions will result in significant and much-needed near-term climate progress,” said Julie McNamara, deputy policy director in the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Today’s actions by EPA Administrator Regan take important strides in achieving that necessary progress,” McNamara said.

Thanu Yakupitiyage of international environmental organization 350.org said CO2 emissions must be addressed as well.

“Methane emissions must be curbed and curbed quick,” Yakupitiyage said. “But this effort should not deviate from efforts to curb CO2 emissions.”

Biden Says China, Russia Failed To Lead At Climate Summit

US President Joe Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
US President Joe Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday accused China and Russia of failing to show leadership on climate change in blistering criticism of their leaders for not attending the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Speaking at the UN summit aimed at forging an ambitious new climate agreement, Biden called his own presence and promises proof that “America is back” after the go-it-alone approach of his predecessor Donald Trump.

“The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader — not showing up, come on!” Biden told journalists before flying out of Glasgow.

“It just is a gigantic issue and they walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?” Biden said.

READ ALSO: Nigeria To Reach Net-Zero Emissions By 2060, Says Buhari

“It’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China not showing up. The rest of the world looked at China and said ‘what value are they providing?’,” he added.

Xi, who leads the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions responsible for climate change, has not travelled outside of China since the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Biden was even more scathing about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who does travel and met the US president in Geneva in June. Russia is the world’s fourth largest emitter.

“His tundra is burning — literally, the tundra is burning. He has serious, serious climate problems, and he is mum on willingness to do anything,” he said.

America is back

Biden has ramped up US climate action with promises to zero out carbon emissions by 2050, a sharp reversal from the climate-skeptic Trump, although Biden still faces domestic hurdles on moving ahead.

Biden said he was making good on his vow on his first international trip as president — to the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall in June — that the United States was returning to the international stage.

“Two world leaders came up to me today and said, ‘Thank you for your leadership. You’re making a big difference here,'” Biden said, acknowledging his comments sounded “self-serving.”

US officials had earlier expected Xi to meet Biden for the first time as president at this weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Rome.

The two countries, however, instead said they would meet virtually by the end of the year. Biden said no date has been set.

Biden said he hoped their talks would bring more predictability in relations that have been soured by disputes on myriad fronts, including human rights and China’s growing assertiveness on Taiwan.

“I’m going to be clear. This is competition; it does not have to be conflict,” Biden said.

“I have also indicated to him — and I’m not reluctant to say it publicly — that we expect him to play by the rules of the road.”

Biden recently made waves by appearing to say the United States would militarily defend Taiwan if it was attacked by China, which claims the self-governing democracy.

The United States provides weapons to the island but is deliberately ambiguous on whether it would defend it.

Without addressing Taiwan directly, Biden said he did not believe there would be conflict with China, which his administration has identified as the top challenge of the 21st century.

“I don’t anticipate there will be a need for physical conflict,” Biden said.

AFP

Biden Government Urges Judge To Block Texas Anti-Abortion Law

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he gives a remark. (Anna Moneymaker/AFP)

 

US President Joe Biden’s administration called on a federal judge Friday to swiftly block a new law that bans most abortions in Texas and has raised concerns about women’s curtailed access to care.

The controversial statute, which went into force on September 1, represents “an open threat to the rule of law,” deputy assistant attorney general Brian Netter declared in court arguments in Austin.

In its challenge, the US government described the ban as “a truly extraordinary law designed to outflank the federal government and to violate the constitution,” Netter said, adding a “judicial intervention” was necessary to make the law unenforceable until the case is decided.

The Texas law, the most restrictive of its kind in the country, prohibits abortions as soon as an embryo’s heartbeat is detectable, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy, and does not allow exceptions in cases of incest or rape.

In recent years similar laws have been passed in other states but were struck down because they violated US Supreme Court precedent from Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling which guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, at around 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The Texas law is unique in that it empowers anyone to file lawsuits against a person who has assisted in an abortion, which prompted Netter to accuse state authorities of enabling a regime of “vigilante justice.”

The nine-justice Supreme Court, with its clear conservative majority, cited such “novel” procedural issues when it decided last month against intervening to block the law, Texas Senate Bill 8, as pro-choice advocates had requested.

The federal government has entered the fray, citing its interest in upholding Americans’ constitutional rights.

Netter argued that while the United States rarely files suit to challenge state laws, “this suit is necessary because SB-8 represents a thus far unprecedented attack on the supremacy of the federal government, of the federal constitution.”

Attorney William Thompson of the Texas Attorney General’s Office accused Netter of “inflammatory rhetoric” and insisted the law respects Supreme Court precedent.

But Judge Robert Pitman retorted: “If the state’s so confident in the constitutionality of the limitations on a woman’s access to abortion, then why did it go to such great lengths to create this very unusual private cause of action?”

Pitman could issue a ruling soon in the case.