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COP26: World will try again to avert climate disaster

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October 31, 2021

By Ilze Filks

GLASGOW (Reuters) -The United Nations COP26 summit that starts in Glasgow this week has been billed as a make-or-break chance to save the planet from the most calamitous effects of climate change.

Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/paris-glasgow-cutting-through-climate-jargon-2021-10-27 – the limit scientists say would avoid its most destructive consequences.

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“We need to come out of Glasgow saying with credibility that we have kept 1.5 alive,” Alok Sharma, COP26’s president, said on Sunday as delegates https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/cop26-glasgow-who-is-going-who-is-not-2021-10-15 began arriving in the Scottish city.

“We’re already at global warming at 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” he told Sky News television. “At 1.5 there are countries in the world that will be underwater, and that’s why we need to get an agreement here on how we tackle climate change over the next decade.”

Meeting the 1.5 C goal, agreed in Paris to much fanfare in 2015, will require a surge in political momentum and diplomatic heavy-lifting to make up for the insufficient action and empty pledges that have characterised much of global climate politics.

The conference needs to secure more ambitious pledges https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/cop26-what-would-success-look-like-climate-summit-2021-10-31 to further cut emissions, lock in billions in climate finance, and finish the rules to implement the Paris Agreement with the unanimous consent of the nearly 200 countries that signed it.

But there is huge work to be done.

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At a summit https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/g20-leaders-face-tough-climate-talks-second-day-summit-2021-10-30 in Rome, leaders of the Group of 20 major economies agreed on a final statement on Sunday that urges “meaningful and effective” action to limit global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius but offers few concrete commitments.

The G20 bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, accounts for an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A new pledge last week from China, the world’s biggest polluter, was labelled a missed opportunity that will cast a shadow over the two-week summit. Announcements from Russia and Saudi Arabia were also lacklustre.

The return of the United States, the world’s biggest economy, to U.N. climate talks will be a boon to the conference, after a four-year absence under President Donald Trump.

But like many world leaders, President Joe Biden will arrive at COP26 without firm legislation in place to deliver his own climate pledge as Congress wrangles over how to finance it and new uncertainty https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-supreme-court-hear-bid-curb-federal-power-limit-carbon-emissions-2021-10-29 about whether U.S. agencies can even regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

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Existing pledges to cut emissions would see the planet’s average temperature rise 2.7C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing by intensifying storms, exposing more people to deadly heat and floods, killing coral reefs and destroying natural habitats.

SHADOW OF COVID-19

Adding to the challenging geopolitical backdrop, a global energy crunch has prompted China to turn to highly polluting coal to avert power shortages, and left Europe seeking more gas, another fossil fuel.

Ultimately, negotiations will boil down to questions of fairness and trust between rich countries whose greenhouse gas emissions caused climate change, and poor countries being asked to de-carbonise their economies with insufficient financial support.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the divide between rich and poor. A lack of vaccines and travel curbs mean some representatives from the poorest countries cannot attend the meeting.

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Other obstacles – not least, sky-high hotel rates in Glasgow – have stoked concerns that civil society groups from the poorest nations which are also most at risk from global warming will be under-represented.

COVID-19 will make this U.N. climate conference different from any other, as 25,000 delegates from governments, companies, civil society, indigenous peoples, and the media will fill Glasgow’s cavernous Scottish Event Campus.

All must wear masks, socially distance and produce a negative COVID-19 test to enter each day – meaning the final-hour “huddles” of negotiatiors that clinched deals at past climate talks are off the table.

World leaders will kick start COP26 on Monday with two days of speeches that could include some new emissions-cutting pledges, before technical negotiators lock horns over the Paris accord rules. Any deal is likely to be struck hours or even days after the event’s Nov. 12 finish date.

Outside, tens of thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets to demand urgent climate action.

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Assessing progress will be complex. Unlike past climate summits, the event won’t deliver a new treaty or a big “win” but seeks to secure smaller but vital victories on emission-cutting pledges, climate finance and investment.

Ultimately success will be judged on whether those deals add up to enough progress to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

Since the Paris accord, scientists have issued increasingly urgent warnings that the 1.5C goal is slipping out of reach. To meet it, global emissions must plummet 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach net zero by 2050 – requiring huge changes to countries’ systems of transport, energy production, manufacturing and farming. Countries’ current pledges would see global emissions soar by 16% by 2030.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels, Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Mark John in LondonAdditional reporting by Nina Chestney and William Schomberg in LondonEditing by Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)

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South Korea reports daily record of over 5,000 new COVID-19 infections

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December 1, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea reported a new daily record of 5,123 new coronavirus cases, as it battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms and stave off the Omicron https://www.reuters.com/world/global-spread-omicron-cases-associated-travel-curbs-2021-11-29 variant, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday.

The government on Monday shelved plans to further relax COVID-19 curbs because of the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisations and deaths as well as the possible threat posed by the new variant.

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Hospitals were treating 723 patients with severe COVID-19, a record number, as the authorities scrambled to secure more ICU beds. Severe cases have seen a steep rise compared with just under 400 in early November.

ICU bed capacity in the greater Seoul area stood at 89.2%, Son Young-rae, a senior health official told a briefing.

To ease the strain on hospitals and care centres, South Korea this week began making at-home treatment the default for people with mild infections, with only more severe cases transferred to hospitals. Residential treatment centres will also be expanded.

More than 84% of the severely ill COVID-19 patients were aged 60 and above. Experts had pointed to waning antibody levels from the vaccines and urged the elderly to get booster shots.

Authorities will mobilise the administrative structure to secure hospital beds, at least an additional 1,300 by mid-December, Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol told a COVID-19 response meeting.

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He also called for tighter virus prevention measures to head off Omicron, after suspected cases entered the country from Nigeria.

South Korea has not reported any confirmed Omicron cases so far.

Tuesday’s new cases bring the coronavirus infections in the country to 452,350 cases, with 3,658 deaths. Despite the rising hospitalisation rate, the mortality rate remains relatively low at 0.81%, KDCA data showed.

South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 80% of its 52 million people, while the boosters for adults aged 18 to 49 only begin this Saturday.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)

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Former PM Abe says Japan, U.S. could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan

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December 1, 2021

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Japan and the United States could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan, and Beijing needs to understand this, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday.

Tensions over Chinese-claimed Taiwan have risen as President Xi Jinping seeks to assert his country’s sovereignty claims against the democratically ruled island. Taiwan’s government says it wants peace, but will defend itself if needed.

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Speaking virtually to a forum organised by Taiwanese think tank the Institute for National Policy Research, Abe noted the Senkaku islands – which China calls the Diaoyu Islands – Sakishima islands and Yonaguni island are a mere 100 km (62 miles) or so away from Taiwan.

An armed invasion of Taiwan would be a grave danger to Japan, he added.

“A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-U.S. alliance. People in Beijing, President Xi Jinping in particular, should never have a misunderstanding in recognising this,” Abe said.

Japan is host to major U.S. military bases, including on the southern island of Okinawa, a short flight from Taiwan, which would be crucial for any U.S. support during a Chinese attack.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, though there is ambiguity about whether it would send forces to help Taiwan in a war with China.

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The United States and its allies would take unspecified “action” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-taiwan-idAFKBN2HV2PU if China were to use force to alter the status quo over Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month.

Abe, who stepped down as prime minister last year, is head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and remains influential within the party.

On Sino-Japanese relations going forward, Abe said Japan should advance its ties with China while firmly saying to its giant neighbour what needs to be said, echoing incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Japan, Taiwan and all the people who believe in democracy need to keep urging President Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist Party leaders repeatedly not to step onto a wrong path,” Abe said.

Japan and Taiwan must work together to protect freedom and democracy, added Abe, speaking to an audience that included Cheng Wen-tsan, mayor of the northern Taiwanese city of Taoyuan, tipped as a possible future presidential candidate.

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“A stronger Taiwan, a thriving Taiwan, and a Taiwan that guarantees freedom and human rights are also in Japan’s interests. Of course, this is also in the interests of the whole world,” Abe said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)

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Air travelers to U.S. set to face tougher COVID-19 testing

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December 1, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. is moving to require that all air travelers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about a new coronavirus variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday.

Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. Unvaccinated travelers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

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The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Reuters reported earlier that a draft proposal was circulating among government agencies for the stricter testing requirement.

A CDC spokeswoman confirmed the agency is working to modify its global testing rules for travel “as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States.”

The administration is also considering whether to require air travelers to get another COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the United States, officials said.

The CDC did not confirm that, but noted it continues to recommend all “travelers should get a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival” and “post-travel quarantine for any unvaccinated travelers.”

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The stricter rules could be announced Thursday, but it was not clear when they might take effect.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency “is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines.”

On Monday, the White House barred nearly all foreign nationals who have recently been in South Africa and seven other southern African countries over concerns about the Omicron variant.

A White House official said earlier Tuesday the administration is evaluating COVID-19 measures “including considering more stringent testing requirements for international travel.”

On Tuesday, the CDC advised Americans against travel to Niger, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago, citing COVID-19 concerns.

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The CDC now lists about 80 foreign destinations as having “Level Four,” its highest level of COVID-19 transmission, and discourages Americans from traveling to those destinations.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Sandra Maler, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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