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UN climate talks drift into overtime in push to save 1.5 Celsius goal

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November 13, 2021

By Kate Abnett, Jake Spring and Elizabeth Piper

GLASGOW (Reuters) – Two weeks of U.N. COP26 climate talks in Glasgow blew past a deadline on Friday as the conference president called on countries to make a final push to secure commitments that would rein in the rising temperatures that threaten the planet.

With a deal now expected sometime on Saturday, there remained tough talking to be done on issues such as the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, carbon markets and financial help for poor countries to tackle climate change.

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A draft of the final deal, released early on Friday, requires countries to set tougher climate pledges next year – in an attempt to bridge the gap between current targets and the much deeper cuts scientists say are needed this decade to avert catastrophic climate change.

“We have come a long way over the past two weeks and now we need that final injection of that ‘can-do’ spirit, which is present at this COP, so we get this shared endeavour over the line,” said Britain’s COP26 President Alok Sharma.

Late on Friday Sharma announced that meetings would continue into Saturday, and that he expected a deal later in the day. A revised draft of the agreement would be released Saturday morning to kick off the last round of talks, he said.

The meeting’s overarching aim is to keep within reach the 2015 Paris Agreement’s aspirational target to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, the limit scientists say would avert its worst effects.

Under current national pledges to cut emissions this decade, researchers say the world’s temperature would soar far beyond that limit, unleashing catastrophic sea level rises, droughts, storms and wildfires.

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The new draft download is a balancing act – trying to take in the demands of the most climate-vulnerable nations such as low-lying islands, the world’s biggest polluters, and countries whose exports of fossil fuels are vital to their economies.

“China thinks the current draft still needs to go further to strengthen and enrich the parts about adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity building,” said Zhao Yingmin, the climate negotiator for the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The draft retained its most significant demand for nations to set tougher climate pledges next year, but couched that request in weaker language than before, while failing to offer the rolling annual review of climate pledges that some developing countries have sought.

Nations are currently required to revisit their pledges every five years.

WEAKER LANGUAGE

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The latest proposal included slightly weaker language than a previous one in asking states to phase out subsidies of the fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – that are the prime manmade cause of global warming.

That dismayed some campaigners, while others were relieved that the first explicit reference to fossil fuels at any U.N. climate summit was in the text at all, and hoped it would survive the fierce negotiations to come.

“It could be better, it should be better, and we have one day left to make it a lot, lot better,” Greenpeace said.

“Right now, the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow.”

Some thinktanks were more upbeat, pointing to progress on financing to help developing countries deal with the ravages of an ever-hotter climate.

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Saudia Arabia, the world’s second largest oil producer and considered among the nations most resistant to strong wording on fossil fuels, said the latest draft was “workable”.

A final deal will require the unanimous consent of the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris accord.

To increase pressure for a strong deal, protesters rallied outside the COP26 venue, where activists had hung ribbons with messages imploring delegates to protect the Earth.

The latest draft acknowledged scientists say the world must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to net zero by “around mid-century” to hit the 1.5C target.

This would effectively set the benchmark to measure future climate pledges.

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Currently, countries’ pledges would see global emissions increase by nearly 14% by 2030 from 2010 levels, according to the U.N.

‘INSANITY’

Fossil fuel subsidies remain a bone of contention. Kerry told reporters that trying to curb global warming while governments spend hundreds of billions of euros supporting the fuels that cause it was “a definition of insanity”.

Financial support is also hotly debated, with developing countries pushing for tougher rules to ensure rich nations whose historical emissions are largely responsible for heating up the planet, offer more cash to help them adapt to its consequences.

Rich countries have failed to meet a 12-year-old goal to provide $100 billion a year in so-called “climate finance” by 2020, undermining trust and making some developing countries more reluctant to curb their emissions.

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The sum, which falls far short of what the UN says countries would actually need, aims to address “mitigation”, to help poor countries with their ecological transition, and “adaptation”, to help them manage extreme climate events.

The new draft said that, by 2025, rich countries should double from current levels the funding set aside for adaptation – a step forward from the previous version that did not set a date or a baseline.

“This is a stronger and more balanced text than what we had two days ago,” Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute said of the current draft.

“We need to see what stands, what holds and how it looks in the end – but at the moment it’s looking in a positive direction.”

Of roughly $80 billion rich countries spent on climate finance for poor countries in 2019, only a quarter was for adaptation.

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A more contentious aspect, known as “loss and damage” would compensate them for the ravages they have already suffered from global warming, though this is outside the $100 billion and some rich countries do not acknowledge the claim.

A group of vulnerable nations including the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific said the final deal needed to do more to address the question. “Loss and damage is too central for us to settle for workshops,” said Tina Stege, the Marshall Islands’ climate envoy.

(Additional reporting by William James, Simon Jessop, Valerie Volcovici, Richard Valdmanis and Jake Spring; Writing by Gavin Jones and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Edmund Blair, Barbara Lewis and David Gregorio)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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