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‘We have run down the clock’ says Johnson as climate conference opens

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November 1, 2021

By Mark John and Katy Daigle

GLASGOW (Reuters) – A U.N. conference critical to averting the most disastrous effects of climate change opened on Monday, with world leaders, environmental experts and activists pleading for decisive action to halt global warming.

The task of the COP26 conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow was made even more daunting by the failure of the Group of 20 major industrial nations to agree ambitious new commitments at a weekend summit in Rome.

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The G20 is responsible for around 80% of emissions of carbon dioxide – the gas produced by burning fossil fuels that is the main cause of the heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms that are growing in intensity worldwide.

“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight on that Doomsday clock and we need to act now,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the opening ceremony.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded the conference hall that the six hottest years on record have occurred since 2015.

Other speakers, including activists from the poorer countries hardest hit by climate change, delivered a defiant message.

“Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry ‘We are not drowning, we are fighting’,” said Brianna Fruean from the Polynesian island state of Samoa, at risk from rising sea levels. “This is our warrior cry to the world.”

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As Johnson took the stage, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg retweeted an appeal for her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing leaders of betrayal.

“This is not a drill. It’s code red for the Earth,” it read. “Millions will suffer as our planet is devastated — a terrifying future that will be created, or avoided, by the decisions you make. You have the power to decide.”

DISCORD

In Rome, the G20 leaders failed to commit to a 2050 target to halt net carbon emissions – a deadline widely cited as necessary to prevent the most extreme global warming – badly undermining one of COP26’s main aims.

Instead, they only recognised “the key relevance” of halting net emissions “by or around mid-century”, and set no timetable for phasing out domestic coal power, a major cause of carbon emissions.

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Their commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies “over the medium term” echoed wording used by the G20 at a summit in Pittsburgh as long ago as 2009.

Discord among some of the world’s biggest emitters about how to cut back on coal, oil and gas will not make their task easier.

At the G20, U.S. President Joe Biden singled out China and Russia, neither of which sent its leader to Glasgow, for not bringing proposals to the table.

He told the conference: “Glasgow must be the start of a decade of shared ambition and innovation to preserve our future.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is by far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, ahead of the United States, told the conference in a written statement that developed countries should not only do more but also support developing countries to do better.

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President Vladimir Putin of Russia, one of the world’s top three oil producers along with the United States and Saudi Arabia, dropped plans to participate in any talks live by video link, the Kremlin said.

PROMISES, PROMISES

Less senior delegates – many of them held up on Sunday by disruptions to trains between London and Glasgow – had more mundane problems.

More than a thousand had to shiver for over an hour in a bottleneck outside the venue to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test and gain access, while being treated by activists to an electronic musical remix of Thunberg’s past speeches.

Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

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To do that, it needs to secure more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions, lock in billions in climate-related financing for developing countries, and finish the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries.

“Climate financing” could make or break the talks. In 2009, the rich nations most responsible for global warming pledged to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with its consequences.

The commitment has still not been met, generating mistrust and a reluctance among some developing nations to accelerate their emissions reductions.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley compared the vast sums pumped into the global economy by rich countries’ central banks in recent years with the insufficient amounts spent on climate help for poor nations.

“Our people are watching and our people are taking note … Can there be peace and prosperity if one-third of the world lives in prosperity and two-thirds lives under seas and face calamitous threats to our wellbeing?” she told the conference.

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Developed countries confirmed last week they would be three years late in meeting the $100 billion climate finance pledge – which many poor countries and activists say is insufficient anyway.

The pledges made so far to cut emissions would allow the planet’s average surface temperature to rise 2.7C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing.

Two days of speeches by world leaders will be followed by technical negotiations. Any deal may not be struck until close to or even after the event’s Nov. 12 finish date.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Jeff Mason; writing by Mark John, Kevin Liffey and Gavin Jones; editing by Barbara Lewis and Alexander Smith)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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