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Nations make new pledges to cut methane, save forests at climate summit

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November 2, 2021

By Jake Spring and Jeff Mason

GLASGOW (Reuters) -Leaders at the COP26 https://www.reuters.com/business/cop global climate conference pledged on Tuesday to stop deforestation by the end of the decade and cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane to help slow climate change.

On the second day of the two-week summit in Glasgow, Scotland, wealthy nations took some overdue actions to provide long-promised financial help for the developing countries worst hit by global warming.

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The United Nations conference aims to keep alive a receding target of capping temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/paris-glasgow-cutting-through-climate-jargon-2021-10-27, to avert still greater damage than has already been caused by greenhouse gases.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the event attended by almost 200 countries, said he welcomed the latest steps but urged caution.

“We must take care to guard against false hope and not to think in any way that the job is done, because it is not. There is still a very long way to go,” he told a news conference.

More than 100 countries joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to cut emissions of methane https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/global-watchdog-track-promised-cuts-potent-greenhouse-gas-methane-2021-10-31 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels, potentially a step in stemming the overheating of the planet.

U.S. President Joe Biden chided Chinese President Xi Jinping for his decision not to attend in person.

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“It’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China – with respect to China not showing up,” Biden said at a news conference.

“The rest of the world is gonna look to China and say what value added are they providing? And they’ve lost the ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP, the same way I would argue with regard to Russia.”

China said Xi https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/china-says-xi-was-given-no-option-video-address-cop26-2021-11-02 had not been given an opportunity to deliver a video address, and had to send a written response instead. Xi offered no additional pledges.

China was represented in Glasgow by its chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua, who said in remarks to reporters on Tuesday that “five years were wasted” because Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement and it was time to “work harder and catch up”.

MOST AT RISK

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Leaders of developing countries most at risk from the effects of climate change, such as heatwaves, droughts, storms and flooding, told delegates the stakes could not be higher.

“Let’s work for the survival of ours and all species. Let’s not choose extinction,” said Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley.

The Global Methane Pledge, launched on Tuesday after being announced in September with just a few signatories, now covers countries representing nearly half of global methane emissions and 70% of global GDP, Biden said.

Methane is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but 80 times more potent in warming the planet. Cutting emissions of the gas, estimated to have accounted for 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times, is one of the most effective ways of slowing climate change.

Among the signatories is Brazil – one of the five biggest emitters of methane, generated in cows’ digestive systems, in landfill waste and in oil and gas production. Three others – China, Russia and India – have not signed up, while Australia https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/australia-will-not-back-eu-us-led-pledge-cut-methane-emissions-2021-10-27 has said it will not back the pledge.

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The United States also unveiled its own domestic proposal to crack down with a focus on the oil and gas sector, where leaky infrastructure allows methane to escape into the atmosphere.

LOST FORESTS

More than 100 national leaders also signed a promise to halt the destruction of the world’s forests which absorb roughly 30% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the nonprofit World Resources Institute.

In 2020, the world lost 258,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) of forest – an area larger than the United Kingdom, according to WRI’s Global Forest Watch. The conservation charity WWF estimates that 27 football fields of forest are lost every minute.

The pledge https://www.reuters.com/article/climate-un-forests/over-100-global-leaders-pledge-to-end-deforestation-by-2030-idUSL4N2RS3VG to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade is underpinned by $19 billion in public and private funds to be invested in protecting and restoring forests.

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The signatories again include Brazil, which has carried out soaring deforestation under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together they account for 85% of the world’s forests.

Under the agreement, 12 countries pledged to provide $12 billion of public funding between 2021 and 2025 for developing countries to restore degraded land and tackle wildfires.

At least $7.2 billion will come from private sector investors representing $8.7 trillion in assets under management, who also pledged to stop investing in activities linked to deforestation such as cattle, palm oil and soybean farming and pulp production.

‘DOUBLE STANDARDS’

The funding may help reduce mistrust among developing countries caused by the failure of wealthy nations to deliver on a 2009 promise to stump up $100 billion per year by 2020 to help them tackle climate change.

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This mistrust is one of the main obstacles to climate progress, making some developing countries reluctant to embrace steep emission cuts.

“We see double standards creeping into our thinking, whereby those who have already benefitted from carbon-driven economies would like to prevent emerging economies laying similar foundations for their political stability, social development and economic prosperity,” Suriname President Chan Santokhi said.

On Tuesday, Japan said it would offer up to $10 billion over five years in additional assistance to support decarbonisation in Asia.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said this could leverage another $8 billion from the World Bank and other sources, probably allowing the $100 billion threshold of climate financing to be reached by 2022, rather than 2023 as previously expected.

In another deal signed on Tuesday, Britain and India launched a plan to improve connections between the world’s electricity power grids to help accelerate the transition to greener energy.

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But there was scant sign of shared resolve by the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China and the United States, which together account for more than 40% of global emissions but are at odds on numerous issues.

Biden has singled out China and leading oil producer Russia for failing to step up their climate goals in Glasgow, while Beijing has rejected Washington’s efforts to separate climate issues from their wider disagreements.

The Communist Party-run Global Times said in an editorial on Monday that Washington’s attitude had made it “impossible for China to see any potential to have fair negotiation amid the tensions”.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels, Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Jake Spring, Simon Jessop, William James and Ilze Filks in Glasgow; David Stanway, Josh Horwitz and Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Gavin Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Barbara Lewis and Grant McCool)

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Blinken downbeat about nuclear talks as Iran floats proposals

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December 2, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk

VIENNA/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The United States said on Thursday it had little cause for optimism about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and would know in a day or so if Iran would negotiate in good faith as Tehran put forward fresh proposals.

“I think, in the very near future, the next day or so, we’ll be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm.

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“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully,” he added.

Iran has provided European powers who are shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials with drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said on Thursday, as world powers and Tehran try to reinstate the pact.

The announcement came on the fourth day of indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. economic sanctions.

The talks resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus prompted by Iran’s election of an anti-Western hardliner as president.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said Iran has started producing enriched uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, further eroding the nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.

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“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen,” Blinken told reporters in Stockholm in a possible reference to that development.

It was unclear whether Blinken had been briefed on the latest proposals by the Iranians when he made his comments.

“We have delivered two proposed drafts to them … Of course they need to check the texts that we have provided to them. If they are ready to continue the talks, we are in Vienna to continue the talks,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters in the Austrian capital.

A European diplomat in Vienna confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Under the pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment programme, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy, in exchange for relief from the economic sanctions.

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But in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.

“We want all sanctions to be lifted at once,” Bagheri told reporters. He said an Iranian proposal regarding how to verify the removal of sanctions – Tehran’s overriding priority in the talks – would be handed over to the European parties later.

A senior European diplomat estimated on Tuesday that 70-80% of a draft deal on salvaging the 2015 accord was completed when Iran and world powers last met in June, though it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Humeyra Pamuk in Stockholm; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed;Editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

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Jailed former paralympic athlete Pistorius moved closer to victim’s family

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December 2, 2021

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Former South Africa paralympic superstar, Oscar Pistorius, jailed in 2016 for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, has been moved closer to her family ahead of reconciliation talks that could help pave the way for his early release from prison.

Pistorius, known as “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, went from public hero to convicted murderer in a trial that drew worldwide interest. He becomes eligible for parole after serving half of his 13-year sentence.

Pistorius is set to speak to Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, in a process known as victim-offender dialogue – an integral part of South Africa’s restorative justice programme in its prison system that brings parties affected by a particular crime together in a bid to achieve closure.

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“They are participating in the process because they have committed themselves to being part of the victim-offender dialogue. They feel they have to do this for Reeva,” Tania Koen, lawyer for the Steenkamps, said of the family.

Pistorius’ lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘SENSITIVE PROCESS’

Gold medalist Pistorius, once the darling of the Paralympic movement for pushing for greater recognition and acceptance of disabled athletes, shot dead Steenkamp, a model and law student, in his bathroom in 2013.

Pistorius said he had believed she was an intruder but was jailed in 2016, initially for a six-year term. After an appeal by prosecutors who said this was too lenient the term was increased to 13 years.

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He has now been moved from a prison near Johannesburg to one on South Africa’s east coast, near where Steenkamp’s parents live.

Neither their lawyer Koen nor Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesman for the department of correctional services, could provide Reuters with a timeline for the discussions.

“It is very sensitive process, highly emotional… and we do not force people to participate in it,” Nxumalo said.

“But we are saying at least it does lay a foundation where people can, if possible, forgive each other, find one another and then try to move forward in harmony,” he said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Siyabonga Sishi; editing by Gareth Jones)

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Omicron may soon cause over half of COVID infections in Europe -EU

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December 2, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 infections in Europe within a few months.

The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus strains.

“Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

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There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.

Europe has so far recorded a few dozens of infections with the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last month.

The European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) include the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Earlier on Thursday, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said that Omicron could take Delta’s place already by the end of January.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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