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Carbon superpowers: U.S.-China deal seen as symbolic but not sufficient

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November 12, 2021

(Corrects spelling of Jinping in paragraph 5)

By Jake Spring, Valerie Volcovici and Simon Jessop

GLASGOW (Reuters) – A joint China-U.S. declaration on climate change is a political reset to a time when the world’s two biggest carbon emitters reached the brief meeting of minds that helped forge the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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But that still won’t be enough to avert a deepening climate crisis, unless Washington and Beijing can match words with more action to curb fossil fuels and prod others at the COP26 talks in Glasgow to do the same.

“It prevents the worst from happening,” Li Shuo, senior climate analyst with Greenpeace in Beijing, said of a scenario under which the United States and China might refuse to cooperate in the fight against climate change.

“But does it give us the best? The answer is clearly no.”

For many, Wednesday’s announcement recalled Sino-U.S. cooperation in 2014, when officials under Barack Obama and Xi Jinping helped lay the basis for the landmark accord in Paris a year later to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The subsequent move by climate sceptic Donald Trump to pull the United States out of that accord shattered any vestige of trust between the two. President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin Paris was only a first step in rebuilding that confidence.

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Still, that didn’t stop the mud-slinging. During the first week of the Glasgow talks, Xi called out rich countries for not doing enough, and Biden scolded the Chinese leader for not showing up in Scotland.

But even as the barbs were flying, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry – who served as Obama’s top diplomat – and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenua were finalising a statement which a Biden administration official said had been nine months in the making.

“They knew they wanted to end with a joint statement that would find common ground around ‘ambition’ that could be a useful input for the Glasgow negotiations,” the official said.

While its final impact on the Glasgow talks is uncertain, the joint declaration at least managed to bolster hopes for a successful outcome of the U.N. meeting, which appeared to have made little progress in its first week.

“It’s mostly symbolic, for what both the U.S. and China were saying is that they’re not engaging in a war of words anymore,” said Byford Tsang, climate policy adviser at the E3G think tank.

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“Now they can focus on the actual negotiation and give a bit more room for a more ambitious outcome.”

‘CRITICAL DECADE’

The sparse content of the declaration, the way it was staged, and what it means for those negotiations, still leave many questions unanswered.

EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans welcomed the declaration’s strong political signalling, but said the EU’s existing plan to cut net emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels went “way beyond” what was being proposed by Washington and Beijing.

While COP26-watchers said conference host Britain was “in the loop” on the agreement, the surprise announcement distracted attention from efforts to wring a global deal from the nearly 200 countries represented in Glasgow.

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Many voices called for the focus to return swiftly to the negotiations going on among the national delegations.

“The success of that cooperation will be judged by the outcome of COP26,” insisted France’s Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

On the plus side, analysts welcomed the sense of urgency in a statement that talked of the “critical decade of the 2020s” and its acknowledgment that current efforts were not enough.

Others were reassured by pledges by Washington and Beijing to work together to combat illegal deforestation, bring about a phased reduction in coal consumption, and take action this decade to “control and reduce” emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

But the lack of clear deadlines was widely seen as a major weakness.

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“If they are serious about avoiding catastrophic impacts, they must also support the enhancement of national policies, plans and actions that will see 1.5°C kept within reach,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF’s Global Leader on Climate & Energy.

Pulgar-Vidal said he particularly wanted to see U.S.-Chinese backing for an improvement in national emission-cutting targets as early as next year.

The declaration’s emphasis on rich countries meeting a broken promise to deliver $100 billion in climate aid to developing nations as soon as possible was also greeted with scepticism.

“The key will be following up with real action,” said Brandon Wu, ActionAid USA’s Director of Policy & Campaigns, urging Washington in particular to scale up its climate finance.

Some of the consequences of the U.S.-China rapprochement will only become apparent gradually, such as closer alignment on legislative and regulatory action to deal with climate change.

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Before that, it will be judged on whether it prompts others to raise their level of commitment in the coming hours of the talks. Ian Simm, CEO of Impax Asset Management, said there had been little sign of a major deal being possible until the U.S.-China move.

“It’s hard to understate just how important this could be if the U.S.-China announcement overnight leads to an ambitious deal by the weekend,” Simm said.

The story refiles to correct spelling of Jinping in paragraph 5.

(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Germany jails Islamic State member for life over role in Yazidi genocide

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November 30, 2021

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – A German court on Tuesday jailed a former Islamic State militant for life after convicting him of involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity over mass killings of minority Yazidis by IS in Syria and Iraq.

It was the first genocide verdict against a member of Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda that seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 before being ousted by U.S.-backed counter-offensives, losing its last territorial redoubt in 2019.

The court in Frankfurt found Taha al-Jumailly, 29, an Iraqi national, guilty of involvement in the slaughter of more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslavement of 7,000 women and girls by IS jihadists in 2014-15.

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This, the court ruled, included the murder of a five-year-old girl the defendant had enslaved and chained to a window, leaving her to die in scorching heat.

Al-Jumailly, who entered the court on Tuesday covering his face with a file folder, was arrested in Greece in 2019 and extradited to Germany where relatives of slain Yazidis acted as plaintiffs supporting the prosecution.

The defendant’s German wife, identified only as Jennifer W., was used as a prosecution witness at the trial. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for involvement in the enslavement of the Yazidi girl and her mother.

The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq that Islamic State viewed as supposed devil worshippers for their faith that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.

Islamic State’s depredations also displaced most of the 550,000-strong Yazidi community.

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(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

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November 30, 2021

By Timour Azhari and Maha El Dahan

MAARAB, Lebanon (Reuters) – One of Lebanon’s main Christian politicians accused foe Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March over fears of electoral losses, warning such a move would condemn Lebanon to a “slow death”.

Western donors that Lebanon is relying on to stem its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead. Politicians from all sides, including Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen otherwise the country’s standing would be dealt a further blow.

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But Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces and an ally of Saudi Arabia, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay it “because they are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority”.

Aoun said this month he would not sign authorisation for the vote, approved by parliament, to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: “Not fighting, but to more slow death.”

“With the current way things are going, state institutions – and so the state – is dissolving day by day,” he told Reuters at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Lebanon has no reliable opinion polling but should the election take place, Geagea’s party is widely expected to make gains, with the Free Patriotic Movement expected to lose seats, potentially robbing Hezbollah of its majority.

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Without an election to shake up parliament “you will see more of the same”, Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80% of people in poverty.

Lebanon’s government, formed from most major political parties in September following a 13-month period of political paralysis, has already not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Adding to the economic peril, Lebanon is facing a blast of Gulf Arab anger after a prominent broadcaster-turned-minister levelled blunt criticism at Saudi Arabia, in a row that has further strained Beirut’s ties with once generous benefactors.

Geagea, who maintained close contact to the Saudi ambassador in Beirut, said Hezbollah’s increasing influence was the main problem behind the rift that is harmful to Lebanon’s economy.

“We see Saudi and the Gulf as economic lungs for Lebanon,” he said.

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STREET CLASHES

Geagea’s Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party in parliament. It has stayed out of the cabinet since a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019.

But the group was thrust back into the headlines when tensions over the probe erupted into the worst street violence in more than a decade last month, reviving memories of the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal, were killed.

Hezbollah accused the Lebanese Forces of ambushing its supporters at the protest. Geagea confirmed supporters of his party, along with others, were involved in the clashes, but denied the move was pre-meditated and blamed Hezbollah for entering Beirut’s mostly Christian Ain al-Remmaneh neighbourhood, a strong support base for the Lebanese Forces.

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During Lebanon’s civil war, the Lebanese Forces, under Geagea, was a right-wing militia that controlled swathes of territory including eastern Beirut.

Following October’s clashes, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused it of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and warned Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Geagea denied Nasrallah’s allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 – “the whole old generation” – had military training.

Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.

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(Reporting By Timour Azhari and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Attack on Ukraine would be costly, NATO warns Moscow

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November 30, 2021

By Humeyra Pamuk and Sabine Siebold

RIGA (Reuters) – Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s intentions for massing troops on the border of the former Soviet republic.

The West has already shown that it can wield economic, financial and political sanctions against Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of talks of the alliance’s foreign ministers in the Latvian capital Riga.

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“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation, Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to brief his 29 NATO counterparts on Washington’s intelligence on what is going on at the alliance’s eastern flank and in Ukraine, which is not a member.

“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States… and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” he said at a news conference before the meeting.

“We will be consulting closely with NATO allies and partners in the days ahead… about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity.”

Kyiv’s aspirations for integration with the West have triggered a standoff with Moscow.

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‘MALIGN ACTIVITY’

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.

Two Russian troop build-ups this year on Ukraine’s borders have alarmed the West. In May, Russian troops there numbered 100,000, the largest since its takeover of Crimea, Western officials say.

Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukraine’s suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.

Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.

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“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken… Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”

Adding to Western concerns, Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with Russia on its border with Ukraine. While also a former Soviet republic, Minsk is an ally of Moscow.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West accuses of seeking to divide the European Union by sending Middle Eastern migrants to the border of NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, warned Minsk would not sit on the sidelines in case of war.

“It is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said, referring to Moscow, whose financial and political backing helped him weather mass public protests in August 2020.

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(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne)

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