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EU negotiators strike deal on climate ‘law of laws’

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The European Parliament and the European Council reached a provisional agreement on the first-ever EU climate law in the early hours of Wednesday (21 April) – making the bloc’s goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 irreversible and legally-binding.

After 14 hours of intense negotiations, they agreed on a net emissions-reduction target (emissions after deduction of removals) of at least 55 percent by 2030 (on 1990 levels) – which would mean a cut in actual “real” emissions of 52.8 percent, or even less.

  • The UN announced this week that the average global temperature in 2020 was about 1.2-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – ‘dangerously close’ to the 1.5-degree limit advocated by scientists (Photo: Silje Bergum Kinsten)

The parliament, for its part, wanted to cut emissions by 60 percent in the next decade.

Yet, EU negotiators agreed that land use, land-use change and forestry policy, should all contribute more to reducing EU emissions – which should help achieve a nearly 57 percent emission cut.

Until now, the EU-wide goal was at least 40 percent CO2-reduction by 2030.

“The European climate law is ‘the law of laws’ that sets the frame for the EU’s climate-related legislation for the 30 years to come,” said João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Portuguese minister of the environment (whose country holds the rotating EU Council presidency.)

Liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on environment, said that the parliament “was ready to go for more” but that “there was no space to change the wording ‘at least 55 percent'” for the Portuguese presidency.

Similarly, socialist MEP Jytte Guteland, a key negotiator on the climate law, said that she would have preferred to go “all the way to 60 percent in pure reductions”.

“But this is a good deal based on science that will make a big difference for the climate,” she added.

But Green MEP Michael Bloss said that the legislation “does not live up to its ambition”.

“This is not the Green Deal that we need to tackle the climate crisis and not enough for the Paris Agreement,” he said.

New expert board

Environmental NGOs, which support a 65-percent-emission cut by 2030, slammed the deal, arguing that it reflects more politics than science.

But they welcomed the proposal of establishing a European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, pointing out that it must remain politically independent.

“The establishment of an EU-level expert advisory body brings the European Union one step closer to more science-based climate policy,” said Romain Laugier from WWF.

This body will be composed of 15 senior scientific experts of different nationalities who will monitor the compatibility of EU measures with the European climate law. It will have a mandate of four years.

The concept of an independent expert advisory body is already a defining element of existing national climate laws.

Carbon budget and 2040 target

Furthermore, EU negotiators also agreed on a greenhouse gas budget for 2030-2050, which will inform the commission on setting an intermediate target for 2040.

The budget is defined as the number of emissions that could be emitted in that period without undermining the EU pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Despite international commitments to tackle global warming, the UN announced this week that the average global temperature in 2020 was about 1.2-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – “dangerously close” to the 1.5-degree Celsius limit advocated by scientists.

To ensure that member states make sufficient efforts to reduce emissions in the next decade, EU negotiators agreed to introduce a limit (of 225 Mt of CO2 equivalent) to the contribution of removals to the net target.

This limit aims to maximise the effective emission-cuts of member states in the calculation towards 2030, making sure sinks are not a “loophole,” Guteland said.

Increasing ‘sinks’

Meanwhile, policymakers acknowledged that the EU should increase the volume of carbon net sink by 2030 – aiming to achieve negative emissions after 2050, where more CO2 is taken out than is being put into the atmosphere.

Besides artificial carbon removal and storage technologies, crucial natural carbon sinks are oceans, wetlands and forests.

However, Europe has been losing an increased forest area to harvesting in recent years – especially in Sweden and Finland.

The commission will also engage with the different economic sectors to prepare specific, but voluntary, roadmaps to reduce their emissions, while monitoring their progress.

EU member states which do not comply with the climate law will face fines and sanctions.

Pressure on Biden?

The agreement comes ahead of US president Joe Biden’s climate summit, when Washington will unveil its own emission reduction target.

“When world leaders gather on Earth Day, the EU will come to the table with this positive news, which we hope will inspire our international partners,” said EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, welcoming the deal as a “landmark moment”.

The provisional agreement reached on Wednesday still has to be approved by the EU Council and EU Parliament, which is expected in two or three weeks.

In June, the commission will present a series of revisions and regulations under its ‘Fit for 55%’ climate and energy package. MEPs said that 50 EU laws will have to change between now and June.

Earlier this week, the UK announced a 78 percent emissions-reduction target by 2035.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ | Global development

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Millions of people forced to leave their homes because of severe drought and powerful cyclones are at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking over the coming decades, a new report warns.

The climate crisis and the increasing frequency of extreme weather disasters including floods, droughts and megafires are having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people already living in poverty and making them more vulnerable to slavery, according to the report, published today.

Researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International found that drought in northern Ghana had led young men and women to migrate to major cities. Many women begin working as porters and are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and debt bondage – a form of modern slavery in which workers are trapped in work and exploited to pay off a huge debt.

Boys at lathes turning aluminium pots
Children working in an aluminium pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Up to 85 million children work in hazardous jobs around the world. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head.

She said: “Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

She dropped a customer’s items once and had to pay for the damage, which she could not afford. The woman in charge paid up on condition that she repay her. She added: “I have been working endlessly and have not been able to repay.”

A woman from Bangladesh
A woman from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, who moved to Kolkata after a cyclone to support her family. Now she cannot return to home without her employer’s permission. Photograph: Somnath Hazra

In the Sundarbans, on the border between India and Bangladesh, severe cyclones have caused flooding in the delta, reducing the land available for farming. With countries in the region tightening immigration restrictions, researchers found that smugglers and traffickers operating in the disaster-prone region were targeting widows and men desperate to cross the border to India to find employment and income. Trafficking victims were often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border.

Fran Witt, a climate change and modern slavery adviser at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Our research shows the domino effect of climate change on millions of people’s lives. Extreme weather events contribute to environmental destruction, forcing people to leave their homes and leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and slavery.”

The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes.

The report is a stark warning to world leaders in advance of the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and calls on them to make sure efforts to address the climate emergency also tackle modern slavery. The report says labour and migrant rights abuses are disregardedin the interests of rapid economic growth and development.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a researcher for the IIED, said: “The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that’s being fuelled by climate change. Addressing these issues needs to be part and parcel of global plans to tackle climate change.”

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