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‘It’s a bit too white and elite,’ says Mary Robinson

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On Monday morning at the Cop26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Mary Robinson is sitting beneath a huge revolving replica of planet Earth. She lays out the stakes for me: how the world needs to keep within the 1.5 degree temperature increase aspired to five years ago in Paris; how scientific advances have made things far more measurable; and how young activists deserve “action” not “blah, blah, blah”. But she also worries because countries like China aren’t in attendance and that poorer countries are underrepresented.

“We’re not going to have enough of the real voices, because they can’t get to the Cop. It’s a bit too white and elite, frankly, because of Covid and [because] they didn’t manage the security and the prices.” She’s still optimistic. “I have to be a prisoner of hope.”

Most people I speak to on my first day at Cop26 have Mary Robinson’s feeling of worried hope

The Action Hub, in zone B of the Scottish Event Campus, is the bit with the aforementioned globe. There’s a Forest of Promises, which is an artificial tree covered with leaves on which children have written things such as “I promise to use public transport” and “I will use les electrisity”. And there’s an LED tickertape circling the venue to remind everyone where they are and who the partners/sponsors are. The furniture is from Ikea and the television networks have set up studios here. I see Ed Miliband and the actor Mark Strong.

Most people I speak to on my first day at Cop26 have Robinson’s feeling of worried hope. There are an estimated 30,000 attendees, although several thousand of those spend the morning outside queueing in the icy Glasgow cold. That group included Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir and his colleagues from UCC’s Environmental Research Institute, who are here as observers. Like Robinson, he’s conscious of the failure to meet the goals set in Paris, but he also stresses how much good collaborative work gets done in the connections that are made here.

Big screen

We’ve been watching Cop26’s people’s advocate, David Attenborough, deliver his speech on a big screen. Ó Gallachóir notes something Attenborough said about how the countries suffering most from climate change aren’t the ones causing it. His colleague, philosophy lecturer Kian Mintz-Woo, concurs. “Both morally and practically, it’s really important for the western world [to fund] the developing countries to mitigate and adapt. At a symbolic or moral level, it shows that we’re in this together.”

In zone D there is a huge room full of “delegation pavilions” at which various countries, NGOs and companies have demonstrations and talks and, sometimes, free coffee. Prime minister Stefan Löfven is speaking at the Swedish pavilion. The Environmental Defense Fund is promoting a satellite it is launching to monitor methane emissions. Many smaller countries argue for climate justice. At the pavilion of the endangered archipelago of Tuvalu, people are getting selfies with sculptures of polar bears in life jackets and a penguin hanging from a noose.

Greta Thunberg and fellow climate activists during a demonstration at Festival Park, Glasgow, on the first day of the Cop26 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Greta Thunberg and fellow climate activists during a demonstration at Festival Park, Glasgow, on the first day of the Cop26 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

These are the work of Taiwanese artist Vincent JF Huang. “Sea level is rising. We predict that [there’s] only 20 or 30 more years the Tuvaluans can continue staying on their island. This is quite an urgent situation. Tuvalu was always ignored but I try and use the power of art to help them get more media.” Is it working? He smiles. “You saw a polar bear and you came over.”

Two Swedish girl scouts are being encouraged to create a viral moment by a woman with a phone; “1.5 to stay alive,” coaches the woman, filming it for TikTok. They’re here as observers representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

“Our focus is to show politicians and negotiators [that] we young people are affected by their decisions,” says 20-year-old Siri Ankorfor. “I’m a little bit frustrated because due to the pandemic, they’ve banned all observers from all negotiations… We can follow online, but we can’t be in the room. We can’t show our faces to them so they can see who they’re fighting for. I think they forget about that in meetings with only other people like them.”

Humans are actually quite cool and we are really good at fixing things if we work together

Zone F, where all the negotiations are taking place, smells like new carpets and looks like a fancy co-working space. Most here are dressed in sober, well-cut outfits (apart from a few dapper military figures). The space leading to the meetings operates a little like a red carpet, flanked by photographers. At one point a security man guides me gently but firmly out of the path of the fast huddle in which Ursula von der Leyen is travelling. At Cop26 there are two forms of movement. Negotiators walk in packs at speed but everyone else, aware of their mileage, moves more slowly.

At the boundary between zones D and F, there’s a beautiful wooden installation promoting the Eden Project. “A completely destroyed piece of land we turned into a beautiful garden,” explains educator Bran Howell. “Humans are actually quite cool and we are really good at fixing things if we work together… The future’s whatever we want to make. If we can turn this area into something beautiful, then we can do that anywhere in the world.”

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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”

Tariffs

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

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The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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How Germany has made it easier to cancel broadband and phone contracts

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What’s going on?

On December 1st, new amendments to the Telecommunications Act came into force in Germany. The updates bring with them wide-ranging changes to consumer rights laws for people who’ve signed – or will sign – new mobile, landline and internet contracts.

The headline change relates to the amount of time contracts are allowed to run for after they renew. If a customer signs up to a 24-month mobile contract and doesn’t cancel before it renews, telecommunications companies will no longer be allowed to sign that customer up for another one or two years without their permission.

Instead, people who don’t cancel in time will be put onto a one-month rolling contract that essentially allows them to terminate at any point with just one month’s notice.

It’s an end to a tax on the disorganised that has seen people stuck paying for contracts they no longer want or need for up to 24 months longer – often at higher prices than they agreed when they first signed the contract.

Does that mean all contracts will be rolling contracts?

Not exactly. As before, most new contracts will run for a minimum 24-month term – so expect to be locked in for at least this long, unless you specifically look for a more flexible contract. 

The change affects what happens after this initial term is up, meaning if you do sign up for a yearly contract, one year won’t automatically turn into two if you don’t remember to cancel it in time. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in December 2021

What else is new?

Alongside the key changes to contract durations, there are also changes to the way in which contracts are agreed and tougher standards for internet providers.

In future, if you agree a contract over the phone, you have to receive a summary of the terms of the contract and confirm it in writing before the agreement is legally valid. 

This summary must include the service provider’s contact details, a description of agreed services, details of any activation fees, the duration of the contract and any conditions for renewal and termination. Without written approval, the contract has no legal standing and the provider has no claims against the customer – even if they switched to the new services immediately after the telephone call.

A young man on the phone in Hannover
A young man takes a phone call on a tram in Hannover. Under the new changes, contracts agreed over the phone will not be valid until they are confirmed in writing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

If a provider makes a change to a contract after it’s up and running, customers now have the right to terminate without notice.

In future, providers must inform customers if there are more favourable offers available and a change to a new contract would be possible.  This must happen once a year, and once again, providers aren’t allowed to do this solely over the phone. 

For broadband customers, there’s more good news: internet providers will in future face issues if they don’t provide the bandwidth stated in the contract. 

That means that if your internet is slower than promised, you should have the right to pay a reduced price or terminate the contract. 

READ ALSO: Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

I signed a new contract a while ago. Do the new rules still apply? 

Yes, they do. Regardless of when you signed your new contract, the amendments to the Telecommunications Act will apply. 

That means that once your initial contract period is up, you should be able to cancel freely and only pay for the month’s notice. You should also be informed of any changes to your contract or better offers and be eligible for compensation if your internet goes below the promised bandwidth. 

If you’ve already been locked in to a 12- or 24-month contract through an auto-renewal, the situation is a bit less clear – but it may be worth contacting your provider and asking them if the terms of your contract have changed in light of the new law. 

READ ALSO: Has it just got easier to end credit agreements in Germany?

What are people saying?

The Telecommunications and Value-Added Services Association, which represents the industry, said it was important than the initial 24-month contracts were allowed to continue. The subsequent new notice periods are a good compromise, VATM Managing Director Jürgen Grützner told Tagesschau

“On the one hand, this means better financial forecasting for expanding providers’ networks and, on the other hand, the best of both worlds for consumers,” he added. 

Campaign for faster internet
“We need fast internet!” is scrawled in huge letters across a street in Weetzen, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

However, Grützner believes the new rules on bandwidth could cause difficulties for providers who struggle to offer the same quality of internet across all regions. 

Meanwhile, consumer rights advocates have welcomed the improvements to contract law. 

In particular, the Federal Consumer Advice Centre “expects competition to improve as a result of the new regulation, including the price-performance ratio,” Susanne Blohm from the organisation’s Digital and Media Division told Tagesschau.

In an initial sign of the regulation’s positive impact, the provider Telefonica has announced that it will abolish surcharges for contracts that don’t have a minimum cancellation period. 

Vocabulary

amendments – (die) Novelle

bandwidth – (die) Bandbreite 

minimum contract term – (die) Mindestlaufzeit 

provider – (der) Anbieter

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.



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