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No agreement on energy prices

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EU leaders failed to agree on how to respond to the ongoing problem of high energy prices at Thursday’s (16 December) European summit.

After two rounds of negotiations lasting for hours, leaders finally gave up on plans to adopt a joint statement on energy late last night, with member states disagreeing over the causes of the surging prices.

Since the summer, natural gas prices all over the globe have spiked. European countries rely on imports to fulfill their gas needs.

But with stronger than expected economic recovery, lower supply from Russia, and high demand in China, prices for gas futures have reached record highs, hitting €130 per megawatt-hour on the Dutch Title Transfer Facility, the most important European benchmark.

At the previous EU summit in October, member states agreed on a set of national measures to cushion the effects for the most vulnerable citizens.

A group of mainly Eastern-European member states led by Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki blamed high electricity prices on the bloc’s carbon Emissions Trading System (ETS).

Morawiecki denounced it as a “European energy tax.”

He was supported by outgoing Czech energy minister Karel Havlíček who also wants the EU to suspend ETS, but they were not backed by most member states.

With allowances soaring to over €90, France, Hungary, and Latvia demanded Brussels strengthen its supervision of the carbon markets.

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) found no proof of illegal market speculation in the EU’s carbon trading market, but French president Emmanuel Macron and Bulgarian president Rumen Radev criticised the report, asking the commission to continue its analysis.

ESMA last month dismissed concerns over abuse in emissions trading, saying economic and political factors drove the surge in prices.

But on Wednesday, researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research proposed new tools to detect speculation and urged the EU to look into using them.

Spain also voiced concerns about high prices but found the questioning of the ETS system unacceptable and instead proposed Europe should “revise the price-setting structure inside the European energy market.”

But a group of member states led by Germany again rejected calls for market reforms.

“The internal energy market serves its purpose, but must be more resilient,” Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas tweeted.

“[There is a] lack of interconnections, a lack of resilience and security of supply mechanisms. Solution: increase renewable energy capacity and decrease dependence from fossil fuel.”

The question of whether nuclear should be included in the bloc’s taxonomy for green investments also proved insurmountable.

France and a host of other countries have been pushing the European Commission and other member states to label the energy source as green. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is set to decide on the issue before the end of the year.

But countries led by Germany and Austria have opposed this. New German chancellor Olaf Sholz and Macron held a joint press conference to soft-pedal the dispute.

“We have discussed this in the last days, and we will continue in the next days, to find a good Franco-German compromise, but which is not the condition for what remains a delegated act taken by the commission,” Macron said.

Scholz meanwhile admitted Germany will probably not be able to stop the French push for nuclear.

“France is taking a different path [than Germany]. Other countries do as well,” he said.

“That is why it’s important that you can follow your paths and at the same time stay together across Europe,” he added.

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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion

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The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.

The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.

The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.

Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.

“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.

After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.

Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.

Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.

According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.

Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.

The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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