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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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‘We just sleep and hope we don’t perish’: 2m in Tigray in urgent need of food – UN | Hunger

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At least 2 million people in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray are suffering from an extreme lack of food, with the 15-month conflict between rebel and government forces pushing families to the brink, the UN’s emergency food agency has found.

In the first comprehensive assessment the World Food Programme (WFP) has carried out in Tigray since the start of the war, 37% of the population were found to be severely food insecure, meaning they had at times run out of food and gone a day or more without eating.

Families were found to be “exhausting all means to feed themselves”, with 13% of Tigrayan children under five and almost two-thirds of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from malnutrition.

“Before the conflict we were eating three times a day but now even once a day is difficult. I was borrowing food from my family but now they have run out. We just sleep and hope we do not perish,” Kiros, a single mother of six children living on the outskirts of the region’s capital, Mekelle, told researchers.

The assessment, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, was carried out from mid-November until mid-December.

However, researchers were unable to travel to areas where fighting is impeding humanitarian access. Moreover, since the assessment was carried out, the needs of the region are thought to have become even more acute as no aid convoy has reached Tigray for about six weeks.

“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for eastern Africa.

“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”

Across northern Ethiopia, where fighting has raged in the regions of Afar and Amhara as well as Tigray, WFP estimates that 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.

In Amhara, hunger has more than doubled in five months, it says. In Afar, where fighting has intensified in recent days between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces loyal to the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recent health screening data showed malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28%, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15%.

Since the conflict erupted in November 2020, it has been difficult for the UN and other humanitarian organisations to gauge the level of need in Tigray due to a lack of on-the-ground access and telecommunications. The UN has accused the federal government of preventing food and essential medical supplies from coming into the region in a de-facto blockade. The government denies this.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Mekelle since last September. The drugs are understood to have included enough insulin supplies to last about a month, after medics at the Ayder referral hospital raised the alarm over severe shortages.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, recently accused Abiy’s government of imposing a “hell” on Tigray by denying entry to medical supplies.

“It is a huge relief that this first shipment is reaching hospitals,” said Apollo Barasa, health coordinator at the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “This assistance is a lifeline for thousands of people, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that these deliveries continue.”

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Asylum applications on rise in EU

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The EU Agency for Asylum on Friday said the number of asylum applications in November 2021 was the second-highest in five years, narrowly below the level in September. About 71,400 applications for international protection were lodged in the “EU+” (EU, plus Norway and Switzerland) in November 2021, up by nine percent from October. “This was the second-highest level since 2016,” it said.

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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion

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Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.

“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.

Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.

On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.

A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.

The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.

After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.

Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.

Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.

Her death comes after 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 refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.

While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.

“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.

The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.

According to a 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. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.

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