Heat records and climate accords: How did the environment fare in 2023?

From drought in Spain to floods in the Horn of Africa and wildfires in Canada, 2023 was marked by some alarming environmental disasters. However, it wasn’t all bad news – the past few months have seen some significant advances in the fight against climate change.

The hottest year in history

It was hot this year, sometimes very hot – temperatures reached 53°C in Death Valley in the United States, 55°C in Tunisia, and 52°C in China

Even after summer, the mercury did not drop to regular levels with September, October and November all experiencing unusually warm temperatures. The news everyone anticipated finally came in early December: 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history.

For the period from January to November, the average global surface temperature was 1.46°C above the pre-industrial era. It was also 0.13°C above the average of the previous hottest year, 2016. The combined effects of the El Nino climate phenomenon in the Pacific and climate change are to blame.

Oceans suffered from extreme heat

The heat was not confined to land; the planet’s oceans also experienced frighteningly high temperatures. March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October all recorded their hottest maritime temperatures ever.

On July 30, the average global ocean surface temperature reached an unprecedented 20.96°C, according to the European climate monitoring service, the Copernicus Institute. Just a month later, the Mediterranean Sea set its daily heat record, with a median temperature of 28.71°C, according to the main Spanish maritime research centre.

Read moreWorld’s oceans set new temperature record, EU data says

These repeated new records indicate an increasing frequency of marine heatwaves, something that could have dramatic impacts on biodiversity.

Both poles melting at rapid rates

In February, towards the end of the summer in the southern hemisphere, the Antarctic ice sheet reached an alarmingly low level before growing back at an unusually slow pace over the winter.

The ice sheet’s surface in September was 16.96 million km2, the lowest sea ice maximum since measurements began by a wide margin, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)

At the other end of the globe, the Arctic experienced its warmest summer on record, with an average temperature of 6.4°C. Both regions are affected by the “polar amplification” phenomenon which mean they warm faster than lower latitudes, partly due to the melting of the ice sheet and ocean warming.

Long periods of drought

The year was also marked by a series of severe droughts. France, for instance, recorded no significant rainfall for the 32 consecutive days between January 21 and February 21 – “the longest period since records began in 1959”, according to the Copernicus Institute.

In Spain, parts of the population had to deal with a lack of rain for more than 100 days, sparking frustration and raising tensions with neighbouring Portugal over water use.

The European Union was far from the only affected territory. In early June, Iran warned that 97% of the country lacked water due to a lack of rain. A historic drought that has had serious consequences for agriculture since 2020 continued in the Horn of Africa.

Unprecedented wildfires

With drought comes fire. Some 6,400 fires burned 18.5 million hectares of Canada’s famous forests – more than twice the previous record of 7.6 million hectares set in 1989 – giving the country its worst fire season ever recorded.

Images of an orange and apocalyptic New York skyline went viral after smoke from the Canadian wildfires made its way south, polluting air and disrupting traffic.

The Statue of Liberty is covered in haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada, in New York on June 6, 2023. © Amr Alfiky, Reuters

Across the Atlantic, thousands of tourists had to be evacuated from the Greek island of Rhodes due to forest fires in what was the European country’s largest evacuation operation ever.

Rains intensify

Episodes of drought were followed by intense rains, often causing floods. In early August, a month’s worth of rain fell in less than 24 hours in Slovenia, killing three people and causing an estimated €500 million of damage.

In the Horn of Africa too, drought gave way to torrential rains, killing more than 300 and displacing two million people, according to the UN. 

In Libya, several thousand people died, and tens of thousands were displaced due to floods in the eastern part of the country.

Serious flooding also occurred in the United States, Japan, Nepal, China, and even France, which experienced historic autumn rainfall in the Pas-de-Calais region.

Fossil fuels mentioned in a COP final text

For the first time, a United Nations Climate Conference (COP) – held in early December in Dubai – concluded with a text calling for a “transition away” from the primary driver of climate change, fossil fuels. 

However, the text has been criticised for its many shortcomings by environmental NGOs and activists, notably for favouring carbon capture technologies and presenting gas as a “transitional energy”. 

Renewable energies made headway

Renewable energies advanced at full speed in 2023. Mainly driven by solar and new photovoltaic capacities, renewable energies are expected to produce 4,500 GW of power in 2024, equivalent to the combined electrical production of the United States and China, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

In the EU, this momentum is expected to be boosted by a new “Renewable Energy Directive” which set a binding target of achieving 42.5% renewable energy by 2030, compared to the current 22%. Following COP28, EU member states also committed to tripling the production of renewable energy.

An EU law on nature restoration and biodiversity

There was also good news for forests, meadows, lakes, rivers, and corals. After months of tension and hours of negotiations, the European Parliament and EU states reached an agreement in November on a nature restoration bill. The stated goal is to restore 20% of the EU’s land and seas by 2030, and all degraded ecosystems by 2050 – representing 80% of total natural habitats.

Watch moreMeeting Dr Jane Goodall: A global champion for the environment

While the text is less ambitious than it was originally supposed to be, especially regarding restoration obligations for agricultural land, it raised hopes at a time of grave biodiversity loss.

The first treaty on the protection of international waters

After 15 years of discussions, in June, the UN officially adopted the High Seas Treaty, a first of its kind aimed at protecting international waters and preserving marine life.

International waters begin where the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of states end – up to a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coasts – and are therefore not under the jurisdiction of any state. Although they constitute nearly half of the planet and more than 60% of the oceans, international waters have long been ignored in environmental efforts. Today, only about 1% are subject to conservation measures.

The new treaty will facilitate the creation of marine protected areas. The text is expected to come into effect in 2025, at the next UN Ocean Conference in France.

Is a treaty against plastic pollution in the works?

The good news may not end with 2023. Representatives from 175 countries have been developing a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution. This is a significant challenge as plastic, derived from petrochemicals, can be found everywhere – from the depths of the oceans to the tops of our planet’s highest mountains.

Read moreTackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

However, there is a divergence of views on plastic pollution. Some are calling for a binding treaty aimed at “restricting and reducing the consumption and production” of plastic, while others argue for a focus on better waste management.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Of love letters and distant galaxies: Uplifting stories from 2023

It was a turbulent year from start to end, but 2023 was not just about devastating wars, natural disasters and the cost-of-living crisis. The past 12 months also saw the approval of a revolutionary new malaria vaccine, a sharp drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, and an historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Nepal. FRANCE 24 lists the top good news stories of the year.

  • Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies

The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. Four months later, the European Space Agency released the first five images captured by the telescope – and they were as stunning as they were enlightening.

One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. The images also included a nebula resembling a horse’s head, part of the Orion constellation.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.

This undated handout obtained on November 2, 2023 from the European Space Agency shows an astronomical image of a Horsehead Nebula taken during ESA’s Euclid space mission. © ESA via AFP

  • Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. This build-up is the pathological hallmark of the illness, and its detection could help diagnose the condition long before symptoms appear. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.  

“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.

There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. The implant comprises an electrode field placed against the spinal cord as well as an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, which stimulates the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson's patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis.
Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson’s patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis. © Gabriel Monnet, AFP

  • WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’

In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine –the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.

“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya.
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya. © Brian Ongoro, AFP

  • Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.

Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. Meanwhile, the previously “critically endangered” saiga antelope, found mainly in Kazakhstan, was reclassified as “near threatened” thanks to local anti-poaching measures.

Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.

Une jeune antilope Saïga dans la steppe à la frontière des régions d'Akmola et de Kostanay au Kazakhstan, le 8 mai 2022.
A newborn Saiga calf lies in the steppe on the border of Akmola and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan on May 8, 2022. © Abduaziz Madyarov, AFP

  • Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory

A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.

The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.

Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. Discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, which dates from the same period as the Archaeopteryx but has very different features, implies that there may have been not just one, but a variety of different dino-birds around the world at the same time.

Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Un fossile d'Archaeopteryx, considéré comme
A 150-million-year-old fossil of an Archaeopteryx, considered the world’s oldest bird, pictured in 2010. © AFP

  • A much-needed respite for the Amazon

When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. While that goal is still far off, the incoming government’s efforts have already started to pay off.

In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22.3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.

According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of the country’s total emissions.

La déforestation de l'Amazonie a diminué de 22,3 % en un an en 2023 pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis cinq ans.
Deforestation in the Amazon fell by 22.3% year-on-year in 2023 to its lowest level in five years. © Michael Dantas, AFP

  • COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund

The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.

The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.

“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.

Le président de la COP28, Sultan al-Jaber annonce le vote de l'accord final mentionnant les énergies fossiles, le 13 décembre 2023, à Dubaï.
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber applauds as delegates reach an agreement at the climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. © Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

  • LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal

LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.

Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.

In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”

Ram Bahadur Gurung, femme transgenre et Surendra Pandey, lors d'une conférence de presse après avoir officialisé leur mariage, le 1er décembre 2023, à Kathmandou, au Népal.
Transgender woman Ram Bahadur Gurung and her partner Surendra Pandey hug each other after their wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal, on December 1, 2023. © Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters

  • Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on

“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. But Chamberlain never received them.

Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. It remained unopened in British archives until history professor Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge finally unsealed the missives.

The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.

Une lettre d'Anne Le Cerf à son mari, rédigée au 18e siècle, a finalement été ouverte et lue plus de 250 ans plus tard, en 2023.
A letter from Anne Le Cerf to her husband, written in the 18th century, was finally opened and read more than 250 years later, in 2023. © The National Archives via AFP

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed

Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.

The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.

Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Deux momies ont été découvertes à un mois d'intervalle, plusieurs mètres sous terre, dans la nécropole de Saqqarah, dans la région de Memphis, en Égypte.
Two mummies were discovered a month apart, several metres underground, in the Saqqarah necropolis in the Memphis region of Egypt. © Khaled Desouki, AFP

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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Yearender 2023 | 5 big tests for global diplomacy

Let’s start with this week, and the end of the CoP 28, Climate Change summit held in Dubai, ended with a final document called the UAE consensus that agreed to a number of actions

The big takeaways: 

  1. Transition away from fossil fuel- oil, coal and gas in energy production, but no phase-out 
    Tripling of renewables by 2030 
  2. Methane: Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030 
  3. NetZero by 2050- this is meant to push India that has put 2070 as its netzero date, and China by 2060, to earlier dates 
  4. Loss and Damage fund adopted with about $750 million committed by Developed countries- most notably UAE, France, Germany, and Italy towards the fund set up during CoP28  

However, critics described the final document as “weak tea”, “watered down” and a “litany of loopholes”, and some criticised the UAE COP president directly for not ensuring stronger language against fossil fuels 

Where is the world ? 

1. Of the P-5- Leaders of US and China skipped the summit, Russian President Putin flew into Abu Dhabi with much fanfare, but didn’t go to CoP, and signed a number of energy deals. Leaders of UK and France attended CoP28

2. Small Island States and Climate vulnerable countries that bear the brunt of global warming were the most critical

Where is India? 

  1. India spoke essentially for the developing world, that does not want to commit to ending fossil fuel use that would slow its growth- and pushed for terms like phase-out and coal-powered plants to be cut out of the text.
  2. India has some pride in the fact that it has exceeded goals for its NDCs, and now is updating them- but is making it clear that it isn’t part of the global problem- contributing very little to emissions, and it won’t be pushed into being the solution 
  3. India is not prepared to bring forward targets for Net Zero or for ending coal use 
  4. PM Modi has now pitched to host CoP33 in 2028 

Let’s turn to the 2nd and 3rd big challenges to global diplomacy- and they came from conflict. 

2. Russian war in Ukraine:

The war in Ukraine is heading to its 2 year mark 

  • In a 4-hour long Press Conference this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear the war in Ukraine will not end until Russian goals are met- of demilitarization and “denazification” of Ukraine- certainly looking more confident about the way the war is moving 
  • The OHCHR estimates civilian casualties in Ukraine since February 2022, including in territory now controlled by Ukraine, and Russia is more than 40,000, with conflicting figures that total 500,000 military casualties- which are contested 
  • As aid begins to dwindle to its lowest point since February 2022 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been travelling to the US, trying to raise support for more funds and arms 

How is the world faring? 

  1. The UN Security Council is frozen over the issue, with Russia vetoing any resolutions against it. 
  2. On the One Year anniversary of the Russian invasion the UNGA passed a resolution calling on Russia to “leave Ukraine”- 141 countries in favour, 32 abstentions including India, and 7 against 
  3. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin, however, no country Mr. Putin has visited, including China, Central Asia, UAE, Saudi Arabia etc have enforced it 
  4. After a near breakdown in talks at the G20 in Delhi, India was able to forge a consensus document that brought the world together for a brief moment- the document didn’t criticize Russia but called for peace in Ukraine, something Kiev said it was disappointed by 

India: 

  1. India has continued to abstain at the UN, no criticism of Russia, and continued to buy increasing amounts of Russia oil that have increased a whopping 2,200% since the war began 
  2. India has also continued its weapons imports from Russia, although many shipments have been delayed due to Russian production and the payment mechanism problem 
  3. However, India has clearly reduced its engagement with Moscow- PM Modi will be skipping the annual India-Russia for the 2nd year now, and India dropped plans to host the SCO summit in person, making it virtual instead 

3. October 7 attacks and Israel Bombing of Gaza  

2023 is now known as the year of 2 conflicts- with many questioning whether the US can continue to funding its allies on both. 

-The current turn of the conflict began on October 7, as the Hamas group carried out a number of coordinated terror strikes in Israeli settlements along the border with Gaza- brutally killing 1,200, taking 240 hostages, with allegations of beheading and rape against the Hamas terrorists. 

– Israel’s retaliation, pounding Gaza residents for more than 2 months in an effort to finish Hamas and rescue the hostages has been devastating- with 29,000 munitions dropped, more than 18,000 killed, more than 7,000 of them children and as every kind of infrastructure in North and South is being flattened, more than 1.8 million people, 80% of the population is homeless 

Where is the world? 

– The UNSC is again paralysed, with the US vetoing every resolution against Israel 

– The UNGA has passed 2 resolutions with overwhelming support in October 120 countries, or 2/3rds present voted in favour of a ceasefire, in December 153 countries, 4/5ths of those present voted in favour, with severe criticism of Israel’s actions 

– Several countries have withdrawn their diplomats from Tel Aviv, but Arab states who have held several conferences have not so far cut off their ties with Israel 

– Netanyahu has rejected the UN calls, said the bombing wont stop until Hamas is eliminated 

– The global south has voted almost as a bloc, criticizing Israel for its disproportionate response and indiscriminate bombing 

Where is India? 

  1. When the October 7 attacks took place, India seemed to change its stance, issuing strong statements on terrorism, calling for a zero tolerance approach. In UNGA vote in September ,India abstained, a major shift from its past policy 
  2. However, as the death toll from Israel’s bombardment has risen, and the global mood has shifted, India moved closer to its original position, expressing concern for Palestinian victims and sending aid, and then this week, voting for the UNGA resolution, which marked the first time India has called for a ceasefire. 
  3. The shifts and hedging in position has left India without a leadership role in the conflict, away from both the global south and South Asia itself 

4. Afghanistan – Taliban and Women 

  • This is an area where the world has scored a big F for failure. 2 and a half years after the Taliban took over Kabul, there is little hope for loosening its grip on the country. 
  • The interim government of the Taliban, which includes many members on the UN terrorist lists remains in place, and no women with no talks about an inclusive or democratic, more representative government taking place 
    With the economy in shambles, sanctions in place and aid depleted, 15 million Afghans face acute food insecurity, and nearly 3 million people face severe malnourishment or starvation. An earthquake this year compounded problems Adding to the misery, 500,000 Afghan refugees have been sent back from Pakistan, and they lack food clothing or shelter. 
  • Girls are not allowed to go to school in most parts of the country, female students can’t pursue higher studies, and women are not allowed to hold most jobs, or use public places, parks, gyms etc 
  • While the UN doesn’t recognize the Taliban, nearly 20 countries, including India now run embassies in Kabul, and most countries treat the Taliban as the official regime 
  • No country today supports or gives more than lip service to the armed resistance or even democratic exiles in different parts of the world 

Where is India? 

  • India has reopened its mission in Kabul and as of last month, the Embassy of the old democratic regime in Delhi was forced to shut down due to lack of funds and staff- it has now been reopened by Afghan consuls in Mumbai and Hyderabad, who engage the Taliban regime, although they still bear the old democratic regime’s flag. 
  • India has sent food and material aid to Afghanistan- first through Pakistan, and then via Chabahar, and Indian officials regularly engage the Taliban leadership in Kabul 
  • Unlike its policy from 1996-01 towards the Taliban, India has not taken any Afghan refugees, rejected visas for students, businesspersons and even spouses of Indian citizens 
  • India does not support the armed resistance or any democratic exiles, and is not taking a leadership role on the crisis, yielding space to China and Russia instead 

5. Artificial Intelligence 

Finally to the global diplomacy challenge the world is just waking up to- AI 

  • For the past few decades, military powers have been developing AI to use in robotic warfare and more and more sophisticated drone technology as well as other areas
  •  Industry has also worked for long on different AI applications in machine intelligence from communication, r&d, to machine manufacture and 
  • However, the use of AI in information warfare has now become a cause for concerns about everything from job losses to cyber-attacks and the control that humans actually have over the systems and the world is looking for ways to find common ground on regulating it 
  • Last month the UK hosted the first Global AI summit- with PM Rishi Sunak bringing in US VP Harris, EU Chief Von Der Leyen and UNSG chief Guterres and others to look at ways –countries agreed on an AI panel resembling the Inter
  • Governmental Panel on Climate Change to chart the course for the world 
  • India hosted this year’s version of the Global Partnership on AI session in Delhi this month, comprising 28 countries and EU that look at “trustworthy development, deployment, and use of AI” – also at the Modi-Biden meeting in Washington this year, India and the US have embarked upon a whole new tech partnership 

Clearly the AI problem and its potential is a work in progress, and we hope to do a full show on geopolitical developments in AI when we return with WorldView next year. 

WV Take: What’s WV take on the year gone by? Simply put, this has been a year that has seen global consensus and global action weaker than ever before. As anti-globalisation forces turn countries more protectionist and anti-immigration, as less countries are willing to follow the international rule of law, humanitarian principles, the entire system of global governance has gone into decline. India’s path into such a future is three fold- to strengthen the global commons as much as possible, to seek global consensus on futuristic challenges and to understand the necessity for smaller, regional groupings for both security and prosperity alternatives. 

WV Yearender Reading recommendations: 

  1. India’s Moment: Changing Power Equations around The World by Mohan Kumar, former diplomat, now an academic and economic expert- this is an easy read that will make a lot of sense 
  2. Unequal: Why India Lags Behind its Neighbours- by Swati Narayan. This is a startling work of research, with a compelling argument on the need to pay more attention to Human Development Indices 
  3. India’s National Security Challenges: Edited by NN Vohra, with some superb essays on the need for a national security policy and defence reforms 
  4. The Age of AI: And Our Human Future by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher 
    Conflict: A Military History of the Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine by Andrew Roberts and Retd Gen David Petraeus 
  5.  The Power of Geography: Ten Maps that Reveal the Future of Our World by Tim Marshall and Future of Geography : How Power and Politics in Space will Change Our World

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Kanishkaa Balachandran & Gayatri Menon

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COP28 nations adopt first-ever climate deal to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels

The COP28 climate summit on Wednesday approved a deal that would, for the first time, push nations to “transition” from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change.

  • Biden hails COP28 climate deal as ‘historic milestone’

US President Joe Biden hailed a deal secured on Wednesday at UN climate talks in Dubai as a “historic milestone” in transitioning away from fossil fuels but said there was still work to do.

“Today, at COP28, world leaders reached another historic milestone – committing, for the first time, to transition away from the fossil fuels that jeopardize our planet and our people,” Biden said in a statement. 

“While there is still substantial work ahead of us to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach, today’s outcome puts us one significant step closer.”


THE DEBATE © France 24

 

The deal asks for greater action this decade and recommits to no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in hopes of meeting the increasingly elusive goal of checking warming at 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.

The United States is the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China.

Biden skipped the Dubai summit and sent Vice President Kamala Harris to attend the start instead.

  • Russia warns against ‘chaotic’ fossil fuels exit

Russia on Wednesday warned against a “chaotic” exit from fossil fuels, while welcoming the “compromise” deal reached at the COP28 summit in Dubai on transitioning away from them.

“We have at every opportunity stressed the consequences of a chaotic exit without the backing of science,” Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s special envoy for climate issues, was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

“We cannot ignore the diverse needs of people around the world, including the need for affordable and reliable energy,” he said.

“The final deal will probably not satisfy everyone but that only shows it is a compromise.”

Russia is one of the main gas, oil and coal producers in the world.

According to many experts, Siberia and the Russian Arctic are some of the regions in the world most affected by climate change.

  • OPEC secretary-general says oil sector in jeopardy without adequate investment

OPEC+‘s Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais said in a statement on Wednesday that the oil industry is in jeopardy without adequate levels of investment.

He also congratulated the UAE for the positive outcome of COP28.

  • US climate envoy John Kerry addresses COP28 after deal on fossil fuels

US climate envoy John Kerry said that no side can ever achieve everything in negotiations and praised the deal as a sign a war-torn world can come together for the common good.

“I think everyone has to agree this is much stronger and clearer as a call on 1.5(°C) than we have ever heard before, and it clearly reflects what the science says,” Kerry said. “We will continue to press for a more rapid transition.”

“The Paris agreement and the global stock take both stress the importance of developing and updating long-term strategies in order to reduce emissions and enhance resilience,” he added. 

US climate envoy John Kerry at COP28.
US climate envoy John Kerry at COP28. © FRANCE 24

Seeking to avoid the geopolitical tensions that have strained cooperation on other issues, Kerry met ahead of COP28 with his counterpart from China, leading to a joint call by the world’s two largest emitters to step up renewable energy.

  • Almost 200 countries adopt first-ever climate deal on fossil fuels

Nations adopted on Wednesday the first ever UN climate deal that calls for the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

“Together we have set the world in the right direction,” COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber said at the UN climate summit in Dubai, prompting delegates to rise and applaud.

Al-Jaber hailed a the deal approved by almost 200 countries as an “historic package” of measures which offered a “robust plan” to keep the target of 1.5°C within reach.

SCIENCE
SCIENCE © FRANCE 24

 

“We have delivered a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies,” he said during the closing session of the COP28 summit, shortly after the deal was approved.

He added a note of caution for nations: “An agreement is only as good as its implementation. We are what we do, not what we say.”

UN climate chief Simon Stiell urged countries to turn pledges into action after the agreement was passed.

“Now, all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes without delay,” Stiell told delegates in Dubai.

  • New UN climate draft calls for ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels

A draft agreement unveiled early Wednesday in talks in Dubai toughens language by calling for “transitioning away” from fossil fuels, although it does not use the term “phase out”.

The text, released for consideration after another full night of haggling, would also call for “accelerating action” during “this critical decade” – providing more urgency than an earlier proposal widely dismissed by green-minded countries.

The previous draft also drew fire for offering a list of options that “could” be taken to combat the dangerous warming of the planet.


 

The new draft explicitly “calls on” all nations to contribute through a series of actions.

The actions include “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”, the new draft says.

It calls for phase-downs of “unabated coal power” – meaning that coal with carbon capture technology to reduce emissions, panned by many environmentalists as unrealistic, could continue.

It also calls for “phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible”.

But it does not call for a “phase out” of fossil fuels.

Discussions during the 14 days of talks in Dubai, a metropolis built on oil wealth, had revolved around how far to go and whether to make a historic call to wind down oil, gas and coal, the main culprits in the planet’s rapid warming.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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How lending-based climate finance is pushing poor countries deeper into debt

After more than a decade of disappointment, the world’s wealthiest countries may have finally fulfilled their 2009 promise to mobilise $100 billion a year to help developing countries face the climate crisis. But the harsh truth is that developing nations are going to have to pay most of that money back – with interest.

When the world’s wealthiest economies pledged in 2009 to mobilise $100 billion a year towards climate action for developing countries by 2020, few present at the COP15 questioned the urgency of the task before them. Certainly not then-UK prime minister Gordon Brown, the first person to propose the figure in a speech delivered in the months leading up to that year’s climate summit in Copenhagen.

In his “manifesto”, the sombre Scot listed an almost Biblical litany of disaster sweeping across the developing world: 325 million people “seriously affected” by drought, dearth, deluge or disease; a further half a billion souls at extreme risk; and 300,000 lives lost, every year, to the effects of climate change.

“In the developing world, climate change is already devastating lives,” he said.

According to the best estimates of the OECD, 2022 may have finally marked the first year the wealthiest economies finally kept their promise in delivering the funds desperately needed by developing nations to adapt to a warming world and to mitigate the impacts on populations most vulnerable to the climate crisis. But behind the rhetoric of first-world reparations for the global harm caused by a century and a half of fossil-fuel-led industrial development squats an uglier reality: most of the money that makes its way to developing nations in public climate finance is going to have to be paid back – with interest.

Market-level interest rates

OECD data from 2016-2020, the most recent we have, shows that loans made up 72 percent of international climate finance. Of that number, three-quarters of the loans from multilateral development banks (MDBs) such as the World Bank were non-concessional, or loans issued with interest rates set at market levels. Just one quarter of international climate finance over the same period took the form of grants.

More worryingly, Oxfam estimates that the proportion of non-concessional finance is growing. In their Climate Finance Shadow Report released in June 2023, the organisation estimated that the annual average of non-concessional instruments in climate finance had reached $28 billion – 42 percent – in 2019-20, while concessional lending remained largely on the same level as the previous two years.

Although MDBs accounted for much of this market-rate lending, a small number of wealthy countries continue to use loans as their main form of climate finance. Of all the bilateral providers, France leads the pack in lending, with a massive 92 percent of its bilateral public climate finance taking the form of loans.

And while a large share of that lending is made up of concessional or “soft” loans, which are offered at more favourable interest rates or longer repayment schedules, an alarming 17 percent of its bilateral climate finance is non-concessional. For Spain, that number is a staggering 85 percent. More than half of Austria’s climate financing is non-concessional, according to Oxfam’s analysis, as is almost a third of the United States’ climate financing.

Paying back billions – with interest

Put together, this adds up to tens of billions of dollars every year that countries of the Global South will one day be forced to pay back to the world’s wealthiest nations and development banks – with interest. And with global interest rates rising steeply, the cost of servicing those debts year after year will eat into the already-stretched budgets of countries buckling under the weight of debts that are getting harder to pay back.

Danielle Koh, policy analyst at the NGO Reclaim Finance, said that the problem partly arises from the sheer magnitude of the challenge of raising funds to tackle the climate crisis.

“The scale of climate funding required is enormous,” she said. “To rely only on public financing would not be sufficient to meet 1.5°C pathway-aligned targets, and loans at market rates could attract and mobilise private capital.”

By including loans at their full face value, Koh said, wealthy countries are also able to claim credit for meeting their climate pledges far beyond what they are actually giving away. Of the more than $83 billion that was claimed to have been raised in 2020, Oxfam estimates the actual value for developing countries to be between just $21 and $24 billion. And while non-concessional finance is not counted towards countries’ official development assistance spending more broadly, this distinction has yet to be made when it comes to funding climate action.

“In providing financing to developing countries, loans at market rates could be favoured because developed countries can count such loans towards being able to fulfil climate financing commitments while at the same time avoiding giving direct grants or other concessional types of financing, which would be more costly,” said Koh.

Counting non-concessional loans as climate finance may not just be disingenuous, but dangerous. Sixty percent of low-income countries are already either in or on the verge of debt distress, forced to spend five times more every year on servicing their debts than they do on climate adaptation.

Counterproductive debt burden

Safa’ Al Jayoussi, climate justice adviser at Oxfam Middle East and North Africa, said that adding to low-income countries’ debt burden would make them more vulnerable, rather than more resilient, to the ravages of the climate crisis. 

“It’s a big risk, because countries are already distressed,” she said. “Developing countries are dealing with a lot of loans from the World Bank and other institutions that are causing more austerity. Adding more pressure to the countries … will impact those most vulnerable to climate change. This kind of funding is making adaptation and mitigation to climate change more difficult.”

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), public debt has been growing faster in developing nations than in their developed counterparts over the past decade. Faced with compounding crises of Covid-19, climate change and the cost-of-living crisis, the number of countries facing high levels of debt has increased dramatically, from just 22 countries in 2011 to 59 countries in 2022.

And debt is costing developing nations dearly. On average, African countries pay interest rates four times higher than those of the US, and eight times higher than Germany. To service those debts year after year, countries have little choice other than to redirect funds that may otherwise have gone to badly underfunded sectors such as health or education. In the ten years between 2010 and 2020, the number of countries where interest spending accounted for 10 percent or more of their public revenues rose from 29 to 55.

More debt, then, seems to be the last thing the developing world needs.

“There is a real danger that this could lead to high debt burdens in developing countries,” Koh said. “With global rising interest rates, the cost of servicing debt for developing nations will rise substantially. Loans in foreign currencies could expose developing countries to soaring costs over servicing their debt in the case of exchange rate fluctuations or depreciations over time. In the long term, repaying climate debt not only diverts financial resources away from developing other sectors, but could lead to economic and fiscal instability.”

Hans Peter Dejgaard, senior consultant at INKA Consult and a specialist in climate finance, said that while it made sense to finance some renewable energy infrastructure in middle-income developing countries through loans as commercially viable projects, too much reliance on loan-based financing would put poor countries in an impossible position if interest rates continued to rise.

He cited a World Bank loan of $400 million to the Philippines in early 2022 aimed at accelerating climate-related objectives. After the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates to just under 6 percent in April 2023 to fight rising inflation, he said, the total repayments that the Philippine government would have to make over a period of 20 years had potentially risen from $482 million to $686 million – a 42 percent increase.

“This will affect their social and education budget,” he said.

Reclaim Finance’s Koh said that the cost for financing climate action should not be borne by the countries least able to afford it.

“There is no ‘one model fits all’ when it comes to funding climate finance, but there are certain principles that we can rely on to guide our approach,” she said. “For example, that concessional financing and grants should be favoured over market-rate loans, whether through initiatives like the Loss and Damage Fund or others, to help developing countries build resources for climate adaptation and mitigation while avoiding increasing their debt burden.”

For Al Jayoussi, that very burden should instead be borne by the countries most responsible for fuelling the worsening climate crisis. 

“Developing countries didn’t even cause climate change,” she said. “We need to revamp and change the finance structure that caused climate change in the first place. We need grants and grant mechanisms for the most vulnerable countries, developing countries, to overcome climate change.”

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The Hindu Morning Digest, December 12, 2023

Union Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh dubbed the protests by farmers as “sponsored” by traders and said no onion farmers will face any loss. Representational file image.
| Photo Credit: VIJAY SONEJI

Govt. withdraws three criminal codes, to replace them with new Bills 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed members of the Lok Sabha that the three criminal codes that seek to replace the British-era laws will be withdrawn and replaced with three new Bills after incorporating the changes recommended by a parliamentary committee. The three criminal codes — Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023, and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill, 2023 — seek to replace the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, respectively .

Over 30,000 people detected to be foreigners by tribunals in Assam since 1966: Centre

The Union government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that 32,381 people were “detected to be foreigners” by Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) in Assam since 1966. The top court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955. 

FBI Director calls on CBI chief, discusses enhanced coordination between two agencies over transnational crimes

A U.S. delegation led by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher A. Wray on December 11 held a meeting with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief, Praveen Sood, and other senior officials for enhanced coordination between the two agencies in combating transnational crimes. During the meeting, both sides also discussed the possibility of exchanging the best practices of FBI Academy (Quantico) and the CBI Academy (Ghaziabad).

SC directs establishment of ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to address human rights violations in J&K

The Supreme Court has ordered the establishment of a Truth-and-Reconciliation Commission to address human rights violations both by state and non-state actors in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1980s. Pointing out that there is an absence of a ‘commonly accepted narrative of what has happened’, Justice Kaul reasoned that such a Commission will help in the ‘collective telling of the truth’.

COP28 pledges meet only 30% of needed energy emission cuts: IEA

Pledges made so far at the COP28 climate summit will only reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of what is needed by 2030, the International Energy Agency said Sunday. The agency released an assessment of non-binding promises made in Dubai by governments and the oil and gas industry — tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, as well as sharp cuts in methane emissions. 

Opposition walks out accusing Union Government of imposing economic blockade on non-BJP States 

Members of Parliament from INDIA bloc parties staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, alleging that the Union government is imposing an “economic blockade” on the Opposition-ruled States by withholding the central funds allocated to different schemes using various excuses. During the Zero Hour, Aam Aadmi Party MP Sandeep Pathak raised the issue of ₹8,000 crores worth of funds under various schemes including the National Health Mission that has been withheld by the centre raising numerous objections.

Centre blames traders for onion price hike, terms farmers’ protests as ‘sponsored’

Even as protests of farmers and traders continued in Maharashtra over the ban on onion exports and MPs from the State urging the Centre to reconsider the decision, the Union Consumer Affairs Ministry said that the steps it had taken are bringing results with the prices of the kitchen staple coming down in both retail and wholesale markets. Union Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh dubbed the protests by farmers as “sponsored” by traders and said no onion farmers will face any loss as the Centre has stepped up procurement of the essential vegetable at various markets in Maharashtra and other States.

Amidst drought, Centre yet to approve increasing man-days under MGNREGA

Stating that ₹895 crore is available with the district administration to undertake drought relief, Revenue Minister Krishna Byre Gowda on Monday said that the Centre has not approved increase of man-days under MGNREGA that could stem rural migration. He also said that the government has directed the State-level bankers committee to restructure the loan and not harass farmers.

Fossils show dismembered young dinosaurs in belly of T. rex cousin

The young Gorgosaurus knew what it liked for dinner. About 75 million years ago in what is now Canada’s Alberta province, this fearsome T. rex cousin set about hunting turkey-sized yearlings of a feathered plant-eating dinosaur called Citipes. Scientists said on Friday they have unearthed fossilized remains of a juvenile Gorgosaurus that was 5 to 7 years old and about 15 feet (4.5 meters) long. Amazingly, it included the animal’s stomach contents, revealing its last meals.

Must raise voices against horrific injustice being perpetrated against Palestinians: Priyanka Gandhi

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra urged people on December 11 to participate in a global strike demanding a ceasefire in Gaza to stop the “massacre” of the Palestinian people and called for raising voices against the “horrific injustice” being perpetrated against them. Noting that the “merciless bombing” of Gaza continues with even more “savagery” than before the truce, Ms. Gandhi had said on Thursday it is the duty of India as a member of the international community to stand up for what is right and do all it can to ensure a ceasefire at the earliest.

SpiceJet to soon list shares on National Stock Exchange

No-frills airline SpiceJet on December 11 said it will soon be listing its securities on the National Stock Exchange. Shares of the carrier, which is navigating financial turbulence, jumped more than 8% in the morning trade on the BSE. In order to reach a wider investor base, “the company shall soon be listing its securities on National Stock Exchange of India Limited”, the airline said in a regulatory filing.

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IBBC’s Two-Day Conference Success: ‘Building a Sustainable Future for Iraq’ | Iraq Business News

From the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC):

IBBC’s two-day conference success ‘Building a sustainable future for Iraq’.

IBBC held an expanded two- day conference in Dubai to coincide with Cop 28 to focus on ‘a sustainable future for Iraq’, with one day dedicated to Education and Training and one for Business, Investment, and Energy.

IBBC welcomed its largest delegations to date, reflecting both the scope of the discussions and the interest in Iraq.

Of particular note was interest in the Education and Skills day, which not only enjoyed the largest turnout from business members and top UK Education speakers for Iraq anywhere, but also leading figures; UK’s Lord Boateng who made a keynote speech; Wayne David MP, Shadow Minster for Middle East and Dr. Jamal Abdulzahra Mezaal Khoailed, Advisor to the Iraqi President; Professor Hamid Khalaf Ahmed, Iraqi PM Advisor & Executive Director at the Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq, and the UK’s largest recent contingent of universities operating and engaging with Iraq. The British Ambassador to Iraq, Mr Stephen Hitchen and Professor Alaa Alzwghaibi, of the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education also spoke.

Key topics focused on vocational training, skills, and education relevant for the modernisation and development of Iraq, the new Iraqi Government scholarship fund and academic and business collaboration, a new initiative and advisory board between business and Govt set up to focus university courses to the relevant needs of Iraq’s economy. Leading IBBC businesses also contributed, including Sardar Group, SAP, Hydro-C and a special presentation to Basra Gas Company who are recruiting and developing Iraqi graduates (40% of whom are women) for employment.

The Education day was opened by its main sponsor Dr Amir Sadaati of GEMS. It was chaired throughout in exspert manner by IBBC’s Health and education Advisor, Professor Mohammed Al Uzri.

Full list of speakers also include:

Professor Mary Stiasny, University of London; Dr Mohammed Shukri, Kurdistan Regional Government; H.E. Mr Alan Hama Saeed Salih, Ministry of Education Vocational Training, IRCS Centre for Vocational Training; Dr Yaseen Ahmed Abbas, President of Iraqi Red Crescent Society; Dr Tony Degazon, City and Guilds; H.E Dr Naji Al Mahdi, Chief Qualification and Awards KHDA, Dubai; Dr Ahmed Kanan Al-Jaafari, Supervision and Scientific Research Apparatus; Mr Gavin Busuttil-Reynaud, AQA- Alphaplus; Dr Hazim Al-Zubaidi, MOHESR, Iraq; Mr Peter O`Hara, University of London; Dr Kenan Barut, Cambridge University Press & Assessment; Mr Mahul Shah, Occupational English Test (OET); Mr Muhammad Zohaib, Chief Executive LRN; Dr Stephen Land PhD, University of Dundee; Professor Paul Coulthard, Queen Mary University of London; Professor Paul A. Townsend, University of Surrey; Professor Angela Simpson University of Chester.

Day two saw a deeper focus on business and the conference theme ‘Building a sustainable future for Iraq’. As in previous years the Business Day was chaired by IBBC’s GCC representative and Board Member Mr Vikas Handa.

Sustainability is directly linked to the environmental challenge on going at Cop 28 and affecting Iraq directly. As Dr Fareed Yaseen, Iraq’s Climate Envoy  said –

‘Iraq is in the front line of climate change, and its affecting all areas of the country from desertification of agriculture, to migration and water shortage and the possibility areas of the country may become uninhabitable from heat. Iraq is catching up in its compliance with Cop, having started late in 2009. Key is to adapt and develop a sustainable economy, a resilient private business sector, investment, work force training and agriculture.’

President of IBBC Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, welcomed delegates and ministers:

H.E. Dr Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, UAE, who stated trade with Iraq has increased 12.5% this year and we will collaborate on climate change; Dr. Abdulkareem Al Faisal, Chairman of the Prime Ministers Advisory Commission, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Sudani; Dr Mohammed Shukri, Chairman, Kurdistan Board of Investment, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Barzani;  Ambassador Stephen Hitchen, HM Ambassador to Iraq; Mr Wayne David MP, UK Shadow Minster for the MENA, articulated how Labour would focus their foreign policy if elected in ’24,

Panels included a Finance and Investment panel led by member Mr Raed Hanna of Mutual Finance; Mr Bilal Al-Sugheyer, IFC; Mr Mohammed Al-Delaimy, TBI; Dr Boutros Klink, SCB; Dr Sameer Al-Waely, Central Bank of Iraq, Mr Hani Idris, UAE Barnach Director of the International Development Bank,  at which the formation of a new foreign exchange bank was announced by the CBI.

A vibrant Energy session outlining the dramatic progress the oil and gas companies are undertaking to invest in capturing gas (for conversion into electivity) reduction in Co2 through process engineering, and cleaner air, gas and oil production, speakers included Chairman: Mr Vikas Handa; Mr Laith Al Shaher, IBBC Advisory Council; Ms Dunia Chalabi, TotalEnergies; Mr Zaid Elyaseri, BP; Mr Hassan Heshmat, Hydro – C; Mr Andrew Wiper, Basrah Gas  Company; Mr Muhanad Al-Saffar, Siemens Energy Iraq; Mr Rasheed Janabi, GE Vernova.

The Tech forum focused on how tech and data can help Iraq adapt to climate change and carbon transition, including insightful presentations from SAP, EY, Neom, UK’s Climate business advisor  (new report available here) and UAE’s Hyperloop engineer, to show us the way forward in building and infrastructure tech. (recording video here) Batoul Husseini, SAP MENA; Ahmed Gailani, UK GOV CCC committee; Owais Afridi, Director, Consulting of EY sustainability practice in MENA; Prof. Dr Sabih G. Khisaf, ICE; Mr Hussam Chakouf, NEOM.

IBBC’s MD Mr Christophe Michels hosted a roundtable discussion for 3 KRG Ministers, Dr Mohammed Shukri, Chairman, Kurdistan Board of Investment, Ms Begard Talabani, Minister for Water Resources & Agriculture, and Mr Kamal Muslim, Minister of Trade and Industry. A final panel asked, ‘What constitutes Business Successes?’

We heard passionate family insights about innovation, persistence, hard work, and adaptation from Mr Amar Shubar, Management Partners; Mr Andrew Martin, Al Busttan; Mr Richard Cotton, AAA Holding Group Ltd; Mrs Samar Al Mafraji, Sardar Group; Mr Aziz Khudairi, Khudairi Group.

The conference ended with Mr Christophe Michels thanking everyone involved and looking forward to the Spring Conference at The Mansion House in London on June 27th 2024.

IBBC is grateful to all of its Members for their support and contribution. Special thanks go to conference sponsors: AAA HoldingAl BusttanGEMS, TBISardar Group, Hydro-C and Basrah Gateway Terminal.

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Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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COP28 Summit and India | Is climate fatigue setting in?

COP28 Summit and India | Is climate fatigue setting in

We are half way through the CoP28 being held in Dubai – with half a million registrations, 77,000 delegates, 189 countries– that will end next week. Many controversies have roiled the UAE Presidency, but they have also been able to clear quite a few agreements. 

  1. Loss and Damage Fund: This was something held over from CoP27 in Sharm El Sheikh last year, proposed by the G-77 in order to help the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Around $450 million have been committee so far, including $100mn each from UAE and Germany, $145mn from EU, $50 mn from UK and $17mn from the US, to set up the fund to be managed by the World Bank 
  2. Global Stock Take: This will be the first CoP Global Stock Taking exercise (GST) to see how the world’s actions in the past few years measure up against the Paris CoP 21 agreement in 2016. 
  3. Green Pledge: CoP 28 also has cleared a Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which aims to triple renewable-energy generation capacity by 2030 and calls for an end to new investments in coal- significantly India didn’t sign on this. 
  4. Health Pledge: On the first Health Day at COP28, global leaders united in endorsing the health and climate change declaration, sounding the alarm on the severe health implications of climate change. India did not sign on to this either 
  5. Climate Finance: This CoP hopes to sort out the definition and mechanics of delivering $100bn in Climate finance by OECD countries, a pledge that was made in 2009, and was due to start in 2020, but has not been kept so far. 
  6. Fossil Fuel: The role of fossil fuels is being hotly debated in the CoP- particularly as big consumers and big economies China and India are against any curtailment of its planned development- at present the final draft is stuck on using the term Phase-out vs Phase-down of fuel, as India had insisted in Glasgow CoP. India has also made it clear that cuts must be on all fossil fuel, not just Coal which it needs for thermal power- about 73% of Indian power generation is based on coal- and has indicated that Oil and Gas cuts must also be included.

In his speech at the inaugural session with leaders PM Modi made several points: 

  1.  India has 17 percent of the world’s population, is the most populous country but its share in global carbon emissions is less than 4 percent- although Climate agencies say that figure is about 7% 
  2. India is one of the few economies in the world that is on track to meet the NDC targets. 
  3. India’s target is to reduce emissions intensity by 45 percent by 2030 
  4. India will increase the share of non-fossil fuel to 50 percent of the mix 
  5. India is sticking to a net zero target of 2070, not bringing that earlier. 
  6. India and UAE launched a Green Credit Initiative 
  7. The big announcement- that India would like to host the CoP33 to be held in 2028, that India last hosted in 2002.

“We don’t have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century.A small section of mankind has exploited the nature indiscriminately. But the whole humanity is paying its price, especially the residents of the Global South. This thinking of ‘only my welfare’ will take the world towards darkness. Every person sitting in this hall, every head of state has come here with a huge responsibility.”- Prime Minister Narendra Modi

It wasn’t all climate work- and PM Modi met with a number of leaders on the sidelines of CoP,  

  1. Discussing the Israel-Hamas conflict with leaders from the region including Israel President Herzog, UAE President, leaders of Jordan and other countries 
  2. The sentencing of 8 Indian Naval officers came up with the Emir of Qatar 
  3. Meetings with neighburhood leaders like Sri Lanka, and with the new President of Maldives Mohammad Muizzu, who subsequently said PM Modi had agreed to the Maldives demand to take back military personnel stationed there 
  4. And this famous selfie with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni- who hashtagged the picture with Modi #Melodi. 

This CoP has also seen some major controversies and concerns as well:

  1. No Biden-Xi at CoP 28: The absence of both leaders was significant- with some suggesting that neither US President nor VP travelled to UAE given the Middle east crisis with the continuing bombardment of Gaza by Israel may have given a visit a political colour 
  2. At the same time Russian Putin arrived in UAE, but to discuss fossil fuel deals 
  3. Oil Lobby at CoP- there were several reports about the fact that UAE as host , itself a major oil exporter had a conflict of interest, and that many of those who came were pushing down targets on cutting fossil fuel production. 
  4. UAE CoP President Sultan Al Jaber himself came under fire- as he is not only the head of UAE’s renewable energy agency Master, but also of ADNOC, Abu Dhabi’s oil company. In particular comments he made indictating that the evidence against fossil fuels for global warming came under fire- here was his response: “ I am surprised at attempts to undermine cop28, we are guided by science “ – UAE CoP President Sultan Al Jaber
  5. India didn’t sign the Green Pledge, and Climate Health pledge- saying Climate justice was the most important principle 

Earlier I spoke to The Hindu’s Deputy Science Editor Jacob Koshy in Dubai about some of the questions raised over the summit:  

WV Take: It doesn’t need 77,000 delegates to fly to a conference in West Asia to study whether the world is on track with the goals they established at the CoP 21 in Paris in 2016- it should be fairly clear that the world has failed to ensure goals on mitigation of greenhouse gases, keeping global warming in check and on climate change adaptation. While India has done better than many, especially given its large population, it has not broadened the scope to tackle climate change at a regional level – across South Asia, one of the world’s most climate vulnerable areas- and this is where it needs more focus.

WV Reading Recommendations: 

  1. 3 books by Amitav Ghosh right at the top of my list: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis and the Living Mountain 
  2. 2. Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan to reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, who wrote Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one Generation 
  3. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is Naomi Klein’s classic from 2014, but also followed up by On Fire: The Burning Case for a new green deal and All We can Save: 
  4. The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future David Wallace-Wells an acclaimed well book- also recommended by Jacob Koshy 
  5. The Earth Transformed: An Untold History by Peter Frankopan- who looks at the historical evidence of climate change- he is the author of The Silk Roads and the New Silk Roads, so the book does have a lot on China 
  6. The Next New : Navigating the Fifth Industrial Revolution by Pranjal Sharma, that has a chapter on Green Energy in India worth reading 
  7. The Climate Solution : India’s Climate Change Crisis and what we can do about it by Mridula Ramesh 
  8. Environmentalism : A Global History by Ramachandra Guha – on India’s environmental traditions 
  9. India in a Warming World: Integrating Climate Change and Development Edited by Navroz K. Dubash 

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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Smog obscures Dubai skyline on ‘Health’ day at COP28 climate summit

Dubai’s glitzy skyline was obscured by a blanket of smog rated as “unhealthy” on Sunday as thousands of delegates attended the fourth day of the COP28 summit, which was designated as “health” day and where topics of discussion include air quality and the unhealthy affects of climate change. 

  • ​​​​​Hillary Clinton calls for insurance reform at COP28 UN climate talks 

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Sunday for reform of the insurance sector, where companies are increasingly withdrawing assistance against climate shocks.

Lower-income countries and workers in nations most affected by climate change are struggling to access insurance to help protect them from economic shocks.

“We need to rethink the insurance industry,” Clinton said during a panel on women and climate resiliency at the summit in Dubai. “Insurance companies are pulling out of so many places. They’re not insuring homes. They’re not insuring businesses.”

  • COP28 delegates urge greater action on climate-linked health risks

Physicians, activists and country representatives at this year’s COP28 summit have called for greater global efforts to protect people from the increasing health and safety risks posed by climate change.

With global temperatures set to continue climbing for decades, experts say countries will need to boost funding for healthcare as heatwaves become more dangerous and diseases like malaria and cholera spread.

Climate-related impacts “have become one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century”, COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber said in a statement.

  • Former US vice president Gore takes aim at host UAE’s emissions

Armed with satellite images of pipelines, former US vice president and climate champion Al Gore singled out the emissions of the United Arab Emirates at the COP28 talks in the oil-rich monarchy on Sunday.

Gore and Climate TRACE, an independent emissions tracker, had a message in Dubai to countries and industries around the world: no one can hide their emissions anymore.

Using a network of 300 satellites and artificial intelligence, Climate TRACE can now monitor emissions from more than 352 million sites from 10 industries.

Its data showed the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 7.5 percent in 2022 from the previous year, compared to a 1.5 percent increase for the entire world.

“In large regions of the world, it’s very uncommon to have any self-reporting” of emissions, Gore said.

Speaking in the main plenary room of the COP 28 site, Gore pointed to huge monitors showing satellite images of the major emitting sites in the UAE.

Another map showed leaks from pipelines.

  • Air pollution soars in Dubai on ‘Health’ day at COP28

Dubai‘s skyline was obscured by a blanket of smog rated as “unhealthy” on Sunday as thousands of delegates attended the fourth day of the COP28 summit.

The air quality index reached 155 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 pollution — the fine particulate matter that is most harmful, as it can enter the bloodstream — according to WAQI.info, a real-time pollution tracker.

In “unhealthy” air quality, “everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” the website warns.

Hazy conditions have been noticeable over the first few days of COP28, where negotiators are trying to hammer out a global agreement to reduce emissions and curb climate change.

Sunday is designated as “health” day at COP28, where topics under discussion include air quality and the unhealthy effects of climate change.

Outdoor air pollution driven by fossil fuel emissions kills more than four million people a year, according to the World Health Organization, as it increases the risk of respiratory diseases, strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and other problems.

The damage is caused partly by PM2.5 microparticles, which mostly come from fossil fuels burned in transportation and industry.

COP28 is unfolding about 11 kilometres (seven miles) from the Jebel Ali Power and Desalination Complex, the world’s biggest gas-fuelled power station.

  • Suez Canal and Scatec sign $1.1 billion green methanol MoU

Egypt‘s Suez Canal economic zone and Scatec ASA have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) worth $1.1 billion to supply ships with green fuel, a Suez Canal statement said on Sunday.

The MoU, agreed on the sidelines of COP28, envisages production of 100,000 tonnes of green methanol per year by 2027, the statement said.

  • Global regulators propose tougher scrutiny of voluntary carbon markets

A global securities watchdog proposed 21 safety measures on Sunday to improve integrity, transparency and enforcement in voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) in a sector of growing importance to efforts to combat climate change.

IOSCO, which groups market watchdogs from Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States, launched a 90-day public consultation on a set of good practices for national regulators to apply.

“VCMs have gained significant importance in recent years. But for these markets to succeed, they need integrity – both environmental and financial,” Rodrigo Buenaventura, chair of IOSCO’s sustainable finance taskforce, told an event at COP 28 on Sunday.

VCMs cover pollution-reducing projects, such as reforestation, renewable energy, biogas and solar power, that generate carbon credits companies buy to offset their emissions and meet net-zero targets.

  • Indonesia and the Asian Development Bank agree to deal to shutter coal-fired power plant early

 

Indonesia and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have agreed to a provisional deal with the owners of the Cirebon-1 coal-fired power plant to shutter it almost seven years earlier than planned, the ADB’s senior climate change energy specialist told Reuters.

The deal, announced during the COP28 talks in Dubai, is the first under the ADB’s Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) programme, which aims to help countries cut their climate-damaging carbon emissions.

Supporting a $20 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership agreed last year that aims to bring forward the sector’s peak emissions date to 2030, the ADB hopes to replicate it across other countries in the region.

“If we don’t address these coal plants, we’re not going to meet our climate goals,” ADB’s David Elzinga said on the sidelines of the conference.

“By doing this pilot transaction, we are learning what it takes to make this happen,” Elzinga said. “We’re very much shaping this as something we want to take to other countries.”

ADB also has active ETM programmes in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and is considering transactions in two other countries, it said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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