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Australia’s coal use sharpens Pacific tension as Scott Morrison arrives for forum | World news



The scene has been set for tense discussions in Tuvalu as Scott Morrison arrives on Wednesday, after his announcement of $500m in climate funding for the Pacific fell flat, with regional leaders saying that no matter how much money Australia put forward there was no excuse for not reducing emissions and closing coalmines.

Though the Australian prime minister was not present for the start of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting on Tuesday, his country’s presence at the forum has already been strongly felt, with Pacific leaders pointedly calling for Australia to transition rapidly away from coal use.

Morrison’s announcement of $500m over five years in climate resilience and adaptation funding for the region on Monday does not seem to have quietened concerns, with leaders saying the aid, while welcome, does not let Australia off the hook.

Enele Sopoaga, the prime minster of Tuvalu and chair of the forum, said on Tuesday money was not enough.

“No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse to not to do the right thing, which is to cut down on your emissions, including not opening your coalmines,” he said. “That is the thing that we want to see.”

On Wednesday Morrison is expected to have bilateral meetings with Sopoaga, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and the prime ministers of the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.

The leaders’ retreat, the main event of the forum, will take place on Thursday. It is looking increasingly unlikely that Pacific island leaders, who are calling for commitments to urgent and significant action to tackle the climate crisis, and Australia will reach agreement on a communique that satisfies both groups.

Pacific leaders have singled out Australia’s coal policy and its use of carryover credits to meet its obligations under the Paris agreement as issues they want action on.

But on Tuesday Alex Hawke, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, who has been in Tuvalu this week, said Australia would not be shifting from its policies.

“We would be lying to say we’re not disappointed, extremely disappointed,” said Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, who has become a global leader on the issue of climate change.

“Because Australia is part of the Pacific Islands Forum, they’re the closest big country to the small Pacific island nations, they’ve been here, they’re here, they understand the situation. So it’s very disheartening that their actions are not parallel with what we know they understand in terms of our situation.”

The Funafuti convention centre

The Funafuti convention centre where the Pacific Islands Forum leaders are meeting is built on reclaimed land. Photograph: Kate Lyons/The Guardian

The urgency of the climate emergency is the focus of this year’s forum..

A meeting of the Pacific small island states on Tuesday resulted in a declaration directly challenging some of Australia’s policies, including calling for “an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coalmines” and for all countries “to rapidly phase out their use of coal in the power sector”.

Sopoaga said: “We must push forward and seek urgent actions, concrete actions from the global community. I certainly wish our colleagues from Australia and others, will take heed of this imperative, so we can move forward.”

Hawke said Australia was committed to meeting its Paris targets, and would use carryover credits to help it do so.

“Australia’s position has been clear and, look, there’s been great respect for Australia’s position in general. People tell us that they want us to do more to help with climate in the region, and we are doing more.”

Hawke also referred to a speech by the Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, on Monday, at the start of a climate change conference before the forum, in which Bainimarama appealed to Australia “to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”.

Hawke said: “[Pacific leaders] also tell us they understand our economy is structured certain ways and that to help with the assistance in the Pacific, Prime Minister Bainimarama was clear about this, we have to work through our own economic transition in Australia and the government’s got our own plan to transition our economy into the future.”

The minister said the $500m for Pacific countries from 2020 was “the most amount of money that Australia has ever spent on climate in the Pacific”.

The money will go toward resilience and adaptation measures in Pacific countries and comes from the existing aid budget, though Hawke would not be drawn about which aid programs would be cut to pay for the new climate and oceans initiative.

“The aid budget works in a number of ways, we’ll be reprioritising some of those needs over time,” he said.

“Australia is a good partner on climate because we understand from our neighbours the impact that it has. When you stand here in Tuvalu you understand the imperative about the climate and our prime minister will be here, I’m here all week, we’re listening and we’re responding this week to the needs of the Pacific.”

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Trump calls Danish PM’s rebuff of Greenland idea ‘nasty’




WASHINGTON/COPENHAGEN: President Donald Trump declared Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s dismissal of his idea to buy Greenland “nasty” and an affront to the United States on Wednesday, a day after shocking Danes by canceling a Copenhagen visit over the rebuff.
Danes voiced disbelief at Trump’s decision to forgo the trip, although Frederiksen said she believed relations with the United States, a NATO ally, would not be affected.
Trump, who built his career as a businessman dealing in real estate, had mused openly in recent days about a US purchase of Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory rich in natural resources, raising eyebrows in Europe and in the United States.
Former Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called it “an April Fool’s Day joke” and Frederiksen called the idea “absurd.”
The latter comment set off Trump, who often becomes riled up by criticism, real or perceived. He announced the cancellation of his planned Sept 2-3 trip to Denmark in a tweet late on Tuesday.
“I thought that the prime minister’s statement … was nasty. I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to do is say: ‘No, we wouldn’t be interested,'” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the United States of America. You don’t talk to the United States that way, at least under me.”
Frederiksen, a centre-left Social Democrat, said she learned of Trump’s decision “with regret and surprise”, given Denmark’s strong relations with Washington, but she repeated her opposition to any Greenland transaction.
She stressed that Greenland’s premier, Kim Kielsen, had ruled out selling off the territory and “I obviously agree with him.”
But Frederiksen said the United States remained one of Denmark’s closest allies. “I don’t think the cancelling of this state visit should affect any decisions we make whether it is on commercial cooperation or foreign and security policies.”
Trump’s decision elicited condemnation, outrage and mockery alike among Danish opposition leaders and the public.
“So (Trump) has cancelled his visit to Denmark because there was no interest in discussing selling Greenland. Is this some sort of joke? Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark,” tweeted former Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt.
“Total chaos with @realDonaldTrump and cancellation of state visit to Denmark. It has gone from a big opportunity for strengthened dialogue between allies to a diplomatic crisis,” said former Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen of the Liberal Party.
‘Not for sale’
Greenland, which is gaining attention from world powers including China, Russia and the United States because of its strategic location and mineral wealth, is self-governing but underdeveloped and relies on Denmark for economic support.
“Everyone should know Greenland is not for sale,” Jensen said of the world’s largest island, where the United States has a military presence at the Thule Air Base under a US-Danish treaty dating to 1951.
“(Trump’s cancellation) is very, very shocking, when it is about a very close ally and a good friend,” said Soren Espersen of the hard-right Danish People’s Party.
He said Trump had effectively snubbed Queen Margrethe, Denmark’s head of state. Trump and US first lady Melania Trump were formally invited to Denmark by the queen in July.
“It shows why we now more than ever should consider (fellow) European Union countries as our closest allies. The man is unpredictable,” said Morten Ostergaard, leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party. “Reality surpasses imagination.”
Trump, whose “America First” policies have resulted in strained relations with the EU over trade and other issues, said on Sunday a US purchase of Greenland would be “a large real estate deal.”
The two countries appeared to be taking steps to address tensions over the dispute.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a Twitter post that he had a “frank, friendly and constructive talk” with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and declared the countries “close friends and allies.”
The State Department said Pompeo expressed thanks for Denmark’s cooperation as an ally. “The Secretary and Foreign Minister Kofod also discussed strengthening cooperation with the Kingdom of Denmark – including Greenland – in the Arctic,” it said in a statement.
Trump said he would go to Denmark another time.
“Greenland was just an idea, just a thought. But I think when they say it was ‘absurd’ and it was said in a very nasty, very sarcastic way, I said, ‘We’ll make it some other time.’ We’ll go to Denmark – I love Denmark. I’ve been to Denmark. And, frankly, we’ll do it another time. Respect has to be shown to the United States,” he told reporters.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former NATO secretary general and Danish premier, said Trump’s cancellation could work out for the best. “The Arctic’s security and environmental challenges are too important to be considered alongside hopeless discussions like the sale of Greenland,” he said on Twitter.

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Amazon Rainforest Is Ablaze, Turning Day Into Night In Brazil




Huge tracts of the Amazon, which serves as the lungs of the planet by taking in carbon dioxide, storing it in soils and producing oxygen, are ablaze. Smoke from the widespread fires has turned day into night in Sao Paulo, and intensified a controversy over the Brazilian government’s land use policies.

The Brazilian Amazon has experienced 74,155 fires since January, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known by the acronym INPE. That’s an 85 percent increase from last year and significantly higher than the 67,790 blazes since by this point in the year during 2016, when there were severe drought conditions in the region associated with a strong El Nino event.

“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters. Speaking of the fires, he said, “The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”

The fires have covered Sao Paulo in dark smoke, and they are raising concerns that the rainforest, which is one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth, may be suffering from land-clearing operations and other activities intended to transform the land for agricultural use.

“People stored black water from the rainfall after the massive smoke cloud reached Sao Paulo,” says Vitor Gomes, an environmental scientist at the Federal University of Para in Brazil, via email.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the fires have led to a clear spike in carbon monoxide emissions as well as planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, posing a threat to human health and aggravating global warming.

INPE tracks deforestation in Brazil, and its data has shown a huge increase in the Amazon this year. In early August, INPE found that 1,330 square miles of rainforest had been lost since January, which is a rate 40 percent higher than in 2018.

The release of those statistics and ensuing media coverage earned the ire of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro, who favors increased agricultural and mining development in the Amazon, called those numbers “a lie” and then fired Ricardo Galvao, a physicist who served as the director of the scientific agency.


Guaranta do: In this August 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. (PTI)

– – –

The recent Amazon fires have been widespread, and some came on suddenly. In the state of Para, a wildfire surge occurred last week that was linked to a call by farmers for a “day of fire” on Aug. 10, according to local news reports. INPE, using satellite-based sensors and other instruments to locate fires and track the amount of acreage burned, recorded hundreds of fires in the state as farmers cleared land for agriculture and also burned intact areas of rainforest for further development. Cleared rainforests in this region are typically used for farming cattle and growing soybeans, and much of the land-clearing is done illegally.

The fires there and in other states sent a plume of smoke drifting far southeastward across Brazil, darkening the skies over some cities and towns.

One contributing factor to the spate of fires in the Amazon is the fact that it is the dry season there, the time of year when wildfires tend to break out from human activities. The dryness acts to make the environment particularly receptive to fires, but most of the blazes are started by people, either intentionally or by accident.

“The dry season certainly adds to fires, but we had more intense dry seasons in the past . . . and never experienced such big fires,” Gomes said.

In addition, this is not yet the peak of the fire season in Brazil, according to Mikaela Weisse, a program manager with Global Forest Watch, who closely tracks fire and deforestation trends through satellite imagery. Weisse said most of the fires are taking place on cleared agricultural land, but satellites may be missing flames burning beneath tree canopies.

The fire season in Brazil peaks between August and October, Weiss said, and so far this year is tracking close to 2016’s wildfire and tree cover losses. “It’s early in the season, so what happens in the next couple of months is crucial for determining how significant this is.”


Undated: This satellite image provided by NASA on August 13, 2019, shows several fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon forest. (PTI)

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An increase in fires and ensuing deforestation in the Amazon make it even more difficult, if not impossible, for countries to hold global warming to “well below” 3.6 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) compared with preindustrial levels, as called for in the Paris climate agreement.

The Amazon, which spans 2.12 million square miles, sucks up about a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon that global forests absorb each year. However, the ability of the rainforest to pull in more carbon than it releases is diminishing, weakened by changing weather patterns, deforestation and increasing tree mortality, among other factors. The ongoing fires will further degrade its function as a carbon sink.

If the Amazon were to turn into a consistent net source of carbon emissions, it would accelerate global warming while also leading to a huge loss in species that are not found anywhere else on Earth.

A study Gomes co-authored this year found that while deforestation is the main threat to Amazonian tree species, climate change may exceed it within a few decades. The research found that a combination of climate-change-related effects, such as increased dryness, along with deforestation to make way for agriculture, could cause a decline in Amazon tree species richness of nearly 60 percent.

In a worst-case scenario, without any effective climate policies or programs to limit deforestation, the study found that by 2050, the Amazonian lowland rainforest could become fragmented, harming biodiversity and making the Amazonian ecosystems far less capable of soaking in and storing carbon. The study warned of a “tipping point” beyond which the forest cannot recover.

“According to the results of our studies, even in the ‘best-case’ scenario (optimistic), half of Amazonian tree species will be threatened in the future. The trends we’ve seen today could be beyond our ‘worst-case’ scenario,” Gomes said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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