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

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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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Omar al-Bashir: Sudan ex-leader sentenced for corruption

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Former president of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, sitting in a cage during his sentencingImage copyright
Reuters

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Omar al-Bashir sat in a cage as he was sentenced for corruption

Sudan’s ex-president Omar al-Bashir has been sentenced to two years in a social reform facility for corruption.

The judge told the court that, under Sudanese law, people over the age of 70 cannot serve jail terms. Bashir is 75.

Bashir also faces charges related to the 1989 coup that brought him to power, genocide, and the killing of protesters before his ousting in April.

During the sentencing, his supporters started chanting that the trial was “political” and were ordered to leave.

They continued their protest outside the court, chanting: “There is no god but God.”

Afterwards one of the ousted leader’s lawyers, Ahmed Ibrahim, said they would appeal against the verdict.

Mohamed al-Hassan, another lawyer for Bashir, previously said that the defence did not consider the trial a legal one but a “political” one.

It is unclear whether Bashir will be tried over widespread human rights abuses during his time in power, including allegations of war crimes in Darfur.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Supporters of Bashir chanted in protest outside the courtroom

The corruption case was linked to a $25 million (£19 million) cash payment he received from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bashir claimed the payments were made as part of Sudan’s strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, and were “not used for private interests but as donations”.

None of the active cases against Bashir in Sudan is linked to the charges he faces at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, over the conflict in Darfur that broke out in 2003.

The UN says that around 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were displaced in the war.

After Bashir was ousted in April, ICC prosecutors in The Hague requested that he stand trial over the Darfur killings.

The Sudanese army generals who seized power immediately after his fall initially refused to comply, but Sudan’s umbrella protest movement – which now has significant representation in the country’s sovereign council – recently said it would not object to his extradition.

Prosecutors in Sudan have also charged him with the killing of protesters during the demonstrations that led to him being ousted.



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US isn’t weaponizing dollar; sanctions are alternative to war

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A Chinese bank employee counts 100-yuan notes and U.S. dollar bills at a bank counter in Nantong in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on August 6, 2019.

STR | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday rejected the suggestion that the Trump administration is weaponizing the dollar through its trade-restricting policies with other countries.

“Let me be clear: we are not weaponizing the U.S. dollar,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum in Qatar. “If anything I would say the opposite; I take great responsibility that people use the dollar as the reserve currency of the world, and the dollar is quite strong — sometimes the president says the dollar is too strong.

“The dollar is strong because of the U.S. economy and because people want to hold dollars and the safety of the U.S. dollar. So because of that, we take sanctions responsibility very seriously — as a matter of fact, I personally sign off on every single piece of sanction that we do.”

Officials in China and Europe have been actively promoting their currencies as substitutes for the dollar when it comes to both reserves and transactions, particularly in the face of expanding U.S. sanctions and protectionist trade policies like tariffs.

The Trump administration has imposed sweeping sanctions including on dollar trade with Iran, North Korea and others in an effort to pressure state actors to rein in behavior that Washington deems destabilizing and against its interests. According to the Treasury Department, there are 6,300 Specially Designated Nationals and more than 20 countries against which some type of U.S. sanctions are in place.

This has stunted the ability of European allies and others to trade with Iran, among other countries and entities. So some states are therefore looking to euros and other alternatives — including Chinese renminbi and cryptocurrencies — to carry out trade free of U.S.-imposed restrictions.

Earlier this year, France, Germany and the U.K. set up the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), which uses euros to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran. While it’s not shown itself to be economically effective, it’s a sign that even allies are seeking dollar alternatives to rebel against U.S. policies they oppose.

Russia’s central bank has also been trying to reduce the number of transactions conducted in U.S. dollars, either for domestic payments or foreign trade, since 2013.

And in 2016, China’s renminbi was added to the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights basket in 2016, along with the dollar, euro, yen and British pound, something the IMF said “enhances the attractiveness of the RMB as an international reserve asset.”

Still, just to highlight one sector, 80% of European energy imports are settled in dollars — something that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2018 called “absurd.”

An ‘alternative for world military conflicts’

Sanctions like those on Iran, Mnuchin said, are used in order to avoid potential war.

“The reason why we’re using sanctions is because they are an important alternative for world military conflicts. And I believe it’s worked,” the secretary said. “So whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s Iran or other places in the world, we take the responsibility very seriously.”

There is debate as to whether the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy on Iran is working to meet U.S. objectives. While it has certainly crippled Iran’s economy, currency and its ability to export oil, its involvement in conflicts around the Middle East has not subsided, and provocative attacks the U.S. and its allies have attributed to Iran have increased.

While the dollar looks set to retain its preeminence in global markets, Mnuchin admitted that there has to be a balance in setting policies that police international trade.

“People don’t have to use the dollar, we have the right to put restrictions on people using the dollar. And over a long period of time, if we’re not careful, people will look at using other currencies.”

Indeed, the dollar’s role as the premier reserve currency is receding — though very slowly.

The dollar’s share of foreign reserves decreased from a high of 73% in 2001 to 62% at the end of 2018, according to IMF data. And the World Gold Council reported that central banks bought more gold in 2018 than at any other time since the gold standard ended in 1971, wrote James McCormack, an analyst for Fitch ratings, in June of this year.



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