Tag Archives: climate

Climate: Paris Agreement at a glance

By Emil Jeyaratnam, James Whitmore, Michael Hopkin, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation 
December 12, 2015

On December 12, 2015 in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change finally came to a landmark agreement.

Signed by 196 nations, the Paris Agreement is the first comprehensive global treaty to combat climate change, and will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020. It will enter into force once it is ratified by at least 55 countries, covering at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are the key points.

Creative Commons

Bios: Emil Jeyaratnam, Multimedia Editor; James Whitmore, Editor, Environment & Energy; Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor; Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, all at The Conversation This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Vancouver’s housing bubble inflated by China’s air pollution

Vancouver from Howe Sound. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

Vancouver, from a ship in the Salish Sea. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 11, 2015

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Vancouver’s grossly inflated housing market, the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris and China’s catastrophic environmental degradation were all linked this week in a circle of cause and effect.

On Tuesday the authorities in Beijing declared air pollution in the Chinese capital to be “hazardous to human health,” and issued a “red alert,” closing down many of the city’s services, banning outdoor sports and restricting travel.

Beijing’s notorious “smog” caused by industrial air pollution being trapped over the city by unfavourable weather conditions reached 400 microgrammes per cubic metre (mg/m3) on the air quality index. But Chinese authorities regularly ignore much worse air pollution, which is a curse throughout the country, and especially in the highly industrialized south and east coast regions. Chinese authorities estimate that air pollution kills up to 500,000 people a year, but foreign health experts put the number of deaths at well over one million.

The World Health Organization says 10 mg/m3 air quality is safe, but in China, and Beijing in particular there have been many occasions when levels of 800 mg/m3 have been recorded. The situation in the capital is so bad that the United States embassy has taken to taking its own air quality readings every day and posting them on Twitter. Chinese authorities have reacted angrily to what they say is an “unlawful” act of diplomatic rudeness.

But on Tuesday, the Beijing authorities appear to have been embarrassed into issuing the “red alert” by the international attention the pollution got, coming in the middle of the Paris conference. Also it was only last week that China issued a commitment to cut emissions of major pollutants from its mainly coal-fired power stations by 60 per cent by 2020.

The pollution and gross degradation of China’s air, earth and water is now much more than an embarrassment to the Communist Party authorities, 30 years after it embarked on industrialization without thought for the environmental consequences.

While China’s lethal air quality is in the headlines, it is probably water pollution that is the greatest killer and threat to the country’s environmental sustainability.

A government study a few years ago, found that most of China’s underground aquifers, which provide 70 per cent of the country’s drinking water, are irredeemably polluted. The aquifers supplying 90 per cent of China’s cities are polluted. The water in more than 75 per cent of rivers flowing through China’s cities is unsuitable for drinking or fishing, and 30 per cent of river water throughout the country is too polluted to be used for industry or agriculture. As a result, much of the food produced in China is toxic at various levels. Nearly 700 million Chinese – over half the population – drink water contaminated with human or animal waste.

There are no reliable figures about pollution of China’s sparse stocks or arable land. But it is notable that very many of the protests by Chinese are against either proposed or existing chemical plants and factories they accuse of polluting earth, air and water.

China’s appalling pollution problems are now the country’s top public issue, and one on which the continued political legitimacy of the Communist Party hinges.

Vancouver, looking west toward English Bay and the city's West Side, left. Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2013

Vancouver, looking west. Photo by Gavin Kennedy © 2013

And that brings us to unsustainably inflated housing prices in cities favoured by fleeing Chinese.

Several polls in recent years by organizations such as The Hunrun Report and LIO Global have asked the fabulously wealthy members of the princeling and aristocrat classes in and around China’s Communist Party why about half of them want to emigrate as quickly as possible.

Consistently, the two main reasons given have been the lethally toxic pollution of China’s environment and, as a result, that much of the food produced in the country is poisonous. (The third reason given is wanting a good education for their children.)

Wealthy Chinese continue to get their money out of China by any means possible – most of them illegal – at ever faster rates. People’s Bank of China statistics for the first three months of this year indicated that $US80 billion fled China illegally in that period. That suggested that the illegal flight was on track to match last year’s total of $US324 billion, estimated by the UBS Group. But then in early August, China devalued its currency, the renminbi, and the flood turned into a torrent. Goldman Sachs estimates that $US200 billion was spirited out of China in the three weeks following the devaluation. The financial news agency Bloomberg, calculates that $US194 billion left China in September.

How much of this came to Canada may never be known, because Canada does not keep records of the country of residence of beneficial owners of property or companies. That anonymity is one of the great attractions of Canada to wealthy Chinese who want to hide their overseas holdings in case the political winds that always swirl around the Communist Party turn against them.

Those who have grown grossly wealthy on the profits of China’s 30-year manufacturing boom have, of course, the option to leave for their favourite sanctuaries, in the United States (52%), Canada (21%) and Australia (9%).

But, as is always the case, it is the poor or less well-off who are left to suffer. China’s blue collar classes, whose labour for rock-bottom wages and often in conditions not far off slavery, has filled the pockets of the Communist Party’s aristocracy, are just as furious and scared about what has been done to their country in the name of economic advancement.

But instead of heading to the airport, ordinary Chinese are protesting in the only way they can, and taking to the streets.

There are about 500 major protests and riots across China every day involving between 1,000 and 5,000 people. The Beijing government used to publish annual reports on the number of “mass incidents” involving over 1,000 protesters, but stopped doing so in 2008 when the numbers became embarrassingly large.

However, the numbers are still assembled and can be acquired through the right contacts. Most well-connected analysts inside and outside China agree there have been about 180,000 riots annually in China, for many years, though some put the number now as high as 250,000, or over 680 a day.

Many of these protests become violent and the authorities call out riot squads or the People’s Armed Police to restore order. In some areas where the links between the local Communist Party and the triad criminal gangs are especially strong, the authorities don’t bother with the police. They just call on triad gang fighters, whose methods of crowd control make even the Chinese police seem like gentlemen.

Until a few years ago the main cause of these outbursts of public discontent was corruption by local Communist Party or government officials. Usually, this involved theft of villagers’ land to sell to real estate developer buddies in return for backhand payoffs and cuts of the profits.

As the global recession began to hit China’s manufacturing industries after 2008, the protests were frequently against factory owners who had done a midnight flit to avoid paying their workers, or other examples of employer chicanery.

But public outrage at pollution or the threat of further environmental degradation has now become the spur for more than half the 500 riots every day, according to the 2012 “Social Unrest in China” report for the European Union.

Toxic pollution of earth, air, water and food remains the main cause of popular outrage in China. The Communist Party is well aware of the public anger, and is glumly contemplating the prospect that it might be the first regime in modern history to be ousted because it poisoned its citizens in order to feather its own bank accounts.

However, it is unlikely China’s people will rise up in the foreseeable future against their government in defence of their environment. Not least of the reasons to doubt the prospect of a national uprising is that the Communist Party has intensified the reach and efficiency of its authoritarian power since the new President and party boss Xi Jinping came to power at the end of 2012.

Since the 1989 students’ uprising in Tiananmen Square, successive Communist Party leaders have been swift to slit the throat of any organization that threatened to become a national focus of opposition to the regime. Xi pursues that survival strategy with even more vigour than his predecessors. The most compelling current evidence of his determination to smother even the most tentative questioning of Communist Party power is Xi’s campaign against China’s fledgling community of lawyers dedicated to the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

Since Xi came to power, scores of lawyers have been detained, dozens tortured and many are facing trial and imprisonment. Their supposed crimes are variations of a common theme: they have been “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by defending or advocating for people the Communist Party wants to lock away.

Even among my most Sinophile friends there are now regular discussions over whether or not China can be accurately described as a fascist state. Majority opinion is that it has moved from authoritarianism into fascism. Some Sinophile friends quote contacts within the upper echelons of the Communist Party saying they fear they have in Xi chosen a new Mao Zedong as leader.

Mao, of course, had more blood on his hands, most of it of his fellow Chinese, than any leader of the 20th Century. Much of the last nearly 40 years since his death has been a half-hearted attempt to undo the evil Mao did. Half-hearted because as the rising tide of environmental degradation shows, without political accountability and the rule of law, China is destined to repeat past mistakes.

No wonder everyone who can wants to get out.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

Beijing collides with China’s new community of human rights lawyers

The recent assault by President Xi Jinping on China’s community of human rights lawyers may be too late to insulate the Communist Party against a coming storm. There is a tacit acknowledgement by the party that China’s swelling community of about 300 human rights lawyers, their associates and like-minded advocacy groups have become a serious challenge to the one-party state.

Money flight impoverishes the poorest countries

It’s not just China’s “Red Nobility” and Russian oligarchs who are robbing their countries by illicitly exporting their wealth to compliant and complicit countries like Canada. There is an epidemic of money flight from developing countries, according to a new report from the Washington-based anti-money laundering organization Global Financial Integrity.

Vancouver: not mind-numbingly boring, but vacuously vain (public access)

The flood of vast wealth from China into Canada has not only contorted and distorted the Vancouver housing market beyond redemption, it has changed the sort of community the western Canadian metropolis is going to be for generations to come. In a bizarre piece of absence of mind and lack of attention, it has also hitched the future of Vancouver to the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. Vancouver’s low self-confidence and its destructive vanity have both played a part in these failures.

Further reading:

Vancouver “overvalued,” warns UBS in housing bubble study, BNN:http://www.bnn.ca/News/2015/10/30/Vancouver-overvalued-warns-UBS-in-housing-bubble-study.aspx

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Return to Jonathan Manthorpe’s International Affairs column page

 

  • Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Paris attacks: France vows “merciless” response

The Eiffel Tower in mourning on November 14, via Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

The Eiffel Tower in mourning on November 14, via Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

By Ingrid Melander and Marine Pennetier
November 14, 2015

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) – An angry President Francois Hollande on Saturday promised a “merciless” response to a wave of attacks by gunmen and bombers that killed 127 people across Paris, describing the assault claimed by Islamic State as an act of war against France.

In the worst attack, a Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall before anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault on the building. Dozens of survivors were rescued, and bodies were still being recovered on Saturday morning.

Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international.

The assaults came as France, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks.

It was the worst such attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 died.

Hollande said the attacks had been organised from abroad by Islamic State, with internal help.

Sources close to the investigation said one of the dead gunmen was French with ties to Islamist militants. Syrian and Egyptian passports were found near the bodies of two of the suicide bombers.

A man arrested in Germany in early November after guns and explosives were found in his car may be linked to the attacks in Paris, Bavaria’s state premier said, without giving details.

 

French police with protective shields walk in line near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French police with protective shields walk in line near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“MERCILESS”

“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” Hollande said after an emergency meeting of security chiefs. He also announced three days of national mourning.

“France will be merciless towards these barbarians from Daesh,” he said, using an Arab acronym for Islamic State.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement: “The war we must wage should be total.”

During a visit to Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we are witnessing a kind of medieval and modern fascism at the same time.”

In its claim of responsibility, Islamic State said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters.

It also distributed an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long it took part in U.S.-led bombing raids against them.

“As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear travelling to the market,” said a bearded Arabic-speaking militant, flanked by other fighters.

A French government source told Reuters there were 127 dead, 67 in critical condition and 116 wounded. Six attackers blew themselves up and one was shot by police. There may have been an eighth attacker, but this was not confirmed.

The attacks, in which automatic weapons and explosives belts were used, lasted 40 minutes.

“The terrorists, the murderers, raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places,” police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

STATE OF EMERGENCY

After being whisked from the stadium near the blasts, Hollande declared a national state of emergency, the first since World War Two. Border controls were temporarily reimposed to stop perpetrators escaping.

Local sports events were suspended, department stores closed, the rock band U2 cancelled a concert, and schools, universities and municipal buildings were ordered to stay shut on Saturday. Some rail and air services were expected to run.

Sylvestre, a young man who was at the Stade de France when bombs went off there, said he was saved by his cellphone, which he was holding to his ear when debris hit it.

“This is the cell phone that took the hit, it’s what saved me,” he said. “Otherwise my head would have been blown to bits,” he said, showing the phone with its screen smashed.

French newspapers spoke of “carnage” and “horror”. Le Figaro’s headline said: “War in the heart of Paris” on a black background with a picture of people on stretchers.

Emergency services were mobilised, police leave was cancelled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.

Radio stations warned Parisians to stay at home and urged residents to give shelter to anyone caught out in the street.

The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group Eagles of Death Metal was performing. Some witnesses in the hall said they heard the gunmen shout Islamic chants and slogans condemning France’s role in Syria.

The hall is near the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. France has been on high alert since Islamist gunmen attacked the paper and a kosher supermarket in January, killing 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defence of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming immigration and Islam for France’s security problems.

It was not clear what political impact the latest attacks would have less than a month before regional elections in which Le Pen’s National Front is set to make further advances.

The governing Socialist Party and the National Front suspended their election campaigns.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “despicable attacks” while Pope Francis called the killings “inhuman”.

France ordered increased security at its sites abroad. Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands also tightened security measures.

Poland, meanwhile, said that the attacks meant it could not now take its share of migrants under a European Union plan. Many of the migrants currently flooding into Europe are refugees from Syria.

Police patrol the Gare du Nord train station the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police patrol the Gare du Nord train station the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

POINT-BLANK

Julien Pearce, a journalist from Europe 1 radio, was inside the concert hall when the shooting began. In an eyewitness report posted on the station’s website, Pearce said several very young individuals, who were not wearing masks, entered the hall during the concert, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and started “blindly shooting at the crowd”.

“There were bodies everywhere,” he said.

The gunmen shot their victims in the back, finishing some off at point-blank range before reloading their guns and firing again, Pearce said, after escaping into the street by a stage door, carrying a wounded girl on his shoulder.

Toon, a 22-year-old messenger who lives near the Bataclan, was going into the concert hall with two friends at around 10.30 p.m. (2130 GMT) when he saw three young men dressed in black and armed with machine guns. He stayed outside.

One of the gunmen began firing into the crowd. “People were falling like dominoes,” he told Reuters. He saw people shot in the leg, shoulder and back, with several lying on the floor, apparently dead.

Two explosions were heard near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the France-Germany soccer match was being played. A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald’s restaurant opposite the stadium.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital’s 10th district.

Eighteen people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Friday night diners sitting at outdoor terraces in the popular Charonne area nearby in the 11th district.

 Copyright Reuters 2015

(Additional reporting by Geert de Clercq, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Emmanuel Jarry, Elizabeth Pineau, Julien Pretot and Bate Felix Tabi-Tabe; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Further reading:

Notebook: IS claims responsibility, world reacts
Reuters

Scores killed in Paris attacks
Reuters, Report & Photo-gallery

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Wandering through the icebergs

Former fishemen now harvest iceberg bits near Cape St. Francis, Newfoundland, for a company that makes vodka and beer out of the iceberg water. Photo by Greg Locke © 2013

Former fishermen now harvest iceberg bits near Cape St. Francis, Newfoundland, for a company that makes vodka and beer out of the iceberg water. Photo by Greg Locke © 2013

I just posted my photo essay Welcome to Iceberg Alley  in the GEO section.  A collection of photos and a look at how the people of Newfoundland live, study,  work, and make the most of these floating ice giants that come from the melting glaciers of Greenland and the Canadian arctic every spring. Behind it all is the underlying knowledge that it’s all because of a changing climate.

The Photo-Essay can be accessed with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.

 

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