U.S. and China ratify Paris Agreement, upping pressure on other nations

Inside Climate News reports: China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of the carbon pollution that has brought global warming to a crisis point, formally ratified the Paris climate agreement on Saturday. Their move propels the ambitious global pact toward its entry into force by the end of this year.

The leaders acted the day before a meeting in Hangzhou of the G20 group of international economic powerhouses. Those nations account for almost all current emissions, and must all act swiftly to strengthen their commitments if the Paris accord is to meet its objectives.

Appearing together, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping pledged to extend their countries’ Paris commitments to encompass “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” The treaty’s ultimate objective is to bring the whole world to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.

For the Paris agreement to take force early, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions must ratify it. Together, China and the U.S. account for about 38 percent of emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, 24 other parties have already ratified, but together those parties only account for another 1 percent of emissions. The fastest way to hit the 55/55 goal would be for the European Union and a smattering of additional countries to sign on. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: With China, the US and a host of smaller countries signed up, the biggest emitter left outstanding is the EU, which negotiated the agreement as a bloc. The EU is unlikely to be able to ratify the accord any time soon, because of the mechanics of getting legal surety from its 28 member states.

There is a way around this. Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and author of the landmark 2006 report on the economics of climate change, called on EU member states and the UK to ratify the agreement individually, through their national parliaments, to speed up the process. EU members are legally parties to the accord at a national as well as a bloc level, so if enough major countries – including the UK and Germany – were to enact the necessary processes then the accord could pass the final hurdle.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Stern told the Guardian. “It’s very important for the credibility of the process [of gaining global agreement on climate action through the UN] to get the treaty ratified this year. EU countries can and should ratify as soon as possible. It’s not sensible to hold back, when they could make a big difference.” [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen: One of them will shape Europe’s future

Natalie Nougayrède writes: Two very different women hold Europe’s future in their hands – and neither of them is Theresa May. The battle for Europe’s soul is being waged between Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen. This is a clash of personalities and visions: Germany’s chancellor v the leader of France’s Front National, the largest far-right party in Europe. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, the Franco-German dimension of the continent’s destiny has arguably never been so important since the end of the cold war. What is at stake is momentous: whether Europe can survive as a project, and whether fundamental principles such as the rule of law, democracy and tolerance can be salvaged. The battle will play out nationally in 2017, in key elections in France and Germany, but it concerns all Europeans.

It may seem strange to reduce Europe’s existential crises to just one personal confrontation. Merkel has been in power since 2005 and is trying to remain there, while Le Pen may dream of being in office but has never approached it (last year her party failed to take control of a single French region in local elections). Some may ask: why would a French opposition figure count more than the man currently sitting in the Elysée Palace? But François Hollande has become so weak – even more so with this week’s resignation of his economics minister, Emmanuel Macron – and terrorism has transformed French politics to such a degree that Le Pen’s prospects now stand out as a key defining factor of where France, and Europe for that matter, may be heading.

It is only partly reassuring to say that Le Pen has little chance of becoming president next year (the French electoral system makes that difficult). The trouble is, in recent months, her brand of anti-Muslim, xenophobic and nationalistic politics has spread across the French mainstream right like wildfire. Le Pen is fast capitalising on this summer’s burkini episode and on the national trauma left by jihadi terrorism. It’s hard to see which French politician or movement can find the authority and strength to push back against her ideas, or counter their appeal among the French suburban middle classes as well as in rural areas. Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to win primaries in November, but his whole strategy hinges on imitating rather than disputing Le Pen’s line of thinking. [Continue reading…]

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Fatal beating of Polish man fuels bebate over xenophobia in Britain

The New York Times reports: Two Polish immigrants were eating takeout pizza against a brick wall on a muggy night in Harlow, a working-class town about 20 miles northeast of central London.

As they chatted in Polish, witnesses said, a group of young boys and girls attacked them. The group repeatedly pummeled and kicked one of the men, Arkadiusz Jozwik, 40, a meat factory worker, in the head. He died two days later from his injuries, in a killing that the police are investigating as a possible hate crime.

The second man, who was not identified by the police, was hospitalized with bruises and hand fractures.

Six boys from Harlow — five 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old — have been arrested on suspicion of murder in the attack, which occurred shortly before midnight on Saturday. All have been released on bail. The police have appealed for witnesses to come forward, and they said they were investigating reports that the attackers had hurled racist abuse at the victims.

The brutality of the killing and its apparent targeting of immigrants shocked many Britons and prompted soul-searching. It renewed alarm among Eastern European immigrants that the campaign leading to Britain’s decision in a June 23 referendum to leave the European Union, known as “Brexit,” has unleashed a wave of xenophobia. [Continue reading…]

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Days of rage

Kenan Malik writes: In the past, the distinction between political violence and sociopathic rage was relatively clear. No longer. There seems today almost a continuum between ideological violence, disjointed fury and some degree of sociopathy or mental illness. What constitutes ideological violence has decayed; instead, amorphous rage has become a persistent feature of public life.

One reason is the breakdown of social and moral boundaries that once acted as firewalls against such behavior. Western societies have become more socially atomized and more riven by identity politics. The influence of institutions from the church to labor unions that once helped socialize individuals and inculcate them with a sense of obligation to others has declined.

As broader identities have eroded, and traditional social networks and sources of authority have weakened, people’s sense of belonging has become more parochial. Progressive movements that gave social grievance a political form have faded. Instead, the new oppositional movements are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity and take sectarian or separatist forms.

There is a growing disaffection with anything “mainstream,” and a perception of the world as out of control and driven by malign forces. All this has helped incubate a sense of rage without an outlet, undermined people’s ties to others as human beings, and weakened the distinction between sociopathy and political violence. [Continue reading…]

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‘Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests’

Henry Porter writes: As I watched half a dozen Eastern European workers cutting zucchini and placing them on a slow-moving trailer in the small English village where I was brought up, one of the hard truths regarding the epic, self-defeating lunacy of Brexit came home to me: Britain’s precarious food supply.

Under the European Union’s right to the freedom of movement, some 250 Eastern European workers come here each year to pick vegetables — mostly onions, parsley, beans, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages — which are grown in the alluvial soil beside the River Avon. This is a sensible arrangement that suits both the farmer and migrant workers. But it was not always so. When I was a teenager, roaming the countryside with a .410-gauge shotgun or a fishing rod, I only ever came across one foreigner in the fields: Franz Reinwart, a Sudeten German from Czechoslovakia, who was brought to Britain as a P.O.W. during the last war and stayed on. The others were English and they came mostly from the local town in Worcestershire.

Franz was a gentle, good-looking man and a hard worker, too, much like his young successors from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania, who toil long hours in all weather and earn enough to make the summer trip to the U.K. worthwhile. About 60,000 seasonal workers come to Britain every year and it is fair to say that British farmers would be lost without them. More important, if Brexit goes ahead, they cannot hope to replace them with the local labor force, which has come to see this kind of back-breaking work as beneath itself, or, in any case, is probably not very good at it.

I have no idea whether this local farmer voted to stay or leave the E.U. in the referendum, or if he even voted at all. Yet it was often farmers, who need foreign workers — and the rural working class, who are reluctant to become agricultural laborers — who voted to “take their country back.” Watching those men in the zucchini field this week, I wondered, not for the first time, how voters have become so blinded to their own interests. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit is not inevitable, says former civil service chief

The Guardian reports: Brexit is not inevitable and Britain could still remain a part of a changed European Union, the former head of the civil service has said.

Gus O’Donnell, who was the cabinet secretary from 2005-11, told the Times (subscription) that he anticipated the UK would retain EU laws and rules regardless of its status in the union.

The crossbench peer said: “Lots of people will say, ‘We’ve had the referendum, we’ve decided to go out, so that’s it, it’s all over’. But it very much depends what happens to public opinion and whether the EU changes before then.

“It might be that the broader, more loosely aligned group is something that the UK is happy being a member of.”

Before the referendum Lord O’Donnell had said that leaving the EU would be complicated and take a long time.

On Saturday, he said leaving would mean “a huge administrative and legislative change” because of the vast amount of EU law that had been implemented over the last 40 years. As a result, he said he believed the UK would keep them in place even if it did officially leave the bloc. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s migrant deal with Europe may collapse under post-coup attempt crackdown

The Washington Post reports: The landmark agreement that halted a torrent of migrants flowing from Turkey into Europe is nearing collapse in the wake of the failed Turkish coup and the subsequent nationwide crackdown.

Turkish and European leaders are threatening to abandon the deal — the Europeans because they say they are worried about widespread human rights abuses, the Turks because of European reluctance to fulfill a promise to drop visa restrictions for Turkish nationals.

Now, even as it detains tens of thousands of people in response to the coup attempt, Turkey has given the European Union an October deadline over the visa pledge — or it will walk away from its commitment to stem the flow.

An end to the agreement, which came after more than a million migrants and refugees entered in Europe in 2015, would mark another blow to the contentious relationship between the E.U. and Turkey, which is petitioning to join the bloc. It could also result in a fresh surge of asylum seekers traveling from Turkey, which would confront E.U. leaders with a new humanitarian and political dilemma after a relatively quiet spring and summer. [Continue reading…]

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Why Europe can’t find the jihadis in its midst

Mitch Prothero reports: The assignment given to the Belgian police in the summer of 2014 was straightforward but high stakes: Follow two men suspected of involvement with ISIS through the streets of Brussels. Find out who they meet, record what they say. A court had approved wiretaps for the men’s phones and for the use of tracking devices, and a specialized team of covert operators from the secret service had broken into the men’s homes and vehicles and planted bugs and GPS devices without leaving a trace.

Rather unusually, there had been little problem getting senior police officials and the courts that oversee Belgium’s personal privacy laws to approve the mission. Partly, it was the two men’s history: They had long criminal records — drug dealing, petty theft, and the occasional violent robbery — and now, unbeknownst to them, had been placed on a terrorism watch list.

With hundreds of people suspected of having ties to ISIS and al-Qaeda, it would be impossible for the Belgian authorities to monitor all of them. But these two were believed to be linked to Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French-Algerian man charged with killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels on May 24, 2014.

Belgian authorities knew there had been an alarming increase in violent rhetoric — as evidenced by the proliferation of online videos and public demonstrations, and by the criminal trials of members of Sharia4Belgium, a group advocating extremist ideology — much of it linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But even for trained investigators, let alone police officers typically assigned to financial fraud or money-laundering cases, getting an overall sense of what was happening remained elusive.

In part this was because of the transformation in the threat posed by ISIS militants; as nebulous as al-Qaeda had been, it was at least an organization with a defined leadership and network of followers. These new cases were much more challenging, seemingly organic in nature, with a more diffuse structure that was nearly impossible to pin down. [Continue reading…]

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Liberal democracy is in the midst of an epic struggle for survival

Yascha Mounk writes: There are years, decades even, in which history slows to a crawl. Then there are weeks that are so eventful that they seem to mark the dissolution of a world order that had once seemed solid and to foretell the rise of one as yet unknowable.

The week of July 11, 2016, has every chance of being remembered as one of those rare flurries of jumbled, inchoate, concentrated significance. The centrifugal forces that are threatening to break political systems across the world may have started to register a decade ago; they may have picked up speed over the last 12 months; but never since the fall of the Berlin Wall have they wreaked havoc in so many places in so short a span of time—showcasing the failures of technocratic rule, the terrifying rise of populist strongmen, and the existential threat posed by Islamist terrorism, all in the span of seven short days.

At first glance, a political crisis in London; a terrorist attack in Nice, France; a failed putsch in Ankara, Turkey; and a bloviating orator on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States look like the dramatic apex of very different, barely connected screenplays. To my eye, they are garish panes of glass that add up to one unified, striking mosaic. Looked at from the right distance, they tell the story of a political system, liberal democracy, that has long dominated the world — and is now in the midst of an epic struggle for its own survival. [Continue reading…]

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The rising power of China will create new political fissures in the West

Gideon Rachman writes: Whether he wins or loses the US presidency next November, Donald Trump has already come up with one of the defining slogans of 2016 – “Make America great again”.

Trump’s vision of an America in precipitous decline is all-encompassing. At home, he points to falling living standards for many Americans and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. Overseas, he claims the world is laughing at the US and laments that “we don’t win any more”.

Many in Europe are tempted to see Trump as an “only in America” aberration. Yet the fear of economic and geopolitical decline that Trump is capitalising upon is widely visible across the west. The coalition of frustrated working-class voters and nostalgic nationalists that the Republican has put together is uncomfortably reminiscent of the alliance that voted for Brexit in the UK. Trump’s “make America great again” mantra has an echo of the Brexit campaign’s winning slogan – “Take back control”. Nor is this is just an Anglo-American phenomenon. Across the EU, including in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, protectionists and nationalists are gaining ground.

As Trump might put it: “Something’s going on.” That something is a historic shift in economic and geopolitical power that is bringing to an end a 500-year period in which western nations have dominated global affairs. This erosion of the west’s privileged position in world affairs is creating new economic, geopolitical and even psychological pressures in both the US and the EU.

The driving force of this change is the extraordinary economic development of Asia over the past 50 years. In 2014, the IMF reported that, measured in purchasing power, China is now the world’s largest economy. The US had held this title since 1871, when it displaced the UK; now China is number one. The rise of China is just part of a broader shift of economic power towards Asia. The IMF reports that three of the world’s four largest economies are now in Asia. China is first, the US is second, India third and Japan fourth. [Continue reading…]

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Aid and attention dwindling, refugee crisis intensifies in Greece

The New York Times reports: As her young children played near heaps of garbage, picking through burned corn cobs and crushed plastic bottles to fashion new toys, Shiraz Madran, a 28-year-old mother of four, turned with tear-rimmed eyes to survey the desolate encampment that has become her home.

This year, her family fled Syria, only to get stuck at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia in Idomeni, a town that had been the gateway to northern Europe for more than one million migrants from the Middle East and Africa seeking a haven from conflict. After Europe sealed the border in February to curb the unceasing stream, the Greek authorities relocated many of those massed in Idomeni to a camp on this wind-beaten agricultural plain in northern Greece, with promises to process their asylum bids quickly.

But weeks have turned into months, and Mrs. Madran’s life has spiraled into a despondent daily routine of scrounging for food for her dust-covered children and begging the authorities for any news about their asylum application. “No one tells us anything — we have no idea what our future is going to be,” she said.

“If we knew it would be like this, we would not have left Syria,” she continued. “We die a thousand deaths here every day.” [Continue reading…]

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Norway may block UK return to European Free Trade Association

The Guardian reports: Norway could block any UK attempt to rejoin the European Free Trade Association, the small club of nations that has access to the European single market without being part of the EU.

Senior Norwegian government members are to hold talks with David Davis, the Brexit minister, in the next few weeks.

Some Brexit supporters have suggested that Efta would be one way of retaining access to the single market while honouring the referendum mandate to leave the EU.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has access to the single market from its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which groups all EU members and three of the four Efta members: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland.

Norway’s European affairs minister, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, reflecting a growing debate in the country following the Brexit vote in the UK, told the Aftenposten newspaper: “It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation. It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests.”

She also confirmed that the UK could only join if there were unanimous agreement, thereby providing Norway with a veto. Aspaker said she did not know the UK’s plans.

EEA membership requires the four EU freedoms: free movement of persons, services, goods and capital. Norway, in need of extra labour, does not oppose free movement, though the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is controversial.

An EU special summit in Bratislava in September and the Conservative party conference in October may provide greater clarity on the British government’s thinking, Aspaker said.

One concern is that Norway, through Efta, has signed trade agreements with 38 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Morocco, Kuwait and Qatar. If the UK joined, those trade agreements might have to be renegotiated and future trade deals would become more complex. [Continue reading…]

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