Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

The Guardian reports: Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research.

Records from tide gauges and satellites have shown sea level rise slowing slightly over the past 20 years. But as the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland shed ever more water into the ocean, climate models show it should be doing the opposite.

“The thing that was really puzzling us was that the last decade of sea level rise was marginally slower, ever so subtly slower, than the decade before it,” said Dr Christopher Watson from the University of Tasmania who led the new study.

Watson’s team found that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. The error gave the illusion of the rate of sea level rise decreasing by 0.058 mm/year 2 between 1993 and 2014 , when in reality it accelerated by between 0.041 and 0.058 mm/year 2 . This brings the records into line with the modelling of the UN’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [Continue reading…]

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A record 38 million internally displaced worldwide as 30,000 people fled their homes each day in 2014

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre: A record-breaking 38 million people have been displaced within their own country by conflict or violence. This is the equivalent of the total populations of London, New York and Beijing combined. “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signalling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians” said Jan Egeland, secretary general at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Today, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), part of NRC, launched its Global Overview 2015: People internally displaced by conflict and violence at the United Nations in Geneva. With internal displacement figures reaching a record high for the third year in a row, the report also documents how 11 million people were newly displaced by violent events in 2014 alone.

“Global diplomats, UN resolutions, peace talks and ceasefire agreements have lost the battle against ruthless armed men who are driven by political or religious interests rather than human imperatives,” said Egeland. “This report should be a tremendous wake-up call. We must break this trend where millions of men, women and children are becoming trapped in conflict zones around the world.”

Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said that the staggering number of internally displaced people because of conflict and violence is a harbinger of movements to come. “We know that more and more internally displaced have been forced to move within their country multiple times. The longer a conflict lasts, the more insecure they feel and when hopelessness sets in, many will cross borders and become refugees,” he said.

“As we have seen in the recent past, for example in the Mediterranean, despair drives people to take their chances and even risk dangerous boat journeys. The obvious solution lies in an all-out effort to bring about peace in war-ravaged countries,” Mr Türk added.

The report also highlights how long-lasting, or protracted displacement, contributes to this alarmingly high global total. In 2014, there were people living in displacement for ten years or more in nearly 90% of the 60 countries and territories IDMC monitored.

“As new or renewed crises emerge in countries such as Ukraine or Iraq, new caseloads of internally displaced people join an already massive global displaced population who seem blocked from finding ways of ending their displacement” said Alfredo Zamudio, director of IDMC.

The IDMC report also describes how displacement often reveals underlying structural challenges within a country, and how it can be prolonged by a government’s deliberate politicisation of the issue or its refusal to enter into a formal resolution of a crisis.

“38 million human beings are suffering – often in horrendous conditions where they have no hope and no future—and unless we challenge ourselves to change our approach, the shockwaves of these conflicts will continue to haunt us for decades to come,” said Egeland.

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Jihadists destroy proposed world heritage site in Mali

The Associated Press reports: Jihadists have destroyed a mausoleum in central Mali that had been submitted as a U.N. World Heritage site, leaving behind a warning that they will come after all those who don’t follow their strict version of Islam, a witness said Monday.

The dynamite attack on the mausoleum of Cheick Amadou Barry mirrors similar ones that were carried out in northern Mali in 2012 when jihadists seized control of the major towns there. The destruction also comes as concerns grow about the emergence of a new extremist group active much further south and closer to the capital.

Barry was a marabout, or important Islamic religious leader, in the 19th century who helped to spread Islam among the animists of central Mali. One of his descendants, Bologo Amadou Barry, confirmed to The Associated Press that the site had been partially destroyed in Hamdallahi village on Sunday night.

The jihadists left behind a note on Sunday warning they would attack all those who did not follow the teachings of Islam’s prophet.

“They also threatened France and the U.N. peacekeepers and all those who work with them,” Bologo Amadou Barry said. [Continue reading…]

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UN diplomatic envoy for Syria has many critics

In a profile of Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy for Syria, the New York Times reports: Part Italian, part Swedish, Mr. de Mistura has worked with the United Nations for more than 40 years, but he is more widely known for his dapper style than for any diplomatic coups. Syria is by far the toughest assignment of his career — indeed, two of the organization’s most seasoned diplomats, Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan, tried to do the job and gave up — and critics have wondered aloud whether Mr. de Mistura is up to the task.

He served as a United Nations envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before that in Lebanon, where a former minister recalled, with some scorn, that he spent many hours sunbathing at a private club in the hills above Beirut. Those who know him say he has a taste for fine suits and can sometimes speak too soon and too much, just as they point to his diplomatic missteps and hyperbole.

They cite, for instance, a news conference in October, when he raised the specter of Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslims were massacred in 1995 during the Balkans war, in warning that the Syrian border town of Kobani could fall to the Islamic State. In February, he was photographed at a party in Damascus, the Syrian capital, celebrating the anniversary of the Iranian revolution just as Syrian forces, aided by Iran, were pummeling rebel-held suburbs of Damascus; critics seized on that as evidence of his coziness with the government.

Mouin Rabbani, who served briefly as the head of Mr. de Mistura’s political affairs unit and has since emerged as one of his most outspoken critics, said Mr. de Mistura did not have the background necessary for the job. “This isn’t someone well known for his political vision or political imagination, and his closest confidants lack the requisite knowledge and experience,” Mr. Rabbani said.

As a deputy foreign minister in the Italian government, Mr. de Mistura was tasked in 2012 with freeing two Italian marines detained in India for shooting at Indian fishermen. He made 19 trips to India, to little effect. One marine was allowed to return to Italy for medical reasons; the other remains in India.

He said he initially turned down the Syria job when the United Nations secretary general approached him last August, only to change his mind the next day, after a sleepless, guilt-ridden night. [Continue reading…]

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2015 the ‘last effective opportunity’ to safely limit warming, says Vatican conference statement

The Washington Post reports: Following a closely watched Vatican climate change meeting Tuesday at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, the attendees — including not only scientific leaders but also religious and political luminaries — have released a statement (PDF here) suggesting that a 2015 climate accord may be the last chance to keep global warming within a range deemed “safe” for the world, its people and its ecosystems.

Meeting attendees included U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. The event is widely seen as a kind of prelude to a much anticipated papal encyclical expected this summer, in which Pope Francis will address the environment and humanity’s moral responsibility to care for it.

For now, the conference statement declares that “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” And it points very directly at an unfolding international process for addressing it, suggesting that this process must succeed — at the end of this year. [Continue reading…]

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UN warns Yemen’s infrastructure on ‘brink of collapse’

Deutsche Welle: Hundreds of families in Yemen had been trapped in their homes by fierce fighting in the southern port city of Aden, according to Associated Press (AP).

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also said the escalating conflict in the last month had “worsened an already large-scale humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arab state.”

In its latest report on the Yemen crisis, OCHA said the upsurge in violence had further deepened the hardships faced by ordinary Yemenis, and that people were running short of essential supplies, including food and medicine.

The UN reported that the only lifeline was coming from volunteers making dangerous runs with supplies across Aden’s harbor in unsafe boats.

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Angelina Jolie to UN: In Syria the Security Council has refused to use its powers to protect and defend the innocent

Addressing the UN Security Council yesterday, Angelina Jolie Pitt said: In 2011, the Syrian refugees I met were full of hope. They said “please, tell people what is happening to us”, trusting that the truth alone would guarantee international action.

When I returned, hope was turning into anger: the anger of the man who held his baby up to me, asking “is this a terrorist? Is my son a terrorist?”

On my last visit in February, anger had subsided into resignation, misery and the bitter question “why are we, the Syrian people, not worth saving?”

To be a Syrian caught up in this conflict is to be cut off from every law and principle designed to protect innocent life:

International humanitarian law prohibits torture, starvation, the targeting of schools and hospitals – but these crimes are happening every day in Syria.

The Security Council has powers to address these threats to international peace and security – but those powers lie unused.

The UN has adopted the Responsibility to Protect concept, saying that when a State cannot protect its people the international community will not stand by – but we are standing by, in Syria.

The problem is not lack of information – we know in excruciating detail what is happening in Yarmouk, in Aleppo and in Homs.

The problem is lack of political will.

We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent. [Continue reading…]

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Libyans don’t need more weapons

Claudia Gazzini and Issandr El Amrani write: The United Nations is walking a tightrope in Libya. Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the latest non-state actor to emerge in the current chaos. Because of this threat, pressure is mounting on the UN to relax a four-year-old international arms embargo to allow weapons to be delivered to the Libyan military to fight the group.

This would be a terrible move: It almost certainly would scuttle ongoing talks brokered by Bernardino Leon, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya; dash any hope of a peaceful solution; and create fertile ground for jihadi groups to flourish.

Libya is fragmented between a parliament elected in June 2014, based in the eastern coastal town of Tobruk, and the previous one in Tripoli, each with its associated government and militia forces. There is no Libyan military worthy of the name.

What calls itself the Libyan National Army, loyal to the Tobruk parliament and headed by Khalifa Haftar, a former army general who in early 2014 announced his ambition to stage a coup against the then-unified government, is little more than a coalition of militias just as one finds on the other side.

In this chaos, Islamist militant groups have thrived. Some, like Ansar al-Sharia, were born from the revolutionary groups that took up arms in 2011, received NATO backing and have further radicalised since. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. pressed Saudis to end Yemen airstrikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: Senior U.S. officials pressed Saudi leaders in a series of messages to quickly wrap up their air campaign in Yemen for fear of making matters worse, people familiar with the matter said, before Riyadh declared Tuesday it was ending the offensive.

Yet on Wednesday, Saudi airstrikes resumed in several parts of the country after Iranian-linked Houthi militants took over a military brigade in the southern city of Taiz, provincial security officials said. There was no sign of peace talks, though the Saudis had said they were shifting to a mostly political phase of their effort to respond to the chaos in the impoverished Arab country on its southern border.

Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir said his country would continue to use force in response to Houthi aggression.

“When the Houthis or their allies make aggressive moves, there will be a response,” he said. “The decision to calm matters now rests entirely with them.” [Continue reading…]

An April 17 UN report says: Civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, damaged and disrupted as a result of the fighting, including at least five hospitals (Sana’a, Al Dhale’e and Aden), 15 schools and educational institutions (Aden, Al Dhale’e, and Sana’a), the three main national airports (Sana’a, Aden and Hudaydah), and at least two bridges, two factories and four mosques in Al Dhale’e. Reports have also been received of damage to local markets, power stations, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in Aden, Hajjah and Sa’ada. Civilians’ private homes are being directly affected by airstrikes and armed clashes, particularly in the south.

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Risking death in the Mediterranean: the least bad option for so many migrants

Patrick Kingsley reports: Sobbing and shaking, Mohamed Abdallah tries to explain why he still wants to risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea in an inflatable boat. He sits in a migrant detention centre in Zawya, Libya, surrounded by hundreds of fellow asylum seekers who nearly died this week at sea.

They survived only after being intercepted, detained and brought back to shore by Libyan coastguards, ending a week in which they went round in circles, starving and utterly lost. But despite their horror stories, Abdallah, 21, says the journey that his fellow inmates barely withstood – and that killed more than 450 others this week – is his only option.

“I cannot go back to my country,” says Abdallah, who is from Darfur, in Sudan. He left for what is now South Sudan in 2006, after he says his village was destroyed in the Darfur war, his father died, and his sisters raped. But in South Sudan, another war later broke out. So he made his way through the Sahara, a journey that he says killed his brother and cousin, to Libya. And there last year, he was witness to his third civil war in a decade – a war that still drags on, its frontline just a few miles from the camp at Zawya.

“There is a war in my country, there’s no security, no equality, no freedom,” Abdallah says. “But if I stay here, it’s just like my country. There is no security, there is violence. When you work, they take your money.”

He worked in a soap shop, and saved up to pay local smugglers for the boat to Europe. But just as he hoped to complete the payment, he was robbed, and then arrested. The recounting of his ordeal brings out first the tears, and then a conclusion: “I need to go to Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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Pope urges world to act after new Mediterranean tragedy

AFP reports: Pope Francis on Sunday, April 19, urged world leaders to respond “decisively” after 700 migrants were feared drowned in the deadliest migrant shipwreck yet in the Mediterranean.

“These are men and women like us, brothers seeking a better life,” the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics said in his weekly address, urging leaders to “act decisively and quickly to stop these tragedies from recurring.”

Urging the faithful in St Peter’s square to pray for the victims, the pope added: “(They are) hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war. They are seeking a better life, they are seeking happiness.” [Continue reading…]

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U.N. confirms new push for Syria talks, Iran to be invited

Reuters: The United Nations said on Tuesday that its Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura planned to consult Syrian factions and interested countries on a new round of peace talks, confirming a Reuters report.

“Starting in May … de Mistura will proceed with a series of in-depth, separate consultations with the Syrian stakeholders and regional/international actors to take stock of their views as of today,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

A U.N. spokesman in Geneva, Ahmad Fawzi, said de Mistura was “heavily engaged” in discussions on the process, which would be based on the Geneva communiqué, the June 2012 document that set out a path to peace and political transition but left unresolved the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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UN: 100,000 new displaced in Yemen since strikes began

Al Jazeera: More than a 100,000 people have fled their homes after Saudi-led coalition air strikes began in Yemen, according to UNICEF.

A spokesman from the UN agency, Rajat Madhok, told Al Jazeera that most of those who have been displaced are women and children.

“Most displacements have taken place from and within al-Dhale, Abyan, Amran, Saada, Hajja. The displaced persons are mostly being hosted with relatives,” Madhok said.

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Chlorine attacks continue in Syria with no prospect of Assad being brought to account

By Brett Edwards, University of Bath and Mattia Cacciatori, University of Bath

For more than a year, there have been numerous reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This includes reported incidents which occurred in late March, as thousands of Syrians fled the city of Idlib in the face of a government-rebel stand-off. According to witnesses, chemical weapons were used.

These allegations come on the heels of a year’s worth of similar incidents in which rebel and government forces stand accused of using industrial chemicals such as chlorine against civilians and troops alike. A recent report has found with a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine attacks took place in three Syrian villages in the summer of 2014. A UN Human Rights Council Inquiry into Syria also found that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that government helicopters carried out chemical attacks during this period.

The international response has been superficially demonstrative. At the beginning of March 2015, almost a year after those attacks, the UN Security Council finally adopted a resolution that condemns the use of chlorine as a weapon. Steps such as these are to be welcomed for reaffirming the abhorrence of these weapons and the importance of the international prohibition against them.

But resolutions do not imply immediate action. The use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria goes on – and there is so far little evidence that the world’s major powers have the wherewithal to bring those responsible to justice.

[Read more…]

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Poll finds strong majority of Americans support an international climate agreement

Huffington Post reports: A new poll finds an overwhelming majority of Americans support an international agreement to cut planet-warming emissions.

The poll found 72 percent of likely 2016 voters said they support the United States signing on to an international agreement on climate change.

The Benenson Strategy Group conducted the polling for the environmental organizations Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, and surveyed 1,000 expected voters.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they thought the United States “should take the lead and make meaningful reductions in its carbon emissions and other gases that may cause global warming.” Even a majority of Republican respondents — 52 percent –- expressed support for the U.S. joining an international agreement on climate change. A much stronger percentage of Democrats, at 88 percent, supported it, as did 73 percent of independents.

John Coequyt, director of Sierra Club’s federal and international climate campaign, argues that the findings support the Obama administration’s pursuit of an international agreement at the United Nations meeting in Paris at the end of this year. [Continue reading…]

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Palestine formally joins International Criminal Court

Al Jazeera reports: Palestine has formally attained membership of the International Criminal Court, a move that could open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials despite uncertainty over its wider ramifications.

The accession on Wednesday is another landmark in the Palestinian diplomatic and legal international campaign, which gained steam in 2014.

The Palestinians moved to join The Hague-based court on January 2, in a process that was finalised on Wednesday, setting the scene for potential legal action.

“Palestine has and will continue to use all legitimate tools within its means in order to defend itself against Israeli colonisation and other violations of international law,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat. [Continue reading…]

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U.N. warns of ‘total collapse’ in Yemen as Houthis continue offensive

The New York Times reports: The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as his office said that heavy fighting in the southern port city of Aden had left its streets lined with bodies and its hospitals full of corpses.

Fierce clashes erupted on Monday as Shiite Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, pressed on with an offensive in Aden against fighters loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the exiled Yemeni leader, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states.

“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” Mr. al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”

“The killing of so many innocent civilians is simply unacceptable,” he added.

Houthi forces were reported to have pushed their way into Aden’s northeastern suburbs despite airstrikes by the Saudi Air Force and a naval blockade intended to sever the flow of weapons and other supplies to Houthi forces. [Continue reading…]

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U.N. leader warns Iraq not to mistreat civilians after liberation from ISIS

The New York Times reports: Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations used a visit to Baghdad on Monday to warn the Iraqi government to treat civilians decently after it liberates territories like Tikrit, where a government offensive has been supported by heavy American-led airstrikes for the past five days.

“Civilians freed from the brutality of Daesh should not have to then fear their liberators,” Mr. Ban said, in a statement emailed to reporters after Iraqi officials canceled a scheduled news conference with him without explanation. Daesh is the Arabic pronunciation of the initials ISIS, by which the extremists in the Islamic State group are also known.

“One form of violence cannot replace another,” he said. The secretary general was clearly referring to reports, such as one by Human Rights Watch recently, that Iraqi Shiite militias were carrying out abuses in Sunni areas of Salahuddin Province that they had liberated from the extremists.

However, Mr. Ban may have joined his Iraqi governments hosts in speaking too soon about progress in Tikrit. Evidence is mounting that fighters of the Islamic State are much more numerous in the city, and hold much more territory, than the Iraqi government has previously revealed. [Continue reading…]

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