The cost of Turkey’s genocide denial

Ronald Grigor Suny writes: Turkey, like many other nations, celebrates its founding moments as a heroic struggle against internal and external enemies. The perpetrators of atrocities imagine themselves instead to be victims.

After Pope Francis reminded the world that the centenary of the greatest atrocity of World War I was approaching and the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s continued efforts to conceal, distort and evade the facts, Mr. Erdogan responded by claiming that the Turks had experienced “far more suffering than what the Armenians went through,” while his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accused European lawmakers of anti-Turkish racism.

Such obstinate refusal to come to terms with history’s darker chapters is not unique to Turkey. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has refused to acknowledge and apologize for what Imperial Japan did during its colonial annexation of Korea or in China in the 1930s and during World War II. Russians agonize over but repeatedly temper their assessments of Stalin’s crimes; Poles and Ukrainians turn away from the brutalities of the anti-Semitic pogroms before and during World War II.

Americans, Australians and Israelis shy away from confronting the foundational crimes that were committed against those living on the territory that they coveted but which they wanted emptied of indigenous people. It is often forgotten that former victims can easily become perpetrators in their drive to make a nation.

There are examples of straightforward recognition and public repentance. After the Holocaust and much soul-searching, a democratic Germany acknowledged what the Nazis had done. The record of fascist atrocities is now taught in schools and memorialized throughout the country without relativizing the horrors by referring to what Germany’s enemies did.

As Pope Francis put it, “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” Courageous Turkish and Kurdish historians have long realized this, and they have defied the government by challenging the traditional nationalist account that blames Armenians for their own destruction.

These historians have sought to reconstruct what happened in 1915 and examine why the Young Turks convinced themselves that Armenians were an existential threat to the future of their empire. Their thankless but necessary task is to lay the groundwork for honest scholarship that involves the uncovering of the pain that governments would prefer to bury forever. [Continue reading…]

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Learning a language? Sleep on it and you’ll get the grammar

By Kathy Rastle, Royal Holloway and Jakke Tamminen, Royal Holloway

In 2006, former US president George Bush supported his embattled defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the words: “But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.” This quotation quickly entered the folklore of political humour. But to psychology researchers, it revealed something fundamental about human language.

At that time, most Americans had not encountered the word decider. While this is a common word in some parts of the world, it refers to the part of a game that determines the winner. So how did people understand what it meant? They understood it because across all of the words that people know, the suffix –er often transforms a verb into a person (as in teacher, builder, dancer). Thus, a decider must be someone who decides.

The ability to extract general principles from a small number of examples is fundamental to language and literacy. In teaching children how to read, teachers introduce sets of words like chin, church, chest, chess, chop, to convey information about how to pronounce particular letters. This general knowledge might then be applied to new words like chick. In later years of primary school, children develop general knowledge about the functions of affixes. Through exposure to relevant sets of words like uncertain, unknown, unhappy, children become able to use affixes like -un in new contexts.

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Music: Joni Mitchell — ‘Off Night Backstreet’

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Drone strikes killing hostages were aimed at unknown targets

The Guardian reports: The targets of the deadly drone strikes that killed two hostages and two suspected American members of al-Qaida were “al-Qaida compounds” rather than specific terrorist suspects, the White House disclosed on Thursday.

The lack of specificity suggests that despite a much-publicized 2013 policy change by Barack Obama restricting drone killings by, among other things, requiring “near certainty that the terrorist target is present”, the US continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a “signature strike”.

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, acknowledged that the January deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto might prompt the tightening of targeting standards ahead of lethal drone and other counter-terrorism strikes. A White House review is under way. [Continue reading…]

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Why Obama needs to get out of Yemen fast

Fred Kaplan writes: There may be no messier spot on the planet than Yemen, and too many nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf states, Iran, and the United States, too — are making it still messier by cramming it into the framework of the most divisive regional politics and then hoping, against all reason and history, that bombing its cities will settle its problems.

The Saudi air force commenced bombing on March 25 — and has since been joined by the United Arab Emirates, with the United States providing logistics and intelligence — in an attempt to oust Houthi rebels, who have taken over the Yemeni capital of Sana after ousting President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Houthis are Shiite and have reportedly received some arms from Iran; Hadi is Sunni and thus was viewed as a “stabilizing” force — a bulwark against Iranian incursions — on Saudi Arabia’s southern border.

But in fact, this framework distorts the true picture — it’s a Procrustean bed that chops off the root causes, and plausible ways out, of Yemen’s conflicts — and we should abandon our role as enabler as quickly as possible. President Obama seems to be doing just that, pressuring the Saudis to halt the bombing. They briefly complied, putting out the cover story that they’d accomplished their military objectives — but soon after resumed the airstrikes.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday that his country would continue to stop Houthi advances in Yemen, but this suggests that the Houthis are alien invaders. In fact, they are, and have been for centuries, the dominant tribe of northern Yemen, which was an independent state until 1990, when it merged with southern Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen. The north had been, and still was, predominantly Shiite (mainly Houthi); the south was, and is, predominantly Sunni. And after unification, the southern Sunnis ruled, marginalizing the northern Shiites — thus almost inevitably siring revolt, especially since Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab countries, has few resources to share in the first place. [Continue reading…]

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A Saudi war going badly wrong

Bill Law writes: It must have seemed a very good idea at the time. The young, ambitious son of an aged king launching a war against a rebellion in a troubled country to the south.

Ignore the fact that the tribe you are attacking is in fact a useful buffer against an even greater threat. Ignore that this tribe badly beat your country’s forces just a few years previously. Ignore the disquiet of old friends because it’s your moment and you have just been appointed the minister of defence.

You are bristling with new weapons, billions of dollars’ worth of them, you have a powerful older rival and you need to prove your mettle both to your supporters and to him. Go to war, young man, go to war and win a quick, decisive victory that confirms your stature as a great military leader.

And so when Mohammed bin Salman, sixth and favourite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, launched Operation Decisive Storm on 26 March, and orchestrated an air war against the Houthis of Yemen, he did so no doubt convinced of an easy win.

This would be a breeze, especially as the Egyptians would commit ground troops and if not them than the Pakistanis. After all, both countries have received billions of dollars in aid and interest-free loans from the Saudis over the years. But the Egyptians proved to have long memories. In the 1960s, 20,000 of their soldiers died in Yemen fighting a futile war that came to be known as Egypt’s Vietnam.

And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan who, it is frequently said, owes his life to the Saudis, proved shrewd in referring the matter to parliament that then universally rejected it. No doubt the MPs were annoyed that the Saudis had previously and rather pompously announced Pakistan had joined the fray, without bothering to ask them. [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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American, Italian hostages killed in CIA drone strike in January

The Wall Street Journal reports: A U.S. drone strike in January targeting a suspected al Qaeda compound in Pakistan inadvertently killed an American and Italian being held hostage by the group, senior Obama administration officials said.

The killing of American development expert Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto is the first known instance in which the U.S. has accidentally killed a hostage in a drone strike.

The mishap represents a major blow to the Central Intelligence Agency and its covert drone program in Pakistan, which President Barack Obama embraced and expanded after coming to office in 2009.

The incident also underscores the limits of U.S. intelligence and the risk of unintended consequences in executing a targeted killing program which, according to human rights groups, endangers civilians. U.S. officials say the strikes are needed to combat al Qaeda. To mitigate the risks, officials say the CIA won’t launch missiles at a suspected target if they know civilians are present. [Continue reading…]

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The EU should stop treating migrants as criminals

Kenan Malik writes: For more than three decades, the European Union has been constructing what critics call “Fortress Europe,” a cordon protected by sea, air and land patrols, and a high-tech surveillance system of satellites and drones. When a journalist from Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine visited the control room of Frontex, the European border agency, he observed that the language used was that of “defending Europe against an enemy.”

The decision last year to scrap Mare Nostrum, the Italian-run search-and-rescue program, highlights this strategy. Mare Nostrum was replaced by Operation Triton, smaller in scope and with an entirely different aim — not saving lives but surveillance and border protection. The number of migrants now attempting to reach Europe is little different from that for the same period last year, yet the death toll is about 18 times higher.

When the European Union treats immigration as a problem of criminality, it is not just the traffickers who are targets. In 2004, a German ship rescued 37 African refugees from a dinghy. When the ship entered a Sicilian port, it was seized by the authorities who charged the captain and first officer with aiding illegal immigration. They were acquitted only after a five-year court battle.

Similarly, in 2007, the Italian authorities tried to block two Tunisian fishing boats that had rescued 44 stranded migrants from docking at Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia. The captains were charged with assisting illegal immigration. Not until 2011 did an appeals court overturn all the convictions.

Such cases are not aberrations. Treating good Samaritans as common criminals is the inevitable consequence of the European Union’s immigration policy.

The third prong of the strategy is to outsource border controls by paying African states to detain potential migrants. The most notorious of these arrangements was with Libya. In 2010, a year before Britain and France launched airstrikes to help bring down Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the European Union concluded a deal with him, agreeing to pay 50 million euros over three years to turn his security forces into de facto border police. Even before they gained power, the anti-Qaddafi rebels agreed to continue the arrangement.

The European Union has a similar deal with Morocco, and hopes to recruit Egypt and Tunisia, too. In effect, it aims to relocate Europe’s borders to North Africa.

The 10-point plan that the European authorities proposed Monday was in keeping with this failed approach. Most eye-catching was the promise to destroy smugglers’ boats. Not only is this morally dubious — effectively telling migrants “We will wall you into North Africa so that you’re not our problem” — but it also won’t work. One reason for the spike in migrant numbers is the collapse of state authority in the region. Western intervention in Libya exacerbated the chaos, which the proposed military action will only intensify.

At the same time, migrants are forced to clamber into overloaded, unseaworthy boats because other routes into Europe have been blocked off. Destroying smugglers’ boats will merely force people to adopt even more perilous means of making the journey.

So what is to be done? The restoration of a proper search-and-rescue operation is important but insufficient. The European Union should stop treating migrants as criminals, and border control as warfare. It must dismantle Fortress Europe, liberalize immigration policy and open up legal routes for migrants. Some argue this would lead to a flood of immigrants, but current policy is not preventing people from migrating; it is simply killing them, by the boatload. [Continue reading…]

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Survivors tell of Syrian refugees’ desperate efforts to reach Europe

The Daily Beast reports: “It was pitch black. We were groping our way through the forest, hoping to hear water soon. I’d seen the maps and spoken to others who had done the journey before—I knew that once we reached the river, we would nearly be in Greece.”

This was no orienteering exercise. It was a long-awaited attempt to enter Europe.

In 2014, 23-year-old Yousef made the perilous overland journey from Turkey to Germany, fleeing Syria, where he had been imprisoned for organizing peaceful protests. Many people make this journey with the help of paid smugglers, but Yousef had spent the months beforehand poring over maps of Europe, filling his camera phone with screenshot aerial views of the terrain and learning village names by heart.

“I had no money. I couldn’t afford the smugglers’ fees, so I had to rely on myself for a lot of the journey,” he told The Daily Beast at his new home in central Germany. “I spoke to everyone I could to hear how they had done it, and studied really hard.”

At the Greek border, the waters of the Evros River that separates Greece from Turkey were flowing fast. “I’m a fairly good swimmer, but I still believed I’d be washed away. We waited until sunrise so we could see more clearly, and then I jumped in with a rope tied around me. I thought, ‘That’s it, Yousef, you’re going to drown here.’ But somehow I made it to the opposite bank and tied the rope to a tree so others could cross more easily.”

After less than half an hour, however, Yousef and his three other companions were caught by Greek police. Forced into a car, they were instantly returned to Turkey.

Today, over 3.8 million Syrians have fled the brutality of the Syrian war zone. Many have sought sanctuary in neighboring countries, but countless others are desperately attempting to reach European soil. With European Union states granting formal entry to only a handful of refugees (at 30,000, Germany has been by far the most “generous”) many have resorted to seeking asylum after illegal entry. Currently, the bulk of those attempting to reach Europe illegally are Syrians. [Continue reading…]

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Abu Alaa Afri: The rising star within ISIS

Following a report in The Guardian alleging that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, had been seriously wounded in a U.S. airstrike in March (a claim that has not been supported by the Pentagon), the Iraqi official who was the source of this story tells Newsweek that ISIS is now under the temporary control of a former Iraqi physics teacher in Mosul: Speaking to Newsweek, Dr Hisham al Hashimi, the Iraqi government adviser, confirmed that Abu Alaa Afri, the self-proclaimed caliph’s deputy and a former physics teacher, has now been installed as the stand-in leader of the terror group in Baghdadi’s absence.

“After Baghdadi’s wounding, he [Afri] has begun to head up Daesh [arabic term for ISIS] with the help of officials responsible for other portfolios,” confirms Hashimi. “He will be the leader of Daesh if Baghdadi dies.”

It is believed that Afri is located in the al-Hadar region of the city of Mosul. He has risen through the ranks of the group, becoming more prominent in the eyes of the group’s leadership and even more important than Baghdadi himself, Hashimi claims.

“Yes – more important, and smarter, and with better relationships. He is a good public speaker and strong charisma,” says the adviser when asked if Afri is now more important within the group than Baghdadi. “All the leaders of Daesh find that he has much jihadi wisdom, and good capability at leadership and administration.”

Little is known about Afri, also known as Haji Iman, but Hashimi reveals some details about the previous life of Baghdadi’s mysterious right-hand man.

“He was a physics teacher in Tal Afar [northwestern Iraqi city] in Nineveh, and has dozens of publications and religious (shariah) studies of his own,” he says. “He is a follower of Abu Musaab al-Suri [prominent jihadi scholar].”

ISIS experts support Hashimi’s claim that Afri is the rising star within the terror group. Hassan Hassan, Middle East analyst and co-author of the New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, says that Afri is “one of its most important players”. [Continue reading…]

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Could America torture again?

Joshua Keating writes: “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.” That was President Obama, last December, after the release of a Senate panel report on the CIA’s use of torture against terrorism detainees. Obama’s statement encapsulated both his confidence that the brutal interrogation techniques of the Bush era had been brought to an end by the executive order he issued banning them upon taking office, and his reluctance to probe more deeply into abuses that occurred or prosecute any of the offenders.

But a new report issued this morning by Amnesty International charges that the Obama administration has effectively granted impunity to the practitioners of torture, and that its reluctance to address the issue “not only leaves the USA in serious violation of its international legal obligations, it increases the risk that history will repeat itself when a different president again deems the circumstances warrant resort to torture, enforced disappearance, abductions or other human rights violations.” [Continue reading…]

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Conservation and the rights of tribal people must go hand in hand

Jo Woodman writes: Evidence is growing that conservation – enforced by the creation of protected areas and policed by anti-poaching squads – leads to the eviction and abuse of vast numbers of people, especially tribal peoples, and is also failing to check the deepening environmental crisis. A new approach is urgently needed. Conservation should centre on protecting the land rights of the peoples to whom these vitally important areas are home.

Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environments than anyone else – their survival depends on it. When the Maasai were removed from Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania in 1974 , poaching increased; the eviction of indigenous people from Yellowstone Park in the United States in the late 19th century led to overgrazing by elk and bison; Aborigines in Australia have used controlled burning to protect forests from devastating conflagrations… the list goes on.

South Asia’s tribal peoples have coexisted with the tiger for thousands of years, but now they are facing eviction in the name of protecting the animal. There is evidence, for example, from Chitwan national park in Nepal, that tiger densities can actually be higher in the areas where people live than in those from where they have been evicted. People provide a variety of different habitats and eyes and ears to detect and deter poachers. [Continue reading…]

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‘We’re going to resist': Brazil’s indigenous groups fight to keep their land in face of new law

Claire Rigby reports: From downtown São Paulo, the Pico do Jaraguá – the crest of a mountain ridge on the city’s north-western horizon – looks like a broken tooth, crowned by a towering TV antenna. Just beyond the rocky peak and down a steep, deeply rutted, unmade road, lies the nascent village of Tekoa Itakupe, one of the newest fronts in Brazil’s indigenous people’s struggle for land to call their own.

Once part of a coffee plantation, the idyllic 72-hectare plot is currently occupied by three families from the Guarani community who moved onto the land in July 2014 after it was recognised as traditional Guarani territory by Funai, the federal agency for Indian affairs.

The group had hoped that would be a first step on the road to its eventual official demarcation as indigenous territory, but they now face eviction after a judge granted a court order to the landowner, Antônio ‘Tito’ Costa, a lawyer and former local politician.

Ari Karai, the 74-year-old chief or cacique of Tekoa Ytu, one of two established Indian villages at the base of the peak, says the group intends to resist. “How can they evict us when this is recognised Indian land?” he asks.

The dispute comes at a crucial time for Brazil’s more than 300 indigenous peoples. Earlier this month, more than a thousand indigenous leaders met in Brasília to protest and organise against PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would shift the power to demarcate indigenous land from the executive to the legislature – that is, from Funai, the Ministry of Justice and the president, by decree, to Congress. [Continue reading…]

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Changes in water vapor and clouds are amplifying global warming

The Guardian reports: A very new paper currently in press shines light on climate feedbacks and the balance of energy flows to and from the Earth. The paper was published by Kevin Trenberth, Yongxin Zhang, John Fasullo, and Shoichi Taguchi. In this study, the authors ask and answer a number of challenging questions. Their findings move us a big step forward in understanding what is happening to the planet now, and how the climate will evolve into the future.

So, what did the scientists do? First, they used measurements at the top of the Earth atmosphere to count the energy coming into the Earth system and the energy leaving the planet. The measurements were made by satellites as part of the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System project (CERES for short). By subtracting one energy flow from the other, they found what is called the Earth’s energy imbalance. Most studies show that the energy imbalance is in the range of 0.5 to 1 Watt per square meter of surface area, which is causing ongoing global warming.

What the authors then asked is, how does this imbalance change? It turns out, the imbalance changes a lot over time. On a monthly basis the balance might change 1 Watt per square meter of surface area. The changes are caused principally by changes to clouds and water vapor, and other short-term weather patterns. Clouds have the ability to reflect sunlight back to space; however, clouds also have the ability to trap more heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. So, short-term fluctuations in clouds have large impacts on the net rate of heat gain by the Earth. [Continue reading…]

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Explainer: The mysterious dark energy that speeds the universe’s rate of expansion

By Robert Scherrer, Vanderbilt University

The nature of dark energy is one of the most important unsolved problems in all of science. But what, exactly, is dark energy, and why do we even believe that it exists?

Step back a minute and consider a more familiar experience: what happens when you toss a ball straight up into the air? It gradually slows down as gravity tugs on it, finally stopping in mid-air and falling back to the ground. Of course, if you threw the ball hard enough (about 25,000 miles per hour) it would actually escape from the Earth entirely and shoot into space, never to return. But even in that case, gravity would continue to pull feebly on the ball, slowing its speed as it escaped the clutches of the Earth.

But now imagine something completely different. Suppose that you tossed a ball into the air, and instead of being attracted back to the ground, the ball was repelled by the Earth and blasted faster and faster into the sky. This would be an astonishing event, but it’s exactly what astronomers have observed happening to the entire universe!

[Read more…]

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Music: Joni Mitchell — ‘Hejira’

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Earth Day: Scientists say 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in ground

The Guardian reports: Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day.

The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, urged world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.

Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments. [Continue reading…]

The Earth Statement begins: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. Our civilization has never faced such existential risks as those associated with global warming, biodiversity erosion and resource depletion. Our societies have never had such an opportunity to advance prosperity and eradicate poverty. We have the choice to either finally embark on the journey towards sustainability or to stick to our current destructive “business-as-usual” pathway. Three times this year, world leaders will meet to set the course for decades to come. In July 2015, heads of state meet to discuss Financing for Development. In September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted. In December 2015, nations negotiate a new Global Climate Agreement. Decisions made in this single year will be the legacy of our generation. In particular, if we do not succeed in tackling climate change, the sustainable development goals, livelihoods in many parts of the world and the wellbeing of our close and distant kin will be threatened.

In 2015, a good climate future is still within reach. If we act boldly, we can safeguard human development. It is a moral obligation, and in our self-­interest, to achieve deep decarbonization of the global economy via equitable effort sharing. This requires reaching a zero-­carbon society by mid-­century or shortly thereafter, thereby limiting global warming to below 2°C as agreed by all nations in 2010. This trajectory is not one of economic pain, but of economic opportunity, progress and inclusiveness. It is a chance too good to be missed. We have just embarked upon a journey of innovation, which can create a new generation of jobs and industries, whilst enhancing the resilience of communities and people around the world. [Continue reading…]

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