United Nations, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world is facing "a direct existential threat" and must rapidly shift from dependence on fossil fuels by 2020 to prevent "runaway climate change."
The U.N. chief called the crisis urgent and decried the lack of global leadership to address global warming.
"Climate change is moving faster than we are," Guterres said. "We need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action."
He said people everywhere are experiencing record-breaking temperatures — and extreme heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods "are leaving a trail of death and devastation."
As examples, Guterres pointed to Kerala, India's worst monsoon flooding in recent history, almost 3,000 deaths from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, disappearing Arctic sea ice, some wildfires so big that they send ash around the world, oceans becoming more acidic threatening food chains, and high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere threatening food security for billions of people.
Guterres said scientists have been warning about global warming for decades, but "far too many leaders have refused to listen — far too few have acted with the vision the science demands."
When some 190 nations signed the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change they agreed to limit the global temperature increase by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.
"These targets were the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," Guterres said. "But scientists tell us that we are far off track."
"According to a U.N. study, the commitments made so far by parties to the Paris agreement represent just one-third of what is needed," the secretary-general said.
Guterres said the mountain that needs to be climbed is very high — but not insurmountable.
"We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels," he said. "We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm."
He appealed for leadership — "from politicians and leaders, from business and scientists, and from the public everywhere" — to break what he called the current "paralysis" and act now.
"If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us," Guterres warned.
The alternative to moving to green energy, he said, "is a dark and dangerous future."
Guterres said that when he addresses world leaders at their annual General Assembly gathering in two weeks, he will tell them "that climate change is the great challenge of our time" and what is missing is leadership and a sense of urgency to respond.
He said an international meeting in Bangkok that ended Sunday made some progress on negotiations to help reach an agreement in December in Poland on guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris accord — "but far from enough."
"Nothing less than our future and the fate of humankind depends on how we rise to the climate challenge," Guterres said. "Keeping our planet's warming to well below 2 degrees (Celsius) is essential for global prosperity, people's well-being and the security of nations."
He said that is why he will convoke a climate summit for world leaders in September 2019 "to bring climate action to the top of the international agenda."
Guterres said technology is on the side of those seeking to tackle climate change.
He cited the rising use of renewable energy, saying "today, it is competitive with — and even cheaper — than coal and oil, especially if one factors in the cost of pollution." And he singled out innovative programs in China, Sweden, Morocco, Scotland and Thailand.
Guterres also pointed to other signs of hope including oil-rich Saudi Arabia investing heavily in renewable energy and oil-rich Norway's sovereign wealth fund — the largest in the world — moving away from investments in coal as well as in palm and pulp paper companies because of the forests they destroy.
Accra, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — The body of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has received a hero's welcome upon landing at Kotoka International Airport in Ghana's capital.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was with Annan's widow and family members Monday as uniformed soldiers brought Annan's coffin down from the aircraft amid solemn music played by a detachment of Ghana's armed forces. Prayers followed.
To signify Annan's return home, the U.N. flag covering the coffin was replaced by a Ghanaian one.
Annan will lie at the Accra International Conference Center, where people can pay their respects in the days before Thursday's state funeral.
Annan died in August in Switzerland at age 80.
The grandson of tribal chiefs, he was the first black African to work as U.N. secretary-general, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
United Nations, Sep 11 (AP/UNB)— A U.S. official on Monday accused Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro of "rapacious corruption" and operating "a kleptocracy" on a rarely seen scale that includes not only embezzling from the state-owned oil company but stealing from a government program created to feed millions of hungry people.
Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, alleged at an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council that corruption by Maduro, his wife Celia Flores and their inner circle "have laid low a once great nation, and impoverished millions."
The result, he said, is "a humanitarian crisis threatening regional stability," a near-collapse of Venezuela's oil production, and an economy "now in a death spiral."
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who organized and chaired the meeting, said widespread corruption in Venezuela has unleashed "instability, violence and human misery."
She said Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez's "perverse vision of a socialist paradise in Venezuela has transformed into a criminal narco-state that is robbing the Venezuelan people blind."
"Something is very wrong when citizens of an oil-rich country have to leave in order to beg on Colombian streets to feed their children," Haley said. "That something is the corruption of the Maduro regime."
Venezuela's U.N. Mission did not send a representative to the open meeting and the mission had no comment on it.
Maduro regularly blames Venezuela's shortages and inflation on an economic war waged by the United States and other capitalist powers. Venezuelan authorities also accuse opponents of sounding an alarm about a humanitarian crisis to justify a foreign military intervention.
Venezuela was once among Latin America's most prosperous nations, holding the world's largest proven oil reserves, but a fall in oil prices accompanied by corruption and mismanagement under two decades of socialist rule have left the economy in a historic economic and political crisis.
Inflation this year could top 1 million percent, according to economists at the International Monetary Fund.
Billingslea said "the cumulative effective of theft" from state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela has resulted in a more than 70 percent drop in oil export revenues since 2012.
And as the oil sector has plummeted, he said, "regime insiders are now jockeying to loot another of Venezuela's precious natural resources, its gold deposits."
Billingslea said the collapse in oil revenue led to a collapse in the Maduro government's ability to import food, medicine and other goods — and he accused regime officials of illegally profiting at every stage of the government-controlled program that was started to distribute food.
This includes "at the end when they replaced more valuable or popular food products, such as dry milk with lower value, mass-produced products," Billingslea said.
"The valuable products are then sold on the black market at high profit margins for officials' personal enrichment," he said. "For example, an investigation by Venezuela's democratically elected National Assembly uncovered instances where the regime spent $42 for a box of food when the food items in the box cost less than $13. Maduro's inner circle kept the difference, which amounted to over $200 million in just one particular order."
Stressing that more than half of Venezuela's population now lives in "extreme" poverty, Billingslea urged U.N. member states to hold the regime to account and investigate individuals under sanctions from the U.S. — including Maduro — as well as the European Union and others, and freeze their assets and prevent their travel.
Sacramento, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — California has set a goal of phasing out electricity produced by fossil fuels by 2045 under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the policy should serve as a model for other states and nations.
Brown, who has positioned California as a global leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, approved the measure as he prepares to host a summit in San Francisco of climate change leaders from around the world starting Wednesday.
The new law, along with an executive order Brown signed directing California to take as much carbon dioxide out of the air as it emits, represent the latest in a string of ambitious environmental initiatives as California seeks to fill a void left by President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and his efforts to boost the coal industry.
"We want others to do likewise, and if enough people often enough do what is needed we will curb global warming," Brown said during an interview with The Associated Press. "But we're definitely at the beginning of what's going to be a long and difficult and contentious journey."
The state is pushing to rapidly expand adoption of electric vehicles and has created a "cap and trade" program to put a price on carbon emissions, creating incentives to reduce them. It's working toward a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 12 years.
The efforts have drawn criticism from business groups worried about rising electric bills. Some environmentalists say Brown is too cozy with oil and gas interests and plan to disrupt the San Francisco summit.
The renewable energy measure would require California's utilities to generate 60 percent of their energy from wind, solar and other specific renewable sources by 2030. That's 10 percent higher than the current mandate.
The goal would then be to use only carbon-free sources to generate electricity by 2045. It's merely a goal, with no mandate or penalty for falling short. California's renewable energy goal is not as ambitious as Hawaii, which has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy mandate.
Phasing out fossil fuels would be a massive change in the energy grid. Utilities rely on natural gas plants to meet demand when renewables fall short, particularly in the early evening when the sun sets and people turn on their air conditioners as they get home from work.
Utilities are already dealing with an abundance of solar energy during peak times, which must be offloaded to other states when there's not enough demand locally for the power.
Brown advocates for a regional energy grid that would more easily allow Western states to share energy. An effort he pushed has died the past two years in the Legislature, with critics arguing California shouldn't be part of a grid with states that rely on coal. But Brown on Monday said moving toward a regional grid is essential to achieving California's new 100 percent clean energy goal without sending electric prices skyrocketing.
"Those who don't want it are going to be foisting very high prices on California, and I think there will be resistance to that," Brown said. "It may take one or two years, but we're going to get there. It makes too much sense."
He also pointed to the need for better battery technology to store energy.
Renewable energy experts have looked to batteries that can store solar energy generated in the afternoon as one solution, but the technology is not ready for wide-scale deployment. Another potential solution is pumped storage, in which water is pumped uphill in the afternoon using solar energy and then released through hydroelectric generators after the sun sets.
Brown has often faced criticism that he's too lenient with the oil industry, including from environmental groups pushing him to create a moratorium on new oil and gas wells in the state. He rejected the criticism and said that California's approach to climate change relies on curbing emissions from a variety of sources, including oil.
California has nearly 54,000 active wells, some of them close to urbanized areas in Southern California and the Central Valley, according to state data.
California ranked sixth among states in crude oil production in May, the latest data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state ranks 15th in natural gas production. California's production of crude oil has fallen steadily since the mid-1980s.
Business groups also opposed the measure amid concerns that it would raise the price of energy and, together with California's other environmental and labor protections, make it hard to compete with firms in other states.
"If we're going to have these first-in-the-nation laws, we want to see first-in-the-nation benefits," said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.
The measure was written by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate against fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
"Today we're setting a marker that will be remembered by future generations," de Leon said.
The companion executive order Brown signed directs the state to achieve "carbon neutrality" no later than 2045. After that, he says the state should emit net negative greenhouse gas emissions.
The order directs several state agencies to set targets for artificially removing carbon dioxide from the air through a process known as "sequestration."
That could involve restoring forests and wetlands to use plants to consume carbon dioxide or new technologies that capture carbon dioxide, compress it and inject it into the ground.
Bangkok, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — Police in Thailand shut down a forum organized by foreign journalists to discuss whether senior military officers in Myanmar should face justice for alleged human rights abuses committed by their forces against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
About a dozen policemen showed up ahead of Monday evening's scheduled panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and ordered the panelists not to speak. The scheduled speakers included Tun Khin, a prominent U.K.-based Rohingya activist; Kobsak Chutikul, a former Thai diplomat; and Kingsley Abbott, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists, a rights advocacy group.
Last month a specially appointed U.N. human rights team recommended that Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya. Critics of Myanmar's military have also accused it of carrying out ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.
Some 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh after the army launched a counterinsurgency campaign in response to attacks by Rohingya militants last August.
Myanmar's army, which for decades has been accused of violating the human rights of various ethnic minorities, denies having committed organized rights abuses.
The police at the Bangkok event handed over a letter requesting the panel discussion on "Will Myanmar's Generals Ever Face Justice for International Crimes?" be canceled because it could damage national security, affect foreign relations and a give a third party the opportunity to create unrest.
However, Police Col. Thawatkiat Jindakuansanong told the organizers: "We are not asking. We are ordering you to cancel the event."
Dominic Faulder, the president of the Foreign Correspondents Club, expressed his disappointment and said he had no choice but to announce the cancellation.
It is believed to be the sixth time police have forced a cancellation of one of the group's programs since Thailand's military seized power from an elected government in 2014. Politically sensitive events in other venues have also been stopped.
Scheduled panelist Abbott, a senior international legal adviser with the International Commission of Jurists, chided Thai authorities for the shutdown.
"This is an issue of global concern and Thailand, as Myanmar's neighbor and a leading voice in ASEAN, should be taking a leadership role in addressing the situation," he said. ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member regional grouping.
"Thailand's decision to order the event not to proceed is enormously disappointing and represents a lost opportunity to discuss the situation and identify possibilities for accountability in an open forum in the region," he said.