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PARIS: Faced with the prospect that climate change will drive ever deadlier heat waves, rising seas and crop failures that will menace the global food system, countries, corporations and cities appear to have come up with a plan: net zero. The concept is simple: starting now, to ensure that by a certain date – usually 2050 – they absorb as much carbon dioxide as they emit, thereby achieving carbon neutrality. But scientists and monitoring groups are growing increasingly alarmed at the slew of vague net-zero pledges that appear to privilege offsets and future technological breakthroughs over short-term emissions cuts.

“They’re not fit for purpose, any of them,” Myles Allen, director of Oxford Net Zero at the University of Oxford said of today’s carbon neutrality plans. “You can’t offset continued fossil fuel use by planting trees for very long. Nobody has even acknowledged that in their net-zero plans, even the really ambitious countries,” he told AFP. Last month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow saw major emitter India commit for the first time to work towards net-zero emissions, joining the likes of China, the United States and the European Union.

According to Net Zero Tracker (NZT), 90 percent of global GDP is now covered by some sort of net-zero plan. But it said that the vast majority remain ill-defined. Take offsets. These are when countries or companies deploy measures – such as tree planting or direct CO2 capture – to compensate for the emissions they produce. NZT found that 91 percent of country targets, and 48 percent of public company targets, failed to even specify whether offsets feature in their net-zero plans.

Which emissions?

What’s more, it found that less than a third (32 percent) of corporate net-zero targets cover what are known as “scope 3 emissions” – those from a company’s product, which normally account for the vast majority of carbon pollution from a given business. Alberto Carrillo Pineda, co-founder of Science Based Targets initiative, which helps companies align their net-zero plans with what science says is needed to avoid catastrophic heating, said most decarburization pledges “don’t make sense” without including scope 3 emissions.

“From a climate point of view it matters, the companies are driving emissions not only through their operations but also through what they buy and sell,” he told AFP. “And that constitutes their business model. A company wouldn’t exist without their product and so their product needs considering from an emissions point of view.”

The UN climate change body, UNFCCC, analyzed the latest national emissions cutting plans during COP26. It found that they would see emissions increase 13.7 percent by 2030, when they must fall by roughly half to keep the Paris Agreement warming limit of 1.5C within reach. Of the 74 countries that have published detailed net-zero plans, the UNFCCC found that their emissions would fall 70-79 percent by 2050 – a significant drop, but still not net zero.

Stuart Parkinson, executive director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), said governments had started to use net-zero pledges as a way of delaying the immediate action the atmosphere needs. “From our perspective, that’s thoroughly irresponsible,” he said. “It is kicking the problem into the long grass and relying on speculative efforts in technology when we know that we can change behavior right here and now and reduce emissions.” Last month UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said an independent group would be established to monitor companies’ net-zero progress.

‘Rude awakening’

Many countries and businesses plan to deploy mass reforestation as part of net-zero plans. Experts say this is problematic for two reasons. The first is simple science: Earth’s plants and soil already absorb enormous amounts of manmade CO2 and there are signs that carbon sinks such as tropical forests are reaching saturation point.

“The concern is that the biosphere is turning from a sink to a source by warming itself,” said Allen. “So relying on the biosphere to store fossil carbon is really daft when we may well need all the nature-based solutions we can find just to keep the carbon content of the biosphere stable.” Teresa Anderson, senior policy director at ActionAid International, said relying on land-based carbon sequestration was “setting Earth up for a rude awakening”.

But the concept is also problematic from the perspective of human rights and fairness. “When it comes to the competition for land to plant trees and bioenergy, that’s going to impact low-income communities, the ones that have done the least to cause the problem,” Anderson told AFP. And because humans have already burned through most of the carbon budget – that is, how much total carbon pollution we can produce before 1.5C is breached – there simply isn’t time to delay.

This year the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that since 1850, humans had emitted around 2400 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. That leaves just 460 billion tons left before 1.5C is breached – around 11 years at current emissions rates. Pineda said that while hundreds of companies have made net-zero pledges, “very few” have concrete long-term plans to decarbonizes. “We need to be very skeptical of any target that doesn’t have clear milestones in terms of how the company is going to halve emissions by 2030,” he said. “Any net-zero target without a 2030 milestone is just unbelievable, basically.” – AFP

BERLIN: Olaf Scholz became Germany’s new chancellor yesterday after 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm, pledging his center-left-led coalition would offer a “new beginning” for Europe’s top economy. Scholz was officially named the country’s ninth postwar leader by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who urged him to “ensure that the pandemic does not keep us firmly in its grip for another year” as a fourth wave of the coronavirus outbreak rages.

The former finance minister, who won 395 of the 707 votes cast in the Bundestag lower house, has vowed broad “continuity” with the popular Merkel while making Germany greener and fairer. “It will be a new beginning for our country,” Scholz pledged as he officially assumed the office from Merkel and thanked her for her lengthy tenure. “I will do everything to work towards that.”

Merkel wished Scholz luck as chancellor, urging him to “take this office and work in the best interest of our country”. She then left office by motorcade for the last time as her staff looked on, applauding. Scholz led his Social Democrats from a deep poll deficit to victory in the September 26 election.

The 63-year-old, who turned emulating Merkel in style and substance into a winning strategy, forged Germany’s first national “traffic light” coalition with the ecologist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, nicknamed after the parties’ colors. Their four-year pact sealed late last month is called “Dare for More Progress”, a hat tip to Social Democratic chancellor Willy Brandt’s historic 1969 pledge to “Dare for More Democracy”.

The alliance aims to slash carbon emissions, overhaul decrepit digital infrastructure, modernize citizenship laws, lift the minimum wage and have Germany join a handful of countries worldwide in legalizing marijuana. French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Scholz, pledging “we will write the next chapter together” while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she looked forward to cooperation for a “strong Europe”.

Scholz’s office announced his first official visit would take him to Paris and Brussels Friday for talks with Macron, von der Leyen and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. Vladimir Putin said Russia was offering “constructive ties” with the new government, while China’s Xi Jinping said Beijing was willing to work with Scholz to “promote bilateral ties to a new level”.

The new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has pledged a tougher line with authoritarian states such as Russia and China after the business-driven pragmatism of the Merkel years. Greens co-leader Baerbock is one of eight women in Germany’s first gender-balanced cabinet. “That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”, said this week.

Scholz and his team promise stability just as France braces for a bitterly fought presidential election next year and Europe grapples with the enduring aftershocks of Brexit. However, a vicious fourth COVID wave has already put the incoming coalition to the test. “We have to make a fresh start while facing down the corona pandemic – those are the circumstances the new government is up against,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday.

More than 103,000 people have died with coronavirus in Germany while new infections have surged since the weather turned cold, filling intensive care units to breaking point. Scholz has thrown his weight behind making jabs mandatory to get the pandemic under control, as Austria has done, as experts say the worst is still to come for the country’s struggling clinics.

Merkel, 67, Germany’s first woman chancellor, is retiring from politics after four consecutive terms, the first post-war leader to step aside of her own accord. Macron tweeted his gratitude to the outgoing leader. “Thank you, dear Angela, for never forgetting the lessons of history, for having done so much for us, with us, to move Europe forward,” he said.

She leaves big shoes to fill, with large majorities of Germans approving of her leadership to the end. Despite being from a rival party, Scholz tapped into that well of popular support in his bid to succeed Merkel while pledging to tackle the gap between rich and poor that widened under her. Meanwhile, Greens supporters are banking on billions flowing toward climate protection and renewable energy, even as the government pledges to return to a no-new-debt rule by 2023. – AFP

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia signed deals with Oman valued at $30 billion, state media said yesterday, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a tour of Gulf Arab countries, including former rival Qatar. Saudi and Omani companies “signed 13 memoranda of understanding worth $30 billion”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The MoUs between the two countries, which seek to diversify their economies away from oil, range from cooperation in the energy and tourism sectors to finance and technology. Prince Mohammed arrived in Muscat on Monday night, the first stop in a regional tour ahead a Gulf Arab summit in mid-December. He met with Sultan Haitham bin Tareq, who ascended the throne in January last year, after the death of his cousin Sultan Qaboos.

Yesterday, Sultan Haitham honored Prince Mohammed with the Oman First-Degree Order, one of the country’s top medals. The official Oman News Agency said the sultanate grants the award to kings, heads of states, crown princes and heads of governments of countries with which Muscat has distinguished relations.

According to SPA, Prince Mohammed will also visit the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. His trip to Doha will mark the first visit since Saudi Arabia and Qatar severed ties four years ago. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut all links with Qatar in June 2017, alleging it backed radical Islamist groups and was too close to Riyadh’s rival Tehran – allegations Doha denied. They restored full relations with Qatar in January after a landmark summit.

The prince’s tour comes amid a flurry of diplomacy to resolve regional disputes, especially with Iran and Turkey. There have been signs of a thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran in recent weeks, with Tehran and Riyadh holding several rounds of talks since April aimed at improving ties. Meanwhile, Turkey has sought to rebuild relations with former rivals in the Gulf, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Simmering tensions between Ankara and Riyadh escalated after the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Prince Mohammed’s tour coincides with a visit to Doha by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday, although Qatar’s foreign minister has said it was coincidental. Erdogan, whose country is reeling from a fresh economic crisis and is searching for foreign investment and trade, met with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani yesterday.

The two discussed enhancing their countries’ cooperation in various fields, including the economy, defense and security, and sports, the Qatar News Agency said. During the meeting, Qatar and Turkey signed a number of cooperation agreements and MoUs. The two countries signed a protocol on organizing major events and crises management. The two sides also signed a letter of intent on partnership between Doha Forum and Antalya Diplomatic Forum, as well as MoUs on sports and youth, health and medical science.

An MoU on religious affairs was also inked, in addition to cooperation agreements on standardization, culture and tourism, and investment. Sheikh Tamim and Erdogan expressed hope the agreements would further cement cooperation and take it to new heights. The Gulf states are seeking to diversify their economies away from oil, investing heavily in recent years in the tourism, entertainment and sports sectors. – Agencies

DOHA: Turkey and Qatar yesterday raised the possibility of jointly operating Afghanistan’s Taleban-controlled airport, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived for two days of talks in Doha. Afghans and foreign nationals fled the country through the facility as the hardline Islamist movement took power in August following two decades of war.

But many are still seeking to flee the conflict-scarred nation, which is facing the threat of winter food shortages and economic collapse. “We are going to act together,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press briefing with his Qatari counterpart ahead of Erdogan’s arrival. “Qatar and Turkey are continuously working with the interim government in Afghanistan to reach an agreement to open the airport (so it can function) normally,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani added.

Erdogan’s visit comes as Turkey seeks to rebuild relations with former rivals in the energy-rich Gulf region, including the United Arab Emirates, whose crown prince last month visited Turkey for the first time since 2012. Simmering tensions between Ankara and its Gulf rivals escalated after a Saudi Arabia-led blockade on Qatar by Arab countries in 2017. Ankara backed Qatar in the dispute, and the two countries have grown closer ever since.

Erdogan, whose country is reeling from a fresh economic crisis and is searching foreign investment and trade, said he wanted to use the trip to foster closer relations with all Gulf states. “We are in favor of strengthening our relations with all the Gulf countries,” Erdogan told reporters at an Istanbul airport before leaving for Doha. “The blockade and sanctions imposed on Qatar have been lifted as of the start of this year. Right now, solidarity is being restored among Gulf countries,” Erdogan said. – AFP

The fifth phase of the referendum for an independent Sikh homeland will be held in the United Kingdom today (December 5).

Sikhs had massively participated in the earlier four phases of the Khalistan Referendum.

Voting on the Khalistan referendum kick-started in London on October 31, 2021 and over 30,000 Sikhs took part in the first phase. The second phase was held in Southhall & Gravesend in the UK on November 7 2021 and more than 10,000 British Sikhs took part in it.

The third phase was held in Birmingham and Barking in the UK on November 14, while the fourth phase was held in UK cities of Leicester, Coventry and Derby on November 21.

Huge participation of Sikhs in a referendum for their homeland has unnerved India, as it tried hard to stop the Sikh referendum exercise in the UK.

UK allowed the Sikh referendum despite Indian diplomatic efforts.

The Khalistan referendum has sent a strong message to the Indian establishment to end discrimination against Sikhs and for India to be prepared to give Sikhs their birthright of freedom.

The referendum will also be held in future in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Indian region of Punjab.

Voting in Geneva will be held on 10th December 2021 and results of the Khalistan referendum will be declared by the Punjab Referendum Commission after the final phase of voting will be held in the next six months.

Findings of the Khalistan referendum would be shared with United Nations and international bodies to create wider consensus.

The Khalistan referendum was in complete consonance with the UN Charter.

Sikhs For Justice had released a map of their vision of what Khalistan would entail. It shows not just Punjab, but Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as part of Khalistan.

TEHRAN: An air defence test triggered a loud explosion near Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility on Saturday as nuclear talks with major powers stumble.

The explosion was heard in the skies over the Iranian city of Badroud, just 20km from the nuclear plant, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Badroud residents heard the noise and saw a light which showed an object had just blown up in the skies over the city,” a witness said.

But the spokesman for the Iranian army, Gen Amir Tarikhani, told state television there was no cause for concern.

“An hour ago, one of our missile systems in the region was tested to assess the state of readiness on the ground, and there is nothing to fear,” Tarikhani said.

Israel has said repeatedly that it stands ready to use all means, including force, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, and Iran has carried out periodic exercises to improve the defences around its nuclear sites.

“To evaluate the systems based in the region, such exercises are carried out in a completely secure environment and in full coordination with the integrated defence network,” the army spokesman said.

Israel has been pushing hard for world powers to abandon talks with Iran on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, which reopened in Vienna on Monday.

“A bad deal, which I hope they do not reach, is intolerable from our perspective,” the head of Israel’s Mossad external intelligence agency, David Barnea, said on Thursday.

The United States warned on Saturday that it would not allow Iran to “slow walk” negotiations on its nuclear programme while at the same time ramping up uranium enrichment and other activities.

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan hopes that greater acceptance for the Taliban government will lead to their representation in the United Nations.

On Wednesday, the UN Credentials Committee deferred its decision on allowing the Taliban to represent Afghanistan in the world body. The committee also stopped Myanmar’s military junta from representing the country in the UN.

“Under the circumstances, the decision to defer consideration of the credentials was expected,” said Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram. “Once there is a wider consensus on official acceptance of the new Afghan government, its credentials will be accepted.”

Sweden’s UN Ambassador Anna Karin Enestrom, who heads the credentials committee, confirmed on Thursday that Kabul’s new rulers will not have representation in the UN yet. “The committee has decided to defer its decision of the credentials in these two situations (Afghanistan and Myanmar),” she said.

The Taliban seized Kabul on Aug 15 and in September they asked the UN to let their representative speak at the 76th session of the General Assembly, which began on Sept 14, 2021.

The Credential Committee, however, could not meet before the end of the session and, therefore, the Taliban’s request was not considered.

This left Ghulam Isaczai of the ousted regime as the official representative to the UN, despite Taliban protestations that he “no longer represents Afghanistan”.

The current members of the Credentials Committee include the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, China, Namibia, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden and the United States. Normally, the committee takes its decisions by consensus.

The deferral indicates that both Afgh­anistan and Myanmar would remain out of the UN system through much of 2022.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, however, said it was an ‘unfair decision’ and urged the UN to reconsider it.

“The Credentials Committee decided yesterday that for now, the seat of Afghanistan at the UN be not given to the new government in Afghanistan,” he said in a tweet posted on Thursday.

“This decision is not based on legal rules and justice because they have deprived the people of Afghanistan of their legitimate right,” he added.

“We hope that this right is handed over to the representative of the government of Afghanistan in the near future so that we can be in a position to resolve issues of the people of Afghanistan effectively and efficiently and maintain positive interaction with the world.”

To gain UN acceptance, the Taliban need the support of some powerful nations, like the United States, but so far most of the 193 UN members are reluctant to do so.

Human rights groups also oppose granting recognition to the Taliban regime.

Some Taliban leaders are still on UN sanctions lists.

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