RIO DE JANEIRO, – When labor inspectors arrived in a rural area of the Brazilian Amazon state of Para in late June, they expected to rescue illegal loggers working in slavery-like conditions. But the trees were already cut down and the loggers gone.
Instead, the officials from Brazil’s anti-slavery mobile enforcement group found four men and a boy of 15 building fences and cattle sheds nearby with the illegal timber, on the orders of a local farmer who kept them in a ramshackle camp.
“They had no water, they had no bathrooms,” said Magno Riga, the inspector in charge of the rescue. “They told us they had never been in such a precarious condition.”
Deforestation surged in Brazil after right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, giving a green light to mining and agriculture in protected parts of the Amazon and weakening environmental enforcement agencies.
But while the forest loss itself sparked international outcry among foreign governments and the public, little attention has been paid to the labor abuses underpinning the practice, legal specialists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Historically, Para is the state where workers are most often found in slavery-like conditions, accounting for at least 13,259 of a total of 56,000 people found across Brazil since 1995.
“The relationship (between deforestation and slavery) is permanent,” said Lys Sobral Cardoso, who leads anti-slavery efforts at Brazil’s Labor Prosecutor’s Office, an independent body of public officials.
“It has been that way for 20 to 30 years,” she added.
CATTLE AND MINES
While there is no hard data on deforestation and slave labor, more than 1,324 workers have been rescued from slavery-like conditions while felling wood from native forests since 1995, said Mauricio Krepsky, head of the government’s Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor.
But there are likely many more such cases going undetected, said Krepsky, as inspectors find it hard to get information and rescue workers in remote areas where most deforestation occurs.
“Many workers do not report (their employers) for fear of not getting more work or even of being murdered,” he said.
In 2019, when deforestation jumped, 12 workers were rescued in Para and 17 in Roraima, both Amazon states, with several more rescues carried out since.
Traditionally, unscrupulous farmers have used slave labor to clear land for cattle, which feeds Brazil’s powerful meat-packing industry – but recently mining is also attracting attention from the authorities as a driver of deforestation.
“We do not have consolidated data saying that there is deforestation in all (illegal) mining areas, but in all cases in which I worked, there was deforestation,” said Cardoso, who has worked on about 20 such cases.
As illegal logging and gold mining – both highly profitable industries – have expanded in the Amazon, labor officials have stepped up efforts to tackle the slavery issue.
In 2018, Brazil set up the Labor Prosecutor’s Office to fight abusive working conditions in illegal mines.
On July 28 this year, more than 100 federal police officers drove to a farm in Para, near the city of Ourilandia, to investigate reports of a huge illegal gold mining operation.
“The whole area was deforested illegally,” said labor prosecutor Edelamare Melo, who took part in the raid.
During the operation, federal police arrested six men found responsible for the illegal mining and apprehended machinery. Melo interviewed about 50 workers who were left in the mine but many others fled as soon as they saw the police arrive.
Besides living in flimsy sheds without walls, the workers had no protective gear and drank water left over from the mining process, which Melo said was likely contaminated by mercury.
“All this forms the conditions for slave labor,” she added.
Slavery in Brazil is defined as forced labor but also includes degrading work conditions, long hours posing a health risk or work that violates human dignity.
Three workers from the raided illegal gold mine were sent to a halfway house for rescued slaves in Maraba, in Para state, run by the Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT), a Catholic charity that has pioneered anti-slavery efforts in Brazil.
Like most workers rescued from activities linked to deforestation, they were from neighboring states with few employment opportunities, said Geuza Morgado from the CPT.
“We’ve had cases of people being rescued for a second or third time,” said Morgado. “The standard story is that in their towns there are no jobs, so they need to migrate.”
The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, the CPT and Para’s State Commission for the Eradication of Slavery (Coetrae-PA) have all run programs among workers to raise awareness of their rights and slave labor in Para and neighboring states.
But the impact is limited due to a dearth of other job opportunities, said Leila Silva, a social activist in Para and Coetrae-PA member from 2013 to 2020.
“They don’t have access to an alternative,” said Silva. “To break (the cycle) we need effective public policies.”
States and cities should offer job training to rescued workers so they can build a better life, she said.
“Some want to study, but they have no access to a school. So they go back to the slavery cycle,” she explained.
Riga, who rescued the four men and the teenager in Para, sees little chance of a brighter future for them and others trapped in similar slave-like conditions.
“There’s a huge demand for this sort of work, and they live off of it,” he said.
MUMBAI, – Several Indian states are building facilities with more paediatric beds, plus oxygen, due to concern that children returning to school without being vaccinated will be among the most vulnerable during a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Health administrators have taken heed of trends in the United States, where a record number of children have been hospitalised as the coronavirus Delta variant, first found in India, has surged through unvaccinated populations.
During a second wave of infections in India that peaked in April and May, hundreds of thousands of people died for want of oxygen and medical facilities, and now there are concerns that another third wave will gather during the winter months.
“We don’t know how the virus will behave, but we cannot afford to be unprepared this time around,” Suhas Prabhu, who heads the Paediatric Task Force in the big western state of Maharashtra, said.
“No mother should have to run around looking for a hospital bed when her child is sick.”
The Maharashtra government has stockpiled medicines, and built facilities for additional pediatric beds and oxygen provisions in new centres in Mumbai and Aurangabad.
Built on empty stretches of land or in re-purposed stadiums, the Mumbai facilities have a total of 1,500 pediatric beds, most of them with oxygen.
“We can upgrade this capacity to double if needed,” Suresh Kakani, a senior official with Mumbai’s civic body said.
In neighbouring Gujarat, authorities have set up 15,000 pediatric oxygen beds, health commissioner Jai Prakash Shivahare said.
India provides vaccines to people above the age 18. Most vaccines administered in India are made by AstraZeneca Plc , while shots produced by local manufacturer Bharat Biotech are also being used.
Another local firm Zydus Cadilla and Bharat Biotech are separately testing vaccines for children but the results are not expected until the year end.
Meantime, schools in at least 11 of India’s 28 states have opened after more than a year of closures, raising worries these could become breeding grounds for transmission of the virus.
As of March 2021, less than 1 pct of India’s coronavirus deaths were in the under 15 age group, according to the health ministry, and officials say the severity of the disease in this age group has been minimal so far.
Epidemiologists say there is no evidence to show that the Delta variant or any other mutations affect children more than other parts of the population.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — Hundreds of women and men religious in Ho Chi Minh City and two provinces in south Vietnam badly hit by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 have voluntarily joined front-line forces for the fourth time in two months to take care of patients at hospitals and in isolated places.
On Aug. 20, 115 Catholics and Buddhists in the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese set off to work at hospitals for COVID-19 patients in Ho Chi Minh City. They follow the three previous waves of 260 religious volunteers who ministered to local hospitals for one to two months beginning July 22, Aug. 11-12, and Aug. 16.
Most of volunteers are sisters, and many will serve only one month so they can return to work for their day care centers as the new school year starts in September. The volunteers will quarantine for two weeks before returning to their convents.
This time, seven Catholic priests and 85 religious from 14 congregations of women religious and 10 congregations of men religious based in the city were received at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay for one month while they work at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital in Thu Duc.
Dalat Lovers of the Holy Cross Sr. Mary Bui Thi Bich Huyen said she and four other sisters from her convent will join the front-line workers. They each have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We feel we have an absolute duty to work with other people to care for patients as all of us are God’s children,” Huyen said.
The 41-year-old nun said they are nursery teachers and have no professional skills in health care, but “we can give patients our tender care, emotional support and prayers as they have no loved ones by their side. We pick up this chance to bring God’s love to all people we serve.”
Phan Kieu Thanh Huong, vice chairman of the city’s Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of the communist government, said she greatly appreciated local Catholic volunteers who bravely sacrifice themselves to look after patients and help reduce health care providers’ workloads.
Huong said the conditions at the hospitals are not as good as the religious’ convents and monasteries, so they have to try their best to cooperate with other people to provide good care for patients and push back the pandemic.
As of Aug. 25, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, the country’s epicenters of the contagious delta variant, have recorded 289,084 infections and 8,395 deaths among the country’s 381,363 cases and 9,349 deaths since the first cases were detected on April 27, according to the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital, expressed his deep gratitude to the archdiocese for sending another group of religious volunteers to the hospital.
Tuan praised the previous religious volunteers for their tremendous enthusiasm supporting patients and medical staff.
“The hospital would fail to operate effectively without volunteers,” he said.
He said the hospital will offer the best and safest conditions it can to volunteers so they can bring real health benefits to patients. The volunteers will be tested for COVID-19 and train in basic medical care skills before they are sent to the hospital. Those who have not been vaccinated will get vaccines, and the volunteers will be trained in how to protect themselves from infection.
Mary Queen Sr. Teresa Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hue said she and five other sisters had worked for just three hours at a hospital for COVID-19 patients as part of the first wave of volunteers in late July before they were put in quarantine after they were told they had contracted the virus. However, health officials later apologized for giving them wrong results: They did not have COVID-19.
Hue said they registered to serve at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital for one month this time.
“We eagerly work with others to bring God’s love to patients who have no relatives by their side,” said Hue, who works as a nurse at a day care center run by her congregation. She also takes care of elderly sisters.
Hue said patients in hospitals are too weak to look after themselves. Many are put on ventilators and cannot talk.
“Volunteers in full protective gear are assigned to feed serious patients through tubes, wipe their bodies, change diapers and sheets, clean facilities, collect waste and help medical workers treat patients,” she said. “We show Catholic patients how to make a sign of the cross, encourage them to recite prayers and pray for dying ones.”
“We are told that we face high risk of infection and can die, but we trust in the Divine Providence and believe God protects us,” Hue said. “This is a great opportunity for us to bear witness to Christian values among people in misery.”
On Aug. 20, Salesian Fr. Joseph Mary Tran Hoa Hung, who oversees all orders, societies and associations based in the archdiocese, said 352 priests, nuns and brothers have been sent to serve three local hospitals since July 22 at the city’s request.
Hung said that 87 of them were put in quarantine on Aug. 23 for two weeks before they return to work at their convents.
Hung said the outbreak of the delta variant is still raging in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, so local health authorities sought help from the archdiocese. The city faces a severe lack of medical staff working with COVID-19 patients because of the number of people with the virus.
He said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang called on local congregations to continue taking part in this charitable activity. He said local sisters, brothers, seminary candidates and novices between the ages of 20 and 50 are encouraged to spend one month helping COVID-19 patients.
Fr. Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, who represents Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, and the city’s authorities and health officials welcomed the religious volunteers. Vu said the religious who have been assigned to local hospitals graciously take on a high risk of infection to work in dangerous places and serve coronavirus victims.
“This is an excellent opportunity for us to show our creative vigor, love and care to medical workers and patients,” he said. “What we have are our soft hearts and God’s strength.”
Waverly, Tennessee — Henry Kersten was pacing back and forth inside his family’s home in Waverly Aug. 21 when he saw the backyard shed being carried off by the flood waters. His wife, Leslie, was trapped inside.
“It was amazingly fast,” Kersten said. “She was trying to save some things [in the shed]. We never knew the extent that was going to come because we were going by the last flood that we had two years ago.”
The water “started to seep into the shed, and then it came so fast that she didn’t feel safe coming out,” he recalled in an interview with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. “She called me on the phone, told me that she loved me and our children.”
“As I was pacing, I saw the shed get washed away and watched her go by,” he continued. “It took about five hours, but by God’s blessing, a former neighbor … was able to find her.”
Leslie Kersten, who was a parishioner, along with her family, at St. Patrick Church in McEwen, Tennessee, was one of 20 people confirmed dead in the flooding that washed through Humphreys County Aug. 21. Up to 18 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours, breaking the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall.
When planning for Leslie’s funeral the morning of Aug. 24, Henry Kersten said they chose a quote from the Gospel of Mark for the program cover: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31)
“That’s Lesley’s life in a Bible verse. She loved the church. … The church has been so important in our life,” Kersten said. “She was the epitome of God’s greatest commandment.”
In the darkness of tragedy, Kersten still finds the light of God’s grace.
“God sends his toughest challenges for his strongest soldiers,” Kersten told Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding, who visited victims of the Waverly flood Aug. 24.
As Spalding visited flood victims at relief shelters and their destroyed homes, he brought with him a message: “You’re not alone.”
“In times of profound tragedy, presence is the most important thing,” Spalding said. “No matter what crisis we face in life, just knowing another is there with you and for you, especially in our context of faith, to know that God is with us and for us as well is what people need to know.”
On Aug. 20, downpours of rain reaching more than 18 inches hit Humphrey County, about 60 miles west of Nashville. By 8:30 a.m. the next day, the rapidly rising flood waters were crashing through Waverly, wreaking havoc on homes and businesses. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.
“It just came in as an influx,” said Grey Collier, public information officer for the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency. “Within just 10 to 30 minutes, people went from dry floors to having to climb in their attics.”
Barbara Hooper, flood relief coordinator for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Patrick Church and conference vice president, said this was the worst flood the community has ever experienced.
“This is like a tsunami in a foreign city, and we’re in a little town in Tennessee,” Hooper said. “Now we’re seeing what they go through all the time.”
On the morning of the flood, Jackie Tate, a middle school language arts teacher at St. Patrick School, and her family were at home and had their bags packed and ready to go.
They were keeping an eye on the back door, where they expected to see the waters rise. But after her husband, Christian, took their dog out in the front yard and saw the rising water headed their way, he rushed inside to warn them to evacuate.
The Tate family was unable to leave in their truck, so they sought shelter at their neighbor’s home on higher ground.
“We knew we might get into the flooding area, but I’ve never seen anything like that,” Tate told the Tennessee Register.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Patrick helped Tate and her family secure a rental property while they wait for government aid.
“They have been an absolute godsend,” Tate said of the parish. “They’re my people.”
On Aug. 24, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Tennessee, making assistance available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement state and local recovery efforts, including in Humphreys County.
FEMA assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Despite the devastation, victims and volunteers said the way the community has come together with clothing and food collections in McEwen and Waverly has been overwhelming.
“The outpouring of support has been phenomenal,” Collier said.
“This is what humanity is,” said Margaret Loose, family friend of St. Patrick parishioners James and Patsy Bradley, who also lost their home.
“This is what the Volunteer State truly means,” Waverly Vice Mayor Mike Goodman added, referring to the state’s nickname.
Tate’s family has already benefited from the collections of food, clothing and supplies.
“It is really amazing to watch, but I’m not surprised,” Tate said. “[This community] will give you the shirt off their back.”
KIPUSHI, Democratic Republic of Congo, – Squeezed on to benches and on the floor, the Congolese students of Kipushi Primary School did not complain that they only had a few, battered textbooks to share – just down the road, hundreds of less fortunate children were working in open-pit mines.
Enrolment at the school – named after the town of 174,000 people, which is dominated by its copper, zinc and cobalt mines – has risen by 75% to 1,400 students since the Democratic Republic of Congo introduced free primary education in 2019.
“The difficulties are there but free education is a good thing because getting kids to study back then was a headache,” said Maloba Mputu Stany, principal of the school in the eastern province of Haut-Katanga.
“The teachers are doing what they can to facilitate the integration of children from the mines,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as he searched for a list of new students in his cluttered office.
About 40 of the 600 new pupils, dressed in white and blue uniforms, are former child labourers, said Stany, who wants donors to fund teacher bonuses to give them catch-up sessions.
The latest figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF show that 6 million children – almost one in four – were out of school in 2018 in Congo, which was one of the last countries in the world to introduce free primary education.
The new scheme, which costs more than a third of its $6.8 billion budget, has enabled 4 million of these children to go to school, according to the education ministry.
But poverty keeps millions more out of school.
“Thousands of children still (work at) the mine sites due to a lack of school kits, according to parents,” said Philippe Nyange, head of child protection at the Association of Women for Community Development (AFEMDCO) in Kipushi.
With funding from UNICEF, the charity has provided 270 child labourers with school kits, containing school bags, notebooks, pens and uniforms, which were quickly snapped up by an eager crowd of parents and children at AFEMDCO’s offices.
It hopes to issue another 230 kits later this year.
Three of the lucky new students belong to Rachel, who works at the Luhongo mine 5km down the road from the primary school with her two other children.
“It is almost impossible to fill four basins per person in one day,” said Rachel, who declined to give her full name, referring to the minimum required to earn 1,000 francs ($0.50) for collecting rocks containing cobalt and copper at the mine.
“I prefer to have (them) work with me on the site so that I can get more money at the end of the day.”
More than 1 million children worldwide work in mining, according to the International Labour Organization, as demand for minerals used in cars, cosmetics and electronics soars.
The United Nations has pledged to end child labour by 2025 and considers mining a priority target as arduous tasks such as diving into muddy wells, digging rocks and carrying heavy loads put children’s health and safety at risk.
“The work is so hard that some children drink strong alcohol to gain strength and fill more stone basins,” said former child miner Pascal Mbayo Kasongo, who tells children and parents about his experiences and encourages them to go to school.
Life has become tougher for many families in Kipushi with the decline of Gecamines, a state-owned mining firm, which was the town’s largest employer and provided free schooling to its staff until mismanagement led to a sell-off in the 1990s.
Food comes before education for many, said Roger-Claude Liwanga, an expert in the exploitation of children in Congo’s artisanal mines, of Emory University in the United States.
“Free schooling should not be limited to the non-payment of school fees, especially at this time of economic crisis related to COVID-19,” Liwanga said, urging the authorities to provide free school meals to boost student numbers and concentration.
But the government is in no position to expand its financial support to schools. Donor funding for the ambitious free education project is already under threat due to corruption.
At the start of the year, the World Bank said it suspended its first payment in a $800 million education support programme after a government investigation “revealed a number of shortcomings and alleged cases of fraud” in the sector. The education ministry and the World Bank did not respond to requests for comment but the World Bank said in a statement that it made the first payment of $100 million in June after it was “assured that the government has taken corrective steps”. Several high-profile figures have been prosecuted over the scandal, including former education minister Willy Bakonga who was jailed in April, according to media reports. Even if the free education policy succeeds, it will not help Sam, 12, who spends six days a week digging, filling sandbags and breaking rocks with his younger brother at Luhongo mine.
“My job allows me to help my parents,” said Sam, who earns 250 francs for 12 hours of work to support his mother who makes and sells traditional beer and father who is a mechanic.
“My mother promised to enrol me next school year. But then, there will be a problem with school supplies,” said Sam, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.
Trier, Germany — Dealing with the aftermath of the recent floods in parts of Germany will be a long-haul effort for people, said Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, whose diocese was one of the worst-hit regions.
The German Catholic news agency KNA reported that in a July 30 letter to Christians in the diocese, Ackermann said it would take a long time to clear up the damage and rebuild the local infrastructure. But patience will be needed “perhaps even more for the internal injuries and burdens which the disaster inflicted on souls and which perhaps are not yet externally visible,” he added.
Ackermann stressed that in addition to providing direct help, the task for the church was to “create spaces and opportunities that give room to what was experienced and suffered, so that it can be put into words of grief and lament, of questions and gratitude,” KNA reported.
He said it was necessary to discuss possible lessons to be drawn from the disaster, but “whether one was directly or indirectly affected by what happened, it will also require time to address the events internally.”
Germany’s churches plan to hold an ecumenical service in Aachen cathedral Aug. 28 to commemorate the at least 160 victims of the flooding in the country, announced the German bishops’ conference and the Protestant Church in Germany.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, and Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, head of the Protestant council, will lead the service. Representatives of other religions, relatives of the victims, helpers, emergency pastoral workers and political leaders, along with representatives from neighboring countries hit by the flooding are expected to attend.
In their joint statement, Bätzing and Bedford-Strohm said: “The flood catastrophe wiped out human lives and destroyed livelihoods. The many dead, those mourning and all who now are standing before the ruins of their livelihoods should not be forgotten. In the church service we want to bring them before God and ask his support and comfort.”
Aachen, near Germany’s western border with the Netherlands, was chosen as the venue because of its central location in Europe.
“We wish thereby to recall that our neighbors in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were, and are, also affected by the flood catastrophe,” the joint statement said. “We are overwhelmed by the help and solidarity that citizens in Germany as well as from abroad are bringing to the people in the flood areas. “
The World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country in the world to be vaccinated.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing.
He added that G-20 nations had an important leadership role to play as those countries were the “biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines”.
The WHO’s plea comes as the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant prompts discussions about boosters in wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, even as a new wave of COVID-19 causes havoc in countries that have been unable to give people even a single jab.
The US on Wednesday rejected the UN health agency’s call for a delay saying it was a “false choice” and that it was possible to do both.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, noted that the US had donated more than 110 million doses of vaccines around the world.
“That is more than any other country has shared combined,” she said. “We also, in this country, have enough supply, to ensure that every American has access to a vaccine. We will have enough supply to ensure, if the FDA decides that boosters are recommended for a portion of the population, to provide those as well.”
“We definitely feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, adding the country had sufficient supply to continue distributing shots abroad while also ensuring that every American can be fully vaccinated.
Last week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a third shot of the coronavirus vaccine, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to over 60s, while Germany will start booster shots next month.
“We need to focus on those people who are most vulnerable, most at risk of severe disease and death, to get their first and second doses,” WHO’s Katherine O’Brien told reporters.
A little more than 1.8 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with nearly 50 percent in both the EU and the US, according to Our World in Data.
Some 101 doses per 100 people have been given in countries categorised as high income by the World Bank, with the 100-doses mark surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
The UN health agency argues that no one is safe until everyone is safe because the longer and more widely the coronavirus circulates, the greater the chance that new variants could emerge – and prolong a global crisis in fighting the pandemic.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, said the moratorium was about an appeal to countries considering booster doses to “put a hold” on such policies “until and unless we get the rest of the world caught up” in the fight against the pandemic.
”As we’ve seen from the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together. And with the huge disparity in vaccination coverage, we’re simply not going to be able to achieve that,” Aylward said.
Unequal distribution has been at the centre of debate for months at the World Trade Organization as developing countries, headed by India and South Africa, call for the temporary removal of intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines to boost global manufacturing capacity.
The WHO has no power to require countries to act on its recommendations, and many in the past have ignored its appeals on issues like donating vaccines, limiting cross-border travel and taking steps to boost production of vaccines in developing countries.
LONDON, – Eight years after its last update on climate science, the United Nations is set to publish a report Monday that will likely deliver even starker warnings about how quickly the planet is warming – and how damaging the impacts might get.
Since the last report https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, both greenhouse gas emissions and the average global temperature have only continued to climb.
The new report will forecast how much more emissions can be pumped into the atmosphere before the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. That revised carbon budget may serve as a guide to governments as they map out their own emissions-cutting plans before a major U.N. climate conference in November.
Scientists say the world must halve global emissions by 2030 and cut them to net-zero by 2050 in order to prevent global warming above 1.5C, which could trigger catastrophic impacts across the globe.
But climate change already is fuelling deadly and disastrous weather across the globe. Nearly all of the world’s glaciers are melting faster. Hurricanes are stronger. Just this year, unprecedented rains unleashed floods across parts of central China and Europe, while wildfires are tearing across Siberia, the U.S. West and the Mediterranean.
“The report will cover not only the fact that we are smashing record after record in terms of climate change impacts, but show that the world today is in unchartered territory in terms of sea level rise and ice cover,” said Kelly Levin, chief of science, data and systems change at the Bezos Earth Fund philanthropy.
Overall, the report “will underscore the urgency for governments to ramp up climate action,” she said.
And while the 2013 report said it was “extremely likely” that human industry was causing climate change – which suggests scientists were at least 95% confident in that statement – this year’s report will likely use even stronger language.
“Obviously, it is going to be stronger than what we had in the past because of the growing warming of the planet,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia who has contributed to previous IPCC assessments. “That’s going to be one of the main points. It will be discussed very, very carefully, and scrutinised,” Le Quéré told reporters.
WHAT IS THE IPCC?
Since its establishment in 1988, the IPCC has released five so-called Assessment Reports updating the established science on climate change, its impacts, future risks and ways to tackle the problems.
But the IPCC itself is not made up of scientists. The panel includes government representatives from 195 countries who commission assessments from experts and academics across the world.
In drafting those assessments, scientists consider thousands of individual studies published since the last IPCC report. To finalize their latest assessments for the upcoming report, scientists have been meeting virtually with policymakers since July 26, scrutinizing the details and language used in the draft.
Governments can suggest changes to the text, but those must be agreed by consensus. The scientists then must ensure the changes are consistent with the scientific evidence.
Monday’s report is actually just part of what will go into the final Sixth Assessment Report, or AR6, when it is released in 2022.
The AR6 synthesis report will also include two other major chapters coming out next year – one on climate change impacts on communities, societies and economies and how they might adapt to cope, and another on ways of curbing emissions and reining in climate change. And it will include findings from three special reports published since 2013, on the 1.5C threshold https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15, on the world’s oceans and frozen regions https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc, and on land use and degradation https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl.
But Monday’s chapter is one of the most highly anticipated, particularly after being delayed for months because of the COVID pandemic. Unlike the previous assessments, the chapter will use five possible emissions trajectories the world could follow rather than the previous four scenarios.
“Emissions scenarios are not intended to say: ‘This is the future: pick one’,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC. “Policies are being implemented all the time, and the science is changing all the time, so it is just not fair to say we are on a certain trajectory.”
New Delhi, India — An octogenarian Jesuit human rights defender who died in July while in custody for alleged terrorist activities has emerged as the new icon for Catholic religious in India.
Fr. Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly called Stan Swamy, died July 5 in a Catholic hospital in Mumbai, western India, where he was brought 38 days beforehand from a jail for treatment of multiple illnesses, including COVID-19.
The 84-year-old Jesuit had “identified with the poor tribal and Dalit communities who were victims of structural injustice, says human rights activist Sr. Sujata Jena, who in 2016 attended a convention on Right to Food that Swamy organized at his base of Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India. “He worked relentlessly to ensure justice for them and died in judicial custody without getting justice for himself.”
Swamy “has challenged Catholic religious in India with his life and work. They can no more remain in their comfort zone after he sacrificed his life for the poor and marginalized,” states Jena, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who is based in Bhubaneswar, capital of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
The “real tribute” the Catholic religious can offer Swamy is to recommit to serve the poor and oppressed, she told Global Sisters Report. “Many oppressed by the system are languishing in jails.” (Jena is a GSR columnist and panelist on The Life, a forum of sisters whose views are published monthly in GSR.)
Presentation Sr. Shalini Mulackal, a theology professor in New Delhi, says of Swamy, “He is the Indian version of St. Óscar Romero,” a bishop who was killed in 1980 for speaking out against social injustice and violence in El Salvador and canonized as a saint in 2018.
Mulackal had first met Swamy in 1978 as a novice while attending an exposure program he conducted at the Indian Social Institute in Bangalore (now Bengaluru).
Swamy’s “stand for justice and for the poor and the way he was ready to pay the price has inspired many, not only in India, but all over the world. His death was not in vain,” Mulackal told GSR.
Sr. Robancy A. Helen, an activist in Tamil Nadu, Swamy’s native state in southern India, says the Jesuit “has become an inspiration for all those who wish to live for others.”
Swamy was arrested Oct. 8, 2020, by the National Investigation Agency, India’s counterterrorist task force, at his residence in Ranchi for alleged terrorist activities, including a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was taken the same night to Mumbai, some 1,060 miles southwest, and a court there sent him to jail the next day.
Swamy was the last of 16 writers, academics, lawyers, students and activists arrested by national agents in what is called the Bhima-Koregaon case. The police suspected them to be Maoists, a banned radical left-wing group that instigated the 2018 violence during a Dalit celebration at Bhima-Koregaon, a village near Pune town southeast of Mumbai in Maharashtra state. The 2018 event was the bicentennial of a battle seen as a historic victory by a British Army dominated by Dalits, the lowest level in India’s caste system.
A few days before his arrest, Swamy had released a video in which he narrated how detectives had questioned him for 15 hours over five days in July 2020. The interrogators had produced “some extracts” allegedly taken from his computer to prove his links with Maoists. Swamy dismissed them as “fabrications” that were “stealthily” put into his computer.
“Neither the police nor the agency that arrested Swamy could produce evidences to prove his alleged crimes,” says Helen, a member of the Religious Institute of Christ the Redeemer, Idente Missionaries.
She cites recent media reports that support Swamy’s suspicion. Arsenal Consulting, a United States-based computer forensics firm, has found that the computers of two accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case were hacked using malicious software to plant incriminating letters later used as primary evidence against them.
Swamy ended the video with some awareness about what might unfold in the dissent against India’s ruling party, saying, “I’m happy to be a part of this process because I’m not a silent spectator but I’m part of the game. I’m ready to pay the price, whatever be it.”
Swamy’s death spurred an unprecedented outpouring of grief and condemnation from across the globe, including from the United Nations.
Among those condemning Swamy’s death in custody was Mary Lawlor, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, who on July 15 warned that the incident would tarnish India’s human rights record.
India’s External Affairs Ministry rebutted the criticisms and claimed Swamy was arrested “following due process under law.” A ministry spokesperson told reporters July 6 that the courts had rejected Swamy’s bail applications because of the specific nature of charges against him.
Swamy was exposed to tribal exploitation in 1965, when as a seminarian of Jamshedpur Jesuit Province he taught tribal students at St. Xavier’s High School in Lupungutu village near Chaibasa in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, which is rich in iron ore. In a 2018 interview with online outlet The Wire, Swamy recalled helplessly watching the agents of outside lenders and businessmen as they swindled goods and land from the local tribal people, whose cultural practice has been to give back to nature, always leaving some fruit on the trees for the birds.
Since 1991, Swamy worked with the Jharkhand Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization opposing displacement of tribal communities, also known as the Adivasis, because of development projects.
In 2000, he set up Bagaicha, a research institute near Ranchi. Swamy organized local youth and helped them understand their issues — land alienation and displacement caused by mining, dams and other development projects implemented without the people’s consent.
India’s mining lobby and corporate firms are accused of indiscriminate exploitation of Jharkhand, one of the richest mineral zones in the world. It accounts for 40% of the mineral and 29% of the coal reserves in India.
As local resistance grew, the administration jailed hundreds of young people in 2014 and 2015. Swamy formed the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee and planned counterstrategies with social and human rights activists and civic organizations. He filed a case in the Jharkhand High Court, seeking information on pretrial detainees, mostly tribals.
Such works are cited as a reason for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in the Jharkhand legislative assembly elections in 2019. The Bhima-Koregaon case then gave Swamy’s opponents an excuse to target him.
Mulackal holds the Indian government and the country’s judicial system responsible for Swamy’s death as a pretrial detainee. “Even though he was allowed to go to a hospital for treatment at the end, and died there, it was a custodial death,” the theologian told GSR.
While Helen says Swamy “was murdered for doing the will of God,” Holy Cross Sr. Manju Kulapuram, national secretary of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace who knew Swamy when she worked in Jharkhand, concludes that “vested interests” got rid of Swamy to grab the tribal lands without resistance and offer them to the corporations.
Kochurani Abraham, a laywoman theologian, says the “unholy” political-corporate nexus eliminated Swamy as his “integrity and prophetic voice” had threatened their “exclusive development plans,” just as “Jesus was eliminated by the tie-up between the religious and political powers of his times.”
Jesuit Fr. P.A. Chacko, a Swamy associate who has served the church in Jharkhand for the past five decades, says his elder confrere had “stuck his neck out to walk with the downtrodden” and paid the price with his life.
Chacko admits that no Jesuit in India has gone this far until now.
“Most of us looked at him from the sidelines with our own reservations. Some of us admired him from a safe distance. It was his lay friends and the many in the civil society who believed what he said and did,” Chacko said.
Some Catholic leaders want the church immediately to declare Swamy a martyr, a potentially speedier route to sainthood.
Mumbai-based Redemptorist Fr. Ivel Mendanha, who called for Swamy’s canonization during a Sunday sermon on July 11, says most Indians came to know about Swamy’s life and work after his arrest. “They felt for him, they prayed for him, and they were inspired by his unflinching commitment to living the Gospel,” Mendanha told GSR.
If Swamy “is not a saint, who is?” asks social activist Claretian Fr. George Kannanthanam, arguing that the Jesuit sacrificed his life for the causes for which Jesus lived and died.
However, Kulapuram pleads that the church not put Swamy on a pedestal. Instead, she urges it should follow “the spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth” that Swamy promoted to bring great changes among the marginalized.
Helen says Swamy’s courage to fight injustice until the end was “mind-blowing.” His prophetic voice, she predicts, will help many advocates for justice to rise from the oppressed communities.
Sr. Joel Urumpil, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who works in Jharkhand, says her life changed totally after attending Swamy’s classes in Bangalore in the late 1980s. She describes herself until then as “a pious person” who was “bandaging wounds,” inculcated by the church’s rules and teachings that sanctified service without analysis and worshipped “a false Jesus who was meek, humble, obedient, and ready to die for the suffering humanity but never questioned [injustice].”
Swamy helped Urumpil’s class “escape age-old practices that prevented them from getting involved with marginalized people for systematic change.” She added that he was “embarrassingly open to letting the students question authority, rules and rubrics, and even the existence of God.”
Mulackal says Swamy’s training programs had “a transformative impact” on the participants. “They became very conscious and critical of the socioeconomic and political situation of our country. Some even left religious life or priesthood because of their strong conviction.”
Swamy encouraged those he trained to be proactive in the Indian church’s efforts to assist impoverished people, Mulackal says. “In the late ’70s and ’80s, many religious congregations opened houses in rural areas and city slums to work for and with the poor.”
“He could have been a professor or principal of a reputed Jesuit-run college,” says social worker Sr. Ekta Ekka, a tribal from Jharkhand and a Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Graces based in the northern Indian Diocese of Meerut.
“Instead, he lived among Adivasis and fought for their constitutional rights for the past 50 years.”
When Royal Dutch Shell published its annual environmental report in April, it boasted that it was investing heavily in renewable energy. The oil giant committed to installing hundreds of thousands of charging stations for electric vehicles around the world to help offset the harm caused by burning fossil fuels.
On the same day, Shell issued a separate report revealing that its single largest donation to political lobby groups last year was made to the American Petroleum Institute, one of the most powerful trade organizations in the United States, and the one that drives the oil industry’s relationship with Congress.
Contrary to Shell’s public statements in support of electric vehicles, API’s chief executive, Mike Sommers, has pledged to resist a raft of Joe Biden’s environmental measures, including proposals to fund new charging points in the US. He claims a “rushed transition” to electric vehicles is part of “government action to limit Americans’ transportation choice.”
Shell donated more than $10 million to API last year alone.
And it’s not just Shell. Most other oil conglomerates are also major funders, including ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, although they have not made their contributions public.
The deep financial ties underscore API’s power and influence across the oil and gas industry, and what politicians describe as the trade group’s defining role in setting major obstacles to new climate policies and legislation.
Critics accuse Shell and other major oil firms of using API as cover for the industry. While companies run publicity campaigns claiming to take the climate emergency seriously, the trade group works behind the scenes in Congress to stall or weaken environmental legislation.
Earlier this year, an Exxon lobbyist in Washington was secretly recorded by Greenpeace describing API as the industry’s “whipping boy” to direct public and political criticism away from individual companies.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and strident critic of big oil’s public relations tactics, accused API of “lying on a massive industrial scale” about the climate crisis in order to stall legislation to combat global heating.
“The major oil companies and API move very much together,” he said.
Whitehouse said the oil and gas industry now recognizes it is no longer “socially acceptable” to outright deny climate change, and that companies are under pressure to claim they support new energy solutions that are less harmful to the environment. But that does not mean their claims should be taken at face value.
“The question as to whether they’re even sincere about that, or whether this is just ‘Climate is a hoax 2.0,’ is an unknown at this point,” he added.
Shell has defended its funding by saying that while it is “misaligned” with some of API’s policies, the company continues to sit on the group’s board and executive committee in order to have “a greater positive impact” from within. The petroleum firm claims that its influence helped maneuver API, which represents about 600 drilling companies, refiners and other interests such as plastics makers, toward finally supporting a tax on carbon earlier this year.
With Biden in the White House and growing public awareness of global heating, there are signs API’s influence may be weakening as its own members become divided on how to respond.
The French oil company Total quit the group earlier this year over its climate policies. Shareholder rebellions are pressing Exxon and Chevron to move away from dependence on oil. Top clean energy executives at Shell quit in December over the pace of change by the company.
API is also fighting a growing number of lawsuits, led by the state of Minnesota, alleging that the trade group was at the heart of a decades-long “disinformation campaign” on behalf of big oil to deny the threat from fossil fuels.
But despite threats to API’s lasting influence, Whitehouse argues the trade organization represents the true face of the industry. Instead of using its considerable power to push for environmentally friendly energy laws, API is still lobbying to stall progress, with the oil industry’s blessing.
“Their political effort at this point is purely negative, purely against serious climate legislation. And many of them continue to fund the fraudulent climate denialists that have been their mouthpieces for a decade or more,” Whitehouse said.
Banking on disinformation
Since API was founded in 1919 out of an oil industry cooperation with the government during the first world war, it has evolved into a major political force with nearly $240 million in annual revenue.
Its board has been dominated by heavyweights from big oil, such as Rex Tillerson, the Exxon chief who went on to become U.S. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, and Tofiq Al Gabsani, the chief of Saudi Refining, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco oil giant. Al Gabsani was also registered as a lobbyist for the Saudi government.
API also hired professional lobbyists, including Philip Cooney, who went on to serve under George W Bush as chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality until he was forced to resign in 2005 after tampering with government climate assessments to downplay scientific evidence of global heating and to emphasize doubts. Shortly afterward, Cooney was hired by Exxon.
API came into its own as the realities of the climate crisis crept into public and political discourse, and the industry found itself on the defensive. The trade group, which claimed to represent companies supporting 10 million jobs and nearly 8% of the U.S. economy, played a central role in efforts to combat new environmental regulations.
In many cases, API was prepared to carry out the dirty work that individual companies did not want to be held responsible for. In 1998, after countries signed the Kyoto Protocol to help curb carbon emissions, API drew up a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to ensure that “climate change becomes a non-issue”. The plan said “victory will be achieved” when “recognition of uncertainties become part of the ‘conventional wisdom'”.
Much of this is the basis of several lawsuits against API. The first was filed last year by the Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, who accuses the group of working alongside ExxonMobil and Koch Industries to lie about the scale of the climate crisis. The suit alleges that “previously unknown internal documents” show that API and the others well understood the dangers for decades but “engaged in a public-relations campaign that was not only false, but also highly effective” to undermine climate science.
The city of Hoboken in New Jersey is also suing API, claiming that it engaged in a conspiracy by joining and funding “front groups” that ran “deceptive advertising and communications campaigns that promote climate disinformation and denialism.”
The lawsuits allege that API funded scientists known to deny or underplay climate changes, and gave millions of dollars to ostensibly independent organizations, such as the Cato Institute and the George C. Marshall Institute, which denied or downplayed the growing environmental crisis.
“API has been a member of at least five organizations that have promoted disinformation about fossil-fuel products to consumers,” Ellison alleges in Minnesota’s lawsuit. “These front groups were formed to provide climate disinformation and advocacy from a seemingly objective source, when, in fact, they were financed and controlled by ExxonMobil and other sellers of fossil-fuel products.”
A turn toward denial
It wasn’t always this way.
When Terry Yosie joined API in 1988 as vice-president for health and environment, the trade group had spent years funding scientists to research climate issues after hearing repeated warnings. In 1979, API and its members formed the Climate and Energy Task Force of oil and gas company scientists to share research.
Yosie, who moved to API from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, controlled a $15 million budget, part of which he used to give workshops on climate change by EPA officials and other specialists.
“I brought them together in front of oil industry senior-level executives for the sole purpose of making sure this industry had some understanding as to what other significant stakeholders thought about climate change, where they saw the issue evolving, what information they were relying on,” he said.
When Yosie left API in 1992, he believed the oil lobby group was still serious about addressing the growing evidence of climate change. But a year later, it disbanded the task force at the same time that Exxon abandoned one of the industry’s biggest research programs to measure climate change.
Yosie believes that confronted with the true extent of the looming disaster, API and the oil companies ran scared, choosing instead to pursue an agenda informed by climate denialism.
“As the climate issue began to move from the periphery to the center stage, I think there was a collective loss of confidence in the entire industry, a fear that this was not a debate that was winnable,” he said.
API and its financial backers founded a front organization, the deceptively named Global Climate Coalition, to drum up purported evidence that the climate crisis was a hoax. In the late 1990s, the GCC’s chairman, William O’Keefe, was also API’s executive vice president, a man who falsely claimed that “climate scientists don’t say that burning oil, gas and coal is steadily warming the earth”.
API and the GCC led attacks on Bill Clinton’s support for the Kyoto protocol with a “global climate science communications plan” that misrepresented the facts about global heating.
The relationship between API and big oil remained exceptionally close throughout. Exxon’s chief executive served on the lobby group’s executive committee for most of the past three decades, and the two worked together in promoting denialism over the climate crisis.
The focus of API’s efforts was on Congress, where it led the industry’s opposition to policies, such as the 2009 cap-and-trade legislation to control carbon emissions.
“Most of the funding for the Republican party, and probably a very considerable amount of the big dark money funding behind the Republican party, comes out of the fossil fuel industry,” said Whitehouse. Last year, API indirectly gave $5 million to the conservative Senate Leadership Fund to back Republican candidates — many of whom question climate science — for election, and to the campaigns of members of the energy committees in both houses of Congress.
Growing public disquiet, and the departure of oil-friendly Trump from the White House, shifted the ground for API. In March it launched a Climate Action Framework, which for the first time endorsed policies such as carbon pricing. It also stated its support for the Paris climate agreement.
API called the plan “robust,” but others noted the lack of specifics, and its sincerity was called into question when an Exxon lobbyist was caught on camera earlier this year saying that a carbon tax will never happen and that support for the measure was a public relations ploy intended to stall more serious measures.
And between API’s lost support from Total, and the Shell executives who resigned in December over what they regarded as the company’s foot-dragging on greener fuels, there are signs of shifting attitudes within the industry itself.
Shell and BP have said they will continue to review their support for API. Shell said that where it disagrees with API’s position, the company “will pursue advocacy separately”.
However, Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is skeptical that there has been any significant change in direction.
“I think it’s fair to say that API and its prominent member companies have a broadly shared goal, which is to keep the social license of the oil and gas industry operating, and therefore enabling them to continue to extract oil and gas for as long as possible, as profitably as possible,” he said.