António Guterres on the climate crisis: ‘We are coming to a point of no return

‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’
‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’ Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/EPA

Wealthy countries risk an “unforgivable lost opportunity” by not emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with newly green economies to address the climate crisis, the United Nations secretary general has warned.

Before meeting the leaders of the world’s major economic powers at the G7 summit in the UK, António Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery.

“I’m more than disappointed, I’m worried about the consequences,” Guterres told the Guardian at the UN headquarters in New York, as part of a Covering Climate Now consortium of interviews alongside NBC News and El Pais. “We need to make sure we reverse the trends, not maintain the trends. It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return.

“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.”

A recent analysis showed the G7 countries – the UK, US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan – have committed $189bn to support oil, coal and gas, as well as offer financial lifelines to the aviation and automotive sectors, since the outbreak of the coronavirus. This is over $40bn more than has been directed towards renewable energy.

Several leaders, including the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have stressed the need for the climate crisis to be central to the Covid recovery, with various cities around the world ushering in cyclists and pedestrians to streets previously dominated by cars.

But while the G7 countries have agreed to stop the international financing of coal, the world’s wealthiest nations are pouring billions of dollars into developing gas, another fossil fuel, in the global south at a rate four times that of finance supporting wind or solar projects. With economies starting to reopen, planet-heating emissions are expected to jump by the second biggest annual rise in history in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

Guterres said he welcomed the G7 commitment as “many countries are still addicted to coal” but that much more needed to be done in what he called a “make-or-break year” that will be rounded off by crucial UN climate talks in Scotland in November.

“We need to abolish subsidies to fossil fuels, this is a central question,” he said. “We have to look at the real costs that exist in the economy, which means a price on carbon. If we do these things, many of the investments made to fossil fuels in the recovery phase will obviously not be profitable. They will be stranded assets with no future.”

A key priority for the UN secretary general at the G7 summit will be to press leaders on the contentious issue of climate finance. As part of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, rich countries agreed to provide $100bn a year to developing countries to help them adapt to the damaging flooding, drought, heatwaves and other impacts of the climate crisis.

This money has never been delivered in full, however, and Guterres said it will be “impossible” to effectively deal with the climate crisis without assistance for poorer countries. He said the G7 will need to deliver the money to “rebuild trust” with developing nations.

“The $100bn is essential,” said the secretary general. “Climate action has until now been centered on mitigation, on reducing emissions. But developing countries have huge problems in adaption from the existing impacts of climate change.”

Guterres said he was hopeful that Joe Biden will be able to mobilize other countries to meet commitments on climate aid as the US continues its reintegration into international climate diplomacy following the presidency of Donald Trump.

But the US has “a lot of catching up to do”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “Biden doesn’t get a free pass because it’s the US that caused the damage. If you fail to deliver for the rest of the world that will be our problem and it will come back to bite you.”

Scientists recently warned that the world could breach, albeit temporarily, the 1.5C average temperature increase limit set out in the Paris agreement within the next five years. Guterres, however, said it’s “not only possible, it’s necessary” to strive to avoid global heating above this threshold, beyond which disastrous climate impacts are expected.

“We still have time, but we are on the verge,” he said. “When you’re on the verge of the abyss, you need to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/11/antonio-guterres-interview-climate-crisis-pandemic-g7

Pope Francis: Marginalizing the poor threatens ‘the very concept of democracy’

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St Peters Square on Sept 9 2015 for the general audience Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA 9 9 15
Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 9, 2015 for the general audience./ Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis said Monday that “the very concept of democracy is jeopardized” when the poor are marginalized and treated as if they are to blame for their condition.

In his World Day of the Poor message released June 14, the pope appealed for a new global approach to poverty.

“This is a challenge that governments and world institutions need to take up with a farsighted social model capable of countering the new forms of poverty that are now sweeping the world and will decisively affect coming decades,” he wrote.

“If the poor are marginalized, as if they were to blame for their condition, then the very concept of democracy is jeopardized and every social policy will prove bankrupt.”

The theme of this year’s World Day of the Poor is “The poor you will always have with you,” the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 14:7 after a woman anointed him with precious ointment.

While Judas and others were scandalized by the gesture, Jesus accepted it, the pope said, because he saw it as pointing to the anointing of his body after his crucifixion.

“Jesus was reminding them that he is the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor, because he represents all of them. It was also for the sake of the poor, the lonely, the marginalized and the victims of discrimination, that the Son of God accepted the woman’s gesture,” the pope wrote.

“With a woman’s sensitivity, she alone understood what the Lord was thinking. That nameless woman, meant perhaps to represent all those women who down the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moments of Christ’s life: his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.”

The pope continued: “Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”

“Jesus’ then goes on to associate that woman with the great mission of evangelization: ‘Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mark 14:9).”

The pope lamented what he said was an increasing tendency to dismiss the poor against the background of the coronavirus crisis.

“There seems to be a growing notion that the poor are not only responsible for their condition, but that they represent an intolerable burden for an economic system focused on the interests of a few privileged groups,” he commented.

“A market that ignores ethical principles, or picks and chooses from among them, creates inhumane conditions for people already in precarious situations. We are now seeing the creation of new traps of poverty and exclusion, set by unscrupulous economic and financial actors lacking in a humanitarian sense and in social responsibility.”

Looking back to 2020, the year that COVID-19 swept the world, he continued: “Last year we experienced yet another scourge that multiplied the numbers of the poor: the pandemic, which continues to affect millions of people and, even when it does not bring suffering and death, is nonetheless a portent of poverty.”

“The poor have increased disproportionately and, tragically, they will continue to do so in the coming months.”

The World Bank estimated in October that the pandemic could push as many as 115 million additional people into extreme poverty by 2021. It said that it expected global extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.90 a day — to rise in 2020 for the first time in more than 20 years.

The pope wrote: “Some countries are suffering extremely severe consequences from the pandemic, so that the most vulnerable of their people lack basic necessities. The long lines in front of soup kitchens are a tangible sign of this deterioration.”

“There is a clear need to find the most suitable means of combating the virus at the global level without promoting partisan interests.”

“It is especially urgent to offer concrete responses to those who are unemployed, whose numbers include many fathers, mothers, and young people.”

Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in his apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, issued in 2016 at the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The idea came about, he explained, during the Jubilee for Socially Excluded People.

“At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need,” the pope wrote in his first World Day of the Poor message in 2017.

The Day is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Feast of Christ the King. This year, it will fall on Nov. 14.

Coronavirus restrictions forced the Vatican to scale down its commemoration of the World Day of the Poor in 2020. It was unable to host a “field hospital” for the poor in St. Peter’s Square as it had in previous years. But it distributed 5,000 parcels to Rome’s poor and gave 350,000 masks to schools.

Pope Francis followed his custom of marking the day by celebrating a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Presenting the papal message at a Vatican press conference on June 14, Archbishop Rino Fisichella noted that the pope highlighted the example of St. Damien of Molokai.

The Belgian priest, canonized in 2009, ministered to leprosy sufferers in Hawaii.

“Pope Francis calls to mind the witness of this saint in confirmation of so many men and women, including hundreds of priests, who in this COVID-19 drama have been willing to share totally in the suffering of millions of infected people,” the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization said.

In the message, signed on June 13, the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, the pope argued that nowadays people in prosperous countries “are less willing than in the past to confront poverty.”

“The state of relative affluence to which we have become accustomed makes it more difficult to accept sacrifices and deprivation. People are ready to do anything rather than to be deprived of the fruits of easy gain,” he argued.

“As a result, they fall into forms of resentment, spasmodic nervousness and demands that lead to fear, anxiety and, in some cases, violence. This is no way to build our future; those attitudes are themselves forms of poverty which we cannot disregard.”

“We need to be open to reading the signs of the times that ask us to find new ways of being evangelizers in the contemporary world. Immediate assistance in responding to the needs of the poor must not prevent us from showing foresight in implementing new signs of Christian love and charity as a response to the new forms of poverty experienced by humanity today.”

The pope said he hoped that this year’s commemoration of the World Day of the Poor would inspire a new movement of evangelization at the service of disadvantaged people.

“We cannot wait for the poor to knock on our door; we need urgently to reach them in their homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, on the streets and in the dark corners where they sometimes hide, in shelters and reception centers,” he wrote.

Concluding his message, the pope cited the influential 20th-century Italian priest Fr. Primo Mazzolari, who he honored in 2017.

He wrote: “Let us make our own the heartfelt plea of Fr. Primo Mazzolari: ‘I beg you not to ask me if there are poor people, who they are and how many of them there are, because I fear that those questions represent a distraction or a pretext for avoiding a clear appeal to our consciences and our hearts… I have never counted the poor, because they cannot be counted: the poor are to be embraced, not counted.’”

“The poor are present in our midst. How evangelical it would be if we could say with all truth: we too are poor, because only in this way will we truly be able to recognize them, to make them part of our lives and an instrument of our salvation.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/247986/pope-francis-marginalizing-the-poor-threatens-the-very-concept-of-democracy

Governments urged to boost cash grants to end pandemic-fuelled child labour

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A boy carries bricks on his head at a riverside factory where mud is fired in kilns on the outskirts of Chad’s capital N’Djamena, May 31 2008. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

JOHANNESBURG, – From brick kilns to carpet factories, COVID-19 has pushed children as young as eight years old into dangerous and abusive jobs, rights groups said on Wednesday, urging governments to roll out cash allowances to reduce child labour.

Human Rights Watch and advocacy organisations in Ghana, Nepal and Uganda interviewed 81 children working in often risky settings, including gold mines, fisheries and construction sites, during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The most shocking finding for me was the exploitation … some children were paid in alcohol at stone quarries,” said Angella Nabwowe Kasule, programmes director for the Ugandan charity Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, which was involved in the study.

“Due to extreme hunger, some ate the residue of the local brew for survival, they needed to put something in the stomach,” Kasule told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

The number of child labourers worldwide has dropped significantly to 152 million children from 246 million in 2000, but the United Nations (U.N.) fears job losses and school closures caused by the coronavirus will reverse these gains.

Ghana, Nepal and Uganda have all made progress in reducing child labour in recent years and are working to eradicate it by 2025 to meet the U.N.’s global development goals.

But in Ghana and Uganda, children shared stories with researchers of breathing in noxious dust at mines, carrying loaded bags of ore, using toxic mercury to extract the gold from the ore and being injured by flying rocks.

In Nepal, children reported working 14 hours a day in carpet factories. In all three countries, more than a third of interviewees worked at least 10 hours a day and more than a quarter said employers sometimes withheld wages.

Human Rights Watch said that cash transfers have historically proven effective in reducing child labour in poor families, but some 1.3 billion children globally, mainly in Africa and Asia, do not have access to such support.

“For many families with children, government assistance in response to the pandemic has been far too little to protect their children from dangerous and exploitative work,” said Jo Becker, the group’s children’s rights advocacy director.

“Governments and donors should scale up cash allowances to families to keep children out of exploitative and dangerous child labour.”

Kasule added that providing free school meals to all students in Uganda could also prevent children dropping out of school and turning to dangerous employment.

Solomon Kusi Ampofo, programme coordinator at the Ghanaian charity Friends of the Nation, also involved in the research, said despite the findings of the study he was hopeful because “awareness around child labour is growing”.

“(The research findings are) a lesson for us to really address the socio-economic issues in our country and improve access to healthcare, education and economic relief,” he said.

This material has been funded by UK aid from the UK government; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210526025248-7pkfj/

‘Staggering’: WHO says 200,000 Palestinians in need of health aid

Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses on May 23, 2021 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]
Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses on May 23, 2021 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Officials from the United Nations and Red Cross have visited the besieged Gaza Strip to review the destruction from Israel’s 11-day bombardment, including damage to homes, schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

Israeli attacks on the enclave that began on May 10 killed at least 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to health authorities in Gaza. At least 12 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by rocket attacks carried out by armed groups based in Gaza.

In a statement on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of “staggering health needs” across the occupied Palestinian territory, saying the conflict sparked further population displacement and exacerbated a prolonged humanitarian crisis.

“Over 77,000 people were internally displaced and around 30 health facilities have been damaged,” it said.

The WHO said it was “scaling up its response to provide health aid for almost 200,000 people in need”, across the occupied Palestinian territory, including the occupied West Bank.

“The situation is volatile. WHO remains concerned … and calls for unhindered access for humanitarian and development-related essential supplies and staff into Gaza and referral of patients out of Gaza whenever needed,” WHO’s Rik Peeperkorn said.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed for more than $16m to help the people in Gaza.

“Fear, anxiety and stress were the key words I heard repeatedly today,” ICRC head Robert Mardini told Al Jazeera after touring Gaza areas devastated by the Israeli bombardment.

“Even if the escalation was shorter than in previous situations, it will take years to rebuild what was damaged only in 11 days,” he said, calling for “a meaningful political solution to [end] this longstanding conflict”.

“In the meantime, we need to really step up our support in order to beef up the humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip in the short term.”

Protests after UN official’s comments

Meanwhile, the Gaza director of the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees has been called in for consultation with his bosses after angering Palestinians through saying he did not dispute Israel’s assertion that its air strikes were “precise”.

The comments by Matthias Schmale in an interview with Israel’s N12 television on May 22 have prompted Palestinian protests.

The recent Israeli attacks on Gaza destroyed 1,800 residential units and partially destroyed at least another 14,300, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinians to take shelter in UN-run schools.

The bombing also struck some 74 public buildings, including local municipalities, according to figures released by Gaza’s information ministry.

Israeli officials and Hamas officials have recently held separate permanent truce talks with Egyptian officials.

Israel enforced a land and sea blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control in 2007 of the impoverished and densely populated territory that is home to about two million Palestinians.

Egypt’s heavily secured Rafah crossing is Gaza’s only passage to the outside world not controlled by Israel.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/2/who-says-nearly-200000-palestinians-in-need-health-of-health-aid

Answering call to US-Mexico border, sisters share the intensity, gifts of what they witness

A migrant family from Nicaragua seeking asylum in the U.S. waits to be transported to a Border Patrol processing facility after crossing the Rio Grande into La Joya, Texas, May 13, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Adrees Latif)

Sr. Kristin Peters of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration traveled to Arizona, where she ministered with Casa Alitas, the Kino Border Initiative and the Tucson Samaritans, who help migrants braving the desert to cross from Mexico into the United States. She reports here on her time with the Tucson Samaritans:

When we travel with Christine of the Tucson Samaritans into the desert, she implores us to please, please tell people what the border wall has done. She asks that we show them and tell them the damage that it has caused.

Into a 4×4 vehicle we pack gallon jugs of water, a backpack filled with water and food, and Samaritan signs for the truck. Though it is unlikely, she tells us if we meet a migrant, we will offer the bag and talk with the person about what they need. The migrant may want to give up the journey or continue. They make their own decision; we do not influence them.

The Tucson Samaritans are volunteers who put water into the desert and educate groups who come to Tucson to learn about the border. The Jeep we travel in is named Joe, after former county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was particularly inhumane in his treatment toward immigrants. Proceeds from a U.S. Justice Department civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio’s office benefited community groups that support immigrants; the Jeep named for Arpaio was paid for by the settlement.

Christine says 258 people have died this year in the desert. I understand over the last 10 years, there have been almost 6,000 deaths in the desert.

As we drive, Christine notes that migrants walk along this road hoping someone their coyotes have paid will pick them up. We pull over at a mile marker indicating 38 miles from the border checkpoint. There is a cross. We stand in solidarity, acknowledging the effects of the border wall and the severity of our immigration policy. I ask Christine why she does this work with Tucson Samaritans. She says she knows what it is like to be thirsty when hiking in the desert; it is a humanitarian thing.

She adds that the United States has signed on to international law, which allows people to come to your border to ask for asylum. Given the number of families sending their children alone, it seems we are truly only giving children a chance for refuge. She and others I have met report that men are often separated from their families, put in detention or returned to distant border towns.

We return to the truck and head toward the border wall. The stories unravel as we drive. As Christine shares, I remember Diego, who works at Casa Alitas. He described the organization as grassroots and volunteer-led. He shares this in a way that is touching, noting that it is the community volunteers who are truly the ones who make the difference. When I asked Diego why he does this work, he asked me what I would do if it were my family.

The wall comes to an end and begins again at various stops where the steel slats did not match. At the end of the wall, two water jugs are placed. I think in this way, we leave our mark. We then drive in the opposite direction, leaving jugs of water near where there are other gaps in the steel construction.

On this journey through the desert, I witnessed many who remain standing in solidarity, just as there are many who continue to seek a better life for their families in this country. Equally, I witness the many dreams lost in crossing the desert.

Near the end of our journey, at mile marker 19, we kneel and stand at the cross of an infant who was born and died in the crossing. We mark her life and her mother’s life with our tears and our prayers. Through this encuentro, we walk away with our heart and conscience pricked. Hopefully, we are provoked with a clearer sense of mission and forthcoming action.

Mercy Sisters Peggy Verstege and Carmelita Hagan paused in the airport in Laredo, Texas, on their way back from the border to write a reflection, “Shoes for the Journey”:

The young mothers and children come.

Young fathers come with children, too.

They come miles, believing that life will be better in this country.

They come tired but trusting us to help them go forward.

They come hungry and hot.

They come each day.

Most need clothes.

Many need shoes for the journey.

Each day is busy, busy … Long and hot … Sometimes chaotic … but real.

¿Tiene camiseta? ¿Pantalones? ¿Zapatos? [Do you have a T-shirt? Jeans? Shoes?]

¿Bolsa? ¿Banar? ¿Por favor? Yo tengo hambre. ¿Comida? ¿Agua? Por favor [Bag? Bath? Please? I am hungry. Food? Water? Please]

They wait in line to be processed.

They wait for food, clothing, and a place to sleep.

They wait with patience in the Texas heat.

They live in hope, a precious thread for life.

What more must we be and do for the journey?

Will the seekers be welcomed?

We can only hope and act in love, prepare food, find water and get the clothes and shoes for their journey.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/ministry/answering-call-us-mexico-border-sisters-share-intensity-gifts-what-they

Revealed: 46m displaced people excluded from Covid jab programmes

Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war
Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of millions of asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people around the world have been excluded from national Covid-19 vaccination programmes, according to World Health Organization research seen by the Guardian.

The gaps mean that a scattered group numbering at least 46 million people, about the size of the population of Spain, may struggle to get vaccinated even if a global shortage of doses eases.

Among the excluded are 5.6 million people internally displaced by six decades of civil war in Colombia, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya and Syria and nearly 5 million migrants in Ukraine.

India, Nigeria and Indonesia are among several large countries whose vaccination programmes exclude displaced people, according to the WHO’s review, which was conducted in March. Others, such as Pakistan, appear in the list but have since amended their plans to make them more inclusive.

International health groups have been considering the problem of excluded populations for months, and the groups behind the vaccine-sharing facility Covax approved the establishment in March of a channel of doses reserved as a source of last resort for the most vulnerable people in communities with no other pathway to a jab.

The channel, called the “humanitarian buffer”, will draw on 5% of the doses allocated to poor and lower-middle income countries through Covax, redirecting them toward the most vulnerable 20% in excluded communities, to be administered by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Covax has estimated a maximum of about 33 million people would be eligible for vaccines from the buffer, accounting for the most at risk within these groups – health workers, older people and those with risky co-morbidities. It is unclear when, if ever, others in these excluded communities will be vaccinated and from what source.

Humanitarian groups have said that even if all migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations were included in national plans, there would still be between 60 and 80 million people living in rebel-held territories around the world who would be out of reach.

The WHO research illustrates the scale of the gaps within government schemes. More than 70% of the 104 vaccination plans reviewed excluded migrants, leaving out more than 30 million around the world, including 4.9 million people in India and 2.6 million in the Ivory Coast.

Nor did the majority of plans studied include refugees and asylum seekers, stranding nearly 5 million people without a shot, including 1.8 million in Colombia, 590,000 in Syria and 489,000 in Kenya.

About 11.8 million internally displaced people were also omitted from most plans, leaving out 2.7 million Nigerians and more than a million Indians, according to the research.

Public health experts have argued that exclusionary vaccine plans are ultimately self-defeating, leaving large pockets of the population unprotected and still able to contract and transmit the virus, including variants that may have the potential to evade the immunity granted by vaccines.

“As we learned from the outset of Covid-19 and all the restrictions put in place, availability of testing and access to healthcare for coronavirus, no one is safe until everyone is safe, and that is absolutely the same for vaccination programmes,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher in refugee and migrant rights at Human Rights Watch.

“What we’re seeing in India now, and what we saw in the UK, is the development of variants which rely and depend on a community not being immune, and the extent to which vaccinations are rolled out to all in a territory is critical for the containment of the virus and containment of threatening variants.”

Vaccine distribution tends to illuminate a state’s blind spots, and even some governments that putatively included refugees in their plans were doing too little to make sure they were actually vaccinated, Hardman said.

She gave the example of Lebanon, which has included the 1.5 million refugees who make up a third of its population in its national plan, “but what we’ve seen is extremely low take-up rates and an unwillingness by authorities to put forward the kinds of promises and assurances and mechanisms to get refugees and vulnerable groups to vaccination centres”, she said.

Countries can also apply to access Covax’s humanitarian buffer in extraordinary circumstances, such as the inflow of a large population of refugees.

There is also a separate “contingency provision”, drawing from the same emergency stockpile, which allows countries to apply for an immediate surge of extra doses through Covax in case of an extraordinary outbreak, potentially such as that which India has experienced over past weeks.

A spokesperson for the WHO did not comment on how many of countries named in the research had subsequently addressed the gaps in their vaccination programmes, but said: “Experience shows that despite best efforts, at-risk populations in humanitarian settings are often left behind and are at risk of being missed by government-led vaccination activities.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/07/at-least-46m-displaced-people-excluded-from-covid-jabs-who-study-shows

Black American families strive to build a town free from racism

People camp out on land in central Georgia where organizers hope to create a new town of Freedom, seen July 2020. Handout photograph by FGI2020, LLC.

WASHINGTON, – Haunted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black people and reports of police violence against their community, a group of families in the southern state of Georgia have banded together to create a town called Freedom.

“We were watching the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all of the other people we can name,” said Ashley Scott, one of the effort’s organizers, referring to Black victims of police violence killed last year.

“My friend and I were just depressed and feeling like we needed to be able to do something to protect our husbands and sons.”

They found a 96-acre (39-hectare) property for sale in central Georgia, and came up with a 10-year-plus timeline and a vision of using the land to build intergenerational wealth, something financial experts say is key to closing the racial wealth gap.

The families purchased the property in August 2020, and after some social media and news coverage, “we went viral,” Scott, 34, a realtor in Atlanta, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“We had thousands of people reach out saying they wanted to move to Freedom.”

Today, the group’s 19 founding Black families has amassed more than 500 acres in two parcels.

Aiming to be a model for equity, energy efficiency, local food production and more, the Freedom project has drawn political support as an opportunity to build a community from the ground up.

“It’s truly a situation where we’re taking our destiny in our own hands,” said Democratic State Representative Mandisha Thomas, whose district does not include Freedom but who sits on the project’s advisory board.

Even as they wade through the logistics of how to set up the complex systems an incorporated city would need, Scott and the others behind the initiative are planning to break ground by next year, starting with a visitor and conference center.

Speed is important, Scott said: “We don’t know when another George Floyd might happen. We want to move as quickly as possible to create this safe haven, so we can replicate it.”

‘IT FELT EMPOWERING’

Physically the project is still little more than the two parcels of land, mostly located on an old lumber farm, with rolling hills, a creek and wide views.

“When I first experienced the land, touched the land, it felt surreal – it felt empowering,” said Aqeela Reyad, one of Freedom’s founding members.

There are still fundamental obstacles to creating Freedom, the organizers said.

The families will need about 100 more acres of land in order to incorporate as a city, for instance, a process that will also need to go before a local ballot and a series of political entities.

They are also fundraising to be able to access a line of credit, hoping to raise the last of the $500,000 they need during a celebration next month for Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in 1865.

Local officials on the county board of commissioners, in the nearby town of Toomsboro, and at the local Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

The state Department of Economic Development declined to comment.

PRIORITIZING THE POOR

As audacious as the project may seem, it fits into a long tradition of Black Americans seeking to create havens from white oppression, said Thomas Healy, who teaches at Seton Hall University’s School of Law in New Jersey.

Most of those communities were small agricultural centers, but some would thrive for a period, amassing several thousand residents.

One of the most ambitious was in North Carolina in the late 1960s, when a civil rights activist named Floyd McKissick sought to use a federal “new towns” program to create what he called Soul City, said Healy, who wrote a book on the subject.

McKissick viewed Soul City – which would be inclusive, but predominantly Black – as the last step in the emancipation of Black people in the United States, Healy said.

And the effort went much further than most anticipated, with 3,500 acres under development for a decade, complete with infrastructure, neighborhoods and public services, he said.

But McKissick was never able to convince factories and industry to relocate to Soul City to power the local economy, and the project eventually unraveled.

As the plan to create Freedom gets underway, the country is still dealing with many of the same issues that McKissick was seeking to address, Healy said.

“If Black people weren’t worried about driving down the street and being pulled over by police and being shot, and if they had an equal stake in the wealth of this country, there would be no need for a place like Freedom,” he said by phone.

“But that’s not the world we live in,” Healy continued, pointing to disproportionate levels of police violence toward African Americans and the massive wealth and employment gaps between Black and white communities.

Government data shows white families are 10 times wealthier than Black families, while the number of unemployed Black Americans has increased 40% since March 2020 compared to 34% for white Americans.

‘BEACON OF HOPE’

Tabitha Ball, a psychologist in Atlanta, had been noticing rising levels of anxiety among her patients amid the pandemic, driven by the stresses of the health emergency and the racial tensions that gripped the country following Floyd’s death.

“It was a heavy, heavy time,” Ball said. “There were very high levels of fear.”

One of those patients told her about the Freedom initiative, and now Ball is the project’s managing partner, with a pair of two-acre plots for her and her husband.

“It really did feel like a major beacon of hope to be part of a project where we could literally build something for ourselves, and something that would offer us the opportunity to grow and thrive however we saw fit,” she said.

Owning land had long been important in her family, but it was something she had not yet gotten around to prioritizing, said Ball, who has two nine-year-old sons.

“When they heard of the land and went out there one of the first times, they said, ‘This is all ours?’ And my husband said, ‘This is our land.’ And they had big smiles on their faces,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210525080816-ni4q7/

Kindled by 2015 fires, Indonesia thinks big on forest protection

A fire fighter tries to put out a fire on land intended for a palm oil plantation in the village of Tanjung Palas, Dumai, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia in this photo taken by Antara Foto on March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Aswaddy Hamid/Antara Foto

KUALA LUMPUR, – As forest fires raged in Indonesia six years ago, a thick, toxic smoke haze drifted across Southeast Asia that would lead to more than 100,000 premature deaths, destroy huge swathes of forest and threaten endangered orangutans.

In the aftermath, environmentalists and governments, both regional and local, demanded action from Jakarta, forcing a policy reset that last year helped the country achieve a fourth straight year of declines in deforestation.

Bimo Dwisatrio, a senior research officer at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said the 2015 crisis was a political game-changer for forest governance under Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi.

The fires occurred just months after he was elected in 2014. “Jokowi took a bold step,” Dwisatrio told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, pointing to his move to merge the environment and forestry ministries.

At the time it was criticised by many conservationists, but has resulted in better aligned policies on conservation, forest fires and permits for commodities development.

Last year, tropical forest losses around the world equalled the size of the Netherlands, according to satellite monitoring service Global Forest Watch (GFW).

Green groups blame production of commodities like palm oil – used in everything from margarine to soap and fuel – and minerals for much of the destruction of forests, as they are cleared for plantations, ranches, farms and mines.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming emissions produced worldwide, but release carbon back into the air when they rot or are burned.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests and also its biggest palm-oil producer, deforestation rates have bucked the worsening global trend.

Last year, the sprawling archipelago improved from third to fourth place in the GFW ranking for tropical forest loss, which amounted to about 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres), as forest protection policies, lower commodity prices and wetter weather eased pressures.

MORATORIUM MANDATE

After visiting some of the areas worst-hit by the 2015 fires, Widodo introduced more legislation to stop the development of old-growth forest.

The government renewed a moratorium on new conversion permits for primary forest and peatland – which had been extended since 2011 – before making it permanent in 2019.

In late 2018, Widodo imposed a temporary ban on new permits for palm plantations for three years.

Dechen Tsering, Asia-Pacific director at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the restrictions on new clearance “have certainly been critical”, while falling palm oil prices may also have helped slow deforestation.

The establishment of an agency to restore more than 2 million hectares of damaged, carbon-rich peat has also been positive, said environment experts, who welcomed a recent expansion of its mandate to mangroves.

In addition, Widodo vowed to return 12.7 million hectares of forest land to indigenous people following a historic 2013 court ruling to lift state control of customary forests.

And the government last year issued an agrarian reform decree aimed at redistributing land and issuing titles on some 9 million hectares.

David Dellatore, director of conservation programmes for U.S.-based nonprofit Rainforest Trust, said those reforms were helping to alleviate poverty and encourage sustainable land use.

Forest-reliant businesses such as palm oil and pulp and paper companies have, meanwhile, adopted new industry-wide policies under pledges to phase out deforestation, worked with green groups, and invested in technologies to track supplies and prevent forest fires.

The global palm oil industry watchdog has adopted stricter rules for certification schemes to safeguard forests, while Indonesia also expanded its own sustainability scheme.

UNEP’s Tsering said there were still challenges, such as forest-clearing by small-scale producers for palm oil and other commodities, and conflicts over forest land between communities and businesses, which often lead to fires.

Green groups have warned of rising deforestation risks, from both food and palm oil projects, in Indonesia’s Papua province.

BRAZIL GAINS REVERSED

Despite those concerns, Indonesia’s conservation approach could help other countries now battling growing deforestation, like Brazil and Bolivia, forest experts said.

Success would hinge on enlisting the support of impoverished communities, said Rainforest Trust’s Dellatore.

“If one’s basic needs are not being met, it is unrealistic to expect conservation efforts that serve to limit development to flourish,” he said.

In the past, measures like those used in Indonesia had a positive impact on deforestation in Brazil, reducing it by 80%, he noted.

They included similar efforts to clean up supply chains, in this case for beef and soy, alongside increased law enforcement and firefighting.

From 2004 to 2012, Brazil was a leader in reducing deforestation in the Amazon and mitigating climate change, thanks to public policies and private measures, which it shared with Indonesia, said Dwisatrio.

“But it is clear from the case of Brazil how quickly such gains can be reversed through political instability,” he added.

VITAL CARBON SINKS

Last week, Widodo praised Indonesia’s slowing deforestation rates and mangrove restoration projects during the virtual climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Under the Paris climate accord, Indonesia has committed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030, a target that could rise to 41% with international support.

While progress on protecting forests will help achieve its emissions pledges, they will not be strengthened in an updated climate action plan due to be submitted ahead of a U.N. climate summit in November, officials have indicated.

UNEP’s Tsering said all countries, including Indonesia, would need to set their sights higher in protecting massive, irrecoverable carbon sinks like tropical forests and peatlands.

More than half of Indonesia’s emissions are related to deforestation, peatland degradation and fires, she noted.

“Without addressing these emission sources, Indonesia will not be able to meet its … (targets) under the Paris Agreement,” she added.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210429225418-ahvod/