The World This Week

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The World This Week
COP 26 agreements on methane and deforestation, and elections in Japan

  GP Team

The World This Week #144, Vol. 3, No. 45

Rashmi Ramesh and Keerthana Nambiar

COP26: Focus on Deforestation, Methane, and Coal 

What happened?
On 31 October, COP 26- the UN Climate Change Conference began Glasgow, United Kingdom. It is being hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy and will culminate on 12 November. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked: "We face a stark choice: either we stop it- or it stops us. It is time to say enough."

On 2 November, Global Methane Pledge was signed by 103 countries; it aims to reduce human-induced methane emissions by at least 30 percent. On the same day, around 110 countries committed to the UK-led Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which aims to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

On 3 November, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero or GFANZ (created jointly by the UN and COP26 presidency in April 2021), pledged to commit to the Paris Agreement's provisions. The alliance of more than 450 banks, insurance companies, and asset managers has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

On 4 November, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement was announced. It calls for phasing out coal power by 2030 in the case of major economies and by 2040 for poorer countries. Over 45 countries have signed the Statement to date. Twenty countries, including Canada and the US, committed to halting financing of fossil fuel projects abroad.

On 4 November, the UNEP released the sixth edition of the "UNEP Adaptation Gap Report: The Gathering Storm." It talks about the glaring gaps between the Global South and North in terms of the cost of climate adaptation. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UNEP commented: "…those in poorer countries are going to suffer the most, so ensuring that there is a degree of equity and a degree of global solidarity for adaptation finance is critical."

What is the background?
First, the importance of the conference and its timing. The planet faces an impending climate crisis while it deals with intense disasters year after year. Frequency, intensity, and compounding of disasters are crucial concerns. The recent IPCC report released in August shows that many changes that the planet has undergone due to the GHG emissions are irreversible. This is particularly applicable to the changes in oceans, ice sheets, and global sea level.

Second, the importance of methane. Methane is a GHG that is more powerful than carbon dioxide, though it is short-lived in the atmosphere. While methane is emitted naturally, human activities are responsible for about 60 percent of the emissions. The GHG is also responsible for global warming since industrialization (The Hindu). The Global Methane Pledge that was initially announced in September by the US and European Union has now become a part of the COP26 commitments.

Third, the deforestation pledge. Loss of green cover is a major concern, as the planet loses approximately 27 football fields of forest every minute (The WWF). The Declaration on Forests and Land Use builds on the New York Declaration of Forests- 2014, which directs the governments, business houses, and civil society to halve deforestation in tropical areas by 50 percent and halt it by 2030.

Fourth, the controversy of carbon credits and offset. This has been a bone of contention since the Kyoto Protocol and remains unresolved to a large extent. The GFANZ is being criticized for encouraging offsets to reach the set target, which in reality allows them to continue to pollute. Additionally, the Alliance does not prevent financial institutions from funding fossil fuel-based projects.

Fifth, awareness and activism. Leaders, pledges, and their actions are increasingly accountable to civil society. Children and youth have become proactive and are pressurizing the actors to undertake stringent measures. The COP26 is one such example, where activists are holding rallies and demonstrations, criticizing the leaders for faulty policies and promises.

What does it mean?
First, the silence of major economies on key sectors. The 45 countries that signed the statement on phasing out coal, did not include the major coal consumers and producers- Australia, India, China, and the US. China, Japan, and India were also not among the 20 countries committed to halting funding for fossil fuel projects abroad. Asian countries are major funders of such projects. 

Second, high targets. Setting high targets can demotivate an actor and also provoke it to stay away from such agreements in its interest. The pledge on deforestation is unrealistic, given the already existing inequalities in terms of development and climate finance. While development is not necessarily anti-thetical to environment protection, it may not be fair to demand a complete halt of deforestation and reversal, by the developing world. Indonesia's take on the Declaration represents this perspective.

Third, finding a middle ground. The Paris Agreement pushed for maintaining 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. The recent IPCC report stated that at the present rate, the world was on track to become warmer by 2.7 degrees Celsius. COP26 tries to find a balance between the two. There was a larger opinion in the conference that restricting global warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius is still within reach. According to the International Energy Agency, the 1.8 degrees limit is achievable, given stringent and timely implementation of the COP26 commitments. Meeting this middle ground will go far in combating anthropogenic climate change.
Japan: LDP secures a comfortable win in the 2021 elections 
What happened?
On 31 October, Japan conducted its 49th general election. The new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's coalition secured a safe and comfortable majority in the Parliament. Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) claimed 261 seats in the 465-member lower house. The LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito won 32 seats, together with sharing 291 seats in the lower house. The center-left Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), the biggest opposition group saw its fall by 13 seats to 96.

On 1 November, Fumio Kishida said, "It was a very tough election, but the people's will — that they want us to create this country's future under the stable LDP- Komeito government and the Kishida administration — was shown." He further added "We received a precious 261 seats for the LDP. As a responsible party ... we will meet the public mandate."

What is the background?
First, the LDP continues to hold the reins of Japanese politics. Since the 1950s, the LDP has governed Japan without interruption and only lost a lower house election in 2009. The general expectations of the 2021 elections were that the LDP would lose a considerable number of seats. Earlier, during the Shinzo Abe regime, the ruling coalition of LDP and Komeito party had a two-thirds of a supermajority in the lower house, creating a strong foundation. Despite two changes of prime minister and the widespread dissatisfaction over how the LDP-led government handled the COVID-19 pandemic, they barely affected the election results. This proves LDP's staunch voter base.

Second, the slipping of power from the LDP. Among the Japanese political faces, Shinzo Abe is the premier. The recent growing aversion from Abe's policies due to the many scandals in 2020 brought in Fumio Kishida as the new party leader and Prime Minister. This generational shift within the LDP has altered the internal dynamics within the factions. The rise of young leaders across all the parties has drastically changed the political diet of Japan.

Third, the lack of stronger opposition. The Japanese voters have always been clear advocates of stability in the face of a worsening regional security environment and ongoing economic hurdles. Even though the public often signaled their dissatisfaction with the Abe government, the lack of a better alternative pulls them back to LDP. On the other hand, the opposition faces challenges in terms of organizing itself, gathering funds, and most importantly winning the elections.

What does it mean?
First, Kishida's first public test. This is the first test for Kishida who took over as the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in October and became the party leader and prime minister. The new government will face the task of steering the world's third-largest economy battered by the coronavirus, tackling a very fast-aging and slumping population and major security challenges from China and North Korea.

Second, the question of stability or the return to a revolving door. A weakened LDP majority in the elections could possibly mean further losses in the upcoming upper house elections. While the LDP has been in power almost continuously, only five politicians in the course of eight decades have hung on to the prime minister's post for more than five years or longer. A poor showing of the LDP power in the electorate could encourage and embolden Fumio Kishida's rivals within the party. Thus, threatening Japan to once again return to an era of short-lived government administrations.  
Also, in the news ...
By Sukanya Bali & Avishka Ashok

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Threatens to hold Pro-Taiwan independence individuals criminally liable 
For the first time, Beijing has spelled out the punishment for people who push for Taiwan's independence. These punishments include not entering the mainland and its special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. On 6 November, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson, Zhu Fenglian said, Beijing will hold individuals deemed pro-Taiwan independence "criminally liable" for life. On the same day, Taiwan's premier, speaker, and foreign minister were blacklisted. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tweeted: "I've received countless notes of congratulations after being blacklisted and sanctioned, for life, by the #CCP."

China: Beijing and US likely to reopen consulates 
On 5 November, the Strait Times reported: President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden are likely to agree and announce the reopening of consulates that were shut last year. The report also stated that the two leaders in their upcoming meeting are likely to announce a framework to reduce trade tensions, ease visa restrictions and seek more cooperation on climate change.

China: Hong Kong trial begins for eight pro-democracy activists; the economy grows by 5.4 percent
On 1 November, trial began for Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and seven others who were charged over an unauthorized Tiananmen vigil. The eight pro-democracy activists faced charges of "organizing, participating, and inciting others" to participate in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the 1989 crackdown. On the same day, the HKSAR government announced, Hong Kong's economy grew by 5.4 percent in the third quarter, following 7.6 percent growth in the second quarter. Xinhua reported: HKSAR spokesperson said, "Hong Kong's economic recovery became more entrenched in the third quarter alongside the continued revival of global economic activity and stable local epidemic situation."

Japan: Germany expands military ties with Tokyo 
On 6 November, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tokyo would have a military setup with Germany in the Indo-Pacific region and welcomed the first German warship's visit in about 20 years. Frigate Briyam visited Tokyo after two days of joint exercise in the Pacific Ocean with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force destroyer, Samidare. The Mainichi reported: Kishi said, "The ship's visit is an important turning point in pursuing a free and open Indo-Pacific and secure one of the world's most important shipping lanes." He further added, "It shows Germany's strong commitment to actively contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."

North Korea: FAO reported, 4 out of 10 North Koreans as undernourished
On 5 November, the UN reported, "around 42 per cent of North Koreans have suffered from undernourishment over the past three years." According to the Statistical Yearbook – World Food and Agriculture 2021, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): "as many as 10.9 million people in North Korea or 42.4 per cent of the population were undernourished from 2018 to 2020." The report highlighted, only five countries, Somalia, Haiti, the Central Republic, Yemen, and Madagascar have higher undernourishment frequency than North Korea.

North Korea: US remains committed to UN sanctions on Pyongyang
On 5 November, the US State Department spokesperson said the US is committed to implementing UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. He further urges other members "to prevent North Korea from further advancing its nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities." Earlier this week, Russia and China have expressed interest in lifting sanctions "with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population" in North Korea.

Australia: Canberra ratifies RCEP trade deal
On 3 November, Australia joined New Zealand to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal. The deal will come into effect in Jan 2022. RCEP will set common rules around the trade in goods and services, intellectual property, e-commerce, and competition. The Strait Times reported: Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said, "the deal would strengthen the country's trade ties with Asean, signaling its commitment to an Asean-led regional economic architecture."

South Asia This Week
India: Pentagon reports of a China village in Arunachal Pradesh
On 6 November, Pentagon's annual report to the US Congress highlighted China's construction of a large village on the disputed area of Arunachal Pradesh. The Economic Times reported: these settlements are described as "dual purpose" by India officials. 

Sri Lanka: Chinese embassy accuses the US of expanding its military bases
On 6 November, the Chinese embassy in Colombo reacted to a recent Pentagon report on security developments involving China. The embassy accused the US of its widespread military occupation and tweeted: "A thief believes everybody steals. Despite the withdrawal of US military bases and troops from Afghanistan, the US continues to maintain about 750 military bases abroad. These bases are costly in a number of ways: financially, politically, socially, and environmentally."  

Nepal: Agreement to sell power to India 
On 3 November, the Nepalese Ministry of Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation said: "India has given permission to Nepal to sell surplus power in its market." The central electricity authority allowed the sale of "39 MW of electricity produced by the 24MW Trishuli Hydropower Project and the 15MW Devighat Hydropower Project in the India Energy Exchange Limited." For the first time, India will be buying electricity from Nepal. 

Pakistan: Five-member Uzbek delegation on a three-day visit to Islamabad
On 1 November, a five-member Uzbek delegation headed by Lt Gen Victor Makhmudov arrived in Islamabad. The Express Tribune reported: Pakistan and Uzbekistan signed a Joint Security Commission (JSC) protocol in order to enhance bilateral cooperation. The delegation also visited Torkham with regard to transportation on cargo trucks, in an attempt to improve bilateral trade.

Afghanistan: Pentagon probe reveals that there is no violation of law in Kabul drone attack
On 4 November, a pentagon review concluded that there was no negligence or misconduct in the August drone strike, in which 10 civilians were killed. The US Air Force Inspector General said: "their investigation found no violation of law, including the law of war." He further added, "there were execution errors that led to civilian casualties." The Chinese foreign ministry's spokesperson expressed their dissatisfaction. He said, "The international community is yet to see any investigation or accountability in the US."

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week 
Iraq: Pro-Iranian group protests turn violent as they demand a recount of the votes
On 5 November, the protests in Iraq against the recent parliamentary election results turned violent as the people threw stones at the authorities for firing tear gas at the crowd. There has been no word about the official casualties on the ground from the government. The supporters of the Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, who are pro-Iranians in ideology, lost 33 seats in the elections. They suspect fraud and demand a recount of the votes. 

Israel: Naftali Bennett government passes national budget bill
On 4 November, the Israeli Parliament approved the national budget bills for the first time in three years. It was a crucial point for the government; failure of consensus in the Naftali Bennett government would have led to another election. Bennett said: "After years of chaos, we formed a government, we overcame the Delta variant, and now, thank God, we passed a budget for Israel." 

Iran: Deputy Foreign Minister announces return to Vienna talks
On 3 November, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani announced that Iran would reopen negotiations at Vienna with other leaders on 29 November. He said: "We agreed to start the negotiations aiming at removal of unlawful and inhumane sanctions on 29 November in Vienna." The meeting in November will be the first with the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The European Union also confirmed the resumption of the talks. It said: "Participants will continue the discussions on the prospect of a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA and how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides."

Lebanon: Prime Minister hopes for resumption of ties with Gulf countries
On 5 November, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati waited for the final decision from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries after the government undertook efforts to bridge the gap with the estranged nations. The Gulf countries withdrew and severed political and economic ties with Lebanon after the information minister made offending statements. A member of the Mikati bloc said: "Through the roadmap that Mitaki announced on Thursday, he put forward an initiative to defuse the crisis. Mikati "is a moderate man by nature over whom there is consensus, which is essential in a country like Lebanon, so it is crucial for him to carefully and wisely handle issues."

Sudan: UN High Commissioner condemns coup 
On 5 November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet attended the Human Rights Council Session in Sudan, condemned the country's coup, and urged the military government to give up power to the civilian government. She expressed discontent against excessive force and willed the military leaders to return power to the civilian government to ensure progress and reforms in Sudan. She said: "Events since the coup have recalled a sombre page in the country's history when freedom of expression was stifled, and human rights were comprehensively repressed. I urge Sudan's military leaders, and their backers, to step back in order to allow the country to return to the path of progress towards institutional and legal reforms." 

Somalia: Foreign Ministry expels AUC representative 
On 4 November, the Somali Foreign Ministry declared the African Union Commission representative Simon Mulongo' persona-non-grata' and demanded his return within a week. The statement released by the ministry accused Mulongo of engaging in activities that harm Somalia's security interests. The Foreign Minister said: "the Somali government will hold accountable AMISOM person[n]el, particularly those at the leadership level, who are expected to be beyond reproach in their integrity as they discharge their duty under the UN/AU mandate."

Ethiopia: UNSC calls for end to conflict while social media restricts Prime Minister's posts
On 5 November, the United Nations Security Council condemned the violence in Ethiopia and called for an end to the conflict while pushing for a lasting ceasefire between the warring parties. On the same day, a newly formed alliance vowed to bring down Abiy Ahmed's government through negotiations or by force. On 4 November, Facebook removed a post by Prime Minister Ahmed for inciting violence and hate crimes against the TPLF. Soon after Facebook removed the post, Twitter disabled the trends section in Ethiopia after numerous threats and hatred-filled posts started appearing on the page.

Europe and the Americas This Week
Russia: Diplomat found dead next to the embassy in Berlin
On 5 November, the BBC reported that a Russian diplomat was found dead outside the embassy in Berlin last month. Although the cause of the death is still unclear, he seems to have fallen from a height as the body was found on the pavement by the police guarding the Berlin compound. The Russian embassy also called it a "tragic accident" but has not revealed any details regarding the individual nor the accident. 

The EU: Vice President warns against triggering Article 16
On 5 November, the BBC reported that the European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic attended a meeting with the Brexit Minister in Brussels and cautioned the UK from withdrawing Article 16. He said that such a move could have a serious impact on stability and could lead to unpredictability. He pushed for bridging the gaps through negotiations and said: "Triggering Article 16 would be serious for EU-UK relations "as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol." The UK wishes to reform the protocol against the wishes of the EU who wants relaxation in the cross-border trade and checks. 

Portugal: President rejects budget bill and announces dissolution of the Parliament
On 4 November, the President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called for an early election on 30 January after rejecting the budget bill put forth by the minority government. He said: "In moments like this there is always a solution in democracy, without drama or fears, to give the word back to the people." The people are not in favor of an early election as they believe that the move will only enhance their difficulties.

Nicaragua: Facebook removes troll farm backed by the government
On 1 November, Facebook announced that in October, it had removed more than 1000 accounts belonging to the Nicaraguan government and the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Facebook revealed that a troll farm was created to control public opinion and increase the pro-government and anti-opposition content on the website. It also revealed that the Supreme Court and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute were also part of the scheme. 

Venezuela: ICC announces probe into human rights violation by Maduro regime
On 3 November, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice Karim Khan announced its decision to open a formal investigation into the allegations of torture and extra-judicial killing in the country conducted by the security authorities on behalf of President Nicholas Maduro. As he acknowledged the political divisions within the country and announced the decision, Khan said: "I ask everybody now, as we move forward to this new stage, to give my office the space to do its work," he said. "I will take a dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office." The preliminary probe was initiated in 2018 and was backed by Canada and five other Latin American states. 

The US: Senate passes USD one trillion infrastructure plan
On 2 November, the US Senate passed the USD one trillion worth of infrastructure plan. The passing of the bill is a huge step for the Democrats and for the leadership of President Joe Biden. A total of 19 republicans joined the 50 Democrats to produce a 69-30 vote for the bill. The bill now includes USD 550 billion in new funding, which will be utilized for transportation, telecommunication, and more. The Senate majority leader said: "Today, the Senate takes a decade's overdue step to revitalize America's infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy, the tools to succeed in the 21st century."

The US: Democrats lose the governor's race in Virginia
On 2 November, the Democrats lost their hold in Virginia as the people voted for Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin to become the new governor. Virginia is one of the strong points for the Democrats. Losing out on the state, is a big blow for Biden's party. However, the Democrats can relieve themselves as the lack of votes is not caused by any particular issue but by Biden's unpopularity in the region. 

About the authors
Keerthana Nambiar is a Visiting Research Scholar at NIAS, she is currently pursuing her post-graduation in International Relations from the University of Mysore. Sukanya Bali is a Doctoral candidate at OP Jindal University. Rashmi Ramesh is a PhD scholar in the School of Conflict and Peace Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Avishka Ashok is a Research Associate at NIAS. 

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