• Leaders Summit on Climate Summary of Proceedings

    After fulfilling his promise to bring America back into the Paris Agreement, President Biden convened 40 world leaders in a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate this week to rally the world in tackling the climate crisis and meeting the demands of science. The United States and other countries announced ambitious new climate targets ensuring that nations accounting for half of the world’s economy have now committed to the emission reductions needed globally to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5-degrees C within reach. Many leaders underscored the urgency of other major economies strengthening their ambition as well on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November 2021 in Glasgow.

    The Summit, which was the largest virtual gathering of world leaders, convened the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (the world’s 17 largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters) and included the leaders of other countries especially vulnerable to climate impacts or charting innovative pathways to a net-zero economy. President Biden was joined at the Summit by Vice President Harris, members of the President’s Cabinet, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, as well as senior representatives of other countries and leaders from business and civil society. The full agenda and list of participants is available at:https://www.state.gov/leaders-summit-on-climate/.

    With the science telling us that the world needs to significantly increase the scale and speed of climate action, President Biden considered it vital to host this Summit within his first 100 days in office to make clear that it is a top U.S. priority to combat the climate crisis at home and abroad.

    Vice President Harris opened the Summit by emphasizing the intertwined imperatives of addressing the climate crisis, creating jobs, and protecting the most vulnerable communities. Her remarks set the stage for the launch of the Summit’s five sessions, which were live-streamed: [https://www.state.gov/leaders-summit-on-climate/].

    President Biden began Session 1 (“Raising Our Climate Ambition”) by framing enhanced climate action as necessary both to address the crisis and to promote economic opportunity, including the creation of good-paying, union jobs. He told Summit participants that the United States will halve its greenhouse gas emissions within this decade, noting that countries that take decisive action now will reap the economic benefits of a clean energy future. To enshrine this commitment, the United States submitted a new “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) under the Paris Agreement setting an economy-wide emissions target of a 50-52% reduction below 2005 levels in 2030. Secretary of State Blinken conveyed a strong sense of urgency in tackling the climate crisis, noting that this is a critical year and a decisive decade to take action. He noted the U.S. resolve to work with other countries to engage in all avenues of cooperation to “save our planet.” 

    Participants noted the need to work rapidly over the course of this decade to accelerate decarbonization efforts and are taking a range of actions to that end. Announcements during this Session included, among others:                                                                                       
     

    ·         Japan will cut emissions 46-50% below 2013 levels by 2030, with strong efforts toward achieving a 50% reduction, a significant acceleration from its existing 26% reduction goal.

    ·         Canada will strengthen its NDC to a 40-45% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, a significant increase over its previous target to reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

    ·         India reiterated its target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 and announced the launch of the “U.S.-India 2030 Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership” to mobilize finance and speed clean energy innovation and deployment this decade.

    ·         Argentina will strengthen its NDC, deploy more renewables, reduce methane emissions, and end illegal deforestation.

    ·         The United Kingdom will embed in law a 78% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2035.

    ·         The European Union is putting into law a target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and a net zero target by 2050.

    ·         The Republic of Korea, which will host the 2021 P4G Seoul Summit in May, will terminate public overseas coal finance and strengthen its NDC this year to be consistent with its 2050 net zero goal.

    ·         China indicated that it will join the Kigali Amendment, strengthen the control of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, strictly control coal-fired power generation projects, and phase down coal consumption.

    ·         Brazil committed to achieve net zero by 2050, end illegal deforestation by 2030, and double funding for deforestation enforcement.

    ·         South Africa announced that it intends to strengthen its NDC and shift its intended emissions peak year ten years earlier to 2025.

    ·         Russia noted the importance of carbon capture and storage from all sources, as well as atmospheric carbon removals. It also highlighted the importance of methane and called for international collaboration to address this powerful greenhouse gas.

    Session 2 (“Investing in Climate Solutions”) addressed the urgent need to scale up climate finance, including both efforts to increase public finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries and efforts to catalyse trillions of dollars of private investment to support the transition to net zero emissions no later than 2050. President Biden stressed the importance of developed countries meeting the collective goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year in public and private finance to support developing countries. He also announced that the Administration intends to seek funding to double, by 2024, annual U.S. public climate finance to developing countries, compared to the average level of the second half of the Obama-Biden Administration (FY 2013-2016). This would include tripling public finance for adaptation by 2024. President Biden also called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and announced that his Administration will undertake a series of steps to promote the measurement, disclosure, and mitigation of material climate risks to the financial system.

    Treasury Secretary Yellen highlighted the role of multilateral development banks in supporting the transition. She also said that the Treasury Department will use all its tools and expertise to help support climate action. Special Envoy Kerry moderated a discussion among leaders from government, international organizations, and multilateral and private financial institutions. These leaders noted the importance of concessional finance to leverage much larger sums of private capital, as well as to provide finance to technologies, activities, and geographies where private capital is not flowing. They noted the urgent need to increase finance for adaptation and resilience in developing countries. The participants also recognized the need for governments to embrace key policies, including meaningful carbon pricing, enhanced disclosure of climate-related risks, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Several of the private financial institutions expressed their support for coalitions such as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and the Net Zero Banking Alliance. They also referred to recent commitments by U.S. banks to invest $4.16 trillion in climate solutions over the next ten years.

    Session 3 elevated four specific topics for more focused consideration by government officials and, in some cases, a broader range of stakeholders. 

    ·         The discussion on climate action at all levels, hosted by U.S. EPA Administrator Regan and including participation from a wide range of governors, mayors, and indigenous leaders from around the world, illustrated the importance of marshalling a multi-level “all-of-society” approach to climate action. The Session showcased States, cities, and indigenous groups that are committed to an equitable vision for advancing bold climate ambition and building resilience on the ground. Participants discussed the critical importance of building just and inclusive societies and economies as they accelerate efforts to transform their communities in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Participants discussed not only the importance of leadership at all levels of society and government, but also the importance of collaboration between national and subnational governments to catalyse additional ambition.

    ·         The discussion on adaptation and resilience, hosted by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, focused on innovative ways in which countries from a wide variety of regions are responding to climate change in the areas of water and coastal management, food security, and human impacts. On the theme of coastal and water management, panellists offered up innovative solutions to prepare for water-related climate challenges, such as locally-owned disaster insurance instruments, relocation, and the use of green and blue bonds to finance nature-based solutions. Focusing on food security and climate, participants highlighted the need for better technology to address a changing agricultural landscape as well as the importance of supporting small-scale farmers. On human health and security, the discussion centred on scaling up locally-led solutions to climate vulnerability, emphasizing that economic opportunities are key to keeping communities healthy and stable. The session emphasized that adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand. 

    ·         The discussion on nature-based solutions, hosted by Interior Secretary Haaland, addressed how achieving net zero by 2050 is not possible without natural climate solutions, such as stopping deforestation and the loss of wetlands and restoring marine and terrestrial ecosystems. She announced U.S. support of a proposal to protect the Southern Ocean through the three marine protected area proposals under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). All participants highlighted their support for protecting and conserving land and marine areas to sequester carbon and build climate resilience, and several made announcements. Seychelles is dedicating a chapter of its enhanced NDC to ocean-based solutions and is committing to protect at least 50% of its seagrass and mangrove ecosystems by 2025 and 100% by 2030, with support. Canada, for its part, is committing $4 billion in its new federal budget for land and ocean protection. In addition, Costa Rica underlined its co-leadership of the High-Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and the intention to have 30% of its ocean under protection by 2022; Peru highlighted that more than a fifth of its NDC measures are associated with nature-based solutions; Indonesia discussed its Presidential decree to permanently freeze new license for logging and peatland utilization, as well as its mangrove rehabilitation program; and Gabon noted that its intact and logged forests absorb four times more CO2 annually than its total emissions across all sectors. Representatives of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and of the Kharia Tribe of India highlighted the need to recognize the contributions and traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities in ecosystem protection.

    ·         The discussion on climate security was hosted by Defence Secretary Austin. His remarks were followed by remarks from both Director of National Intelligence Haines and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas-Greenfield, who then moderated a panel discussion. Speakers included NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, defence officials from Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Spain, and the UK, as well as the Philippines’ finance minister. A common theme throughout the discussion was how climate impacts exacerbate security concerns and, as a result, affect military capabilities, heighten geopolitical competition, undermine stability, and provoke regional conflicts. Participants further emphasized that their nations and regions are vulnerable to extreme weather events, including sea level rise, cyclones, typhoons, drought, and increasing temperatures. All of these intensify underlying political, social, and economic conditions, which in turn can lead to food insecurity and water scarcity, violent extremism, and mass population movement, with disproportionate effects on vulnerable populations, especially women. Defence officials noted that their ministries are increasingly called upon to respond to disasters, which taxes their resources, thus elevating the need for enhanced disaster preparedness and response. In looking at their own operations and readiness, they showcased current efforts to decrease their militaries’ emissions, emphasizing how incorporating climate considerations into their operational planning can increase the agility of their forces. Additionally, they described the benefits of collaboration between defence ministries on shared climate risks. Participants highlighted the NATO climate security action plan and called on countries to incorporate climate considerations more broadly into multilateral fora, including UN peacekeeping missions. Perhaps most noteworthy, this was the first-ever U.S. Secretary of Defence convening of Secretaries of Defence focused on climate change.                                                                                                                                                                          Session 4 (“Unleashing Climate Innovation”) explored the critical innovations needed to speed net-zero transitions around the world and highlighted the efforts of governments, the private sector, and civil society in bringing new and improved technologies to market. Energy Secretary Granholm and Commerce Secretary Raimondo emphasized the economic rewards from investing in innovation as multi-trillion dollar markets for clean technologies emerge in the coming decades and announced reinvigorated U.S. international leadership on innovation. The discussion underscored the urgent need for innovation: 45% of the emissions reductions needed for a swift net-zero transition must come from technologies that are not commercially available, according to the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, and Bill Gates urged investment to drive down “green premium” prices of most zero-carbon technologies compared with fossil fuel alternatives. Several leading countries — Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Kenya, Norway, and Singapore — described their approaches to investing in mitigation and adaptation technologies. These included clean fuels such as hydrogen, renewables such as offshore wind and geothermal energy, energy storage, clean desalination, carbon capture, advanced mobility, sustainable urban design, and monitoring technologies to verify emissions and stop deforestation. Leaders from the private sector, including from GE Renewables, Vattenfall, and X, as well as from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, focused on training the diverse innovators of the future and investing in technologies for digitalized, electrified, decarbonized, and resilient energy systems. Special Envoy Kerry closed by emphasizing that raising our innovation ambition enables us to raise the world’s climate ambition.                                                                                                                                                                                      Several speakers made announcements during this Session: Denmark announced a technology mission under Mission Innovation to decarbonize the global shipping sector, in collaboration with the United States, and that it will build the world’s first energy islands to produce clean fuels and supply power to Europe. The United Arab Emirates launched the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate in partnership with the United States, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, and Uruguay. Bill Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to drive public, private, and philanthropic capital to scale up critical emerging technologies. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced the Institute for Energy, the Built Environment, and Smart Systems to decarbonize urban systems. GE Renewable Energy announced that the GE Foundation is committing up to $100 million to increase the diversity of the next generation of engineers. And X, Alphabet’s Moonshot Factory, announced a Moonshot for the electric grid.                                                                                                                                                                                        President Biden began Session 5 (“The Economic Opportunities of Climate Action”) by recognizing the opportunity that ambitious climate action presents to countries around the world to create good, high quality jobs. He noted that countries that prioritize policies that promote renewable energy deployment, electric vehicle manufacturing, methane abatement, and building retrofits, among other actions, would likely reap the rewards of job growth and economic prosperity in the years ahead. The U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Tai, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, and National Climate Advisor McCarthy underscored that the climate agenda could be a race to the top for countries that are pursuing the most ambitious methods to tackle the crisis, noting the American Jobs Plan that President Biden has proposed.                                                                                                                                                                         Participants echoed this vision and elaborated their own projects and programs to maximize the economic benefits of their climate actions. Leaders of countries recognized that the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for countries to build back better and invest in the industries of the future. Community, tribal, private sector, and labour leaders also weighed in on the opportunities that decarbonization provided. Panellists noted that climate action presents economic opportunities to all parts of society, from energy workers to vehicle manufacturers, from large businesses to small. In particular, there was general alignment among both country representatives and other participants that governments should promote equitable opportunities for workers and that labour unions can play a key role in promoting high quality employment opportunities for people around the world. To that end, Poland announced that they had just concluded negotiations with coal mine labour unions to ensure a just transition of workers as part of their coal-fired power phasedown. In response to the discussion, President Biden closed by emphasizing that climate action might represent the largest economic opportunity of this century and urging leaders to stay focused.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In between the five Sessions, several other speakers provided important perspectives. Youth speaker Xiye Bastida, declaring that climate justice is social justice, underlined that youth need to be a part of decision-making processes and called for a stop to fossil fuel subsidies and extraction. Current and future Conference of Parties Presidents Minister Carolina Schmidt (Chile) and MP Alok Sharma (UK) discussed the urgency of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Minister Schmidt noted that COP25 included, for the first time, a mandate to address the ocean-climate nexus, while MP Sharma noted that we must put the world on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through long-term targets and aligned NDCs, as well as immediate action, such as phasing out coal. Pope Francis, who has been a climate leader for many years, underlined the need to “care for nature so that nature may care for us.” Chair Mallory of the White House Council on Environmental Quality highlighted the Biden Administration’s commitment to environmental justice and introduced Peggy Shepard, Co-Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council; she underlined the need to build back better to lift up the communities struggling with climate impacts and environmental injustice. Michael Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions, noted the key role of cities and businesses in tackling the climate crisis.                                                                                                                                                                                                            Alongside the Summit, Special Envoy Kerry hosted two Ministerial Roundtables to provide a broader group of countries an opportunity to contribute to the discussions. He heard from representatives of more than 60 countries from all over the world, reflecting a wide range of regions, geographic features, and national circumstances, and summarized their input for leaders on the second day of the Summit. Many Roundtable participants expressed concern about the inadequacy of global climate action to date and/or shared the unprecedented climate impacts they are experiencing. At the same time, participants enthusiastically reported on the significant, exciting efforts they are undertaking to confront the climate crisis, even while facing the global pandemic. Beyond many commitments to net zero emissions, enhanced NDCs, and innovative adaptation efforts, participants included a carbon-negative country, countries that have successfully decoupled economic growth from carbon emissions, leaders in carbon storage, countries with extensive forest cover, issuers of green bonds, and countries focusing on gender-responsive approaches and the participation of indigenous communities. It was notable that many of those passionately embracing climate solutions contribute far less than 1% of global emissions. The Roundtables contributed to the Summit’s sense of urgency as countries rally around increased ambition on the road to Glasgow.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Roundtable participants represented: Afghanistan, Andorra, Angola, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Federated States of Micronesia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, North Macedonia, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Republic of Congo, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, The Bahamas, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, and Zambia. A list of new climate-related initiatives announced by the United States at or around the Summit can be found in this Fact Sheet.

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  • London to move into tier 3 as infections rise

    London will move into England’s highest tier of Covid restrictions from tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said. Parts of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire will also enter tier three at the same time.

    new variant of coronavirus has been identified that "may be associated" with the faster spread in southern England, Mr Hancock added. Pubs and restaurants in tier three must close except for takeaway and delivery.

    Also under the rules, sports fans cannot attend events in stadiums, and indoor entertainment venues - such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas - must remain shut.

    The health secretary told a Downing Street briefing that action had to be taken immediately - before the next scheduled review of England's three-tier system tomorrow - to slow "sharp, exponential rises" in infection, adding that in some areas the virus was doubling around every seven days.

    Speaking alongside Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, and Prof Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, Mr Hancock warned that hospitals across the capital, Essex and Kent were already "under pressure". He described the rise in transmission and the new variant as "a salutary warning for the whole country".

    "This isn't over yet," he said.

    With Kent, Medway and Slough already under tier three rules, it means large parts of south-east England will soon join much of the Midlands, north-west England and north-east England under the strictest curbs on social contacts.

    More than 34 million people in England will be in tier three when the changes come into effect; 21.5 million in tier two; and about 700,000 in tier one.

    The latest tier three areas include:

    ·         Greater London

    ·         The south and west of Essex (Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, along with Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils)

    ·         And the south of Hertfordshire (Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority)

    Prof Whitty warned cases in some areas could rise "very rapidly" by Christmas - without action to combat the current doubling rate. But he stressed it was "possible to turn this around with the tools we have", highlighting how areas such as Liverpool have successfully brought infection rates down.

    Prof Fenton said it was a "pivotal moment" for London and parts of south-east England, which was why the government had had to take "quick and decisive action". Asked whether the government should rethink plans to ease some restrictions for Christmas, Mr Hancock said "it's important everyone is cautious" ahead of the festive period, especially when meeting vulnerable people.

    "But we do understand why people do want to get together with their families," he said. Prof Whitty echoed his remarks, adding that people need to be conscious of the fact that the vaccine is "not going to give us a way out between now and Christmas or indeed for the two months following that".

    On the new variant, which is being tested at Porton Down, Prof Whitty said it would be "pretty surprising" if it were to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. Earlier, Hancock told MPs there was "currently nothing to suggest" that the new variant was more likely to cause serious disease and advice was that it's "highly unlikely" the mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.

    Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said "none of us are surprised" at the action the health secretary is taking, but warned the country was "heading into the Christmas easing with diminishing headroom". Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the announcement as "incredibly disappointing" for businesses, but said it was clear the virus was "accelerating in the wrong direction" and urged all Londoners to follow the rules.

    Essex County Council leader David Finch said local leaders would lobby the government for support "during this very challenging time", and Hertfordshire County Council's leader, David Williams, called for residents to "stay disciplined and stick to the guidance". Sectors hit hard by the fresh restrictions expressed anger over the decision.

    The director of the Theatres Trust said London's theatres would face "disaster" under the stricter rules, while business owners in the capital said it would "be a ghost town".

    Kate Nicholls, of trade body UKHospitality, said the move places an "unfair, illogical and disproportionate burden on hospitality businesses without effectively tackling Covid". And Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the move into tier three was "another nail in the coffin for London's pubs, as well as those affected in parts of Hertfordshire and Essex".

    There was also disappointment that sporting events in London would no longer be able to welcome fans.

    An MP in an earlier briefing from Mr Hancock said they were told that the next review of the tier system would be on December 23.

  • London-size iceberg calves near UK Antarctic base

    A big iceberg approaching the size of Greater London has broken away from the Antarctic, close to Britain's Halley research station. Surface instruments on the Brunt Ice Shelf confirmed the split.

    There is currently no-one in the base, so there is no risk to human life. The British Antarctic Survey has been operating Halley in a reduced role since 2017 because of the imminent prospect of a calving.

    The berg has been measured to cover 1,270 sq km. Halley is positioned just over 20km from the line of rupture. BAS has an array of GPS devices on the Brunt. These relay information about ice movements back to the agency's HQ in Cambridge.

    Officials will be inspecting satellite imagery when it becomes available. They will want to see that no unexpected instabilities emerge in the remaining ice shelf platform that holds Halley.

    Prof Adrian Luckman has been tracking satellite images of the Brunt in recent weeks and predicted the calving. "Although the breaking off of large parts of Antarctic ice shelves is an entirely normal part of how they work, large calving events such as the one detected at the Brunt Ice Shelf on Friday remain quite rare and exciting," he said.

    "With three long rifts actively developing on the Brunt Ice Shelf system over the last five years, we have all been anticipating that something spectacular was going to happen. Time will tell whether this calving will trigger more pieces to break off in the coming days and weeks.

    “At Swansea University we study the development of ice shelf rifts because, while some lead to large calving events, others do not, and the reasons for this may explain why large ice shelves exist at all," he said.

  • Major UK communications and security systems integrator opens new engineering hub in India

    Leading communications, safety, and security systems integrator, Optilan, have just announced the official opening of its new office in Mumbai, India. One the UK’s major communications specialists for the energy, power, rail, and infrastructure sectors, it is involved in key UK infrastructure projects such as Cross-rail and major international energy infrastructure works, including the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline.

    Optilan’s new Indian Engineering Hub will serve as a primary centre for driving cutting edge innovation. The decision to open the Engineering Hub is testament to Optilan’s growing commitment to invest in India’s world class engineering talent, as part of its mission to create security, safety, and communications related solutions that can have a genuinely global impact.

    The new office houses employees from diverse disciplines, with a focus on the provision of skilled services to support the rest of the Optilan Group as part of a seamless international operation. It will facilitate Optilan’s drive to develop its innovative approach to service solutions and project delivery.

    Bill Bayliss, Chief Executive Officer at Optilan, said: “We are thrilled to announce the opening of our new Indian Engineering Hub. Optilan operates within a highly competitive industry that’s characterised by constant change. This evolving landscape demands innovative approaches to how we transfer both skills and expertise, in order to produce hubs of engineering excellence to service our global business.

    “The decision to set up the Engineering hub in India was more than justified, given it is home to some of the world’s most exceptional engineering talent. Its addition to our portfolio is driven by Optilan’s strategic plans for continued growth and development across the Middle East and South Asia region, through an investment in local operations with local presence.

    “We are excited to tap into the engineering talent available in this part of the country, motivated by our vision of creating a truly pioneering organisation that will build innovative solutions for global impact.”

    The new office complements Optilan’s existing offices in the UK, UAE, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

  • Maldives becomes 54th member of Commonwealth family

    The Commonwealth has welcomed its 54th family member after Maldives' application for re-admission was approved.The Commonwealth has welcomed its 54th family member after Maldives' application for re-admission was approved.

    The small island nation officially re-joined the Commonwealth on February 1, marking the end of a process that began in December 2018, when President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General expressing the country’s interest in re-joining.

    After due diligence, which included country assessment and consultations in accordance with the rules and procedures agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Kampala in 2007, Maldives has been re-admitted.

    Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, said: “I warmly congratulate Maldives on its successful application. We are delighted to welcome the country and its people back to the Commonwealth.

    “The reform process underway in Maldives aligns with the values and principles of the Commonwealth and we encourage the nation to continue on this path.

    “Commonwealth members were pleased to note these developments and are happy once again to count Maldives as a member of the family.

    “Together we will support Maldives to realise its ambitions.”

    President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said: “As a young democracy, the Commonwealth’s foundational values of the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, multilateralism and world peace remain relevant to us more than ever.

    “We gratefully acknowledge the support and help of the Commonwealth to the Maldivian democratic movement, and we look forward to the support of fellow member states to ensure the long term entrenchment of these values in our society.”

    The assessment included two site visits to the country followed by positive feedback given by a Commonwealth Observer Group which was present for the Parliamentary Elections in April 2019.

    Members subsequently agreed to invite Maldives to submit a formal application, which it did in December last year. The country presented evidence of functioning democratic processes as well as popular support for re-joining. The Secretary-General then consulted with all 53 Commonwealth members and received no objections.

    The country will now be part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda on June 22-28.

    Its Ambassador to the UK now becomes its High Commissioner, signifying Commonwealth membership.

    Maldives originally joined the Commonwealth in 1982, and withdrew its membership in 2016.

  • Man who blacked up face as minstrel for work’s party 'didn't know it was racist'

    A 62-year-old fined for dressing up as a black and white minstrel at a works party "didn't know it was racist", a court has heard.

    Brian Davies was ordered to pay a total of £450 earlier this year for racially harassing a Black colleague after blacking up his face and performing a "racist" song and dance routine at their Christmas do.

    The maintenance engineer appeared in court to appeal against his conviction of causing racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress to head chef Loretta Doyley, denying he knew the television show from which his routine derived from was today seen as "derogatory and demeaning to Black people".

    Cardiff Crown Court was shown mobile footage from the incident in December 2017 at the city's Cooper's Carvery, with Davies wearing black face paint, white paint around his eyes and mouth, a straw boater hat, and swinging around a cane while dancing and singing the song Mammy in the direction of Mrs Doyley.

    Prosecutor Suzanne Payne said to Davies: "You could see as you were dancing and singing around her she was upset by you.

    "You knew by dancing around singing that you were being abusive to her.

    "And you should've been aware it would be. Because it's insulting and humiliating what you did.

    "And that was your intention."

    Davies said he had a prior conversation with colleagues including Mrs Doyley about The Black And White Minstrel Show, which appeared on British television in the 1960s and 1970s, which gave him the idea for his stunt.

    He told the court: "It didn't even cross my mind. I didn't even think of anything racist.

    "Just thought I was dressing up as something that used to be on telly on a Sunday night."

    Ms Payne told Davies the show had not appeared on British television for years as it was deemed "derogatory and demeaning to Black people".

    Davies said: "I didn't know it was racist."

    Mrs Doyley, who worked with Davies at Ty Catrin, a facility run by mental healthcare provider The Priory Group in Cardiff, said Davies had repeatedly asked her to go the Christmas do after she had initially declined.

    She told the court: "I felt humiliated and wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.

    "I felt because everyone was laughing I went into shock and I felt myself laughing as well, not because it was funny, I just didn't know how else to act."

    Tom Roberts, for Davies, told the court it needed to be sure his client's behaviour was "intentionally" abusive towards Mrs Doyley.

    He said: "It was clearly ill judged. He accepts he was "stupid and naive".

    "But that does not equate to him using abusive behaviour towards Mrs Doyley. It is of course not politically correct behaviour.

    He added: "At most this was an ill judged and disreputable incident. Did he display hostility? I would say he didn't."

    Judge David Wynn Morgan and Justices Robin Coombes and Sharon Winter adjourned the appeal before making their decision on its outcome.

  • Mandela family praised for revealing daughter, Zindzi, had Covid-19

    South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa has praised the family of the country's first Black President Nelson Mandela for revealing that his daughter, Zindzi, who had passed, had Covid-19. The gesture will "encourage acceptance" of those infected, Mr Ramaphosa said.
    The cause of death has not been disclosed.

    Zindzi was buried alongside her mother, anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
    Only close friends and relatives attended the funeral service in Johannesburg because of coronavirus restrictions.

    South Africa is the African country worst hit by coronavirus, with more than 320,000 cases. There have been more than 4,600 deaths, and government projections estimate this could rise to 50,000 by the end of the year. Despite public awareness of how the virus is spread, its symptoms and effects, there have been some reported cases of stigmatisation of those infected.

    "I would like to thank the Mandela family for the very important gesture of sharing this information with the nation. This is a virus that affects us all, and there should never be any stigma around people who become infected," he tweeted ahead of Zindzi Mandela's funeral.

    He added that revealing the cause of her death, was "a final act of solidarity in the life of a woman who devoted her life to the cause of her fellow South Africans."

    Ms Mandela had "during our years of struggle brought home the inhumanity of the apartheid system and the unshakeable resolve of our fight for freedom," Mr Ramaphosa said in a statement after her death.

    Zindzi Mandela, 59, was Nelson Mandela's sixth child and his second with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his second wife.
    Mourners gathered for her funeral service in Johannesburg have praised her as a freedom fighter.

    "The invisible enemy took her away from us when she has survived bullets, torture and the pain inflicted by the apartheid system," Nomvula Mokonyane, an official from the governing African National Congress, was quoted as saying by EWN news site.

    "She survived the most brutal regime at an early age, and we thought that this crisis and this invisible enemy that we are faced with today, she is going to survive because she has seen worse," said Julius Malema, the leader of the radical opposition EFF party.

    Despite her father's fame Ms Mandela was an activist in her own right and was serving as ambassador to Denmark at the time of her death. She grew up at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. With her father imprisoned on Robben Island, she endured years of harassment and intimidation by the apartheid regime, along with her sister Zenani, and her mother Winnie.

    Zindzi Mandela read out her father's rejection of then-president PW Botha's offer for his conditional release from prison at a public meeting in February 1985. Through his foundation, Nobel peace laureate and former archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu said that "speech in Soweto, on behalf of her father... reinvigorated the values and principles of the struggle".

    Ms Mandela "played a critical role symbolising the humanity and steadfastness of the anti-apartheid struggle", he added. Most recently, she was known for her vocal support for radical land reform in South Africa.

    Only two of Nelson Mandela's six children are still alive: Zenani Dlamini, Zindzi's sister; and Pumla Makaziwe Mandela, a daughter from his first marriage, to Evelyn Mase.

  • Marking Ramadan Mubarak 2021

    Every year, Muslims across the globe observe a month of daily fasting during Ramadan.

    The ninth month of the Islamic calendar involves abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex between early morning and sunset.

    Fasting - during Ramadan or for other reasons - is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the others being faith, prayer, charity and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

    Ramadan 2019 was a test of faith because it fell in the longer days of summer, meaning extended hours of going without food and drink in hot weather.

    Ramadan 2020 was during a full lockdown in the UK and across the world so that presented another set of challenges, with Muslims told to remain in their own homes, despite the usual tradition for communal meals and prayers.

    For 2021, there are still restrictions in place but mosques are open for limited, pre-booked communal worship and special guidance has been issued on night prayers, meals before and after fasting, and spiritual retreats.

    This is the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad and so it's regarded as a time filled with blessings when worshippers focus their minds and bodies on spirituality rather than on earthly needs and indulgences.

    It's traditional to convey greetings and blessings to those who are about to begin an entire month of fasting.

    So what are the typical blessings to be said to Muslim family and friends at the start of the month? How do you wish people a Happy Ramadan?

    And once the month of fasting is over, it's time to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and wish each other Eid Mubarak.

    With strict rules around Ramadan, there have been concerns from some people about whether they can have their Covid-19 vaccine injection when they are fasting.

    The British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) has consulted a wide range of scholars and the opinion of the vast majority is that receiving a vaccine by injection does not invalidate the fast.

    It said: “Taking the Covid-19 vaccines currently licensed in the UK does not invalidate the fast.” People are also advised to get tested regularly, have their vaccine as soon as they can, and continue to follow Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air guidance.

    The BIMA also considered whether Muslims should take Covid-19 tests during Ramadan and said: “Taking the Covid-19 PCR or lateral flow tests does not invalidate the fast during Ramadan, as per the opinion of the majority of Islamic scholars.”

  • Meghan and Harry expecting a second child

    It has been announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting their second child. A spokesperson for the couple said that Harry and Meghan are preparing to welcome a new sibling for their son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said the Queen and Prince Philip, as well as the Prince of Wales, as well as the other members of the Royal Family are delighted and wish them well.

    Their child will be eighth in line to the throne, and it comes after Meghan revealed that she had suffered a miscarriage last July. The spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said: "We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother.

    "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to be expecting their second child." A friend of the Duke, Misan Harriman, who is also the photographer who took the photo that accompanied their pregnancy announcement, tweeted: "Meg, I was there at your wedding to witness this love story begin, and I am honoured to capture it grow. Congratulations to The Duke and Duchess of Sussex on this joyous news!"

    For Harry and Meghan – who now live in California - their second child will be the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh's 10th or 11th great-grandchild depending on whether he or she arrives before or after Zara Tindall's baby, which is also due in 2021. The couple’s baby is entitled to be a Lord or a Lady.

    The news comes after the Duchess revealed in November that she had suffered a miscarriage during the summer. She was praised for sending a powerful message to others who have lived through the same trauma by speaking about the issue.

    The announcement comes soon after the royal family celebrated the arrival of Princess Eugenie's first child - a baby boy and a grandson of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and Sarah, Duchess of York.

    Photo by @misanharriman

  • Melbourne entering lockdown as fans barred from Australian Open

    The Australian state of Victoria will enter lockdown for a third time in a bid to suppress an outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus. Officials this week found 13 cases stemming from a quarantine worker who became infected at a Melbourne hotel.

    With the lockdown beginning, the government has said the Australian Open tennis tournament would continue in the state's capital, Melbourne. Spectators will be banned from attending the event, which had previously allowed up to 30,000 visitors a day. Tickets will be refunded, tournament director Craig Tiley said.

    Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the current outbreak was not linked to the quarantine hotels used by the tennis players. He stressed that a "circuit breaker" was needed to combat the "hyper-infectious" strain which he said had likely already seeded other infections in the community.

    "This is the fastest-moving, most infectious strain of coronavirus that we have seen," he said, adding that almost 1,000 close contacts had already been reached. Prior to this outbreak, Victoria had not seen a local infection for 28 days and the state had largely eliminated the virus.

    Many Melbourne residents have expressed dismay but also resignation over the retreat into lockdown again. Last year, in Australia's winter, the city endured one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to overcome a second wave which led to more than 90% of Australia's 29,000 cases and 909 deaths.

    "We've built something precious, and we have to make difficult decisions, and do difficult things, in order to defend what we've built," Mr Andrews said. "I am confident that this short, sharp circuit breaker will be effective. We will be able to smother this."

    The state will be under the following restrictions for five days:

    ·         People must stay at home except for shopping, exercise, caregiving and essential work needs

    ·         No gatherings allowed

    ·         Travel is restricted to within 5km (3.1 miles) of the home

    ·         Mask wearing is mandatory in public

    ·         Places of worship and all non-essential venues are closed

    ·         Schools are closed except for children of essential workers

    Meanwhile, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia have announced travel bans on people from Melbourne. Further border closures are expected. International flights to Melbourne will also be cancelled, authorities said.

  • Mining firm apologises for destroying Aboriginal caves

    Mining giants Rio Tinto has apologised for blowing up 46,000-year-old Aboriginal caves in Western Australia dating back to the last Ice Age.

    The Juukan Gorge cave in the Pilnara region, were destroyed as Rio Tinto expanded an iron ore project that was agreed with the authorities.

    Many prehistoric artefacts have been found at the remote heritage site.

    Chris Salisbury, the firm’s chief executive, said: “We are sorry for the distress that we have caused.

    “We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP)”.

    The PKKP are the original and traditional owners of the cave.

    He went on to say: “We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership.

    “As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge region”.

    Artefacts found there include a belt made from human hair, analysis of which showed a direct link going back 4,000 years between the PKKP and the prehistoric cave-dweller.

  • Minister Tufton addresses NHF meeting that approved $15M of gov't funds for alleged sweetheart’s firm

     A board meeting of the National Health Fund (NHF), an agency of Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness, had just gotten underway. Businessman Christopher Zacca took the reins as he’d done at all the meetings since being appointed chairman in April 2016.

    According to the minutes of the NHF board meetings obtained under the Access to Information Act (ATI), he’d announced he was stepping down as chairman to take a position in the private sector. Former Member of Parliament Gregory Mair, also present that day, was to take over. Other newly-appointed directors were in attendance as well since there had been three recent departures on the 10-member board.

    “This meeting would primarily be for information gathering and transition,” the minutes recorded Mr. Zacca to have said while also revealing that the minister was expected to arrive later in the meeting. “All major decisions would be deferred until the next meeting of the Board.” At 8:55 a.m., Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton joined, and Mr. Zacca suspended the agenda and handed over to him.

    It’s what happened after that could begin to shed light on whether Dr. Tufton had a role in influencing the awarding of millions of dollars to a company co-owned by Lyndsey McDonnough, said to be personally linked to Dr. Tufton, to execute his ministry’s healthy-lifestyles program, Jamaica Moves.  

  • Minneapolis police to face US Federal Probe following Floyd Murder ‘Guilty’ Verdict

    A US federal investigation has been launched into policing practices in the city of Minneapolis, a day after one of its former officers was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. The justice department will look at whether there has been a pattern "of unconstitutional or unlawful policing", Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

    It follows national outrage over the killing of Mr Floyd by Derek Chauvin. The former officer was convicted of all charges against him on Tuesday.

    Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020. Mr Floyd, an unarmed African American, was pronounced dead an hour later. His death sparked protests across the US and worldwide, and calls for police reform.

    Tuesday's verdict has been widely welcomed in a country where police are rarely convicted - if they are charged at all - over deaths which occur in custody. But Mr Garland told reporters that he knew the verdict would not "address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis".

    The attorney general said the investigation would "include a comprehensive review of the Minneapolis Police Department's policies, training, supervision and use-of-force investigations." It will also examine "whether its treatment of those with behavioural health disabilities is unlawful", while looking at the "effectiveness of current systems of accountability and whether other mechanisms are needed to ensure constitutional and lawful policing."

    Mr Garland said both the community and law enforcement would have to take part if the investigation were to be a success, and he had already started reaching out to both. If unlawful patterns or practices were found, he promised to issue a public report and bring a civil lawsuit.

  • Minneapolis settle for $27m payment to murdered George Floyd family

    The city of Minneapolis in the USA has reached a $27m (£19m) settlement with the family of George Floyd, the unarmed Black man whose death sparked protests worldwide. His death after being trapped under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin for 7 minutes, 46 seconds was captured on camera.

    Lawyers for the family said the footage created undeniable demand for justice and change.

    Jury selection for Chauvin's murder trial is currently under way. Six out of 12 jurors have been selected for hearings beginning on March 29.

    The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to approve the pre-trial settlement, the largest ever awarded in the state of Minnesota. Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said: "That the largest pre-trial settlement in a wrongful death case ever would be for the life of a Black man sends a powerful message that Black lives do matter and police brutality against people of colour must end."

    In a video of Mr Floyd's death that went viral on social media, four police officers confront the man for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a local shop. They drag him to the ground and Chauvin places his knee on Mr Floyd's neck, even as he begs for his life and says "I can't breathe". He was later pronounced dead in hospital.

    Lawyers for the Floyd family filed a civil suit one month later, in June 2020. They argued the city had been negligent for failing to train officers in proper restraint techniques and for not dismissing officers with a poor track record. Dozens of complaints had previously been filed against Mr Chauvin, who had been serving on the city police force for 19 years.

    Speaking after the settlement was announced Mr Crump said: “This is but one step on the journey to justice. Mr Floyd's death was a catalyst for reckoning on race and bias.” The civil settlement comes at the end of the first week in criminal court proceedings over Chauvin's murder trial.

    The former officer is facing charges of second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. If found guilty on all counts he could face a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

    Six jurors have been selected for the trial so far, but the final bench requires 12 jurors and four alternates - or substitutes. Suitable jurors have been hard to find in this emotionally charged and high-profile case.

    The three other officers involved in Mr Floyd's death - J Alexander Keung, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane - were charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, and will be tried separately later this year.

  • Mobile research laboratories will keep track of UK air pollution

    New mobile air quality research laboratories will help experts further develop the UK’s world leading position in analysing how air pollution is formed and what impact it has on our environment and people.

    Scientists at the Universities of Birmingham, Manchester, Cranfield and Coventry, Imperial College London and Aston University have secured NERC funding for two ‘supersite observatories’ –fixed in an electric van and a trailer – that will dovetail with existing fixed air quality supersites in Birmingham, London and Manchester.

    Urban Air Quality Supersites already allow researchers to gather detailed data on the contents of harmful urban air pollution; working out where the gases and particles that pollute our air are coming from and how they form in the air - adding observational capacity far beyond the routine DEFRA and local authority air quality monitoring. Poor air quality arises from the interaction of emissions, weather and atmospheric processes, affecting the amounts and toxicity of pollutants.

    As part of the drive to improve regional and national air quality, the mobile supersites will help scientists better understand the balance between traffic and urban emissions, and pollutants already present in the air and carried on the wind into urban areas. They will also help to define how chemical processing agricultural emissions and changes to move towards carbon-zero transport affect air quality.

    Zongbo Shi, Professor of Atmospheric Biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk in the UK, leading to significant health inequalities and costing the country’s economy some £20 billion every year.

     

    “Adding mobile ‘supersite observatories’ to the monitoring capacity provided by our fixed sites will take our capability for quantifying air pollution sources and processes to the next level and consolidating Britain’s world-leading position in this field.

    “This exciting development will produce policy-relevant science with significant impact - informing air quality policy and helping to account for imported emissions. This is a UK-based approach with potential for global impact.”

    Backed by £1.3 million of NERC funding, the new supersites are not traditional monitoring stations - they will comprise highly sophisticated instruments which monitor key species in atmospheric processes, including:

    ·         Trace metals, nanoparticles and particle composition, plus regulated gas pollutants.

    ·         Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – key to ozone, secondary organic aerosol and new particle formation; and

    ·         Ammonia - key to aerosol formation;

    The mobile units will help to create the UK Air Quality Supersite Triplet (UK-AQST) configuration - rural, urban and roadside. This will allow urban and roadside concentration increments to be measured, as well as processing polluted air to analyse key secondary pollutants such as nitrates, organic particles and nanoparticles in unprecedented detail.

    Forthcoming revision of World Health Organisation guidelines will inform revised national air quality targets, within the new Environment Bill. UK-AQST will directly benefit the UK's atmospheric and environmental health community with six institutions involved.

  • Mother Fletcher and Uncle Redd Honoured with Traditional Naming Ceremony in Ghana

    We've been following the story of two of the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Viola Fletcher, age 107 and her brother Hughes Van Ellis (Uncle Redd), age 100 during their return to Ghana, and yesterday they took part in an Official Naming Ceremony after The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ghana Tourism Authority Beyond the Return, Diaspora Affairs, Office of the President and the Diaspora Africa Forum came together.

    Dressed entirely in white, signifying the new beginning, the siblings were in attendance with some of their family members.

  • Mourners line streets for funeral of ex-Tanzania president Magufuli

    Thousands of mourners filed past the coffin of Tanzania's ex-President John Magufuli, who died aged 61. His coffin, draped in the national flag, is lying in state at the Uhuru stadium in the main city Dar es Salaam.

    It was said by some politicians say that Magufuli contracted Covid-19, but this has not been confirmed. A Covid sceptic, at times he denied that the virus had affected Tanzania.

    Coming to power as Tanzania's president in 2015, Magufuli's coffin was brought to the stadium in a procession that was led by his successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan before being taken to several different locations for public viewing before his burial in his hometown of Chato. Some residents wept and threw flowers on the coffin which was pulled by a military vehicle.

    Newly sworn in president, Samia - Africa's only current female national leader - led the government procession in which many wore black or green and yellow to represent the colours of the ruling party. The Ethiopian presidency is a largely ceremonial role and she joins a short list of women on the continent to have run their countries.

    The government announced that Magufuli had died from a heart condition after he had been missing from public for several weeks. His position on coronavirus ranged from stating it did not exist in Tanzania to saying the country had beaten the pandemic through prayer.

    But in February, after a number of senior politicians died from the virus, he conceded it was circulating in Tanzania. Known as the ‘bulldozer’, before the pandemic Magufuli was praised for his no-nonsense approach and hailed for his anti-corruption stance and his distinct dislike for wasting money.

    President Samia spoke of the ‘heavy load’ on her shoulders and urged for the burying of differences and unity during the mourning period.

  • Muslims asked to delay Hajji bookings

    Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims from around the world who are planning to take part in the Hajji pilgrimage to delay booking amid uncertainty over the covid-19 epidemic.

     

    Hajj minister Mohammed Banten said the kingdom was concerned about the safety of pilgrims and urged people to “wait before concluding contracts”.

     

    In excess of 2million people were expected to travel to Mecca and Medina this July and August for the annual gathering.

     

    Muslims who are physically able must undertake the Hajji once in a lifetime.