Warsaw UN climate talks: Welcome to Coaland
UN climate hosts Poland need to get off dirty coal power and drive efforts to tackle dangerous climate change
Monday 11 November 2013 15.12 GMT
On Monday, the UN climate talks opened in Warsaw. Significant progress needs to be made during these negotiations, to ensure that we are on track to agreeing an ambitious global deal to combat climate change at Paris in 2015.
But the world is not only watching the negotiations closely. All eyes are on Poland, the presidency of this conference.
Already in the run up to the summit, Poland presented itself as controversial host. In a blog post on the official COP19 website, the organisers welcomed the melting ice of the Arctic as opportunity for new drilling and one to “chase pirates, terrorists and ecologists”. The government was further criticized for inviting the biggest coal and oil companies as sponsors, and for allowing a global coal summit to take place in parallel to the climate talks. But all this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Poland is responsible for only about 1% of global greenhouse emissions. But its carbon dioxide emissions per capita are above the EU average and the country is one of the bloc’s least efficient economies. More than 90% of Poland’s electricity is produced from coal, which makes the country the second largest consumer of the fuel in the EU. The latest figures of the European Environment Agency show that Poland also experiences the second highest levels of air pollution in Europe.
Two thirds of Poland’s coal-fired power plants are older than 30 years and more than one third are older than 40 years. The power station in Bełchatów is the second largest lignite plant in the world and the biggest single polluter in the EU. According to Greenpeace’s recent report ‘Coal kills. The analysis of health costs of emissions of the Polish energy sector’, coal power plants are responsible for almost 5,400 deaths a year, about 1,000 of them are related to Bełchatów alone. The recently published HEAL analysis ‘The unpaid bill. How coal power plants make us sick’ says that Poland’s total health costs from coal power generation are the highest in the EU – and equivalent to approximately about 30% of the average annual amount of EU cohesion funding to the country.
What is the government’s answer? Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that Poland will increase its use of coal because of the large domestic supply.
So while preparing to host COP19, the government went ahead with planning the construction of several new coal power plants and mines, most of which will start operating after 2020.
One of the biggest investments is Elektrownia Północ (North Power Plant). The carbon emissions of this project will be equivalent to increasing the country’s population of 1.8 million inhabitants. These plans will prevent the energy sector’s decarbonisation for several decades.
At the same time, Poland’s former chief geologist and former Vice-Minister of Environment Michał Wilczyński forecasts that the country’s brown coal deposits will run out by 2035 and that the mining of bituminous coal is going to be so expensive that by 2030, Poland will import more of it than it will produce.
The government is using two arguments to defend its addition to coal – the protection of the national economy and sovereignty. Both of them are questionable.
The cost of mining is already increasing. As journalists Bartlomiej Derski and Rafal Zasun explained earlier this year: “Polish coal mined last year was worth about 30 billion PLN. At the same time we paid 8 billion PLN for the miners’ pensions [per year]”. By comparison, renewable energy received annual subsidies of approximately 2.4 billion PLN (this excludes subsidies for co-firing biomass with coal).
According to the Greenpeace report ‘Working for the climate’, the implementation of an ambitious program of ‘greening’ the energy sector in Poland could create over 170,000 jobs. This figure takes into account the reduction in employment in the mining sector.
And what about the second argument? Already in 2012, every fifth tonne of bituminous coal was imported. For several years now Poland has been importing twice as much coal as exporting.
Earlier this year, Tusk said that the agreement to the EU energy and climate package in 2008 was a dramatic and dangerous mistake. “We won’t allow ourselves to be misled by the industry lobbyists as our predecessors were, and we will not make Polish people believe that solar panels and wind turbines are the energy future of our country”, he added.
Experts however show that renewable energy could cover as much as 26% of Polish electricity demand in 2020 and even 80% in 2050.
Meanwhile, the European Commission announced that Poland is being referred to the Court of Justice for failing to adopt rules set out by the EU Renewable Energy Directive. The deadline for implementation of the directive was three years ago. The consequence of non-compliance can be a fine of over 133,000 EUR per day until the directive is fully implemented.
The national strategy of the Polish government has its consequences on the international level too. Poland is seen as a real barrier to progress in the EU, which in turn holds up progress at the wider level. The country has opposed proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2020 three times. Samantha Smith from WWF set it out clearly: “The top three factors that have held the EU back in terms of politics are Poland, Poland and Poland.”
You probably ask yourself why Polish citizens are not present in the debate. According to opinion polls, the majority of the Polish public (84%) thinks that climate change is a big threat and that there is a need to act now. 75% believe that the EU should be a global leader in climate protection. 96% believe that we should use more clean energy. More than two thirds of the Polish public (67%) declares a willingness to pay more for clean energy and 69% state that we have to fight climate change even if it should slow down economic growth.
There are new protest movements against the government’s environmental policy. Occupy Chevron Żurawlów, the resistance against the construction of the Elektrownia Północ power plant, and the quickly growing Polish Youth Climate Network are only three out of many examples.
One of the biggest strength of these movements is their diversity – people with all kinds of social backgrounds are fighting for their right to self-determination and to live in a healthy, safe and sustainable environment.
The Polish government has an opportunity now, while hosting COP19, to drive progress for an ambitious global deal to prevent dangerous climate change.
• Michalina Golinczak is a member of the Polish Youth Climate Network
Polish riot police use rubber bullets on far-right protesters in Warsaw
Demonstrators set cars alight during annual march to celebrate national independence day
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 18.58 GMT
Polish riot police used rubber bullets on Monday to break up groups of masked far-right young protesters who threw firecrackers and set fire to parked cars during a nationalist march through the centre of Warsaw.
The march is an annual event to commemorate Poland's national independence day. For the third year in a row, it broke down into running battles in the middle of the capital between rioters and police.
Several thousand rightwing protesters began their march peacefully, watched by their own stewards in orange vests and with a police helicopter circling above.
The violence started when a few dozen youths, their faces covered by balaclavas and football scarves, broke off from the procession into a side street and started attacking a building where leftwing radicals occupied a squat.
Riot police moved in, coming under attack from youths throwing firecrackers and stones. As the rioters dispersed, several cars were set on fire.
Mariusz Sololowski, a police spokesman, told Reuters officers had used rubber bullets, truncheons and pepper spray against the rioters. Polish media reported that two police officers had been injured. Several people were arrested.
Russia demands Poland apology over riots outside Warsaw embassy
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 7:10 EST
Russia on Tuesday demanded an apology from Poland and slammed what it called a delayed police response after ultra-nationalist rioters went on the rampage outside the Russian embassy in Warsaw.
The Russian foreign ministry in Moscow summoned the Polish ambassador Wojciech Zajaczkowski over Monday’s unrest, during which rioters set two cars alight and overturned a guard’s booth outside the Russian embassy.
“We told Zajaczkowski that we demand an official apology from the Polish authorities,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, complaining that the riot had caused damage to the embassy’s property and interrupted its work for several hours.
It criticised the “passivity and delayed actions of the police, which to a great extent made this riot by rowdy thugs possible.”
Russia also called for the “punishment of the guilty and for such provocations not to be allowed to happen in the future.”
Zajaczkowski did not make any comment on leaving the foreign ministry, Russian news agencies reported.
Around 50,000 people surged through Warsaw on Monday in a march organised by far-right groups on Poland’s independence day, many wearing balaclavas and carrying lighted flares.
Four police officers were hospitalised after demonstrators threw stones and bottles.
The spokesman for Poland’s foreign ministry Marcin Wojciechowski on Monday wrote on Twitter, saying: “There is no justification for hooliganism.”
Poland and Russia have a history of complicated relations marked by centuries of conflicts. The integration into the West of post-Communist Poland, an EU and NATO member, is a clear cause of concern for Moscow.
Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets
Decline partly put down to strong focus on rehabilitation and more lenient sentences for some offences
Richard Orange in Malmö
The Guardian, Monday 11 November 2013 16.33 GMT
Sweden has experienced such a sharp fall in the number of prison admissions in the past two years that it has decided to close down four prisons and a remand centre.
"We have seen an out-of-the-ordinary decline in the number of inmates," said Nils Öberg, the head of Sweden's prison and probation services. "Now we have the opportunity to close down a part of our infrastructure that we don't need at this point of time."
Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next, Öberg said.
As a result, the prison service has this year closed down prisons in the towns of Åby, Håja, Båtshagen, and Kristianstad, two of which will probably be sold and two of which will be passed for temporary use to other government authorities.
Öberg said that while nobody knew for sure why prison numbers had dropped so steeply, he hoped that Sweden's liberal prison approach, with its strong focus on rehabilitating prisoners, had played a part.
"We certainly hope that the efforts we invest in rehabilitation and preventing relapse of crime has had an impact, but we don't think that this could explain the entire drop of 6%," he said.
In the opinion piece in Sweden's DN newspaper in which he announced the closures, Öberg said that Sweden needed to work even harder on rehabilitating prisoners, doing more to help them once they had returned to society.
One partial explanation for the sudden drop in admissions may be that Swedish courts have given more lenient sentences for drug offences following a ruling of the country's supreme court in 2011. According to Öberg, there were about 200 fewer people serving sentences for drug offences in Sweden last March than a year previously.
Sweden's prison services will retain the option to reopen two of the closed prisons should the number of inmates rise.
"We are not at the point of concluding that this is a long-term trend and that this is a change in paradigm," Öberg said. "What we are certain of is that the pressure on the criminal justice system has dropped markedly in recent years."
Hanns von Hofer, a criminology professor at Stockholm University, said that much of the fall in prison numbers could be attributed to a recent shift in policy towards probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor thefts, drugs offences and violent crimes.
Of the fall in prison population between 2004 and 2012, he pointed out, 36% related to theft, 25% to drugs offences and 12% to violent crimes.
According to official data, the Swedish prison population has dropped by nearly a sixth since it peaked at 5,722 in 2004. In 2012, there were 4,852 people in prison in Sweden, out of a population of 9.5 million.
How the rest of the world compares with Sweden
According to data collected by the International Centre for Prison Studies, the five countries with the highest prison population are the US, China, Russia, Brazil and India.
The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia's inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000.
Brazilian prisons hold 548,003 citizens, 274 people per 100,000; finally, India's prison population amounts to 385,135, with a per capita rate of just 30 inmates per 100,000 citizens.
Among the countries with the smallest prison populations are Malta, Equatorial Guinea, Luxembourg, French Guyana and Djibouti. Sweden ranked 112th for its prison population.
• This article was amended on 12/11/13 to clarify the figures regarding theft, drug offences and violent crime.
Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to the country
The closure of the state broadcaster by the coalition government is symptomatic of the brutal austerity being inflicted
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 19.00 GMT
Last Monday Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, the leader of Greek media workers' union Pospert, told me and a dozen colleagues that the government was "using all its state apparatus" against the journalists occupying the headquarters of public broadcaster ERT. Less than 72 hours later the building had been raided by riot police, Kalfagiannis was in custody and the screens went blank for the first time in the five months since the station was shut down by ministers.
We – a group of journalists who work for trade unions from as far afield as Ghana, the USA and Lithuania – were in Athens on a week-long project and were the last people to interview ERT staff from inside the vast broadcasting centre before their eviction.
One of the spokeswomen for the occupation, TV journalist Mahi Nikolara, told us that they felt the ruling coalition, which lost a partner when Democratic Left walked away in protest at the ERT closure, would be forced to come up with a political solution, because the decision to pull the plug had itself been political. Little did we know the government would act quite so soon.
It was not, of course, the desired outcome for the workers or the many hundreds of protesters outside of the building during the dawn raid and thousands more who gathered later that evening. I was among them and the mood was calm, but very angry. Cheers rang out when a speaker announced that Syriza had that evening tabled a motion of no confidence in the government that was, as expected, defeated in the parliament on Sunday night after tense exchanges.
With economic and social policy being dictated by the hated troika – Greece's three international creditors (European commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank) imposing brutal austerity in return for loans – the future of politics in the cradle of democracy is almost impossible to call. For many, ERT has become a symbol of what is happening across Greece. While the government has accused the broadcaster of being bloated and corrupt, the workers there say that the only high salaries were being paid to the 100 or so government-appointed staff.
You would be hard pushed to find anyone in Greece who thought that their economy and political system were in good health before the crisis. But no one I spoke to thought they were being anything other than destroyed by the troika and, crucially, they expect – many even accept – things are only going to get worse.
Many of national statistics are well known in the UK: unemployment soaring from 7.5% in 2008 to 27% in the first quarter of this year; youth unemployment at a devastatingly bleak 62%; cuts to the education budget of 45%; health spending slashed by 50%; local authorities losing 55% of their funding from government.
Many other effects are not well known. We spoke to workers from the public works ministry who told us the department responsible for post-natural disaster restoration was being abolished. This in a country ranked fifth in the world for earthquake activity.
We heard account after account of devastating cuts that, I believe, amount to nothing less than criminal acts against the people of Greece. Added to the immediate impact, professionals talk about looming environmental and health problems that will be felt for many years to come. Some doctors predict a mortality crisis will take hold after 2016.
When I arrived outside ERT for the protest on Thursday evening, Guardian contributor Aris Chatzistefanou – who was working with us for the week – told me the ERT workers were trying to set up a mobile studio. They succeeded, and that night their news bulletin was reportedly watched by more than 1.2 million people online – seven times more than their average ratings than before the police raid.
The national broadcaster may yet have been thrown itself a lifeline. It remains to be seen whether the Greek people can do the same.
• The headline and subheading on this article were amended on 11 November 2013. The headline originally read "Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to my country" and the subheading also stated that the author was Greek. This editorial error has now been corrected.
François Hollande booed as 70 arrested at Armistice Day ceremony
French government says protesters linked to far-right groups as polls reveal another fall in president's popularity ratings
Reuters in Paris
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 November 2013
French police detained about 70 people at an Armistice Day memorial ceremony on Monday after protesters the government said were linked to the far right booed President François Hollande.
Newscasters said it was the first time a French head of state had been jeered on 11 November, the day commemorating the signing of the armistice in 1918.
Scuffles erupted between police and the demonstrators as the socialist president's motorcade drove up the Champs- Élysées to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Some of the protesters shouted "Hollande, step down", and "Socialist dictator". Interior minister Manuel Valls said the demonstrators included members of far-right groups opposed to government policies such as same-sex marriages.
"Today on the Champs-Élysées, several dozen individuals linked to the far right … did not want to respect this moment of contemplation and gathering," Valls told reporters, describing their actions as unacceptable.
The 70 were arrested because the demonstration was not authorised, said a source at the presidential palace.
One protester told BFM-TV the boos and gibes were targeted purely at Hollande. "I find it absolutely shameful that we don't have the right to speak up without being arrested," said the woman. "Saying 'Hollande, step down' is not offensive."
Polls published on Monday by OpinionWay and Ipsos showed Hollande's popularity ratings, pummelled by an ailing economy, heavy taxes and other issues, at 22% and 21% respectively.
Those ratings fell below the 25% approval rating in a CSA survey published on Friday, which had put his popularity at the lowest level of any president since the founding of France's Fifth Republic 55 years ago.
Protests have forced Hollande to give ground over planned tax increases, including most recently a new levy on heavy trucks that mobilised hundreds in the western region of Brittany. Hollande has now deferred but not scrapped the levy.
Valls said Monday's protesters included members of the far-right National Front, whose popularity has risen on the back of widespread public discontent ahead of municipal and European elections scheduled for next year.
PIG'S PUTIN RUSSIA ...
Arctic 30 arrive in Saint Petersburg
Greenpeace activists and two journalists transferred by prison train from Murmansk
theguardian.com, Tuesday 12 November 2013 12.12 GMT
Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists and two journalists detained by Russia during an Arctic protest nearly two months ago arrived in Saint Petersburg in a train prison wagon on Tuesday after a journey of more than 800 miles (1,200km) from the northern city of Murmansk.
The wagon was detached from the train and moved about half a mile away from the station before the detainees, surrounded by police, were transferred to buses, Greenpeace International said.
It was unclear whether the group would be held in one detention centre in the city or held at different sites. It also remained to be seen whether conditions are different to those in which they were held in Murmansk, where the five women were held in single cells and the men were split up but shared cells with Russian speakers. A team of lawyers was on standby in Saint Petersburg to represent them, said Greenpeace.
The Arctic 30 were captured in September after armed Russian border guards stormed their ship during a protest in which campaigners tried to scale an Arctic drilling platform.
On Monday some families of six Britons in the group expressed concerns over their welfare. Sue Turner, mother of Iain Rogers, second engineer on the Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship, was particularly worried that the group would be split up and members could "disappear".
Greenpeace said it was routine after a prison transfer in Russia for detainees to be quarantined for infectious diseases. This may be a relatively short period, but lawyers will not have access to the detainees during this period.
Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace said: "This is a new chapter in the story of the Arctic 30, but it's still the same story. They are innocent men and women in jail on trumped up charges, threatened with long-term prison sentences for a crime they didn't commit.
"In an age of cynicism and political apathy in many countries, the activists did something about an issue they care passionately about … They protested peacefully, driven by their convictions, and for that they are being unjustly punished. They should be released immediately."
Greenpeace says legal moves should start next week if Russian authorities wish to extend the group's detention. David Cameron last week told Pig Putin he considers the charges of "hooliganism" excessive while William Hague, the British foreign secretary, has also raised the detentions with his opposite number, Sergei Lavrov.
Britain pays mothers to breastfeed in pilot program designed to reduce stigma in poor communities
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 7:26 EST
New mothers in two areas of Britain are to be paid to breastfeed their babies, it was announced Tuesday, under a trial scheme aimed at boosting the practice in poor areas where it is “stigmatised”.
Mums in Derbyshire, central England, and its neighbour South Yorkshire, will be offered shopping vouchers worth £120 ($200, 140 euros) if they breastfeed for the first six weeks, rising to £200 if they continue for six months.
Some 130 women from deprived areas will take part in the pilot scheme, which aims to establish whether financial incentives can boost a practice believed to bring significant health benefits to newborn babies.
“The UK has one of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world and breastfeeding rates vary very widely across different parts of the country,” said Clare Relton of Sheffield University, which is running the pilot in collaboration with the government.
“Babies who are breastfed have fewer health problems such as upset tummies and chest infections, and are less likely to develop diabetes and obesity when they are older.”
A six-week-old baby born into an affluent family in Britain is four times more likely to be breastfed than one in a deprived area, she added.
Britain’s National Health Service recommends that mothers feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months — but this only happens in 34 percent of cases, according to Relton.
Breastfeeding is “stigmatised” in parts of Britain, she added — including through advertising for formula milk that can make it seem a less attractive option.
But Janet Fyle, policy advisor to the Royal College of Midwives, said the reluctance to breastfeed amongst some mothers was a deeper cultural problem that would not easily be solved by handing out shopping vouchers.
“In many areas, including those in this study, there are generations of women who may not have seen anyone breastfeeding their baby, meaning it is not the cultural norm in many communities,” she said.
Many women also struggle to get the baby to feed properly, while others find it difficult if they go back to work soon after the birth.
“The motive for breastfeeding cannot be rooted by offering financial reward. It has to be something that a mother wants to do in the interest of the health and well-being of her child,” Fyle said.
The scheme could be rolled out nationally next year if it successfully boosts breastfeeding rates, organisers said.
The initiative will not be rigorously policed, simply relying on the mothers’ midwives to confirm that they are breastfeeding.
Women taking part in the pilot scheme will be able to cash in their vouchers at supermarkets and high street stores.
European Commission chief: French tax policy has ‘reached limits of acceptability’
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 11, 2013 18:54 EST
France’s fiscal policy has “reached the limits of acceptability”, with high company taxes weighing on growth, the head of the European Commission told French television late Monday.
Even though France’s proposed budget is “overall satisfactory”, José Manuel Barroso told the LCI network: “Today, the fiscal policy in France has reached the limits of acceptability.
“France is by far the country (in the EU) where companies pay the highest taxes and that’s a problem for growth and employment.”
He urged Paris to “reduce public spending”, while noting that some effort in that direction was included in the proposed budget.
The European Commission on Friday is to give its evaluation of each country in the eurozone in a new measure implemented as part of the effort to stabilise the fragile single currency area.
Rating agency S&P last week downgraded French debt by one notch and expressed concerns about policies to reduce the public deficit and raise competitivity.
France, the eurozone’s second-biggest economy, exited recession with 0.5 percent growth in the second quarter, but is still limping.
The eurozone’s biggest economy, Germany, on the other hand is blazing along, with data last week showing its trade surplus had hit a record high above six percent of GDP.
Barroso said the Commission was planning on Wednesday to “do a deep analysis” of imbalances in the German economy.
“It’s true that the German surplus is above what is normal,” he said.
Eurozone partners, the IMF and the United States worry that Germany’s economy, driven by exports and relatively weak on domestic consumption, is proving a problem to eurozone recovery.
Barroso said: “There are some countries that have lost export markets, for instance France, Britain, Italy. We have to work together so we all become more competitive.”
On the subject of his mandate, Barroso said he was ready to step down at the end of his second term in October 2014.
“Ten years is already a lot. But I want to work to the last minute for Europe,” he said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran
Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance
Julian Borger and Ian Traynor in Brussels
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 18.06 GMT
A meeting in a Geneva hotel room between the US secretary of state and his French counterpart led to an 11th-hour toughening of the west's position on Iran's nuclear programme that proved unacceptable to Iranian negotiators, say western officials.
John Kerry's Saturday-night meeting with Laurent Fabius was a late turning point in three days of intense talks among foreign ministers that resulted only in a decision to resume negotiations at a lower level in Geneva next week.
In the discussion in the US secretary of state's room at the Geneva InterContinental, Fabius insisted on two key points in the drafting of an interim agreement with Iran: there should be no guarantees in the preamble about the country's right to enrich uranium; and work would have to stop on a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Iran is building the Arak reactor, capable of producing plutonium, about 130 miles south-west of Tehran.
In the words of one French official: "Kerry was confident enough to accept what Fabius had to say." The two points were included in a three-page draft proposal put together by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, who acts as a convenor for a six-nation group involved in the talks.
The draft agreement also imposed limits on Iran's enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for limited sanction relief.
At 9.20pm on Saturday the agreement was put before foreign ministers from the UK, Germany, Russia and the deputy foreign minister of China, who make up the rest of the "P5+1" group, which has been negotiating with Iran for seven years.
"Kerry was even more forceful in presenting this draft than Fabius. He got behind it," the French official said. The P5+1 ministers approved it, and at 10.50pm it was put to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had joined the meeting in a conference room in the hotel.
However, in the preamble of a joint statement, Zarif had been seeking language that would at least implicitly recognise Iran's right to enrich uranium. He had also insisted on construction continuing at Arak, and suggested that international concerns could be assuaged if the work stopped short of putting uranium fuel in the reactor and turning it on.
But at 10 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning, it was agreed that all parties would consult their capitals and try again at a meeting of foreign ministry political directors on 20 November. Ministers would not attend but could be on hand if needed.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi after the meeting, Kerry singled out Iran for the failure to agree. "The French signed off on it; we signed off on it," he said. "There was unity, but Iran couldn't take it."
Zarif took to Twitter to rebut that claim. "Mr Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?" Zarif said in a pointed reference to Fabius's role. "No amount of spinning can change what happened in 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thurs. to 5.45 PM Sat. But it can further erode confidence"
Western officials conceded that unity had been achieved only on the last night of the negotiations, leaving little time for the Iranians to respond; much of the preceding 60 hours of talks had been among the P5+1 group seeking a common position.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, who took part in the talks, said that although there were still gaps between the sides, it should possible to resolve them. "While I cannot go into the details of the discussions while the talks continue, I can say that most of those gaps are now narrow, and many others were bridged altogether during the negotiations."
The UK today on Monday named a new non-resident chargé d'affaires for its embassy in Tehran, which has been empty since it was stormed by a mob in 2011. The appointment of Ajay Sharma, the current head of the Iran desk, followed bilateral talks on the margins of the Geneva talks. He is due to visit Tehran later this month, the first time a British diplomat has been there for two years.
Western officials argued strongly that the talks had made unprecedented progress on a previously intractable issue. "No breakthrough yet, but definitely no failure," said a senior diplomat. "The collective assessment of the group was that some more time would still be needed. That was not just the assessment of the French."
Another western diplomat added: "This issue was far too technical and too complicated for it to have been solved in a couple of days." But he added the sudden, unplanned convergence of foreign ministers on Geneva on Friday had created unrealistic expectations.
Kerry, prompted by an Iranian leak on Thursday night that he was on the way, asked to attend the negotiations. When he was then invited by Ashton, the other foreign ministers rushed to join him.
Fabius arrived first, concerned that the US and Iran would strike a bilateral agreement and present it to the other attendees as a fait accompli. But he immediately angered his colleagues by breaking a long-established agreement not to discuss the substance of the talks in public when he voiced his reservations on French radio.
Fabius denied that he had acted as a spoiler at the talks. "France is neither isolated, nor does she blindly follow," he told Europe 1 radio. "We are firm but not closed-minded, and I have great hope that there will be a good agreement."
Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that France had been unfairly lambasted. "At the end of the day, when cooler heads prevail, the French intervention will be seen as constructive," he said. "Only if you stop work on Arak can you decompress the discussions that there will have to be over the next few months."
It has also become clear that France was not the only participant in Geneva seeking to reflect the concerns of Iran's neighbours. Ashton believes any breakthrough would need to be "sustainable". She has expressed fears that an agreement that fails to pass muster with Israel, Saudi Arabia and others in the region could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
While the Geneva talks failed to produce an agreement, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, secured a deal in Tehran yesterday/today giving his inspectors access to two sites: a plant producing heavy water for the Arak reactor, and a uranium mine in Gchine on the Gulf coast.
The agreement was significant as it involved Iran going beyond the letter of its agreement with the IAEA in offering transparency, and an annex also obliged Tehran to provide design information on Arak and any other new reactors and uranium enrichment plants Iran might be planning. But it does not address the critical issue that has deadlocked the IAEA and Iran for years – the agency's investigation into any nuclear weapons development work Iran might have conducted in the past.
"I wouldn't say this agreement was entirely ho-hum but it does not address the big ticket issues. They aren't mentioned," Hibbs said. "It also talks about 'managed access' to the sites, so everything is still subject to further agreement by Tehran, and that makes it hostage to the atmosphere of the broader negotiations."
Iran allows inspectors to visit two key nuclear sites
IAEA granted permission to enter long-unseen facilities as Tehran seeks to show co-operation after failure of Geneva talks
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 13.31 GMT
Iran has agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to enter long-unseen nuclear sites, including the Gchine uranium mine and a heavy-water reactor in Arak, as part of a co-operation deal struck in Tehran.
Days after arduous negotiations in Geneva ended without a decisive agreement between Iran's negotiating team and six world powers on Iran's nuclear future, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, met the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, and agreed a roadmap for greater co-operation.
At the same time, the UK foreign secretary took pains to clarify the Geneva talks had not failed and there was still a deal to be done.
Hague told MPs that differences between the two sides were now "narrow" and "we must build momentum behind the Geneva talks", but warned Tehran that it should seize the opportunity brought by the progress made in last week's negotiations.
"Our aim is to produce an interim first step agreement with Iran that can then create the confidence and space to negotiate a comprehensive and final settlement," he told the parliament, adding that the UK government was "firmly" in favour of such an interim deal as first step towards a comprehensive settlement.
"An interim agreement would involve offering Iran limited, proportionate sanctions relief. In the meantime though, we will be vigilant and firm in upholding the international sanctions which have played an indispensable part in creating this new opening with Iran," he said.
A joint statement issued by the IAEA and Iran said both sides had agreed "to strengthen their co-operation and dialogue aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme".
"It is foreseen that Iran's co-operation will include providing the IAEA with timely information about its nuclear facilities and in regard to the implementation of transparency measures," the statement said. "Activities will proceed in a step-by-step manner."
While parallel talks in Geneva ended without agreement at the weekend, both sides stressed a great deal of progress had been made. Talks are due to resume in 10 days, with more junior officials, to fine-tune the text prepared in last week's negotiations.
The Iranian delegation - headed by foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif - and representatives from the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany failed to reach a breakthrough in Geneva as France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said Paris could not agree on the text as a fait accompli.
"The joint statement that was signed today represents a road map that specifies bilateral steps in relation to resolving outstanding issues," Salehi said during a news conference in Tehran with Amano on Monday.
"I have received permission for inspectors to visit the Arak heavy-water plant and the Gchine mine, which has been requested by the agency, and Iran has voluntarily announced its readiness for this," Salehi said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
"Iran and the IAEA will co-operate further with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues," Amano said, according to Iran's state-run English-language television, Press TV. "The practical measures will be implemented in the next three months, starting from today."
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has played down France's role in blocking a stopgap deal on Sunday, shifting blame towards Iranian negotiators. "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it," Kerry said in Abu Dhabi. "There was unity but Iran couldn't take it."
On Monday, Hague echoed Kerry saying the group P5+1 had a united position which he said will present a strong foundation for next round of talks. The EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, has also stepped forward to make clear that inconclusive talks at the weekend did not mean it failed.
"On the question of will [a final agreement] happen in the next few weeks, there is a good chance of that," Hague told the BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday. "A deal is on the table and it can be done. But it is a formidably difficult negotiation, I can't say exactly when it will conclude.
"They are narrow gaps. You asked what went wrong, I would say that a great deal went right."
In the provisional agreement reached in Tehran on Monday, several sticking points were notably not addressed. Significantly absent was an agreement on the Parchin military site in south-east of the Iranian capital, which is at the heart of the nuclear dispute between Tehran and the west. The IAEA has not been permitted to access Parchin since 2005, despite repeated requests from the international community.
Meanwile on Monday, Iran and the UK – who are upgrading their diplomatic ties – announced their non-resident chargé d'affaires to their respective capitals. Ajay Sharma, the head of the Foreign Office's Iran desk, will be London's non-resident chargé d'affaires to Iran; Tehran named Mohammad-Hassan Habibollahzadeh as Sharma's counterpart.
Iranian deputy industry minister shot dead in Tehran
Safdar Rahmatabadi shot in head and chest in Iranian capital in second attack on government official in recent days
Associated Press in Tehran
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 08.29 GMT
Iran's deputy industry minister has been assassinated by an unidentified gunman, Iran's official news agency has reported.
Safdar Rahmatabadi was shot twice in head and chest on Sunday in an eastern neighbourhood of the capital, Tehran. Police believe the deputy minister was shot by someone travelling with him in his car, who spoke with him before opening fire.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Rahmatabadi, whose portfolio included mining and commerce, was not a well-known public figure. He had served a similar role under the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This was the second attack in recent days on a government official in Iran, and came as the more moderate leader, Hassan Rouhani, emerged from talks with world leaders in Geneva seeking to resolve an impasse over Iran's nuclear programme.
On Wednesday, a gunman killed an Iranian state prosecutor in the restive south-eastern province of Sistan Baluchistan, near the border with Pakistan.
November 11, 2013
Militant Leader Is Killed in Pakistan
By DECLAN WALSH and IHSANULLAH TIPU MEHSUD
LONDON — A senior leader of the feared Haqqani militant network was shot dead on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital, officials said Monday, in a new blow to the close-knit cluster of militant groups that shelter in northwestern Pakistan.
The leader, Nasiruddin Haqqani — a son of the militant group’s founder, the Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani — was gunned down outside a bread store on Sunday night by a man riding a motorcycle, witnesses told Pakistani news media outlets.
Intelligence officials believe that he was a chief fund-raiser for the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal elements of the insurgency in Afghanistan, and he was designated as a “global terrorist” by the United States in 2010. Two commanders for the group confirmed his death on Monday.
“We have received his body, and the funeral has taken place,” said one commander, Gul Hassan, who spoke by phone from North Waziristan, the main hub of the Haqqani group in Pakistan. “The mujahedeen are in shock.”
The killing added to an impression of increased turbulence for the militant groups harbored in Pakistan’s tribal belt, including Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network. Over just two months, one major leader has been arrested, two have been killed in a drone strike, and now a major financier — Mr. Haqqani — has died.
The link, if any, between those events remains hidden in the miasma of tribal politics, skulduggery and treachery that has for centuries haunted the rugged frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But many are taking the violence as a portent of increased upheaval as rival intelligence services and militant groups vie for power and influence ahead of the withdrawal of American combat troops from the region next year.
The first major shot came when American forces detained Latif Mehsud, a senior commander for the Pakistani Taliban, inside Afghanistan. Weeks later, on Nov. 1, a C.I.A. drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, and a top deputy. Now, Mr. Haqqani, a looming figure in a militant network closely allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is dead.
There was no claim of responsibility for Mr. Haqqani’s death, although conflicting views about the identity of his killers abounded. Afghan intelligence officials quickly blamed an internal Haqqani family dispute. But among Pakistani spymasters, speculation was rife that their Afghan counterparts had ordered the hit, possibly through a network of Afghan operatives in Pakistan.
In any case, the fact that he was killed on the very edge of Islamabad, the capital, is likely to discomfit the Pakistani government and military, which have long faced accusations that they allow the Haqqanis and other militant groups nearly complete freedom of movement within the country.
Another Haqqani network commander, speaking on the condition of anonymity from Peshawar, claimed that militants had mourned Mr. Haqqani at a prayer service right under the nose of the Pakistani military, at a secret spot in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. The commander said that Mr. Haqqani’s body was then sent back to the tribal belt for burial.
“Another Abottabad? Massive Embarrassment,” Talat Hussain, a Pakistani television journalist, said on Twitter, referring to the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, near Islamabad, in 2011.
American and Afghan officials have for years accused Pakistani intelligence officials of aiding, or at least turning a blind eye to, the Haqqani network as part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan, and to attack Indian diplomatic sites in the country.
Pakistani officials deny any collusion with the group but admit that they keep in contact with its commanders as part of intelligence operations. And they make little secret of the fact that the Haqqanis were their trump card in efforts to draw the Afghan Taliban, which are linked to the Haqqani network, into peace talks.
Nasiruddin Haqqani, who shuttled between the tribal belt and the Islamabad area, was sometimes described as one of the group’s liaisons with the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
But the recent round of killings and arrests, on both sides of the border, seems to suggest that some players are more interested in shooting than in negotiating for peace, at least for now.
American interest in the Haqqani network stems from its record of well-organized attacks against high-profile targets in Afghanistan’s major cities. The group pledges allegiance to the Afghan Taliban but operates with a high degree of autonomy, and over the years it has launched coordinated assaults on government ministries, five-star hotels and the United States Embassy in central Kabul, on American bases near the border with Pakistan, and on Indian diplomatic facilities across the country.
Fund-raising is also crucial to the group’s success, thanks to its involvement in drug smuggling, kidnapping and gun running, as well as decades-old links to rich jihadi donors in the Persian Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia.
American, German and British officials saw Nasiruddin Haqqani, whose mother is Arab and who spoke Arabic, as the crucial link between the network and the legitimate businesses in the Persian Gulf area that it profits from.
The Haqqani network began as a mujahedeen group fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, its leader, Mr. Haqqani’s father, Jalaluddin, was a towering figure of the resistance, and he was both a cherished ally of the United States and a hero figure in the Persian Gulf states, where he led fund-raising tours of mosques.
In recent years, as the group turned its sights toward driving the American military out of the country, command of the group passed to his son Sirajuddin. Most of the group’s leadership moved to the Pakistani tribal belt, nominally out of reach of the American military offensives targeting the network next door in eastern Afghanistan.
But the C.I.A. drone program continued to take a toll. Another Haqqani son, Badruddin, was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan in August 2012.
On Monday, a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said that Nasiruddin Haqqani was buried in the same graveyard as his brother, in Danday Darpa Khel — the village where Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed in a drone strike.
Some Afghan officials said they thought it was family politics, in the end, that brought Nasiruddin Haqqani down. A tribal leader in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, the main stronghold of the Haqqani family’s tribe, said that Mr. Haqqani had a long-running financial dispute with a cousin, Ishaq, whom he had accused of working with Afghan intelligence officials.
The Haqqani network has reportedly faced internal strain, with accounts of discontent and even resentment within its tribal support base in eastern Afghanistan’s rugged mountains.
Declan Walsh reported from London, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan. Farooq Jan Mangal contributed reporting from Khost, Afghanistan; Matthew Rosenberg from Washington; and Salman Masood from Islamabad.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
November 11, 2013, 7:46 am
India’s Politicians Ignore Women Voters in Election Campaigns
By MONOBINA GUPTA
On the eve of Diwali, I was walking around the inner circle of Connaught Place, a well-known shopping center in Delhi, with a journalist friend. The business arcade teemed with people. Suddenly loud, belligerent voices tore through the festive air. We stopped.
Two angry middle-aged women were seeking the help of a policeman and accusing two men hovering around them of making lewd remarks. “He called me a whore,” said one of them, pointing her fingers at one of the men. The accused man raised his hand to hit her.
A curious crowd gathered. The police officers, all men, did nothing to help the women. And then I saw one police officer pull at the clothes of one of those women and yell at her: “I will slap you!.”
We walked through the crowd to the police officer and identified ourselves as journalists. He seemed taken aback by our sudden arrival. It didn’t bother the two men who had been accused of sexual harassment. As we argued with the police officer about his failure to act, the crowd gradually dispersed and the women walked away. Two men who had happily joined the original harassers muttered about “women’s power” crossing all limits these days.
The incident evokes the everyday violence that defines the lives of women in Indian cities. According to data compiled by the Delhi Police, over 1,000 rape cases have been reported in the capital this year through mid-August, more than double than what was reported in the same period last year, while molestation has gone up by nearly four times during the same period.
But despite the routine gender violence, India’s political leaders are conspicuously silent on the subject of violence against women as they gear up for the national elections in 2014. Last December, the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old student in Delhi had spontaneously drawn thousands out on the streets of the Indian capital — women and men, young and old. The visibility of last year’s protests against sexual violence were expected to affect political attitudes in India, but as Indian politicians campaign feverishly, they have once again successfully tuned out the question of women’s rights.
The political class has always studiously ignored women’s concerns, even when it has to do with an important subject like safety in public spaces. Yet one would expect a different electoral imagination for the 2014 elections because of their extraordinary backdrop. A combination of street protests and detailed coverage by the Indian media have pushed two topics to the top of the public discourse: corruption and gender violence.
The governing Congress Party finds its credibility in tatters because of a succession of scandals, which began with the revelations of corruption in the organization of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, followed by allegations of graft in the allocation of wireless spectrum to telephone companies and accusations that the government underpriced coal blocks awarded to private companies. The scams generated reams of news and scalded the Congress Party and the United Progressive Alliance, the governing coalition it leads.
As the news reports of corruption within the Congress Party-led government continued, India seethed with anger. The spontaneous anticorruption movement led by the Gandhian activist Anna Hazare in 2011 changed the political conversation in India. The recent formation of the Aam Admi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, a former civil servant who was the most influential aide of Mr. Hazare’s before they parted ways, has introduced the possibilities of an alternative politics in India as the new party is making its electoral debut in Delhi’s local government elections later in the month.
The anticorruption upsurge has been a success in that the politicians and governments facing charges of corruption are now finding it increasingly difficult to evade the law. Recently, Lalu Prasad, the former chief minister of Bihar, was convicted of siphoning funds and was sentenced to five years in prison.
But despite the mass protests last December, gender and women’s issues remain absent from the daily discussions of politics. The rhetoric of machismo underpinning the ongoing election campaigns might offer an explanation for this silence.
The protagonists of India’s two national parties — Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, the heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the chief minister of Gujarat — are squaring up against each other. The theatrical speeches delivered by Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi are laced with an overdose of machismo. Their failure to mention, let alone dwell on women’s security, throws into sharp relief the masculinity on which Indian mainstream politics rests. This manifests itself in both speakers’ body language, their gesticulating hands, wild swaggers and frequent rolling up of sleeves.
Customarily, Mr. Modi is associated with macho theatrics and political chutzpah. He is known to articulate a rugged political power that has aided him in steamrolling dissent within his own party and critics outside it. Mr. Modi likes to stare his opponents down and fling cutting remarks at them. His relentless advocacy of putting Pakistan in its place at every provocation that comes India’s way further enhances this masculine image.
Mr. Gandhi was seen as the reluctant torchbearer of the battered Congress Party and no match for Mr. Modi’s display of masculine valor. Mr. Gandhi came across as diffident and low-key, and was written off by Indian political pundits for his lack of oratorical skillls and aggression. The constant lament about Mr. Gandhi’s subdued campaign has of late nudged him into embracing the aggressive finger-wagging, rostrum thumping of his male competitors and colleagues.
The reluctance or indifference of Indian politicians to speak about the violence against women illustrates the misogyny that binds India’ political class. India’s politicians irrespective of political and ideological affiliations casually pepper their speech with sexist remarks.
Not so long ago, Mr. Modi, had “joked” that the Congress Party president, Sonia Gandhi, who is also Mr. Gandhi’s mother, does not know “how to run a kitchen.” He also threw barbs at Shashi Tharoor, a federal minister, for having a “50 crore [500 million] rupee girlfriend,” referring to Mr. Tharoor’s wife, Sunanda Pushkar, who was once accused of gaining a lucrative stake in a cricket team while she was dating Mr. Tharoor. Mr. Modi had claimed that Ms. Pushkar had 50 crore rupees [500 million] deposited in her bank account a month before she married Mr. Tharoor and seemed to signal that Mr. Tharoor used his official position to get her the lucrative cricket deal. In support of Mr. Modi, the B.J.P.’s spokesman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, said, “For an international love guru like Tharoor, a ministry of love affairs should be created.”
On the other side of the divide, Sriprakash Jaiswal of the Congress Party, the coal minister, commented that “wives lose charm over time” as they become old. His colleague in government, Sushilkumar Shinde, the home affairs minister, casually dismissed Jaya Bachchan, an actor who is a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, when she intervened in a parliamentary discussion on sectarian violence in the northeastern state of Assam in 2012. “It is a serious matter and not the subject of a film,” Mr. Shinde told Ms. Bachchan.
It is precisely this attitude that has prevented the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which gives women a 33 percent quota in the Indian Parliament and state assemblies — for over a decade. Indian politicians fundamentally believe in the mythical idea of “vote banks” – specific sections of the population that will garner electoral votes – and pander to what they perceive to be their interests. Unfortunately, women are not considered a “vote bank” and are therefore free to be abused both physically and through words.
Monobina Gupta is the national editor of editorial pages at the Daily News and Analysis newspaper in New Delhi.
MPs suggest 'Kitemark' scheme in wake of Bangladesh factory collapse
MPs want to look into garment certification scheme to help raise overseas factories' standards after Rana Plaza collapse
The Guardian, Monday 11 November 2013 20.18 GMT
MPs are calling for a study into the possibility of an ethical "Kitemark" for garments to help raise standards at overseas factories in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.
In a report launched on Monday, the all-party parliamentary group for Bangladesh said there was a high chance of another tragic event like Rana Plaza, where more than 1,100 people died, or the Tazreen fire, which killed more than 100.
MPs also called for regulation of ethical audits, which monitor safety and conditions in factories for brands and retailers, and said there should be a legal requirement that any problems they discover should be revealed to workers' representatives.
The MPs' recommendations came as thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers took to the streets of Dhaka to demand higher wages, forcing the closure of about 100 factories.
Workers are unhappy with a minimum wage rise announced last week from 3,000 taka a month (£24) to 5,300 taka, which they say falls short of the amount needed to cover rising food and fuel costs.
Unrest is not uncommon in Bangladesh, the world's second largest clothing exporter, where low wages are accompanied by poor conditions for many, highlighted by a string of factory accidents. After years of foot dragging, three global agreements have emerged in an attempt to improve matters since the Rana Plaza tragedy in April. Several industry insiders said many of the MPs' recommendations were being implemented under those agreements.
The MPs' report, which comes after a lengthy investigation including a trip to Bangladesh by four MPs led by the group's chairwoman, Anne Main, concludes that poor planning and building controls have resulted in substandard construction, with 90% of buildings failing to meet any building codes.
"Consequently, there is high chance of a repeat of the tragic events of Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashion's fire. These risks compromise the long-term investments of brands and limit their ability to improve working conditions," the report says.
MPs said the UK government was a major donor to Bangladesh but could do more to help. The group came out against the idea of sanctions but said the Bangladeshi government needed to act now or risk losing investment and favoured access to the EU market, which could hit exports by as much as 8%.
Peter McAllister, executive director of the UK-based Ethical Trading Initiative, (ETI) whose members include Marks & Spencer and Primark, said western governments needed to support Bangladesh in making changes. He said: "It is crucial that there is a focus on actions that are practical, will make a difference in the short term and that can be executed."
McAllister warned there were dangers in rushing towards an ethical Kitemark, an idea also discussed when the Department for International Development (Dfid) met retailers this summer to talk about how clothing could be produced more responsibly.
"Any call for transparency should also be applauded, but these calls need to be linked to purchasing practices and fair trading standards," he said.
The ETI did agree with MPs that there were flaws in the way brands and retailers checked up on their suppliers and greater transparency and co-ordination was needed in the way ethical audits worked.
Mark Robertson of Sedex Global, which collates audits from around the world for retailers, said it was "an interesting idea." But he added: "How would that work across different jurisdictions? Given the global market of supply chains any attempts at legal regulation could be challenging."
November 11, 2013
China’s One-Day Shopping Spree Sets Record in Online Sales
By SHANSHAN WANG and ERIC PFANNER
HANGZHOU, China — Unmarried men across China used to spend Nov. 11 lamenting their single status with a drink. Now that unofficial holiday has become the world’s largest online shopping event.
On Monday, China’s biggest online shopping company processed more than $5.75 billion in its online payments system — a record for a single day anywhere in the world, surpassing by two and a half times the total for American retailers last year on so-called Cyber Monday.
The company, Alibaba, which owns Tmall and other e-commerce sites, first latched onto so-called Singles’ Day, symbolized by the four lonely 1s of 11/11, five years ago. The company realized men could just as easily seek solace by buying electronic devices and other gear on its sites. Soon enough, just about everyone else did, too.
Alibaba reported Monday that it had 402 million unique visitors to its sites — more than a third of the adult population in China — and prepared 152 million parcels for shipping. Tmall.com, one of Alibaba’s shopping sites, said Chinese bought 1.6 million bras, which it helpfully noted would reach three times the height of Mount Everest if folded and stacked, and two million pairs of underpants, which if linked together would stretch 1,800 miles, all before the lunch hour.
At 55tuan.com, a Groupon-style site, men were offered a bride-hunting trip to Vietnam: “Singles, don’t shed tears!” it said. “55tuan.com will send you to Vietnam to find true love!”
Like Veterans Day sales in the United States, Singles’ Day promotions retain little connection with the people or events that inspired it. As a red letter day for shoppers, it has spread beyond lonely hearts to Chinese consumers of all kinds — single or married.
China’s one-day shopping craze heralds the frenetic growth of Internet shopping in that country. China is set to overtake the United States this year as the largest online shopping market in the world, according to Forrester Research. Chinese consumers are expected to spend $290 billion at online retail sites this year, compared with $260 billion for their counterparts in the United States.
After moving into a new apartment in this city near Shanghai in August, Yuan Keru, a postgraduate student, and her boyfriend waited several months to buy furnishings for their new home. They splurged Monday.
At midnight, Ms. Yuan logged on to her laptop and clicked on Tmall. She selected a floor lamp, a carpet and some wallpaper. Her boyfriend picked out earphones. Finally, they added a cozy touch: his and hers cotton slippers for the winter.
In all, Ms. Yuan spent 1,500 renminbi, or nearly $250, before calling it a night. That, Ms. Yuan said, represented about half a month’s living costs for her.
“We love window-shopping in the local department store,” Ms. Yuan said. “But we have never spent so much money in one day. Never!”
China’s enthusiasm for online shopping is expected to continue to grow faster than that of the United States. Bain, a global consulting firm, expects online shopping in China to grow at an annual rate of 32 percent from this year through 2015.
That is slower than the fevered pace of 71 percent recorded from 2009 through 2012. But it is still well above the 13 percent average rate expected for 2009 through 2015 in the United States. In 2015, the firm forecasts e-commerce in China will total $500 billion.
“Chinese consumers are bargain-hunters, and that is what is driving the success of 11/11,” said Serge Hoffmann, a partner at Bain in Hong Kong.
While most Chinese were looking for deals, not everyone was pinching yuan. On Monday afternoon, Alibaba announced to the more than 300 journalists who had gathered at its headquarters in Hangzhou for updates on sales that a woman from Zhejiang Province had bought a 13.33-carat diamond, costing $3.37 million.
While it was Alibaba that turned Singles’ Day into a shopping event, other e-commerce companies are getting in on the action. Dangdang.com, another retailer, tried to get a jump on Alibaba by starting its 11/11 sale three days early.
Global firms jumped in, too. Giants like Nike, Adidas, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Samsung Electronics conducted Singles’ Day promotions, many of them using Tmall. Western companies have eagerly embraced e-commerce as a way to sell to Chinese shoppers in remote areas, where few of them have brick-and-mortar stores. “Online is giving them a much more effective way of reaching these consumers,” said Bryan Wang, an analyst at Forrester.
Chinese are also doing more shopping on mobile devices, which is not surprising given the rapid sales of smartphones and tablets. In the first hour of sales, from midnight to 1 a.m. Monday, Alibaba said 24 percent of the orders came in via smartphone.
In preparation for Singles’ Day, Alibaba added extra servers and enhanced logistics to deal with the expected surge in demand. E-commerce shopping companies like Alibaba built anticipation for 11/11 by letting consumers put items into online shopping carts before the sales actually began. Tmall said five million customers had already selected more than 40 items each by Sunday evening.
Jeremy Webb, a digital expert at Ogilvy Public Relations in Beijing, said some of the firm’s clients sought to generate 15 to 30 percent of their annual sales on Singles’ Day alone. To do so, some accept extremely low profit margins or sell at a loss.
For Alibaba, which has been preparing for an initial public offering, a major benefit of Singles’ Day is publicity, a spokesman, Yan Qiao, said.
“We are not thinking about how much profit Alibaba could achieve at all,” Mr. Yan said. “The biggest value it gives us is that the festival always can create the record of one-day gross merchandise value on Tmall.com.”
Singles’ Day has been so successful that it has already given rise to a sequel. Even as online retailers tally their receipts from 11/11, some of them are preparing for another manufactured e-commerce event: “Double 12” on Dec. 12.
Shanshan Wang reported from Hangzhou, China, and Eric Pfanner from Tokyo. Didi Kirsten Tatlow contributed reporting from Beijing.
Abbott government abandons emissions reduction target range
Prime minister says Australia will cut greenhouse gases by no more than 5% until he sees more commitment from other nations
theguardian.com, Tuesday 12 November 2013 05.28 GMT
Tony Abbott has confirmed that his government has abandoned its longstanding policy to reduce Australia's emissions by between 5% and 25% of 2000 levels by 2020 – a crucial and internationally scrutinised goal that had retained bipartisan support since 2009, throughout Australia's tumultuous political debate over climate policy.
Asked whether the Coalition still supported the target range as UN climate talks began in Warsaw without any political representation from Australia, the prime minister told journalists: “Australia will meet our 5% emissions reduction target, but this government has made no commitments to go further than that. We certainly are in no way looking to make further binding commitments in the absence of very serious like binding commitments from other countries, and there is no evidence of that.”
In fact, Abbott and the environment minister, Greg Hunt, have regularly repeated a Coalition commitment to increasing Australia's emissions reduction target to up to 25% under a specific set of conditions for global action set down in 2009 and accepted by both major parties.
A recent report by the Climate Change Authority – the independent advisory body set up by the former Labor government – found that the conditions for a target higher than 5% had already been met, and when compared with the actions of other countries, 5% no longer represented a "credible option". The authority – which the Coalition intends to abolish – said a tougher target would be required but did not nominate the target Australia should now adopt in its draft report.
But when asked whether he remained committed to the target range, which Australia has inscribed in its commitments to several international agreements, Abbott said: “We have made one commitment and one commitment only, which is to reduce our emissions by 5% … we have never made any commitments, any commitments to any binding targets over and above that, in the absence of absolutely clear evidence that other countries are going to take a very serious like approach.”
The issue of Australia’s negotiating stance at the Warsaw talks, where its delegation is being headed by the ambassador for the environment, Justin Lee, has been the subject of lengthy discussions at the past two cabinet meetings, most recently on Monday night.
It is unclear whether negotiators will formally withdraw Australia’s target range of 5% to 25%, even though the prime minister has now made it clear both publicly and privately that Australia will not move to a higher target for 2020 and is very sceptical about taking on a higher target in a negotiation for a post-2020 agreement.
The Abbott government has said it will provide only $3.2bn for Direct Action – an amount independent modelling has found will be insufficient to meet even a 5% target – and no more money will be forthcoming. And independent modelling has found that meeting a higher target using Direct Action would be hugely expensive.
The range of targets and conditions under which Australia's target would be raised above 5% were repeated by Hunt in an article for the Australian Financial Review as recently as 30 September, in which he said "the Coalition is committed to a target of a 5% reduction in emissions and the conditions for extending that target further, based on international action".
In a speech to the Grattan Institute think tank in July, Hunt said "we also accept, and we gave support to the government for the targets, not just the 5% but also the conditions for change ... we accept the targets, clearly, categorically, absolutely".
Abbott stated the Coalition's commitment in a letter to former prime minister Kevin Rudd in December 2009, subsequently released under freedom of information laws, in which he requested information on the costs of the proposed emissions trading scheme, but also wrote "the Coalition's position of bipartisan support for emissions reduction targets – subject to the conditions that were earlier outlined – remains unchanged".
Guardian Australia also reported last week that Cabinet was also rethinking Australia's involvement in the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help developing countries cope with the impact of climate change.
Abbott confirmed that the government would be making no further commitments of funding to the Green Climate Fund.
Labor's environment spokesman, Mark Butler, said: "It's no real surprise to see Tony Abbott walking away from his earlier support for Australia's commitment to reduce carbon pollution by a minimum 5% by 2020 with a higher target range subject to certain conditions. He's made it clear on a number of occasions that he sees no particular problem with carbon pollution.
“This week he hopes to abolish the legislated cap on Australia's carbon pollution and allow the big polluters open slather in the future. And he's got no policy to put in place that has any prospect of actually bringing our carbon pollution down.”
A spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation said: “Abandoning the commitment Australia has repeatedly made to the international community to increase our target to 25% would make Australia a deal wrecker.
“Abandoning the election commitment to reduce pollution by 5%–25% wilfully ignores the fact that Australians want more action on climate change, not less, regardless of how its achieved.”
Tony Abbott attempts to shift focus to carbon tax as new parliament opens
Prime minister appeals to voters via social media after weeks of controversy over spying, asylum and expenses
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 November 2013 20.52 GMT
Tony Abbott will use the opening of the new 44th parliament to focus attention back on his planned repeal of Labor’s carbon price after weeks of controversy over MPs perks, strained relations with Indonesia over asylum arrivals and regional surveillance, and displays of internal division over foreign investment and industry policy.
The new parliament will sit in Canberra on Tuesday for the first time since the September election, and Abbott took to YouTube and social media on Sunday night with a visual press release arguing that the repeal of the carbon price would reduce the average household’s cost of living by “$550 a year.”
Abbott says in his short self-published video that “on average” repeal of the carbon price will take $200 off household power bills and $70 off gas bills.
While partisan debate around the carbon price will dominate the opening of the new Australian parliament, no Australian minister will attend international climate talks in Warsaw this week. Ahead of those international talks, Guardian Australia reported last week that Coalition ministers raised objections to Australia’s ongoing commitment to the Green Climate Fund during recent cabinet deliberations.
News Corp on Monday reports that cabinet has resolved not to sign up to any new international climate agreement that involves spending money or levying taxes. Australia will be represented in Poland this week by the ambassador for climate change, Justin Lee.
Labor is meanwhile keeping political pressure on the government’s asylum policy following a climbdown over the weekend which saw 63 people transferred to Christmas Island after Indonesian authorities refused to accept the group rescued in Indonesia's search and rescue zone, south of Java. The decision to take the group to Christmas Island followed a 24-hour stand-off.
While unauthorised boat arrivals have declined over the past few months - starting under Labor’s punitive Papua New Guinea resettlement agreement, and continuing under the policies of the new government – co-operative relations with Indonesia have proved vexed.
Indonesia appears to be digging in on the asylum issue in a serious setback to the Coalition’s policy. It became clear over the weekend that Indonesia has refused to accept other would-be asylum seekers rescued in Jakarta’s search and rescue zone – not just in the most recent stand-off, but on other occasions since the change of government.
Prior to the election, the Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa was emphatic that Indonesia would not accept turned-back boats – and the bilateral relationship has faced further complications since reports surfaced of Australia spying on the region out of embassy facilities.
Given the complications, and the uncertainty over whether Jakarta will take a more cooperative approach, Labor was quick to capitalise on the Coalition’s political and diplomatic discomfort.
Shorten said the Coalition was not only failing to live up to its election commitments on asylum policy, it was “hiding behind Australia’s military” and refusing to answer legitimate questions about significant on-water operations.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the Coalition's boat-person policy is just absolutely not working,” the Labor leader declared on Sunday.
The Coalition goes into the new 44th parliament battling significant internal divisions over a range of policies, including the proposed $3.4bn foreign takeover of GrainCorp, future support for the Australian car industry, and concerns over Tony Abbott’s signature paid parental leave scheme, particularly from Nationals.
Abbott has also been under increasing pressure, particularly in recent weeks, for his decision to largely avoid media scrutiny since the election. Once parliament is underway, the Greens will move a motion to try and force more transparency surrounding the management of boat arrivals.
The government has refused at weekly briefings carried out under the Operation Sovereign Borders policy to answer specific questions about efforts to turn boats around, or interceptions.
Facing the imminent resumption of parliament, the Coalition moved over the weekend to try and neutralise rolling public controversy over parliamentarians expenses, promising some minor tweaks to the system, including penalties in the event that MPs have to repay their claims.
Over $20,000 has been paid back by various MPs, including by the prime minister, over the past month.
The opposition leader Bill Shorten has provided a tepid response to the changes. Appearing on ABC television on Sunday, Shorten said the opposition would be constructive, but he feared the proposal was more cosmetic than substantive: “The jury is out for me on this, and indeed for Labor.”
With the prime minister declaring the first order of parliamentary business the repeal of Labor’s carbon price, Shorten on Sunday indicated Labor will support a parliamentary inquiry into the Coalition’s “direct action” climate policy.
In a speech in Melbourne on Sunday, the former prime minister Julia Gillard urged her former parliamentary colleagues to stand up for the carbon price during the transition to opposition. Gillard said if Labor scheme was to be replaced by another system, then “It is incumbent on those advocating the new approach to show it will cut emissions by at least 5% by 2020, and by a lesser cost per tonne of carbon abated.”
Abbott and Shorten will begin the political day on Monday by attending ceremonies in Melbourne and Canberra for Remembrance Day, before moving on to ministerial and party room meetings later in the afternoon. Parliament begins on Tuesday, with a ceremonial opening. The normal legislative business and Question Time does not get underway until Wednesday.
Other early business for the new government over the four parliamentary sitting weeks scheduled for between now and Christmas will be the planned repeal of the mining tax and a move to increase the debt ceiling to $500bn.
The Greens and South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon also want to push an agenda for the reform of the senate voting system to implement optional preferential voting in the upper house.
Typhoon Haiyan: survival, loss and humanity in obliterated city of Tacloban
Kate Hodal reports from the capital of Leyte province, where survivors are desperate for food, water and medicine
Typhoon Haiyan: how you can help the Philippines
Kate Hodal in Tacloban, Philippines
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 19.40 GMT
Link to video: Philippines declares state of calamity after typhoon Haiyanhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/11/typhoon-haiyan-phillippines-declares-state-of-calamity-video
On a stretch of road on the way into Tacloban city centre, just past a lone white coffin with gold-painted handles, lay a mass of dead, bloated bodies. Men, women, cats, dogs and pigs were piled in a heap against a stone house with a metal roof bent upwards like a question mark.
Its residents stared out at the chaos below like zombies.
"Those are dead people in front of our house and the smell is awful," called out a woman from the balcony, her face shrouded in cloth to protect her from the stench. "The sister of the dead man came to see her brother, but she couldn't take him away, she just cried.
"What else can she do," the woman asked. "There is nowhere to take him, nothing to do."
An upturned car had been slammed against the woman's house. Broken concrete pipes and pallets of wood had pummelled her front yard and now filled it, along with pieces of tyre, mattress, plastic and metal. The corpses, meanwhile, had bloated and burst in the heat, their entrails seeping out, tongues oozing from faces.
The woman on the balcony ran down the stairs to ask for help. Joan Madejas Opiniano, 40, who runs an orphanage in eastern Samar province, was breathless as she described the super storm that hit three days ago and obliterated her city. "I started filming the typhoon but within three minutes the water was so strong and so much, it was already up to my ankles," she said, shaking.
"So I tied my son to myself with rope and together we got into a plastic container to float through the waters. Thank God we all survived, but we have to get out of here now. Immediately. We have only three cans of water left to drink and people have started roaming the streets, going into houses to steal things. It has only been three days. Within two weeks it will be impossible for anyone to survive."
The force of the storm that has flattened much of Leyte island, where Tacloban serves as the provincial capital, is best seen by air. The emerald-coloured trees that used to cover the mountains between Tacloban and Ormoc city have been stripped of leaves and now resemble toothpicks stuck into the hillside. Houses and villages have been blown to bits, the debris of homes and farms strewn across the earth. As the land levels out into agricultural plains towards the sea, palm trees that once rose out of the landscape now lie scattered like sticks.
Random images emerge unscathed from the typhoon's chaos: a two-storey pink building next to a winding brown river, 12 miles inland from Tacloban's coastline; two lone motorcycles passing each other on an empty stretch of highway framed by fallen trees.
At Tacloban's decimated airport, where military planes were busy dropping off much-needed supplies of fuel, water, dried goods and generators, hundreds of survivors waited in queues to leave the chaos. There were sick grandmothers lying prone on benches; diabetics with intravenous drips in makeshift wheelchairs fashioned from plastic chairs and carried, not wheeled, by family members; pregnant women and women with toddlers with runny noses.
Among them were pallets of goods – dried food stuffs and supplies. As of Sunday night, over 100 tonnes of relief had arrived in Tacloban, along with 254 military staff, said Colonel Butch Guevara of the Philippine air force's second air division, which is overseeing search and rescue. More than 1,120 civilians had so far been evacuated to Manila and Cebu, with seemingly thousands more to follow in days to come.
Survivors staggered up and down Tacloban's streets on foot, by motorcycle, in vehicles with blown out windows and windshields, or by rickshaw, often carrying various goods like fuel, water or rice. Many of them beg for supplies. With no power and no communications available in the city, residents are desperate to get the word out to their loved ones that they are safe but in need of supplies.
"Pls. help Lola and Lolo … We are safe. We really nid ur help...we nid food to survive..." read one note pressed into my hand by Michelle Salva, a young woman dressed in a yellow long-sleeved top with cloth around her face to lessen the smell of death permeating the streets. "Thank you for your help, we need you," she said, before turning away.
Everywhere, residents shared tales of survival, loss and humanity. "We were all sleeping when the storm hit, but our cat started meowing so loudly that we all woke up," said Quinn Capacio, 22, as he traipsed through the streets with bottles of water and an umbrella. "The water was already up to our ankles in the house and outside it was waist-high. My whole family huddled together in one room and then the roof blew off. We stayed like that for five hours, huddling and praying. Our cat was almost swept away but we saved her, just like she saved us."
An old woman looking for shoes and money approached and rubbed her stomach with hunger. Capacio reached into his plastic bag and handed her two flattened and oversized flip flops. "Money is useless for me," he said to her sadly. "It doesn't buy you anything because there's nothing to buy." As she wandered away, muttering to herself, more people approached, begging for supplies. "Ma'am, do you have any antibiotics?" asked one man as we passed the lone white-and-gold coffin on the roadside, protected by green netting. "We need food, any kind of food," said another. "What can you give us?"
With little to no relief having yet reached the vast majority of Tacloban's survivors, people have begun taking care of themselves – with a palpable anger at the little they think their government has provided. "There's nothing here – no food, no water, and they don't care," said Edison Tamparia, 30, in basketball shorts and a white slip top. "I had to break into a warehouse to find water but it won't last us two days. People aren't going to survive like this."
Still, among the scenes of devastation, people are trying to get their lives back in order. Families wash clothes and themselves on the side of the road, using water from boreholes, or cook pasta over open fires cobbled together from wooden debris. Men nail down roofs and women drag piles of mud and rubbish from out of their homes using buckets and rope. Children float on plastic bottles in lakes full of debris, salvaging anything they can use.
"Even though we have nothing – no food, no water, no money – we still make do," said Kennelyn Matobato, 34, as she washed the mud from her clothes and her husband butchered their sole remaining pig on a table by the side of the road. A coffin housing her dead grandmother stood nearby, waiting to be buried.
Still, a terror of further storms to come – exacerbated by a new system that reached the Philippines in the early hours of Monday morning – had thrown some into despair, worrying that their already vulnerable lives would be put even more at risk.
Roughly 44 metric tonnes of food aid are expected to arrive on Tuesday on American military planes on behalf of the World Food Programme, said regional emergencies officer Geoff Pinnock, who added that shipments of rice would soon follow. With blocked roads severely hampering relief efforts, it was necessary for routes to be cleared before aid could be more evenly distributed, he added. "This is on a scale of Katrina or the tsunami," he said. "Water is now our highest priority. We need water purification systems immediately as water here normally came from the river, but as the river is full of bodies that's not an option right now."
As the sun began to set in a glow of orange, purples and pinks, two commercial planes made their first landings in Tacloban, filled with passengers looking for loved ones. One man said he had come to find his brother and mother. Another younger looking man in his 30s said he wanted to find his wife. As they crossed the tarmac, a horde of Tacloban residents waited to board the last C-130 plane for Manila, many of them sick and injured. "This is a test from God," said Efren Amarga, 49, a weary man in a green rainjacket with blue-rimmed eyes. "There is nothing left of my house, nothing at all – no walls, no roof, no windows, just mud. My three daughters are missing and I have no idea if they're alive. I just need to get to Manila to get money and medicine for my wife – she has asthma – and then I can come back and start looking for my girls."
*****************Expect increasingly violent cyclones, weather experts warn
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 11, 2013 13:34 EST
Meteorologists have yet to formally link global warming to typhoons like the one that devastated the Philippines, but they expect increasingly extreme weather phenomena due to a rise in ocean temperatures.
The trail of death and destruction left in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan was at the forefront of a new round of United Nations climate talks that opened Monday in Poland, as Philippine authorities warned some 10,000 people may have died.
Haiyan — the most powerful typhoon to make landfall ever recorded — swept over the Philippines Friday, just days before the 12-day UN climate talks opened in Warsaw to a slew of warnings about potentially disastrous warming with increasingly extreme weather phenomena.
“There is a tendency of (oceans) warming up and an increase in the intensity of cyclones is part of the risks,” said Herve Le Treut, a Paris university professor and climatologist.
Typhoons, hurricanes and cyclones are different names given to the same powerful weather phenomenon according to the region it hits, but meteorologists use the generic term “cyclone” when talking generally about these super storms.
In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), mandated by the United Nations to make scientific assessments about the risks of climate change, concluded in a report that it was “virtually certain that the upper ocean… warmed from 1971 to 2010″.
It is estimated that temperatures rose by around 0.1 degrees Celsius par decade down to a depth of 75 metres (246 feet), and even warmed a little further down.
Meteorologists believe that the upper ocean also got warmer during the first half of the 20th century, but whether the rise in ocean temperatures is caused by man or by natural changes on the planet is still being debated.
Fabrice Chauvin, a researcher at France’s National Centre for Meteorological Research, pointed out that there were no satellites to track cyclones before the 1970s, which has hindered in-depth research on the phenomenon.
The IPCC however said in 2007 that based on climate models, it was “probable” that cyclones would become more intense and generate more rain than before.
Drawing energy from the seas Cyclones are formed from simple thunderstorms at certain times of the year when the sea temperature is more than 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) down to a depth of 60 metres, and draw their energy from the heat.
Chauvin said that higher temperatures at the surface of oceans would create a bigger source of heat energy for cyclones.
“There will therefore be a tendency to have slightly more violent cyclones,” he said, while pointing out that computer-generated climate models nevertheless predict fewer such super storms in the future.
Steven Testelin, a forecaster at national weather service Meteo-France, added that the warming of oceans was “far from uniform”.
“Some seas warm up quicker than others, which can lead to more intense cyclones in some areas,” he said.
The UN climate talks in Warsaw aim to work towards a deal to cut Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions, due to be signed in 2015 in Paris, and Haiyan was at the forefront of Monday’s opening session.
In an emotional appeal to delegates, Philippine climate negotiator Naderev Sano pledged to fast at the talks until concrete progress is made towards fighting the climate change he blames for the typhoon that battered his own home village.
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw,” he said.
“I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves.”
********************Typhoon Haiyan: there is worse to come
The first disaster to kill more than a million people could happen within our lifetimes
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Monday 11 November 2013 22.07 GMT
Link to video: Typhoon Haiyan seen from spacehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/12/typhoon-haiyan-philippines-space-video
No single typhoon, flood or drought anywhere in the world can be blamed on global warming, but the inexorable rise of the global thermometer is nevertheless an indicator of worse to come. Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are temperature-dependent phenomena. They become increasingly hazardous as sea temperatures rise. As average global temperatures increase, so does the likelihood of ever greater extremes of local temperature. So does evaporation, and so does the capacity of air to carry ever greater volumes of water vapour. So the lesson of typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines with unparalleled fury on Friday, is that there is more to come, with more deaths, more destruction, more wrecked economies.
This would be true even without global warming. Population growth rates might have declined, but every 60 minutes there are another 8,000 people in the world: about 75 million every year. Most of these are in the developing world, and since so much of the developing world is within and around the tropics, where cyclones are a seasonal hazard, that means there will be more potential victims in the path of any climate-related disaster. For the first time in human history, more people are concentrated in the cities than dispersed in the countryside, and this concentration is expected to continue until almost two-thirds of all humanity lives in the cities. That means that any typhoon that hits an urban region will find more people in the way.
But more than 2 billion people have to survive on incomes of no more than $2 a day, and these too are crowded in cities in and near the tropics. These people are more likely to live in substandard housing, some of it shamelessly jerrybuilt by greedy landlords and authorised by corrupt authorities, or in shanty towns on unstable or marginal land at risk from flood and landslip when the heavens open. The schools built for their children are liable to collapse in earthquake or cyclone, any hospitals available to them are likely to be reduced to rubble along with their houses.
The Philippines government, with a long and cruel experience of typhoons, had a comprehensive disaster management strategy, plenty of warning, and it knew what to expect. The second lesson of Haiyan is that even those who make ready for bad weather may be overwhelmed by even worse.
The final lesson is that, sooner or later, some unparalleled disaster will slam with little or no warning into some crowded city managed by a heedless authority in a country run by a corrupt or brutal oligarchy. It could be the first disaster to kill more than a million, and it could happen within our lifetimes. There may be worse to come, and not just because of climate change.
Liberian presidential motorcade chief arrested in drug-smuggling case
Perry Dolo, commander of vehicle that leads president's convoy, detained with three other men after crossing from Sierra Leone
Associated Press in Monrovia
theguardian.com, Monday 11 November 2013 16.20 GMT
Liberia's drug enforcement agency has arrested the head of the presidential motorcade for allegedly using an official vehicle to smuggle 297kg (654lb) of marijuana into Liberia from neighbouring Sierra Leone, officials have said.
The motorcade commander, Perry Dolo, was detained at the weekend along with three other men after crossing from Sierra Leone via the town of Bo Waterside, said the DEA director, Anthony Souh. The other three were a Liberian official, a Guinean and a Sierra Leonean believed to be a member of the armed forces, Souh said.
The vehicle used in the operation is known as "Escort 1", the vehicle that normally leads the president's convoy, Souh said. "He took the car during his day off to go do this thing. He was not on duty, but he used the official car."
Journalists were denied access to the suspects because they were still being interrogated at the DEA after their arrest by a joint force that included members of the emergency response unit.
"They are still with me going through the process," Souh said. "We want to speedily send them to court as soon as possible because the case is too high. Using a presidential car? It's too big."
Liberia's DEA has in recent years tried to combat marijuana farming in Liberia's interior counties, which is primarily done for local sale and consumption. However, weak drug laws have made the practice difficult to curtail.
According to the 2012 World Drug Report from the UN office on drugs and crime, 9% of Liberian high-school students use cannabis.