US, China Unveil Separate Big Steps to Fight Climate Change

The two biggest economies and largest carbon polluters in the world announced separate financial attacks on climate change Tuesday. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will no longer fund coal-fired power plants abroad, surprising the world on climate for the second straight year at the U.N. General Assembly. That came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a plan to double financial aid to poorer nations to $11.4 billion by 2024 so those countries could switch to cleaner energy and cope with global warming’s worsening impacts. That puts rich nations close to within reach of its long-promised but not realized goal of $100 billion a year in climate help for developing nations. 

“This is an absolutely seminal moment,” said Xinyue Ma, an expert on energy development finance at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. 

This could provide some momentum going into major climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in less than six weeks, experts said. Running up to the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, a joint U.S.-China agreement kickstarted successful negotiations. This time, with China-U.S. relations dicey, the two nations made their announcements separately, hours and thousands of miles apart. 

“Today was a really good day for the world,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the upcoming climate negotiations, told Vice President Kamala Harris. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has made a frenetic push this week for bigger efforts to curb climate change called the two announcements welcome news, but said “we still have a long way to go” to make the Glasgow meeting successful. 

Depending on when China’s new coal policy goes into effect, it could shutter 47 planned power plants in 20 developing countries that use the fuel that emits the most heat-trapping gases, about the same amount of coal power as from Germany, according to the European climate think-tank E3G. 

“It’s a big deal. China was the only significant funder of overseas coal left. This announcement essentially ends all public support for coal globally,” said Joanna Lewis, an expert on China, energy and climate at Georgetown University. “This is the announcement many have been waiting for.”

From 2013 to 2019, data showed that China was financing 13% of coal-fired power capacity built outside China – “far and away the largest public financier,” said Kevin Gallagher, who directs the Boston University center. Japan and South Korea announced earlier this year that they were getting out of the coal-financing business. 

With all three countries pulling out of financing coal abroad “that sends a signal to the global economy. This is a sector that’s fast becoming a stranded asset,” Gallagher said. 

While this is a big step it is not quite a death knell for coal, said Byford Tsang, a policy analyst for E3G. That’s because China last year added as much new coal power domestically as was just potentially cancelled abroad, he said. 

Tsang cautioned that the one-sentence line in Xi’s speech that mentioned this new policy lacked details like effective dates and whether it applied to private funding as well as public funding. 

What also matters is when China stops building new coal plants at home and shutters old ones, Tsang said. That will be part of a push in the G-20 meetings in Italy next month, he said. “The Chinese are going to respond to international pressure, rather than just American bilateral pressure right now,” said Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on China’s politics and energy at Villanova University. 

“A coal-free energy mix is still decades in the future” because coal power plants typically operate for 50 years or more, said Stanford University environment director Chris Field. 

Many nations that are trying to build their economies — including top polluters China and India — have long argued they needed to industrialize with fossil fuels, like developed nations had already done. Starting in 2009 and then with “a grand bargain” in 2015 in Paris, richer nations promised $100 billion a year in financial help to poorer nations to make the switch from dirty to clean fuel, World Resources Institute climate finance expert Joe Thwaites said. 

But as of 2019, the richer nations were only providing $80 billion a year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. So, when rich nations like the United States asked poorer ones to do more “it gives any other country a very easy retort,” Thwaites said: “‘You took out commitments and you haven’t delivered on those either.” 

In April, Biden announced he would double the Obama era financial aid pledge of $2.85 billion a year to $5.7 billion. On Tuesday he announced that he hopes to double that to $11.4 billion a year starting in 2024, but he does need passage from Congress. 

The European Union has been doling out $24.5 billion a year with the European Commission recently upping that to more than $4.7 billion over seven years. “The Europeans are doing a lot more and the Americans are lagging behind,” Thwaites said. 

He said several studies calculate that based on the U.S. economy, population and carbon pollution, it should be contributing 40% to 47% of the $100 billion fund to be doing its fair share. 

But Congressional Republicans aren’t convinced. “We shouldn’t be contributing to a fund that picks winners and losers and further subsidizes China in the process,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the House Climate Committee. 

The time for global grandstanding is over, said Princeton University climate science and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer said. “It’s what’s happening on the ground that matters.” 

“Accelerating the global phase out of coal is the single most important step” to keeping the Paris agreement’s key warming limit within reach, said U.N. chief Guterres. 

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World Leaders Address UN General Assembly

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Malawi President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera are among the world leaders scheduled to take their turn to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. 

Johnson has highlighted in the days before his speech the need to take action to address climate change, saying a global economic recovery “must be rooted in green growth.” 

Rich nations have benefitted from growth that resulted in pollution, and now “have a duty to help developing countries grow their economies in a green and sustainable way,” Johnson said in a Twitter post Monday.

Johnson’s address comes a day after he met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Combatting climate change was among the topics of discussion in separate meetings U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held Tuesday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez ahead of their addresses to the General Assembly on Wednesday. 

Other speakers Wednesday include Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. 

After the coronavirus pandemic kept heads of state from attending last year’s General Assembly meetings, about 100 are attending this year’s session in New York. Others are choosing to stay home and deliver their remarks via a recording. 

Those giving pre-recorded addresses Wednesday include Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. 

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Study: US Flood Insurance Rates to Rise for 77% of Policyholders

Changes to the main U.S. flood insurance program will raise rates for 77% of policyholders, according to a new study issued on Tuesday, although property owners in some poorer neighborhoods will see premiums decrease. 

The study by the QuoteWizard unit of financial services provider LendingTree, Inc. reviewed price changes due for the roughly 5 million participants in the National Flood Insurance Program, set up in 1968. 

Under the new “Risk Rating 2.0” system from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) taking effect October 1, new premiums will be based on a property’s value, risk of flooding and other factors, rather than simply on a home’s elevation. 

Meant to account for climate-change-driven shifts like increasing flood frequency, the new plans also will make the program more equitable, said Nick VinZant, QuoteWizard senior research analyst. 

“Now the smaller, lower-value homes and neighborhoods aren’t going to be funding the mansions anymore,” VinZant said in an interview. 

With the weather impact of climate change worsening, flooding losses are expected to rise.

Recent storms, including Hurricane Ida, have caused massive flooding from Louisiana and Tennessee to New York City. FEMA said it aimed to “equitably distribute premiums across all policyholders” with the changes. Of the roughly 5 million policyholders in the program, 3.3 million will see monthly payments rise up to $10, and 3,199 will see an increase of $100 or more per month, VinZant said.

Meanwhile, 196,000 people will see their monthly premiums fall $100 or more, he added. 

FEMA representatives did not immediately comment on the study. As of April, its flood insurance program provided $1.3 trillion in coverage but has been losing money. 

The proposed changes have drawn concerns in the U.S. Congress, including from representatives from Louisiana and Texas, who have asked FEMA to delay the new rates to avoid higher bills for some policyholders. 

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At UN, an Uphill Battle for Biden’s ‘America Is Back’ Message

At the 76th United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden called on world leaders to unite against threats confronting the world today, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. However, he is facing an uphill battle to convince allies that America is back and ready to lead the fight. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has more. 

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New Orleans Superdome Fire Now Under Control

The Caesars Superdome, a professional football arena located in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the U.S. South, caught fire Monday afternoon, leaving at least one person injured. 

Local news reported that roughly 70 employees were evacuated from the arena, home to the New Orleans Saints football team.

NOLA Ready, the city’s emergency preparedness agency, said at 1:20 p.m. Central time that the fire was under control but advised residents to continue to avoid the area.

According to the city’s Emergency Medical Services, one person was taken to the hospital to be treated for “minor” burns.

Photos from the scene show dark plumes of smoke rising from the roof of the arena. 

Authorities in New Orleans have not disclosed how the fire started. 

In addition to being home to the city’s football team, the Superdome is well known for housing thousands of New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005. 

 

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After Merkel: Who Will Win the German Election?

Berlin is basking in late summer sunshine. Along the banks of the River Spree, residents enjoy the last warm days before the change of season. Germany – and the rest of Europe – are about to witness the end of an era: after 16 years, the sun is setting on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s time in power.  

Germans will head to the polls Sunday (September 26) for the country’s general election. Whichever party emerges with the biggest share of the vote will likely appoint the leader of a coalition government.  

Chancellor Merkel remains hugely popular among German voters, with approval ratings still hovering around 60 percent, a remarkable figure after four terms in office. However, her Christian Democratic Union party is struggling in the election campaign, with the latest opinion polls showing support of around 22 percent. In recent weeks that figure has at times fallen below 20 percent, for the first time since World War II.  

The Christian Democrats’ candidate for chancellor is 60-year-old Armin Laschet, who is attempting to woo voters with a promise of continuity. “The cohesion of Europe in these difficult times, a climate-neutral industry and strong economy, and a clear course for national security,” he promised voters in the latest TV debate last Sunday.  

Voters may approve the message, but not necessarily the man himself. During a visit to the flood-devastated regions of Germany in July, Laschet was caught on camera laughing during a speech by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. His approval ratings haven’t recovered.  

Instead, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate, Olaf Scholz, is leading in the polls with around 25 percent. He is a former mayor of Hamburg and finance minister in the current coalition government, now favored to succeed Merkel.

“The Social Democrats’ strong position is a surprise,” says Gero Neugebauer, a professor of political science at Freie University in Berlin and an expert on the SPD. “In the last years, they’ve continuously sunk lower in the polls. Many said that this wasn’t just a crisis for the party, but the start of their demise.”

“The poor performance of the Conservatives (CDU) has been to the benefit of the Social Democrats. So really, in a crowd of blind people, Scholz is the one-eyed man, and that makes him the king. He has a stable position in the polls, you could say a good performance as minister, and where he lacks charisma and charm, he makes up for in stability – all aided by the weaknesses of the competition,” Neugebauer told VOA.  

Scholz appeared confident of victory in the latest TV debate Sunday. “Many citizens can see me as the next head of government, the next chancellor… And I make no secret that I would most like to create a (coalition) government together with the Greens,” Scholz said.  

Earlier in the summer, the Green Party had been leading in the polls, and it seemed its 40-year-old leader, Annalena Baerbock, was about to usher in a dramatic change of the political guard in Germany. Support for the Greens, however, has fallen back to around 15 percent, putting them in third place.  

Paula Piechotta, the Green Party candidate for the city of Leipzig, told VOA the party is ready to form a coalition government – but has clear red lines. “Because of the (little) time that is left to actually act successfully on combating climate change, we will not be able to compromise a lot when it comes to climate policies,” Piechotta said.

Smaller parties, including the Free Democrats or the Left party, could be kingmakers in a coalition and will likely demand specific government positions or policies in return.

All three main parties have ruled out working with the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which is polling around 10 percent nationally. Support for the AfD is much higher is some regions of the former East Germany, says analyst Neugebauer. “If you go to areas with weaker economic development, a higher rate of unemployment, a low level of education, poor service in particularly rural areas, like health care, schools, transportation, then you have higher support for the AfD than in areas where these problems are not present.”   

So what are issues driving voters? Polls show a clear generational divide – reflected among voters who spoke to VOA. “I think the first important topic for me is for sure, climate change,” said 28-year-old Berlin resident Jun Kinoshita. Thirty-five-year-old voter Corinna Anand agrees. “For me the most important issue is climate change. Climate, education, child care.”

For Dirk Zeller, a 54-year-old voter from the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, money is the biggest worry. “Pensions – that they’re stable. Jobs. Lots of things are more expensive. Gas, electricity. How is that going to continue to develop? Can we afford it, as simple people?”  

Fifty-four-year-old Brigitte, who did not want to give her full name, said social inequality is rising in Germany. “The richest Germans only got richer, even with the coronavirus. Meanwhile, lots of people saw their means of living deteriorate and today, they have bigger problems than before. I don’t see that any of the parties are offering initiatives there,” she told VOA.

Few Germans expect immediate change. Talks to form a coalition government will likely take months and Merkel will remain in charge until the rival parties can agree on her successor.  

Merkel has been seen as a pillar of stability in Europe for almost two decades – and the coming changes in Germany will be felt around the world, says analyst Neugebauer. “Just based on their existing international resumés, none of the candidates can simply step into the role of Ms. Merkel. They will have to grow into the role.”

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German Election: Who Will Take Over From Angela Merkel at the Heart of Europe?

Germans are preparing to choose a new leader in elections scheduled September 26 to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is stepping down. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Berlin, Merkel has been seen as a pillar of stability in Europe for almost two decades — and the coming changes in Germany will be felt around the world.

Camera: Henry Ridgwell

 

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Nine Chad Villagers Killed in Jihadist Assault

Nine people have died in an attack on a village in the Lake Chad area that is plagued by violence led by jihadist groups, a local governor and an NGO said Tuesday. 

The region borders Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, and fighters from Boko Haram and a rival splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have used it for years as a haven from which to attack troops and civilians. 

“Elements from Boko Haram attacked Kadjigoroum and killed nine people and set fire to the village” on Sunday night, regional governor Mahamat Fadoul Mackaye told Agence France-Presse by telephone. 

Chadian authorities use the Boko Haram label to refer to both militant groups. 

The head of a local NGO confirmed the attack and death toll at the village, asking not to be identified. 

In August, 26 soldiers died in a Boko Haram raid on marshy Lake Chad’s Tchoukou Telia island, about 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of the capital, N’Djamena. 

In March 2020, 100 Chadian troops died in an attack on the lake’s Bohoma peninsula, prompting an offensive the following month led by Chad’s then-President Idriss Deby Itno. 

After pursuing the militants deep into Niger and Nigeria, Deby said there was “not a single jihadist anywhere” on the Chadian side of the lake region. 

The attacks, however, have increased against the army and civilians. 

Deby was killed in April 2021 during fighting against rebels in the north and was succeeded by his son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, as the head of a military junta. 

 

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