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Will G7 green initiative have more climate cred than China’s BRI? | Business and Economy News



During the three-day leaders’ summit that kicks off on Friday, the Group of Seven (G7) developed nations is set to unveil a Clean Green Initiative (CGI). The huge infrastructure investment plan aims to go toe-to-toe with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and counter Beijing’s growing global influence with a rival bit of chequebook diplomacy.

“This initiative is about equalising the terms of foreign investment between Chinese and Western companies,” Lauren Johnston, research associate at the SOAS China Institute, told Al Jazeera. “Chinese companies – especially state-owned enterprises – may have access to financing that Western companies find more difficult to obtain.”

Although the CGI’s exact scope is still unknown, it will likely expand on the Blue Dot Network, the Indo-Pacific infrastructure development initiative backed by the United States, Australia and Japan, which prioritised each project’s financial transparency and environmental sustainability alongside its impact on economic development.

Part soft-power exercise, part domestic stimulus, China’s ambitious and amorphous BRI has sunk trillions of dollars into projects in 68 countries, predominately in Asia and Africa, since its launch in 2013.

Critics say it has bankrolled and built ecological carbuncles the world over, locking countries into unsustainable infrastructure, technology and resource extraction at a time when they should be adopting less-polluting power sources.

“China is facilitating national government priorities around the world that are not in line with long-term climate and development goals,” Rebecca Ray, a senior researcher at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, told Al Jazeera, noting that many  BRI projects wouldn’t pass the environmental and social safeguards demanded by Western-dominated multilateral development institutions.

Greening up or greenwashing?

In an address to the United Nations last year, President Xi Jinping promised China would bring CO2 emissions to a peak before 2030 and aim to be carbon neutral by 2060.

However, when the world’s biggest polluter laid out its 14th Five-Year Plan in March, it only set one carbon goal: cutting emissions by 18 percent per unit of gross domestic product over five years, equitable to its goal in 2016.

And at the 2019 Belt and Road Forum, Xi stressed the importance of reducing the BRI’s environmental impact; with the newly-founded BRI Green Coalition subsequently giving each funding proposal a red, amber or green traffic light mark in a bid to discourage the funding of polluting projects.

In an address to the United Nations last year, President Xi Jinping promised China would bring CO2 emissions to a peak before 2030 and aim to be carbon neutral by 2060 [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that Bangladesh’s desire to repurpose a $3.6bn BRI infrastructure loan to coal projects – a move motivated by a coal-rich country keen to secure cheap energy sovereignty – brought negative pressure on China. The resulting furore led to Beijing actually making good on its promises of a greener BRI, telling Bangladeshi authorities they would no longer back its coal projects.

The BRI was already moving away from funding coal projects, which peaked at $6.9bn in 2017 and halved in 2019, according to data compiled by Boston University. Last year, they accounted for a mere half a billion dollars in funding.

But despite this pivot and China’s increasing strength in renewables, there has not been a commensurate leap in its financial backing of green power projects.

Beijing’s oft-stated goals may be more hot air than wind power ($1.1bn invested since 2011; none since 2017) and solar ($2.2bn since 2010, nearly of half of which was in 2012), with a paltry $493m invested in geothermal and $60m in biomass generation. These are dwarfed by the $48bn China invested in oil, $44.3bn in coal and $41.2bn in hydropower generation projects since the BRI’s launch, according to Boston University researchers.

Beyond branding?

China has cemented its dominance over critical rare-earth elements (REEs) that are used in energy storage and transmission as well as key high-tech and defence components. The country is home to over a third of known REE reserves and its mines extracted more than 60 percent of the global REE total in 2019, according to the US Geological Survey.

It is also the world’s largest importer of REEs, leveraging its position in resource-rich areas of the developing world, especially those with access to cobalt, a rare mineral that is an essential part of every lithium battery.

“[China is] pretty well-placed in these supply chains and that obviously concerns US policymakers,” Kevin Acker, research manager at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies China Africa Research Initiative, told Al Jazeera.

At the 2019 Belt and Road Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of reducing the BRI’s environmental impact [File: Jason Lee/Pool/Reuters]

Acker cited a resource-for-infrastructure deal China struck in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) before BRI as an example. In that 2008-2009 project, Chinese companies developed “copper and cobalt mines with an Export-Import Bank line of credit to fund the mining operation and infrastructure projects,” he said.

The DRC produces 70 percent of the world’s cobalt, around a quarter of which comes from artisanal mines that often extract the mineral by hand in conditions Human Rights Watch described as “dire”.

But it is unclear whether the G7’s CGI will have enough money behind it to bring more pressure to bear on Beijing to bolster the BRI’s environmental and social impact standards.

“My eyes will be on whether it turns into something beyond branding. We’re still waiting for the $100bn that was committed at Copenhagen five years ago,” Ray said.

And how the West will win the battle for hearts and minds in the developing world, as well as meet much-needed sustainable goals, may lie in having a bit of empathy. China better understands what it’s like to be a poor country in need of financing or a reliable electricity supply, Johnston said. 

“They get that you need to turn the light on first,” she said. “We need to be able to work out how they can turn the light on in a green way.”

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Deadly blast in Pakistan near residence of armed group founder | Pakistan News




Three killed and 13 others wounded after explosion near house of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in Lahore.

At least three people have been killed and 13 others wounded after an explosion near the residence of the founder of armed group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, hospital and police officials said.

The blast took place in the Johar Town area of the city, Pakistan’s second largest, on Wednesday, provincial police chief Inam Ghani said.

“The [Counter Terrorism Department] has taken over the site of the attack completely,” Ghani told reporters at the site of the blast shortly after it took place.

“The CTD will ascertain what it was, what material it was, what was used … and secondly, was it an [improvised explosive device] lodged in a vehicle, and whether it is a suicide attack or not.”

Ghani said a police picket that was set up near the home of a “high-value target” was the apparent target of the attack.

Television footage from the scene showed significant damage to a number of homes near the blast site [Arif Ali / AFP]

A residence belonging to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of LeT that is designated as a “terrorist” group under Pakistani law and by the United Nations, is located near the site of the blast.

“The biggest target that we see right now is that they are targeting law enforcement agencies,” Ghani said.

Television footage from the scene showed massive damage to a number of homes near the blast site, with windows smashed in, doors blown open and extensive damage to buildings close to the blast epicentre.

At least 16 wounded people were shifted to the nearby government-run Jinnah Hospital, with three of them succumbing to their wounds, a hospital official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

Six of the wounded were in a critical condition, the official said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security officials inspect the site of the blast near Saeed’s residence [Rahat Dar/EPA]

LeT founder Saeed is blamed by the United States and India for being the “mastermind” behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people in a series of coordinated bombings and shootings across the Indian financial capital.

Saeed has denied any wrongdoing and currently runs the charitable wing of the LeT, called Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which has been designated by both Pakistan and the UN as a front for the armed group.

He was convicted and jailed last year in a series of terrorism financing cases lodged by the Pakistani government as it tightened financial laws and restrictions as part of its review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body.

A JuD spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Saeed was in prison and therefore not in the residence that may have been targeted in Wednesday’s bombing.

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Explainer: What is the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19? | Coronavirus pandemic News




Scientists worry the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

India on Wednesday said it has found about 40 cases of the Delta coronavirus variant carrying a mutation that appears to make it more transmissible, and advised states to increase testing.

Here is what we know about the variant.

What is Delta Plus?

The variant, called Delta Plus in India, was first reported (PDF) in a Public Health England bulletin on June 11.

It is a sublineage of the Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation, called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Some scientists worry that the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist, said the K417N was known to reduce the effectiveness of a cocktail of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Where all it has been found?

As of June 16 (PDF), at least 197 cases have been found in 11 countries – Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), the United States (83).

India said on Wednesday about 40 cases of the variant have been observed in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with “no significant increase in prevalence”. The earliest case in India is from a sample taken on April 5.

Britain said its first five cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from, or transited through, Nepal and Turkey.

No deaths were reported among the United Kingdom and Indian cases.

What are the worries?

Studies are continuing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation.

“WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency.

“For the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the Delta sequences … Delta and other circulating Variants of Concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission,” it said.

But India’s health ministry warned that regions where it has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination”.

There are worries Delta Plus would inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world’s worst surge in cases only recently.

“The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India – that also depends on COVID-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

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EU citizens in UK to be given 28 days to apply for settled status | Brexit News




People who miss the June 30 settlement scheme deadline will be issued warnings to apply or risk losing their rights.

European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom will be given a 28-day warning to apply for post-Brexit settled status or face losing some of their rights from next month, the government said on Tuesday.

The UK’s so-called settlement scheme for EU and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, which opened in early 2019, closes on June 30.

It allows Europeans in the UK to retain the same residence, travel, employment and healthcare rights they had before Brexit.

The rules around the UK’s departure from the bloc, which came into force at the beginning of this year, ended the reciprocal freedom of movement.

About 5.6 million people and their dependents have applied for settled status under the scheme since it was introduced.

But about 400,000 cases still require processing, while many are rushing to submit their applications before next week’s deadline.

At the same time, messaging and outreach campaigns are targeting those who may not be aware of the need to apply by next week’s deadline.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said anyone whose application was not filed by the deadline would not see their rights immediately withdrawn, as they were protected by law.

But he also ruled out extending the June 30 cutoff point.

“Put simply, extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied, and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating more uncertainties,” Foster told members of a parliamentary committee.

He added that immigration enforcement officials would instead begin issuing 28-day notices to those yet to apply.

The UK’s Home Office, which oversees immigration, said that applications may also be submitted past the 28-day notice period in some cases.

“We’ll set up the support available and we’ll signpost people to make an application, but we do recognise that there may be some people who, after that 28 days, still haven’t been able to make an application,” a Home Office spokesman said, according to The Guardian newspaper.

“I think we would want to work with them to understand why that is the case, and then support them again to make the application.”

Foster said those who had missed the deadline on reasonable grounds will still be able to apply, citing exceptions such as children whose parents had failed to apply on their behalf, or individuals with a serious illness that had prevented them from filing their paperwork.

The government will also issue a “certificate of application” for those awaiting a decision, he added, which will act as proof of their right to work, rent property, obtain benefits and use the National Health Service.

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