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ENVIRONMENT

Germany criticises Egypt on human rights ahead of COP27

Berlin on Sunday accused Egypt of not living up to its human rights obligations as the country prepares to host global leaders for the closely-watched COP27 climate talks.

delegates arriving at The Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre
The Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort of the same name, on November 6, 2022, where the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as COP27. Photo: JOSEPH EID / AFP

The German government’s human rights commissioner, Luise Amtsberg, urged summit host Egypt to release jailed dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah, currently on hunger strike, and his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer.

“The fact that people who want to express their opinions freely and stand up for that right are punished with long prison sentences — sometimes under inhumane conditions — is unacceptable,” Amtsberg said in a statement.

“Assuming global responsibility also means, above all, assuming responsibility for the protection of human rights,” Amtsberg said.

“However, the human rights situation in Egypt does not do justice to this.”

Releasing Abdel Fattah and other political prisoners would send “an important signal” that Egypt takes its human rights responsibilities seriously, she added.

Cairo has faced frequent criticism over its human rights record since it was announced as COP27 host last year, a move rights groups said “rewards the repressive rule” of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Rights groups estimate that some 60,000 political prisoners are behind bars in Egypt, many of them in brutal conditions and overcrowded cells, accusations Cairo rejects.

Fifteen Nobel laureates last week joined calls for Egypt to free Abdel Fattah, a major figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian-British writer and philosopher is serving a five-year sentence for “broadcasting false news”, having already spent much of the past decade behind bars.

He is currently on hunger strike and his relatives have warned that if he is not released during the climate conference, he will probably die in prison as he is due to stop drinking fluids from Sunday, the opening day of COP27.

Nearly 200 countries will be attending the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, set to run until November 18.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Europe’s temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns

Temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past three decades, showing the fastest rise of any continent on earth, the UN said Wednesday.

Europe's temperatures rising more than twice global average, UN warns

The European region has on average seen temperatures rise 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since 1991, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service found in a joint report.

As a result, Alpine glaciers lost 30 metres (just under 100 feet) in ice thickness between 1997 and 2021, while the Greenland ice sheet is swiftly melting and contributing to accelerating sea level rise.

Last year, Greenland experienced melting and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point. And the report cautioned that regardless of future levels of global warming, temperatures would likely continue to rise across Europe at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes.

“Europe presents a live picture of a warming world and reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from impacts of extreme weather events,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

WMO splits the world into six regions, with the European region covering 50 countries and including half of the swiftly warming Arctic, which is not a continent in its own right.

Within Antarctica — which is a continent but falls outside the six WMO-defined regions –only the West Antarctic Peninsula part is seeing rapid warming.

‘Vulnerable’

The new report, released ahead of the UN’s 27th conference on climate set to open in Egypt on Sunday, examined the situation in Europe up to and including 2021.

It found that last year, high-impact weather and climate events — mainly floods and storms — led to hundreds of deaths, directly affected more than half a million people and caused economic damage across Europe exceeding $50 billion.

At the same time, the report highlighted some positives, including the success of many European countries in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Across the EU, such emissions decreased by nearly a third between 1990 and 2020, and the bloc has set a net 55-percent reduction target for 2030.

Europe is also one of the most advanced regions when it comes to cross-border cooperation towards climate change adaptation, the report said. It also hailed Europe’s world-leading deployment of early warning systems, providing protection for about 75 percent of the population, and said its heat-health action plans had saved many lives.

“European society is vulnerable to climate variability and change,” said Carlo Buontempo, head of Copernicus’s European Centre of Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). “But Europe is also at the forefront of the international effort to mitigate climate change and to develop innovative solutions to adapt to the new climate Europeans will have to live with.”

Health concerns

Yet, the continent is facing formidable challenges.

“This year, like 2021, large parts of Europe have been affected by extensive heatwaves and drought, fuelling wildfires,” Taalas said, also decrying “death and devastation” from last year’s “exceptional floods”.

And going forward, the report cautioned that regardless of the greenhouse gas emissions scenario, “the frequency and intensity of hot extremes… are projected to keep increasing.”

This is concerning, the report warned, given that the deadliest extreme climate events in Europe are heatwaves, especially in the west and south of the continent.

“The combination of climate change, urbanisation and population ageing in the region creates, and will further exacerbate, vulnerability to heat,” the report said.

The shifting climate is also spurring other health concerns. It has already begun altering the production and distribution of pollens and spores, which appear to be leading to increases in various allergies.

While more than 24 percent of adults living in the European region suffer from such allergies, including severe asthma, the proportion among children is 30-40 percent and rising, it said.

The warming climate is also causing more vector-borne diseases, with ticks moving into new areas bringing Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. Asian tiger mosquitos are also moving further north, carrying the risk of Zika, dengue and chikungunya, the report said.

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