Delegates from the around the world are gathering in Qatar today for the annual round of global climate talks under the auspices of the United Nations. The two-week Doha Climate Change Conference comes at the end of the last year that the binding emissions cuts agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are in effect. But no new binding emissions limits are expected, barring a radical reversal from the United States, which itself never ratified the Kyoto treaty after signing it.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change pledged to cap global temperature rises at 2 degrees Celsius at the 2010 summit in Cancun, but new figures show greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high last year. According to the United Nations, the world is now on pace for a global temperature rise of between 3 and 5 degrees. Unveiling the latest findings, the chief scientist of the U.N. Environment Programme, Joe Alcamo, warned that current emissions standards will be insufficient to stop devastating climate change.
Joe Alcamo: “Over 45 scientists from around the world came to the conclusion that by 2020, if we just complied with current pledges that the countries have made to reduce emissions, global emissions would not be low enough to be on track to the 2-degree climate target. So, in other words, we cannot wait until 2020 to have stringent emission reductions. We know what the challenge is. It’s a question now of taking action. Between now and 2020, through the negotiations, we can tighten up the rules for complying with pledges. That would lead to a reduction in emissions.”
Tune into Democracy Now! starting next Monday as we continue our annual coverage of the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
At least 118 people have been killed and many injured in a massive fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh. The victims were reportedly working overtime making clothes for major U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart and Sears, when the fire tore through their workplace on Saturday. The Tazreen Fashion factory lacked fire escapes on its top floors, leaving many of workers unable to escape. A second fire has broken out at a different Bangladesh factory earlier today, with eight injuries reported so far.
Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip ended in a ceasefire last week with the final toll standing at around 170 Palestinians killed and more than 700 wounded. Meanwhile in Israel, four Israeli civilians and two Israeli soldiers were killed, along with dozens of others wounded, in Palestinian attacks. At a news conference, Hamas government spokesperson Taher al-Nono said an initial estimate of the damage to Gaza from eight days of bombing stood at more than $1.2 billion.
Taher al-Nono: “Our first estimation of the damage caused due to the aggression is 200 residential buildings were destroyed and 8,000 other dwellings were damaged. There were [losses] of around a $1.25 billion — $545 million in direct losses and $700 million in indirect losses.”
Under a deal brokered by Egypt, Israel agreed to temporarily halt attacks on Gaza, including the assassination of militant leaders, while Hamas and other Palestinian factions agreed to stop rocket firings at Israel. Israel also committed to a limited easing of restrictions on Gaza, including an opening of border crossings, more freedom of movement for people and goods, and access for Palestinian fishers off the Gaza coast. The ceasefire prompted scenes of wide celebration in Gaza, with thousands of people flooding the streets after Israeli attacks stopped Wednesday night. The jubilation was short-lived, however, as Israeli forces continued to fire on Gaza in the following days, killing one civilian and wounding several others who had walked into the buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel. The slain victim had been trying to place a Hamas flag on the border wall.
Palestinian medical officials say the death toll of around 170 in Gaza included between 24 to 34 children. In a statement, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child warned the conflict has had a “devastating and lasting impact” on children, with “deep trauma and other psychological effects on children on both sides of the border.” At least one Gaza school was completely destroyed by Israeli shelling. One young Palestinian boy reported witnessing his brother’s decapitation when metal from an Israeli bombing tore off the victim’s head as he slept. Diane Araki, the chief of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, said she had witnessed a number of children suffering.
Diane Araki: “I was seeing children who have been injured from the conflict and children on ventilators, children bruised, and their bruised bodies, and they were very much suffering.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the ceasefire by specifically mentioning it had come at the prodding of the United States. But speaking at a news conference, Netanyahu warned that Israel is prepared to launch what he called a “more severe” assault.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so, but at this time the right thing for the state of Israel is to use this opportunity to achieve a long-lasting ceasefire.”
In the aftermath of the Gaza assault, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced he is planning to retire from political life in the coming months. Barak served as Israeli prime minister from 1999 to 2001, radically expanding settlement construction in the Occupied Territories while engaging in peace talks that ultimately collapsed at Camp David. He returned to government as Israel’s defense minister in 2007, presiding over the Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the end of 2008, nearly four years before the most recent Israeli assault.
Following the ceasefire, reports have emerged bolstering speculation that Israel launched the assault as a means to prepare for a potential future attack on Iran. Citing unnamed “American and Israeli officials,” the New York Times reports the Gaza assault and the rocket attacks it provoked were “something of a practice run for any future armed confrontation with Iran, featuring improved rockets that can reach Jerusalem and new anti-missile systems to counter them.” At the United Nations, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour denounced Israel for using the Gaza assault as what he called an “experiment.”
Riyad Mansour: “The Palestinian people should not be the experiment for the Israeli forces to try to kill hundreds and to wound thousands of Palestinians at their will. We have to put an end to the options of war and to open the gate for option of peace, ending the occupation, and the independence of our state.”
The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, meanwhile have expressed an increased willingness to attempt a unity agreement after years of rivalry. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he will pursue reconciliation talks right after his attempt to gain recognition of Palestine as an observer state at the United Nations later this week. In an interview with CNN, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal reaffirmed his acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders but rejected the longstanding U.S.-Israeli demand that Palestinians also recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”
Khaled Meshaal: “I accept a state of the 1967 [borders]. How can I accept Israel? They have occupied my land. … The Palestinians today, and in the past, and Hamas, have agreed about a program, a national program that accepts the '67 borders. But the Israelis don't accept. So it is all about — it’s up to the Israelis. And the international community is failing to do us justice.”
The Obama administration is reportedly hoping to keep some 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the formal end of combat operations in 2014. The White House has long billed its 2014 deadline as an end to the Afghan war, but it is quietly prepared plans for a residual troop presence to train Afghan forces and conduct so-called “counterterrorism” operations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the proposed 10,000-strong U.S. force still requires approval from the Afghan government. A key issue of contention is said to be whether U.S. soldiers will fall under the jurisdiction of Afghan courts.
Protests have erupted in Egypt over President Mohamed Morsi’s self-appointment of wide-ranging powers and protections from judicial review or oversight late last week. On Sunday, security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters in and around Tahrir Square in the country’s capital, Cairo. More than 500 people have been injured in clashes between police and protesters since the decree was issued.
Syrian activists are accusing government forces of dropping a cluster bomb at a playground, killing 10 children. The activists say the attack took place in the village of Deir al-Asafir. Videos have surfaced showing grieving mothers standing over the bodies of their slain children. Syrian government troops and rebel fighters have been engaged in an ongoing fight for control of a nearby military base.
Rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing a deadline of today to withdraw from the country’s largest eastern city, Goma, after seizing it last week. The conflict between the DRC government and M23 rebels from Rwanda has forced the displacement of thousands of surrounding residents. A regional summit of African countries has given the M23 until later today to withdraw from all of seized territory in the eastern DRC, but the rebels have balked so far. At the United Nations, a spokesperson for the high commissioner for human rights warned the violence continues to prevent access to civilians in need.
Adrian Edwards: “On Goma, with the recent fighting in and around the city, UNHCR is extremely concerned about the situation of displaced people in North Kivu, in particular, especially children and other vulnerable groups. Normally, we work in 31 displaced camps in North Kivu hosting just over 108,000 people. The fighting has meant that we and our partners have not been able to access most of these areas.”
The Obama administration is quietly warning that Bahrain’s ongoing internal unrest could lead to the overthrow of the ruling Sunni monarchy. Protests have continued in Bahrain for nearly two years despite a U.S.-backed crackdown that has seen the use of military forces from neighboring Gulf regimes, the jailing and beating of opposition activists, and the recent ban of all public demonstrations. In a briefing to reporters last week, two State Department officials warned that Bahrain could “break apart” if the protests continue, an outcome they say would be beneficial to Iran while detrimental to the “enormous [U.S.] security interests” in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The officials gave the briefing on the condition they not be identified by name. The White House says it is calling on Bahrain to heed the calls of an independent commission that urged political reforms one year ago. At the United Nations, a spokesperson for the high commissioner for human rights criticized Bahrain’s recent moves against the opposition, including revoking the citizenship of 31 political figures as well as sentencing medics who treated wounded protesters to three months behind bars.
Rupert Colville: “The high commissioner urges the government to reconsider this decision, which stands in clear violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, again I quote, 'Everyone has the right to a nationality,' and 'No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.' The high commissioner is also concerned by the sentencing of 23 medical professionals on the 21st of November, and reiterates her call on the authorities to release all individuals who have been detained or sentenced simply for exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.”
The United Nations says it will send a fact-finding mission to assess human rights conditions in Bahrain early next month.
Historic protests struck the retail giant Wal-Mart nationwide on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. Wal-Mart workers and their supporters demonstrated at around 1,000 stores in 100 cities across the United States demanding improvements to wages and working conditions. The protests were organized in part by OUR Walmart, an organization led by Wal-Mart workers and backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
The Obama administration has reportedly accelerated an effort to codify its set of standards for waging drone attacks overseas. The New York Times reports the White House rushed to cobble together a framework for the drone strikes to pass on should President Obama have lost his bid for re-election. The standards are said to now have a lower priority amongst White House officials with Obama having won a second term. According to the New York Times, the United States has killed some 2,500 people in more than 300 drone strikes since President Obama took office.
The veteran civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot has died at the age of 73. Guyot began his activism as an anti-racism organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi during the 1960s, spearheading African-American voter registration and nearly losing his life to one of several brutal beatings he suffered while in jail.