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UN chief warns development banks to stop backing fossil fuels

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged development banks to stop backing fossil fuel projects after a report found the World Bank had invested $12bn in the sector since the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

Environmental campaigners have for years tried to prevent the oil, coal and natural gas industries from producing dangerous levels of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change by persuading commercial banks to stop lending them money.

But the world’s state-backed development banks, whose support is often crucial in determining whether projects in developing countries go ahead, are also facing growing calls to starve the industry of finance.

Guterres urged a coalition of finance ministers and economic policymakers from dozens of countries to ensure development banks end fossil fuel investments and boost renewable energy.

“We need speed, scale, and decisive leadership,” Guterres said in a video message on Monday to a virtual meeting of the group.

Earlier on Monday, a report by Berlin-based environmental group Urgewald said that the World Bank had invested more than $12bn in fossil fuels since the Paris accord, $10.5bn of which was direct finance for new projects.

That put the World Bank far ahead of other development banks in supporting the fossil fuel sector, said Heike Mainhardt, a senior adviser to Urgewald, who wrote the report.

With the world already on track to produce far more fossil fuels than would be compatible with temperature goals agreed in Paris, the report questioned why the World Bank would back increased oil and natural gas production in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Mozambique.

The World Bank said the report gave a “distorted and unsubstantiated view,” adding that it had committed nearly $9.4bn to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency in developing countries from 2015-19.

The bank also said the report ignored its mandate to help approximately 789 million people living without electricity, mostly in rural Africa and Asia.

Mainhardt said the bank’s support for fossil fuels was hindering a transition to cleaner energy needed to achieve the Paris accord’s goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

“It’s so misleading for them to act like they are a champion of the climate when they really are such a huge part of the problem,” Mainhardt told the Reuters news agency. “Because the World Bank keeps giving billions in public assistance, that distorts the market for fossil fuels, it slows down the energy transition.”

Investor pressure

Meanwhile, investors managing about $20 trillion in assets called on the heaviest corporate emitters of greenhouse gases to set science-based targets on the way to net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

AXA Group and Nikko Asset Management Co are among 137 investors urging 1,800 companies responsible for a quarter of global emissions to act, coordinated by non-profit group CDP.

Nearly 2,000 companies are responsible for 13.5 gigatonnes of emissions, according to environmental pressure group CDP [File: Andrew Cullen/Reuters]

While more companies are pledging their support for the 2015 Paris agreement, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050, not all have been clear about how they will get there.

To help limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial norms by 2050, companies need to set out their pathway to net-zero and ensure it is consistent with the science and independently verified, the investors said.

“Climate change presents material risks to investments, and companies that are failing to set targets grounded in science risk losing out – and causing greater damage to the world economy,” said Emily Kreps, global director of capital markets at CDP.

The companies affected together annually contribute 13.5 gigatonnes of emissions directly and indirectly tied to their operations, equivalent to 25 percent of the world’s total, CDP said.

Specifically, the investors said they wanted companies to set targets through the Science-Based Targets Initiative to help ensure the goals can be more easily compared and assessed.

More than 1,000 companies have already set science-based targets, of which approximately 300 have targets in line with the 1.5 degrees goal.

“Companies that do not set science-based targets risk being surprised by increased costs or lost business that could result from the increasing focus on climate change by society and regulators,” said Ted Maloney, Chief Investment Officer at MFS Investment Management.

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Car bomb kills Muslim mufti for Syria’s capital: State media

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Adnan al-Afiyuni, the Sunni Muslim mufti for Damascus, died as a result of his wounds after a bomb was planted in his car in the town of Qudssaya.

A prominent Syrian Muslim leader in charge of the Damascus region was killed on Thursday when a bomb planted in his car exploded outside the capital, state news agency SANA said.

Adnan al-Afiyuni, the Sunni Muslim mufti for Damascus province, was considered to be close to President Bashar al-Assad who hails from the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) war monitor said the 66-year-old Muslim scholar played a key role in reaching reconciliation deals with rebel fighters on the capital’s outskirts during the country’s nine-year war.

Afiyuni died “as the result of an explosive device planted in his car” in the town of Qudssaya, northwest of the capital, SANA quoted the endowments ministry as saying.

In September 2016, Afiyuni led prayers as al-Assad made a rare public appearance to celebrate the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha in Daraya outside Damascus after the last rebels evacuated the previous month under a surrender deal.

The Muslim leader, who sported a long white beard, hailed the town as an example for Syria.

He told those listening Daraya was “living proof for all Syrians that the only option available to you is reconciliation and abandoning fighting”.

Explosions have been relatively rare in and around the capital since government forces expelled the last rebels and fighters from its doorstep in 2018.

After a string of military victories backed by key ally Russia, the government has regained control of nearly 70 percent of the country, the SOHR said.

The monitor said Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

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South Korea reports highest number of new coronavirus cases in over a month

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Bottles of pills sit on shelves at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20.
Bottles of pills sit on shelves at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20. George Frey/AFP/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is causing “unacceptable” shortages of US drug supplies in the United States, according to a report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota.

The report says shortages have limited 29 of 40 drugs critical for treating Covid-19 patients, including propofol, albuterol, midazolam, hydroxychloroquine, fentanyl, azithromycin and morphine, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The FDA, which has more stringent criteria for shortages, show 18 of 40 are on the Drug Shortage list.

Another 67 out of 156 critical acute drugs — including diazepam, phenobarbital, lidocaine and acetaminophen — are in short supply, the report said.

“Drug shortages can be a matter of life and death, and some shortages mean that a life-saving drug is not available to U.S. patients at any price,” the authors wrote.

“The urgency with the drug shortage supply issue is related directly to the major increase in COVID-19 cases that we will experience in the coming months,” Michael Osterholm, the director of CIDRAP, said in a news release.

“This, in turn, will dramatically increase the need for specific COVID-19 treatment drugs, while at the same, COVID-19 is having a major impact on two of the three key drug manufacturing areas of the world, India and Italy,” Osterholm added.

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Coronavirus pandemic is causing 'unacceptable' shortages in US drug supplies, report says

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UN says Libya sides reach ‘permanent ceasefire’ deal

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Libya’s warring sides sign agreement for ‘a permanent ceasefire in all areas of Libya’, the UN Libya mission says in a Facebook post.

Libya’s warring sides have signed an agreement for “a permanent ceasefire in all areas of Libya”, the United Nations Libya mission said in a Facebook post, showing live video of the ceremony to sign the agreement.

The UN on Friday said the two sides in the Libyan military talks have reached the “historic achievement” with a permanent ceasefire deal across the war-torn North African country.

After mediation led by UN envoy Stephanie Turco Williams this week, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the UN called an “important turning point towards peace and stability in Libya”.

Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.

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