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The energy and food crises fuelled by the war in Ukraine are an unacceptable “pretext for backsliding” at the United Nations COP27 climate talks, host nation Egypt has warned.

With just over a month until the next yearly summit, ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, Egypt’s COP27 special representative, acknowledged the “complicating factors” that could hinder this year’s talks.

In a thinly veiled message to those involved in the war, Mr Aboulmagd urged countries to “put political differences aside” at the talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, and “expedite” rather than slow down the transition to green power.

The geopolitical context has changed radically since last year’s COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, with the war in Ukraine often knocking climate change down the agenda.

Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 president, attends an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo, Egypt May 24, 2022. Picture taken May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Sayed Sheasha
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Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 president. (File pic)

Energy prices have soared as Russia cut supplies to Europe in retaliation to Western sanctions over its invasion.

Meanwhile scores of countries have been pummelled by devastating floods, wildfires and droughts, super-charged by climate change.

While the gas squeeze has accelerated plans to shift to clean power in the European Union and beyond, some countries are also expanding fossil fuel production or firing up old coal plants.

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But it is “high time” to implement the Paris Agreement, struck in 2015 at COP21, “in its totality”, Mr Aboulmagd said in a briefing.

“We can see that the [climate] devastation is enormous and that we have huge gaps when it comes to emissions reduction… adapting to climate change and of course, the finance gap which everyone is aware of,” he told reporters.

Developing nations hope that lower-middle income Egypt’s turn to host the yearly talks will put pressure on rich, polluting countries to stump up promised, long overdue cash to help them cope with the fallout from climate breakdown.

Rich countries, responsible for a disproportionate amount of climate-heating emissions, are falling around $16bn short of their target to channel $100bn a year by 2020 to their poorer counterparts to help them cope with climate change .

Egypt has promised to make it a key objectives to make progress the contentious debate around climate reparations, with poor countries asking rich countries to pay for the losses and damages they are suffering that are beyond the realms of adaptation.

That debate was crystallised by this summer’s violent and deadly flooding in Pakistan, which inflicted an estimated $10 billion of damage, displaced 33 million people and killed at least 1,300 in a country that has contributed very little to global heating.

A general view of buildings at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, June 4, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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Egypt is hosting this year’s COP talks in November

Who should pay for a ‘climate catastrophe’? Pakistan’s savage flooding reignites debate

The ambassador said the hardest hit by climate change are “the most vulnerable and the least developed economically countries on their GDP”.

“Pakistan, of course, is a very sad testament to all of this… We, as an incoming presidency, understand this problem and we see what needs to be done, and that is to implement,” he added.

Last year’s COP26 climate talks in Glasgow launched a “dialogue” on loss and damage, but funding is still almost nowhere to be seen.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, said “all eyes are on the Egyptian presidency” to put the needs of people “on the frontlines of the climate crisis are front and centre on the COP agenda”.

That means delivering on climate finance, in particular for adaptation and losses and damages, and progress on phasing out of all fossil fuels, said the leader of CAN, which represents 1,800 global climate groups and participates in United Nations talks.

The Egyptian presidency must ensure “an inclusive and transparent COP- starting with access to affordable accommodation, smooth visa processes and the full and active participation of civil society,” she said, alluding to concerns about restrictions on protests and sky-high hotel prices.

Mr Aboulmagd said Egypt is ensuring cheap youth hostel accommodation was available and accelerating the accreditation process.

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Kamala Harris: US vice president says there must be ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza and more aid – as Israel ‘boycotts’ talks

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Kamala Harris: US vice president says there must be 'immediate ceasefire' in Gaza and more aid - as Israel 'boycotts' talks

US vice president Kamala Harris has said there must be an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza as she called on the Israeli government to do more to increase the flow of aid, with “no excuses”.

Ms Harris said a six-week ceasefire would get Israeli hostages out and get a significant amount of aid into the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

She said people were “starving” and Israel needed to increase the flow of aid to ease what she described as “inhumane” conditions and a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Her comments are among the strongest by a senior US official over the crisis.

Middle East latest – Houthis vow to sink British ships

The vice president also said there is a “deal on the table” and Hamas “needs to agree to that”.

“Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she said.

Although a Hamas delegation is in Egypt for the latest truce talks, Israel has reportedly boycotted them.

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Israeli media says it is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not got an answer from Hamas on two questions – a list of hostages who are alive in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for each hostage.

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Gaza: Doctors set up clinics in streets

Ms Harris is on Tuesday due to meet top Israeli politician Benny Gantz, who will also have talks in Washington with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Although Mr Gantz is in Mr Netanyahu’s war cabinet, he is also a centrist political rival and is thought to have been rebuked by the Israeli prime minister for those planned discussions in America.

An official from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said Mr Gantz’s visit was not authorised by the leader.

And the PM had a “tough talk” with Mr Gantz about the trip and told him the country has “just one prime minister”, according to the official.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters
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(L-R) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet member Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters

Mr Gantz had told the PM of his intention to travel to the US and to co-ordinate messaging with him, added an official.

US efforts in the region have increasingly been hampered by Mr Netanyahu’s hardline cabinet, which ultra-nationalists dominate. Mr Gantz’s more moderate party sometimes acts as a counterweight to the PM’s far-right allies.

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US carries out first aid airdrop in Gaza

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There are deep disagreements between Mr Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden over how to alleviate Palestinian suffering in Gaza and come up with a post-war vision for the enclave.

On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from trucks were killed last Thursday.

Speaking on Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Ms Harris said: “People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”

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A senior US official had said the path to a ceasefire was “straightforward and there’s a deal on the table”, with mediators returning to Egypt hoping to reach an agreement before Ramadan begins in a week.

The unidentified official spoke to the Reuters news agency ahead of the talks in Cairo, billed as the final hurdle to a six-week ceasefire.

Earlier on Sunday, the US said a deal had already been “more or less accepted” by Israel and was waiting for approval by Hamas militants.

But after the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official said the deal was “not yet there”. Hamas also reportedly wanted a permanent ceasefire to be part of any deal.

The war started after Hamas launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October last year, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 250 others hostage.

Israel retaliated with strikes and a military ground assault in Gaza which have so far killed more than 30,000 people, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.

More than 100 hostages in Gaza have been released.

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A fresh truce between Israel and Hamas could be highly significant – in more ways than one

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A fresh truce between Israel and Hamas could be highly significant - in more ways than one

There is increasing hope that a new hostage deal can be agreed between Israel and Hamas in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a week from now, but time is running out and divisions remain between the sides.

Hamas has sent a delegation to Cairo to continue talks; Israel is yet to dispatch its own team and government sources have told Sky News that, among other things, they are still waiting for Hamas to provide information on the hostages they will release.

There are other points of difference, notably over which Palestinian prisoners Israel will agree to release in exchange and the status of Israeli forces inside Gaza, if a truce goes ahead.

Middle East latest: Houthis vow to sink British ships; path to Gaza truce ‘straightforward’

All parties, including the US, Egypt and Qatar, are making positive noises that a deal can be reached but such is the hatred and mistrust between Hamas and Israel that we can take nothing for granted at this stage.

Separately, but not unconnected, a senior member of Israel’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, is flying to Washington and London for meetings this coming week.

Read more:
US puts pressure on Hamas to clinch ceasefire ‘deal on table’

FILE - Israeli Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 28, 2023. While Israelis quickly rallied behind the military, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party took a hit in opinion polls. Israelis now believe Netanyahu is less fit to govern than Benny Gantz, a rival who agreed to join Netanyahu in an emergency wartime Cabinet. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
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Benny Gantz could become Israel’s next leader. Pic: Abir Sultan via AP

Although a member of the war cabinet, Mr Gantz leads an opposition party in Israel and has a clear lead in the polling over who should be Israel’s next prime minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly furious because he wasn’t consulted on the trip.

If a truce is agreed, it might also be the moment when Bibi’s political foes finally move against him – a deal with Hamas could be highly significant on a number of levels and a watershed moment as this war closes in on the five month mark.

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Anger as Pakistan’s parliament confirms Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister

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Anger as Pakistan's parliament confirms Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister

Pakistan’s newly-formed parliament has elected Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s prime minister for the second time.

Mr Sharif won 201 votes from Pakistan’s National Assembly, comfortably ahead of Omar Ayub, the candidate backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, who secured 92 votes.

It means the 72-year-old will resume the role he had until August, when parliament was dissolved and a caretaker government was put in charge until last month’s elections.

Mr Sharif was named premier despite his elder brother Nawaz Sharif winning a seat in parliament and being favourite for the top job.

Nawaz did not want to lead a minority coalition government, having enjoyed majorities in his three previous stints as PM, his daughter Maryam said on X.

The brothers’ Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won fewer seats than Khan’s allies in the February election – but coalition support was enough to get them a majority.

The election saw arrests, violence, an internet blackout and delayed results, leading to claims from Khan’s allies that the vote was rigged.

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They continued their protests in parliament as Mr Sharif’s premiership was confirmed, calling him a “vote thief” and shouting “shame”.

Imran Khan supporters gather for a protest in Karachi demanding free and fair elections. Pic: Reuters
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Imran Khan supporters protest in Karachi a few days after the election. Pic: Reuters

Mr Sharif offered “reconciliation”, adding: “Let us sit together to work for the betterment of Pakistan.” But his words were met by more shouting.

Meanwhile, his government faces a number of challenges: a struggling economy, a surge in militant attacks, tricky relations with Pakistan’s Taliban-run neighbour Afghanistan, and aging infrastructure.

Financially, Pakistan relies heavily on help from outside – wealthy states such as China and Saudi Arabia, as well as the International Monetary Fund.

An IMF bailout negotiated during Mr Sharif’s previous term will expire at the end of this month and he will need to strike another deal while also addressing growing anger over the rising cost of living.

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