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Ukraine war boosts Africa’s humanitarian emergency: UN official

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Every grain counts: A woman at a displaced persons' camp in Ouallam, Niger, pours food from a container
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The war in Ukraine is heaping further pressure on Africa’s fast-growing population of vulnerable people, a UN refugee official says.

Cereal prices have surged because of the slump in exports from one of the world’s bread baskets.

In Africa, rising food costs are sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change, which have already driven millions into poverty or forced them from their homes, Raouf Mazou, assistant high commissioner at the UNHCR refugee agency, told AFP.

“Across Africa, rising prices and reduced food aid caused by the war in Ukraine will increase the vulnerability of refugees and other forcibly displaced populations and increase the risk of inter-communal tensions,” Mazou said in an interview.

“Food, fuel and fertiliser costs have skyrocketed and the decline in purchasing power is hitting the most vulnerable households the hardest, including refugees and displaced people.”

Mazou spoke by telephone from Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, where he attended a special summit of the African Union at the weekend to discuss the continent’s humanitarian crises.

Mazou said Africa already faced “displacement on an unprecedented scale” through the double crunch of climate-related disasters and conflicts.

The AU Commission estimates that 113 million people will need urgent assistance in 2022, while 48 million of those affected are refugees and internally displaced.

“Floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense, seriously affecting countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan,” said Mazou, a diplomat from the Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville.

– Climate-conflict cycle –

“Disasters linked to climate change risk not only worsening poverty, hunger and access to natural resources such as water, but also increasing instability and violence,” he added.

He gave the example of Cameroon’s Far North region, where herders, fishermen and farmers have begun to fight over access to scarce water resources.

At least 100,000 people have fled their homes, moving inside Cameroon or to neighbouring countries.

In the southeast of the continent, cyclones have battered Mozambique, where growing violence and unrest in the north have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, said Mazou.

“The Sahel is on the front line of the climate crisis, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average. This only worsens conflicts over limited resources, making life even more difficult for those who have been forced to flee their homes,” he added.

Mazou said humanitarian aid was falling far behind the accelerating needs.

“We are already seeing this with further cuts in food aid to refugees in Mozambique and Zambia,” he said.

“Rations will also be reduced for refugees in Sudan next month, among other countries.”

In the longer term, more needed to be done to shore up protection against climate change and to open up suitable land for farming, he said.

“The impact of the war in Ukraine on the cost and availability of food around the world… highlights the importance of taking advantage of the vast amount of fertile land available in Africa to end unnecessary dependence on imports,” said Mazou.  

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Kerry vows US to meet climate goal despite court setback

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US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry fists-bumps a guest at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June 2022
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US climate envoy John Kerry vowed Friday the United States will meet goals it submitted to the United Nations on slashing greenhouse gas emissions, despite a Supreme Court ruling that curtailed the government’s powers.

“We are determined to achieve our goals. We can achieve our goals,” Kerry told AFP.

“But obviously it would help if we had a majority of the Supreme Court in the United States of America that actually understood the gravity of the situation and was more willing to try to be helpful rather than present a hurdle of one kind or another,” he said.

President Joe Biden, after defeating the climate-skeptic Donald Trump, in April last year said the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, dramatically increasing the climate ambitions of the world’s largest economy.

He submitted the so-called nationally determined contribution to the UN climate body in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark deal brokered by Kerry when he was secretary of state.

China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, called Friday on all nations to live up to Paris commitments, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying of the United States, “it is not enough to just chant slogans.”

Kerry, who has worked with Chinese officials in his climate role despite soaring tensions between Beijing and Washington, said that he was “not surprised by the messaging” from the Asian power.

“We will show China precisely how we’re going to get the job done,” Kerry said.

In an unusual commentary, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called the Supreme Court decision “a setback in our fight against climate change.”

– ‘Every option available’ –

The Supreme Court, finishing a term in which three justices nominated by Trump pushed it sharply to the right, on Thursday cut the wings off a key way in which the government could have tackled climate change.

In a 6-3 ruling branded “devastating” by Biden, the top court said the Environmental Protection Agency did not have authority to order sweeping cuts on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“I am convinced — and our legal people are looking at it very carefully — that this decision leaves plenty of latitude for us to be able to do a lot of things that we need to do,” Kerry said.

Asked about calls by some lawmakers from his Democratic Party for Biden to declare a climate emergency, Kerry said, “I think the president needs to evaluate every option available.”

Coal accounts for around 20 percent of US electricity generation — still roughly on par with renewables. China, despite investing heavily in wind and solar, has also kept building coal production capacity.

But Kerry said that the marketplace showed that coal was not the future.

“Nobody’s going to fund any new coal power in the United States — no bank, no private lender. Coal is the dirtiest fuel in the world,” he said.

– ‘Pin into balloon’ –

Scientists warn that the world is far off track in avoiding the worst ravages of climate change including worsening heatwaves, floods, drought, rising sea levels and storm surges. 

The Paris accord set the goal of limiting end-of-century warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — and preferably not beyond 1.5 degrees — but the planet has already warmed by nearly 1.2 Celsius.

Ruth Greenspan Bell, a climate expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said it was difficult for the United States to show climate leadership while also fighting internally on whether it is a priority.

“It’s kind of putting a pin into a balloon. There’s a little bit less air in the balloon than there was before,” she said of the court decision. 

“The times call for a moonshot but imagine trying to pull off a moonshot when you are at the same time in a defensive crouch.”

Environmental groups have put guarded hope in negotiations in Congress on an energy bill that would include climate action.

But on the Democratic side, Senator Joe Manchin from coal-producing West Virginia holds the key vote — and Trump’s Republican Party is widely expected to advance in November elections.

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French police bust gang selling fake Bordeaux wine

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Bordeaux wines have become a major target of thieves and traffickers, who seek to profit off its worldwide recognition.
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French police have broken up a gang that had allegedly produced hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake Bordeaux wine in an elaborate counterfeiting operation, prosecutors said on Friday.

Officers investigating drug dealing in the southwestern French region discovered printing machinery being used to create the labels for the bottles last September, sparking a wider criminal probe.

It led to the arrest of around 20 people on Monday during an operation in seven different areas of France, with three of them charged with organised fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering.

The main suspect is a winemaker and broker in the Medoc region near Bordeaux who was buying low-grade wine from other areas including Spain, then bottling it up as more expensive local produce, a statement from Bordeaux prosecutors’ office said.

“Major orders” had been placed for the wine “destined for supermarkets and foreign countries”, the statement added.

Bottling operations were being run at night to avoid detection, it said.

“If the allegations are proven, we hope that the culprits will be heavily punished because these practices undermine the image of Bordeaux wines and those who work properly and respect the rules,” the local wine industry body told AFP.

French wine makers, customs and police are constantly on the lookout for cheats who pass off budget plonk as top vintages.

In 2016, police busted a Bordeaux vintner who was blending poor-quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The owner of several domains, Francois-Marie Marret, was handed a prison sentence and a fine of eight million euros after being found bringing in cheap wine at night.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.

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Stocks choppy, dollar frothy

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Eurozone consumer price inflation soared to 8.6 percent in June, up from the prior record of 8.1 percent in May
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Stock markets wobbled on Friday while the dollar shot higher against the euro and pound as investors fretted about interest rate hikes and a possible recession.

Both Paris and Frankfurt stocks ended the day with small gains despite news of record-high eurozone inflation that reinforced expectations of a European Central Bank interest rate hike later this month.

The EU’s Eurostat data agency said annual consumer price inflation in the 19 countries that use the euro soared to 8.6 percent in June, up from the prior record of 8.1 percent in May.

“Today’s figures bolster the European Central Bank’s intended decision to start raising interest rates at its next Governing Council meeting in July,” noted economist Pushpin Singh at research group CEBR.

The ECB stated last month that it will deliver its first interest rate hike in more than a decade in July to combat inflation. 

Eurostat added Friday that core inflation — stripping out volatile components like energy and food — slowed to 3.7 percent from 3.8 percent, helping equities to calm heading into the weekend pause.

Wall Street’s main indices were marginally lower in late morning trading, having bounced around since the opening bell.

– ‘Another big leg lower’ – 

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at online trading platform IG, said there was little buying interest at the start of the second half of the year, even though the sharp drops suffered by stocks in the first half open up the possibility for gains.

New York’s S&P 500 index suffered its worst first-half performance since 1970.

“There is a growing unease about the summer, especially with a potentially very gloomy (second-quarter) earnings season nearly upon us,” he said in a note to clients. 

“It really does look like we have another big leg lower before this bear market is done,” added Beauchamp.

With the war in Ukraine showing no sign of ending — keeping energy costs elevated — there is an expectation that borrowing costs will continue to rise and send economies into recession.

Losses across world markets this week come after a rally last week fuelled by hopes that an economic slowdown or signs of recession would lead central banks to ease off their monetary tightening drive.

But comments from top finance chiefs, including Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell, suggest they are willing to endure the pain of a contraction as long as they can rein in prices — which are rising at their fastest pace in 40 years on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Investors know that inflation is high and is likely to push higher,” City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta told AFP.

“Instead, the market’s obsession is turning from inflation to recession fears. Given the steep declines in stock prices this week, much of the bad news is priced in for now, until it starts again next week,” she added.

The dollar, a safe-haven currency, jumped one percent against the pound and the euro on rising expectations of a recession.

“The US dollar looks set to end the week stronger against most major currencies, nearing its strongest level since 2002 as ‘risky’ assets remained under pressure,” said economist James Reilly at Capital Economics.

The euro slid to a low of $1.0369 before rebounding back above the $1.04 level. The pound touched a low of $1.1979.

Oil rebounded on tight supplies despite persistent recession concerns.

– Key figures at around 1530 GMT –

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.3 percent at 30,693.52 points

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,448.31

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,168.65 (close) 

Frankfurt – DAX: UP 0.2 percent at 12,813.03 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.1 percent at 5,931.06 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.7 percent at 25,935.62 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,387.64 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: Closed for a holiday

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.9 percent at $111.12 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.2 percent at $108.08 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0405 from $1.0484 Thursday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2037 from $1.2178

Euro/pound: UP at 86.46 pence from 86.09 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 135.19 yen from 135.72 yen

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