Leaders from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Health Organization and the World Wide Fund for Nature joined to issue a stark warning that pandemics such as COVID-19 are a direct result of the destruction of nature caused by human activity. In an op-ed published by The Guardian June 17, top figures from each organization state that the destruction of forests and other habitats for wildlife, coupled with trafficking in wildlife, is causing a growing number of animal diseases to migrate to human hosts. In their call to action ahead of the UN Biodiversity Summit to be held in New York in September, the three senior representatives cite examples from prior incidents of environmental destruction that triggered new virus outbreaks in humans.
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency June 3 after 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. The spill went unreported for two days, which may have caused irreparable damage to the region. The spill was caused by the rupture of a fuel tank at a power plant on the Ambarnaya River near the Siberian city of Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai. The plant is owned by Norilsk-Taymyr Energy Company, a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), which is the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. The company had reportedly spent two days trying to contain the spill, before alerting the government. The Russian Investigative Committee (SK) has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence. The director of the power plant, Vyacheslav Starostin, has been taken into custody but has not yet been charged.
The Canadian Institute for International Law Expertise (CIFILE) has asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate individual world leaders and the World Health Organization (WHO) for alleged international crimes relating to their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group states that past disease outbreaks, including SARS, suggest that the director-general of the WHO should have notified nations well before the initial March 11 notification date. The complaint asserts that the response to the pandemic constitutes a "crime against humanity" under Article 7(k) of the Rome Statute. The complaint further states that the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over international crimes under Articles 12 and 13 when a member state of the ICC has been affected. Specifically the complaint cites Canada as an affected signatory to the Rome Statute.
International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced May 28. The next summit, officially dubbed the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year's summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. Instead, critical decisions were put off for COP26. This means a full two years will have passed before any progress can be made. (STV)
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 26 reversed a federal judge's dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities, who first brought suit separately, are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special "abatement fund," alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The cases were initially brought in state court, but they were combined and moved to federal court at the demand of the companies, on the basis that they raised questions of US law, such as the Clean Air Act. The case was dismissed in June 2018 by US District Judge William Alsup, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. A Ninth Circuit panel remanded the case back to Judge Alsup, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the panel ruled, the case must return to state court.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced on May 21 that the United States would formally submit notice the following day of its intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure signed in 1992 by the US, Russia and 33 other countries. The treaty, which took effect in 2002, allows each state-party to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' entire territories to collect intelligence on military forces and activities. In accordance with Article XV, the US withdrawal will take effect six months after formally submitting notice. In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Smith (D-WA) protest that the withdrawal is in violation of Section 1234 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the president to notify Congress at least 120 days before giving formal notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty. (Jurist)
As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)