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Biden signs order to protect US old-growth forests from wildfires | Climate Crisis News

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On Earth Day, US president pledges to plant 1.2 billion trees and compiles inventory of old-growth across the country.

US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to strengthen the protection of the country’s old-growth forests in a push to combat the climate crisis that has worsened wildfires and other environmental disasters.

The plan, announced on Earth Day on Friday, would create the first inventory of old-growth forests on federal lands. It also calls for expanding reforestation efforts and forging partnerships to grow forests outside of US government-owned lands.

“Our forests are our planet’s lungs. They literally are recycling and cycling CO2 out of the atmosphere; that’s what they do,” Biden said during a speech in Seattle on the US west coast.

Biden also announced a plan to plant 1.2 billion trees across the country, a move he said would “begin the vital work of reforesting in America”.

“It makes sense, and it also makes a big difference, including in our cities, and on our city streets,” Biden said of the tree-planting scheme.

The past year has seen an uptick in environmental disasters across the United States, including deadly heatwaves, wildfires and hurricanes.

Experts have said climate change has caused the annual US wildfire season to begin earlier and burn hotter, especially in the west of the country. Last summer, blazes destroyed entire communities across California and killed thousands of giant Sequoia trees.

Despite Biden’s emphasis on the environment, climate activists have criticised the US president for not combatting the crisis more aggressively.

The White House’s now-stalled social spending agenda included measures – funded with billions of dollars – to cut carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, but due to a deadlock in Congress, it is now all but dead.

But Biden talked up his own environmental record on Friday, including the push for electric vehicles as well as provisions in a $1-trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that he signed into law last year.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law … I signed provides billions of dollars for a nationwide network of 500,000 charging stations,” he said.

Still, Biden called on Congress to do more.

“Look around, cities and states are acting; businesses are acting; I’m acting. We need Congress to act as well,” he said.

Democrats have a slim majority in the House of Representatives and the thinnest of majorities in the Senate, where conservative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have regularly upset Biden’s plans.

On Friday, Biden hit out at Republicans for failing to work with him on major legislation. “This ain’t your father’s Republican Party … this is the MAGA party now,” he said referring to his predecessor Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.

The US president also highlighted the racial justice aspect of the environmental crisis, as lower-income and more diverse communities are more likely to feel the brunt of environmental disasters.

“We put environmental justice at the centre of what we do, addressing the disproportionate health, environmental and economic impact that had been borne primarily by communities of colour, places too often left behind,” he said.

The White House had released a statement previewing the environmental executive order earlier in the day.

“Wildfires and extreme weather events are growing in frequency and ferocity, engulfing communities in the West and across the country and costing lives, homes, and money,” it said. “Because President Biden knows the cost of inaction is too great, he is taking bold executive action and reaffirming his calls on Congress to address the climate crisis.”



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US, Taiwan trade officials discuss deepening relations | Politics News

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Meeting comes as US President Joe Biden began his first visit to Asia in push to show commitment to the region.

The United States’ top trade official has renewed efforts to deepen economic relations with Taiwan in a meeting with her Taiwanese counterpart, as Joe Biden began his first visit to Asia since taking office amid increasing competition with China.

In a statement on Friday, the office of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said she met with with Taiwan’s lead trade negotiator John Deng in Bangkok ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting.

“Ambassador Tai and Minister Deng directed their teams to explore concrete ways to deepen the US-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and to meet again in the coming weeks to discuss the path forward,” it said.

Such high-level meetings can increase tensions between the US and China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and is against any official exchanges between Taiwan’s government and other foreign governments.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been strained in recent months, particularly over China’s neutral public position on the war in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has warned his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of “consequences” should China provide any support to Russia in its invasion, and senior members of the Biden administration have urged Beijing to exert pressure on Moscow to end the war.

Last month, China also denounced a visit by a group of US legislators to Taipei, saying it was “deliberately provocative” and had “led to further escalation of tension in the Taiwan Strait”.

Six US legislators, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on that trip.

“With Taiwan producing 90 percent of the world’s high-end semiconductor products, it is a country of global significance, consequence and impact, and therefore it should be understood the security of Taiwan has a global impact,” Menendez told Tsai at that time.

The Biden administration has been trying to demonstrate that Washington remains focused on the Asia-Pacific as Beijing becomes an increasingly powerful player in the region.

Last week, Biden hosted a two-day summit with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the White House, pledging $150m on infrastructure, security and anti-pandemic efforts in the region.

On Friday, the US president began his first visit to Asia in South Korea, meeting the country’s newly sworn-in President Yoon Suk-yeol for the first time in person.

Biden said the future would be written in the region and now was the time for the US and like-minded partners to invest in each other.

“With today’s visit, I hope that Korea-US relations will be reborn as an economic and security alliance based on high-tech and supply chain cooperation,” said Yoon, urging Biden to provide incentives for South Korean and US businesses to invest in each other’s countries.



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Russia to cut gas supplies to Finland on Saturday: Gasum | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Finnish state-owned gas company says Russian cutoff, which follows application to join NATO, will not affect supply.

Russia will cut flows of natural gas to Finland on Saturday, Finnish state-owned energy wholesaler Gasum has said.

Gasum said on Friday that it had been informed by Russia’s state-owned energy corporation Gazprom that flows would be halted.

The Finnish company said the move by Russia would not cause disruptions in supplies.

The gas cutoff – which is scheduled to take place at 04:00 GMT on Saturday – comes in the wake of Finland and Sweden applying to join the NATO military alliance amid security concerns spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement.

“However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months,” he said.

Payments for Russian gas have become an issue since Moscow demanded that foreign buyers start paying for supplies in roubles, and Russia cut supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to do so.

Gazprom Export demanded in April that future payments in the supply contract to Finland be made in roubles instead of euros, but Gasum rejected the demand and announced on Tuesday it was taking the issue to arbitration.

 

Gasum said it will continue to provide Finnish customers with natural gas through the Balticconnector pipeline that connects Finland with Estonia.

Earlier on Friday, Finland announced a 10-year agreement with US-based Excelerate Energy to lease a floating storage and delivery vessel to provide liquefied natural gas to the region.

While the majority of gas used in Finland comes from Russia, the fossil fuel only accounts for between five to eight percent of the country’s annual energy consumption.

‘Far-reaching consequences’

Gazprom did not immediately comment on the cutting of gas supplies to Finland, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while Moscow did not have detailed information regarding Gazprom’s supply contracts, “obviously nothing will be supplied to anyone for free”.

On Sunday, RAO Nordic, a subsidiary of Russian state energy holding Inter RAO, cut off electricity supply to Fingrid, Finland’s electricity grid operator, citing concerns over payment. Fingrid said the reduced power supply would be compensated for with increased domestic output and imports from Sweden.

Finland and Sweden on Thursday broke their historic policies of neutrality and officially applied to join NATO, although their joint application will need to overcome opposition from Turkey.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Finland, which shares a 1,340km (830 mile) border with Russia, of “far-reaching consequences” in response to its bid to join the military bloc.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Friday that Moscow would establish 12 new military units and divisions in the western region of the country, citing the possible expansion of NATO and other emerging military threats.



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‘We are going to die’: Food crisis worsens misery of Sri Lankans | Politics News

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Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food shortage as the island nation battles a devastating economic crisis and promises to buy enough fertiliser for the next planting season to boost harvests.

A decision in April last year by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilisers drastically cut crop yields and although the government has reversed the ban, no substantial imports have yet taken place.

“While there may not be time to obtain fertiliser for this Yala [May-August] season, steps are being taken to ensure adequate stocks for the Maha [September-March] season,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a message on Twitter late on Thursday.

“I sincerely urge everyone to accept the gravity of the … situation.”

Sri Lanka crisis
A vendor packs fruits to sell at a vegetable market in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Cabinet expanded

President Rajapaksa appointed nine new members to the cabinet on Friday, including to the critical health, trade and tourism ministries.

The new ministers for the critical health, trade and tourism departments were sworn in by the president at his tightly-guarded official residence in Colombo, the government said in a brief statement.

Two legislators from the main opposition SJB party broke ranks to join the new government. Another opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, agreed to support President Rajapaksa and was given one portfolio.

However, the finance position – which will bring with it responsibility for leading negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a bailout – remains vacant.

There are speculations that the portfolio is likely to be retained by Wickremesinghe.

The delay in announcing a finance minister could hinder Sri Lanka’s negotiations with the IMF, the central bank chief warned on Thursday.

Sri Lanka crisis
People sit on empty cylinders as they wait in a queue to buy domestic gas in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Tourism-dependent Sri Lanka is facing a dire shortage of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines, and economic activity has slowed to a crawl.

‘We are going to die’

“There is no point in talking about how hard life is,” said APD Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old woman selling fruit and vegetables in the Pettah market in Colombo, the commercial capital. “I can’t predict how things will be in two months, at this rate we might not even be here.”

Nearby, a long queue had formed in front of a shop selling cooking gas cylinders, the prices of which have soared to nearly 5,000 rupees ($14) from 2,675 rupees ($8) in April.

“Only about 200 cylinders were delivered, even though there were about 500 people,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time chauffeur in the queue for the third day in the hope of cooking for his family of five.

“Without gas, without kerosene oil, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Last option what? Without food we are going to die. That will happen 100 percent.”

The central bank governor said on Thursday foreign exchange had been secured from a World Bank loan and remittances to pay for fuel and cooking gas shipments, but supplies are still to flow through.

Sri Lanka crisis
A couple waits in a queue to buy kerosene at a fuel station in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Inflation could rise to a staggering 40 percent in the next couple of months but it was being driven largely by supply-side pressures and measures by the bank and government were already reining in demand-side inflation, the governor said.

Inflation hit 29.8 percent in April with food prices up 46.6 percent year-on-year.

As anger against the government spreads, police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back hundreds of students protesting in Colombo on Thursday. They were demanding the removal of the president as well as the new prime minister.

The economic crisis has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering tourism, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister last week.

Critics accuse Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister in his place, of being a stooge of the brothers, an accusation he denies.

Sri Lanka crisis
A protester throws back a tear gas canister towards the police during a protest near the President’s House in Colombo, Thursday [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Other factors have included heavily subsidised domestic prices of fuel and the decision to ban chemical fertiliser imports.

The Group of Seven (G7) economic powers support efforts to provide debt relief for Sri Lanka, group finance chiefs said on Thursday in a draft communique from a meeting in Germany after Sri Lanka defaulted on its sovereign debt.

Central bank chief P Nandalal Weerasinghe has said plans for debt restructuring were almost finalised and he would be submitting a proposal to the cabinet soon.

“We are in preemptive default,” he said. “Our position is very clear, until there is a debt restructure, we cannot repay.”

A spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund said it was monitoring developments very closely and a virtual mission to Sri Lanka was expected to conclude technical talks on a possible loan programme on May 24.



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