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Macron’s anger over nuclear submarine deal linked to French election, Peter Dutton says

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Macron’s anger over nuclear submarine deal linked to French election, Peter Dutton says

Peter Dutton says sustained expressions of outrage from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, may be connected to the European country’s looming national election rather than the cancellation of a $90bn submarine contract.

Australia’s defence minister told the Nine network a call on Thursday night between Macron and the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, had been “productive”. The conversation was the first time the two leaders have spoken since the unveiling of the Aukus pact sent diplomatic relationship between Canberra and Paris into freefall.

The defence minister said on Friday morning his government understood Macron’s frustration. But Dutton also suggested the French president may be playing to domestic political sensibilities. “Look, don’t forget, too, that France has got an election in April of next year,” he said.

“So politicians and elections always make for an interesting mix. So I think once we get through that next year, hopefully we can continue with steps to normalise the relationship, but that’s the situation at the moment”.

France has said it was “betrayed”, “stabbed in the back” and “deceived” over Australia’s decision to dump a French-backed submarine project worth up to A$90bn (£48bn).

During the call with Morrison on Thursday night, Macron told the Australian prime minister the scrapping of a multibillion-dollar submarine contract “broke the relationship of trust” and said Canberra should propose “tangible actions” to heal a diplomatic rift.

According to a read out of the conversation from the French government, Macron also encouraged Morrison to adopt a more ambitious climate policy. The more ambitious policy should include a commitment “to cease production and consumption of coal at the national level and abroad”.

Morrison is on his way to the G20 summit in Rome, which will have a significant climate change focus, and then to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, where a number of world leaders will pledge more ambitious climate commitments in the decade to 2030.

Officials say no bilateral meeting between Morrison and Macron has yet been scheduled. But the two leaders will see one another in Rome and Glasgow.

As well as the fierce backlash from France, the Aukus pact has triggered disquiet from Indonesia and Malaysia. Australia’s neighbours are worried the agreement accelerates an arms race in the Indo-Pacific. Morrison will meet the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, on the sidelines of the G20.

Morrison will also meet the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, the Korean president, Moon Jae-in, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the director general of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Saturday.

The Australia record of Morrison’s call with Macron on Thursday night did not reference France’s coal push – a position that would be shared by many European countries.

It said Morrison “took the opportunity to inform the president about Australia’s commitment to deliver net zero emissions by 2050”.

According to a draft copy of the G20 communique obtained by the Reuters news agency, leaders converging on Rome are working towards a statement at the conclusion of the weekend summit that will reaffirm a commitment to “phase out and rationalise” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and to curb coal power.

The draft communique says leaders will “do their utmost” to avoid building new unabated coal plants. But it adds the phrase: “taking national circumstances into account”.

Morrison would face fierce domestic opposition from the Nationals if any substantial commitments were made to phase out fossil fuels. According to the draft G20 communique, the leaders are working towards a commitment to end public finance for overseas coal plants by the end of this year and aim for a “largely decarbonised” power system in the 2030s”.

There is also draft wording about methane. G20 countries would promise to reduce methane emissions “substantially” by 2030. But that deadline is provisional in the text.

Before Morrison left for Rome on Thursday night, the Nationals leader and deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, claimed his party had secured the exclusion of livestock methane emissions during the recent negotiations over the government’s net zero 2050 target – a claim the prime minister has dismissed.

But Australia has opted out of the global methane pledge – a commitment to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030 that will be launched at the Cop26 climate summit next week. Australia is one of the world’s major gas producers, and gas production generates substantial methane emissions.

Australia’s energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, says he will use his time at Cop26 to convince his global peers that Australia was a “safe and reliable destination to invest in gas, hydrogen and new energy technologies”.

The G20 is a precursor event for the United Nations-led climate conference. The United Kingdom and the United States have lobbied leaders to bring substantial emissions reduction pledges for 2030, but the Nationals vetoed an effort by Morrison to increase Australia’s Abbott-era target.

Countries will also be pressured to increase climate financing for the developed world, but Australia has opted out of the Green Climate Fund. Australia is expected to promise additional funding through new technology partnerships.

Australia is expected to announce new technology partnerships with Indo-Pacific countries during Cop26. There will be more to say on a new Indo-Pacific carbon offset scheme that was flagged in the government’s climate policy reboot this week.

The prime minister’s primary focus at the G20 – his first stop – will be to lobby leaders to endorse stronger global action to protect children on social media. The government this week signalled social media platforms will face fines of up to $10m for serious privacy breaches.

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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