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Phasing Out Gasoline Cars and Coal: What the U.N. Climate Talks Have — and Haven’t — Achieved



As the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, enters its final day Friday, global leaders can point to signs of real progress. But the Earth is still headed for a dangerous level of warming.

The point of these talks was for countries to announce ambitious carbon-cutting pledges that would prevent the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

That did not happen. Despite some new promises, and old promises repackaged as new ones, an analysis by the independent group Climate Action Tracker found that with all the short-term pledges added together, the world is likely to heat up by 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) this century. That’s better than the path the world was on before the Paris agreement six years ago, when scientists predicted nearly 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming. But the consequences would still be catastrophic, resulting in deadlier wildfires and floods, famine and the extinction of more species.

Negotiations over what countries will do to combat climate change going forward are still ongoing. Here’s a look at what’s been accomplished so far — and what remains unresolved.

Side deals were the main event this time

This year’s summit was unusual. Typically, the main event is the final agreement, painfully hammered out over two weeks of daily negotiations between representatives from nearly 200 countries. This time, most of the action happened on the sidelines:

Nearly 100 countries joined a global pledge to limit emissions of methane, a planet-warming gas more potent as a polluter than carbon dioxide. Still more signed a pact to prevent further deforestation by 2030.
A coalition of countries, cities and automakers, including Ford, General Motors, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, committed to phase out sales of new fossil-fuel vehicles by 2040 and by 2035 in “leading markets.”
More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal by 2030 and stop building coal-fired power plants, helping eliminate the largest source of planet-warming gases globally.
In a test of whether industrialized nations are capable of helping developing countries shift to cleaner sources of energy, South Africa reached a deal with the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and the European Union under which it would receive $8.5 billion over the next five years to transition away from coal.
The U.S., Denmark and other countries agreed to work toward zeroing out emissions from the shipping industry by 2050 and creating at least six zero-emission shipping routes. If these changes are enacted, governments could require, for example, that only emissions-free ships travel from Shanghai to Los Angeles.

There are reasons to be skeptical of many of these agreements, environmental advocates said. Brazil and Indonesia, countries that are destroying their forests, joined the deforestation pledge. And some of the world’s largest coal-burning countries, including China, Australia and India, didn’t sign the pledge to phase out the fossil fuel.

But the level of deal-making at the summit is an “enormous sign of success,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at the independent, Colorado-based clean energy research organization the Rocky Mountain Institute. More than ever before, she said, countries, industry, investors and philanthropists are working together to reach side deals that could have a huge effect, adding that the conference should not be judged solely on whether “something very big and new” came out of the official negotiating process.

Beyond swagger, what went down between the U.S. and China?

Doubts that the U.S. and China, the top emitting countries in the world, were willing to work together on climate hung over the summit from the beginning. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s absence led President Biden to publicly criticize him for skipping the summit — a scolding that prompted the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman to accuse the U.S. of offering only “empty words” instead of concrete climate policies.

Despite the rhetoric, American and Chinese officials had been working together for months. The countries unveiled a statement Wednesday in which they pledged to put aside their differences and “raise ambition in the 2020s” to address climate change.

The deal itself mostly restated previous pledges, but the fact that the envoys of the two countries that together produce about 40% of global emissions could agree to even a vague goal was “confidence building,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, professor of energy and environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

“We’re all in this really hyper-politicized environment, and the fact that this came together shows that they’re trying to inject some momentum into the negotiations,” Gallagher said.

What the U.S. left on the table

“America showed up,” Biden said at the summit, where he touted the U.S.’ participation in the talks and apologized for former President Trump’s exit from the Paris agreement, which the country has since rejoined. He called on other nations to increase their climate goals, saying that “we only have a brief window before us to raise our ambitions.”

But at a couple of key moments, the U.S. was noticeably absent.

The White House did not join the pledge to phase out coal in the coming decades, even though coal’s decline as a source of power in America has accelerated significantly. Nor did the U.S. sign the agreement to phase out gas- and diesel-powered cars, joining China and Japan in withholding its support from a deal that could have a greater influence if all three — some of the largest car markets in the world — had backed it.

Experts said the decision to abstain from these pledges spoke volumes about America’s domestic politics and the influence of the coal, oil and gas industries. The American negotiators may also have been reluctant to antagonize Sen. Joe Manchin III, a centrist Democrat from the coal state of West Virginia, whose support the president will need if his biggest climate policies are to win approval. The Democrats’ spending bill faces an uphill battle in Congress, despite its pared-down measures.

Youth climate activists made their case in the streets

Thousands of climate activists traveled to Glasgow to demand countries act faster to combat climate change. Many of them were young protesters, including Greta Thunberg of Sweden and Vanessa Nakate, an activist from Uganda, who have achieved international recognition by publicly calling out world leaders for failing to take action and ignoring the demands of developing countries.

Summit attendees said that COVID-19 protocols made it much more difficult this year for protesters to confront international leaders in person. But outside of the formal negotiations, side events, panels and marches offered the activists a platform to make their displeasure known.

They may have affected the proceedings’ tone. There were boastful claims of progress, but these were often tempered by acknowledgments that the math doesn’t add up and more cuts will have to be made to keep global warming in check.

“Let me emphasize as strongly as I can: Job not done,” John Kerry, Biden’s climate change envoy, said at a news conference last week. “But this is doable if we follow through.”

What happens next?

The summit inspired a flurry of new climate pledges from governments and industry. But in the weeks and months ahead, government officials and researchers will be watching closely to see whether they lead to concrete action.

Biden’s spending bill faces an uncertain future. A new Supreme Court case brought by West Virginia and other coal states could block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon pollution from power plants. And if Democrats lose their majorities in Congress in the midterm elections, Biden would likely find his path to future emissions reductions blocked by Republicans.

The report by Climate Action Tracker found that of all the pledges countries have made to get to zero emissions, only four — Britain, Costa Rica, Chile and the EU — have detailed plans to achieve that.

What’s more, many of the major challenges that presented themselves at the beginning of the summit remain unresolved, including whether wealthy countries will come up with the $100 billion a year they previously promised to developing nations by 2020 to help them transition to cleaner sources of energy.

Negotiations will likely continue at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, as well as the next meeting of energy ministers from around the world in Pittsburgh in late 2022.

“We’ve got all these promises. We’ve got all these pledges,” Ladislaw said. “But now we will see what countries are prepared to do.”

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Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself




Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.

He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.

“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”

The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.

Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.

Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.

“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”

Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.

So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)

Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.

“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”

Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.

President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.

Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.

But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.

“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.

Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.

(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.

“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.

Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.

In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”

Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.

“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.

A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.

(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.

María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.

Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.

Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.

She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.

“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”

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Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe



On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.

The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.

López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.

Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.

He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.

He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.

He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.

In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”

The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.

Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.

López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.

José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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Photos: As Roe Vs. Wade Challenged, Demonstrators Gather Outside Supreme Court



Juanito Estevez, of Freeport, N.Y., holds a cross as he and abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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