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13 Dec
2018

Pivotal UN climate conference held in the heart of Poland’s coal mining region

POLAND (WNF) - Katowice, in the heart of Poland’s coal mining region, hosts the pivotal 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The United States withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement represents a potential boon during the proceedings.
The choice of a city in the heartland of Poland, a signatory to the Paris Agreement, sends a mixed message. For the country’s coal unions, it can only be read as an affront – and a reason for protests outside the venue.

UNFCCC chair Patricia Espinosa said in a statement that governments were expected to reach “key milestones” at the 2018 conference, and that they might be upgraded in recognition that earlier targets might be inadequate. The agreement is due to take effect in 2020.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate negotiator, who delivered the Paris deal, has pointed out that the world should thank President Donald Trump for withdrawing the United States from the agreement. Asked if the U.S. withdrawal doomed hopes of progress, she indicated in an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper in Nov 2017 that it would do the opposite. The withdrawal “provoked an unparalleled wave of support for the treaty,” she said. “He shored up the world’s resolve on climate action, and for that we can all be grateful.” The Guardian article points out that only the United States and war-torn Syria are outside the Paris deal. U.S. states, cities and businesses that object to the withdrawal from the Paris deal have pledged to honor it, and plan on having a high profile during COP proceedings.

The landmark Paris agreement at COP 21 in 2015 delivered the first truly global deal to tackle climate change, but focused on principles aimed to achieve the goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2C, and 1.5C. It left the formulation of rules and the specifics of each country’s contribution to the goal to COP 23, held in Bonn in Nov 2017. The amount and nature of financial help to poor countries as they strive to meet the goal remained a sticking point that will surface again at COP 24.

Up to 10,000 government figures, another 8,000 people from other groups and 2,000 members of the media travelling to from all over the globe can be expected at the conference. #22432 Published: 12/08/2017

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13 Dec
2018

European Union leaders meet at summit seen as last ditch chance for Brexit deal

EUROPEAN UNION (WNF) - The leaders of the European Union meet in Brussels for a summit at which Brexit will be the most pressing issue. They will be dealing with the outcome of the special summit in November to finalize the draft Brexit agreement struck by the EU and Britain.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet gave her latitude to negotiate the so-called backstop – an arrangement to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. So-called Brexiteers in the British parliament regard the draft deal as leaving too much control in EU hands, but she has little chance of winning more concessions from Brussels. British broadcaster ITV describes the Brexit talks as always seeming on the brink of disaster, and sees “huge obstacles” still in the way of a final deal ahead of Britain’s formal exit on Mar 29, 2019.

Brussels has to worry that Britain’s exit will encourage the departure of other euroskeptic members.

The conversation on whether Europe should build its own army is also likely to be continued at the summit.

A source of dissension at the summit will be between the European leaders who are eager to push for further EU political and economic integration, notably French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the dissidents within the bloc. They include EU president Austria. Elections in 2018, which added Italy to the group, have increased the volume on their euroskeptic and anti-immigrant message.

The sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and other actions are among the first items that could fail because of the apparently growing clout of the skeptics. The measures target the financial, energy and defense sectors, and dual-use goods. Several members of the dissident group, most notably Italy, oppose the penalties, which were recently extended to Jan 2019. #22739 Updated: 11/18/2018 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE NOV 18 TO INCLUDE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

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18 Dec
2018

China marks 40th anniversary of open door policy

CHINA (WNF) - Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping opened a door to the world at the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 1978, and 40 years on, President Xi Jinping plans to open it wider.
In an address to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing on Dec 29, 2017, the Chinese president announced plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the reforms and pledged to widen them. He pledged national rejuvenation and reforms. “In 2018,” Xi said, “efforts should be made to comprehensively implement the spirit of the 19th CPC National Congress, adhere to seeking progress while maintaining stability as the underlying principle, and boost the healthy and continual development of the country’s economy and society.”

The outcomes of some of the plenums have fundamentally changed the course of history in China, with the 1978 meeting regarded as the most significant. At that meeting, Deng announced an “open door” economic policy and reform. Before then, China’s main trading partners had been the Soviet Union and its satellites.

Deng realised that China needed Western technology and investment, according to a BBC account of the transformation, and opened the door to foreign businesses that wanted to set up in China. Coupled with domestic agricultural reforms, China’s economy took off.

The BBC notes that since the early 1980s, China has recorded one of the fastest periods of economic growth in world history, although the figures are often disputed. With its market-oriented economic system flourishing, the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Its market continues to flourish. #22461 Published: 01/05/2018

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19 Dec
2018

Practically perfect Mary Poppins returns in new feelgood movie

UNITED STATES (GN) - More than 50 years after the original Mary Poppins descended onto screens via umbrella, the magical nanny is back to visit the grown-up Banks children in a Disney musical reboot which promises to put a skip in your step.
Disney released the first sneak peek at the movie during the 2018 Oscars. Decades after her original visit, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt, stepping into the formidable shoes of Julie Andrews) returns to help a delighted Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) and Michael’s three children through a difficult time in their lives.

Filming began in February, with movie royalty Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters and Colin Firth giving the cast a pretty stellar line-up. Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a lamplighter called Jack, likely modelled on Dick Van Dyke’s lovable chimney sweep, Bert. And Van Dyke himself returns, as a descendant of the crusty old bank manager that he also played in the original movie.

In the director’s chair is Rob Marshall, whose previous movie musicals include Chicago, which earned him a best director Oscar nod, Nine, and Into the Woods.

Blunt believes that Mary’s return couldn’t be better timed. “The world is fragile right now, and people need a film like this,” she explained.

The movie goes on general release around the world from Dec 19. #22420 Published: 11/17/2018

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19 Dec
2018

Congress impeached Bill Clinton 20 years ago

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The House of Representatives impeached then-president Bill Clinton 20 years ago, and the anniversary will be viewed through the lens of the #MeToo movement. Monica Lewinsky will be a much-sought interviewee.
Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair in February that she is rethinking her 18-month extramarital affair with Clinton when she was a 21-year-old unpaid intern in light of the #MeToo movement, which began sweeping the world in 2017. She said she now realizes that her relationship with Clinton “constituted a gross abuse of power.” This is a shift from the position she took in a Jun 2014 piece for the same magazine, when she described the affair as consensual.

The 42nd president’s admitted and alleged transgressions will be listed and weighed for gravity against the alleged transgressions of the 45th and current president, Donald Trump. His election campaign and the #MeToo movement brought several accusing women into the headlines.

Clinton is credited with improving the economy and cutting the U.S. budget deficit during his Jan 1993-2001 presidency, leading his supporters and even some critics to downplay sex-related scandals that lurked even during his terms as governor of Arkansas.

His sexual encounters with Lewinsky at the White House were grasped upon by his critics, and they resulted in his impeachment. He was charged with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. He served out his term, but, arguably, he is remembered now more for the scandals than for his political achievements.

The #MeToo movement, which has led to tens of thousands of women reporting sexual abuse, often by individuals in power over their lives, has reframed the transgressions of all past presidents, including John Kennedy, creating a dilemma in the #MeToo era for their admirers. #22533 Published: 03/02/2018

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