We’re covering fierce calls for action at COP26 and taking stock of the pandemic as the world passes five million Covid-19 deaths.
‘Digging our own graves’: Leaders tackle climate change at COP26
Amid rising seas, more extreme weather and rapidly changing ecosystems, the global climate summit in Glasgow opened on Monday with a series of desperate pleas for action.
“Climate change is already ravaging the world,” President Biden said in a speech at the summit, known as COP26, on Monday afternoon. Leaders from more than 120 nations gathered for the conference.
António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, opened the conference with a blistering critique of the world’s failure to unite to address global warming.
“Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper,” he said. “We are digging our own graves.”
Objective: A key goal is to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, compared with levels before the Industrial Revolution. Some countries are far behind where they need to be, and China did not make strong commitments. The U.S. committed to cuts, but lawmakers there have not yet approved the necessary pathways.
Russian and Chinese leaders were notable no-shows. President Xi Jinping of China was expected to issue a statement to the summit.
Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, said his country would significantly expand renewable energy sources and aim to be “net-zero” by 2070.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, criticized China as laggards on cutting emissions.
The 27 member states of the E.U. are working on some of the most significant emissions cuts.
Txai Suruí, an Indigenous activist from Brazil, drew attention to Amazon devastation: “The rivers are dying, and our plants don’t flower like they did before.”
Global Covid-19 death toll passes 5 million
The coronavirus has been responsible for more than five million confirmed deaths around the world as of Monday, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
That equates to almost the entire population of Melbourne, Australia, or most of the nation of Singapore.
Experts say that five million is an undercount. Many countries are unable to accurately record the number of people who have died from Covid-19, including India and African nations. They have also questioned the veracity of data from other countries, like Russia.
“All of these estimates still rely on data being available, or someone going and collecting it before antibodies and local memories wane,” said one infectious disease expert in London, adding that the true toll is unlikely to be known for years.
The real number of people lost to Covid-19 could be as high as twice the reported figure, an epidemiologist in New York said.
Pace: Despite the Delta variant, confirmed deaths seem to have slowed slightly since the world reached four million deaths in early July — a sign of vaccine impact.
Details: The U.S. leads all other countries with more than 745,000 deaths confirmed. Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia follow, in that order.
In other developments:
A standoff in Pakistan ended by a secret deal
Pakistan averted a political showdown on Monday and reopened a key national highway after supporters of a militant Islamist group occupied it for days, following a secret pact between the government and the group.
For days, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, which Pakistan designates as a terrorist organization, faced off with the authorities, leaving four police officers dead and 114 officers wounded. The unrest paralyzed several cities in Punjab Province.
The country was reeling after a series of debilitating standoffs with Islamist hard-liners protesting perceived blasphemy. Such groups have been growing in power as a weak government struggles with economic troubles.
Demands: T.L.P. demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons published in France that depicted the Prophet Muhammad. The group also wanted their leader to be released from jail, and terrorism charges to be dropped for members.
Results: The government did not disclose the terms publicly, but they were reported by local media. T.L.P. dropped its demand that Pakistan cut off diplomatic ties with France. The government agreed to release imprisoned T.L.P. members and not bring new charges against its leaders. It also agreed to lift its ban against the group.
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Surviving two pandemics in South Africa
South Africa has been under varying levels of lockdown since March 2020, and has had the highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Africa.
It is not the first time in recent memory that a pandemic has made South Africans face their collective mortality. In the early 2000s, South Africa was at the center of the H.I.V./AIDS pandemic. The coronavirus has turned our world upside down in less than two years, but H.I.V./AIDS shook South Africa’s foundation for more than a decade. H.I.V. became part of the South African psyche, as fresh graves mushroomed, just as they did again this year with the Covid pandemic.
Lessons from the earlier pandemic helped to inform South Africa’s fight against Covid-19. Many of the scientists who have led the Covid response were the same faces we saw trying to make sense of H.I.V./AIDS. It also primed society to more readily accept a science-based response. Misinformation is still common, but not as widespread as it was two decades ago, when the country’s health minister suggested that fruit and vegetables could be used to treat AIDS.
“With H.I.V., there was no political will,” said Sibongile Tshabalala, the chairwoman of a group which lobbied for access to H.I.V./AIDS drugs. She said that this time the government had worked hard to acquire Covid-19 vaccines, with limited but tangible success.
The pace at which vaccines have arrived has been reassuring. About 21 percent of South Africans and fewer than 6 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated — a slow rollout compared with some regions, but the Covid vaccines arrived faster than antiretroviral drugs did in Africa during the H.I.V./AIDS pandemic. — Lynsey Chutel