World

A Supreme Court ruling paves the way for Samoa’s first female prime minister. About 6000 asylum seekers cross by sea from Morocco into Spanish territory. A spike in Covid-19 cases across Asia.

By Jonathan Pearlman.

IEA pivots from pro-fossil fuel to pushing net-zero pathway

The Jänschwalde Power Station in eastern Germany, the country’s third-largest brown coal power plant, is set to close in 2038.
Credit: John MacDougall / AFP

Great power rivalry

France: In recent months, the United States, China, Japan, Britain and other major economies – though not Australia – have announced plans to move to net-zero carbon emissions. Most of these countries have yet to outline exactly how they will achieve it.

On Tuesday, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), a 30-country body that co-ordinates efforts to secure energy supplies, released a landmark report that outlined detailed steps required to reach global net-zero emissions by 2050. It said there is a “narrow but still achievable” pathway that would include an end to all further investment in new gas, coal and oil projects. This was a significant recommendation from a body that was created after the 1973 oil crisis, effectively to keep the West’s petrol pumps flowing.

The IEA report, titled “Net Zero by 2050”, called for immediate investment in renewable energy, an end to sales of standard combustion engine cars by 2035, and the complete shift of the world’s electricity sector to net-zero emissions by 2040. If adopted, the report’s measures could cut emissions in half by 2030 and limit global temperature rises to a level that might avoid calamitous natural disasters.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement that reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 remained viable.

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” he said.

The IEA’s reports typically guide government and industry policy but the body has previously been seen as resistant to proposing large-scale energy shifts.

Dave Jones, from the British climate think tank Ember, told the Financial Times the report was “a knife in the fossil fuel industry”.

“I don’t think anyone expected this from the IEA,” he said. “It has been very pro-fossil, so to come out with something like this is just amazing.”

The neighbourhood

Samoa: Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, a veteran Samoan politician and a matai, or high chiefess, is set to become her country’s first female prime minister, replacing Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has been in office for 23 years.

The impending appointment of Mata’afa follows a political crisis in the Pacific nation after an election in April left her opposition FAST party with an equal number of seats to the Human Rights Protection Party, which has held power for almost 40 years. An independent MP later joined FAST, giving it a one-seat majority. But the country’s electoral commission announced that not enough women had been elected to meet the country’s 10 per cent quota and awarded an extra seat to the HRPP.

On Monday, Samoa’s Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the head of state, Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, to hold new elections. It also overturned the decision to create the extra seat.

The rulings have paved the way for Mata’afa, whose father was Samoa’s first prime minister, to assume office.

Praising the court’s decision, Mata’afa said: “This is not about you or me. This is about the future of Samoa and protecting our inheritance of our ancestors.”

Mata’afa, who is 64 years old, quit the HRPP last year and joined FAST, which had formed after the government introduced controversial legislation that would remove the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over land disputes. As party leader, she travelled to villages across the country, engaging directly with voters and running an effective campaign that resulted in FAST’s surprisingly strong election result.

Tuilaepa, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers, said he planned to appeal the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Democracy in retreat

Morocco: On the north coast of Africa are two small cities, Ceuta and Melilla, which are bordered by Morocco but belong to Spain.

The cities, about 400 kilometres apart, are surrounded by high-security fences to try to block migrants from across Africa who have attempted to enter the enclaves and claim asylum in Europe.

On Monday, as many as 6000 asylum seekers, including 1500 children, set off from beaches in Morocco and entered Ceuta by sea, using inflatable swim rings and rubber dinghies. Footage showed the migrants climbing over breakwaters and then running across a beach into the city. Some went to a building run by the Red Cross. It was the highest number of migrants to ever arrive in Ceuta in a day.

Spanish authorities said those who entered had been detained. Most were expected to be returned to Morocco under an agreement between the two countries to transfer anyone who swims across. Some unaccompanied minors may be allowed to stay.

The sudden influx is believed to be linked to tensions between Morocco and Spain over the arrival in Spain in April of an independence leader from Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory that was annexed by Morocco. Some analysts believe Morocco has made it easier for the migrants to reach Ceuta in an attempt to pressure Spain.

On Tuesday, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, travelled to Ceuta, saying the arrival of the migrants was a “serious crisis for Spain and Europe”.

Spotlight: Covid-19 returns

Taiwan: After 253 days without a locally transmitted case of Covid-19, Taiwan was – until recently – seen as conducting arguably the world’s most effective measures against the virus. The island imposed no lockdowns yet limited case numbers to fewer than 1000.

But authorities now plan to shut schools in the capital, Taipei, and have barred entry to non-residents following an outbreak of community transmissions that began on April 20. On Monday, Taiwan recorded 335 new local cases. The outbreak has been linked to a quarantine breach at an airport hotel.

But Taiwan is not alone. Singapore, too, has been credited with one of the world’s best responses to the pandemic, but has experienced rising numbers of cases in recent weeks, particularly involving a strain that was first detected in India and affects children. On Wednesday, schools were shut until the end of May. The government has closed gyms, banned indoor dining, and is considering vaccinating children under the age of 16.

Across Asia, other countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Timor-Leste, have experienced worrying Covid-19 surges. The causes of the outbreaks vary but are believed to include crowding at religious festivals, growing numbers of travellers, and strains of the virus that may be more infectious.

On Monday, Singapore confirmed that its long-awaited quarantine-free travel bubble with Hong Kong, due to start on May 26, has been delayed. It was initially due to open last November.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 22, 2021 as "Formerly pro-fossil fuel IEA pushes net-zero pathway".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.