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World News in Brief: Time for climate justice urges UN chief, Ukraine war update, call for ‘free and fair’ elections

Children play on parched land in southern Pakistan.
© UNICEF/Vlad Sokhin
Children play on parched land in southern Pakistan.

World News in Brief: Time for climate justice urges UN chief, Ukraine war update, call for ‘free and fair’ elections

Climate and Environment

The European climate agency on Tuesday reported that record global heat last year showed an overall increase of 1.48°C above pre-industrial levels – just a fraction below the 1.5-degree threshold laid out by the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

Under the deal agreed by 193 countries in 2015 in the French capital, sticking to the limit will help humankind avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.

This month is also on track to be so warm that for the first time ever, a 12-month cycle may exceed the 1.5°C threshold, according to Europe’s Copernicus climate agency. 

Responding to the news at the regular briefing for correspondents in New York, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that Secretary-General António Guterres “believes that humanity's actions are scorching the Earth” and that last year “was a mere preview of the catastrophic future that awaits if we don't act now.”

‘Path-breaking action’ needed 

The UN chief said that the necessary response to record-breaking temperatures is “path-breaking action”.

“Mr. Guterres believes that leaders must commit to serious new national climate action plans” rapidly and fairly “and invest in helping vulnerable countries to combat climate chaos”, Mr. Dujarric continued 

“We can still avoid the worst of the climate catastrophe, he believes, but only if we if we act now with the ambition required to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C and deliver climate justice.”

Dozens killed in Ukraine hostilities 

It’s been almost two years since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine where hostilities continue to kill and injure civilians every day, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday.

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Aid coordination office OCHA reported that dozens of non-combatants including children had been killed in attacks on Monday in Donetsk, Dnipro and Kherson regions.

Schools and homes were also damaged in the southern and eastern zones along with critical infrastructure. 

In an update, OCHA said more than 14.6 million people - or 40 per cent of the population - will need humanitarian assistance this year. 

UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that war has also forced some 6.3 million Ukrainians to flee abroad. 

“On top of the violence, Ukraine is now in the grip of a deep winter. A continued large scale humanitarian operation is as urgent as it ever was,” said OCHA’s spokesperson Jens Laerke briefing the media in Geneva

He announced that the Ukraine humanitarian needs and response plan alongside a regional refugee response plan for 2024, will be launched by the two key agencies during a special event in Geneva on 15 January.

Meeting the most urgent needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries will require stepped-up and sustained support from Member States, the private sector and partners, UN humanitarians said. 

Elections in 2024 must be free and fair: UN rights chief

Democracy is in the spotlight this year with more than 60 countries due to hold elections which governments must ensure are free and fair, the UN’s top human rights official said on Tuesday.

Polls are happening in the next 12 months from Azerbaijan to the United States which provide the opportunity “to rise above divisive politics and demand respect of human rights”, Volker Türk said, in a message posted online on X.

2024 will be a “critical year” for voters everywhere, the High Commissioner for Human Rights predicted, as he encouraged the promotion of “inclusion and civic freedoms, climate action and peace”.

Peacekeeping chief continues Middle East visit in Lebanon

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of the UN’s Peace Operations Department, arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday to discuss the critical role of the UN peacekeeping force in the south of the country, known as UNIFIL.

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The mission patrols the so-called Blue Line along Lebanon’s southern frontier, which was the line of withdrawal for Israeli forces set by the UN in 2000, to make room for a formal border agreement at a later date.

As Israel and Hezbollah militants continue to exchange fire across the Blue Line during the on-going Gaza conflict, the UN and humanitarian partners are continuing to scale up their response in the hope of avoiding any further escalation of hostilities.

Thousands of civilians displaced

According to latest figures, more than 76,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the south, while tens of thousands of Israelis have also left the frontier region, fearing for their safety.

“Humanitarian access continues to be constrained, mainly along the Blue Line, which is hampering our efforts to deliver essential supplies”, said Stéphane Dujarric on Tuesday.

Mr. Dujarric said Mr. Lacroix was scheduled to meet the caretaker Prime Minister of Lebanon, the Speaker of the Parliament, and other officials. He will then head to Naqoura in southern Lebanon to meet representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL leadership and peacekeepers. 

The head of Peace Operations is visiting the UN’s three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and was in Syria in the past few days, where he met with the leadership and peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), as well as senior Syrian Government officials.

After Lebanon, Mr. Lacroix will visit the UNTSO, the UN Truce Supervision Organization headquarters in Jerusalem and is scheduled to meet with Israeli government and military officials.