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The biodiversity crisis is rising up the political agenda as Brussels pushes ahead with legally binding targets to cut the use of pesticides and improve natural ecosystems, despite objection from farmers who argue that they face “cumulative crises” following coronavirus and the war in Ukraine. The laws, published on Wednesday, set broad-ranging targets to improve biodiversity on farmland, increase the number of bees, restore drained peatlands and boost green areas in cities, with the measures that would cover a fifth of the EU’s land and sea by 2030. Brussels also aims to cut the use of pesticides by half by 2030, both in quantity and the level of risk they pose to the environment. At the same time, the UN has convened 196 countries in Nairobi this week to negotiate over global biodiversity targets to be decided at a summit in December. The COP15 summit is being moved from Kunming, China to Montreal, Canada, after being delayed by two years due to Covid. “Our COP has been postponed four times,” said Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity on Tuesday, announcing that China would continue to preside over the event. “But biodiversity does not wait . . . species are going into extinction.” The biodiversity drive comes as Russia escalates fears of a global food crisis by preventing the export of grains from Ukraine. Farmers argue that they will not be able to provide stable supplies if they are forced to use less intensive farming methods. Copa Cogeca, the powerful EU farmers and agribusiness lobby group, said that the bloc’s environmental policy “did not factor in or provide for the cumulative crises” that have hit since the pandemic began. The “competitiveness and robustness” of the EU agricultural sector should be Brussels’s priority, it said, “before setting a legally binding target that, in any case, may not be realistic and which could be very detrimental for the continuity of farming activities in the EU”. However, EU environmental commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said that “if nature continues to degrade at the same rate we are going to have even bigger issues with food security”. The Russian blockade highlighted the dangers of dependency and the possible disruption of value chains, but to achieve food security “we have to have fertile soil which will give the highest efficiency”, he told the FT. Soil erosion costs €1.25bn in lost agricultural activity, while €5bn worth of agricultural output is linked to pollination, according to European Commission estimates. The publication of its nature restoration and pesticides laws has been delayed by three months due to the resistance from member states over pesticide reduction targets. Finland, Sweden and Ireland also voiced concerns about requirements to rehydrate peatlands drained for agricultural use, which account for 3 per cent of the EU’s farmland but 25 per cent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

At least 280 people were killed and hundreds were injured after an earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, a natural disaster that will likely worsen the humanitarian crisis in the South Asian country that has been reeling from food shortages and economic turmoil since the hasty exit of U.S. forces last year.

KEY FACTS

According to the state-run Bakhtar News Agency, at least 280 people have been confirmed dead and more than 600 others have been injured as of 11 a.m. local time.

An Orange County man is accusing the Rockland sheriff and district attorney of conspiring with the state parole agency to illegally jail him without due process, after he served his federal prison sentence.

Philip Aurecchione, 36, of Newburgh filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated when sheriff’s officers detained him, took him to the county jail, and later transferred him to state prison. Aurecchione’s lawsuit claims he was denied the right to an attorney, to challenge his arrest and detention in court, and to defend himself.

He was detained on June 1, 2021, 11 months after Rockland prosecutors were denied an arrest warrant by Rockland County Judge Kevin Russo to return Aurecchione to prison. Prosecutors claimed his initial release, on Feb. 25, 2020, was premature due to what they called a calculation error by federal officials, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court in White Plains.

Rockland County Courthouse in New City
Rockland County Courthouse in New City

He spent more than three months incarcerated before a court-ordered release on Sept. 9, 2021, the suit said. He’s seeking $5 million in punitive damages, a declaration he served his sentence and legal fees.

“Our client was treated unfairly and inhumanely,” attorney Robert Barchiesi said Tuesday of the suit filed June 1. “During a time when prisons were releasing inmates due to COVID concerns, and reducing the jail populations, our client was placed back in custody, confined during additional outbreaks, where he was isolated for weeks at a time at both the county jail and Downstate Correctional Facility.”

Local officials expect the death toll to rise further if the government is “unable to provide emergency help,” the agency’s director-general tweeted

Chief Justice John Roberts has been laying the groundwork for years for Tuesday’s sweeping decision requiring states to fund religious education.

But he always tried to signal some caution. Five years ago, in a financing dispute involving a church school in Missouri, he even added a footnote that said the Supreme Court decision applied only to money for playground resurfacing. Fellow conservatives called him out and suggested the caveat was preposterous because the decision would, of course, reach other religious funding cases.
Supreme Court says Maine cannot exclude religious schools from tuition assistance programs
And it did, by Roberts’ own hand — in 2020 and then on Tuesday, when the strategic chief justice took a giant stride and wrote the decision holding that Maine must pay for religious education as part of a tuition-assistance program for private schools. The rationale once cast as limited to playgrounds has been extended to a swath of religious instruction.

The United States says its commitment to defend Russia neighbour and fellow NATO member Lithuania in the event of attack is “ironclad.”

“We stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price says, reiterating that an attack on the country would, under NATO rules, be considered “an attack on all” members of the alliance.

EU member Lithuania, which serves as a conduit for goods travelling between the Russian mainland to its east and Russia’s Baltic Sea outpost of Kaliningrad to its west has drawn Moscow’s ire by banning rail convoys of goods targeted by EU sanctions.

Moscow has threatened “serious” repercussions.

– Eastern city suffers ‘massive shelling’ –

A Ukrainian official says Russian forces are “massively” shelling the eastern city of Lysychansk, one of two sister cities in the Lugansk region that are pivotal in the battle for Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbas.

“They are just destroying everything there,” Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday says. In a later statement, he says residents are being evacuated.

Tuesday’s opinion reinforces Roberts’ conservative bona fides, even as he regularly tries to find middle ground to enhance the court’s institutionalism and image.
The Supreme Court is in the final days of its annual session, negotiating on abortion rights, gun control and environmental protection, among other controversies. Roberts is likely to try to keep the new conservative supermajority from pushing too far to the right in some areas, including abortion rights, where he has pressed for a compromise decision that would not completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
But as Tuesday’s decision in Carson v. Makin underscores, he remains truly at home on the right wing. He has been part of a majority that consistently rules for religious conservatives, not only with public funding for church schools but also for prayer at public meetings and additional exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate.

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Scientists say climate change is a factor behind the erratic and early rains that triggered unprecedented floods in Bangladesh and northeastern India, killing dozens and making lives miserable for millions of others.

Although the region is no stranger to flooding, it typically takes place later in the year when monsoon rains are well underway.

This year’s torrential rainfall lashed the area as early as March. It may take much longer to determine the extent to which climate change played a role in the floods, but scientists say that it has made the monsoon — a seasonable change in weather usually associated with strong rains — more variable over the past decades. This means that much of the rain expected to fall in a year is arriving in a space of weeks.

The northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya received nearly three times its average June rainfall in just the first three weeks of the month, and neighboring Assam received twice its monthly average in the same period. Several rivers, including one of Asia’s largest, flow downstream from the two states into the Bay of Bengal in low-lying Bangladesh, a densely populated delta nation.

With more rainfall predicted over the next five days, Bangladesh’s Flood Forecast and Warning Centre warned Tuesday that water levels would remain dangerously high in the country’s northern regions.

FLOODS

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The pattern of monsoons, vital for the agrarian economies of India and Bangladesh, has been shifting since the 1950s, with longer dry spells interspersed with heavy rain, said Roxy Matthew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, adding that extreme rainfall events were also projected to increase.

Until now, floods in northwestern Bangladesh were rare while Assam state, famed for its tea cultivation, usually coped with floods later in the year during the usual monsoon season. The sheer volume of early rain this year that lashed the region in just a few weeks makes the current floods an “unprecedented” situation, said Anjal Prakash, a research director at India’s Bharti Institute of Public Policy, who has contributed to U.N.-sponsored study on global warming.

“This is something that we have never heard of and never seen,” he said.

A total of 36 people died in Bangladesh since May 17 while Indian authorities reported that flood deaths have risen to 78 in Assam state, with 17 others killed in landslides.

Hundreds of thousands are displaced and millions in the region have been forced to scramble to makeshift evacuation centers.

Some, like Mohammad Rashiq Ahamed, a shop owner in Sylhet, the hardest-hit city in northeastern Bangladesh, have worriedly returned home with their families to see what can be salvaged. Wading through knee-deep water, he said that he was worried about floodwaters rising again. “The weather is changing .. .there can be another disaster, at any time.”

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