The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament on Jan. 8 voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—which was actually a groundbreaking move in the region. Forty-six of the 51 MPs present in the lower house approved the law, which must now go through the upper house before being signed by the president. Convicted rapists may now face 30 years in prison. (AFP) Until now, a victim's family would often force her to marry her rapist to avoid being "shamed." Once again, the stable, secular and unrecognized government of Somaliland outpaces in social progress the unstable, reactionary and basically fictional "official" government of Somalia. As BBC News sadly notes, "There is still no law against rape in Somalia."
As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."
Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn on Nov. 15 as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures within safe levels. Participating governments ("Parties") agreed to create a platform to promote the voices and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the UN climate process, formally known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The "Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform" (PDF) states that "Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities," while "Emphasizing the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in achieving the targets and goals set in the Convention, the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognizing their vulnerability to climate change."
Hurricane Maria's destruction on Puerto Rico could spawn one of the largest mass migration events in the United States' recent history, as tens of thousands of storm victims flee the island territory to rebuild their lives on the mainland. Some 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without power. About half of the island's residents do not have running water. And no one knows when things will be fixed. Scientific American warns that the displaced islanders, thousands now awaiting flights from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín airport, might be among the United States' newest "climate refugees," a demographic that includes former residents of the Louisiana coast and of shrinking islands in Alaska's Bering Strait.
San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.
The government of Venezuela, under growing pressure from US sanctions, is telling oil traders that it will no longer receive or send payments in dollars, Dow Jones reported Sept. 13. Oil traders who export Venezuelan crude or import oil products into the country have begun converting their invoices to euros. The state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA), has instructed its private joint venture partners to convert existing cash holdings into euros. Plugging the switch, Venezuela-based state media outlet TeleSur writes: "The petrodollar is more important for US global domination than either arms exports or Hollywood culture, because it allows the US to be the biggest exporter of the dollar bills the rest of the world needs to be able to buy oil. Venezuela has decided to start de-dollarizing its economy."
With stateside media focused on the unprecedented flooding and cascading industrial disasters from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the far great deluges that have struck three countries in South Asia are going largely unreported. The death toll is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to the Red Cross, 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh, and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of those impacted by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, of 41 million.
Colombia's official Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology & Environmental Studies (IDEAM) on June 20 released an "Analysis of Vulnerability and Risk" to the country from climate change. The study predicts a 2.4 C increase in average temperatures over the coming century, from the current 22.2 C to 24.6 C, resulting in more "extreme weather events," especially in the Amazon region, where the disappearing Andean glaciers could mean devastating flooding followed by extended drought. Additionally, the country could lose 50,000 hectares to sea level rise. The island department of San Andres off the Caribbean coast was named as at greatest risk. IDEAM director Omar Franco said climate change "would ravage" (desabastecería) the country. (El Tiempo, June 20)