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69 Canadians giving up holidays to help with Australian wildfires – CBC.ca

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Sixty-nine Canadians are giving up their holidays at home to join the battle for the first time against the deadly wildfires devastating vast tracts of several Australian states.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says 21 highly trained staff from a variety of agencies left Canada on Dec. 3 for a 38-day deployment in New South Wales after the centre received an official request for assistance.

On Thursday, a second group of 30 Canadians was sent in for a 38-day deployment in the fire zone and 18 more are leaving on Dec. 30 for about a month.

Kim Connors, executive director of the Winnipeg-based CIFFC, says Canada has called on Australian firefighters four times since 2015, and the “agreements are reciprocal in nature, so it was the first time that Australia has needed help from Canada.”

“Our Canadian firefighters and their families have volunteered their time to be away for the holidays, which is different for the northern hemisphere to be dealing with wildland fires over Christmas and New Year’s so we’re very proud of them for doing that,” he said in an interview.

The CIFFC says crews from the following provinces are assisting with a variety of tasks including roles in command, aviation, planning, logistics and operations:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Quebec.
  • Yukon.
  • Ontario.
  • Manitoba.
  • Saskatchewan.
  • Alberta.
  • British Columbia.

 “So they’re not on the front line, they’re in the overall management of the fires,” said Connors.

“They’ve been in a period of drought for quite a long period and it’s not a very good situation down there and obviously their summer is just started as our winter starts.”

Record high temperatures and strong southerly winds are fanning more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.

Two volunteer firefighters have been killed and dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in the massive fires, including the Gospers Mountain one that covered more than 460,000 hectares.

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G7 demand action from Russia on cybercrimes and chemical weapon use

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The Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations on Sunday demanded Russia take action against those conducting cyber attacks and using ransomware from within its borders.

The rebuke came in a communique issued after a three-day summit of G7 leaders in Britain that also called on Moscow to “stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities” and conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons on Russian soil.

The communique said Russia must “hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes”.

The issue is in the spotlight after a cyber attack on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, and another that disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

Britain has previously said Russia is a leading proponent of cyber attacks.

The G7 statement called for wider action against ransomware attacks, describing the practice of encrypting victims’ data and demanding payment for its return as an “escalating shared threat”.

“We call on all states to urgently identify and disrupt ransomware criminal networks operating from within their borders, and hold those networks accountable for their actions,” it said.

The call for an investigation into chemical weapon use comes after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was treated in Germany for what German doctors said was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent. He accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies.

“We call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil,” the G7 document said.

 

(Reporting by William James; editing by Michael Holden)

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G7 chides China on rights, demands COVID origins investigation

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Group of Seven leaders on Sunday scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

After discussing how to come up with a unified position on China, leaders issued a highly critical final communique that delved into what are for China some of the most sensitive issues, including also Taiwan.

The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.

China’s rise has also unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said.

The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including in China, to be convened by the World Health Organization (WHO). Reuters earlier reported the finalised version of the draft communique.

“We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden told reporters.

Biden said it was not yet certain whether or not “a bat interfacing with animals and the environment… caused this COVID-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory”.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China pointedly cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.

FORCED LABOUR

Biden said democracies were in a global contest with “autocratic governments”, and that the G7 had to deliver viable alternatives.

“We’re in a contest, not with China per se, … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters.

“As I’ve told (Chinese President) Xi Jinping myself, I’m not looking for conflict. Where we cooperate, we’ll cooperate; where we disagree I’m going to state this frankly, and we are going to respond to actions that are inconsistent.”

The G7 – comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said it was concerned about forced labour in global supply chains including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China. It says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

U.N. experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang in northwest China.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James, Michel Rose and Michael Holden; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

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G7 agrees to end new gov’t support for coal power by end of 2021

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The Group of Seven nations on Sunday pledged to rapidly scale up technologies and policies that accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity, including ending new government support for coal power by the end of this year.

The countries, in a communique following their summit in Britain, confirmed pledges to increase climate finance contributions as part of efforts to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and help a move toward cleaner energy, although climate groups said firm cash promises and other details were missing.

“Coal power generation is the single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions,” the seven nations – the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – said, adding “continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach.”

“We stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now and we commit now to an end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021,” they said.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking after the summit, noted a commitment of up to $2 billion “to support developing countries as they transition away from unabated coal-fired power.”

The nations, in their statement, vowed to focus on other technologies, including carbon capture, to help speed up the transition away from coal.

“We will focus on accelerating progress on electrification and batteries, hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage, zero emission aviation and shipping, and for those countries that opt to use it, nuclear power,” the communique said.

 

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Susan Heavey; Editing by Michael Holden and Daniel Wallis)

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