Sunday, 30 April 2017

EPA wipes its climate change site as protesters march in Washington

Extract from The Guardian

Website ‘undergoing changes’ to reflect agency’s ‘new direction’, as tens of thousands protest inaction on climate in cities across the US

Protesters carry signs during the Peoples Climate March at the White House in Washington.
Protesters carry signs during the Peoples Climate March at the White House in Washington. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s main climate change website is “undergoing changes” to better reflect “the agency’s new direction” under Donald Trump.
The announcement, made late Friday evening, left empty what was previously the “official government site” providing “comprehensive information on the issue of climate change and global warming”.
The change came a day before thousands gathered in Washington DC and other US cities to protest inaction on climate change, and hours before the symbolic 100-day mark of the Trump administration.
At the marquee climate protest, the Peoples Climate March in Washington, tens of thousands made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue in sweltering heat on their way to encircle the White House.
Organizers said about 300 sister marches or rallies were being held around the country, including in Seattle, Boston and San Francisco. In Chicago, marchers headed from the city’s federal plaza to Trump Tower. In Denver, marchers were met with a dose of spring snow.
Some of the marches drew celebrity attendees, including former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the capital and senator and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Bernie Sanders at an event in Montpelier, Vermont.
“Honored to join Indigenous leaders and native peoples as they fight for climate justice,” DiCaprio tweeted.
Any marchers who used their phones to look at the EPA climate change website would have been greeted with a message from the new administration: “This page is being updated.”
“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” said JP Freire, an associate administrator for public affairs.
Previously, the website housed data on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters and reports on the effects of climate change and its impact on human health.
“We want to eliminate confusion,” Freire said, “by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”
Information from previous administrations is archived as a link from the EPA’s website.

Demonstrators march in Chicago.
Demonstrators march in Chicago. Photograph: Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images
The EPA is currently led by Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has denied that carbon dioxide causes global warming.
The Trump administration has called for budget cuts of nearly one-third at the EPA and has sought to weaken protections for human health. For instance, the White House has proposed cutting funding and regulations regarding lead poisoning prevention and is considering rewriting regulations concerning smog.
It has already rolled back a law that prevented coal mining companies from dumping waste in streams.
In an op-ed piece for the Guardian published on Saturday, Sanders made an economic case for a focus on industries meant to ameliorate the effects of climate change, rather than those which contribute to it.
The senator from Vermont wrote: “No matter what agenda President Trump and his administration of climate deniers push, it is clear that jobs in clean energy like wind and solar are growing much more rapidly than jobs in the coal, oil and gas sectors.”

Investors snapping up community energy projects, with some selling out in minutes

Updated 41 minutes ago

The public appetite for community funded renewable energy appears to be limitless, with projects proving so popular they are selling out within minutes of being offered to investors.
The latest initiative — a massive solar panel system on top of a wholesale bakery in western Sydney — saw people flocking to invest.
Within six hours, 20 investors had pitched in almost $400,000 to install a huge 230 kilowatt solar system on the bakery's roof.
The project has been set up by volunteer-run ClearSky Solar Investments.

Here's how it works

The company Bakers Maison will pay investors for the solar energy it uses over a period of between seven to 10 years. The investors get a 7 per cent return on the money they put in.
After that time, the business owns the panels and will use its energy for free.
"There's a huge appetite out there for people to invest in renewable energy, we just need more projects," ClearSky director Warren Yates said.

Bakers Maison employs 120 people and runs every day of the year, baking and freezing French-inspired products that are sold to all corners of Australia.
"We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills," general manager Pascal Chaneliere said.
The bakery already had a 100 kilowatt solar power system, which will now be bolstered by this new, much larger community project.
Mr Chaneliere said getting investors involved to help out with the costs of the new solar panels would help further reduce their bills.
"We signed a contract for the cost of electricity for the next coming years, so it makes a lot of sense. We know exactly what will be the expenditure for the next five years."
Investor Andrew Rogers grew up in the same suburb as the Revesby bakery.
"I invested $20,000 into this one, it gives me a good rate of return, it's nearly 7 per cent," he said.
"At the same time as an investor I'm happy, I know the money is creating some good."

There's an 'oversupply of investors'

A smaller project with solar panels on top of a Sydney brewery sold out last year in just nine minutes, through community group Pingala.
Pingala volunteer Tom Nockolds said the group had already identified 30 more potential locations for future projects.
"We won't be able to do them all at once but we'll get to them in turn and we won't stop at 30, we want to do 30, 60 and 120 on our way to doing as many as we can," he said.
"There's definitely an oversupply of investors and an undersupply of projects."

What's holding up more projects?

Volunteer groups said there were plenty of investors, but rules and regulations made it hard to get projects up quickly.
"In other countries, community energy has taken off at a much faster rate than in Australia," Warren Yates said.
"We've had to duck and weave our way through the regulations to set up this kind of operation.
"It's not efficient, and we could do much more with the appropriate regulatory environment."
Mr Yates said it was up to the government to change the rules to help streamline the process for groups trying to get similar projects up and running.

David Blowers from the Grattan Institute said community projects had potential to save the electricity grid from expensive upgrades that are passed on as costs to consumers.
He said network businesses should look to get involved in some community projects.
"You want to see a framework which encourages the right sort of solution for the right sort of problem," Mr Blowers said.
"At the moment it's a one solution fits all, which is you build more poles and wires.
"And the problem with that is once people start using less grid-based energy because they're generating their own, all of a sudden other people have to pay for the grid that remains."
He said the Government needed to look at the way the grid costs were regulated to make sure costs were spread fairly.

Millions already invested in Australian community solar

New figures show more than 50 community solar projects are up and running across the nation, with individuals investing almost $24 million.
But Australia remains well behind Denmark, which has 5,500 projects up and running, many of those wind farms.
Scotland has more than 500 community energy projects, while Germany has 880 energy cooperatives.

Donald Trump's 100 days in office to be marked by worldwide climate change protests

Updated 13 minutes ago

As US President Donald Trump marks his 100th day in the White House, thousands of people have turned out in Washington to protest his climate change policies.

Key points:

  • As a side theme, marchers will protest Mr Trump's crackdown on illegal immigrants
  • Last weekend, thousands turned out for March for Science
  • Mr Trump's representatives had no immediate comment on the planned protest
Around 15,000 people gathered for the afternoon march from the lawn of the US Capitol to the White House, according to an estimate by a Reuters reporter, coinciding with the end of the traditional "honeymoon" period for a new president.
Carrying signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Imagine a world free a climate change", and "Planet over profits", demonstrators on Saturday (local time) said they were angered by the prospect of Mr Trump carrying through on his vow to roll back protections put in place by his predecessors.

"We're going to rise up and let them know that we're sick and tired of seeing our children die of asthma," Reverend Leo Woodberry of Florence, South Carolina, said.
"We're sick and tired of seeing people with cancer because of coal ash ponds. We're sick and tired of seeing sea-level rise."
The Trump administration is considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, which more than 190 countries including the United States signed in hopes of curbing global warming. Mr Trump has also proposed deep cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Andrew Logan @lgnsnd
Working for @climateone at @Newseum today and checking out the #ClimateMarch
3:02 AM - 30 Apr 2017 · Newseum
As marchers took to the street, the EPA website underwent a makeover to reflect the views of the Trump administration.
In January, EPA sources told Reuters that administration officials had asked the agency to take down the climate change page — which included links to scientific research, data and trends related to the causes and effects of climate change.
In his campaign, Mr Trump called climate change a hoax. Last month he kept a promise to the coal industry by undoing climate change rules put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Tom McGettrick, 57, an electrical engineer who drove up from the Florida Keys to attend the march, said his main concern was the weakening of the EPA.
"Forty years of environmental protection has done wonders for the environment, especially in the Midwest," said Mr McGettrick, who spent most of his life in Michigan.
"When I was a teenager and went to Lake Erie, it was one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country.
"Now when you go to Lake Erie it's really beautiful."

In Washington, DC, large crowds made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue in sweltering heat. They planned to encircle the White House.
In Boston, a crowd gathered in public park in downtown. Marchers carried signs with slogans such as "Dump Trump".
Some of the marches drew big-name attendees, including former vice-president Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the nation's capital and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders at a Montpelier event.
"Honoured to join Indigenous leaders and native peoples as they fight for climate justice," DiCaprio tweeted.
In Augusta, Maine, protesters outside the statehouse said they wanted to draw attention to the damage climate change can cause marginalised communities.
A demonstration stretched for several blocks in downtown Tampa, Florida, where marchers said they were concerned about the threat rising seas pose to the city.

Protests a defining feature in Trump's first 100 days

Saturday's march was part of an effort to build support for candidates with strong environmental records in the run-up to next year's midterm elections and the 2020 presidential race, organizers said.
"We're using this as a tactic to advance the strategy of building enough power to win on climate over the course of the long haul," said national coordinator Paul Getsos.
Since Mr Trump's inauguration on January 20, there have been national protests focused on issues ranging from abortion rights to immigration and science policy.
Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, said the march would have little impact on the administration.
"The real decisions are made in this country in elections, and we have now a president and a House and a Senate that are determined to pursue a pro-energy agenda," he said.
Trump representatives had no immediate comment on the protest.
Dozens of "sister" marches are planned for other North America locales, from Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, to Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Overseas, about three dozen events range from a protest in Vienna to marches in Hobart and on the Gold Coast.


Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Guardian view on Donald Trump: 100 days of failure

It is no surprise dissembling has been the defining feature of his first 100 days. If he admitted the truth of his shambolic presidency, it would shorten its span

Donald Trump addresses the National Rifle Association in Atlanta, Georgia on 28 April 2017.
‘For a country whose founding myth was that its first president was so virtuous he could not lie, it’s bizarre that it is now led by a serial liar’ … Donald Trump addresses the National Rifle Association in Atlanta, Georgia on 28 April 2017. Photograph: Erik S. Lesser/EPA

On Saturday Donald Trump will have been in the White House for a hundred days, and he has been a disaster for American democracy. His narcissism and incompetence has allowed little time for reflection and self-correction. His megalomania is such that he views himself as hounded by “enemies of the people”. In his contract with America, candidate Trump told voters that he would “restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities and honesty to our government”. These words, like much Mr Trump has said, have proved worthless. In terms of probity, there’s the matter of the FBI investigating whether and how the Trump campaign may have colluded with Moscow’s efforts to influence the presidential election. The ethics of the presidency are constantly called into question because Mr Trump, his family and his appointees insist upon maintaining their investments in various businesses, while at the same time conducting official US government policy.
On security Mr Trump’s cruel, stupid and bigoted travel bans, which were designed to hurt and divide, have been blocked by federal courts not once but twice. Mr Trump’s rash and self-defeating campaign promise to pull the US out of Nafta, the trade agreement he once described as a “total disaster”, was dropped after Mr Trump realised that it would decimate jobs and industry in the farm belt that voted for him. One has to wonder about how a country, let alone the world’s richest, can be governed in such a way for much longer.
First impressions count, and the first 100 days are an indicator of success or failure in a president’s crucial first year in office. Presidential debuts can be remembered for foreign policy resets. A missile strike against the sulphurous regime of Bashar al-Assad saw Mr Trump pivot back briefly to normality and gain bipartisan applause. But it also highlighted the fact that no one knows the framework the Trump administration brings to thinking about the Syrian civil war. Lasting legislative achievements, not TV appearances or late-night tweeting, count in the history books. Mr Trump pledged to introduce 10 pieces of legislation in his first 100 days. Despite control of Capitol Hill by his own party, Mr Trump has little to show so far for his promises. The Senate did approve Neil Gorsuch for the supreme court, but only after Republicans nuked long-standing Senate rules. Mr Trump’s huge tax cuts, if passed, will favour the rich. No surprise as he assembled the wealthiest cabinet in history. The political sham of Republican opposition was exposed by Obamacare, the policy that afforded healthcare for poor Americans. Mr Trump’s party has voted 60 times to repeal it, and he has vowed to replace it. After seven years the Republicans have not come up with anything better. This is because the reason Republicans opposed the healthcare reform was that it was the signature domestic policy of a man they demonised: Barack Obama.
Mr Obama is a useful study in contrast. He arrived in 2009 at a moment of national crisis and pushed through a $787bn stimulus to stave off a beckoning depression. Voters recognised that the young and inexperienced Mr Obama had come good in a moment of national crisis. By the end of his first three months Mr Obama had approval ratings of 63%. By comparison Mr Trump has the lowest poll numbers of any president since Gallup began surveying in 1953, by 14 points. Yet, as our own reporting shows, President Trump’s support among his own voters remains rock solid. Dig a little deeper in the polling and it is the dissembling that stands out. For a country whose founding myth was that its first president was so virtuous he could not lie, it’s bizarre that it is now led by a serial liar.
There is a method to this. By definition, conspiracy theories are unfalsifiable: experts who contradict them demonstrate that they, too, are part of the conspiracy. It is no surprise that dissembling has been the defining feature of Mr Trump’s first 100 days. Large majorities of his voters believe the media publishes false stories. Mr Trump’s strategy of peddling falsehoods and branding critical reporting as “fake news” is working. His voters believe the news media’s “lies” are a bigger problem than the Trump administration’s ones. Facts remain a stranger to the man whose administration blithely told reporters that a US “armada” had set sail to North Korea amid nuclear-tipped tensions when in fact it was heading in the other direction. Now he talks of a “major, major” conflict with Pyongyang’s rogue regime. As America and the world is finding out, a conspiracy theorist-in-chief is uniquely unqualified to lead.

The lesson from Donald Trump’s first 100 days: resistance is not futile

Is anyone surprised that Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have confirmed him to be a dangerous, reckless bigot; a kleptocrat who puts the financial interests of his family first, closely followed by the wealth of his fellow billionaires; a serial liar whose view of the wider world hovers between frightening and incoherent?          
We surely can claim no shock. The warning signs were all there, the alarm amply sounded in advance. There have, in fact, been only two surprises about the infant Trump presidency. But one of those is unexpectedly heartening.
Start, though, with what three months of President Trump have made plain. Some thought the bigotry was a campaign pose that would fall away once Trump had breathed in the sobering vapours of the Oval Office. In fact he took all of seven days to issue a travel ban that would shut out newcomers from seven mainly Muslim countries – supposedly a counter-terrorism measure, even though the number of terrorist incidents in the US caused by migrants from those countries is precisely zero.
Look at the white nationalist wing of Trump’s team. Steve Bannon is off the national security council, but remains a key influence; his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was deemed too racist to win senate confirmation as a federal judge in the 1980s; and aide Sebastian Gorka was, back in Hungary, a vocal supporter of a racist, antisemitic militia that was eventually banned.
In that context, it’s hardly a surprise that Trump’s cabinet is the least diverse in decades. Indeed, among the enduring images of these 100 days are photos comprised entirely of besuited men signing away the reproductive or healthcare rights of women.
100 days of Trump: orders, tweets, leaks and military attacks
As for the recklessness, that too has been a constant motif. Type “Trump threatens war with…” and Google helpfully offers to complete the sentence with any one of Mexico, China, Iran or North Korea. Yesterday, Trump warned of a “major, major conflict” with Pyongyang. That came in an interview, but sometimes it’s a tweet or just an unhinged phone call. He had been president 10 days when he told his Mexican counterpart he would send in US troops to deal with “bad hombres down there”.
Pity the analysts asked to discern a Trump foreign policy in all this mess. One minute he’s an isolationist, announcing that Nato is obsolete. The next he admits that he didn’t really know much about Nato and it is “no longer obsolete”. He fires cruise missiles at Syria, which perhaps signals that he’s now a hawkish interventionist. But then he’s on the sofa with Xi Jinping, cosying up to China like a foreign policy realist, announcing that Beijing is not, despite everything he said in the campaign, a currency manipulator after all.
The truth is, there is no Trump doctrine because a doctrine would require a series of connected thoughts demanding an attention span of more than a few seconds. And that is beyond the current US president. Instead, there are just a couple of instincts. One is a preference for autocrats over democrats: note the warm embrace he gave Egypt’s ruler soon after refusing to shake the hand of Angela Merkel. The second, related, impulse is to favour anything likely to enrich him or his family. So of course he welcomed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s power-grab in Turkey: Erdoğan had supported the construction of Trump Towers in Istanbul.
Which bring us to crony corruption so egregious that scholars believe Trump has already amassed ample grounds for impeachment, though the House of Representatives is too blinded by partisan loyalty to pursue it. Simply by doubling the membership fees at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, Trump has overtly profiteered from the presidency.
He has not divested himself of his business interests; there is no blind trust. The nepotism of appointing his daughter and son-in-law to White House posts has made the US resemble a tinpot kleptocracy, with the dictator surrounded by adult children lining their pockets with gold. None of this is hidden: note that on the day the Trumps met Xi, the Chinese granted trademark rights to the line of handbags and jewellery peddled by Ivanka.
All of this has happened at remarkable speed. We have, perhaps, become inured to the lies: Trump has uttered more than 450 documented falsehoods since swearing the oath. But the abuse of power, the violation of democratic norms, remain astonishing. Not only does he refuse to release his tax returns, Trump has now made the White House visitor logs secret – even though these records are often the only way of knowing which lobbyists are getting access to power. Trump’s attack on the judiciary continues apace: in recent days, he has threatened to break up the ninth circuit court for daring to rule against him.
All of this is disturbing, but not strictly a surprise. What takes the breath away is the incompetence. Trump promised to surround himself with “the best people, the best” and it was reasonable to suppose that a billionaire tycoon would have some inkling of how to run a big operation. But he has been spectacularly useless.
His sole concrete achievement in 100 days has been the appointment of a supreme court judge. All the rest is failure, whether it’s a healthcare bill rejected by his fellow Republicans; hundreds of posts still unfilled in the federal bureaucracy, declaring that an “armada” was heading towards North Korea when it was in fact miles away and sailing in the opposite direction, or a national security adviser who had to be sacked because he was, literally, a foreign agent.
‘Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” Trump said, when in fact everyone but him knew that. He’s made similar remarks about Nato and Korea, needing to be educated on the most elementary facts, even if that means America’s adversaries playing tutor. Pathetically, he now says of the job he won in November that he thought it would be “easier.”
But what of that other surprise, the one to give us cheer? It’s this: opposition can work. We’ve seen that Trump is weak, backing down when confronted – most recently by Canada and Mexico over his threat to leave Nafta. But public protest works too. The combination of courts and crowds, gathering instantly at airports across the US, halted the travel ban. Similarly, it was when citizens turned up at congressional Republicans’ town hall meetings, threatening to punish any politician who stripped away their Obamacare, that Trump lost his healthcare bill – the one that would have deprived 24m Americans of healthcare and funnelled a $600bn tax cut to the rich.
The satirists and journalists have played their part too, needling Trump and getting under his skin as well as shedding light on his spell in power. His devotees remain loyal, but thanks to those who keep insisting on telling the truth, most Americans now see Trump for what he is – which is why his poll numbers are so low.

Donald Trump is as bad as we feared: delusional, dangerous, dishonest. But there is another lesson from these 100 days. Even when faced with the greatest menace, resistance is not futile.

Will the Federal budget launch a new era in social and affordable housing?

Updated 23 minutes ago

You don't have to tell Jan Raumati-Damon she beat the odds. This week, she realised a dream she thought might never happen — she was handed the keys to her own Sydney apartment.
"It's great. I'm very excited," Ms Raumati-Damon said, her eyes tearing up just after signing her lease.
The 65-year-old works part-time as a cook, and receives the age pension. But that hasn't been enough to secure her own apartment.
In the last four years, she's moved five times.
"It has been a long time," she said. "From living with 10 people, down to now. Finally living just by myself again."
Ms Raumati-Damon had been stuck in Australia's private-rental trap. She escaped with the help of St George Community Housing (SGCH).
Because she earns less than $48,500 a year, she's eligible for an SGCH affordable housing unit.
Her rent is fixed at $286 per week — 65 per cent of the market rent in Peakhurst in southern Sydney. Without that subsidy, her new one-bedroom apartment would rent for $440 per week.
"It is overwhelming, because it's taken me four years to find something," she said.

It's estimated there's a shortage of at least 120,000 dwellings in Australia of affordable housing — where rent is tied to a percentage of the market rent to assist those with low wage work.
For those living on the poverty line or receiving some form of social benefits, the situation is even more bleak.
By one estimate there's a need for at least 270,00 more dwellings for those on the lowest 20 per cent of income.
"You simply despair," said Treasurer Scott Morrison in a speech that addressed the current situation earlier this month.

A bid to attract major investment in social housing

Mr Morrison has announced a taskforce to examine something called a "bond aggregator" — essentially government-backed loans aimed at attracting large-scale private investment in social housing.
"This brings two things: cheaper money and better terms," said Michael Lennon, chairperson of the Community Housing Industry Association.

Community housing associations are not-for-profit organisations that provide social housing. They've been growing as state governments transfer the management of public housing units over to them.
Now they're waiting to see how much backing community housing bonds will get in the federal budget. The goal is for bond amounts to be big enough to lure in large institutional investors.
In Australia, they typically invest in things like toll motorways and airports.
Large-scale private investment in social housing has been happening for decades in the UK. Generous government rent assistance and financial grants have helped community housing attract large-scale private investors.
Mr Lennon says he believes the same thing could happen here.
"We're at a point in Australia in which the community housing sector can mature with the right supports into that kind of environment," he said.

States to play key role in addressing 'funding gap'

But everyone agrees a financing evolution for community housing also depends on the what happens in the states.
New South Wales has provided $1.1 billion in seed funding for the Social and Affordable Housing Fund. Interest from the fund will be used to help close the "funding gap" that makes it so hard for community housing associations to borrow.
The problem: most community housing tenants have low incomes and pay low rent. Often revenue isn't enough to cover operating costs and maintenance.
"The gap is between what people can afford to pay, and what it costs to run," said Wendy Hayhurst, CEO of the NSW Federation of Housing Associations.
"Whether you're a for profit developer or you're a community housing provider, that gap exists. And it has to be filled to make it stack up economically."
In Victoria, the Government has taken a similar approach to fill the "funding gap".
Its Social Housing Growth Fund is slated to reach a $1 billion endowment in four years. Interest from that fund will go to community housing associations to help get projects off the ground.
"We think there's a momentum building," said Lesley Dredge, from the Community Housing Federation of Victoria.
"We don't know yet, though, how all these elements come together."
The Port Phillip Housing Association's mixed-use development in Ashwood in Melbourne's southeast is an example of the projects community housing associations want to build.

Of the 280 dwellings, 70 are private. They were sold at market rates to help fund construction of the remaining social and affordable units.
Part of the community housing is set aside for those over age 55. Most rely on social assistance payments, and say without their subsidised community housing unit they'd have nowhere else to go.
"I am very lucky to get this place," said tenant Nancy Moore.
"I lost everything 15 years ago. My husband, a house, my business. My mum. All within 10 months. And I bought myself a van, and I was a nomad for 15 years."

Tenants Geoff and Suzanne McQuie have a similar story.
"When we first came in here...we had virtually nothing," Mr McQuie said.
"We had a bag of dim sims in the fridge," Ms McQuie chimes in.
They say from their own experience they know the demand for community housing.
"There's a lot of people… for whatever reason, they're done and dusted. They're buggered. They've got nowhere to turn," Mr McQuie said.
"If you look at the amount of people that are around now… that are in a broken situation, that need housing, the Government's definitely got to supply it. Someone's got to supply it. You can't have them all living under a tree somewhere." 

Friday, 28 April 2017

Donald Trump warns of 'major, major conflict' with North Korea

US president says he wants to seek a diplomatic solution to crisis in Korea and reveals China is helping to pressure Kim Jong-un

US President Trump speaks during an interview in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington.
US President Trump speaks during an interview in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Donald Trump has said that a “major conflict” was possible with North Korea though he would prefer to solve the standoff over the country’s nuclear and missile programme through diplomacy.
Trump’s warning on Thursday came towards the end of a week where the administration has made a concerted effort to restrain Pyongyang from carrying out major new weapons tests.
At the same time, US officials sought to clarify US policy after a variety of mixed signals in the administration’s first 100 days.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, said that the US would be prepared to enter into direct talks with the regime of Kim Jong-un, but that it would have to prepare to negotiate getting rid of all its nuclear weapons.
The opening to diplomacy came as the head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris told the Senate that the standoff with North Korea was the worst he had seen. It was an assessment echoed by the president.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told Reuters.
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” the president added.
A brief history of nuclear near-misses
Trump suggested there had been a breakthrough in Chinese readiness to help apply pressure on Kim since Xi Jinping visited the US president in Florida earlier this month.
“I believe he [the Chinese president] is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well,” Trump said.
“With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t.”
Tillerson had earlier said the Chinese had warned Pyongyang, an increasingly unruly client in recent years, that it would impose punitive measures if North Korea carried out provocative tests.
“We know that China is in communications with the regime in Pyongyang,” he told Fox News. “They confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test.”
According to Tillerson, the Chinese told the regime “that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own”.
The secretary of state said that the North Korean regime viewed its nuclear weapons and missile programmes as a guarantee of survival, and that the Trump administration sought to change that mindset.
“We want to change that calculus of theirs and we have said to them: your pathway to survival and security is to eliminate your nuclear weapons and we and other countries will help you on the way to economic development,” Tillerson said. He assured Pyongyang that the US objective was ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, not toppling Kim Jong-un.
“We do not seek a regime change in North Korea. We are not seeking the collapse of the regime.”
Tillerson said that the US administration would “wait as long as it takes” for talks to start providing North Korea conducted no new nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
The secretary of state did not directly reply to a question on whether this policy was very similar to the “strategic patience” pursued by the Obama administration, which Tillerson had earlier said had come to an end.
In his Oval Office interview with Reuters, Trump offered an assessment of Kim.
Asked if he considered the North Korean leader to be rational he noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age,” he said.
“I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a sign that North Korea’s regional neighbours are taking the threat of a conflict seriously, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that Pyongyang could launch a nuclear attack on nations and claimed China has not applied enough pressure on the regime.
“There is the possibility and the risk that North Korea could launch an attack on its neighbours,” Turnbull said on 3AW radio.
“That is the reason why there is so much effort being put into seeking to stop this reckless and dangerous conduct by the North Korean regime. They are a real threat to the peace and stability in the region and to the whole world.”
Turnbull said while North Korea was often a subject of satire, the country had nuclear weapons and regularly threatened to use them.
“Their threats can appear sometimes to be theatrical and over the top and they have been the subject of satire but I can assure you that my government takes ... the threat of North Korea very seriously,” he said.
On Friday morning Tillerson will chair a special ministerial session of the UN security council on North Korea, aimed at convincing other members to impose existing sanctions on Pyongyang more rigorously.
In Washington, the head of the Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimball, welcomed the Trump administration’s readiness for direct talks with North Korea.
“There are some new things here. They are making clear that regime change is not the goal. There is a recognition that North Korea has security concerns,” Kimball said. “I think what we hearing the evening is more of the engagement part of the maximum pressure engagement policy that they are slowly rolling out.”

He added: “It’s going to require persistence and patience.” 

Big four banks distance themselves from Adani coalmine as Westpac rules out loan

Coalition frontbencher calls for Queenslanders to boycott Australia’s second-largest bank after it says it will now only lend to mines in established coalfields

Westpac has said it will not fund new thermal coal projects unless they are in existing mining regions and meet other guidelines.
Westpac has said it will not fund new thermal coal projects unless they are in existing mining regions and meet other guidelines. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Australia’s big four banks have all ruled out funding or withdrawn from Adani’s Queensland coal project, after Westpac said it would not back opening up new coalmining regions, prompting a scathing attack from the resources minister, Matthew Canavan.
Westpac, the country’s second-largest bank, released a new climate policy on Friday, saying it would limit lending for new thermal coal projects to “only existing coal producing basins”.
The coal mined must also have energy content “in at least the top 15% globally”, meaning at least 6,300 kilocalories per kg, according to the Westpac policy.
Adani’s Carmichael mine would be the first in the Galilee basin and the coal would have only 4,950 kilocalories per kg, the miner told the Queensland land court in 2014.
Canavan, thealso the minister for northern Australia, invited Queenslanders seeking home loans or term deposits to boycott Westpac as a result of its decision.
“I can only conclude from this decision by Westpac that they are seeking to revert to their original name as the Bank of New South Wales, as they are turning their back on Queensland as a result of this decision,” he said.
“May I suggest those Queenslanders seeking a home loan or a bank deposit or some such in the next few months might want to back a bank that is backing the interests of Queenslanders.”
Canavan also accused Westpac of turning its back on “the Indigenous people of Queensland” because of majority support for the project among Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners, although this is contested by an anti-Adani faction.
The Queensland senator castigated the bank for “almost zero consultation with the people of north Queensland”, saying it was “more interested in listening to the noisy activists in Sydney than the job hungry people” in his constituency.
Westpac has come under pressure from environmental groups and various activist campaigns, including one that targeted its cash machines and a rally that interrupted the bank’s 200th anniversary celebrations in Sydney this month.
Adani’s final investment decision on Carmichael had been slated for this month but the company subsequently said it would be made by June before mine construction from August.
An Adani Australia spokesman said the company had not approached Westpac for funding for the mine, rail or port expansion.
But Blair Palese, the chief executive of climate advocacy group, said Westpac’s decision represented “an enormous blow to this project and the future of coal in Australia”.
Palese said the federal and Queensland governments, which both support the proposed mine, were “becoming increasingly isolated as businesses and international investors refuse to touch coal and the Adani project”.
“After months of community pressure, Westpac’s announcement is a strong indication that people everywhere are ready to stop this climate disaster in its tracks and that Adani and our government ignore them at their peril,” he said.
Adani is seeking a $1bn concessional loan from the commonwealth for its rail project linking the mine to its Abbot Point coal terminal.
On Thursday Andrew Harding, the CEO of Adani’s rival Aurizon, told the Melbourne Mining Club his company could build the line for “at least $1bn less” than Adani’s proposal, with fewer land acquisitions and less impact on the environment.
Adani wrote off that suggestion as “fanciful and monopolistic”.
“The so-called plan is a smokescreen aimed at defending Aurizon’s expensive monopoly of coal rail lines in Queensland,” Adani said. “The Aurizon plan is designed to instil fear and stifle hope in the people of regional Queensland.”
The CEO of Westpac, Brian Hartzer, also said the bank would increase its lending target for “climate change solutions” from $6.3bn to $10bn by 2020 and $25bn by 2030.
“Westpac recognises that climate change is an economic issue as well as an environmental issue, and banks have an important role to play in assisting the Australian economy to transition to a net zero emissions economy,” Hartzer said. “Limiting global warming will require a collaborative effort as we transition to lower-emissions sectors, while also taking steps to help the economy and our communities become more resilient.”
Adani previously received a $543m loan facility in two deals with Westpac, alongside others from Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank, to acquire a 99-year lease on the Abbot Point terminal, according to the climate advocacy group Market Forces.
NAB ruled out funding the Carmichael project in September 2015, a month after Commonwealth Bank parted ways with Adani as project finance adviser.
The CEO of ANZ, Shayne Elliott, in effect ruled out financing the mine last December when he predicted a downward shift in the bank’s exposure to coalmining would continue for the foreseeable future.
Critics of the Adani proposal, which would be Australia’s largest and one of the world’s largest coal mines, argue the impact of carbon emissions from its coal is incompatible with global attempts to limit warming to less than 2C.
Canavan said Adani’s target markets in India and north Asia would simply source lower quality coal with higher emissions elsewhere, a conclusion he said was shared by the Queensland supreme court in its recent rejection of a “green activist claims” against the mine.
The Adani spokesman said the company was “fervently committed” to the project “despite Westpac and other Australian financial houses choosing to ignore the opportunity to invest”.
“The financial houses have, instead, chosen to bow to environmental activists,” he said. “In so doing, they have chosen to continue to invest in overseas coal projects that will generate jobs in those countries at the expense of Australians, many of whom are their investors and depositors.”
The Carmichael coal “easily meets the emissions standards announced by Westpac”, the spokesman said.