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India adds spiritual dimension to ‘Act East’ policy

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United Nations: Celebration of the Buddhist festival of Vesak in various Asian countries has given a spiritual dimension to India’s “Act East” policy. Both the festival and the Indian policy is based on a common heritage that spans Asia, linking nations as diverse as India and China.

India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji said at the International Day of Vesak celebration on Friday that India “sought to use the ancient links forged by our common Buddhist heritage between different countries in Asia as part of our foreign policy outreach, seeing the world as one family, or “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.

The Indian mission made a slide presentation of the links forged by Buddhism featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to the religion’s shrines in Sri Lanka, Japan, Mongolia and China and monuments in India and Kazakhstan on the Silk Road. Afterward, Mukerji said, “As you can see, we are indeed actively linked by our common Buddhist heritage.”

“The core of the teachings of Lord Buddha, especially ahimsa or non-violence, have become an integral part of India’s political philosophy,” Mukerji said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Vesak message also referred to the political relevance of Buddha’s message: “Buddha’s observation that all peoples are interconnected reminds us of the importance of uniting as one human family resolved to address our shared struggles based on common values.”

Vesak, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, is observed in some Asian countries on June 1, although in India it is celebrated as Buddha Purnima on May 4, an official holiday.

Adding to the ecumenical flavor of the celebration, Omani Ambassador Lyutha Al-Mughairy said Vesak “allows us to recall the importance of respect for religious and cultural diversity and the need for a peaceful and harmonious world.” She was speaking on behalf of General Assembly President Sam Kutesa,

The respect for religious diversity that she referred to was reflected in December’s General Assembly resolution to make Vesak feast a day when no official UN meetings will be held, a recognition short of a general holiday because the headquarters will stay open. This came about as a result of diplomatic efforts by India in conjunction with nations with major Buddhist populations.

The same resolution also gave Deepavali, Gurpurab and the Jewish sacred day, Yom Kippur, the status of days with no official meeting, starting next year, widening slightly the recognition of sacred days of non-Christian and non-Muslim religions. Only two religious days each of Christianity and Islam are official holidays.

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Australia Rejects U.N. Climate Report, Continues Using Coal

Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent.

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Australia, Coal
The Liddell coal-fired power station is seen in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, Australia. VOA

Australia is rejecting the latest U.N. report on climate change, insisting coal remains critical to energy security and lowering household power bills.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its report released Monday that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero by the middle of the century to stop global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The authors warned that if warming was allowed to reach two degrees, the world would be on course toward uncontrollable temperatures.

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The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Georgia. VOA

They made special mention of coal, insisting that its use for power generation would have to fall to between zero and two percent of current usage.

The report has received a lukewarm response by Australia’s center-right government. It has said it has no intention of scaling back fossil fuel production because without coal, household power bills would soar.

Canberra also insists it is on target to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement, which attempts to unite every nation under a single accord to tackle climate change for the first time ever.

Australia earns billions of dollars exporting coal to China and other parts of Asia, while it generates more than 60 percent of domestic electricity.

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FILE – A dead tree stands near a water tank in a drought-stricken paddock located on the outskirts of the southwestern Queensland town of Cunnamulla in outback Australia, Aug. 10, 2017. (VOA)

Australia’s Environment Minister Melissa Price believes the IPCC report exaggerates the threat posed by fossil fuel.

“Coal does form a very important part of the Australian energy mixer and we make no apology for the fact that our focus at the moment is on getting electricity prices down,” Price said. “Every year, there is new technology with respect to coal and what its contribution is to emissions. So, you know, to say that it has got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow.”

Australia has some of the world’s highest per capita rates of greenhouse gas pollution. A recent government report showed a failure to reduce levels of greenhouse gas pollution. The survey said that between January and March this year, Australia had its most elevated levels of carbon pollution since 2011.

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Workers operate machines at a coal mine at Palaran district in Samarinda, Indonesia (VOA)

Conservationists argue Australia is doing too little to protect itself from the predicted ravages of a shifting climate.

Also Read: Use Every Resources To Help in Climate Change: Scientists

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent. Scientists warn that droughts, floods, heat waves, brush fires and storms will become more intense as temperatures rise, with potentially disastrous consequences for human health and the environment, including the Great Barrier Reef. (VOA)