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Eastern Europe in Dire Straits as COVID Cases Spike; U.S. CDC Signs Off on Moderna, Johnson & Johnson Boosters; Melbourne, Australia Reopens as COVID Restrictions Ease; Gang Leader Threatens to Kill Missionaries Held Hostage; FBI Identifies Human Remains as Brian Laundrie; Japan Holds Largest Military Drills in Decades; Celtics Games Pulled in China Amid Criticism; Growing Questions Over Putin's Strategy; Biden Administration Warns of Climate Crisis; Beirut's Blast Investigation Pits Elite Against Victims. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Vause.


Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, it's bad and set to get worse. As temperatures across Europe fall in the coming weeks, health experts believe already surging COVID infections will rise dramatically, again.

The leader of a criminal gang, which abducted 17 missionaries in Haiti has now threatened to kill them unless his demands are met.

And despite a planetary climate emergency, hopes for the unity and sense of common purpose among world leaders are falling fast ahead of the U.N. COP26 summit in Glasgow.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: Across Europe, where COVID-19 infections have been rising rapidly, the response has been mostly the same. Reimposed pandemic restrictions, lockdowns have been ordered, mask mandates are back.

And, despite that, as temperatures fall heading into the northern winter and people gather Indoors, most public health experts fear the numbers will only go up. Almost all of Europe and Russia are already in some shade of red.


DR. MIKE RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WHO HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAMME: So the reality is that in the situation where there is intense social mixing in the winter period, with people inside, we are going to see further transmission of the virus. The question is whether that transmission turns into severe cases, hospitalizations, and death.


VAUSE: With more people dying from COVID every day in Russia than ever before. Moscow has announced a lockdown for 10 days, beginning next Thursday. Only about 30 percent of Russia's population has been vaccinated.

But the U.K. is taking a very different approach. Even though more than 52,000 new cases were reported on Thursday, the highest in four months, the government has taken a damn-the-torpedoes approach. The prime minister insisting, for now, there is no need to reimpose restrictions. Instead, he's urging vaccinations.

And, right now, the worst in the COVID outbreak is in Poland and Hungary. And many countries which were once part of the Soviet Union, there remains a deep mistrust of government, which is leading to criminally high levels of vaccine hesitancy.

CNN's Paula Newton has our report.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Romania, hospitals are beginning to buckle. Some of the patients now feeling regret.

ELENA CROITORU, 67-YEAR-OLD HOSPITAL PATIENT (through translator): I said, let's wait and see about getting vaccinated. But it wasn't OK. I regret it now. If I could start over, I would be the first in line.

NEWTON: As a fourth wave of coronavirus crosses Romania, one person is dying of COVID-19 every five minutes. This week, the country had the highest death rate, per capita, in the world.

Neighboring Bulgaria was close behind. The two countries are struggling to contain recent outbreaks, as they also battle skepticism. Vaccine hesitancy there, across eastern Europe appears widespread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It is fascism. Those who rule this country will definitely be sentenced. I am sure about that. A person must have a free will.

NEWTON: Across Latvia, a new lockdown that started this week is set to last until mid-November. The spike in COVID cases there reached record highs Thursday as the country recorded its most infections in a single day.

In Estonia, Poland, Latvia, and Croatia, far fewer adults are fully vaccinated than the rest of the European Union. Even further below the E.U. average: Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as Ukraine, where just over 15 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

Citizens of former Soviet bloc countries might be particularly suspicious of getting the jab, some analysts say, after decades of communist rule that eroded areas of public trust.

Now, as new waves of the pandemic spread through the region, restoring faith in authority may be as difficulties as containing the virus itself.

Paula Newton, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider specializes in internal medicine in California's Pacific Maple Center. She's also founder of And she is with us from San Francisco. It's been a while, so welcome back.


VAUSE: Thank you.

Now, with new infections way up across the U.K., I want you to listen to the British prime minister. He explained why there is no need, at least for now, for new mitigation efforts. Here he is.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The numbers of infections are high but well within the parameters of what the predictions were, what Spyam (ph) and the others said we -- where we would be, and at this stage, given the steps that we've taken. So we're sticking with our plan.


VAUSE: Matthew Taylor, who's the head of an organization which represents healthcare systems in England, Wales, as well as Northern Ireland, he told "The Guardian" on Tuesday, "We are right on the edge, and it's the middle of October. It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months."

And it seems whenever there are these growing numbers of COVID infections, without vaccination and these mitigation efforts, like masks and, you know, social distancing, surely as night follows day, the rate of the spread will increase. The question is how fast and how bad.

UNGERLEIDER: Well, John, that's right. The overall global curve of new COVID case -- of new COVID cases is trending down, as it is here in the U.S., we were seeing in Europe is a rise in new cases for the third consecutive week.

And in the U.K., for example, where many people, as you said, returning to back to social gatherings and large crowds Indoors without using mitigation measures. This is not surprising.

You know, what we see is that the U.K. is having quite a large problem with the transition of COVID-19. However, hospitalizations and deaths are not rising substantially. And that's directly related to their high vaccination rates.

But you know, as the world looks on and tries to learn from this, it's not clear exactly what's causing these increases in cases. Certainly, we need to be careful to overwhelm the health care system, as we move into, potentially, flu season and the winter.

It's possible that more testing is picking up more cases, and that also we know that children in school in the U.K. aren't required to mask or distance, which could be leading to more community transmission. And it may also be related to waning immunity from the vaccine.

I think, you know, this pandemic is very far from over, sadly, and I suspect we'll continue to see peaks and valleys of cases for the foreseeable future, until the majority of the world is vaccinated.

VAUSE: In the U.K., the numbers are still fairly small here, but what they're showing is that, even among those who have been vaccinated, infections are rising. And like I said, the numbers are very small.

But again, small numbers with COVID-19 quickly become very, very big numbers if nothing is done.

UNGERLEIDER: That's right, John. And -- and what we know is that immunity wanes overtime from these vaccines. And so it's quite important that we look ahead to the recommendations around booster shots, if you are eligible. Of course, here in the U.S., they're coming out with lots of information on the vaccine front.

The CDC advisers just voted to recommend booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, in addition to the already recommended Pfizer booster.

And these boosters are six months or more after receiving an mRNA vaccine for people 65 and older and adults 18 and older, who live in long-term care settings or have underlying medical problems, or if you live or work in a high-risk setting.

And then adults 18 and older who received Johnson and Johnson can get any vaccine at least two months later.

So what we're seeing is that we are needing, likely, for everybody coming, a boost to your immunity. Certainly, you know, breakthrough infections are happening. They are quite rare, and certainly, the best way to prevent becoming sick, or spreading COVID to other people, is becoming fully vaccinated.

VAUSE: The interesting thing about the CDC recommendation, or your endorsement here, is actually advising that mixing and matching the vaccines, if you're going to get a booster, was actually preferable. It's more effective, right?

UNGERLEIDER: That's right. So, yesterday, the U.S. FDA authorized booster doses of both COVID-19 vaccines, and said that any of the three authorized vaccines could be used as a booster in a mix-and- match strategy, which actually can provide, it looks like, from the data, significantly higher levels of neutralizing antibodies.

So that's -- that's good news, and we're waiting here in the U.S. to hear from Dr. Rochelle Walensky to finalize this. That should be coming very soon here. VAUSE: Doctor Shoshanna Ungerleider, so good to see you. It's been a

while, and we appreciate your time.

UNGERLEIDER: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Melbourne, Australia, emerging from the longest period of pandemic lockdowns in the world. Six separate stay-at-home orders, for a total of 262 days, bringing celebrations for many that, as of Friday, freedom had arrived.

Let's go now live to Australia. Angus Watson joining us now from Sydney for more on this. Angus, freedom today, but the question is how long?

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: That is a good question. As you know, Melbourne is routinely considered one of the most livable cities in the world. It's a cultural capital for Australia, a food capital. That hasn't been the case now throughout the pandemic, as it's become one of the most locked down cities in the world, if not the most locked down city.

The government there in Victoria has moved fast to try to crush outbreaks of the coronavirus when they've popped up. That worked for the first five lockdowns. This sixth one, we're in a situation where they're -- where they're lifting the lockdown with far, far more daily numbers, far more cases of coronavirus per day, than was the case when they went into lockdown in August.

However, the big difference, John, of course, is vaccination rates. Victoria is at this situation now where it has 70 percent of the adult population double-dose vaccinated against COVID-19. Almost 90 percent of adults have had at least one dose. That's given people the confidence to go out and enjoy some newfound freedoms. It's a beautiful day there in Victoria ahead of what should be a fun weekend in Melbourne.

This is what some people had to say as they are out celebrating their freedom on Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Visiting family and friends. It's just fantastic. It's been such a long time since we've been able to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been sort of separated from what I've been doing for so long. It's super nice to be back today. And it's a sunny day, so it's, like, perfect.


WATSON: Some more good news for Victorians announced today, John. As of the first of November, they're likely to be at that 80 percent double dose mark for adults. That means that they're going to open their international border to fully vaccinated Australian residents, and their families without any quarantine. That follows New South Wales, Sydney, doing the same thing. So we're going to have this situation where, as of November, Australia's two busiest airports, Sydney and Melbourne, are going to be welcoming Australians back. One of the things that Australia has done to get through the pandemic as best it can, is closest supporters to all, including many of its own citizens and residents.

That is changing, John. Now, as of next month, as the entire country, and these states learn to live with COVID-19. Let's hope that it can continue -- John.

VAUSE: Angus, absolutely. Angus Watson there for us in Sydney. A beautiful day in Sydney, as well. Thank you.

Well, the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, says COVID restrictions will be lifted only when 90 percent of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated.

Once each district hits that target, then a new traffic light system will come into effect that uses vaccination certificates.

So far, only 68 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated.

This comes as the country's largest city, Auckland, enters its 12th week of lockdown. Cases continue to rise with a new daily record of almost 130 cases reported on Friday.

Well, the leader of a Haitian gang threatening to kill his 17 hostages, as he tries to demand a $7 million ransom for them. They were kidnapped on Saturday while on missionary work. Matt Rivers has details.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a disturbing new development in this kidnapping case here in Haiti. In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday afternoon, a video that CNN is choosing not to show nor to quote directly from, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, which is the game that is accused by authorities of carrying out this kidnapping.

The leader of that gang, Wilson Joseph, is heard saying that he is willing to kill these people that he has kidnapped. Him and his fellow gang members, if his demands are not met.

CNN has previously reported that the gang is demanding $1 million per person as a ransom, according to a source in Haiti's security forces. That will bring the overall ransom amount that the gang is asking for to $17 million.

This video on Facebook was taken at a funeral for some of these gang members that the gang alleges were killed by Haiti's police forces.

Now, a source at Haiti's security forces also tells us that the kidnappers have provided proof of life, proof that the kidnapping victims are still alive, that the security force believes is credible. Authorities do believe that all of the people that have been kidnapped are still alive. So, that is an important development.

And really, for the first time, we heard from some family members of some of the people who were kidnapped, when a statement was read in Ohio, which is where Christian Aid Ministries, the group that these missionaries were here working for, is based.

And in that statement, it read, in part, quote, "God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord's command to love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you."

So that's these families that are going through a difficult time right now, as they continue to await word on the negotiations that are ongoing, to try and free their loved ones.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


VAUSE: The weeks-long manhunt for Gabby Petito's fiance has officially ended. The FBI says Brian Laundrie's remains were found in a Florida nature reserve.

Dental records confirmed to match. A notebook and backpack were also found nearby on Wednesday. That's after Laundrie's parents joined in the search.


JOSH TAYLOR, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, NORTH PORT POLICE DEPARTMENT: The notebook, it's my understanding, has not been opened. You know, that will need to be processed. We want to make sure that that's handled as carefully as possible. You only get one shot at these types of items. To hurry up and, you know, rifle through that, potentially damaging it, would -- you know, would not be helpful.


VAUSE: This discovery comes just over a month after his fiance, Gabby Petito, was found dead in a national forest in Wyoming. Her death was ruled a homicide by manual strangulation. Laundrie was not charged in her death but with unauthorized use of her debit card.

None of the family has commented, at least for now.

A crew member has been killed, another injured after an incident involving a prop gun on the set of the film "Rust," starring Alec Baldwin.

Police say the firearm was discharged by the 68-year-old actor. He's also the producer of the film. Investigators say the director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, died from her injuries. Forty-eight- year-old director Joel Souza was also injured. An investigation underway. No charges have been filed. Japan is holding the largest military drill in decades and as CNN saw

firsthand, the exercises are as close to the real deal as it gets. Details in a moment.

Also, China calls a flagrant foul on the Boston Celtics after critical comments from the NBA's most outspoken players.


VAUSE: Britain's Queen Elizabeth is back at Windsor Castle in good spirits after spending a night in hospital. Buckingham Palace says the 95-year-old returned home Thursday afternoon after undergoing preliminary investigations on Wednesday.

A palace source says the overnight stay was for practical reasons and the queen has now returned to work.

All this comes after she cancelled a trip to Northern Ireland on the advice of her doctor.

Japan is rushing to boost its military readiness as tensions grow in the region. In addition to increasing the number of warplanes, ships and submarines, Japan's Self-Defense Forces are also stepping up their ground drills.

CNN had rare access to a military exercise, and CNN's Blake Essig reports.


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the closest members of Japan's ground self-defense force have ever come to fighting a war.

(on camera): You can hear the sound of simulated gunfire starting to erupt, just as the enemy is starting to make its way down that hillside.

(voice-over): Established in 1954, the force has never experienced actual combat. So for now, this is as real as it gets.

(on camera): Instead of live ammunition, troops and tanks were armed with simulation weapons that fire lasers. They'll know if they've been hit because of the sensors lining their uniforms and the vehicles. They will let them know if they've been injured or killed.

(voice-over): This man was just hit by a simulated mortar, which severely injured his right leg. Even though it isn't real, these unscripted wargames that are a departure from Japan's post-World War II pacifism have never been more important.

YUICHI TOGASHI, COMMANDING GENERAL: The most important thing is to demonstrate the combat power we have as a unit. We have planned and prepared for this drill for a long time. However, there is room to improve our skills. I hope everyone understands that we train ourselves day and night to protect our country and do our best. [00:20:11]

ESSIG: Ongoing security threats from neighboring countries like North Korea, Russia and China make drills like this even more urgent, especially amid concerns that Japan could get drawn into a conflict over Taiwan.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.

ESSIG: A region that's, instead, been growing more hostile in recent years. In fact, GSDF officials say Japan's national security environment is the worst it has been since shortly after the end of World War II, more than 70 years ago.

TOGASHI (through translator): Given that the current security environment surrounding Japan is extremely severe, we, the Self- Defense Forces, are required to enhance the effectiveness of operations.

ESSIG: To that end, Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force is holding its largest drill in nearly 30 years, focused on operational readiness, in case the country is forced to defend itself.

(on camera): From above looking down on the battlefield. Below, the camouflaged troops and equipment are hard to see. That's because they easily blend in with the thick, forest-like terrain that surrounds them.

This is what war could look like if it breaks out in Japan's southern islands.

(voice-over): And if it does, Commanding General Yuichi Togashi says the GSDF will be ready.

Blake Essig, CNN, Oita, Japan.


VAUSE: There's trouble for the NBA in China. Authorities there have pulled highlights and games from the Internet of the Boston Celtics after critical comments from one of the team's players.

Enes Kanter called Xi Jinping a brutal dictator and said Tibetan people's rights and freedoms are nonexistent.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong with more details.

That's one way to get noticed. He's talking about Tibet and criticizes the Chinese Communist Party. And boy, you know about it.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he got noticed, big time. There is a big backlash in China after Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics, criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as China's treatment of Tibet. You know, we have learned that Celtics highlights have been taken off

the Tencent streaming sports platform. In fact, the opening game between the Celtics and -- and the Knicks. Pardon me. That was pulled, as well.

We also learned that "The New York Times" is reporting that games involving the Boston Celtics are no longer available on the Internet in China.

Look, Enes Kanter, he is no stranger to activism. He has long criticized Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of course, the president of his native Turkey.

It was earlier this week when he posted this near-three-minute-long video, in which he calls for a free Tibet. In the video, he's wearing a black-and-white T-shirt with an image of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet.

And in the video, in the post, he calls Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator." He also, in this video, says that the basic rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people are nonexistent.

And that prompted a very angry response on social media in China. In fact, let's bring this up for you. It's a Cino (ph) Weibo post for the Boston Celtics fan page, which has about 600,000 fans and followers in China.

In it, they write, "Any information on the team will cease to appear on this Weibo. Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!" Exclamation point, unquote.

On Thursday, we also heard from the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs. A spokesman said that Kanter made these comments to attract attention to himself while adding this.


WANG WENBIN, CHINESE MOFA SPOKESMAN (through translator): We welcome all friends from various countries who are unbiased and uphold an objective stand, to visit Tibet. At the same time, we will never accept attacks that discredit Tibet's development and progress.


STOUT: Now, the Kanter backlash comes some two years after then- Houston Rockets general manager posted a comment on social media, expressing support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong. That prompted state-run CCTV to suspend broadcasting all NBA games.

And the Kanter controversy also comes on the back of the Olympic torch touching down in China. That happened on Wednesday. Of course, China is hosting the Beijing Olympic Games, due to take place -- the Winter Games taking place in February of next year. And already, there is an outcry. There are calls for a boycott over

China's handling of -- of Xinjiang, of Tibet, as well as Hong Kong -- John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout there, live for us in Hong Kong.

Well, still to come here, the dire warnings on climate just keep on coming. The latest: no country will be spared as temperatures and tensions rise. We'll have more on the geopolitical risks in a moment.



VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM with me, John Vause.

Well, just days after Russia broke off ties with NATO comes a warning from the Kremlin. The Russian deputy foreign minister told state media that if Ukraine is allowed to join NATO, Russia would retaliate.

President Vladimir Putin added on Thursday that current military aid to Ukraine from western countries already poses a threat to Moscow.

Sam Kiley explains what's going on.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's refused to attend a global climate conference, cut communications with NATO. He's accused of strangling Europe's natural gas supplies and of snubbing the G20 summit.

Is Vladimir Putin, a Russian bear, lashing out? Or a wily arctic fox, spreading the blame?

Skyrocketing European gas prices are up 500 percent this year. Putin says that's not Russia's fault and it's easily fixed, if Europe allowed gas to flow to Germany down Russia's new pipeline, Nordstrom 2.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator)"Of course, if we can increase deliveries through this route, this would increase tension on the European energy market.

KILEY: The Europeans have been slow to adopt the pipeline, fearing dependence on Russian gas.

Russia closed its diplomatic mission to NATO on Monday, officially in response to NATO's expulsion of eight of its diplomats, whom NATO accused of spying earlier this month.

But Putin is also reacting to tensions in the Black Sea and NATO muscling into alliances in Eastern Europe, which he sees as Russia's back garden. PUTIN (through translator): We did not come to the suburbs of

Washington or New York to conduct drills. They came to us and conducted them at our borders. How should we react to this?

KILEY: Russian troops illegally occupy territory in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The United States will continue to provide assistance to enhance the maritime capacities of not only Ukraine but also Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria. We have long understood the importance of cooperation and unity among allies and partners to deter Russian aggression.

Not perhaps an incentive for Putin to play nice at the G20 and the COP26 climate substance summits.

DMITRI TRENIN, DIRECTOR, CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER: This is a positive message to those who are inviting him. If he decides that he would rather have a video conference with a certain group of people, that also tells you something.

KILEY: Raising tensions abroad may be a useful way for Putin to distract attention from the critical COVID crisis at home, where death tolls are breaking records daily.


Putin has ordered all Russians off work for a week at the end of this month, and Moscow will face restrictions on movements next week.

Russia's vaccination program still hasn't reached about two-thirds of the Russian population. That, it seems, is the fault of Russians.

PUTIN (through translator): Unfortunately, we see the dangerous consequences of the low level of vaccination in our country.

KILEY: But as winter approaches and Russia suffers international isolation, many Russians may begin to tire of their leader's snarls.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Another round of dire warnings on what our future will be like on a warming planet. They come from the Biden administration with this headline: "Climate change will be far-reaching and create problems for every country."

Four major reports released Thursday which examined current and future threats to the U.S. The studies cover how climate change will drive migration, cause another financial crisis.

The intelligence assessment also points to risks to geopolitical flashpoints and risks to national security. And they come just ten days before President Biden will attend the U.N. climate conference known as COP26 in Scotland. Kim Cobb was the lead author of the recent report from the

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She's also director of the global change program at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

And welcome back.


VAUSE: OK. So even before this summit begins, there's been this push by some nations to sort of, you know, alter reality.

Saudi Arabia has asked the authors of the report to remove a scientific calling for the energy sector to rapidly shift to zero carbon sources and actively phase out all fossil fuels.

Australia rejected a statement in the draft report that retiring coal- fired power stations is necessary to achieve zero emissions in energy systems.

Japan asked the authors to delete estimates or add additional context to what it called a misleading paragraph about retiring fossil fuel power stations.

So as a scientist, as someone who has worked on compiling data on this climate crisis as well as what is needed to try and mitigate that crisis, how much is open for debate and interpretation? How much can you change here?

COBB: Well, the report is very clear that, if we want to keep warming levels to a bare minimum by mid-century, we're going to have to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Noting that we need to make deep and sustained emissions reductions this decade.

This opportunity is slipping through our fingers and we are going to have to go for an all-of-the-above approach. That's going to require turning away from fossil fuel infrastructure and energy sources, and towards renewable, lower carbon energy sources, as well as many other things.

VAUSE: And that's to keep the planet from warming any more than 1.5 degrees, because right now it's on track to warm it 2.7 degrees.

COBB: Yes, that's pretty precise! I'm not sure we can say with such precision. Of course, you know, looking at 2 plus, 3 plus warming levels, noting that we are currently at 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times.

And look at the headlines we are reeling through, day to day. Thinking about an additional half a degrees here or so, almost inevitable to mid-century, and then thinking about reserving the right to cool later this century. That's what's at stake here.

VAUSE: OK. So among four U.S. government reports on the impact from climate change, the director of national intelligence has actually warned, "Geopolitical tensions are likely to grow as countries increasingly argue about how to accelerate the reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions that will be needed to meet the Paris agreement goals. The increasing physical effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate cross geopolitical flash points as states take steps to secure their interests."

And, you know, that seems to be already happening now, to some degree, before COP26 with this sort of horse trading, if you like. But instead of being united by a common crisis, is it looking that the scenario could be potentially wars over dwindling resources?

COBB: Well, first of all, it's really important to note that this is the not -- not the first conversation by the Department of Defense around the threat that climate change poses to national security.

Noting a 2019 report released by the Department of Defense noted many bases around the world at threat from ongoing sea level rise and noting any number of mitigation planning that would be required to mitigate those kinds of threats.

These reports coming out today reflect the administration's approach to a whole of government approach to addressing the threat of climate change, going way beyond base threat in a physical sense; going into intelligence; going into Department of Homeland Security planning; and yes, touching on climate migration caused by the vast troves of climate refugees expected in the coming decades of increasing climate extremes.

VAUSE: So for the first time, the United States has recognized this link between the climate crisis, migration, as well as conflict.

So put these three things together, and they say, nearly 30 million people are on the move every year, because of these three factors combined together. And it's 30 million now. What will it be like a decade from now?

COBB: Well, the report clearly trying to get ahead of that wave, both at home and our own borders here, but also around the world, as increasing numbers of climate refugees seek refuge from this spate of droughts, wildfires, extreme rainfall that will render some territories virtually uninhabitable.


So yes, these reports, peering into the future, trying to ask how the United States can prepare policies and provisions and programs to stay ahead of this coming crisis. And yes, it's a critically important aspect of keeping our nation safe in an era of accelerating climate change.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, to finish up here, if this COP26 summit is really our last best hope of preventing the planet from becoming a living hellscape, it's not off to a good start, is it?

COBB: Well, certainly, I would hope that we would have had some wins here at home on the Biden climate agenda that's making its way, painstakingly, through Congress. And that we might be able to take that to the table and argue that we can match our ambitions to action here at home. And that we can trust our allies and nations around the world to come together in an act of kind of bold, ambitious plans that would be aligned with keeping warming levels below that most ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Obviously, a lot on the line here. The stakes could not be clearer. And that's what I really hope, as a scientist, is very clear. That report, delivering with -- really without pulling any punches, very different, stark differences in a future -- climate future for our country and the world in sharp focus. And this is the futures that we're going to be deciding on this very fall, in Scotland.

VAUSE: Yes. Absolutely, Kim. Thank you so much. It's a good point to finish on. We appreciate that. Thank you.

COBB: Thanks so much.

VAUSE: And President Joe Biden says Democrats are close to a deal on infrastructure and his sweeping social agenda, including a plan to fight climate change.

In a CNN town hall, the president acknowledged there's disagreement over his clean energy program but said the government could use tax incentives instead of his electric grid proposal to help reach its goals.


BIDEN: What you have to do is you look at it as multiple ways in which we can deal with climate. I'm going off to COP26 in Scotland and in -- no, I guess it's two weeks or a week? I'm kind of losing track of time.

And -- and I'm presenting a commitment to the world that we will, in fact, get to net zero emissions on electric power by 2035 and net zero emissions across the board by 2050 or before. But we have to do so much between now and 2030 to demonstrate what we're going to -- that we're going to do.


VAUSE: Mr. Biden also says the U.S. was committed to coming to Taiwan's defense, should it come under attack from China.

Well, more than a year after Beirut's deadly port explosion, a showdown between Lebanon's elites and the relatives of the victims. Coming up, how the judge investigating the tragedy appears to have touched a raw nerve.



VAUSE: In a country where almost nothing functions as it should, the investigation into last year's deadly and massive port explosion in Beirut might just be a rare exception, mostly because of the presiding judge, who, for the most part, has the support of the relatives of those who died.

But Lebanon's ruling class want him removed, accusing him of bias. Here's CNN's Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beirut a week ago. The protest against the judge leading the investigation into last year's port explosion came under fire from a lone gunman. Seven people were killed in the street fight in the blasted port (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

The judge leading the port investigation, Tarek Bitar, has touched raw nerves.

"The judge is doing politics," declared Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah. "He's employing the blood of the martyrs and the injured, the tragedy and misfortune for political goals."

On August 4 last year, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut's port, killing more than 200 people, devastating large parts of the city. The investigation is focusing on ministers and other senior officials who knew the chemicals lay in the port for years, says Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub.

AYA MAJZOUB, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: All of the individuals that Judge Bitar has called in for interrogation has signed documents saying that indicating that they were aware of the existence of the ammonium nitrate in the port and they were in positions of responsibility, and they could have taken action to protect the public, but they didn't.

WEDEMAN: With few exceptions, the political elite has closed ranks, calling for Bitar's dismissal.

We contacted all of those charged. All declined to speak with CNN.

Tracy and Paul Naggiar's 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra, was killed in the blast. They want the judge to stay.

TRACY NAGGIAR, DAUGHTER KILLED IN EXPLOSION: He's doing his job. He's being stopped from the beginning. His job is really hard, because you have the politicians, the government, and probably other countries trying to stop him; and he's -- he's fighting until the end.

WEDEMAN: Lebanon has a long history of high-profile killings, never solved. The war crimes from its 15-years civil war, brushed under the carpet in a general amnesty.

Outside the justice ministry, dozens of people gather in support of Judge Bitar.

"We've reached the point," says protester Lihabab Dehalik (ph), "where we want the truth to prevent even more crime so we can live in peace in this country."

What's at stake is Lebanon's future. MAJZOUB: The implications of this investigation that Judge Bitar is

leading go go far beyond justice for the Beirut blast itself. But it stems to, you know, what kind of country does Lebanon want to be?

Do we want to be a country ruled by the rule of law and accountability? Or do we want to be a country where politicians can literally get away with murder and with blowing up half of the capital city?

WEDEMAN: And so far, whoever is responsible has gotten away.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


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