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Novak Djokovic Wins Australia Visa Case And Returns To Training; No Major Breakthrough At U.S.-Russia Meeting In Geneva; Kazakh Official: Russian Troops Will Leave Soon; China Puts More Cities On Lockdown As Omicron Spreads; Italy Sees Record Cases Despite High Vaccination Rate; Novak Djokovic Thanks Australian Judge For Visa Ruling. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM, advantage Djokovic, the world's number one tennis player is back to training for the Australian Open. But his visa victory in court could be short lived.

Frank discussions but no breakthroughs as diplomats from Washington and Moscow tried to ease tensions along Russia's border with Ukraine.

And despite all the warnings and climate pledges, the earth keeps getting hotter and drawing closer to the point of no return.

World's number one men's tennis player Novak Djokovic is back on the tennis court after an Australian judge overturned his visa cancellation and ordered his release from immigration detention.

Now, Djokovic tweeted this photograph saying he's "grateful". And then he wants to stay and compete in next week's Australian Open but that, that's not guaranteed.

Australia's Immigration Minister still has the power to cancel Djokovic's visa, which was first revoked after authorities determined he didn't qualify for an exemption from the country's strict COVID vaccination rules.

Djokovic's family hailed the judge's ruling as the most important victory of the tennis star's career, listen.


DJORDJE DJOKOVIC, NOVAK DJOKOVIC'S BROTHER: We love Australia. Novak loves Australia. He's won it so many times. We've been -- we've been there so many times. And you know, we'll keep on coming back because we love that country.

Novak has been called (PH) many names in many different person and countries around the world. But Novak is only fighting for the liberty of choice.


NEWTON: CNN's Phil Black is tracking developments live for us. He joins us from Melbourne. Good to see you, Phil.

Now, this clearly isn't over. How quickly could we get a decision from the Australian Government and what kind of issues will be they -- will they be weighing when they make that decision?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, in theory, Paula, it could come at any time. The last formal statement we heard from the Immigration Minister yesterday evening said he was considering the matter.

As we understand it, he is still considering the matter. Why so much consideration? Well, I think from the Australian government's point of view, there is no clear good option here. It will not want to be seen to be losing this to Novak Djokovic. It will not want to be seen to be going soft on border security, particularly at a time when a large vocal group of Australians are clearly very outraged at the idea of Novak Djokovic receiving some sort of special treatment regarding pandemic rules when Australians have broadly sacrificed so much because of very strict pandemic rules.

But on the other hand, as was discussed in court yesterday, if the Immigration Minister cancels the visa, that comes with an additional penalty, a three-year ban from entering the country. Three years from entering one of the few countries with an annual Grand Slam title, that would be a big price to pay. It would be a significant escalation in penalty for Novak Djokovic, the government could perhaps be accused of overreacting.

So, it appears that there's no good option for the government. It is likely there would be a political price either way. Likely, it will be accused of mishandling this affair.

Either way, given that they lost in court yesterday, it is also you would think logical that if they are building a case, they want to take their time, get it right, make sure it is watertight and beyond any form of legal criticism.

So, for the moment, Novak Djokovic is free. Free to prepare for the upcoming Australian Open. He just can't be sure that he's going to be allowed out onto center court next week.


BLACK (voice over): A big win for tennis star Novak Djokovic, this time in the court of law. Tweeting Monday he's pleased and grateful that a judge overturned the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa and he still wants to compete in the upcoming Open.

His supporters celebrating the judge's decision. Some blocking traffic in Melbourne, others scuffling with police who used pepper spray on overzealous fans. Djokovic's Australian drama started fueling strong emotions last week

when the unvaccinated player announced he'd been granted an exemption to play in the tournament.


BLACK: But when he arrived in Australia Wednesday, an official said his visa had been cancelled for failing to meet entry requirements.

Authorities moved him to his Melbourne hotel turned temporary Immigration Detention Center, where he waited for days while his lawyers went to work.

Finally, Monday, the Melbourne judge ordered Djokovic's release and overturned his visa cancellation. Ruling border officials hadn't treated him fairly.

Djokovic's father hailed the ruling.

SRDJAN DJOKOVIC, NOVAK DJOKOVIC'S FATHER (through translator): They waited for him at the airport. They had no right. They just took away all of his rights.

D. DJOKOVIC: This press conference is adjourned.

BLACK: His brother dodged questions about Djokovic's public appearances after testing positive for COVID in December.

Social media photos from the day and day after show him at three events, mask-less and surrounded by people. A court affidavit reveals Djokovic knew he was infected when he attended.

It's that positive test result his lawyers say is the basis for a medical exemption he was granted to play in Australia, but the Australian government maintains a previous COVID infection isn't grounds for any exemption from its entry vaccine requirements.

Now, the saga may continue. Australia's Immigration Minister still has the power to cancel Djokovic's visa as Serbia's tennis star fights to play for a record 21st Grand Slam. His legacy on and off the court hangs in the balance.


BLACK (on camera): Paula, the Australian and Serbian Prime Minister spoke this morning. Did they talk about Novak Djokovic? Did the Serbian Prime Minister lobby for his visa not to be canceled again?

Well, the notes supplied by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison say that Prime Minister Morrison explained Australia's nondiscriminatory border security policy and the role that it has played in keeping Australia safe during the pandemic, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, and Phil, as you pointed out, right, given all the sacrifices Australians have made through this pandemic, it is no wonder that this is really hitting a nerve. Phil Black for us. Glad to have you in Melbourne. Appreciate it.

And with me now here in Atlanta is CNN Real Sports Patrick Snell. OK, we want to hear from his rivals as well. They have a critical role to play. Rafa Nadal really being as blunt as I've heard him on this topic.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Yes. Hi, Paula. Yes, there's no question, it's such a contentious topic, isn't it? We'll get into player vaccinations and the -- and the rate at which on the men's professional tour, it's happening.

But look, I do want to say Rafa Nadal, you're quite right. He is the biggest rival in many ways. He, like Djokovic, is going for Grand Slam title number 21. Roger Federer, of course, is not playing at this event.

But I do want to get to a quote from Rafa Nadal, just explain to what he's been saying. Now, earlier in the week, he was critical, he said, look, I have some sorry -- some sorrow. I have some sympathy for Djokovic. But look, this could all have been avoided had he just simply been vaccinated in the first place.

So, let me get to that quote then from Rafa Nadal, here it is, I'm going to get to it right now. Nadal saying that, basically, it's grown into a bit of a circus like in many other stories, whether or not I agree with Djokovic on some things, justice has spoken, and has said that he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it's the fairest decision to do so. If it has been resolved that way, I wish him the best of luck.

Now, that was Nadal speaking on Monday to Spanish radio. So, you set it right there, Paula, Rafa Nadal as forthright as he's ever been really on this topic.

NEWTON: Yes, and also, this is coming from someone who's vaccinated. I mean, what is the status right now of players and their vaccinations?

SNELL: So, you're quite right, Nadal, as you just said, fully vaccinated yet recently testing positive himself for coronavirus.

But look, the whole issue of player vaccinations is a hot topic indeed, the man's professional tour, the ATP has been weighing in giving its reaction basically referring to the whole situation and the impact it's had on Djokovic himself, saying that it's affected his preparations and his wellbeing as well.

In a statement from the ATP, more broadly, the ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination for all players on the ATP tour, which we believe is essential for our sport to navigate the pandemic. This is based on scientific evidence supporting the health benefits provided and to comply with global travel regulations which we anticipate will become stronger over time.

We are encouraged that 97 percent of the top 100 players are vaccinated, leading into this year's Australian Open. And also, the ATP, Paula, referring to the damaging effect on all fronts as well in its statement that was tying it back to the impact on Djokovic's preparations for the first Grand Slam of the new calendar year which just to remind our viewers worldwide, why is this so important to the Serbian superstar tennis player? He wants number 21. He wants one more Grand Slam title to become the most successful and most decorated men's player of all time is right now. He's level with Nadal on 20. And at certain, Roger Federer too.


NEWTON: Yes, a lot more to come on the story still, Patrick. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And we are tracking breaking news out of Italy where the President of the European Parliament has died. David Sassoli has been in the hospital since December 26th. He fell ill with what his office says was a "serious complication with his immune system".

Now, spokesperson says funeral plans will be announced in the next few hours. We'll continue tracking this breaking story and bring you the latest.

Now, as the U.S. was gearing up for critical talks with Russia on averting a war in Ukraine. It was also signing off on a new security deal for Kyiv.

Now, sources say the Biden administration quietly authorized $200 million in weapons, ammunition and other supplies late last month.

Meanwhile, there were no breakthroughs at Monday's U.S. Russia talks in Geneva as a threat of a Kremlin invasion looms over Ukraine's -- over Ukraine.

Now, the meetings though it's NATO's turn, diplomats are headed to Brussels for talks between the alliance and Moscow on Wednesday.

CNN's Matthew Chance looks at what Russia really wants.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Russia's leverage in crucial negotiations with the United States and its allies. More than 100,000 troops mass near the Ukrainian border poise to invade if the Kremlin doesn't get what it wants.

But after 7-1/2 hours of difficult and straightforward talks with U.S. officials in Geneva, there is still key differences on Ukraine and its future.

SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: We underscore that for us it's absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never ever becomes member of NATO.

CHANCE: Privately, Western diplomats admit there's little chance of that anyway. But U.S. officials insist formally ruling out NATO membership under Russian pressure will not happen.

WENDY SHERMAN, UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: We were firm however, in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non- starters for the United States. We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.

CHANCE: There have also been clear warnings from the U.S. of tough new sanctions if Russia launches another invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. officials say the unspecified sanctions would go much further than previous ones imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and would have an overwhelming impact on the Russian economy.

But there are areas of possible U.S. compromise, like reviving a treaty on missile deployments in Europe, abandoned in 2019 amid signs of Russian violations.

U.S. officials have also suggested there's room to scale down NATO exercises in Eastern Europe if Russia starts to withdraw the forces it's been building up for months near Ukraine.

But as ever, it may come down to how President Putin of Russia wants to proceed. On the one hand, he's been undeterred by sanctions in the past and may decide to press ahead in Ukraine.

On the other, he likes to be seen as the leader of a global power on an equal footing with his U.S. counterpart.

In fact, Russia and the U.S. are now holding direct talks is for his Kremlin already, a diplomatic wing (PH).

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


NEWTON: Meantime, a senior Kazakh official tells CNN the Russian troops who came with the president's request to help restore order will in fact soon leave the country. The diplomat described the troops as a small peacekeeping unit that would only stay until the situation is "stabilized".

The Interior Ministry says nearly 10,000 people have been detained in the unrest.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has the latest from across the border in Kyrgyzstan.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, the situation in Kazakhstan appears to have somewhat calmed down. It certainly still is very fragile at the same time, apparently also very fast moving as well. On Monday, in a call with leaders from the region, the Kazakhstani president, he called the events that unfolded in Kazakhstan over the past week or so the protests that took place in so many cities there, an attempted coup. And he also said that he believes that a lot of that was induced from the outside and by outside forces.


PLEITGEN: Now, so far, the Kazakhstani government has not provided any sort of evidence that that could be the case. However, they did say that they would be providing evidence very soon. So, that's certainly something that many people are waiting for, and waiting to see what that evidence could be.

At the same time, the Kazakhstan government has also reacted to some of the international criticism for what some perceived to have been a very heavy-handed approach and a very heavy-handed reaction to those protests.

A senior Kazakhstani official, he spoke to our own Christiane Amanpour, and here's what he had to say.

ERZHAN KAZYKHANOV, KAZAKHSTANI SPECIAL REP. FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: The problem started with the fact that the peaceful protest unfortunately has been hijacked by perpetrators, terrorist groups, both domestic and foreign and that created a big problem for the country so that the president announced the emergency situation and to assume the office of the chair of the National Security Council.

PLEITGEN: And it certainly doesn't appear as though the Kazakhstani government is changing its line or changing that approach that is taking.

So far, the authorities say that they've detained around 8,000 people in the wake of those protests. And at the same time, the death toll is also shooting up as well.

The authorities saying that 164 people have been killed, 103 of those in Almaty alone. That of course, was really pretty much the hardest hit city of those protests. And it was also where some of those very troubling images came from of soldiers, apparently sweeping through the streets there and apparently also opening fire as well.

Now, the Kazakhstani authorities are saying that the situation is coming under control. A day of mourning was put in place on Monday. The internet was also restored at least for a while but they also acknowledged that a lot of that calm is now happening because there are foreign forces on the ground.

Of course, the largest contingent of that are Russian forces and the Russians are saying their forces will remain on the ground for as long as needed.

Frederik Pleitgen, CNN, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


NEWTON: Now, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is proving to be a challenge for governments throughout Asia and the Pacific despite varying public health measures. A live report from the region straight ahead.

Plus, a genetically modified pig heart has been transplanted into a human. We'll have details on this medical first.


NEWTON: So, countries around the world are of course struggling to contain the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and that's despite very different strategies. Australia has now surpassed more than a million total cases after lifting some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world.

Now, hospitals there in some states are treating more COVID patients than ever before.

Meantime, India, China and Hong Kong are all tightening restrictions as new cases spreads.

CNN's Anna Coren joins me now from Hong Kong.


NEWTON: Omicron has certainly been a game changer. Look, so close to the Olympics. We've got China with more lockdowns and testings and tests.

And now, this issue of this case that perhaps came from community spread and of course, Anna, more restrictions in Hong Kong.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, Paula, it's a lot to grapple with. And Chinese authorities in particular are very concerned about this Omicron outbreak, particularly in Tianjin. This is a municipality that borders Beijing and you mentor -- mentioned the Winter Olympics, we are just a little over three weeks away from the start of the Winter Olympics being staged in Beijing starting on the fourth of February.

So, this outbreak in Tianjin, you know, a city -- a port city that is only 130 kilometers away from the Chinese capital. There normally is a high-speed train that connects the two cities. People often live in Tianjin. They travel then to Beijing for work. They can get there within 26 minutes.

Well, that train has now been shut down as have most of the trains. But interestingly, Paula, this city of 14 million people has not been fully locked down, which is what we've seen in other parts of China. It's only been partially locked down. Certain neighborhoods have been knocked down -- lockdown, I should say.

And, you know, as of Sunday, they have detected 45 cases, which they believe are of the Omicron variant. Now, the biggest outbreak in China, Paula, is in Hunan Province, which

is in Central China. And there's two major cities there that are experiencing a full lockdown, very different to what is going on Tianjin.

City of Anyang 5.5 million residents, and Yuzhou, 1.2 million residents. Both have been completely locked down.

As you can imagine, you know, people are not happy. They say that there are double standards going on. And then here, you know, in Hong Kong, Paula, authorities are anticipating the arrival of a fifth wave of Omicron is no doubt in the community. It's been brought in by a cabin crew member from Cathay Pacific airways, who did not isolate at home and that is how it is spread into the community.

A total of 24 new cases. Most of them imported was reported yesterday but as a result of this outbreak, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam, she has banned flights from eight countries where there are Omicron spreads real outbreaks happening like the United States, the U.K., Australia, they have stopped restaurants serving certainly in-service dining from 6:00 p.m.

And then, today, she said that schools, kindergartens and primary schools would also been shut down as of Friday.

Now, interestingly, Paula, when she addressed the media last week, she said she was going to do everything in her power to keep schools open. She was concerned about the mental health of students.

Clearly, something has changed whether they're anticipating what is ahead, but as a Friday, no more schools for kindergarten and primary school students, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, which given everything Hong Kong has done to try and keep those schools open will be a significant development.

Anna Coren, thanks, for us live from Hong Kong.

Now, Sweden in the meantime is the latest European country to tighten its COVID restrictions requiring restaurants, bars and cafes to close at 11:00 p.m. starting Wednesday.

Now, the prime minister also set new attendance limits on indoor public events. And she wants people to work from home.

Now, things are getting tougher in Italy as well where the health minister says two-thirds of hospital ICU beds are filled with the unvaccinated.

CNN's Cyril Vanier has more.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You could call this a quasi-lockdown on the unvaccinated. Italy is among European countries tightening restrictions on those who refuse to get immunized against COVID-19.

A Super Green Pass came into effect Monday raising the bar for access to many areas of public life. Whereas the negative COVID test was sufficient until now to gain access to things like bars, restaurants and other everyday activities, proof of full vaccination including a booster will now be needed.

So, whether it's hospitality, cultural events, gyms, religious ceremonies, even public transport, as of now, unvaccinated Italians are barred from all of those.

Another measure that will come into effect this one next month, mandating vaccines for over 50s and there are already signs that it's working. Two days after the announcement, the number of over 50s getting vaccinated tripled. And the number of people across all age groups getting a first dose increased by 60 percent. All this in a country that has a high rate of vaccination because nearly 90 percent of Italians over the age of 12 are vaccinated.


VANIER: Yet, Italy is still posting record high infection numbers. The tiny minority that 10 percent that are not vaccinated occupying two- thirds of the beds in intensive care according to Italy's Health Minister.

Cyril Vanier, CNN, Paris.


NEWTON: Ahead for us here on CNN, why Australia's Immigration Minister still has the ability to cancel Novak Djokovic's visa, more on our developing story this hour, that will be next.


NEWTON: And you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is back training after a judge overturned the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa.

Now, his family in Belgrade thanked Justice Anthony Kelly, and said they were grateful the legal system worked in Djokovic's favor.


D. DJOKOVIC: I got to say how much I admire Judge Kelly and the way he led with the whole court process because I think it was very detailed. It was very thorough, and it was very neutral. And, you know, I want to thank him in front of the family for leading the process in such way. And for, you know, showing the world the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


NEWTON: OK, that's team Djokovic there but his visa battle isn't necessarily over. Australia's Immigration Minister still has the legal authority to cancel the tennis star's visa.

For more on this, we want to bring in Darren Kane in Sydney. He's a sports attorney and columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald. And good to see you on what has been a headline grabbing story.

I want to get to your opinion in a moment. But first, as you are an attorney legally, how best to explain who has jurisdiction here. And if the minister does intervene, would it still be seen as a strictly political move?

DARREN KANE, COLUMNIST, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Well, I think the matter of -- nice to be with you, by the way, I think the matter in relation to jurisdiction, certainly the jurisdiction now rests with the federal immigration minister. The minister has a discretion under the legislation to revoke the visa that's been granted to Mr. Djokovic.

And I think part of what probably needs to be understood is that the court yesterday didn't really consider that substantive matter. All the court really considered was whether the decision made at the border by the Border Force official was fair in all the circumstances.

And Mr. Djokovic wasn't given, you know, fairness in the sense that he wasn't allowed to speak to a lawyer and he was -- I think it was admitted by both parties that he was put under a certain degree of pressure to make a decision quickly.


And that's important context, in terms of, as you said, if you look at the full scope of what's going on here.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Now, I want to point out that you write that, you know, Djokovic must have known he would, quote, "piss off a whole country" when it appears as though you'd do anything to avoid compliance with that country's laws. Now, is there a majority agreement, do you think, in Australia that this elite athlete really should never have been allowed into Australia?

KANE: Yes, I think there is. I think Australia has been in a really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) position over the last couple of years in -- in the sense that it really closed its borders and became quite introspective and, you know, tried to shield itself against the virus. And obviously, that has worked for over 100,000 cases here a day at the moment, and that's probably a gross underestimation, because the testing figures aren't necessarily capturing all the positive cases.

But I think, if you get a straw poll of citizens, probably, it would probably run 10 to 1. That they don't really want an unvaccinated European tennis player, you know, coming into the country on an exemption basis when you know, you're dealing with the same country that shut its borders to its own citizens for periods over the last couple of years.

Yes, for example, in right about May last year, we shut our borders to returning Australians who were in, or had been, in India. Because of the Delta outbreak and the risks at the time.

So, you know, Australians have gone through a fair bit. And, you know, one can't help but think that the decision that was made at the border was perhaps influenced by what the governing Liberal Party may have thought was, you know, the popular decision, as it were.

NEWTON: And then perhaps got it wrong.

I'm glad that you brought up what Australians have sacrificed through this. We followed -- you know, at CNN, the stories of Australians, not allowed into their own country. And that was even as the Australian Open went on last year.

I mean, I hate to put you on the spot here, but I will. I mean, what kind of calculation do you think the government is making now? And would you be willing to put money on this one way or the other?

KANE: I think the government's in a really difficult position now, because you have to get back a bit. At some point, somebody within the federal Department of Immigration has granted this person a visa.

Whether or not to that visa should have been granted is it -- is it giving you a question to answer. But the Australian government's own expert advisory panel on -- on vaccinations does not accept that a prior, and recent prior infection with COVID is a valid reason that -- to not have a vaccination but still be able to come into the country.

So you've now got a guy who -- who is coming to the country in circumstances where, you know, really, when you analyze the substance of his situation, compared to what Australia's actual laws are, he probably shouldn't be here.

Now I suspect that the minister is now, you know, trying to have a look at all of the information properly before he makes a decision, because whatever decision he makes next, if -- if he makes a decision to revoke the visa, pursuant to the minister's discretion. And that will probably be challenged, as well.

And one suspects that a couple of issues that have probably been taken into account is, you know, if Novak was diagnosed on the 16th of December, then you know, what was he apparently doing in the couple of days after that? Because his social media photos that, you know, show that he wasn't necessarily respecting the seriousness of this diagnosis.

And also, you know, there are some reports here at the moment that, you know, perhaps Novak, when he applied for his visa, and he promised that he wasn't going to be traveling from country to country before he came to Australia, that, in fact, he did go to Spain and then went to Dubai, and then perhaps he went back one to Belgrade before he came to Australia.

So there's a fair bit to play out, then, I think.

NEWTON: Yes. And the government now, as you said, has a really tough decision to make, because I'm sure many Australians will now take interest. Never a dull moment. Darren Kane for us in Sydney. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

KANE: Thank you.

NEWTON: Now, coming up here on CNN, from deadly floods to unprecedented heat waves, extreme weather disasters wreaked havoc across the world in 2021. A new report finds they're likely to continue.


NEWTON: An American man is reportedly doing well, several days after receiving a genetically-modified pig heart, in a first-of-its-kind transplant.

Now, according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the school patient, who's 57, had terminal heart disease, and the pig heart was the only available option.

Now, before the transplant, the genes that cause the human body to reject pig organs were removed from the heart. And six human genes that help the immune system were added.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the surgery, 11 days ago. Doctors will need to monitor the patient for weeks to see whether this transplant actually works.


DR. BARTLEY GRIFFITH, SURGEON: We've never done this in a human. And I -- I'd like to think that we -- we have given him a better option than what continuing his therapy would have been. But whether it's a day, week, month, year, I don't know.


NEWTON: It's a realistic assessment. The authorities say there are more than 100,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list, and 17 people die, each day, waiting for an organ.

Earth is reaching the point of no return as global temperatures continue to rise. A new report from the European Union's Copernicus climate change service found the last seven years were the warmest on record, with 2021 being the fifth warmest year ever.

Global temperatures may have dropped last year, but researchers still worry about the overall warming of the Earth's atmosphere.

Right now, the Earth's average temperature is 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Now, that's nearly three-fourths of the wave of the 1.5 critical degree threshold that scientists have warned we must stay under.

If not, we'll see the worst impact of a fevered planet. But almost every corner of the world, I don't have to remind you, is already feeling the facts, right? From Arctic melting to deadly floods, historic droughts, and unprecedented heat waves. And these extreme weather disasters will only become more common.


FREJA VAMBORG, SENIOR SCIENTIST, COPERNICUS CLIMATE CHANGE SERVICE: We are expecting to see more and more frequent heat waves, or more intense heat waves. And, also, there is already some observational evidence that, in Europe, due to the warming that's taken place heat already, heat waves have become -- become more intense.


NEWTON: Volcanologist Jess Phoenix is the executive director and cofounder of Blueprint Earth. She joins me now from Los Angeles, and good to see you. I mean, do the data bear out a worst-case scenario here, that no matter what we do, we are in for at least a few decades of climate chaos. And that's even saying that we can turn things around.


JESS PHOENIX, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND COFOUNDER, BLUEPRINT EARTH: Well, the good news is that every scientist I know is firmly of the belief, based on data, that we actually can still take climate action.

Which is why events like the COP climate conference that happened in Scotland, just a few months back. Things like that are so important.

The issue is that it's not just individuals like you or I who need to be doing the heavy lifting. We need private corporations and governments, who have the biggest sway over our fossil fuel emissions and our energy use.

We need them to step up to the plate and actually make real climate action a possibility.

NEWTON: And if they don't, we are nearly three-fourths of the way to 1.5 degrees, right? What does that mean in terms of what we can expect to the end of this decade?

PHOENIX: Well, what we've seen in the news recently is what we're going to be seeing more of. You use the term "climate chaos," and that's pretty much right on the nose.

Because folks here in the United States will remember that there were deadly wildfires in Colorado just a couple weeks ago. And in December. That's not standard. You know, December, January is not our fire season here.

And then, of course, last summer, in Turkey and Greece, and other areas around the Mediterranean, there were out-of-control fires. And, we're seeing, obviously, permafrost melt in places like Greenland and Antarctica.

And, of course, wildfires are something that almost every part of the world is being affected by, even if traditionally, that isn't the norm. So we can definitely expect more of this because we have shifted the climate already. How far we shifted, though, is still up to us.

NEWTON: Yes. Well, Jess, as you said, it's something to be optimistic about. Because we still have a stake in this, and we can't change things.

You know, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration here in the United States said climate disasters in America cost $145 billion last year.

You know, and we all know, right? That pales in comparison to the hundreds of lives lost, and the people displaces.

But if we start costing it out this way, do you think that is a better way to make it clear that this is a danger today, right now?

PHOENIX: Yes, because I'll tell you one thing. Stories about communities and individuals impacted by climate change and its effects, like people struck by drought, or people freezing to death in their cars in Pakistan, in snowstorms, those sort of stories will affect, again, individuals.

But in order to see decisive action from the big movers and shakers, like the U.S., Europe, and then, of course, China and India, in areas like fossil fuel usage, we really do need to break it down, dollar for dollar.

Because again, profit rules so much of societies these days, that we can't ignore that fact. And to try to just say, we need to do good for good's sake. It's nice, but dollars and cents are really going to get the message across.

NEWTON: Yes. And when you add it all up again to, as you said, individual lives impacted, as well, as will make the point.

Jess Phoenix, thanks again. Appreciate it.

PHOENIX: Thank you, Paula.

NEWTON: And I want to thank all of you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton. WORLD SPORT starts right after a quick break.