The Guardian 2024-05-08 10:02:19


World’s top climate scientists expect global heating to blast past 1.5C target

Exclusive: Planet is headed for at least 2.5C of heating with disastrous results for humanity, poll of hundreds of scientists finds

  • ‘Hopeless and broken’: why the world’s top climate scientists are in despair

Hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists expect global temperatures to rise to at least 2.5C (4.5F) this century, blasting past internationally agreed targets and causing catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet, an exclusive Guardian survey has revealed.

Almost 80% of the respondents, all from the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), foresee at least 2.5C of global heating above preindustrial levels,, while almost half anticipate at least 3C (5.4F). Only 6% thought the internationally agreed 1.5C (2.7F) limit will be met.

Many of the scientists envisage a “semi-dystopian” future, with famines, conflicts and mass migration, driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms of an intensity and frequency far beyond those that have already struck.

Numerous experts said they had been left feeling hopeless, infuriated and scared by the failure of governments to act despite the clear scientific evidence provided.

“I think we are headed for major societal disruption within the next five years,” said Gretta Pecl, at the University of Tasmania. “[Authorities] will be overwhelmed by extreme event after extreme event, food production will be disrupted. I could not feel greater despair over the future.”

But many said the climate fight must continue, however high global temperature rose, because every fraction of a degree avoided would reduce human suffering.

Peter Cox, at the University of Exeter, UK, said: “Climate change will not suddenly become dangerous at 1.5C – it already is. And it will not be ‘game over’ if we pass 2C, which we might well do.”

The Guardian approached every contactable lead author or review editor of IPCC reports since 2018. Almost half replied, 380 of 843. The IPCC’s reports are the gold standard assessments of climate change, approved by all governments and produced by experts in physical and social sciences. The results show that many of the most knowledgeable people on the planet expect climate havoc to unfold in the coming decades.

The climate crisis is already causing profound damage to lives and livelihoods across the world, with only 1.2C (2.16F) of global heating on average over the past four years. Jesse Keenan, at Tulane University in the US, said: “This is just the beginning: buckle up.”

Nathalie Hilmi, at the Monaco Scientific Centre, who expects a rise of 3C, agreed: “We cannot stay below 1.5C.”

The experts said massive preparations to protect people from the worst of the coming climate disasters were now critical. Leticia Cotrim da Cunha, at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said: “I am extremely worried about the costs in human lives.”

The 1.5C target was chosen to prevent the worst of the climate crisis and has been seen as an important guiding star for international negotiations. Current climate policies mean the world is on track for about 2.7C, and the Guardian survey shows few IPCC experts expect the world to deliver the huge action required to reduce that.

Younger scientists were more pessimistic, with 52% of respondents under 50 expecting a rise of at least 3C, compared with 38% of those over 50. Female scientists were also more downbeat than male scientists, with 49% thinking global temperature would rise at least 3C, compared with 38%. There was little difference between scientists from different continents.

Dipak Dasgupta, at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, said: “If the world, unbelievably wealthy as it is, stands by and does little to address the plight of the poor, we will all lose eventually.”

The experts were clear on why the world is failing to tackle the climate crisis. A lack of political will was cited by almost three-quarters of the respondents, while 60% also blamed vested corporate interests, such as the fossil fuel industry.

Many also mentioned inequality and a failure of the rich world to help the poor, who suffer most from climate impacts. “I expect a semi-dystopian future with substantial pain and suffering for the people of the global south,” said a South African scientist, who chose not to be named. “The world’s response to date is reprehensible – we live in an age of fools.”

About a quarter of the IPCC experts who responded thought global temperature rise would be kept to 2C or below but even they tempered their hopes.

“I am convinced that we have all the solutions needed for a 1.5C path and that we will implement them in the coming 20 years,” said Henry Neufeldt, at the UN’s Copenhagen Climate Centre. “But I fear that our actions might come too late and we cross one or several tipping points.”

Lisa Schipper, at University of Bonn in Germany, said: “My only source of hope is the fact that, as an educator, I can see the next generation being so smart and understanding the politics.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Climate crisis
  • Climate science
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Extreme heat
  • Extreme weather
  • Wildfires
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

We asked 380 top climate scientists what they felt about the future…

Hopeless and broken Ruth Cerezo-Mota Mexico
We live in an age of fools Anonymous South Africa
I worry about the future my children are inheriting Lorraine Whitmarsh UK

They are terrified, but determined to keep fighting.
Here’s what they said

‘Hopeless and broken’: why the world’s top climate scientists are in despair

Exclusive: Survey of hundreds of experts reveals harrowing picture of future, but they warn climate fight must not be abandoned

“Sometimes it is almost impossible not to feel hopeless and broken,” says the climate scientist Ruth Cerezo-Mota. “After all the flooding, fires, and droughts of the last three years worldwide, all related to climate change, and after the fury of Hurricane Otis in Mexico, my country, I really thought governments were ready to listen to the science, to act in the people’s best interest.”

Instead, Cerezo-Mota expects the world to heat by a catastrophic 3C this century, soaring past the internationally agreed 1.5C target and delivering enormous suffering to billions of people. This is her optimistic view, she says.

“The breaking point for me was a meeting in Singapore,” says Cerezo-Mota, an expert in climate modelling at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. There, she listened to other experts spell out the connection between rising global temperatures and heatwaves, fires, storms and floods hurting people – not at the end of the century, but today. “That was when everything clicked.

“I got a depression,” she says. “It was a very dark point in my life. I was unable to do anything and was just sort of surviving.”

Cerezo-Mota recovered to continue her work: “We keep doing it because we have to do it, so [the powerful] cannot say that they didn’t know. We know what we’re talking about. They can say they don’t care, but they can’t say they didn’t know.”

In Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula, where Cerezo-Mota lives, the heat is ramping up. “Last summer, we had around 47C maximum. The worst part is that, even at night, it’s 38C, which is higher than your body temperature. It doesn’t give a minute of the day for your body to try to recover.”

She says record-breaking heatwaves led to many deaths in Mexico. “It’s very frustrating because many of these things could have been avoided. And it’s just silly to think: ‘Well, I don’t care if Mexico gets destroyed.’ We have seen these extreme events happening everywhere. There is not a safe place for anyone.

“I think 3C is being hopeful and conservative. 1.5C is already bad, but I don’t think there is any way we are going to stick to that. There is not any clear sign from any government that we are actually going to stay under 1.5C.”

‘Infuriating, distressing, overwhelming’

Cerezo-Mota is far from alone in her fear. An exclusive Guardian survey of hundreds of the world’s leading climate experts has found that:

  • 77% of respondents believe global temperatures will reach at least 2.5C above pre-industrial levels, a devastating degree of heating;

  • almost half – 42% – think it will be more than 3C;

  • only 6% think the 1.5C limit will be achieved.

The task climate researchers have dedicated themselves to is to paint a picture of the possible worlds ahead. From experts in the atmosphere and oceans, energy and agriculture, economics and politics, the mood of almost all those the Guardian heard from was grim. And the future many painted was harrowing: famines, mass migration, conflict. “I find it infuriating, distressing, overwhelming,” said one expert, who chose not to be named. “I’m relieved that I do not have children, knowing what the future holds,” said another.

The scientists’ responses to the survey provide informed opinions on critical questions for the future of humanity. How hot will the world get, and what will that look like? Why is the world failing to act with anything remotely like the urgency needed? Is it, in fact, game over, or must we fight on? They also provide a rare glimpse into what it is like to live with this knowledge every day.

The climate crisis is already causing profound damage across the planet with just 1.2C of average global heating over the last four years. But the scale of future impacts will depend on what happens – or not – in politics, finance, technology and global society, and how the Earth’s climate and ecosystems respond.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has convened thousands of experts in all these fields to produce the most authoritative reports available, which are approved by all governments. It was founded in 1988 by the United Nations, which was concerned even at that time that global heating could “be disastrous for mankind if timely steps are not taken at all levels”.

The IPCC’s task was to produce a comprehensive review and recommendations, which it has now done six times over 35 years. In terms of scale and significance, it may be the most important scientific endeavour in human history.

The IPCC experts are, in short, the most informed people on the planet on climate. What they think matters. So the Guardian contacted every available lead author or review editor of all IPCC reports since 2018. Almost half replied – 380 out of 843, a very high response rate.

Their expectations for global temperature rise were stark. Lisa Schipper, at the University of Bonn, anticipates a 3C rise: “It looks really bleak, but I think it’s realistic. It’s just the fact that we’re not taking the action that we need to.” Technically, a lower temperature peak was possible, the scientists said, but few had any confidence it would be delivered.

Their overwhelming feelings were fear and frustration. “I expect a semi-dystopian future with substantial pain and suffering for the people of the global south,” said a South African scientist who chose not to be named. “The world’s response to date is reprehensible – we live in an age of fools.”

‘Running away from it is impossible’

So how do the scientists cope with their work being ignored for decades, and living in a world their findings indicate is on a “highway to hell”?

Camille Parmesan, at the CNRS ecology centre in France, was on the point of giving up 15 years ago. “I had devoted my research life to [climate science] and it had not made a damn bit of difference,” she said. “I started feeling [like], well, I love singing, maybe I’ll become a nightclub singer.”

She was inspired to continue by the dedication she saw in the young activists at the turbulent UN climate summit in Copenhagen 2009. “All these young people were so charged up, so impassioned. So I said I’ll keep doing this, not for the politicians, but for you.

“The big difference [with the most recent IPCC report] was that all of the scientists I worked with were incredibly frustrated. Everyone was at the end of their rope, asking: what the fuck do we have to do to get through to people how bad this really is?”

“Scientists are human: we are also people living on this Earth, who are also experiencing the impacts of climate change, who also have children, and who also have worries about the future,” said Schipper. “We did our science, we put this really good report together and – wow – it really didn’t make a difference on the policy. It’s very difficult to see that, every time.”

Climate change is our “unescapable reality”, said Joeri Rogelj, at Imperial College London. “Running away from it is impossible and will only increase the challenges of dealing with the consequences and implementing solutions.”

Henri Waisman, at the IDDRI policy research institute in France, said: “I regularly face moments of despair and guilt of not managing to make things change more rapidly, and these feelings have become even stronger since I became a father. But, in these moments, two things help me: remembering how much progress has happened since I started to work on the topic in 2005 and that every tenth of a degree matters a lot – this means it is still useful to continue the fight.”

‘1.5C is a political game’

In the climate crisis, even fractions of a degree do matter: every extra tenth means 140 million more people suffering in dangerous heat. The 1.5C target was forced through international negotiations by an alliance of uniquely vulnerable small island states. They saw the previous 2C target as condemning their nations to obliteration under rising oceans and storms.

The 1.5C goal was adopted as a stretch target at the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015 with the deal seen as a triumph, a statement of true multilateral ambition delivered with beaming smiles and euphoric applause. It quickly became the default target for minimising climate damage, with UN summits being conducted to the repeated refrain of: “Keep 1.5 alive!” For the target to be breached requires global temperatures to be above 1.5C across numerous years, not just for a single year.

It remains a vital political target for many climate diplomats, anchoring international climate efforts and driving ambition. But to almost all the IPCC experts the Guardian heard from, it is dead. A scientist from a Pacific Island nation said: “Humanity is heading towards destruction. We’ve got to appreciate, help and love each other.”

Schipper said: “There is an argument that if we say that it is too late for 1.5C, that we are setting ourselves up for defeat and saying there’s nothing we can do, but I don’t agree.”

Jonathan Cullen, at the University of Cambridge, was particularly blunt: “1.5C is a political game – we were never going to reach this target.”

The climate emergency is already here. Even just 1C of heating has supercharged the planet’s extreme weather, delivering searing heatwaves from the US to Europe to China that would have been otherwise impossible. Millions of people have very likely died early as a result already. At just 2C, the brutal heatwave that struck the Pacific north-west of America in 2021 will be 100-200 times more likely.

But a world that is hotter by 2.5C, 3C, or worse, as most of the experts anticipate, takes us into truly uncharted territory. It is hard to fully map this new world. Our intricately connected global society means the impact of climate shocks in one place can cascade around the world, through food price spikes, broken supply chains, and migration.

One relatively simple study examined the impact of a 2.7C rise, the average of the answers in the Guardian survey. It found 2 billion people pushed outside humanity’s “climate niche”, ie the benign conditions in which the whole of human civilisation arose over the last 10,000 years.

The latest IPCC assessment devotes hundreds of pages to climate impacts, with irreversible losses to the Amazon rainforest, quadrupled flood damages and billions more people exposed to dengue fever. With 3C of global heating, cities including Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Miami and The Hague end up below sea level.

“It is the biggest threat humanity has faced, with the potential to wreck our social fabric and way of life. It has the potential to kill millions, if not billions, through starvation, war over resources, displacement,” said James Renwick, at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. “None of us will be unaffected by the devastation.”

“I am scared mightily – I don’t see how we are able to get out of this mess,” said Tim Benton, an expert on food security and food systems at the Chatham House thinktank. He said the cost of protecting people and recovering from climate disasters will be huge, with yet more discord and delay over who pays the bills. Numerous experts were worried over food production: “We’ve barely started to see the impacts,” said one.

Another grave concern was climate tipping points, where a tiny temperature increase tips crucial parts of the climate system into collapse, such as the Greenland ice sheet, the Amazon rainforest and key Atlantic currents. “Most people do not realise how big these risks are,” said Wolfgang Cramer, at the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology.

‘All of humanity needs to come together and cooperate’

In the face of such colossal danger, why is the world’s response so slow and inadequate? The IPCC experts overwhelmingly pointed to one barrier: lack of political will. Almost three-quarters of the respondents cited this factor, with 60% also blaming vested corporate interests.

“[Climate change] is an existential threat to humanity and [lack of] political will and vested corporate interests are preventing us addressing it. I do worry about the future my children are inheriting,” said Lorraine Whitmarsh, at the University of Bath in the UK.

Lack of money was only a concern for 27% of the scientists, suggesting most believe the finance exists to fund the green transition. Few respondents thought that a lack of green technology or scientific understanding of the issue were a problem – 6% and 4% respectively.

“All of humanity needs to come together and cooperate – this is a monumental opportunity to put differences aside and work together,” said Louis Verchot, at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. “Unfortunately climate change has become a political wedge issue … I wonder how deep the crisis needs to become before we all start rowing in the same direction.”

Dipak Dasgupta, an economist and former government adviser in India, said short-term thinking by governments and businesses was a major barrier. Climate action needed decade-long planning, in contrast to election cycles of only a few years, said others.

A world of climate chaos would require a much greater focus on protecting people from inevitable impacts, said many scientists, but again politics stands in the way. “Multiple trillions of dollars were liquidated for use during the pandemic, yet it seems there is not enough political will to commit several billion dollars to adaptation funding,” said Shobha Maharaj, from Trinidad and Tobago.

The capture of politicians and the media by vastly wealthy fossil fuel companies and petrostates, whose oil, gas and coal are the root cause of the climate crisis, was frequently cited. “The economic interests of nations often take precedence,” said Lincoln Alves at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Stephen Humphreys at the London School of Economics said: “The tacit calculus of decision-makers, particularly in the Anglosphere – US, Canada, UK, Australia – but also Russia and the major fossil fuel producers in the Middle East, is driving us into a world in which the vulnerable will suffer, while the well-heeled will hope to stay safe above the waterline” – even with the cataclysmic 3.5C rise he expects. Asked what individual action would be effective, he said: “Civil disobedience.”

Disinformation was a major concern for scientists from Brazil to Ukraine. This was polarising society, compounding a poor public understanding of climate risk and blinding people to the fact almost all the climate solutions needed were at hand, they said.

“The enormity of the problem is not well understood,” said Ralph Sims, at Massey University in New Zealand. “So there will be environmental refugees by the millions, extreme weather events escalating, food and water shortages, before the majority accept the urgency in reducing emissions – by which time it will be too late.”

‘Capitalism has trained us well’

“Fight for a fairer world.” That simple message from one French scientist reflected the thoughts of many, who said the huge gap between the world’s rich and poor was a giant barrier to climate action, echoing the chasm between those responsible for the most emissions and those suffering most from the impacts.

Global solidarity could overcome any environmental crisis, according to Esteban Jobbágy, at the University of San Luis in Argentina. “But current growing inequalities are the number one barrier to that.”

Aditi Mukherji, at the CGIAR research group, said: “The rich countries have hogged all the carbon budget, leaving very little for the rest of the world.” The global north has a huge obligation to fix a problem of its own making by slashing its emissions and providing climate funding to the rest of the world, she said. The Indian government recently put a price tag on that: at least $1tn a year.

Overconsumption in rich nations was also cited as a barrier. “I feel resigned to disaster as we cannot separate our love of bigger, better, faster, more, from what will help the greatest number of people survive and thrive,” said one US scientist. “Capitalism has trained us well.”

However, Maisa Rojas, an IPCC scientist and Chile’s environment minister, said: “We need to communicate that acting on climate change can be a benefit, with proper support from the state, instead of a personal burden.”

She is one of a minority of the experts surveyed – less than 25% – who still think global temperature rise will be restricted to 2C or less. The IPCC vice-chair Aïda Diongue-Niang, a Senegalese meteorologist, is another, saying: “I believe there will be more ambitious action to avoid 2.5C to 3C.”

So why are these scientists optimistic? One reason is the rapid rollout of green technologies from renewable energy to electric cars, driven by fast-falling prices and the multiple associated benefits they bring, such as cleaner air. “It is getting cheaper and cheaper to save the climate,” said Lars Nilsson, at Lund University in Sweden.

Even the rapidly growing need to protect communities against inevitable heatwaves, floods and droughts could have an upside, said Mark Pelling, at University College London. “It opens exciting possibilities: by having to live with climate change, we can adapt in ways that bring us to a more inclusive and equitable way of living.”

Such a world would see adaptation go hand-in-hand with cutting poverty and vulnerability, providing better housing, clean and reliable water and electricity, better diets, more sustainable farming, and less air pollution.

However, most hope was heavily guarded. “The good news is the worst-case scenario is avoidable,” said Michael Meredith, at the British Antarctic Survey. “We still have it in our hands to build a future that is much more benign climatically than the one we are currently on track for.” But he also expects “our societies will be forced to change and the suffering and damage to lives and livelihoods will be severe”.

“I believe in social tipping points,” where small changes in society trigger large-scale climate action, said Elena López-Gunn, at the research company Icatalist in Spain. “Unfortunately, I also believe in physical climate tipping points.”

Back in Mexico, Cerezo-Mota remains at a loss: “I really don’t know what needs to happen for the people that have all the power and all the money to make the change. But then I see the younger generations fighting and I get a bit of hope again.”

Note: Julian Ganz provided the technical support to conduct the survey, which was sent on 31 January 2024. Men made up 68% of the respondents, women 28% and 4% preferred not to state their gender. This mirrors the gender split of the IPCC authors overall. A large majority of the scientists – 89% – were aged between 40 and 69 and they were from 35 different countries across the world, with every continent represented by dozens of experts. The age and gender questions were not mandatory but were answered by 344 and 346 respondents respectively.

Excerpts of footage and images taken from the Guardian’s climate coverage

Western Sydney councillor doubles down on same-sex parent book ban as residents express outrage over move

Steve Christou claims ban has ‘overwhelming’ community support despite petition opposing the ban gaining almost 10,000 signatures in less than 24 hours

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A Western Sydney councillor has doubled down on Cumberland’s blanket ban on same-sex parenting books from local libraries despite the policy breaching the state’s library act and possibly contravening anti-discrimination laws.

At a meeting last week, former mayor and current councillor Steve Christou successfully passed the amendment that the council take “immediate action” to “rid” same-sex parent books and materials from its eight council-run libraries.

During the meeting, Christou brandished a book he alleged had received “really disturbing” constituent complaints, saying parents were “distraught” to see the book, Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig, displayed on a shelf in the children’s section of the library.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

He has since confirmed publicly he has not read the book which explores the experience of having two mums or two dads and features two men and a young child on the front cover.

Christou told Guardian Australia it was “very disgraceful” the state government was threatening to pull funding from the shire, adding Cumberland was one of the most “socially disadvantaged communities in New South Wales”.

“They paid to paint buses for Mardi Gras but because a democratically elected council makes a decision in the interest they feel is representing the views of their community we’re now being threatened,” he said.

“I’m urging all residents to contact their four Labor state MPs saying ‘we expect you to fight for us and defend us’.”

Christou claimed the feedback he had received from his community was “overwhelmingly in support” of the ban.

A petition to rescind the ban, started by local resident Caroline Staples, has received almost 10,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. The petition, hosted by Equality Australia, will be presented to council next week.

In February, Cumberland council passed a motion in front of a 300-strong crowd banning drag queen storytime events, in a move seconded by Christou and critiqued by the current mayor.

“I’m committed to upholding the view of residents … this isn’t the end of the matter. We’ll see where it lands,” Christou said.

New South Wales arts minister John Graham on Wednesday wrote to the council advising it the ban contravened the state’s laws that set out guidelines for freedom of access to information from libraries.

In the letter, seen by Guardian Australia, Graham noted libraries in Cumberland received $743,130 in government funding last year and asked that the council reconsider the ban “with haste”.

After sending the letter, Graham said the government was “examining the consequences” the decision may have for the council continuing to receive library funding from the state government.

“The more time local councillors spend acting as self-appointed censors, the less time they have to focus on services people really need, like their bins being picked up and potholes filled,” he said.

The motion passed 6-5 with the backing of Labor councillor Mohamad Hussein, who broke ranks with his party to vote in favour of the ban in a move condemned by NSW Labor minister Rose Jackson.

Hussein said he stood by his decision which was made in line with his religious beliefs and “not targeted at anyone or groups”

“I will not be comprising those beliefs,” he said.

Other local residents have come out in swinging opposition, including award-winning poet Omar Sakr.

“I cannot wait to vote them [the supporting councillors] out,” he posted on X.

Staples, who moved to Lidcombe with her husband in 1985 and has raised a “rainbow family” in the area, said the ban made her “terrified” for the safety of LGBTQ+ community members.

“I’ve cried a few times because I don’t know if I can bring my grandchildren to this library when it says they don’t exist,” she said. “I fear for families living here.”

Staples said she backed threats from NSW Labor for council funding to be cut – adding “public money has to be accountable”.

She said Christou’s comments that the area had conservative beliefs and “wasn’t Marrickville or Newtown” didn’t represent her community but represented “some people and their fears”.

“Councillors have characterised my community in a way I haven’t experienced – a stereotype of western Sydney.

“I’ve walked these streets, been on the sidelines of football matches, had children educated here.”

Greystanes resident Tori-Alice Girdhage said she and her wife and other LGBTQ+ parents in the area were “outraged” by the council’s decision.

“I’d spent the morning with my six-month-old and my three-year-old daughter at Wentworthville Library, so I was utterly devastated, to be honest,” she said.

“I can’t fathom how this has happened because it’s just going like 200 steps backwards … [Christou’s] religious and personal beliefs don’t belong in government funded public libraries.”

Darcy Byrne, the mayor of the Inner West, which encompasses Marrickville and Newtown, said accusations from Christou were “pathetic”.

“Banning books is something we would expect to see in Putin’s Russia, not modern, inclusive Sydney,” he said.

Bryne said the Inner West council had been targeted in recent months by people “seeking to disrupt and cancel a range of our LGBTIQIA+ events including drag story times events”.

“We will not back down in the face of intimidation from such a small minority or bigoted reactionaries.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Sydney
  • LGBTQ+ rights
  • New South Wales
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

US President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of weapons to Israel last week in opposition to apparent moves by the Israelis to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a senior administration official has told Reuters and two other news agencies.

Biden has been trying to head off a full-scale assault by the Israelis against Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian have sought refuge from combat elsewhere in Gaza.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that as Israeli leaders seemed to approach a decision on a Rafah incursion, “we began to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah” beginning in April.

“As a result of that review, we have paused one shipment of weapons last week. It consists of 1,800 2,000lb bombs and 1,700 500lb bombs,” the official said, according to Reuters. The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported similar comments from a senior US official.

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000lb bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza. We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official said.

Four sources told Reuters that the shipments, which have been delayed for at least two weeks, involved Boeing-made joint direct attack munitions, which convert dumb bombs into precision-guided ones, as well as small diameter bombs.

US paused weapons shipment to Israel amid concern over Rafah, senior US official says

Official says final decision has not been made on shipment of thousands of bombs, which was halted amid review of the transfer of weapons

  • Middle East crisis – live updates
  • See all our Middle East coverage

The Biden administration paused the supply of thousands of large bombs to Israel last week in opposition to apparent moves by the Israelis to invade the Gaza city of Rafah, US officials have confirmed.

The US president, Joe Biden, has been trying to head off a full-scale assault by Israel against the southern city, where more than a million displaced Palestinian have sought refuge from combat elsewhere in Gaza.

The highly significant move comes amid mounting international pressure on Israel to pull back from a full-scale attack after its seizure on Tuesday of the city’s border crossing with Egypt, and criticism of Israel’s use of large aerial munitions in areas packed with civilians.

The weapons – 1,000lb and 2,000lb bombs – had long been seen by experts as the most likely to be targeted for any potential restrictions on arms supplies to Israel given how destructive they are in urban settings.

The Guardian understands that conversations in recent months had focused on how the Israeli military’s use of certain munitions diverged from the Pentagon’s rules on the use of such weapons in heavily populated urban settings.

The Biden administration is also reviewing other planned shipments to Israel, including 6,500 joint direct attack munitions (JDAM), which convert freefall “dumb bombs” into precision-guided weapons, people familiar with the matter said.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to several media sources, said that as Israeli leaders seemed to approach a decision on a Rafah incursion, “we began to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah” beginning in April.

“As a result of that review, we have paused one shipment of weapons last week. It consists of 1,800 2,000lb bombs and 1,700 500lb bombs,” the official said, according to Reuters. The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported similar comments from a senior US official.

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000lb bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza. We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official said.

A second US official, also speaking anonymously and quoted by the Washington Post, said the move was a “shot across the bow” intended to convey to Israel the seriousness of US concerns about its offensive in Rafah.

Four sources told Reuters that the shipments, which have been delayed for at least two weeks, involved Boeing-made joint direct attack munitions and small-diameter bombs.

While an Israeli military spokesperson attempted to downplay the shipment delay – saying that allies resolve any disagreements “behind closed doors” – the move appeared to mark a significant moment in US policy.

While the US, EU, UK and other countries have pursued an escalating sanctions campaign against extremist Israeli settlers and far-right organisations, against the background of the Gaza war and settler violence on the West Bank, US attention has moved recently to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The weapons holdup comes against the background of the expected delivery of a state department report that examines whether Israel’s war conduct is credibly in compliance with assurances that US-supplied weapons are not being used in contravention of US and international humanitarian law.

The White House and Pentagon declined to comment.

Israeli forces on Tuesday seized the main border crossing between Gaza and Egypt in Rafah, cutting off a vital route for aid into the tiny territory. On Monday, the Israeli army had called on 100,000 people in eastern Rafah to evacuate.

Despite the assault in Rafah, the US has said it believes a revised Hamas ceasefire proposal may lead to a breakthrough as talks resume in Cairo on Wednesday. Israel had previously said the terms in the proposal had been softened, but the White House spokesperson John Kirby said the new text suggests the remaining gaps could “absolutely be closed”.

The CIA director, William Burns, is to travel to Israel on Wednesday to meet the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a source said.

The delays to US arms shipments appeared to be the first since the Biden administration offered its full support to Israel after Hamas launched its 7 October attack last year, in which about 1,200 people were killed and about 250 others were abducted, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas has led to a seven-month military campaign that has killed 34,789 Palestinians, most of them civilians, the Gaza health ministry has said.

Without addressing whether there had been a holdup in arms shipments, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, reaffirmed that Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security was “ironclad”.

When asked about the reports on the arms holdups, she added: “Two things could be true, in the sense of having those conversations … tough, direct conversations with our counterparts in Israel … in making sure citizens’ lives are protected … and getting that commitment.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • US foreign policy
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Israel launches Rafah offensive it says is start of mission to ‘eliminate’ Hamas

Defence minister says operation will continue until militant group is defeated or begins to free hostages

Israel has launched a major military offensive against Hamas forces in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, seizing control of a key border crossing and cutting off most aid into the territory a day before indirect talks on a ceasefire deal are due to restart.

Images released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) showed tanks flying large Israeli flags driving through the post and crushing a concrete sign reading “I Love Gaza”.

Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said the offensive would continue until Hamas forces in Rafah “and the entire Gaza Strip” were “eliminated” or the militant Islamist organisation begins to release hostages. A government spokesperson described the first stage of a wider effort targeting Hamas.

“This is the beginning of our mission to take out the last four Hamas brigades in Rafah. You should be in no doubt about that whatsoever,” the spokesperson said.

The Israeli operation was launched hours after an announcement by Hamas leaders on Monday night that they would accept a recent proposal for a ceasefire deal put forward by Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

Any truce would be the first pause in fighting since a week-long ceasefire in November during which Hamas freed about half of the 250 Israeli and other national hostages seized in a surprise attack into Israel in October. During that exchange, Israel released 240 Palestinians from its jails.

Since then, intermittent negotiations have foundered over Hamas’s refusal to free more hostages without a promise of a permanent end to the conflict, and Israel’s insistence that it would discuss only a temporary pause.

Israeli officials on Monday accused Hamas of “grandstanding” while Hamas said Israel was trying to undermine efforts to end the seven-month-long war that has laid waste to Gaza and left hundreds of thousands of its people homeless and hungry.

However, Israel decided to send a delegation to Cairo where indirect talks are due to start again within days.

The White House national security adviser, John Kirby, appeared optimistic on Tuesday, saying the US believed after looking at a text of the proposal put forward by mediators that it should be possible to close the gaps between the two sides.

Reports suggest the proposal Hamas agreed to does not include an immediate permanent end to hostilities but involves three consecutive phases, with different ratios for exchanges of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails for hostages, and a series of staged withdrawals of Israeli forces from zones in Gaza.

Further negotiations could take many days or even weeks, during which time fighting is likely to continue as both sides seek leverage in negotiations, analysts said.

International powers including the US, Israel’s staunchest ally, repeatedly warned Israel against a major military operation in Rafah, where more than 1 million people displaced from elsewhere in Gaza are sheltering. Aid agencies have predicted a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Israel told the US its operation in Rafah was limited and designed to prevent weapons and funds from being smuggled into Gaza, Kirby said.

Aid officials in the territory said the flow of humanitarian assistance through the Rafah crossing had been entirely halted, leaving reserves of fuel only sufficient to run the extensive relief operation in Gaza for another day. Parts of Gaza are facing famine and everywhere there is acute hardship.

“We are down to less fuel than in a single service station. It’s enough to last a day, basically. After that, nothing will be moving, and the hospitals won’t be able to keep going for more than two or three days,” said Georgios Petropoulos, the head of the Gaza sub-office of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

It comes as the US military says it has completed the construction of a Gaza aid pier, but weather conditions mean it was unsafe to move the two-part facility into place, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The pier is aimed at boosting deliveries of aid and is to cost at least $320m.

The Kerem Shalom border post, another main access point for aid, was shut after a rocket barrage killed four Israeli soldiers there earlier this week. There were further rocket and mortar strikes against the same target on Tuesday, an Israeli military official said.

The Rafah crossing was the only exit point for those needing to leave Gaza for medical treatment that is no longer available in the territory.

Lama Abu Holi, eight, has been in al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza for a month, waiting for a chance to leave for treatment to her injured legs.

“Today my name was at the border, and I should travel to get my legs treated,” she said, holding a toy in her hospital bed. “They hurt. I am supposed to have an operation. Because the border crossing is shut today, I could not travel. I am sad because I did not leave today.”

An Israeli military official said the target of the operation in Rafah was “terrorist infrastructure”.

The Gaza health ministry said Israeli strikes across the territory had killed 54 Palestinians and wounded 96 others in the past 24 hours.

On Sunday Israel’s military told civilians in eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah to head for what it calls an “expanded humanitarian zone” at al-Mawasi along the coast and around the largely deserted city of Khan Younis. Thousands have left Rafah since the warning, in battered trucks, pushing trolleys, on donkey carts and walking, but aid agencies said neither location could accommodate a new influx.

A total of 34,789 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed in the conflict, the Gaza health ministry said.

The October Hamas attacks killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes or at a music festival.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grip on power could slip if he loses support of far-right coalition allies who oppose any concessions to Hamas, but there is also pressure to free the remaining hostages.

“Capitulating to Hamas’s demands would be a terrible defeat for the state of Israel. It would exhibit terrible weakness to our friends and to our enemies. This weakness would only bring closer the next war,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an umbrella group, said it had appealed to a number of countries to “exert influence on the Israeli government” and push for an agreement.

“At this crucial moment, while a tangible opportunity for the release of the hostages is on the table, it is of the utmost importance that your government manifest its strong support for such an agreement,” the group said in a message sent to the ambassadors of all countries with citizens among the hostages seized by Hamas.

“This is the time to exert your influence on the Israeli government and all other parties concerned to ensure that the agreement comes through which will finally bring all our loved ones home.”

Abu Ubaida, a spokesperson for Hamas’s armed wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, said in a statement on Tuesday that a 70-year-old Israeli hostage died after she succumbed to wounds from Israeli shelling. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.

Explore more on these topics

  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Gaza
  • Palestinian territories
  • Israel
  • Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Hamas
  • Middle East and north Africa
Share

Reuse this content

Clashes and arrests as pro-Palestinian protests spread across European campuses

Students have set up encampments in universities across continent as they call for ceasefire in Israel-Gaza war

  • See all our Middle East crisis coverage

Student protests demanding that universities sever ties with Israel over the Gaza war have spread across Europe, sparking clashes and arrests as new demonstrations broke out in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria.

Students at various European universities, inspired by ongoing demonstrations at US campuses, have been occupying halls and facilities, demanding an end to partnerships with Israeli institutions because of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Early on Tuesday, Israel launched a major military offensive against Hamas forces in Rafah, the only remaining city in Gaza that has not been razed in the Israeli campaign and where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter.

Dutch police said 169 people had been arrested on Monday evening when they broke up an encampment at the University of Amsterdam. Police were filmed baton-charging protesters and smashing up their tents after they refused to leave the campus.

Before the police intervention, violence also erupted briefly when a small group of counter-protesters wielding flares stormed the main protest.

Several hundred protesters calling for a ceasefire resumed the demonstration on Tuesday evening around the university campus, erecting barriers to access routes amid a heavy police presence.

About 50 demonstrators were also protesting on Tuesday outside the library in Utrecht University and a few dozen at the Technical University of Delft, according to local news agency ANP.

In the eastern German city of Leipzig, the university said in a statement that 50 to 60 people occupied a lecture hall on Tuesday afternoon, waving banners that read: “University occupation against genocide”.

Protesters barricaded the lecture hall doors from the inside and erected tents in the courtyard, according to the university.

The university called in the police in the afternoon, and filed a criminal complaint.

A pro-Israeli counter-protest also took place in the area, involving about 40 people, police said.

Criminal proceedings have been initiated against 13 people who were in the lecture hall on suspicion of trespassing. No arrests have been made so far.

Earlier, at Berlin’s Free University, police cleared a demonstration after up to 80 people erected a protest camp in a courtyard of the campus. The protesters, some of whom wore the keffiyeh scarf that has long been a symbol of the Palestinian cause, sat in front of tents and waved banners.

They later tried to enter rooms and lecture halls and occupy them, according to the university, which said it then called in the police to clear the protest.

The university said property was damaged while classes in some buildings were suspended for the day. Berlin police said they made some arrests for incitement to hatred and trespassing.

In Paris, police on Tuesday twice intervened at Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po university to disperse about 20 students who had barricaded themselves in the university’s main hall.

Police moved in to allow other students to take their exams and made two arrests, according to Paris prosecutors. The university said the exams were able to proceed without incident.

Police have intervened several times over the past week at Sciences Po, where protesters are demanding the university reveal its partnerships with Israeli institutions. Thirteen students are on a hunger strike, according to the university.

At the nearby Sorbonne university building, police moved on Tuesday evening to eject about a hundred students who had occupied an amphitheatre for two hours to protest about Gaza, police sources said.

In Switzerland, protests on Tuesday spread to three universities in Lausanne Geneva and Zurich.

The University of Lausanne said in a statement that it “considers that there is no reason to cease these relations” with Israeli universities, as protesters demand.

In Austria, dozens of protesters have been camped on the campus of Vienna University, putting up tents and stringing up banners since late on Thursday.

More than 100 students were also occupying Ghent University, in Belgium, in both a climate and a Gaza protest that they want to prolong until Wednesday.

Encampments have also been set up and protests taken place at universities in other European countries over the past weeks including Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Clashes also broke out between police and protesters during a pro-Palestinian rally in central Athens on Tuesday. More than 300 people carrying Palestinian flags and banners reading “Hands off Rafah!” rallied outside the parliament building in the Greek capital.

“We are here in solidarity and we will respond any time the Palestinians call [for solidarity],” said protester Antonis Davanellos, a 60-year-old pensioner.

The war in the Gaza Strip was sparked by an unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children and injured tens of thousands more, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

Explore more on these topics

  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Europe
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • Palestinian territories
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australia should pass bill to ban non-prescription vapes, Senate committee finds

Recommendation comes after two days of hearings and nearly 300 submissions from health, education, pharmaceutical and other sectors

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A bill to ban the manufacture, sale and advertising of vapes in Australia should be passed, a Senate committee has recommended, after evidence from public hearings and almost 300 submissions.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation will mean the only way vapes can legally be obtained is through a prescription from a GP or nurse practitioner. A vote is expected in June.

The legislation was introduced by the health minister, Mark Butler, in March before being referred by the Senate to the community affairs legislation committee for inquiry the same month.

On Wednesday afternoon, the committee published its report, recommending the legislation be passed after hearing from representatives from the health, education, pharmaceutical, vaping, medical and retail sectors across two days of hearings earlier in May.

The legislation will also see a new framework for the regulation of vapes introduced which will allow state and territory officials to undertake enforcement action. It includes new offences and civil penalties related to importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of vaping goods, and enhances federal enforcement powers.

Individuals with personal supply will not be targeted, Butler has previously said.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The legislation was introduced in addition to reforms which began in January banning the importation of disposable vapes from overseas.

Additional comments from the Greens, the Coalition and separately the Nationals were published by the committee alongside its report.

The Greens will be seeking amendments to the legislation, including to ensure individuals will not be criminalised for possession, to ensure adequate quit supports are in place, and to restrict advertising of vapes to medical practitioners. They also noted that they do not support the prohibition of vapes for adults. However, the bill does not implement prohibition, as vapes will be available at pharmacists with a prescription.

Comments submitted by Coalition senators noted the recommendations of the majority report, but said the party would “reserve our final position while this policy makes its way through our internal processes”.

The Nationals filed a dissenting report, urging the government to regulate all vaping products under a similar framework as tobacco, so that licensed retailers could sell vapes under certain rules and regulations.

Selling and supplying vapes similarly to the tobacco model is a proposal that has been rejected by all state and territory health ministers, who in April issued a joint communique in support of the federal legislation.

Major health lobbies, including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, also support the government’s legislation.

Laura Hunter, co-chief executive at Australian Council On Smoking and Health, urged Senators to pass the legislation. On Thursday, ACOSH and 58 other health organisations will publish a letter backing the bill.

“We say to all members: If you want to be on the right side of history, support the bill,” she said. “We ask them to listen instead to the overwhelming number of Australians including parents, and the health, education and social service sectors whose only interest is in protecting our young people and their future.”

Earlier on Wednesday Butler told reporters that if the laws passed the parliament: “From the first of July, you will not be able to sell vapes, and there will be very, very serious penalties in the laws if you do so.

“Those penalties range from prison terms of up to seven years and fines of up to $2.2m. We are serious about stamping this public health menace of recreational vaping out.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Health
  • Vaping
  • Australian politics
  • Mark Butler
  • Smoking
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australia should pass bill to ban non-prescription vapes, Senate committee finds

Recommendation comes after two days of hearings and nearly 300 submissions from health, education, pharmaceutical and other sectors

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A bill to ban the manufacture, sale and advertising of vapes in Australia should be passed, a Senate committee has recommended, after evidence from public hearings and almost 300 submissions.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation will mean the only way vapes can legally be obtained is through a prescription from a GP or nurse practitioner. A vote is expected in June.

The legislation was introduced by the health minister, Mark Butler, in March before being referred by the Senate to the community affairs legislation committee for inquiry the same month.

On Wednesday afternoon, the committee published its report, recommending the legislation be passed after hearing from representatives from the health, education, pharmaceutical, vaping, medical and retail sectors across two days of hearings earlier in May.

The legislation will also see a new framework for the regulation of vapes introduced which will allow state and territory officials to undertake enforcement action. It includes new offences and civil penalties related to importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of vaping goods, and enhances federal enforcement powers.

Individuals with personal supply will not be targeted, Butler has previously said.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The legislation was introduced in addition to reforms which began in January banning the importation of disposable vapes from overseas.

Additional comments from the Greens, the Coalition and separately the Nationals were published by the committee alongside its report.

The Greens will be seeking amendments to the legislation, including to ensure individuals will not be criminalised for possession, to ensure adequate quit supports are in place, and to restrict advertising of vapes to medical practitioners. They also noted that they do not support the prohibition of vapes for adults. However, the bill does not implement prohibition, as vapes will be available at pharmacists with a prescription.

Comments submitted by Coalition senators noted the recommendations of the majority report, but said the party would “reserve our final position while this policy makes its way through our internal processes”.

The Nationals filed a dissenting report, urging the government to regulate all vaping products under a similar framework as tobacco, so that licensed retailers could sell vapes under certain rules and regulations.

Selling and supplying vapes similarly to the tobacco model is a proposal that has been rejected by all state and territory health ministers, who in April issued a joint communique in support of the federal legislation.

Major health lobbies, including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, also support the government’s legislation.

Laura Hunter, co-chief executive at Australian Council On Smoking and Health, urged Senators to pass the legislation. On Thursday, ACOSH and 58 other health organisations will publish a letter backing the bill.

“We say to all members: If you want to be on the right side of history, support the bill,” she said. “We ask them to listen instead to the overwhelming number of Australians including parents, and the health, education and social service sectors whose only interest is in protecting our young people and their future.”

Earlier on Wednesday Butler told reporters that if the laws passed the parliament: “From the first of July, you will not be able to sell vapes, and there will be very, very serious penalties in the laws if you do so.

“Those penalties range from prison terms of up to seven years and fines of up to $2.2m. We are serious about stamping this public health menace of recreational vaping out.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Health
  • Vaping
  • Australian politics
  • Mark Butler
  • Smoking
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Chemicals in vapes could be highly toxic when heated, research finds

AI analysis of 180 vape flavours finds that products contain 127 ‘acutely toxic’ chemicals, 153 ‘health hazards’ and 225 ‘irritants’

Chemicals used to produce vapes could be acutely toxic when heated and inhaled, according to research.

Vaping devices heat the liquid flavouring to high temperatures to form an aerosol that is then inhaled. They contain chemicals including vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine and flavourings, blended in various amounts.

Previous experiments have shown that some fruit-flavoured vapes – such as strawberry, melon and blueberry – produce dangerous compounds called volatile carbonyls due to this heating process.

These compounds are known to have health implications for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease and cancers.

With so many chemicals used in tens of thousands of different vape products, conducting experiments to test every brand and flavour for toxicity could take decades of research.

Instead, the study used AI to analyse the chemical composition of 180 vape flavours and simulate how they decompose when heated. The research, published in Scientific Reports, predicted that vapes produce 127 “acutely toxic” chemicals, 153 “health hazards” and 225 “irritants”.

Nearly every flavour put through the AI predictor showed at least one product that was classified as a health hazard, with many predicting several. The toxins were associated with vapes containing no nicotine, as well as those with.

The research team at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dublin, conclude there is a “potential public health threat facing the 4.5 million vapers in the UK” and an urgent need for “enhanced restrictions” on flavours and regulations that are reflective of the health risks of vaping, especially for young people.

In January, the government announced that it would ban disposable vapes and restrict sweet and fruity flavours. Lead author Donal O’Shea, professor of chemistry at RCSI, said that the UK government should go further and remove all flavours from vapes.

It is crucial to understand the impact of flavoured vapes on health “before it’s too late”, he added.

“It is plausible that we are on the cusp of a new wave of chronic diseases that will emerge 15 to 20 years from now due to these exposures.”

Given the popularity of flavoured vapes among non-smoking teenagers and young adults, understanding the long-term effects of these products on public health, morbidity and mortality is crucial, the study concludes.

“Without comprehensive regulation, as we try to treat the nicotine addictions of older tobacco smokers, there is a substantial risk of transferring new health issues to younger generations.”

Responding to the findings, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The health advice is clear – if you don’t smoke, don’t vape and children should never vape.

“That’s why we are banning disposable vapes and our tobacco and vapes bill includes powers to limit flavours, packaging and displays of vapes to reduce the appeal to children.

“It is clear that flavours like cotton candy and cherry cola are deliberately being targeted at children, not adult smokers trying to quit, which is completely unacceptable. That is why we are taking decisive action and will be restricting vape flavours.”

Prof Sanjay Agrawal, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on tobacco, said that while vaping can be a very effective way to break the addiction to tobacco, it should only be used for this purpose.

“Vaping is not risk-free, so those who don’t smoke, including children and young people, should not vape either,” he said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Vaping
  • Health
  • Smoking
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Victorian treasurer threatens to consider train station for Avalon amid dispute with Melbourne Airport

Tim Pallas’ comments come after government delayed Melbourne Airport rail project by four years

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The battle over a rail line to Melbourne’s airport has escalated, with Victoria’s treasurer, Tim Pallas, threatening to consider building a train station at Avalon Airport if the four-year stoush continues.

Pallas told reporters on Wednesday he was “no longer playing games” with the operators of Melbourne Airport, after delaying the long-awaited project by at least four years in the state budget.

He said despite the state and federal governments each committing $5bn to the rail line in 2020, they had been unable to reach an agreement with the airport’s private operators, who insisted on constructing a costlier underground station and compensation.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

“I’m getting increasingly concerned about whether or not as a state, we shouldn’t be putting an each way bet around Avalon [Airport] and starting to think about what they can do in terms of provisioning for our transport needs going forward,” the treasurer said.

Asked whether this would include the construction of a train line to Avalon, which is closer to Geelong’s city centre than to Melbourne’s, Pallas replied: “Well there already is one going straight past”.

“Either they [Melbourne Airport] sort out this problem and they make it a priority … or the government is going to have to look at better provisioning for airport passenger transport than what is available from Melbourne Airport,” he said.

“Because at the moment it’s all road transport and it’s car parks.”

Avalon Airport’s chief executive, Adrian Harvey, told 10 News: “Bring it on, we’ll build it tomorrow”.

A mediator was recently appointed by the federal government to resolve the dispute but Pallas said it was up to Melbourne Airport to make concessions – as well as to build a third runway it first announced in 2019.

“I’m not seeing the taxpayer actually held ransom by a concessionaire that basically wants to embellish the value of their asset at the taxpayers’ expense,” Pallas said.

“They want it gold-plated, they want it underground – not even sure we have engineering advice that says we can do that – and they also effectively want us to compensate them for the disruption … of building what is a massive asset.”

The director of RMIT’s centre for urban research, Jago Dodson, said Pallas’s comments were “more of a provocation than a substantive policy proposal.”

“Avalon Airport is about 40 minutes further away by rail from the CBD than Melbourne Airport and in terms of its location, it’s very, very far away from the south-eastern suburbs,” Dodson.

“Its viability is probably marginal.”

A spokesperson for Melbourne Airport said it was awaiting commonwealth approval for its third runway and remained supportive of a “future- proof” rail line.

“We remain available to meet with the treasurer should he wish,” they said.

But Dodson said he understood the treasurer’s “frustration”. He urged further intervention from the federal government, which oversees the nation’s airports.

“We’re talking about the largest airport in Australia’s largest city – we’re not talking about an aerodrome in some remote location,” he said.

“It’s a neglect of responsibility to simply offer mediation rather than intervening more decisively to progress a major piece of nationally significant infrastructure.”

The federal infrastructure minister, Catherine King, said she would continue to work with the state on the project.

“But the reality is that until an agreement is reached with Melbourne Airport on where the station will be located, the project cannot commence,” she said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Victorian politics
  • Melbourne
  • Victoria
  • Transport
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Game of Thrones actor Ian Gelder dies aged 74

British actor who played Kevan Lannister in hit fantasy series diagnosed with cancer five months ago

The British actor Ian Gelder, who played Kevan Lannister in the hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, has died aged 74.

During a career spanning decades, he was a familiar face on screen with roles in Torchwood, His Dark Materials, Doctor Who, Snatch, and The Bill.

He died five months after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer, his husband and fellow actor, Ben Daniels, announced on Instagram.

“It is with huge huge sadness and a heavy heart broken into a million pieces that I’m leaving this post to announce the passing of my darling husband and life partner Ian Gelder.

“Ian was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in December and yesterday he passed at 13.07. I’d stopped all work to be his carer but neither of us had any idea that it would all be so fast,” Daniels posted on Tuesday.

“He was my absolute rock and we’d been partners for more than 30 years. If we weren’t together we spoke to each other every day.

“He was the kindest, most generous spirited and loving human being. He was a wonderful wonderful actor and everyone who worked with him was touched by his heart and light.

“I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without him by my side. He coped with his dreadful illness with such bravery and no self pity. Ever. He was remarkable and will be so missed.”

Posting a photograph of himself with Gelder, Daniels added: “This pic was taken at Christmas time after I’d got him out of hospital and even though he’d gone through the worst three weeks there you can still see his joy and love shining through.

“Rest well my sweet Chianni Xxxx.”

A stalwart of the screen and stage, Gelder appeared in Game of Thrones as Kevan Lannister, the younger brother of Lord Tywin (Charles Dance), for the first season and reprised the role in the later seasons of the HBO series, meeting his demise in the final episode.

He appeared most recently earlier this year in an episode of the BBC One period detective series Father Brown.

He is also known for playing Mr Dekker in Torchwood: Children of Earth. In 2019, he guest-starred as the Librarian scholar Charles of Jordan College in the BBC TV series His Dark Materials and in 2020 he made an appearance as Zellin in Doctor Who.

His other credits included roles in the TV series London’s Burning and Agatha Christie’s Poirot, while he had roles in productions in London’s West End and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Explore more on these topics

  • Television
  • Game of Thrones
  • Doctor Who
  • Fantasy TV
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Man on the run after stabbing woman outside Sydney gym in alleged domestic violence attack

The 39-year-old woman suffered multiple stab wounds outside Crunch Fitness in Alexandria and was taken to hospital in a stable condition

A woman has been stabbed in the neck, head and back by a man police believe was a former partner who lay in wait outside a Sydney gym.

Emergency services were called to Crunch Fitness in Alexandria about 12.30pm on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old woman suffered multiple stab wounds and was taken to hospital in a stable condition.

Det Supt Rodney Hart said police were searching for a 40-year-old man known to the woman and treating the incident as a targeted domestic violence attack.

“We believe they had been in the past – earlier this year – been in a very short domestic relationship,” he told reporters.

“So this has been treated as domestic violence related.”

The man was known to police for domestic violence related offences, Det Supt Hart.

“We believe that he used a knife, a kitchen-style knife, and we are concerned that he may still be armed.”

The woman was treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital.

“This was a targeted attack,” Det Supt Hart said.

“It’s horrendous what has happened to this poor victim.

“To the offender, hand yourself in because you’re going to be arrested.”

Witnesses reported hearing the woman scream as she was walking towards her car outside the gym.

“When I was about to open the door, up to the gym, I heard a scream … it was not a normal scream,” one woman told reporters.

“Because of the distance, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do to her … it looked as if he was attacking her or he was trying to rob her.”

The witness believed the man was hiding in the car park, as she did not see him when she arrived.

A second man stepped in to stop the attack.

Another witness saw the woman helped upstairs into the gym, where staff began first aid.

“She ran all the way upstairs, she was bleeding from the neck, from her ears,’ he told reporters.

Police thanked those who helped at the scene.

“Anybody who has come to her aid, I applaud them and I thank them for their actions,” Det Supt Hart said.

The man was described as 170 to 175 centimetres tall, of muscular to solid build with dark hair and possibly a dark beard.

He fled the scene in a 2006 grey Ford Focus hatchback with registration AYQ14W.

Detectives were reviewing CCTV footage from the gym and interviewing witnesses.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Man on the run after stabbing woman outside Sydney gym in alleged domestic violence attack

The 39-year-old woman suffered multiple stab wounds outside Crunch Fitness in Alexandria and was taken to hospital in a stable condition

A woman has been stabbed in the neck, head and back by a man police believe was a former partner who lay in wait outside a Sydney gym.

Emergency services were called to Crunch Fitness in Alexandria about 12.30pm on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old woman suffered multiple stab wounds and was taken to hospital in a stable condition.

Det Supt Rodney Hart said police were searching for a 40-year-old man known to the woman and treating the incident as a targeted domestic violence attack.

“We believe they had been in the past – earlier this year – been in a very short domestic relationship,” he told reporters.

“So this has been treated as domestic violence related.”

The man was known to police for domestic violence related offences, Det Supt Hart.

“We believe that he used a knife, a kitchen-style knife, and we are concerned that he may still be armed.”

The woman was treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital.

“This was a targeted attack,” Det Supt Hart said.

“It’s horrendous what has happened to this poor victim.

“To the offender, hand yourself in because you’re going to be arrested.”

Witnesses reported hearing the woman scream as she was walking towards her car outside the gym.

“When I was about to open the door, up to the gym, I heard a scream … it was not a normal scream,” one woman told reporters.

“Because of the distance, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do to her … it looked as if he was attacking her or he was trying to rob her.”

The witness believed the man was hiding in the car park, as she did not see him when she arrived.

A second man stepped in to stop the attack.

Another witness saw the woman helped upstairs into the gym, where staff began first aid.

“She ran all the way upstairs, she was bleeding from the neck, from her ears,’ he told reporters.

Police thanked those who helped at the scene.

“Anybody who has come to her aid, I applaud them and I thank them for their actions,” Det Supt Hart said.

The man was described as 170 to 175 centimetres tall, of muscular to solid build with dark hair and possibly a dark beard.

He fled the scene in a 2006 grey Ford Focus hatchback with registration AYQ14W.

Detectives were reviewing CCTV footage from the gym and interviewing witnesses.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Bruce Lehrmann had no-win, no-fee deal with lawyers, federal court told

Court hears former Liberal party staffer also had no agreement for a third party to cover costs of his defamation lawsuit

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Bruce Lehrmann did not have a third party lined up to pay his legal costs and his lawyers agreed to a no-win no-fee arrangement, the federal court has heard.

At a costs hearing for Lehrmann v Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson on Wednesday, Justice Michael Lee said Lehrmann’s legal costs were significant but were not recoverable because of the agreement.

The costs for all parties have been estimated to be between $8m and $10m for the 24-day civil trial, which Lehrmann lost.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

“There’s been a lot of costs rendered, but they’re not recoverable, because Mr Lehrmann … lost,” Lee said. “And there’s no third party agreement to pay costs.”

As the applicant who lost the case, Lehrmann has to pay the costs of the two respondents but he won’t have to pay his lawyers.

However, the court earlier heard Lehrmann has not worked since 2021 and lacks the means to pay, so it is likely Network Ten will be saddled with the bill despite winning the case.

Lehrmann’s lawyer, Paul Svilans, told the court his firm, Mark O’Brien Legal, acted for the former Liberal staffer on a no-win no fee basis.

“Your Honour, there are no documents to produce, in that we read that paragraph as requiring production of any agreement by a third party to pay the applicant’s costs,’’ Svilans told the court.

“However, there is none such agreement.

“There is only a cost agreement between my firm and the applicant. That agreement makes no reference to any third party. I have a copy here and I’m happy to produce it to your honour.”

Lehrmann’s barrister, Steven Whybrow SC, acted pro bono for his client in the criminal trial. Whybrow, who was not in court and no longer acts for Lehrmann, commands about $8,000 a day. On some days in court Lehrmann had four barristers, increasing the costs significantly.

“It was a conditional costs agreement whereby there’s no obligation to pay the amount of costs in the event the proceedings were unsuccessful,” Lee said at the short case management hearing on Wednay.

He said he planned to deliver his judgment on costs at 2.15pm on Friday. The hearing will be livestreamed.

At the initial costs hearing on 1 May Lee reserved his decision, and granted Lehrmann an extension of time, until 31 May, to consider whether to lodge an appeal.

The court has already found Ten is liable for Wilkinson’s legal fees.

The cost of high profile defamation proceedings are steep. Sue Chrysanthou SC, who acted for the former Project host, commands $8,000 a day. Ten’s barrister, Dr Matt Collins KC, is paid about $12,000 a day.

Lee found last month that on the balance of probabilities Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins on a minister’s couch in Parliament House in 2019. Lehrmann has always denied the allegation and pleaded not guilty at the criminal trial of the matter which was aborted due to juror misconduct.

Explore more on these topics

  • Defamation law (Australia)
  • Australian media
  • Channel Ten
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Woman invited Sydney sex crimes detective to strip club as she feared he wouldn’t help her, rape trial told

Explicit image allegedly sent to 19-year-old by NSW police officer Glen Coleman who was handling her sex-crime complaint, jury hears

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A woman allegedly raped by a detective as a teen has told a court she invited him to see her strip at a men’s club to maintain a “little bit of control over the situation” while he begged for explicit pictures and sexual favours.

Glen Coleman is on trial accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman from March to May 2022 and abusing his position in the New South Wales police force.

Under cross-examination on Wednesday, the complainant, who cannot be legally named, said there was a valid reason to ask Coleman to the Sydney strip club where she worked.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

“He kept asking me for these things … and I was scared that he wouldn’t help,” she told jurors at Penrith district court.

“So I tried to get a little bit of control over the situation that was happening.

“That’s the only reason I told him to go to the strip club.”

The sex crimes detective had, at that stage, messaged her asking for explicit photographs and sexual favours, she told the court.

Coleman’s barrister Joel Brook questioned why she had brought up the topic of stripping and also potential work as an escort at all.

“Inviting him to the strip club, it had nothing to do with any of the investigations he was doing for you, did it?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

The woman had asked the detective for help after her second cousin allegedly threatened to share naked photos of her online and also raised concerns about an ex-boyfriend’s behaviour.

She admitted in court that she had handed over the photos in exchange for money.

The barrister also claimed there were discrepancies in the woman’s allegations, including that his client had a “wet patch” on his trousers during a March 2022 interview at the police station.

“I suggest you’re making that up,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” she replied.

Earlier in the day under questioning by crown prosecutor Kate Nightingale, the woman broke down in tears as she saw an explicit photograph allegedly sent to her by Coleman on the Snapchat messaging app in May 2022.

“I was sitting right next to my nan on the couch and he’s bothering me asking me for photos,” she told a jury at Penrith district court.

“He sent me a photo of him lying in his bed with his dick in his hand.”

The woman said she responded with a photo of her naked tattooed back taken while she was in the shower in an attempt to stop the detective harassing her.

Coleman has been accused of sexually abusing the teen complainant at Windsor police station and at two parks in western Sydney.

The 57-year-old has pleaded not guilty to one count of abusing his position of public office to procure the woman for his own sexual gratification, three of sexual intercourse without consent and six of sexual touching without consent.

His barrister Joel Brook said his client did not deny he had sex with the woman at the police station but rejected allegations it was not consensual.

On Wednesday, the young woman said she felt forced into having sex with Coleman in an interview room.

Jurors heard she grabbed $70 the detective had put on the table before she left because she was “pissed off”.

“I thought you know what, shame on you, I will take the $70 because you made me do it,” she said.

Coleman previously offered the woman $500 for sex or $400 for a lapdance after finding out the complainant had gone for an interview at a Sydney strip club, the court heard.

The woman had initially approached the detective for help after her cousin threatened to share naked photos of her online.

Later, she also told him she had concerns about her boyfriend’s behaviour.

The woman finally confided in two friends in May 2022 about what allegedly happened with the officer, the jury was told.

She showed them a Snapchat message sent by Coleman offering $600 for sex at a hotel and asking her to wear a lacy G-string.

“I realised that I couldn’t get out of it much longer and I felt really backed into a corner,” she said.

Coleman was arrested in May 2022 and was dismissed from the NSW police force in September that year.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • Australian police and policing
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Home affairs savaged by Australian audit office for poor oversight of dodgy migration agents

Damning report finds agency ‘is taking longer to sanction fewer’ migration agents and rarely uses its full powers to investigate them

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Dodgy migration agents subject to numerous complaints were allowed to continue operating for years without sanctions due to a failure in federal government oversight, a damning audit report has found.

An office within the department of home affairs responsible for ensuring migration agents follow the law and don’t defraud those coming to Australia on visas was found to have scored poorly in its job.

The latest report on Australia’s migration agent system, released by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) on Wednesday afternoon, follows findings by Victoria’s former police chief commissioner, Christine Nixon, last year, who warned a lack of oversight meant some temporary migrant workers faced “grotesque abuses” including sexual exploitation, human trafficking and organised crime.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The audit office’s look at the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (Omara), which sits within the home affairs department, found it maintained poor record-keeping, engaged in limited compliance monitoring, responded too slowly to complaints and often dismissed investigations into serious allegations without first using its regulatory powers.

The ANAO found Omara rarely used its powers to force migration agents to hand over information after complaints of misconduct and had also not recorded undertaking any monitoring of agents, including checking agent websites or office visits, since October 2020.

In one case, a registered migration agent was named in a NSW Icac inquiry into the alleged “cash-for-visa” scheme in September 2020.

The agent had been the subject of three complaints between 2015 and 2018. A home affairs brief to the then home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, and acting immigration minister, Alan Tudge, in November 2020 said Omara would assess its earlier 2014 investigation into the agent over allegations they provided false information on a client’s visa application.

Auditors found the department had dismissed the complaint in October 2015 as having “no merit”, explaining the “allegation is hearsay and there is no permission to put it the agent for comment”.

The ANAO also found Omara identified a further nine registered agents of concern, telling Dutton and Tudge it had referred four of them to the Australian border force and was analysing the remaining five.

Of those nine, ANAO’s analysis found Omara did not use its regulatory powers to investigate seven of the 10 agents and only two of the 10 have ever been the subject of sanctions by the department.

Elsewhere, an automated system for assessing agent registration applications allowed a number of them to operate despite having open complaints against them.

The ANAO also found 267 registered agents, or nearly 1%, were automatically re-approved by the department between 2019 and 2023 despite not meeting the professional development requirements.

The auditor’s brutal assessment noted a number of examples where agents’ registrations were cancelled only after being the subject of media reporting.

In another case study, the ANAO pointed to an agent identified in the media in November 2022 as having alleged involvement in the exploitation of foreign workers. The agent had been registered with Omara since 1998 and had received 12 complaints against them.

The report found Omara, while initiating an investigation into the agent, did not use its full powers to substantiate the allegations and did not consider whether it should reopen and investigate prior relevant complaints, including one related to human trafficking.

The audit office noted home affairs created a media handling strategy, instead of a case investigation summary, relating to the matter. It was titled: “Potential public criticism of the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (Omara) about perceived failure to take action in relation to allegations against registered migration agent”.

While the ANAO noted there had been some improvements in recent years, it also concluded the average time taken to investigate and finalise complaints leading to sanctions increased by 65%, or an average of 17 months in 2017-18 to an average of 28 months in 2022-23. During the most recent financial year, 14 complaints leading to four agents being sanctioned took between two and 57 months.

“The department is taking longer to sanction fewer agents,” the report concluded.

In response to the report, home affairs agreed to all 11 recommendations to improve oversight and its timeliness in order to “operate as an effective regulator of registered migration agents in Australia”.

However, it did not agree with the findings it “does not take effective action on complaints it receives”.

Julian Hill, the chair of the joint committee of public accounts and audit, said while he noted some improvements already from the home affairs department, the findings warranted a proper public inquiry.

In response to the release of the Nixon review last November, the government said it would double the size of Omara and grant it new powers to impose conditions on migration agents, deregister migration agents for longer and increase penalties for misconduct.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian immigration and asylum
  • Australian politics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Chinese network behind one of world’s ‘largest online scams’

Exclusive: Vast web of fake shops touting designer brands took money and personal details from 800,000 people in Europe and US, data suggests

More than 800,000 people in Europe and the US appear to have been duped into sharing card details and other sensitive personal data with a vast network of fake online designer shops apparently operated from China.

An international investigation by the Guardian, Die Zeit and Le Monde gives a rare inside look at the mechanics of what the UK’s Chartered Trading Standards Institute has described as one of the largest scams of its kind, with 76,000 fake websites created.

A trove of data examined by reporters and IT experts indicates the operation is highly organised, technically savvy – and ongoing.

Operating on an industrial scale, programmers have created tens of thousands of fake web shops offering discounted goods from Dior, Nike, Lacoste, Hugo Boss, Versace and Prada, as well as many other premium brands.

Published in multiple languages from English to German, French, Spanish, Swedish and Italian, the websites appear to have been set up to lure shoppers into parting with money and sensitive personal data.

However, the sites have no connection to the brands they claim to sell and in most cases consumers who spoke about their experience said they received no items.

The first fake shops in the network appear to have been created in 2015. More than 1m “orders” have been processed in the past three years alone, according to analysis of the data. Not all payments were successfully processed, but analysis suggests the group may have attempted to take as much as €50m (£43m) over the period. Many shops have been abandoned, but a third of them – more than 22,500 – are still live.

So far, an estimated 800,000 people, almost all of them in Europe and the US, have shared email addresses, with 476,000 of them having shared debit and credit card details, including their three-digit security number. All of them also handed over their names, phone numbers, email and postal addresses to the network.

Katherine Hart, a lead officer at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, described the operation as “one of the largest online fake shops scams that I have seen”. She added: “Often these people are part of serious and organised crime groups so they are harvesting data and may use it against people later, making consumers more susceptible to phishing attempts.”

“Data is the new currency,” said Jake Moore, a global cybersecurity adviser at the software company ESET. He warned such personal data troves could also be valuable to foreign intelligence agencies for surveillance purposes. “The bigger picture is that one must assume the Chinese government may have potential access to the data,” he added.

The existence of the fake shops network was revealed by Security Research Labs (SR Labs), a German cybersecurity consultancy, which obtained several gigabytes of data and shared it with Die Zeit.

A core group of developers appears to have built a system to semi-automatically create and launch websites, allowing rapid deployment. This core appears to have operated some shops themselves, but to have allowed other groups to use the system. The logs suggest at least 210 users have accessed the system since 2015.

SR Labs consultant Matthias Marx described the model as “franchise-like”. He said: “The core team is responsible for developing software, deploying backends, and supporting the operation of the network. The franchisees manage the day-to-day operations of fraudulent shops.”

‘It reeled me in …’

It was a few weeks before Christmas. Melanie Brown, 54, from Shropshire in England, was looking for a new handbag. She put the image of a leather item from one of her favourite German designers, Rundholz, into Google. Immediately a website appeared offering the bag at 50% off the usual £200 retail price. She added it to her cart.

“It reeled me in,” she said. After selecting the bag she spotted other designer clothes from a high-end brand she loves called Magnolia Pearl. She found dresses, tops and jeans, racking up a £1,200 bill on 15 items. “I was getting a lot for the money, so I thought it was worth it,” she said.

But Brown was being ripped off. Over nearly a decade, a network operating from Fujian province in China used what appears to be a single software platform to create tens of thousands of fake online shops.

There are the big global brands such as Paul Smith, haute couture houses such as Christian Dior, but also more niche, much sought-after names such as Rixo and Stella McCartney, and high street retailers like Clarks shoes. Not just clothes – there are fake stores selling quality toys, such as Playmobil, and at least one selling lighting.

About 49 people who say they were scammed have been interviewed for this investigation. The Guardian spoke to 19 from the UK and the US. Their evidence suggests these websites were not set up to trade in counterfeit goods. Most people received nothing in the mail. A few did, but the items were not the ones ordered. A German shopper paid for a blazer and received cheap sunglasses. A British customer received a bogus Cartier ring instead of a shirt and another was sent a non-branded blue jumper instead of the Paul Smith one they had paid for.

Strangely, many who tried to shop never lost money. Either their bank blocked the payment, or the fake shop itself did not process it.

However, all of those interviewed have one thing in common: they handed over their private data.

Simon Miller, the director of policy and communications for Stop Scams UK, said: “Data can be more valuable than sales. If you are hoovering up someone’s card details that data is invaluable then for a bank account takeover.”

SR Labs, which works with corporations to protect their systems from cyber-attacks, believes the scam is operating on two levels. First, credit card harvesting, in which fake payment gateways collect credit card data but do not take any money. Second, fake selling, where the criminals do take money. There is evidence the network took payments processed via PayPal, Stripe and other payment services, and in some cases directly from debit or credit cards.

The network used expired domains to host its fake shops, which experts say can help to avoid detection by websites or brand owners. It appears to have a database of 2.7m of these orphaned domains and runs tests to check which ones are best to use.

In Germany, the owner of a glass bead factory said she had received angry calls almost every day from shoppers asking where their Lacoste clothes were. She found out that an old website of hers, perlenzwoelfe.de, had been used for the scam. She was findable as content she had previously placed on at that address was visible in web archives. She reported the fraud to the police. “The officials just said there was nothing they could do about it.”

It was the same story for Michael Rouah who runs Artoyz, an online store and shop in central Paris selling handmade toys. His full catalogue of products was copied. “They changed the name and used another domain … They stole the images from our website and changed the prices, putting them – of course – much lower.”

He was alerted to the fraud by customers. “We generally can’t do much about it … We explored taking action with a lawyer, but it takes time and it costs money,” he said.

The network appears to have originated in Fujian province. Many of the IP (internet protocol) addresses can be traced back to China, some to the Fujian cities of Putian and Fuzhou.

Payroll documents found in the data suggest individuals were hired as developers and data harvesters and paid salaries through Chinese banks.

There were also three templates for employment contracts, where the employer is listed as Fuzhou Zhongqing Network Technology Co Ltd.

Officially registered in China, and issued with an official unique identifier number, the company gives its address as Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian. It is not clear what connection it has to the network.

The contracts set out strict working conditions. The employee is given a performance score and can increase their salary with a higher ranking. They are judged on whether they refrain from playing video games, watching movies, or sleeping while at work. If staff are sick or take a holiday, their salary is reduced for days missed unless they work overtime.

The data includes a spreadsheet describing the payment between January and October 2022 of 2,410,000 yuan (almost £266,000) in dividends to at least four shareholders of an unnamed company.

The Fuzhou Zhongqing company is now advertising for developers and data collectors via Chinese recruitment websites. The salary for a data collection specialist is 4,500-7,000 Chinese yuan (about £500 to £700) a monthand the business is described as a “foreign trade company that mainly produces sports shoes, fashion clothing, brand bags, and other series”.

The Fuzhou Zhongqing company did not respond to a request for comment.

Action Fraud, the UK’s reporting centre for cybercrime, said it would seek to have the fake web shops taken down.

Online scams are a growing problem. There were 77,000 cases of purchase fraud – where goods are paid for but never materialise – in the UK in the first six months of 2023, a 43% increase compared with the same period in 2022. In the US consumers lost nearly $8.8bn to fraud in 2022, an increase of more than 30% over the previous year. The second most commonly reported scam is related to online shopping fraud.

According to the TSB fraud spokesperson Matt Hepburn, purchase fraud is “the biggest driver” of online financial crime in the UK. He said technology companies should do more to protect consumers. “Search engines and tech platforms must prevent their users from being exposed to fake sites, and swiftly remove the scam content that is reported to them.”

Hester Abrams, the international engagement manager at the industry collaboration Stop Scams UK, said: “Consumers will only be better protected from criminal outfits exploiting digital systems if businesses and governments make scam prevention a genuine priority. Investigations like this show just how much impact we could have against scammers with a better coordinated international effort.”

Additional reporting from Helen Davidson and Chi-hui Lin

Explore more on these topics

  • Scams
  • Consumer affairs
  • Retail industry
  • Internet
  • Europe
  • Online shopping
  • China
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Most viewed

  • Labor councillor stands by vote to ban same-sex parenting books in Sydney council libraries – as it happened
  • Bruce Lehrmann had no-win, no-fee deal with lawyers, federal court told
  • ‘Do you worry about STDs?’: Stormy Daniels’ testimony on Trump affair off to lurid start
  • Western Sydney councillor doubles down on same-sex parent book ban as residents express outrage over move
  • Woman invited Sydney sex crimes detective to strip club as she feared he wouldn’t help her, rape trial told