Philippines contestant Catriona Gray named Miss Universe

BANGKOK – The Philippines' Catriona Gray was named Miss Universe 2018 in a competition concluding Monday in Bangkok, besting contestants from 93 other countries and delighting her home country. The 24-year-old Gray wore a sparkling red dress she said is inspired by a volcano in the Philippines as she was handed the crown to the … Continue reading “Philippines contestant Catriona Gray named Miss Universe”

BANGKOK – The Philippines' Catriona Gray was named Miss Universe 2018 in a competition concluding Monday in Bangkok, besting contestants from 93 other countries and delighting her home country.

The 24-year-old Gray wore a sparkling red dress she said is inspired by a volcano in the Philippines as she was handed the crown to the delight of a roaring crowd that generally favored Southeast Asian contestants.

She said she wore red because "when I was 13 my mom said she had a dream that I would win Miss Universe in a red dress." She said her mom cried when they saw each other after she won the competition.

Gray edged out first runner-up Tamaryn Green of South Africa and third-place Sthefany Gutierrez of Venezuela. She succeeds Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa.

In the Philippines, pageants are a popular attraction, and Gray's countrymen cheered wildly and jumped for joy when she was declared the winner. Celebrations were especially buoyant in Oas town in the northeastern province of Albay, from which Gray's Filipina mother hails.

The office of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was quick to congratulate the winner. Gray is the fourth Filipina to be named Miss Universe.

"Ms. Gray truly made the entire Philippines proud when she sashayed on the global stage and showcased the genuine qualities defining a Filipina beauty: confidence, grace, intelligence and strength in the face of tough challenges," he said in a statement from the presidential palace. "In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work."

An early round of questioning touched on the issue of drugs, where Duterte's aggressive 'war on drugs' has taken thousands of lives, many in what critics charge were extrajudicial executions. Duterte raised even more controversy when he recently joked that he smoked marijuana to deal with the busy schedule of meetings with other Asian leaders at a regional summit.

Asked what she thought about legalizing marijuana, Gray said: "I'm for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use. Because I think if people will argue, then what about alcohol and cigarettes? Everything is good but in moderation."

This year's Miss Universe competition included the first-ever transgender contestant, Miss Spain Angela Ponce. She said in a video presentation that it was not important for her to win but was more important for her "to be here."

One of the few controversies of this year's contest involved Miss United States Sarah Rose Summers seeming to mock contestants from Cambodia and Vietnam over their English language skills. Summers apologized.

The finale was again hosted by Steve Harvey who infamously announced the wrong winner in the 2015 contest. Harvey joked briefly about the incident in exchanges with contestants and said "You all can't let that go" and "I'm still here."

The theme of the 67th Miss Universe pageant was "Empowered Women" and was judged by seven women including former pageant winners, businesswomen, and a fashion designer.

The contestants spent nearly a month in Thailand to compete in preliminary rounds wearing elaborate national costumes, visit famous tourist sites and even met the country's prime minister.


Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

Visitors evacuated, animals moved after fire at British zoo

LONDON – A fire broke out Saturday in an enclosure at one of Britain's largest zoos, forcing keepers to evacuate visitors and move animals away from the flames.

Witnesses said the blaze broke out about 11:30 a.m. in the Monsoon Forest habitat area, with winds fanning flames in the building's inflatable roof. The zoo, which is near Chester, south of the English city of Liverpool, did not give a cause for the fire.

The zoo said it worked with emergency services to bring the situation under control.

"Critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and other mammals are all accounted for," the zoo said on Twitter. "We are working hard to account for all other species."

The zoo describes the Monsoon Forest exhibit as the largest indoor zoo exhibit ever built in Britain, offering a chance to explore a sub-tropical world filled with creatures ranging from small insects to crocodiles. It also contains exotic plants and palm trees in a climate that mimics Southeast Asia and has raised walkways and underwater viewing areas.

The enclosure, which opened in 2015, was part of a 40 million pound development at the zoo.

"We were very worried for the people and animals that would have been in the building," said David Clough, who lives across the road from the structure. "Orangutans and gibbons are our nearest neighbors there, but there are many other animals, including free-flying birds."

The zoo, which opened in 1931, has some 15,000 animals, CEO Mark Pilgrim said on its website. It cares for some 500 different species, about half of which are endangered, and supports and conducts 70 conservation projects at home and abroad.

The Latest: Brazil causes roadblocks at UN climate talks

KATOWICE, Poland – The Latest on the U.N. climate talks in Poland (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

Attempts by developed nations at the U.N. climate talks in Poland to create watertight rules for international carbon emissions trading have prompted new, last-minute demands from Brazil.

Officials say the closing meeting at the U.N. climate talks has been delayed until 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) Saturday, prompting a collective groan from delegates.

Negotiators from almost 200 countries appeared close to clinching a deal Saturday on the rules that will govern the 2015 Paris climate accord, after two weeks of intense negotiations in Poland.

The most recent draft agreement published by the Polish official chairing the meeting set out most of the terms under which countries must report their greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to cut them.

Language on increasing efforts to curb climate change was postponed until a U.N. summit in New York in September.


9 a.m.

A deal on the rules that govern the Paris climate accord appeared within grasp Saturday, as officials from almost 200 countries worked to bridge remaining differences after two weeks of U.N. talks in Poland.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was a landmark moment in international diplomacy, bringing together governments with vastly different views to tackle the common threat of global warming. But while the accord set a headline target of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — or 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible — much of the fine print was left unfinished.

The meeting in Poland's southern city of Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases — a key factor in man-made climate change — and the efforts they're taking to reduce them. Poor countries also wanted assurances on financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rise and pay for damage that's already happened.

UN climate talks inch forward, success uncertain

KATOWICE, Poland – Negotiators from almost 200 countries raced to find agreement on the rules that will govern an international treaty on curbing global warming, but the text the Polish diplomat chairing the talks planned to present to delegates Thursday remained under debate as the two-week summit neared an end.

Diplomats and ministers huddled behind closed doors at a U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland, weighing every word in drafts that cover issues such as how countries will count their greenhouse gas emissions and tally the effect of efforts to reduce them.

Along with the rulebook for putting the goal of the 2015 Paris climate accord into practice, the main issues at the talks are how much financial support poor countries will get to offset the effects of climate change and whether to send a strong message about future work to curb climate change.

Last week, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked endorsement of a scientific report on a key element of the Paris agreement: capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7. Fahrenheit). The action angered other countries and environmentalists, who accused the four oil-exporting nations of trying to stall progress toward the accord's most ambitious target.

"Tonight is the critical night," Greenpeace Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said. She urged developed countries to keep the rules from getting watered down in the final hours and to ensure poor nations get the help they need.

Mohamed Adow, a climate expert at Christian Aid, said the discussions on financial support seemed to be moving in the right direction, though the overall outcome of the talks was uncertain.

Developing countries have been promised billions of dollars (euros) in aid, loans and other financial support to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to inevitable changes in the world's climate.

Some are also demanding money to make up for the damage already caused by global warming, arguing that rich industrial nations are to blame for most of the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans have pumped into the atmosphere.

"Real action requires real money for real solutions," said Adow. "The EU needs to separate itself from the laggards like Australia, Japan and the United States."

While U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he's pulling out of the Paris accord, American officials dangled the possibility that the U.S. might consider rejoining if it gets more favorable terms.

China, which was a key broker of the 2015 accord, dismissed the idea of revising core parts of the pact.

"China and the U.S. have worked together with all other countries to complete the negotiation and thus make the Paris Agreement a milestone achievement in global climate governance," Beijing's chief negotiator. Xie Zhenhua, told reporters.

"We will not reopen negotiations on issues where we have already reached agreement," he said.

Xie also pushed back on demands from rich nations for China to accept the accounting and reporting rules developed countries follow. He noted that while China is the largest single emitter of polluting gases, its gross domestic product per capita remains below the world average.

German negotiator Karsten Sach expressed optimism a deal could be reached, rating the draft texts that emerged between Wednesday night and Thursday morning as "somewhere between seven and eight" out of ten.

"Quite good, but not perfect," he said.

One veteran of global climate talks said it wasn't unusual for negotiations to hit a crisis toward the end, as exhausted negotiators try to reconcile a complex set of drafts with their national interests.

"In a positive way, it's creative chaos," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "But I do not know how it will be this time."


Associated Press reporter Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.


Read more stories on climate issues by The Associated Press at

Kristine Tompkins celebrates new Argentina marine parks

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – American conservationist Kristine Tompkins said Thursday that the creation of Argentina's first marine national parks is a milestone that gets it close to meeting its U.N. recommended goal for 2020.

Argentina's Congress on Wednesday approved the "Yaganes" and "Namuncura-Banco Burdwood II" parks in the southernmost Argentine sea, covering a combined area of 39,000 square miles (101,000 square kilometers).

The measure increased the country's protected oceans to nearly 10 percent of its total territory, which is close to its commitment to the 2020 goal agreed on by the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity. It also protects habitat and feeding grounds for penguins, sea lions, sharks and other marine species.

Tompkins is the widow of Doug Tompkins, a founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing companies. The couple used much of their fortune to buy huge tracts of land in Patagonia, a lightly populated region of untamed rivers and other natural beauty straddling southern Chile and Argentina.

Since his death in a kayaking accident in 2015, Tompkins has continued donating vast swaths of Argentine and Chilean lands to protect them from development. Her Tompkins Conservation group also worked with Argentina on the creation of the marine parks.

Tompkins said the new marine parks have "propelled Argentina a long way forward" in maritime preservation.

"There are sea lions, some of the biggest penguin rookeries in the hemisphere. … It's down by the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and where they crash against each other, so you can imagine the richness and diversity that this area has. It's very special. It's unlike any other place on Earth," she said in a telephone interview from the southern Chilean city of Puerto Varas.

"You have Antarctica coming up from the south, the Pacific from the west, the Atlantic from the east and it creates untold riches in terms of marine life."

Argentina "went from a very low 2 percent (of maritime protected areas) to nearly 10 percent now," she said, adding that although other regional countries like neighboring Chile have protected a much greater percentage of maritime areas, it still marks a watershed moment.

"Every country has to start some place and yesterday, Argentina really put it firmly on the map, and that's what counts," said Tompkins, who was recently named U.N. Environment Patron of Protected Areas.

Tompkins Conservation says Argentina's new marine protected areas "harbor continental slope waters with cold-water coral reefs, an ecosystem that is considered globally vulnerable."

Conservationists say the Namuncura-Burdwood Bank II park has deep seabed and underwater canyons with rich diversity. The Yaganes park remains mostly unexplored but it is a feeding area for endangered seabird species and is home to sei whales, fin whales and other marine species.

Japan begins reclamation at disputed US base despite protest

TOKYO – Japan's central government started main reclamation work Friday at a disputed U.S. military base relocation site on the southern island of Okinawa despite fierce local opposition.

Construction workers started dumping a truckload of sediment into the sea at Henoko on Okinawa's east coast to build a runway for a Marine Corps base that will be relocated from densely populated Futenma in the southern part of the island. The central government has reversed Okinawa's earlier ban on landfill work at the site.

Opponents of the relocation say it would not only be an environmental debacle but also ignore local wishes to remove the base.

"I strongly resent the construction that is being carried out while ignoring the will of the Okinawan people," Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters. He said he had repeatedly visited Tokyo and asked top officials in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet to postpone the landfill work and engage in dialogue. Tamaki was in Tokyo on Thursday for talks with Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya.

Dozens of people in rubber boats protested the move. Many Okinawans say the presence of so many U.S. troops on the island is already a heavy burden and they want the existing Futenma air station closed and its replacement moved off the island entirely.

Officials in Tokyo said they will stick with the plan despite protests. Washington's position is that the dispute should be resolved between Tokyo and Okinawa.

About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and the majority of their key facilities are on Okinawa. Residents have long complained about base-related noise, pollution and crime.

AP PHOTOS: Urgency of climate talks seen in coal plants, ice

WARSAW, Poland – As politicians haggle at a U.N. climate conference in Poland over ways to limit global warming, the industries and machines powering our modern world keep spewing their pollution into the air and water.

The fossil fuels extracted from beneath the earth's crust — coal, oil and gas — are transformed into the carbon dioxide that is now heating the earth faster than scientists had expected even a few years ago.

The devastating wildfires, droughts, floods and hurricanes of recent months and years are intensifying the urgency of the two-week conference in Katowice, which is due to end Friday.

But not far from the conference center, plumes of smoke rise from Europe's largest lignite, or brown coal, power plant, in the central Polish town of Belchatow. Of the 50 most polluted cities in the European Union, 36 are in Poland.

Elsewhere, from the U.S. to Japan and China, the coal plants, oil refineries and other installations needed to power factories and heat homes are playing their role in a warming earth.

The negotiators at the international talks are also discussing financial support to poor countries, which are bearing the brunt of drought and flooding, which translate often into agricultural disaster and famine and are a factor behind greater migration.

The challenge of reducing emissions is made more difficult by the growing demand in the developing world for fuel as people there also seek to achieve the benefits and comforts of the industrialized world.

In Africa and Asia, which have become dumping grounds for the rich world's waste, it is now common to see poor people scavenging for scraps of paper and other recyclable materials at garbage dumps, competing sometimes with crows or storks.

Fumes from cars are also playing their role in poisoning the air in many cities, from Jakarta and Katmandu to Moscow to Brussels.

Environmentalists in Katowice are warning that time is running out to prevent ecological disaster, a message also being taken up by artists.

In London, 24 large blocks of glacial ice from the waters surrounding Greenland have been placed in front of the Tate Modern and six at other city locations. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson hopes his installation, called "Ice Watch" and launched Tuesday to coincide with the climate conference in Katowice, will impact people emotionally and inspire urgent public action.

The installation will be on show until the ice melts.

The Latest: Ex-VP Gore thinks Trump may help climate cause

KATOWICE, Poland – The Latest on the climate talks taking place in Poland (all times local):

9:00 p.m.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore says he thinks President Donald Trump's stance on global warming may actually advance the cause of tackling climate change.

Gore has spent years raising awareness of global warming and advocating prevention strategies. He said on Wednesday "it may be a perverse step forward to have Donald J. Trump as the global face of climate denial because so much of what he says is nonsense."

But he told an audience on the sidelines of the U.N. climate summit in Poland he thinks conservative Republicans "are beginning to really worry that they're going to be associated with that."

Gore also called out the Trump administration for joining Saudi Arabia last week in blocking the endorsement of a scientific report on the options governments have to prevent catastrophic climate change.


8:20 p.m.

An American diplomat attending the U.N. climate talks in Poland says the United States is planning to help its allies adapt to climate change.

Judith G. Garber, an assistant secretary in the State Department's environment division, said the U.S. also wants to help other countries cut greenhouse gas emissions and respond to natural disasters.

Unlike scientists and nearly every other speaker at the two-week summit, Garber drew no explicit links between emissions, climate change and natural disasters.

Her comments echoed the wording of previous statements from Washington and reflected the views of President Donald Trump, who has questioned whether climate change is man-made.

Garber restated the U.S. intention to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate accord on curbing climate change "absent the identification of terms that are more favorable to the American people."


8:00 p.m.

The Polish government official serving as president of a U.N. climate summit says the international talks have entered a "critical phase" and require dedication from all involved if they are to end in success.

Deputy Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka said Wednesday that ministers from almost 200 countries are working to "unlock issues which are outstanding and which require political involvement of leaders."

The conference runs through Friday in Katowice, Poland. The goal of this year's annual climate event is working out ways to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century.

Kurtyka told The Associated Press that negotiators were moving forward on a wide array of issues.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres revisited the talks Wednesday to urge progress.


7 p.m.

Dozens of rich and poor countries are announcing that they will step up action to curb global warming in an effort to kick start stalled climate talks.

The so-called High Ambition Coalition, which includes the Germany, Britain, Canada, Sweden, Spain and Argentina, also backed a drive to keep average temperature rise at 1.5 Celsius.

The announcement at the climate talks in Katowice, Poland, comes hours after UN chief Antonio Guterres made a dramatic appeal for negotiators to find a compromise to end the meeting successfully this week.

The coalition also counts several Pacific and Caribbean island nations.


6:50 p.m.

A Ukrainian official has used the U.N. climate summit as an opportunity to criticize Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine's Minister of Ecology Ostap Semerak spoke Wednesday at the summit in Katowice, Poland, aimed at deciding on ways of counting and reporting carbon gas emissions by almost 200 participating countries, as they effort to combat global warming.

Semerak urged the participants to pay attention to the count for the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, to prevent a "double count" — because both Ukraine and Russia may report the figure from there.

He said Ukraine is stepping up its efforts in fighting global warming and cutting its traditional reliance on its coal.


4 p.m.

Climate activists from Asia have protested on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks against the Japanese government's financing of coal mines and power plants in the region.

Burning coal is considered a major source of global warming. Japan has opened eight coal power plants since the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster undermined public support for nuclear power. It is planning to add over 30 coal plants in the next decade.

The protesters called on Japan to stop financing coal.


2:50 p.m.

The United Nations secretary-general has made a dramatic appeal for countries to compromise to tackle climate change for future generations.

Speaking Wednesday at the U.N. climate talks in Poland, Antonio Guterres told ministers and senior diplomats from almost 200 countries that reaching agreement "means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all."

The U.N. chief cited a key scientific report which found that curbing greenhouse gas emissions sooner is the most effective way to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

Guterres said failure in the talks "would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change," adding: "It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal."

Guterres said that while most people in the room would not be around by the end of the century, their grandchildren would be and "they would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiraling climate change would be our legacy to them."


2:45 p.m.

The United Nations secretary-general says countries must increase their contributions to international funds to help poor nations to tackle climate change.

Antonio Guterres told ministers and senior officials gathered in Poland on Wednesday that failing to agree on financial support "would send a disastrous message."

He also called for a strong framework to ensure transparency among countries' efforts to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris accord that aims to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

Guterres said scientists say the world has the ability to reach the target. He added: "What we need is the political will to move forward."


2:35 p.m.

The United Nations secretary-general is urging negotiators at the U.N. climate summit to speed up their work if an agreement is to be reached by the end of the week.

Antonio Guterres told ministers and senior officials gathered in Poland on Wednesday that fresh reports highlight the urgent need to tackle global warming.

The U.N. chief said he recognized negotiators had made some progress since Dec. 2 but warned that "the key political issues remain unresolved."

Guterres told envoys that "we need to accelerate those efforts to reach consensus if we want to follow up on the commitments made in Paris."

One of the key tasks at the talks is to finalize the rules of the 2015 Paris accord.


1:55 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's negotiators at the U.N. climate summit want scientists to spend more time examining global warming before countries decide on policies to tackle it.

A senior Saudi negotiator told reporters that his country wants to wait for a U.N.-appointed panel to complete a further review in 2022 before countries decide whether to endorse the science.

The negotiator briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to be identified by name.

Saudi Arabia drew anger from environmental groups and other countries Saturday after blocking endorsement of a special report on the Paris climate agreement's target of keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).

They were joined by Russia, Kuwait and the United States.

The Saudi negotiator said his country supports the Paris agreement, despite recent comments by a former Saudi climate envoy calling it "dead."

The negotiator accused some countries at the talks in Poland of trying to shift the focus away from emissions targets toward the phasing out of fossil fuels. The oil-rich kingdom is trying to pushing technology it hopes can remove carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions.

— By Frank Jordans


12:50 p.m.

The head of environmental group Greenpeace hopes U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will inject a sense of urgency in the stumbling climate summit in Poland.

Jennifer Morgan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there's been a lack of leadership from major players in the talks, including the European Union.

Guterres, who flew back to Poland late Tuesday amid fears the meeting could collapse without agreement, is scheduled to take the floor shortly after 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).

Morgan said he "needs to make it very clear that he expects this COP to send a signal that all countries are going to increase ambition."

The 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP, is meant to finalize the rules of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but Morgan said current drafts include serious loopholes.


10:25 a.m.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has flown back to Poland in an effort to support struggling talks on ways of fighting climate change.

Guterres was expected to make a statement Wednesday during the U.N. climate summit in Katowice, southern Poland, where negotiators from almost 200 countries are trying to work out an agreement this week on ways of keeping global warming in check.

The talks hit a hurdle Saturday when the United States and three other countries blocked endorsement of a landmark study on global warming.

A U.N. official who was not authorized to release the information told The Associated Press that Guterres, who opened the talks last week, has returned to Katowice to encourage progress.

— By Frank Jordans


10 a.m.

Germany's environment minister wants more European Union funds to support regions affected by the closure of coal mines.

Svenja Schulze told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks Wednesday that Germany is committed to phasing out the use of coal, though the exact deadline has yet to be determined.

She praised the measures Spain has taken to achieve a so-called just transition for miners in that country.

In a nod to the recent protests in France over fuel prices, Schulze warned that governments that force through measures would lose public support "faster than you can spell climate protection, and then people pull on yellow vests."

The climate talks in Katowice, Poland, have entered a crunch phase, with some delegations calling for stronger leadership to ensure agreement is reached.

In Iceland, 13 ‘Yule Lads’ come to town to herald Christmas

MYVATN, Iceland – The people of northern Iceland have had their travel plans disrupted with a record high snowfall this December. Roads have been shut, flights cancelled and school suspended.

But for the children of this isolated North Atlantic island nation, the main worry is how the waist-high snow might affect the Icelandic Santa, Stekkjastaur, who comes to town Wednesday.

Stekkjastaur, after all, has a stiff peg-leg.

He is one of 13 mischievous troll brothers, called the Yule Lads, who have entertained and also frightened Icelandic children for hundreds of years.

Instead of a friendly Santa Claus, children in Iceland enjoy favors from the brothers, who come down from their mountain cave 13 days before Christmas according to folklore.

The brothers are loud, reckless, and have names like Door-Slammer, Window-Peeper, Meat-Hook, Candle-Stealer — reflecting their preferred method of pranks or criminal behavior. But they claim to be mostly rehabilitated, and Sausage-Swiper is now keen to host barbecues.

Traditionally, they bathe once a year ahead of Christmas. Every year local actors in Myvatn, an inland community bordering Iceland's uninhabited interior, dress up in 19th-century costume and arrive as the Yule Lads to a natural lagoon heated with water from hot springs.

To children in the region, their arrival marks the countdown to December 24, when Icelanders celebrate Christmas.

"But, but, but — I was told we were going fishing," mumbled actor Hulda Sigmundsdottir, who plays "Pot-Licker," as she dipped her woolen sock reluctantly into the bath.

In the spirit of today's global outsourcing economy, the Yule Lads have also taken on the responsibility of replying to letters addressed to Santa Claus, their foreign colleague.

Soffia Jonsdottir, who is Santa's de-facto secretary in Iceland, says the Icelandic Postal Service forwards all Santa mail to the tiny outpost at Myvatn.

"Santa is a distant cousin of the Yule Lads so of course we are happy to help out," she said. "We reply to every letter that has a return address."

The letters arrive throughout the year and often include a wish-list, personal gift or simply a warm greeting. The Yule Lads, who speak Icelandic, admit sometime struggling with foreign languages.

Fortunately the letters are not delivered to the Yule Lads' home, where they might be stolen by their evil mother, Gryla, said to be a 600-year-old woman who eats children.

This dysfunctional family even has an innocently named "Christmas Cat," a giant feline with the habit of eating children — particularly those not wearing new clothes over the Christian holiday.

"You find a number of parents saying that we have to tone Gryla and her family down a bit," said Terry Gunnell, a professor in folklore at the University of Iceland. "But that would take away some the genuine Icelandic Christmas which is a dark time when days pass with only few hours of sunlight."

Gunnell said the Yule Lads had traditionally been used to discipline children when adults were busy preparing for the holiday.

"On the old Icelandic farms, stories of dark figures kept children from running into the mountains or falling into lakes or things like that," he said.

Parents used to torment children with such disturbing stories that in the 18th century, Danish king Christian VI tried to ban such un-holy tales.

For the next 13 days leading to Christmas, Icelandic children will enjoy favors from the Icelandic Santas as they come down from the mountains one by one, with presents — or a rotten potato in the case of bad behavior.

Five-year-old Anita Heidrunardottir, who was playing with her friends at the Managardur kindergarten in the capital Reykjavik, said she was hoping to wake up to books and mandarin oranges in her shoe in the run-up to Christmas.

"My sister is scared of the Yule Lads," she said. Why? "She does not know them. That's why she is scared."

UN chief calls for compromise, sacrifice at climate talks

KATOWICE, Poland – The United Nations secretary-general called on countries to make compromises in tackling global warming, amid concern that the U.N. conference on the issue could end without a substantial agreement.

In his second dramatic appeal at the talks in Poland in the space of 10 days, Antonio Guterres told ministers and senior diplomats from almost 200 countries they should consider the fate of future generations.

"This is the time for political compromises to be reached," he said. "This means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all collectively."

His call came as the two-week meeting in Katowice shifted from the technical to political phase, with ministers taking over negotiations.

Campaign groups warned of the risks of failure and accused powerful players such as the European Union of not pushing hard enough to reach an agreement.

"A new leadership must step up," said Vanessa Perez-Cirera of the environmental group WWF. "We cannot afford to lose one of the 12 years we have remaining."

She was referring to a recent scientific report by a U.N.-backed panel that suggested global warming can only be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) if urgent action is taken by 2030, including a sharp reduction in use of fossil fuels.

Endorsing the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change became a crunch issue over the weekend, with the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait opposing the move.

Jean-Pascal Ypersele, a former deputy chair of the panel, said whether or not countries believe the report's conclusions is irrelevant because the science is clear.

"Nobody, even the so-called superpowers, can negotiate with the laws of physics," he said.

Ypersele called for the 1.5-degree target — mentioned in the 2015 Paris climate accord — to be recognized in the final text.

"It's a question of survival for a large part of humanity, and many other species," he said.

The Polish official chairing the talks circulated a condensed draft text Wednesday that still contained many question marks in areas where countries disagree.

"Parties are progressing," Michal Kurtyka told The Associated Press. "Nevertheless it is a very complex, a very wide array of issues that we are discussing in parallel at the same time."

The Dec. 2-14 meeting is supposed to finalize the rules that signatories of the Paris accord need to follow when it comes to reporting their greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to reduce them.

Jennifer Morgan, the head of environmental group Greenpeace, said the current drafts contain too many loopholes to be effective, including one proposal allowing countries to choose how to calculate the amount of emissions absorbed by trees when submitting their reports.

"There's no scientific integrity in that," Morgan said.

Poor countries, meanwhile, want assurances on financial support to tackle climate change. Many say they are already seeing the effects of global warming in droughts, floods and other disasters made worse by emissions generated mostly by developed nations.

A third objective of the talks is getting governments to make a firm commit to raising ambitions for addressing climate change in the coming two years, although without precise figures.

Within hours of Guterres' appeal, dozens of countries announced they would step up their efforts to curb global warming to help kick start stalled climate talks.

The so-called High Ambition Coalition — which includes rich nations such as Germany and Canada as well as developing countries such as Mexico and Fiji — also backed the call to keep the average global temperature rise at 1.5 Celsius.

"The High Ambition Coalition helped to reach the Paris agreement. Now we have to secure this achievement," said Svenja Schulze, Germany's environment minister.

Guterres, who made a detour on his way to Yemen peace talks in Sweden, said failure to reach agreement in Katowice "would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change."

"It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal," he added.

Guterres said that while he and most people in the room wouldn't be alive by the end of the century, children alive today would be.

"I do not want my granddaughters or anybody else's to suffer the consequences of our failures," he said, "They would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiraling climate change would be our legacy to them."


Associated Press reporter Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.


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