Day: November 8, 2021

Obama Speaks at COP26, Says Not Enough Progress on Climate

Former U.S. President Barack Obama told the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Monday that most nations failed to meet their commitments made in the 2015 Paris Climate Conference agreement and the world is nowhere near where it needs to be in confronting climate change.

Speaking during the second full week of the talks — known as COP26 — Obama said that while the Paris conference and subsequent agreement showed what is possible and created a framework from which to address the challenges of the climate crisis, most nations failed to be as ambitious as they needed to be.

“The escalation, the ratcheting up of ambition that we anticipated in Paris six years ago has not been uniformly realized,” Obama said. He called it “particularly discouraging” that the leaders of China and Russia — two of the largest emitters — declined to even attend the conference, and both nations have demonstrated what he said “appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency” on climate change.

China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Its president, Xi Jinping, last week called on other nations to “step up cooperation” and act on climate targets. Xi, however, offered no new commitments. The comments came in a statement to the conference.

Obama said advanced economies like the United States and Europe need to be leading on this issue, but so do China, Russia and India. He said, “We can’t afford anybody on the sidelines.”

Addressing young people, Obama encouraged them to “vote like your life depends on it, because it does.” Obama said he understood their cynicism about politics, but that governments around the world will not act unless they feel pressure from voters.

The 26th U.N. climate conference — or Conference of the Parties, or COP — is Obama’s first since he helped deliver the 2015 Paris climate accord, when nations committed to cutting fossil fuel and agricultural emissions fast enough to keep the Earth’s warming below catastrophic levels.

Climate summits since then have been less conclusive, especially as the U.S. under President Donald Trump dropped out of the Paris accord. President Joe Biden has since rejoined. Last week, Biden announced ambitious change commitments as he attended the Glasgow conference. The U.S. is the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. 



COP26: Who Pays? 

More than 100,000 climate-action activists from across the world gathered in Glasgow Saturday to protest the agreements and promises made so far at the COP26 climate talks.

According to protesters, the new pledges made during the summit — to cut carbon and methane emissions, end deforestation, phase out coal and provide more financing for poorer countries most vulnerable to extreme weather — are just “eye candy,” falling far short of what’s needed to curb global warming. 


Teenage activist Greta Thunberg has described the two-week summit as more “blah blah blah” and called it a “failure.” She told clamorous youth protesters outside the venue that the conference has turned into “a global North Greenwash Festival.”  

Others worry, though, that in the rush to make climate-action pledges, Western governments may be going too fast with decarbonizing and risk losing the support of their own populations by failing to take into account the economic impact of the monumental shifts being envisaged.

Opinion polls suggest that across the globe, overwhelming majorities of people see climate change as an emergency requiring dramatic action. But some polls in recent weeks have also suggested that when people are told what the costs might be for them to help curb global warming, they are reluctant to shoulder the financial burden.

A survey in Britain published Sunday suggested that less than half of the British population are willing to pay thousands of pounds to make their homes greener to help meet net-zero emission goals outlined by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Those polled were asked their opinions on green policies to slash emissions before and after hearing about the estimated upfront costs to insulate their homes and switch from natural gas boilers for heating to heat pumps. In the survey conducted for British think tank Onward by pollster J.L. Partners, 50% backed the idea of better insulation for homes, double glazing and switching to heat pumps. But when they were provided with the estimated cost of $11,000 per household, support trailed away, with just 26% agreeing.

“Millions of voters, broadly supportive of the ‘cleaner earth’ agenda, are wondering how much of the burden of transitioning to a low-carbon, low-emission economy will fall on them, when they’re already struggling to make ends meet,” economist and newspaper columnist Liam Halligan wrote Monday in The Telegraph. 

How to green the planet and fund the transition away from fossil fuel dependency to renewable, sustainable energy, and how to finance projects to make countries more resilient to extreme weather, have been key themes at the summit. The discussion of costs and how to share them between governments (via taxation), consumers, households and the private sector have also been featured.

Last week, major banks, investors and insurers pledged trillions in green funding in a coordinated commitment to incorporate carbon emissions into their investment and lending decisions.

The United Nations’ Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, made up of more than 450 financial institutions across 45 countries and managing assets valued at $130 trillion, have committed to its program to cut carbon emissions and fund investments needed for new greener technologies.

Unveiled last week by U.N. climate envoy Mark Carney, the funding can take the form of bank loans and investments by venture capitalists, private-equity firms, mutual funds, endowments and other big investors that buy stocks and bonds. They would still earn profits while shifting funds toward investments that help reduce carbon emissions.

“These seemingly arcane but essential changes to the plumbing of finance can move and are moving climate changes from the fringes to the forefront and transforming the financial system in the process,” said Carney, a former head of the central banks of England and Canada. “The architecture of the global financial system has been transformed to deliver net zero,” Carney said.

“The gap between what governments have and what the world needs is large,” in order to finance a global energy transition and reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in Glasgow after the announcement of the finance measures. “And the private sector needs to play a bigger role.”

Climate activists have decried the pledge, saying it is just another big promise that won’t be observed.

“Global leaders can no longer trust financial institutions to regulate themselves,” Veronica Oakeshott of Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization, said in a statement.

Some industry analysts and economists say the private sector plans are far from concrete, and significant problems remain on how to measure the carbon footprint of investment portfolios and align those measurements across international financial markets. Who will verify the accuracy of what banks and investors report?

Others worry that financial firms are there to maximize profits for clients and shareholders and risk losing customers or breaching their fiduciary obligations if they fail to maintain good returns. It remains unclear at this stage how profitable green investments will be.

There are also worries that the fossil fuel sector will see further divestments by lenders and investors eager to reduce their carbon footprint, which will boost energy costs for consumers as global demand for natural gas and oil continues to rise. Fossil fuel investments are already insufficient to meet future energy demands.

That, in turn, has contributed to the current global energy crunch and record-high energy prices for households and businesses, say industry commentators. 


Alec Baldwin Shooting Accident Prompts Review of Gun Use on Film Sets

The recent fatal accident on the set of Alec Baldwin’s movie, Rust, prompts calls for a ban on the use of real guns in TV shows and films. Genia Dulot in Los Angeles spoke with master armorer Mike Tristano about safety on movie sets.

Camera:Genia Dulot and Dana Preobrazhenskaya


India’s latest Zika Outbreak Sees Surge of Nearly 100 Cases

At least 89 people, including 17 children, have tested positive for the Zika virus in a surge of cases in the Indian city of Kanpur, its health department said on Monday.

First discovered in 1947, the mosquito-borne virus Zika virus reached epidemic proportions in Brazil in 2015, when thousands of babies were born with microcephaly, a disorder that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

“There has been a surge in cases of the Zika virus and the health department has formed several teams to contain the spread,” Dr. Nepal Singh, chief medical officer of Kanpur district in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, told Reuters.

“There is one woman who is pregnant, and we are paying special attention towards her.”

Cases have been reported in several Indian states in recent years, though Amit Mohan Prasad, Uttar Pradesh’s top government bureaucrat for health and family welfare, told Reuters this was the first outbreak in the state.

The first Zika case in the industrial city of Kanpur was detected on Oct. 23 and the number of cases has increased over the past week.

“People are testing positive because we are doing very aggressive contact tracing,” said Prasad. Authorities were increasing their surveillance of the outbreak and eliminating breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that transmit the virus, Singh said.


Study Suggest Moderate Alcohol Consumption Could Be Good for Heart Health

A study by Monash University researchers in Australia has found that moderate drinking of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a lowering of death from all causes — when compared to zero alcohol consumption.

More than 18,000 people over the age of 70 in the United States and Australia took part in the research. It is the first study to investigate the heart health implications of drinking alcohol. 

It found that the consumption of modest amounts of alcohol was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Robyn Woods is an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.    

“Taking or consuming five to ten alcoholic beverages a week, which is quite modest gave better outcomes than those who were completely teetotal. It seemed to be associated with a reduced cardiovascular disease risk and also of all-cause mortality,” Woods said.

Researchers have said their findings should be interpreted with caution because participants in the study were healthy with no previous heart or other severe diseases.They could also have been more physically and socially active than the wider ageing population.  

Exactly how modest alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other causes of death is unknown.   

Associate professor Woods says more research is needed. 

“There is some evidence that modest alcohol intake has vascular properties that could be beneficial. But there is also the potential for social benefits. So, you know, consuming alcohol with friends, family, etcetera may well have a benefit,” Woods said.

The Monash University, Melbourne, research is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.   

Guidelines from the Australian Drug and Alcohol Foundation, a leading public health organization, advise that both men and women should consumer no more than 10 standard drinks per week. A standard drink in Australia contains 10 grams of alcohol. 


New Zealand Voluntary Euthanasia Law Comes into Effect

Medically assisted dying is now legal in New Zealand. The End of Life Choice Act has come into effect one year after almost two-thirds of New Zealanders voted in favor of it. 

Supporters believe the assisted dying laws will give New Zealanders who are “suffering terribly at the end of their lives” choice, compassion and dignity.    

To be eligible, a person must have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months. They must also be able to make an informed decision.  

The legislation came into force Sunday, a year after a binding referendum.   

Brooke van Velden is the deputy leader of the small ACT New Zealand party, which promoted the voluntary euthanasia law. 

She told Radio New Zealand the measures will benefit the South Pacific country of 5 million people.  

“This weekend New Zealand became a kinder, more compassionate and humane society for allowing people who are struggling and suffering in those last few days with their terminal illness choice and compassion on how and when they go,” Velden said.

However, some critics insist that patients with chronic conditions might feel obliged to use euthanasia to avoid being a burden on their families.  

They also believe that “inadequate palliative care services” need to be better resourced, so that terminally ill patients receive better care.  

Some senior Church leaders have said that while they oppose the “deliberate taking of human life,” they would still offer care and advice to those who choose “assisted dying” under the new laws. 

The government has appointed three experts, including a medical ethicist, to monitor the legislation. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she voted “yes” in the referendum last year on voluntary euthanasia and the legalization of recreational cannabis. 

New Zealand joins a small group of countries, including the Netherlands and Canada, which allow euthanasia.  


New York City Comeback: Marathon Welcomes Runners and Fans

33,000 runners returned to the streets of New York City for the 50th New York City Marathon. The race was canceled last year due to the pandemic and with its return, the city is on an upswing. Tina Trinh reports.

Camera: Esha Sarai​

Esha Sarai  contributed to this report.


Costs, Literacy and Design: The Invisible Barriers to Tackling the Digital Divide

Connecting everyone in the world to the web will not single-handedly bridge the digital divide, tech experts at the Web Summit said this week, citing other invisible barriers like high costs, low digital literacy and complicated user interfaces.

The so-called “digital divide” refers to the gap between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who don’t, with the latter group made up of nearly half the world’s population, according to the United Nations.

With many essential services like schooling and banking moving online, the coronavirus pandemic has brought new urgency to global efforts to get the unconnected online by bringing internet coverage to remote or deprived areas.

“(COVID-19) made us clearly understand that what used to be seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ technology is now a ‘must-have’,” said ‘Gbenga Sesan, executive director of Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise working on digital inclusion.

Reaching everyone can be a daunting task.

Even identifying where exactly internet access is needed is no easy feat in parts of the globe, said Sophia Farrar, who leads a program that uses satellite imagery and other data to locate offline schools and get them connected.

“No one actually knows how many schools there are in the world,” Farrar, of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told a panel at Europe’s biggest tech conference in Lisbon.

“What we aim to achieve through the mapping is even just setting what that baseline target is.”

Increased mobile penetration has accelerated the process.


The number of active mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide jumped more than 75% to nearly 6 billion, including people with multiple accounts, between 2015 and 2020, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Only about 450 million people live in areas not covered by mobile broadband, according to telecoms lobby group GSMA.

But even where there is coverage, more than 3 billion are not online, largely because they lack tools, skills and money to make use of it, said Robert Opp, chief digital officer at the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).

“If you just connect somebody with infrastructure, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have productive use of your internet connection,” told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Cost is one major barrier, he noted.

There are only a few developing countries where internet prices are in line with the U.N.’s target of less than 2% of the national average monthly income, Opp said.

Even in rich nations like Britain or the United States poor people often can’t afford to buy data, an issue that has sparked calls for price caps and motivated some countries to declare the internet an essential public service during the pandemic.

Others might not have the skills to navigate often complex, jargon-filled websites and applications, Opp added.

The problem has come to the fore with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, as the elderly and the frail in countries from Sweden to South Africa report having trouble booking their shots online.


Lack of digital literacy also leaves people exposed to risks such as misinformation and loss of privacy, said Opp.

While education is key to helping people protect themselves online, designing digital tools that are easier to understand and tailored for the communities they are meant to serve is also essential, said Howard Pyle, a digital designer turned social entrepreneur.

“Most websites and mobile apps are designed for digitally privileged users who already know how to use those tools – typically the most profitable users that companies will get most traction with,” Pyle said in an interview at the Web Summit.

“But this excludes people who have different needs or different abilities, for example, those who are older or lack experience with technology or lower income users who have limits in terms of the types of devices they have access to.”

Pyle’s social enterprise, ExperienceFutures, looks to help firms and governments make their web services more accessible by cutting jargon and complexity and involving the communities they are trying to serve at the design stage.

“At the moment, there is too much emphasis on trying to create one-size-fits-all tools and expect users to learn how to use them,” he said.

“We have to evolve to a place where the technology is flexible enough that individuals can understand it based on their abilities.”