Johns Hopkins: World COVID-19 Death Toll Nears 5 Million

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Sunday that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is less than 4,000 short of the 5 million mark. The 4 million tally was reached a little more than four months ago.

India’s prime minister told world leaders at the G-20 summit in Rome that India will produce 5 million COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year for use in his country and around the world.

Narendra Modi said Saturday, however, that the 5 million doses would be easier to produce if the World Health Organization were to approve India’s Covaxin vaccine and place it on the WHO’s emergency use list. Covaxin is produced by India’s Bharat Biotech.

Meanwhile, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, told the summit Saturday, via a video platform, that China has already produced more than 1.6 billion COVID-19 vaccines that have been distributed around the world.

New York City municipal workers rushed last week to receive COVID-19 vaccines to fulfill the requirements of a mandate that they show proof of being inoculated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Friday. One in six, or more than 26,000 workers, however, remain unvaccinated. The unvaccinated workers will be placed on unpaid leave.

 

 

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UN Aims to Cut Millions of Road Traffic Deaths, Injuries by Half

The World Health Organization has kicked off a campaign to cut millions of road traffic deaths and injuries by at least half by 2030.This follows the August 2020 adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a Decade of Action for Road Safety.

More than 50 million people have died in road crashes since the automobile was invented by German entrepreneur Karl Benz in 1886. Now, the World Health Organization reports road accidents kill more than 3,500 people every day, adding up to nearly 1.3 million deaths and some 50 million injuries every year.

The WHO cites road traffic injuries as the leading cause of death globally for children and young people aged 5 to 29 years. The director of the WHO’s Department for Social Determinants, Etienne Krug, said most of these deaths and injuries are preventable.

He said a centerpiece of the U.N.’s Global Plan for reducing traffic accidents and saving lives is to get people out of their cars and have them shift to safer, healthier modes of transportation.

“Move away from a car-based transportation system to more walking, cycling and public transport. And to do that, we have to make it safe. The plan also advocates for involving more young people. As I said, it is the leading cause of death for young people and giving them a bigger role in shaping the new wave of transportation. And a greater role for private sector,” he said.

Krug said the private sector is important because of its responsibility for the safety of the vehicles it manufactures. He said a big source of danger is the large number of secondhand cars dumped by rich countries into developing countries.

“Secondhand cars who are not up to the safety standards, who either are sold in the countries or are imported from other countries who do not want them anymore. So regulating the export of used cars and the import on the other side is a very important part of improving safety on our roads,” he said.

A report last year by the U.N. Environment Program found an estimated 14 million poor quality, highly polluting older vehicles were exported from Europe, Japan, and the United States between 2015 and 2018.Four out of 5 cars, it said, were sold to poorer countries, with more than half going to Africa.

If things remain as they are, the World Health Organization warns an estimated 13 million deaths, and 500 million injuries will occur during the next decade. Most of these preventable deaths and injuries, it says, will be in low- and middle-income countries. 

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UN Climate Change Conference: What’s on the Table? 

The latest round of climate talks are getting under way Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. They are billed as the most important since the Paris conference six years ago. Here are some of the main goals of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.

Keep 1.5 alive 

Negotiators pledged in Paris that they would aim to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Scientists have warned that the goal is slipping out of reach without drastic cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The planet is already more than 1 degree warmer than it was in the late 1800s, producing more intense heat waves, stronger storms, deeper droughts, bigger wildfires, rising sea levels and more. The higher global temperatures go, the worse things will get, scientists say.

The plans that countries have submitted will not keep the world below the 1.5-degree goal. According to the latest United Nations Emissions Gap Report,  current pledges put the world on a path to a disastrous 2.7-degree temperature increase.

Some experts are cautiously optimistic, however.

While 2.7 degrees of warming is dangerous, the world was headed for 3.7 degrees or more before the Paris conference, they note. 

Plus, dozens of countries have pledged that by 2050 they will produce “net-zero” emissions. That means slashing carbon-generating sources and balancing the remaining emissions with carbon-absorbing measures such as planting trees.

Following through on these pledges would limit warming to about 2.2 degrees, according to the U.N. report — still too much, but getting closer.

“The Paris agreement is working, but it was never meant to work in one step,” Kaveh Guilanpour, vice president for international strategies at C2ES, a climate policy analysis nonprofit, said in a call with reporters.

Under the agreement, countries update their plans every five years, with the expectation that they will make deeper cuts. After a COVID-19-induced delay, COP26 will be the first chance since Paris to formally revisit those plans.

Most countries have increased their ambitions, with some important exceptions. China has not submitted a new plan. Nor has India, the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Russia’s new plan is no more ambitious than its old one. And Mexico and Brazil backslid.

Guilanpour does not expect negotiators to get to 1.5 degrees by the end of Glasgow. But all is not lost. “COP26 will be an important step, but not the last one,” he said. 

Pay up 

Developing countries are angry that industrialized nations have fallen short on a 12-year-old pledge to help them fight climate change.

They say they have little to do with warming the planet but are suffering the effects. Since industrialized nations caused the problem by burning fossil fuels as they developed, they say, these nations should take responsibility by helping developing nations pursue a low-carbon development path and adapt to a warmer planet.

Back in 2009, developed countries agreed. They pledged to commit $100 billion per year to developing countries.

They have not. Funding reached $79.6 billion in 2019, according to the latest available data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“These failures to deliver on the commitments agreed to by developed countries undermines trust and confidence in the multilateral system,” said a sharply worded statement from a group of 24 developing countries including China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

[[??This week,]] developed nations announced a plan to reach $100 billion by 2023, which did not satisfy critics.

Developing countries are also calling for additional financing to cover loss and damage from extreme weather disasters and other climate impacts.

The United States has vigorously opposed any language that suggests liability.

Other developed countries oppose separate funding, too. The European Union prefers to include it under adaptation. It’s not clear that there will be any movement on this front in Glasgow.

Can the US deliver? 

U.S. President Joe Biden will be attending the World Leaders Summit at the start of COP26. Biden aims to present a much different approach than his predecessor, Donald Trump, who withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement.

Biden rejoined the agreement on his first day in office. He has quadrupled the U.S. commitment to climate finance. And he has pledged that the United States will be at net-zero emissions by 2050.

Political realities are complicating his goals, however.

[[CHECK IF STILL OK WHEN USED]] Congress has stripped key provisions from a major bill addressing climate change. The bill is still under negotiation. It is not clear whether Biden will arrive in Glasgow with legislation to back up his ambitions.

The mood going into Glasgow is fairly downbeat.

“Progress on these issues will not be easy,” Lorena Gonzalez of the World Resources Institute Finance Center told reporters. Many of the agenda items “have been put off in years past because they’re among the most complex issues that negotiators are trying to tackle.” 

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G-20 Leaders to Discuss Climate Change

The G-20 heads of state from the world’s major economies will discuss climate change Sunday on day two of their meeting in Rome.

Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed the heads of state, including U.S. President Joe Biden, to the Italian capital, where they discussed issues of mutual concern, including the pandemic recovery.

The G-20 leaders supported a sweeping global tax deal agreed to by 136 finance ministers earlier this month, including a minimum 15% global corporate tax rate for companies with annual revenues of more than $870 million. It still needs to be implemented within each member country’s legal framework.

On COVID-19, G-20 health and finance ministers announced the formation of a new panel to improve future pandemic preparedness, proposed by the United States and Indonesia, but did not specify funding for it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on the sidelines with Biden and said they support Biden’s pledge to return the United States to full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, so long as Tehran does the same. Talks are scheduled for November.

This year’s meeting is the the first face-to-face G-20 meeting in two years. Notably absent were Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who joined virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

“Despite the G-20 decisions, not all countries that need them can have access to vaccines,” Putin said. “This happens partly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G-20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates.”

Activists marched Saturday through the streets of Rome protesting the lack of action by G-20 leaders in tackling climate change, before the leaders move on the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

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To Stargazers: Fireworks Show Called Northern Lights Coming

A fireworks show that has nothing to do with the Fourth of July and everything to do with the cosmos is poised to be visible across the northern United States and Europe just in time for Halloween.

On Thursday, the sun launched what is called an “X-class solar flare” that was strong enough to spark a high-frequency radio blackout across parts of South America. The energy from that flare is trailed by a cluster of solar plasma and other material called a coronal mass ejection, or CME for short. That’s heading toward Earth, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a warning about a potentially strong geomagnetic storm.

It might sound like something from a science fiction movie. But really, it just means that a good chunk of the northern part of the country may get treated to a light show this weekend called the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

Geomagnetic storms as big as what might be coming can produce displays of the lights that can be seen at latitudes as low as Pennsylvania, Oregon and Iowa. It could also cause voltage irregularities on high-latitude power grids as the loss of radio contact on the sunlit side of the planet. 

 

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WHO: Vaccine Inequity ‘Demonstrates Disregard for the World’s Poorest’

The World Health Organization has written an open letter to the heads of state gathered in Rome for the G-20 meeting, urging them to increase vaccine supplies for the world’s poorest, ensure access to vaccines for all people on the move and support low- and middle-income countries in combating COVID-19 with all available means.

“The current vaccine equity gap between wealthier and low resource countries demonstrates a disregard for the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable,” the open letter said. “For every 100 people in high-income countries, 133 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, while in low-income countries, only 4 doses per 100 people have been administered.”

The WHO letter also warned, “Vaccine inequity is costing lives every day, and continues to place everyone at risk. History and science make it clear: coordinated action with equitable access to public health resources is the only way to face down a global public health scourge like COVID-19. We need a strong, collective push to save lives, reduce suffering and ensure a sustainable global recovery.”

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, joined WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in signing another open letter to the G-20 leaders, urging them to make good on their promised vaccine donations to poor countries. “When the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations met at the G-7 Summit in June, they collectively announced that 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be sent to low- and low-and-middle-income countries to help vaccinate the world. Pharmaceutical companies have pledged almost the same.

“Yet, as several nations still don’t even have enough vaccines for their own health workers, the world is left asking: Where are the doses?” the letter said. “Of the almost 7 billion doses that have been administered globally, just 3% of people in low-income countries have had a jab so far. Where are the rest? … Promises aren’t translating into vaccines reaching the people that need them.”

British media has reported that Prime Minister Boris Johns is expected to announce at the G-20 summit that the U.K. will donate 20 million vaccine doses to low-income countries by the end of the year.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Saturday that it has recorded more than 246 million global COVID infections and nearly 5 million global deaths. The center said nearly 7 billion vaccines have been administered.

Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children 5-11 years old.

The FDA approved doses for children that are one-third the amount that teens and adults receive.

“With this vaccine kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University said, according to The Associated Press. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.”

Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make detailed recommendations, and the CDC director will have the final say.

Approval by the regulatory agencies would make the vaccine available in the coming days to 28 million American children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning. Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe on Friday called for schools to stay open, provided appropriate prevention and response measures are in place.

The recommendation comes after WHO reported the European region has now seen four consecutive weeks of growing COVID-19 transmission, the only WHO region to do so. The agency said Europe’s rising numbers accounted for 57% of new cases worldwide in the third week of October.

In a statement from the agency’s website, WHO/Europe says instead of closing educational institutions in response to this latest surge, it recommends a “whole-of-society approach” to reducing transmission through mitigation measures such as physical distancing, cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks and ensuring adequate ventilation.

The WHO regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, said, “Last year’s widespread school closures, disrupting the education of millions of children and adolescents, did more harm than good, especially to children’s mental and social well-being. We can’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Kluge said that in the coming months, decisions by governments and the public to reduce the impact of COVID-19 should be based on data and evidence, “with the understanding that the epidemiological situation can change, and that our behavior must change with it. Science must trump politics.”

The Pacific island of Tonga has recorded its first COVID infection. The fully vaccinated infected person arrived on the island Friday on a commercial flight from New Zealand.

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G-20 Summit Begins in Rome With Focus on Climate Change, COVID Pandemic

The G-20 Summit hosted by Italy kicked off Saturday in Rome, where leaders from the world’s major economies discussed issues of mutual concern, including pandemic recovery and climate change.

The red carpet was rolled out at La Nuvola, Rome’s Convention Center, as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders amid strict COVID-19 protocols.

This summit is the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting in two years, following last year’s virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. Notably absent are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They will join virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

Pandemic response and prevention

On Friday, G-20 health and finance ministers released a communique committing to bringing the pandemic under control everywhere as soon as possible. They said the G-20 will take all necessary steps needed to advance on the global goals of vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

However, the ministers could not reach agreement on a separate financing and coordination mechanism to prepare for future pandemics proposed by the U.S. and Indonesia.

“We’re looking for not the ultimate final product of a financing mechanism or the ultimate final product of a task force or a board that would operate as kind of a global coordinating body going forward,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “So the hope is to have in the communiqué a statement of intent that we will work towards these two outcomes.”

Climate change

In Rome, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the summit an opportunity to “put things on track” ahead of the U.N. COP26 climate conference in Glasgow that G-20 leaders will participate in following their Italy meeting.

“There is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,” Guterres said. “The current nationally determined contributions, formal commitments by governments, still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7-degree increase,” he said referring to the pledge made at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Countries are expected to announce more emissions reduction pledges to reach the target of net-zero emissions by around mid-century, but some analysts are skeptical of these voluntary commitments that come without enforcement mechanisms.

“There’ll be pledges, the best-case scenario something along the lines of what we saw in Paris,” said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Rohac added that to make progress on climate change, the world needs tangible actions.

“Rather than to proceed with this habit of looking for a big-bang multilateral solution, to pursue sound domestic policies that that accelerate decarbonization,” he said.    

A key issue to watch is whether G-20 members can agree on coal actions. The U.N. has called for wealthy countries to phase out coal by 2030, but G-20 environment ministers have failed to agree on a timeline.  

Guterres also called on wealthy nations to uphold commitments to provide funding to help developing nations mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, wealthy nations pledged a minimum of $100 billion per year in climate funding to lower-income countries. Much of that money has not been delivered.

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China Hits Reset on Belt and Road Initiative

Green energy is the new focus of China’s one-of-a-kind Belt and Road Initiative or BRI, that aims to build a series of infrastructure projects from Asia to Europe.

The eco-friendlier version of BRI has caught the attention of some 70 other countries that are getting new infrastructure from the Asian economic powerhouse in exchange for expanding trade.

The reset on China’s eight-year-old, $1.2 trillion effort comes after leaving a nagging layer of smog in parts of Eurasia, where those projects operate.

Now the county that’s already mindful of pollution at home is preparing a new BRI that will focus on greener projects, instead of pollution-generating coal-fired plants. It would still further China’s goal of widening trade routes in Eurasia through the initiative’s new ports, railways and power plants.

The Second Belt and Road announced in China on October 18, coincides with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which runs from Sunday through November 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. China could use the forum to detail its plans.

“China’s policy shift towards a more green BRI reflects China’s own commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060 and its efforts to implement a green transition within China’s domestic economy,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist with the market research firm IHS Markit.

“Furthermore, China’s policy shift…also reflects the increasing policy priority being given towards renewable energy and sustainable development policies by most of China’s BRI partner countries,” he said.

The Belt and Road helps lift the economies of developing countries from Kazakhstan to more modern ones, such as Portugal. BRI also unnerves China’s superpower rival, the United States, which has no comparable program.

History of focusing on fossil fuel

China has a history of putting billions of dollars in fossil fuel projects in other countries since 2013, the American research group Council on Foreign Relations says in a March 2021 study.

From 2014 to 2017, it says, about 90% of energy-sector loans by major Chinese banks to BRI countries were for fossil fuel projects and China was “involved in” 240 coal plants in just 2016. In 2018, the study adds, 40% of energy lending went to coal projects. Those investments, the group says, “promise to make climate change mitigation far more difficult.”

South and Southeast Asia are the main destinations for coal-fired projects at 80% of the total Belt and Road portfolio, the Beijing-based research center Global Environmental Institute says.

Global shift toward green energy

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last year China would try to peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030. The Second Belt and Road calls for working with partner countries on “energy transition” toward more wind, solar and biomass, the National Energy Administration and Shandong provincial government said in an October 18 statement. 

Some countries are pushing China to offer greener projects due to environmental pressure at home, though some foreign leaders prefer the faster, cheaper, more polluting options to prove achievements while in office, said Jonathan Hillman, economics program senior fellow at the Center for International & Strategic Studies research organization.

“There was a period in the first phase of the Belt and Road where projects were being shoveled out the door and with not enough attention to the quality of those projects,” he said.

Poorer countries are pressured now to balance providing people basic needs against environmental issues, said Song Seng Wun, an economist in the private banking unit of Malaysian bank CIMB. The basics still “take priority,” he said, and newer coal-fired plants help.

“Although I would say environmental issues (are) important, I think a lot of people don’t realize how much more efficient these more modern coal plants are, so I think we must have a balance,” Song said.

In the past few years however, cancellation rates of coal-fired projects have exceeded new approvals, Hillman said. “The action honestly has come more from participating countries,” he said. “They’ve decided that’s not the direction they want to go.”

In February, Chinese officials told the Bangladesh Ministry of Finance they would no longer consider coal mining and coal-fired power stations. Greece, Kenya, Pakistan and Serbia have asked China to dial back on polluting projects, Hillman said.

“The next decade will show to what extent the Belt and Road will drive green infrastructure,” London-based policy institute Chatham House says in a September 2021 report.

Belt-and-Road renewable energy investments reached a new high last year of 57% of its total for energy projects in 2020, according to IHS data.

New pledges at COP26?

COP26 is expected to showcase the environmental achievements of participating countries as they try to meet U.N. Paris Climate Change commitments, Biswas said.

China’s statements ahead of the conference so far differ little from past statements. But China’s energy administration said on October 18 that its second Belt and Road “emphasizes the necessity of increased support for developing countries” in terms of money, technology and ability to carry out green energy projects.

Chinese companies on BRI projects may eventually be required to reduce environmental risks, Biswas said. Those companies would in turn follow principles released in 2018 to ensure that their projects generate less carbon. A year later, as international criticism grew, Chinese President Xi added a slate of Belt and Road mini-initiatives, including some that touched on green projects.

But the 2019 plans were non-binding and untransparent, Hillman said. At COP26, he said, “I would take any big announcements with more than a grain of salt.”

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Tonga’s First COVID-19 Case Detected, May Face Lockdown

Tongan Prime Minister Pohiva Tuionetoa warned Saturday that residents on the country’s main island Tongatapu faced a possible lockdown next week after recording its first case of COVID-19.

The tiny Pacific kingdom had been among only a handful of countries to escape the virus so far, and the infection was detected in a person in managed isolation after returning to Tonga on a repatriation flight from New Zealand.

“The reason the lockdown won’t happen this weekend is because I have been advised that the virus will take more than three days to develop in someone who catches it before they become contagious,” Tuionetoa said.

“We should use this time to get ready in case more people are confirmed they have the virus.”

Most of Tonga’s population of 106,000 live on Tongatapu, and fewer than a third have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Health officials said the person who tested positive had received their second jab in mid-October.

The repatriation flight included members of Tonga’s Olympic team, who had been stranded in Christchurch since the Tokyo Games. The athletes were double vaccinated before they left for the Olympics.

New Zealand’s health ministry confirmed the infected person had tested negative before the flight left Christchurch, where there are only four known cases of COVID-19, all of them in the same household 

 

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WFP: Climate Change Risks Creating Global Tsunami of Hunger

The World Food Program says that without consolidated global action to stop the acceleration of climate change, the world faces a crisis of acute hunger.

The WFP says climate shocks are destroying lives, crops and livelihoods and  are undermining people’s ability to feed themselves. It cites Mozambique as an example of a country particularly vulnerable to climate change. It notes millions of people are suffering from food scarcity because of punishing cyclones, drought and pest infestations leading to agricultural losses.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri said Friday that hunger would increase rapidly throughout vulnerable communities worldwide if global action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are leading to climate change.

It’s often stated by climate scientists and activists that humans must stop the planet from warming an additional 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most destructive effects of climate change. “Research shows that if global temperatures keep rising to hit the 2 degrees Celsius mark, an additional 189 million people could become food insecure,” Phiri said. “Now, in a 4 degree Celsius warmer world, this number could increase by as many as 1.8 billion people.”

Trouble spots

The WFP describes the devastating wide reach climate change is having on the livelihoods in communities in the “dry corridor” of Central America; in Afghanistan, where drought was officially declared in June; and in Yemen, where severe and frequent floods have damaged and destroyed infrastructure and homes.

Phiri said the WFP is helping people in communities where food is in short supply to prepare for, as well as respond and recover from, climate shocks and stresses. He said the agency has reached more than 6 million people in 28 countries with climate risk management solutions.

For example, he said, the WFP provided cash assistance for 120,000 people in Bangladesh four days ahead of severe flooding to help them protect critical assets. In Madagascar, he said, the WFP has launched a microinsurance program to help farmers who have lost their crops because of drought.

“Ahead of COP26, the World Food Program is calling for coordinated global climate action to urgently address the challenges of the climate crisis and to reduce its impact on hunger,” Phiri said. “More specifically, we are advocating for a shift from crisis response to risk management.”

Phiri said governments should manage risks rather than disasters. He said a more forward-looking perspective is needed to prepare for bigger and more frequent climate shocks and enable early action to help prevent predictable climate emergencies.

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FDA Clears Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Children 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized on Friday the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children 5-11 years old. 

The FDA approved for children doses that are one-third the amount that teens and adults receive.

“With this vaccine kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University said, according to The Associated Press. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.” 

On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make detailed recommendations, and the CDC director will have the final say. 

Approval by the regulatory agencies would make the vaccine available in the coming days to 28 million American children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning. Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger. 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe on Friday called for schools to stay open, provided appropriate prevention and response measures are in place. 

The recommendation comes after WHO reported the European region has now seen four consecutive weeks of growing COVID-19 transmission, the only WHO region to do so. The agency said Europe’s rising numbers accounted for 57% of new cases worldwide in the third week of October. 

In a statement from the agency’s website, WHO/Europe says instead of closing educational institutions in response to this latest surge, it recommends a “whole-of-society approach” to reducing transmission through mitigation measures such as maintaining physical distancing, cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks and ensuring adequate ventilation.

The WHO regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, said, “Last year’s widespread school closures, disrupting the education of millions of children and adolescents, did more harm than good, especially to children’s mental and social well-being. We can’t repeat the same mistakes.” 

Kluge said that in the coming months, decisions by governments and the public to reduce the impact of COVID-19 should be based on data and evidence, “with the understanding that the epidemiological situation can change, and that our behavior must change with it. Science must trump politics.”

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US Space Weather Center Issues Geomagnetic Storm Watch

The U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) Friday issued a Strong Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Saturday, saying power and communications systems could be affected after a significant solar flare was observed on the sun.

The U.S. space agency NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory reported observing a significant solar flare — or “coronal mass ejection” (CME) — Thursday. Flares or CMEs are powerful eruptions on the sun’s surface that send tons of superheated gas and radiation into space. The observatory, which constantly monitors solar activity, captured an image of Thursday’s event.

The bursts of radiation often head toward Earth, and while harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans, if they are strong enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and other  communications signals travel.

When solar activity could affect day-to-day activity on earth the SWPC, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), issues a watch or warning.  

In this case, the center issued a strong, or G3, storm watch for Saturday, indicating the radiation could affect power systems, creating voltage irregularities, interference with communications systems or the operation of spacecraft, such as satellites. The watch is in effect from the North Pole south to the 50th parallel, roughly halfway to the equator.

The prediction center said the aurora borealis — also known as the northern lights — may also be visible Saturday at unusually lower latitudes. It issued a G2 or moderate geomagnetic storm watch for Sunday.

NASA and NOAA have developed the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan to help mitigate the effects of solar events. NASA works as the research arm of the nation’s space weather effort, using a fleet of spacecraft that monitor the sun’s activity, the solar atmosphere, as well as particles and magnetic fields in space surrounding Earth.

NOAA established the SWPC in Boulder, Colorado, to monitor solar activity, much the way NOAA’s National Hurricane Center monitors tropical cyclones. Using NASA’s satellites and solar observatories, SWPC can give forecasts and warnings of solar activity that could impact the Earth.

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Countries Urged to Turn Carbon Neutral Commitments Into Climate Action

Ahead of next week’s climate conference in Scotland, 10 United Nations and international agency heads, including the World Meteorological Organization, are calling on governments to turn their carbon neutral commitments into climate action.  

Scientists tracking the impact of human activity on the warming of the planet say the scientific case for urgent climate action is unequivocal. They note rising temperatures have led to increased sea levels and more frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, heat waves, and excess rainfall.

The U.N. and international agency heads have issued a united and urgent call to governments to prioritize climate action, particularly when it comes to water.  They say accelerated action is urgently needed to address the water-related consequences of climate change.

World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis says the agency chiefs warn climate change is dramatically affecting the water cycle, making droughts and floods more extreme and frequent, and decreasing the natural water storage in ice and snow.

“Changing precipitation patterns are already impacting agriculture, food systems, and livelihoods are becoming increasingly vulnerable, as well as ecosystems, and biodiversity. Rising sea levels threaten communities, infrastructure, coastal environments and aquifers,” Nullis said.

Participants at next week’s so-called “make-or-break climate summit” are expected to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The aim is to stave off climate change by limiting global warming to one-point-five to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Nullis said scientists agree on the urgency to translate the commitments into action and to do more to accelerate carbon neutrality.

“The concentrations that are up there in the atmosphere now are at record levels. Even if we reach carbon neutrality tomorrow, the inertia in the climate system and especially in the ocean means that heat will carry on increasing for several decades even after that,” she said.

At the meeting, Nullis said the WMO, the U.N. Environment Program, and the U.N. Development Program will announce a new coalition fund to improve the collection of essential weather and climate data.  

She said the facility will close the growing data gaps that impede the ability to forecast extreme weather events and, ultimately, protect the climate.

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Pandemic Further Squeezes Indian Women, Already on the Margins

Desperate for work, Sabila Dafadar walks every morning from her poor neighborhood tucked behind tall glass and chrome buildings in the business hub of Gurugram, 32 kilometers from New Delhi, to a busy intersection where day laborers wait for contractors who come to pick up construction workers.

After she migrated from her village 10 years ago, she easily found jobs both as household help and in an office as a cleaner. Like millions of other women, she lost her job last year during a stringent lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Indian businesses and factories have reopened, it has been tough for Dafadar to find work as the economy struggles to recover.

“I have only managed to get work for 15 days during the last three months,” the 35-year-old said.

While women around the world have been hit harder by job losses than have men during the pandemic, the impact on women in India has been particularly severe, experts say.

Even before the pandemic, women made up only about 20% of India’s labor force – far below the global average and lower than is the case in such South Asian countries as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Many of them work in India’s vast informal sector.

Now there are fears their space will shrink further, particularly for women from poorer households.

“Women are in distress in terms of reentering the labor force, especially urban women who were the worst affected,” said Sona Mitra, principal economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy in New Delhi.

“Many who worked or ran small enterprises such as beauty or tailoring services and tiny shops used up their savings during the shutdown and could not restart work when the economy reopened. Others were concentrated in sectors like the garment industry and call centers where workers have less safeguards and can be hired and fired easily.”

A report by the Center of Sustainable Employment at Aziz Premji University this year said more women and younger workers lost jobs during a stringent lockdown last year and that even after jobs recovered, fewer women were able to return to the workforce.

While women are again picking up work, many have had to turn to lower-paid and less secure employment.

“For example, when small private schools in cities shut down, teachers went back to villages and joined unskilled work,” said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, one of India’s largest trade unions.

“So, the direction for many women during COVID and even post-COVID has been from skilled to semi-skilled and unskilled work,” she said.

‘Opportunities simply are not there’

Although the formal sector accounts for a much smaller percentage of India’s overall female workforce, here too women were disproportionately affected because industries such as hospitality, tourism and retail that employ more women were the worst-hit.

Six women were among employees laid off last year by a food delivery company in its New Delhi office – women made up a majority of the staff.

“It has been very hard for them to find work,” said a former manager who asked that her name not be used.

“The opportunities simply are not there,” she said.

The women who had lost jobs would not speak on the record.

Experts say the pandemic has highlighted a paradox that women faced even earlier – a steady decline in their participation in the workforce despite rising levels of education and a growing pool of women with college degrees.

From a little over 30% in 2011, their share in the workforce fell to about 20% in 2019.

“The pandemic simply magnified what was already happening. The big employing sectors have not been creating jobs and everything just became much more bare in the job market,” said Sairee Sahal, founder of SHEROES, a portal for female job seekers.

“In retail for example, what has been growing is e-commerce where women’s presence is marginal and not brick-and-mortar retail that employs a lot of women,” she said.

The public health crisis that has kept schools closed for the last year and a half also worsened the situation.

“Social norms in India put the primary burden of household chores and child care on women and put restrictions on their mobility,” Mitra said.

Calling shrinking opportunities for women a wake-up call, she said policymakers must spur expansion of labor-intensive sectors such as garment manufacturing, where women have more opportunities.

“While some work is coming back, we see it coming in the lower rung of the economy,” she said.

Those working on women’s issues say the shrinking space for them will affect not just the economic but also the social position of women in a country where they have struggled to break free of patriarchal norms.

“When they lose their earnings, they lose their independence and status. We have seen that happening during the pandemic,” Kaur said.

“And women who have no support system find themselves struggling to make ends meet,” she added.

Dafadar is aware of that situation.

“In the past year and a half, I have cut back on whatever I could, including food by half.” she said as she looked into the road, hoping for a day’s work. 

 

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