EU Ambassadors Take Up Shovels to Make Point About Climate Change

Around the world, national leaders and diplomats have expressed their hopes that the United States will reverse its decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on fighting climate change. In Washington, some others have chosen to act in small ways rather than wait. 
 
Ambassadors and aides from all 28 members of the European Union joined forces last week with volunteers from Casey Trees, a local conservation group, to plant trees in a Washington city park, hoping to earn goodwill and make a symbolic point with their labor. EU countries’ representatives joined National Park Service staff and volunteers from Casey Trees to plant oak, holly, tuliptree and American elm trees at Montrose Park in northwest Washington, Nov. 15, 2019. (Natalie Liu/VOA)Trees soak up and store some of the excess planet-warming carbon dioxide that human activities produce.”The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” the enthusiastic planters were told as they gathered in a sunny corner of Washington’s Rock Creek Park by Stavros Lambrinidis, ambassador of the European Union (EU) to the United States. “The second best time is now.”  Speaking afterward to VOA, Lambrinidis elaborated on the significance of individual citizens’ actions.”Every single thing every single citizen does is as important as the grand things that governments do,” he said, noting that the EU has committed itself to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.Benjamin Roehrig, senior counselor at the French Embassy in Washington, tells VOA that the door is always open should the U.S. change its mind concerning the Paris Agreement. (Natalie Liu/VOA)Estonian emissary Jonatan Vsevoiv, one of about a dozen ambassadors who took up shovels, said the effort “symbolizes the EU’s effort on the climate front.” He added that the oak tree he helped plant holds special meaning to his native Estonia, just as it does in the United States.”I would say this is a national tree. It symbolizes strength and longevity — and stability,” he said.Having spent half of the past decade in diplomatic posts in the U.S. capital, Vseviov added that Washington has become for him “almost like my second hometown. … I’m glad to do something that gives back to the city.”  The tree-planting effort was led by Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi of Finland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. (Natalie Liu/VOA)The tree-planting effort was led by Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi of Finland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. She said her nation has a special affinity for trees, given that 70% of its surface is covered by woods and that Finns basically “live in and outside of the forest.” 
 
Even as Finland is often imagined as a land of ice and snow, the trees in her Nordic country “have no problem surviving the winter,” she said. “Then we have a very nice summer, a lot of sunlight. That’s when the trees grow.”   
 
Eva Hunnius Ohlin, senior adviser for energy and environment at the Swedish Embassy, was laboring with two other female embassy staffers when Juan Urbano, the Spanish Embassy’s robust agricultural attaché, offered a hand. 
 
The self-sufficient women declined his offer, but Ohlin cheerily told Urbano he should not take it personally “because we had earlier turned down the Finnish ambassador.”  Eva Hunnius Ohlin, right, senior adviser for energy and environment at the Swedish Embassy, with two of her colleagues insisted on Swedish sovereignty in their planting effort. (Natalie Liu/VOA)On a more serious note, Ohlin told VOA that her embassy has been increasingly engaged on climate change with institutions on the city and state level, even as the federal administration is seen as retreating on the issue. 
 
The interest in the issue in the big coastal states such as New York and California is well known. But, Ohlin said, citizens are also active “in the middle of the country,” in states like Colorado. 

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Baking Cities Advance ‘Slowly’ in Race Against Rising Heat Threat   

With urban populations surging around the world, cities will struggle to keep residents safe from fast-growing heat risks turbo-charged by climate change, scientists and public health experts warned this week.Heat is already the leading cause of deaths from extreme weather in countries including the United States. The problem is particularly severe in cities, where temperature extremes are rising much faster than the global average, they said.Even today, areas where the world’s population is concentrated, such as in Asia’s cities, are seeing warming of four times the global average temperature increase, a Lancet report on health threats from climate change noted this week.”It’s a worldwide problem — in cities in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa,” said Joy Shumake-Guillemot, who leads a joint climate and health office in Switzerland for the World Health Organization and World Meteorological Organization.In coming decades, urban warming “is going to put populations in a position where they’re exposed to temperatures they’re not acclimated to, cities are not built for and social systems are really not prepared to deal with,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Cities are often “heat islands” — hotter than surrounding rural areas — because their vast expanses of concrete trap and hold heat, including that given off by vehicles and energy use in the city itself, and they have fewer cooling green spaces.But a growing number of cities are now trying to tackle the problem. Tel Aviv, for instance, plans to cover many new public spaces with shade either from trees or artificial canopies, said Shumake-Guillemot, one of the authors of the Lancet report.Other cities are working to set heat standards for everything from workplaces to schools, establishing public cooling centers and rethinking warning messages and heat advice, to more effectively reach those most at risk, she said.Employers and unions also are taking action, in some cases by shifting construction work to cooler night-time hours and enforcing water breaks.But the changes are rarely easy and can have unintended consequences — such as construction workers put on night shifts who then struggle with sleep deprivation and may be at greater risk of falling, Shumake-Guillemot said.”There are complicated trade-offs to try and figure out how we are going to live successfully and in a healthy way in a much warmer world,” noted the environmental health policy expert.For now, especially in the hottest places, “people are working in really dangerous conditions … and sometimes they don’t have other options,” she added.The Lancet report found that in 2018 excessive heat caused the loss of 133 billion hours of work worldwide that would otherwise have been carried out, 45 billion more than in 2000.In several southern U.S. states, as much as 15-20% of daylight working hours last year were too hot for people to do their jobs, it found.But construction workers, military personnel and farmers, in particular, have little choice but to be outside, noted Shumake-Guillemot.Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment, said dealing with rising heat threats was in some ways simpler than tackling other climate-related health risks, such as the spread of diseases like dengue fever or malaria.”People should not and do not need to be dying in heatwaves,” said Ebi, one of the Lancet report’s authors. “Every heat-related death is preventable, essentially.”But huge amounts of work are required to understand why those most at risk from extreme heat are not getting the help they need, she said.People over 65, for instance, are among those most likely to die during heatwaves, because of pre-existing health conditions, failing to recognize dehydration or taking prescription drugs that can interfere with their ability to sweat, Ebi said.Many cities have set up cooling centers to help older people ride out heatwaves, but have not provided transport for them to get there, she added.Other people who face significant heat risks include children playing afternoon sports and professional athletes training in high temperatures, she said.Organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are currently working to cut heatstroke risks for athletes running on what promises to be a blistering marathon course next summer, even after it is painted with heat-reflective material.”Overall, the awareness (of heat risk) is not where it needs to be — but we’re very slowly making progress,” Ebi said.

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Toxins Increase in Somali Crops Under Climate Shocks

Somalia is one of the world’s countries worst affected by global warming, suffering near-constant droughts, heat waves and floods. Recent flooding in south central Somalia affected 547,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when more than 2 million are food-insecure.Scientists and food safety experts say the climate shocks are not only destroying Somali crops and livestock but are also increasing the levels of toxins in the food that makes it to harvest. The frequent droughts, in particular, have significantly increased toxins in maize, sorghum and wheat, the main staple foods in the country.”What is making Somalia more vulnerable to these toxins is the climate change, because our farms are rain-fed,” said Abdi Mohamed Hussein, head of plant protection at the Ministry of Agriculture. “The droughts and the heat are creating a conducive environment for the bacteria to grow in these crops, thus damaging the corn trees (stalks)and making it easier for the mold and fungus bacteria.”A study conducted by Queen’s University Belfast on Somali crops, published earlier this year, found that levels of aflatoxin B1, a toxin linked to development of liver cancer, are dangerously high compared to European Union levels.In this Nov. 21, 2011 photo, residents harvest crops at a community-run farm, which receives assistance by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, near Dolo in Somalia.Dr. Ewa Wielogorska of the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, who supervised the lab work for the study, says the results were “quite shocking.””When we looked at the concentrations, unfortunately we found out that the levels of the most dangerous mycotoxin, which is aflatoxin B1, was over 400 times higher than the level permitted by the European Union,” she told “Investigative Dossier,” a VOA Somali program. “The other toxins exceeded European limits from 20 to almost 80 times.”Queen’s University collected 140 samples from maize, sorghum and wheat in 2014, but the result of the lab work was only released earlier this year. Wielogorska, who has a doctorate in food analysis, says all of the maize samples and almost all of the sorghum samples were contaminated with various amounts of toxins.  “When we tried to translate the risk to the consumer, we found out that the risk is 700 times higher than the risk that the consumers in (the) EU are faced with when consuming widely available food,” she said.The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has not conducted its own study on the problem, but Emma Ouma, an FAO food nutrition expert, concurred with the role of climate shocks in high levels of aflatoxins.”We just know that because of the environment, that we have the food being stored in terms of the humidity, the soil, the nitrogen stress, the farm, we may have high levels of aflatoxin, but it has not been scientifically proven,” she said. “I do feel that in terms of climate change, it exposes the population to higher levels of aflatoxin.”There are no statistics proving that liver cancer is on the rise in Somalia, but Dr. Mohamed Mohamoud Fuje, a general practitioner based in Mogadishu, says he sees an increase.”Liver cancer is increasing in Somalia. The liver is very vulnerable to these toxins,” Fuje said. “The danger is even worse if the person was suffering from hepatitis B.”
 

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US House Panel Backs Marijuana Decriminalization

A divided U.S. House committee approved a proposal Wednesday to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, a vote that was alternately described as a momentous change in national cannabis policy and a hollow political gesture. The House Judiciary Committee approved the proposal 24-10 after more than two hours of debate. It would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, while allowing states to set their own rules on pot. The vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy and is truly a sign that prohibition's days are numbered,'' Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement. Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine called the votea historic step forward for cannabis policy reform.” State measuresThe vote came at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form, and committee members from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy lagged behind changes at the state level. That divide has created a host of problems. Loans and other banking services, for example, are hard to get for many marijuana companies because pot remains illegal at the federal level. The House bill’s future is uncertain. It wasn’t immediately clear if the proposal would be reviewed by other committees, nor was it clear when or whether a vote would take place in the full House. The proposal has better chances of passing in the Democratic-controlled chamber than in the Republican-held Senate. The House passed a bill earlier this year to grant legal marijuana businesses access to banking, but it hasn’t advanced in the Senate. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee complained that the proposal to decriminalize cannabis had never had a hearing and lacked the bipartisan support needed to become law. It's going nowhere,'' said Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. Sales taxAmong its provisions, the legislation would authorize a 5% sales tax on marijuana products to fund programs aimed at assisting people and communities harmed in the battle against drugs, such as job training and legal aid. It also would require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the nation has for too longtreated marijuana as a criminal justice problem, instead of a matter of personal choice and public health.” Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust,'' he said.The racial disparity in enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.” 

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Australia Searches for African Swine Fever Vaccine

Australian scientists say it could be another five years before a vaccine is developed to protect pigs from African swine fever.  It is estimated that a quarter of the world’s pig population has died this year, following the deadly outbreak of the virus in China. African swine fever, or ASF, has yet to reach Australia, but it is close.  The virus has been spreading rapidly through Asia, and outbreaks have been reported in East Timor, one of Australia’s closest neighbors.Hong Kong Reports a Case of African Swine Fever

        A case of African swine fever has been detected in a Hong Kong slaughterhouse, prompting the culling of all 6,000 pigs at the facility.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in a statement Friday that the incurable virus was found in a single pig imported from a farm in Guangdong province in mainland China, where the monthslong outbreak has devastated herds.

Pork is China’s staple meat and its price and availability is considered a matter of national concern.

The disease is devastating pig populations in several countries.  It is highly contagious and there is no cure.Scientists have been working on a vaccine for 60 years, but because the African swine fever virus is so large and complex it is an immense task.At the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in the state of Victoria researchers are hopeful of a breakthrough, but concede an effective treatment for ASF could be at least five years away.China Reports Outbreak of African Swine Fever in Hunan

        China has reported a new outbreak of African swine fever that is threatening the country’s vital pork industry.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs reported Friday that the disease had been detected on a farm in Yongzhou in the central province of Hunan, where 4,600 pigs were being raised.

Although 171 of the pigs had died and 270 were found sick, ministry regulations require all pigs on an affected farm be culled and disposed of and the area quarantined and decontaminated.

1 million pigs…
The laboratory’s director is Dr Trevor Drew.“I do not think I really expected African swine fever to spread with such ferocity,” said Drew.  “I think we will not be able to control African swine fever until there is a vaccine available.”Without a vaccine, Australia will rely on traditional methods of disease control should ASF reach its shores.  Infected pigs would be culled, their carcasses buried and farms disinfected.Australia’s multi-million dollar pork industry includes about 2,700 producers, which employ 34,000 people.US Halts Polish Pork Imports Over African Swine Fever

        The United States suspended imports of pork from Poland Thursday because of an outbreak of the highly contagious hog disease African swine fever in that country.

African swine fever has spread rapidly in Eastern Europe and China, the world’s largest pork producer, where new cases are appearing and the disease is traveling far distances.

The United States is free of the disease and eager to keep it that way because infections in U.S.

There are concerns the disease could spread through Australia’s large feral pig population.  It numbers about 25 million, and the animals are spread across almost half the country.Scientists say the most likely way ASF could enter Australia is through infected pork products that are then fed to pigs.Under new bio-security laws, Australia is deporting tourists who fail to declare illegal pork products.

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Курс гривні щодо долара залишився майже незмінним – НБУ

Національний банк України опівдні 20 листопада встановив довідкове значення курсу 24 гривні 19 копійок за долар, це на одну копійку менше за офіційний курс на середу.

На міжбанківському валютному ринку зміни також незначні. За даними сайту Finance.ua, станом на 12:40 котирування становили 24 гривні 17,5–19,5 копійки за долар.

«Ближче до 12-ї години на торги вийшли всі основні покупці, що на тлі досить стриманої пропозиції підтягнуло котирування вгору», – вказує сайт «Мінфін».

 

Раніше цього тижня гривня наблизилася до встановленого у вересні багаторічного максимуму проти долара США.

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From Venice to Sydney, Extreme Weather Fuels Climate Change Debate

In recent days the Italian city of Venice has suffered the worst flooding in 53 years – prompting a fierce debate among Italian politicians over whether man-made climate change is to blame. The same argument is taking place in Australia as wildfires fueled by soaring temperatures encroach on the city of Sydney. Henry Ridgwell reports on the extreme weather events that are stoking the climate debate.

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