EU Leaders Offer Money to Reluctant East to Push 2050 Climate Neutrality

European Union leaders on Thursday will push to agree to make their bloc climate neutral by 2050, luring reluctant eastern member states with promises of extra money for their heavily-polluting economies.The bloc’s 27 national leaders will meet in Brussels from 1400 GMT, a day after the bloc’s executive proposed a Green Deal to mobilize 100 billion euros worth of investment to help the bloc’s economies move away from fossil fuels.With floods, fires and droughts wrecking millions of lives around the world, the EU’s new executive cast the plan as the bloc’s “man on the moon moment,” kindling hopes among campaigners that other big emitters may follow suit.But coal-reliant Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were not on board, saying a draft decision must spell out in more detail the scale and scope of financing available, and pushing to include nuclear in the EU’s fresh push to cut emissions.”There will certainly be an amount of arm-wrestling,” said a senior EU diplomat from a country more enthusiastic about the 2050 goal. “There will have to be new money … but some member states will be less than enthusiastic about the target of raising 100 billion euros.”Underlining divisions in the bloc on climate, EU national diplomats in Brussels on Wednesday blocked a set of new rules governing which financial products can be called “green” and “sustainable.””It’s going to be very difficult,” said a second senior EU diplomat, from a country more reluctant to do more to fight climate change, about chances for agreement at the summit.The climate discussion feeds into another difficult one the leaders will have, namely on their next long-term budget.No agreement is expected on that after a proposal by the bloc’s current president Finland to cap joint spending at 1.087 trillion euros for 2021-27 was rejected by both the frugal camp and those seeking heavier outlay. The leaders might agree, however, to hold a summit next February to seal a deal.”We’re getting near the time when we have to sit in the sauna and sweat it out,” said another senior EU diplomat.Russia Brexit and Euro ZoneOver dinner on Thursday, the leaders are also expected to support extending for six months from February the bloc’s economic sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for rebels in the east of the country.The summit will be notable for the absence of British prime minister Boris Johnson, staying at home for a national election he is fighting on a promise to get Brexit done.After partial results come in through the night, the 27 other leaders will meet again on Friday to discuss Brexit.Should Johnson’s Conservatives win a parliamentary majority, the 27 will reaffirm their support for a divorce deal that would take Britain out of the bloc at the end of January.They will state their aim for “as close as possible” future ties with Britain and embark on preparations for trade talks “based on a balance of rights and obligations” to “ensure a level playing field,” according to their latest draft decision.Eyes will be on two more leaders at the Brussels talks: Finland’s new Prime Minister Sanna Marin — the world’s youngest at 34 — and Malta’s Joseph Muscat, who will be stepping down amid a crisis over the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.


In Madrid, Two Different US Climate Messages

The climate talks in Madrid may be the last in which the United States government fully participates — at least under the Trump administration. But more local coalitions have been stepping up to fill the gap during the two-week conference, which ends Friday. From the Spanish capital, Lisa Bryant takes a look at what is shaping into a two-track policy on climate change.


In Madrid, Two Different US Climate Messages

 MADRID — Tucked amid a maze of blue cubicles at the Madrid climate talks is the official voice of U.S. federal policy on climate change. The Washington delegation is maintaining a discreet public presence at the conference.But another message is sounding in the cavernous conference center, where representatives of nearly 200 countries are feeling the pressure to deepen their emissions-cutting goals amid a slew of dire climate warnings.Around the corner from the U.S. delegation office, the prominently located pavilion of the U.S. Climate Action Center is embracing the tagline #WEARESTILLIN — a message scrawled on its tents and echoed by U.S. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a visit here last week.A declaration by a coalition of U.S. states, cities, businesses and other entities shows they are still committed to the Paris climate agreement. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Even as the Trump administration plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement next year, a broad coalition of state, local and business leaders is heading in the opposite direction as it endorses the pact’s emissions-cutting goals. Together, members say, they represent nearly 70% of the U.S. economy.Opportunities in going green”They are seeing opportunities in the clean energy economy and they’re acting accordingly,” said Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, senior director for international climate cooperation at the World Wildlife Fund. “They see opportunity in job generation. They also see quality-of-life benefits for citizens.”World Wildlife Fund’s Mariana Panuncio-Feldman is seen in front of a photo of Pittsburg, one of the U.S. cities committed to drastically cutting climate emissions. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)The U.S. government will continue to participate in international climate discussions and “offer a realistic and pragmatic model — backed by a record of real-world results — showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions and more secure sources of energy,” according to a State Department statement.It noted emissions continued to decline in recent years, even as the U.S. economy grew. A separate study released last week by the Global Carbon Project also found U.S. emissions fell last year, on a par with the European Union.But a number of state and local leaders are embracing more ambitious goals. More than two dozen U.S. governors are part of a bipartisan climate alliance, with California and New York aspiring to become climate neutral by 2050. Dozens of businesses, universities and cities are also setting emissions-cutting goals.Together, these and other existing policies could slash greenhouse gas emissions by one-quarter by 2030, compared to 2005 levels — and with stepped-up action, by 37%, according to a report titled “Accelerating America’s Pledge,” an initiative co-founded by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg.”There is a force in the United States that is committed to addressing climate change and addressing the Paris agreement,” Panuncio-Feldman said, describing the U.S. government’s pullout of the climate pact “a wake-up call.”Going local elsewhereThe climate fight is also going local in other parts of the world, spearheaded by what environmentalists term “subnational actors.”The COP 25 conference center is seen in Madrid. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)France and a group of Brazilian states are set to announce plans this week to preserve the Amazon rainforest, threatened by forest fires and agricultural expansion, according to Reuters. Such a move would sidestep Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which has clashed with Paris over accusations of accelerating deforestation.”The amazing thing is we see, again and again, that there are businesses, local governments, citizens committed to addressing climate change everywhere,” said Panuncio-Feldman. “And they’re growing in number and strength.”But, she added, these and other efforts cannot reach the speed and scale of emissions cuts scientists say are needed on their own.”The United States is needed at the table,” she said. “Climate change cannot be solved by one government alone.”
 


Trump’s Stance on Climate Bashed During UN Conference

The Trump administration got bashing from its own countrymen during the 25th United Nations climate conference in Spain. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic presidential contender, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and actor Harrison Ford all criticized the administration for abandoning the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate.  As VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports, speakers also commended young people around the world for standing up to protect the planet.


Cameroon Measles Vaccination Team Attacked, Motives Questioned

EBOLOWA, CAMEROON — Members of measles vaccination teams in southern Cameroon have been attacked and beaten by locals who say the serums triggered side effects that sent 12 children to local hospitals.Many rural Cameroonians distrust vaccination campaigns, which have been organized as part of a national initiative to stop a measles outbreak that has afflicted a number of children.Thirty-four-year-old Samuel Amougou, a vaccination team member in Cameroon’s southern commercial town of Ebolowa, is still recovering from wounds he sustained from angry parents who oppose the vaccination campaign. He says Roman Catholic clergy transported him and five other vaccination team members to Ebolowa regional hospital after angry parents harassed them last Friday in front of a local government school.”They [the parents] did not want to hear any explanations. They did not allow me to speak. I just got blows [to] my face and all over my body, severe beatings on my face and all over my body,” Amougou said.A hand of a child is being treated after swelling up following vaccination, in Ebolowa, Cameroon, Dec. 9, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)At the same hospital, Etala Suza, a 35-year-old trader and father of two, says his son also suffered side effects of the vaccine and has been hospitalized for several days.Suza said after his son came home from school feeling tired, running a fever and vomiting, he, Suza, was told about the vaccination campaign for children in all schools. Suza said he was told by the child’s driver that the youngster threw up several times in the car.Cameroon organized the national vaccination campaign last week to contain the current measles outbreak it said had infected more than 3,000 people, especially children. The health ministry reported that the most affected area was in the central African state’s northern border with Nigeria and Chad, where 17 children had died this month.The government said but for the south region where the towns of Ebolowa and Sangmelima are located, the vaccination campaign went well in the country’s nine other administrative regions.Nurse Christelle Manedji is seen at Ebolowa regional hospital, in Ebolowa, Cameroon, Dec. 9, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)Nurse Christelle Manedji of the Ebolowa regional hospital said medical staff attended to 12 children who suffered side effects of the vaccine. She said none of them died, as some people had claimed on social media.Manedji said the first case they received was that of a 2-year-old whose diarrhea and vomiting led to severe fatigue; the second was that of a 3-year-old who had a convulsion and fever a day after she received a dose of the measles and rubella vaccine. She says they had been told to be ready to handle such cases during the vaccination campaign because there are normal reactions for some vaccinated babies.Many parents in Cameroon’s south region do not trust vaccinations. They say traditional healers carry out traditional treatments that protect children. Many prefer African traditional medical practitioners, who are more accessible and available than hospitals, which often are very far from home, understaffed and lack medication. Others say Western countries create vaccines to stop children from being able to have babies when they are of child-bearing age. Some say the vaccinations are trial drugs that may paralyze their babies. Others claim their religious practices prohibit them from having children vaccinated.Dr. Jeudi Debnet, supervisor of the vaccination drive in southern Cameroon is seen at Ebolowa regional hospital, in Ebolowa, Cameroon, Dec. 9, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)Dr. Jeudi Debnet, the highest government officer supervising the vaccination campaign in Cameroon’s south region, says such allegations are unfounded. He said officials have given instructions for all affected children to be taken to the nearest health centers.”All the children who go to the hospital [are admitted] with some effects of the vaccines should be taken care free of charge. We use vaccines that are going to expire in 2021. There are the vaccines that we are already using in routine immunization programs, so we just took the same vaccines to use during the campaign,” Debnet said.Cameroon’s health ministry reports that progress has been made in persuading parents to have their children vaccinated. Vaccination coverage in towns is estimated at 80 percent, but in some villages in the country’s hinterlands, barely have three out of every 10 children are vaccinated.Measles vaccines are displayed at Ebolowa regional hospital, in Ebolowa, Cameroon, Dec. 9, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)The last vaccination campaign, between Dec. 4 and Dec. 8, targeted 3.3 million children between the ages of nine months and five years of age. The government says it is still considering launching a catch-up exercise for measles. The disease is caused by a virus that is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing.Measles is said to be highly contagious and can remain in the air, ready to infect, for up to two hours.


Rehab Tech Company Offers Patients New Way to Regain Strength

A new rehab technology company helps patients maximize physical therapy and regain movement after paralysis – through gaming. Deana Mitchell checks it out.


Bloomberg Shows Up as Climate UN Talks Get Into Tough Phase

American billionaire and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg says that the next U.S. president should halt fossil fuel subsidies altogether.Bloomberg, who launched his campaign less than three weeks ago, is attending a United Nations global climate conference in Madrid that is kicking into high gear.Ministers from nearly 200 countries are arriving on Tuesday to tackle some of the tough issues that negotiations couldn’t resolve over the past week, including finalizing the rules for international carbon markets that economists say could help drive down emissions and help poor countries to cope with the effects of rising temperatures.     Opening an event on sustainable finances organized by the summit host, Spain, Bloomberg said that “the next president of the United States should end all subsidies for fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel extraction, and that includes tax breaks and other special treatment.”
“He or she should reinvest that funding into clean energy, which will also create a lot of new jobs,” he added.
The 77-year-old businessman and former New York mayor is expected to share the results of his private push to organize thousands of U.S. cities and businesses to abide by the terms of a global climate treaty that the Trump administration is working to abandon.
 “Americans are willing to continue to work even with a climate change denier in the White House,” Bloomberg told a room packed of journalists and officials.
 “The White House matters, but sometimes not too much,” he added.
The Democrat has vowed to rejoin the Paris climate agreement if he’s elected as president. He recently stepped down as the U.N.’s special envoy for climate action.
Unlike at many past climate summits, few heads of government are joining the talks in Madrid. The U.S. has sent a career diplomat, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, as head of its delegation.
John Kerry, the former Secretary of State under the last Democrat administration, is also attending events on the sidelines of the Madrid conference, and said the absence of any representative from the White House at the talks “speaks for itself.”
 “It’s an absence of leadership,” Kerry told The Associated Press. “It’s a tragedy.”
Most other countries are sending environment ministers or other senior officials instead of prime ministers or presidents, worrying some observers.
“It shows that there has not yet been an internalization of the emergency situation that we are in, that so few heads of state are coming to Madrid and ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to actually respond to the science,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.
She also accused some governments, such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia, of trying to weaken the agreements, and called on the European Union to work with vulnerable nations to counter those efforts.
Environmental campaigners are hoping the EU will present an ambitious plan this week for cutting emissions in the medium- and long-term that would send a message of hope to weary negotiators in Madrid.
The new head of the bloc’s executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has backed a call for the EU to stop all net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
Scientists say emissions worldwide need to start falling sharply from next year onward if there is to be any hope of achieving the Paris climate accord’s goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).
Negotiators in Madrid had worked until 3 a.m. to prepare the ground for ministers, said said Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation.
“Let’s hope to see that we can … really sort of give shape and meaning to the call ‘Time for action,'” said Kaag, referring to the motto of the U.N. talks. “It’s now or never.”   


In Sweden’s Arctic, Ice Atop Snow Leaves Reindeer Starving

Thick reindeer fur boots and a fur hat covering most of his face shielded Niila Inga from freezing winds as he raced his snowmobile up to a mountain top overlooking his reindeer in the Swedish arctic.
                   
His community herds about 8,000 reindeer year-round, moving them between traditional grazing grounds in the high mountains bordering Norway in the summer and the forests farther east in the winter, just as his forebears in the Sami indigenous community have for generations.
                   
But Inga is troubled: His reindeer are hungry, and he can do little about it.  Climate change is altering weather patterns here and affecting the herd’s food supply.
                   
“If we don’t find better areas for them where they can graze and find food, then the reindeers will starve to death,” he said.
                   
Already pressured by the mining and forestry industry, and other development that encroach on grazing land, Sami herding communities fear climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle.
                   
Slipping his hand from a massive reindeer skin mitten, Inga illustrated the problem, plunging his hand into the crusted snow and pulling out a hard piece of ice close to the soil.
                   
Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice. Unable to eat, the hungry animals have scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds.
                   
Half the herd carried on east as planned, while the rest retreated to the mountains where predators abound, and the risk of avalanches is great.
                   
Elder Sami herders recall that they once had bad winters every decade or so, but Inga said that “extreme and strange weather are getting more and more normal, it happens several times a year.”
                   
The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Measurements by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute show the country has warmed 1.64 degrees Celsius (2.95-degree Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. In Sweden’s alpine region, this increase is even greater, with average winter temperatures between 1991 and 2017 up more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4-degree Fahrenheit) compared with the 1961-1990 average.
                   
Snowfall is common in these areas, but as temperatures increase, occasional rainfall occurs, and rain-on-snow' events are having devastating effects. The food is still there, but the reindeer can't reach it. The animals grow weaker and females sometimes abort their calves while the survivors struggle to make it through the winter.
                   
“We have winter here for eight months a year and when it starts in October with bad grazing conditions it won't get any better,” Inga said.
                   
That is devastating to Sami herders, a once-nomadic people scattered across a region that spans the far north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the northwestern corner of Russia. Until the 1960s, this indigenous minority were discouraged from reindeer herding and their language and culture were suppressed. Today, of the 70,000 Sami, only about 10% herd reindeer, making a limited income from meat, hides and antlers crafted into knife handles.
                    
“Everyone wants to take the reindeers' area where they find food. But with climate change, we need more flexibility to move around,” said Sanna Vannar, a young herder from a community living in the mountains surrounding Jokkmokk, an important Sami town just north of the Arctic Circle. “Here you can't find food, but maybe you can find food there, but there they want to clear-cut the forest and that's the problem.”
                   
The 24-year-old is the president of the Swedish Sami Youth organization and, together with eight other families elsewhere in the world, they launched a legal action in 2018 to force the European Union to set more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, the European General Court rejected their case on procedural grounds, but the plaintiffs have appealed.
                   
“We've said we don't want money because we can't buy better weather with money,” Vannar said. “We've said we need that the EU take action and they need to do it now.”
                   
The EU's new executive Commission is expected to present a
European Green Deal’ on Wednesday, to coincide with a U.N. climate conference in Madrid.
                   
Herders have also started working with Stockholm University, hoping to advance research that will broaden understanding about changing weather patterns.
                   
As part of this rare collaboration between Sami and science, weather stations deep in the forests of the Laevas community are recording air and ground temperature, rainfall, wind speed and snowfall density. Sami ancestral knowledge of the land and the climate complements analysis of data gathered, offering a more detailed understanding of weather events.
                   
“With this data we can connect my traditional knowledge and I see what the effects of it are,” says Inga who has been working on the project since 2013 and has co-authored published scientific papers with Ninis Rosqvist, a professor of Natural Geography at Stockholm University.
                   
Rosqvist directs a field station operating since the 1940s in the Swedish alpine region measuring glaciers and changes in snow and ice. But through the collaboration with Inga, she realized that less “exciting” areas in the forests may be most crucial to understanding the impacts of changing climate.
                   
“As a scientist I can measure that something is happening, but I don’t know the impact of it on, in this case, the whole ecosystem. And that’s why you need their knowledge,” she said.
                   
Rosqvist hopes this research can help Sami communities argue their case with decision-makers legislating land use rights.
                   
Back in the forest, Inga is releasing onto the winter pastures a group of reindeer that had been separated from the herd when the animals scattered earlier in autumn.
                   
Several other herders have spent more than a week high in the mountains searching for the other half of the herd and trying to bring the animals down, to no avail.
                   
“As long as they are forced to stay there, they’ll get into worse and worse condition,” he warned.


Fishermen Mass to Overwhelm Mexico’s Protected Porpoises

A conservation group trying to protect the world’s most endangered marine mammal said Monday that hundreds of fishermen massed in dozens of boats to fish illegally in Mexico’s Gulf of California.Activists with the Sea Shepherd group said they witnessed about 80 small fishing boats pulling nets full of endangered totoaba fish from the water near the port of San Felipe on Sunday.Those same nets catch vaquita porpoises. Perhaps as few as 10 of the small, elusive porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, which is the only place they live.While totoaba are more numerous, they are also protected. But their swim bladders are considered a delicacy in China and command high prices.The Mexican government prohibits net fishing in the gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, but budget cuts have meant authorities have stopped compensation payments for fishermen for not fishing.Sea Shepherd operates in the area to remove the gillnets that trap vaquitas, but the group said the mass fishing seen Sunday was a new tactic, in which a number of boats would surround and enclose totoabas to ensure they couldn’t escape the nets.The mass turnout overwhelmed the relatively few Mexican navy personnel present, the group said. In the past, fishermen have attacked Sea Shepherd boats as well as naval vessels.
 


Air Pollution Tied to Hospitalizations for Wide Range of Illnesses

Older adults who are exposed to tiny particles in air pollution for just a day or two are more likely to be hospitalized for a wide variety of common health problems, a U.S. study suggests.Researchers focused on so-called PM 2.5, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke. They confirmed previously-known links between short-term exposure to PM 2.5 and an increased risk of hospitalization and death from heart and lung diseases, diabetes, and clots in the large veins of the legs. They also found new links between short-term exposure and increased hospitalizations for conditions ranging from sepsis to kidney failure.The study team examined hospital data for Medicare patients nationwide from 2000 to 2012. They focused on 214 different health conditions, and looked at data on average air pollution levels the day before and the day of each hospitalization based on patients’ home zip codes.”We discovered several previously unknown but common diseases among older adults, such as fluid and electrolyte disorders, septicemia, anemia, urinary tract infections, and renal failure, even when daily PM2.5 concentrations were below the current World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines,” said lead study author Yaguang Wei, an environmental health researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.A machine tests for PM 2.5 levels in front of 2016 Rio Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 17, 2016.”PM2.5 is composed of tiny solids and liquids floating in the air and once inhaled, these particles can pass through the respiratory system, sneak into the blood and circulatory system, and cause serious health problems,” Wei said by email.”The most consistent and dangerous health effects identified have been cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which are the leading causes of hospitalization, emergency room visit, and even death,” Wei added.Under WHO guidelines issued in 2005, people shouldn’t be exposed to average PM 2.5 levels over 24 hours that exceed 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3).Short-term exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of several common causes of hospital admissions including sepsis or septicemia, a life-threatening reaction to a bacterial infection in the bloodstream; fluid and electrolyte disorders; kidney failure; and intestinal obstructions. These diseases have rarely been studied in the context of PM 2.5 and hospitalizations, the study team writes in The BMJ.For these rarely-studied diseases, each 1 ug/m3 increase in short-term average fine particulate matter levels was associated with an average annual increase of 2,050 hospital admissions, 12,216 total days in the hospital and $31 million in hospital and post-acute care costs.Air pollution levels below safety standards set by WHO were also associated with an increased risk of hospitalizations for conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory disorders that have previously been tied to PM 2.5.For these diseases previously linked to air pollution, each 1 ug/m3 increase in short-term average fine particulate matter levels was associated with an average annual increase of 3,642 hospital admissions, 20,098 total days in the hospital and $69 million in hospital and post-acute care costs.Costs attributable to short-term air pollution exposure are likely far higher, said study co-author Francesca Dominici, also a public health researcher at Harvard.”The major limitation of this study was that costs incurred after discharge, such as drug costs, readmission costs and outpatient costs could not be fully captured,” Dominici said by email.People may not be able to avoid exposure to air pollution, but they can still take some precautions, said Matthew Loxham of the University Hospital Southampton in the UK.”All people, but especially those who have underlying health conditions which may be exacerbated by air pollution, such as heart/cardiovascular conditions, asthma, COPD, should look for local air quality levels and associated guidance, which may suggest closing windows, or avoiding strenuous outdoor exercise,” Loxham, who co-authored an editorial accompanying the study, said by email.”Furthermore, both patients and medical practitioners should be aware of the impact poor air quality can have on exacerbation of disease, to better understand and perhaps to better treat such flare-ups,” Loxham said.