Europe’s climate masterplan aims to slash emissions within a decade

Europe’s climate masterplan aims to slash emissions within a decade
EU to unveil policy package with eye on emissions goal. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 July 2021

Europe’s climate masterplan aims to slash emissions within a decade

Europe’s climate masterplan aims to slash emissions within a decade
  • The EU is the first to overhaul its legislation to drive greener choices within this decade among the bloc's 25 million businesses

BRUSSELS: The European Union is set to take the lead in climate policy action among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters this week, with a raft of ambitious plans designed to cut emissions drastically over the next decade.
The policies, if approved, would put the bloc — the world’s third-largest economy — on track for its goal of reducing planet-warming emissions 55 percent by 2030, from 1990 levels.
The “Fit for 55” package being released on Wednesday will still face months of negotiations between the 27 EU countries and the European Parliament.
Other major economies including China and the United States – the world’s top two emitters — have committed to achieving net zero emissions, which scientists say the world must reach by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change.
But the EU is the first to overhaul its legislation to drive greener choices within this decade among the bloc’s 25 million businesses and nearly half a billion people.
“Everybody has a target. But translating it into policies that lead to real emission reductions, that’s the most difficult part,” said Jos Delbeke, a former senior policymaker who developed some of the EU’s flagship climate policies.
By 2019, the EU had cut its emissions 24 percent from 1990 levels. That leaves another 31 percent to reach the 55 percent target – and just nine years to do it.
The European Commission will propose 12 policies on Wednesday, targeting four areas: energy, industry, transport, and the heating of buildings.
Emissions in Europe’s electricity sector are falling fast, but other sectors have been stuck.
Emissions from cars, planes and ships, which make up a quarter of the EU total, are rising. Buildings produce a third of the bloc’s emissions and, like Europe’s factories, many homes use heat produced from fossil fuels.
Put simply, most of the draft measures will encourage companies and consumers to choose greener options over polluting ones.
For example, a leaked draft of one proposal would tax polluting jet fuel for the first time and give low-carbon aviation fuels a 10-year tax holiday. A revamp of the EU carbon market is also expected to hike CO2 costs for industry, power plants and airlines, and force ships to pay for their pollution.
The list of proposals is long. Tougher EU CO2 standards for cars could effectively ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035. EU countries will face more ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy.
Brussels will also unveil the details of its world-first carbon border tariff, targeting imports of goods produced abroad with high emissions such as steel and cement. That has unnerved EU trading partners, including Russia and China.
The political road ahead will likely be rough, as EU countries and the European Parliament negotiate the proposals.
Already, the plans have exposed familiar rifts between richer western and Nordic EU states where electric vehicle sales are soaring, and poorer eastern countries that are worried about the social cost of weaning their economies off coal.
EU member capitals are particularly worried about the Commission’s plan to launch a carbon market for transport and home heating, potentially raising household fuel bills.
The Commission has promised a social fund to shield low-income households from the costs, and is urging countries to use the EU’s 800-billion-euro COVID-19 recovery fund to help people insulate their homes and create jobs in clean technologies like hydrogen.
The unveiling of “Fit for 55” will make climate policies more visible to EU citizens than ever before, testing Europe’s widespread public support for ambitious climate action.
“There’s no hiding that this package comes in the middle of a massive socio-economic crisis,” said Manon Dufour of independent climate-change think-tank E3G. The EU “has to be even more careful about the social impacts.”
Policymakers are also braced for a storm of industry lobbying. Europe’s steel and cement sectors are already fighting plans to end free CO2 permits and force manufacturers to pay more when they pollute.
Past attempts to tighten CO2 standards for carmakers have faced fierce industry opposition. But with European giants like Volkswagen already committed to ending combustion-engine car sales in Europe in the 2030s, some governments say now is the time to bring laggards into line.
“The Commission needs to basically wake up and smell the coffee — that now is the time to actually cement that into legislation,” an EU diplomat said, of the potential proposal to ban sales of new combustion engine cars by 2035.
With its world-first package, the EU also aims to burnish its global climate leadership position. It is unclear if that will be enough, however, to elicit similarly ambitious action from other major economies at the UN climate conference in November in Glasgow, Scotland.
“The challenge is that other big players – China and the US specifically – will need to be on board,” said Tom Rivett-Carnac, the UN’s chief political strategist in the run-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement. “Whether the EU can achieve this diplomatically remains to be seen.”
Brussels says it is time to take Europe’s climate policies global. Much of the diplomatic lift required will be on the carbon border tariff, which the EU says will put its firms on more equal footing with competitors in countries with weaker carbon policies.
The proposals would also push EU industry to invest in expensive green technologies. Moving early could give European firms a competitive edge in global markets for new products like low-carbon steel produced from green hydrogen, but producing those products will cost manufacturers more.
“At the end of this transformation, our economy will look a lot better, and we can get the climate crisis under control,” Frans Timmermans, the EU Commissioner in charge of climate policy, told CNN last week. “And that’s the whole point.”


COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 18 sec ago

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”


German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
Updated 22 September 2021

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
  • The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement.
  • The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior U.S. officials” after his return to the United States

PARIS: France will send its ambassador back to Washington next week after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call Wednesday to meet next month over a submarine dispute.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. Macron and Biden will meet at the end of October in Europe, the statement said.
In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador after the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week. As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” after his return to the United States, the statement said.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” it said. Biden “conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The European Union unveiled last week a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described as a “crisis of trust” last week’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific deal, with Macron being formally informed only a few hours beforehand.
Paris is calling for “acts, not words only,” Macron’s office said.
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed French anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
Updated 22 September 2021

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
  • The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan
  • Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country

ATHENS: Greece on Wednesday said it was temporarily hosting six Afghan women MPs and their families who fled Afghanistan ahead of eventual resettlement in the United States.
Greece was hosting a “symbolic” number of Afghans who are “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality,” the foreign ministry said.
“Six Afghan MPs arrived in Athens via Tbilisi (Georgia) a few hours ago, accompanied by family members,” it said, revising an earlier statement referring to seven MPs.
“(They) will be hosted in Greece for a short time until resettlement procedures to the United States are completed,” it said.
The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan, the ministry said.
Greece took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August to remove a small number of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban return to power after two decades.
A ministry source said Greece has so far taken in around 65 Afghan evacuees, and evacuated three Greek nationals.
Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
Updated 22 September 2021

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
  • Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London's M25 highway
  • “Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter

LONDON: Environmental activists who have repeatedly blocked Britain’s busiest highway face possible imprisonment after a judge granted an injunction against the protesters, Britain’s transport secretary said Wednesday.
Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London’s M25 highway, which circles the British capital, five times in just over a week by sitting on the ground, painting the name of their group on the road and raising placards in front of traffic. Some have also targeted other highways.
Police have arrested dozens of the protesters, who demand the government improve home insulation to reduce emissions from heating and powering homes.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protesters which a judge granted last night.”
The injunction means that activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they continue blocking roads.
Insulate Britain spokeswoman Zoe Cohen said protesters “understand that the risks they are taking are because that we have tried everything else to make the government protect us from the predicted impacts of climate chaos.”
“That involves the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order,” she told BBC radio.
Cohen said her group wants the government to update insulation in social housing by 2025 and all homes by 2030, “because this is the most effective way to reduce emissions and save lives from fuel poverty.”
The group said it will end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” by the government to its demands.
The High Court order, which officially came into force on Wednesday, prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting.”