China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, announced generally moderate new energy and climate targets on Friday that give little sign that it will step up its pace in combatting climate change.
On a smoggy day in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said the country will reduce carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. He was speaking at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, that began Friday.
The meeting is China's highest-profile political event of the year, where the ruling Communist Party unveils new policies and legislation.
The 18% target is the same as in the previous five-year economic plan. The country uses carbon emissions per unit of economic output, or carbon intensity, instead of absolute emission reduction targets.
“We were very keen to see what the 14th five-year plan would say about how to actually get there, or maybe even more ambitious targets,” said Dimitri de Boer, chief representative of ClientEarth, an environmental law charity. “What we’ve seen of the actual plan is that there is a target on reducing carbon intensity by 2025 but we can’t tell what exactly that means in total emissions.”
In September, President Xi Jinping announced that China would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, and a peak in emissions by 2030. The carbon neutrality announcement led many to expect there would be sharper targets.
Government planners offered a few more specifics in a summary of the new five-year plan. It sets a target for non-fossil energy to account for 20% of total energy consumption by 2025, which will require further investment in solar and wind energy. It did not mention any ban on new coal projects, which experts say would be a significant step.
China obtains 60% of its power from coal and is the world’s biggest source of climate-changing industrial pollution. As a result, its carbon intensity is higher than any other country.
Climate change experts say the new plan does not include indicators previously given by the government, such as a 5-year GDP target, which would set more concrete limits since carbon intensity is calculated using GDP.
Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, said the lack of such concrete numbers could be good because it could offer the government more flexibility in pursuing green policies.
Many are waiting to see whether the government will unveil more detailed regulations on carbon-intense industries such as steel and cement manufacturing later this year.
Although the new target continues the same pace as the previous five-year plan, experts say achieving it will be harder given earlier gains.
The country achieved a 18.6% reduction in the last five-year period.
“It should be more challenging than in the last five years because you are doing better … the marginal cost will be higher," said Zou Ji, president of Energy Foundation China, a charity dedicated to sustainable economic development.
Whether China will pick up its pace remains to be seen.
“This is very gradual progress at best,” said Myllyvirta. “It’s much more of continuing business as usual.”
More than 930 million tonnes of food sold in 2019 landed in waste bins, according to new UN research, released on Thursday, in support of global efforts to halve food waste by 2030. Produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP, the Food Waste Index Report 2021 reveals that between food wasted in homes, restaurants and shops, 17 per cent of all food is just dumped.
Some food is also lost on farms and in supply chains, indicating that overall a third of food is never eaten, reports UN News.
The study represents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis and modelling ever done, and offers a methodology for countries to accurately measure loss.
“If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to do their part to reduce food waste”, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Although food waste had been thought of as a problem mostly affecting rich countries, the report found levels of waste were surprisingly similar in all nations, though data is scarce in the poorest countries.
The study reveals that households discard 11 per cent of food at the consumption stage of the supply chain, while food services and retail outlets waste five and two per cent, respectively.
This has substantial environmental, social and economic impacts, according to the report, which points out that eight to ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with unconsumed food.
“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession”, said Ms. Andersen.
Conserving across platforms
In 2019, some 690 million people were impacted by hunger and three billion were unable to afford a healthy diet.
Against that backdrop and with COVID-19 threatening to exacerbate these numbers, the study urges consumers not to waste food at home. It also pushes for food waste to be included in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), plans through which countries commit to increasingly ambitious climate actions in the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to halve per-capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels and minimize food losses along production and supply chains.
“The UN Food Systems Summit this year will provide an opportunity to launch bold new actions to tackle food waste globally”, Ms. Andersen said.
Comparable data lacking
Of the growing number of countries measuring food waste, 14 have collected household data in a way that is compatible with the Food Waste Index, while a further 38 countries use methods similar to the SDG 12.3 compatible estimate.
While the household breakdown between edible and uneatable food, like shells and bones, is available only in select high-income countries, there is a lack of information in lower-income countries where proportions may be higher.
It is crucial to fill this knowledge gap, according to the report.
UNEP will launch regional working groups to aid countries’ capacities to measure and record food waste in time for the next round of SDG 12.3 reporting in late 2022. It will also support these countries as they develop national baselines to track progress towards the 2030 goal, and design strategies to prevent food waste.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says the mental health of millions of children worldwide has been put at risk, with at least one in seven forced to remain at home under nationwide public health orders – or recommendations – during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on new research, it said on Thursday that more than 330 million youngsters have been stuck at home for at least nine months, since the virus spread uncontrollably this time last year.
This has left them feeling isolated and anxious about their future, said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder: “Tens and tens of millions of youngsters have been left feeling isolated and afraid and lonely and anxious because of these enforced lockdowns and isolations that have become as a result of this pandemic.”
He said countries needed to emerge from this pandemic “with a better approach, a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that probably starts just by giving the issue the attention it deserves.”
Half of all mental disorders develop before the age of 15, according to UNICEF and the majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide annually, are under 18s.
The UN agency also said that the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that when day after day “you are away from your friends and distant loved ones, and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser, the impact is significant.
“Many children are left feeling afraid, lonely, anxious, and concerned for their future. We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves.”
For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded with abusers. Children in vulnerable population groups - like those living and working on the streets, children with disabilities, and children living in conflict settings - risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely.
To respond to growing needs, the agency has offered support to Governments and partners to prioritize services for children.
In Kazakhstan, this has led to the launch of a UNICEF platform for individual online counselling services, alongside distance training in schools for mental health specialists.
In China, the agency has also worked with social media company Kuaishou, to produce an online challenge to help reduce anxiety in children.
Later this year, UNICEF will dedicate its biennial flagship report on the state of the world’s children, to child and adolescent mental health, in a bid to increase awareness of the global challenge, exacerbated profoundly by the coronavirus.
“If we did not fully appreciate the urgency prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, surely we do now”, said Ms. Fore.
Countries must dramatically invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools. We also need scaled-up parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home.”
Buoyed by a surge in vaccine shipments, states and cities are rapidly expanding eligibility for COVID-19 shots to teachers, Americans 50 and over and others as the U.S. races to beat back the virus and reopen businesses and schools.
Indiana and Michigan will begin vaccinating those 50 and over, while Arizona and Connecticut have thrown open the line to those who are at least 55. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are reserving the first doses of the new one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for teachers. And in Detroit, factory workers can get vaccinated starting this week, regardless of age.
Giving the vaccine to teachers and other school staff “will help protect our communities,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said. “It’s going to take burdens off our parents and families. It’s going to make our schools get back to the business of teaching our kids.”
Until now, the vaccination campaign against the outbreak that’s killed over a half-million Americans has concentrated mostly on health workers and senior citizens.
Around the U.S., politicians and school administrators have been pushing hard in recent weeks to reopen classrooms to stop students from falling behind and enable more parents to go back to work. But teachers have resisted returning without getting vaccinated.
The Department of Health and Human Services has ordered all states to make teachers, school staff, bus drivers and child care workers eligible for shots. That’s a major shift for the Biden administration, which controls access to COVID-19 vaccines but previously allowed states to set their own guidelines.
Jody Mackey, 46, a middle-school digital media and history teacher in Traverse City, Michigan — where students have attended mostly in-person since September — received her second dose nearly two weeks ago after teachers in her district were designated essential workers.
Before that, she kept her classroom windows open and used space heaters.
“If you want schools to be successful and safe and you want your teachers to have their heads in the game, get them the vaccination,” she said. “Putting teachers in a situation where they feel scared all the time, where they’re going to want to avoid their kids, how is that good for kids or teachers?”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday ordered students and teachers to return to school this month, saying many teachers have already received their second dose.
“The science is clear: It’s time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap,” Ducey said in a statement.
The U.S. has administered over 80 million shots in a vaccination drive now hitting its stride, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20% of the nation’s adults, or close to 52 million people, have received at least one dose, and 10% have been fully inoculated.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to have enough vaccine by the end of May for all adults — two months earlier than anticipated — though it is likely to take longer than that to administer those shots. He also pushed states to give at least one shot to teachers by month’s end and said the government will provide the doses through its pharmacy program.
In Wisconsin, teachers will get priority when the state receives its first shipment of about 48,000 doses of the J&J vaccine, health authorities said. Pennsylvania teachers will likewise be first in line when an expected 94,000 doses of that formula arrive this week.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that educators, school staff and child care workers can now get shots. In Texas, where teachers have been battling to gain access to shots, state officials on Wednesday ordered vaccine providers to begin administering shots to school workers.
And in Massachusetts, about 400,000 teachers, child care workers and school staff can register for vaccinations starting March 11, Gov. Charlie Baker said, though he warned it could take time to book appointments because supplies remain limited.
Tennessee will open vaccinations Monday to an estimated 1 million people over 16 who have high-risk health conditions and those in households with medically fragile children.
The rush to vaccinate comes as many states ease restrictions on people and businesses, despite repeated warnings from health officials that the U.S. is risking another lethal wave. Biden called out the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi for lifting mask rules.
“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease,” the president said Wednesday. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves snapped back on Twitter. “Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts,” he said. “I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them.”
While deaths and newly confirmed infections have plummeted from their peaks in January, they’re still running at high levels. The U.S. is averaging close to 2,000 deaths and 66,000 cases per day.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky encouraged Americans to “do the right thing” even if states lift their restrictions.
Vaccinations are seen as key to getting people back to work and revitalizing the battered economy.
“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday announcing that people 50 to 64 can start getting vaccinations March 22.
Cindy Estrada, a vice president at the United Auto Workers, said there have been illnesses and deaths among factory workers, so Detroit’s decision to offer them shots “is incredibly important.”
“It’s going to give them some peace of mind,” she said, baring her arm for a shot.
Myanmar security forces were seen firing slingshots at protesters, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew in video showing a dramatic escalation of violence against opponents of last month’s military coup.
A U.N. official speaking from Switzerland said 38 people had been killed Wednesday, a figure consistent with other reports though accounts are difficult to confirm inside the country. The increasingly deadly violence could galvanize the international community, which has responded fitfully so far.
“Today it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on Feb. 1. We have today — only today — 38 people died. We have now more than over 50 people died since the coup started” and more have been wounded, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Wednesday.
Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.
The intensifying standoff is unfortunately familiar in a country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule — and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service, also tallied 38 deaths. A toll of at least 34 was compiled by a data analyst in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. He also collected information where he could on the victims’ names, ages, hometowns, and where and how they were killed — an effort he said he had made to honor those who were killed for their heroic resistance.
The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm most of the reported deaths, but several square with online postings.
According to the data analyst’s list, most were in Yangon, where 18 died. In the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, eight deaths were reported. Three deaths were reported in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, and two in Salin, a town in Magwe region. Mawlamyine, in the country’s southeast, and Myingyan and Kalay, both in central Myanmar, each had a single death.
As part of the crackdown, security forces have also arrested hundreds of people, including journalists. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. A video showed he had moved out of the way as police charged down a street at protesters, but then was seized by police officers, who handcuffed him and held him briefly in a chokehold before marching him away.
He has been charged with violating a public safety law that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.
The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis — but there appear to be few viable options. It’s not yet clear if Wednesday’s soaring death toll could change the dynamic.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to hold a closed meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make the information public before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested the meeting, they said.
Still, any kind of coordinated action at the United Nations will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions.
The U.N. special envoy, Schraner Burgener, who supports sanctions, said she receives some 2,000 messages per day from people inside Myanmar, many “who are really desperate to see action from the international community.”
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, issued a statement after a teleconference meeting of foreign ministers Tuesday that merely called for an end to violence and for talks on how to reach a peaceful settlement. ASEAN has a tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
Ignoring that appeal, Myanmar’s security forces have continued to attack peaceful protesters.
In addition to the deaths, there have been reports of other violence. In Yangon, a widely circulated video taken from a security camera showed police in the city brutally beating members of an ambulance crew — apparently after they were arrested. Police can be seen kicking the three crew members and thrashing them with rifle butts.
Security forces are believed to single out medical workers for arrest and mistreatment because members of the medical profession launched the country’s civil disobedience movement to resist the junta.
In Mandalay, riot police, backed by soldiers, broke up a rally and chased around 1,000 teachers and students from a street with tear gas as gun shots could be heard.
Video from the AP showed a squad of police firing slingshots in the apparent direction of demonstrators as they dispersed.