World Bank Ups Funds to Tackle ‘Existential Threat’ of Climate Change

The World Bank will give equal weight to curbing emissions and helping poor countries deal with the “disastrous effects” of a warming world as it steps up investments to tackle climate change in the first half of the 2020s, it said on Monday. The bank and its two sister organizations plan to double their investments in climate action to about $200 billion from 2021-2025, with a boost in support for efforts to adapt to higher temperatures, wilder weather and rising seas. The latest figures on international climate funding for developing nations show barely a quarter has been going to adaptation, with the bulk backing clean energy adoption and more efficient energy use, aimed at cutting planet-warming emissions. “We live in a new normal in which disasters are more severe and more frequent,” World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at U.N. climate talks in Poland. “We have to prioritize adaptation everywhere, but especially in the most vulnerable parts of the world,” she said, pointing to the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, coastal regions and small island states. Of the $100 billion the World Bank plans to make available in the five years from mid-2020, half would go to adaptation measures, it said. Those include building more robust homes, schools and infrastructure, preparing farmers for climate shifts, managing water wisely and protecting people’s incomes through social safety nets, Georgieva added. The World Bank said the money would also improve weather forecasts, and provide early warning and climate …

White House Seeks to End Subsidies for Electric Cars, Renewables

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration wants to end subsidies for electric cars and other items, including renewable energy sources. Asked about plans after General Motors announced U.S. plant closings and layoffs last week, Kudlow pointed to the $2,500-to-$7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy plug-in electric vehicles, including those made by GM, under federal law. “As a matter of our policy, we want to end all of those subsidies,” Kudlow said. “And by the way, other subsidies that were imposed during the Obama administration, we are ending, whether it’s for renewables and so forth.” Asked about a timeline, he said: “It’s just all going to end in the near future. I don’t know whether it will end in 2020 or 2021.” The tax credits are capped by Congress at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer, after which the subsidy phases out. GM has said it expects to hit the threshold by the end of 2018, which means under the current law, its tax credit scheme would end in 2020. Tesla said in July it had hit the threshold. Other automakers may not hit the cap for several years. Experts say the White House cannot change the cap unilaterally. U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation for the company’s decision. Kudlow made clear any changes in subsidies would not just affect GM. “I think legally you just can’t,” he said. Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in …

Fed Chairman Powell Says Economic Challenges Remain

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Monday that despite solid economic progress, the country still faces a number of challenges ranging from slow wage-growth for lower-income workers to sluggish productivity and an aging population.   Powell said in remarks at a Fed award ceremony that these challenges remain even though unemployment is near five-decade low and the financial system has been bolstered since the 2008 financial crisis.   While there have been recent gains in wage growth, Powell said that wages for lower-income workers have grown quite slowly over the past few decades.   He also noted that a decadeslong decline in economic mobility has made it more difficult for lower-income Americans to move up the economic ladder.   In his remarks, Powell praised the work of the Fed’s community development staff and former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who put a special emphasis on efforts to help disadvantaged communities during her 16 years at the Fed, including the last four as Fed chair.   Powell did not discuss the Fed’s current interest-rate policies in his appearance.   The central bank has raised rates three times this year and is expected to boost rates for a fourth time at its Dec. 18-19. Powell sent the stock market surging last week when he signaled that the Fed may decide to slow the pace of rate hikes next year.   Investors had been hoping to learn more about Powell’s current thinking in testimony he was scheduled to deliver Wednesday before the congressional Joint …

Algae Harnessed to Make Clean Water, Clean Power

“Nature sometimes isn’t pretty,” said University of Maryland environmental scientist Peter May, grabbing a clump of slimy green-brown gunk. That gunk lines the bottom of what’s called an algal turf scrubber at the Port of Baltimore. The meter-wide, shallow channel runs the length of a football field alongside one of the port’s giant parking lots. “Actually, it’s always pretty,” May corrected himself. Even the gunk. Because that gunk is removing pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. Plus, May’s colleagues are turning it into clean, renewable electricity. The Chesapeake needs the help. ​Algal feast Like many waterways around the world, the bay is polluted with excess nutrients from farm fertilizer runoff, city wastewater and other sources. Algae feast on those nutrients, triggering massive growth that chokes out other aquatic life. Last summer, algal growth left an average of 4.6 cubic kilometers of the bay without oxygen. A third of the pollution reaching the bay literally falls out of the sky. Fossil fuels burned in power plants, cars and elsewhere create nitrogen oxide air pollution, which ultimately ends up in the bay, either attached to airborne particles or dissolved in rainwater. Forests would soak up that pollution. But like many urban areas, the Port of Baltimore has a pavement problem. There’s not a tree to be found at the entire 230-hectare Dundalk Marine Terminal, where the algae scrubber is located. So regulators require the port to remove as much pollution from the bay as its parking lots allow in. That’s where the algal …

First Global Women’s Disability Award Aims to Break Stereotypes

The first global award recognizing the achievements of women with disabilities aims to break through stereotypes to show their skills as leaders and problem solvers, its founder said Monday. A filmmaker, a political campaigner and a public health expert were named the first winners of the Her Ability awards, which were announced to coincide with World Disability Day. Its founder, Ethiopian campaigner Yetnebersh Nigussie, said she wanted to put a spotlight on disabled women’s achievements to combat the idea that they are passive victims. “We really wanted to change that image and cherish their abilities and their victories,” Nigussie, who lost her sight at age five, told Reuters. “In order to change things, people need to really see our abilities and our problem-solving skills that we have developed through life by overcoming attitudinal as well as physical and policy barriers everywhere.” More than a billion people — about 15 percent of the world’s population — have some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization. Women with disabilities have been recognized as doubly vulnerable by experts, who say they face additional barriers. The first winners of the awards, which were set up by Nigussie and the global disability organization Light for the World, all came from the developing world. They included Toyin Janet Aderemi, the first Nigerian wheelchair-user to study and practice pharmacy, who was recognized for her work on disability-inclusive health and as a lobbyist for disability rights. She lost the ability to walk due to a childhood …

Where Are Drones? Amazon’s Customers Still Waiting

Jeff Bezos boldly predicted five years ago that drones would be carrying Amazon packages to people’s doorsteps by now. Amazon customers are still waiting. And it’s unclear when, if ever, this particular order by the company’s founder and CEO will arrive. Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector. But overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world’s wealthiest man. The result is a blown deadline on his claim to CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December 2013 that drones would be making deliveries within five years. The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that — hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too. “I don’t think you will see delivery of burritos or diapers in the suburbs,” says drone analyst Colin Snow. Drone usage has grown rapidly in some industries, but mostly outside the retail sector and direct interaction with consumers. The government estimates that about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in U.S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022. They are being used in rural areas for mining and agriculture, for inspecting power lines and pipelines, and for surveying. Amazon says it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the …

NASA Spacecraft Arrives at Ancient Asteroid, Its 1st Visitor

After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.   The robotic explorer Osiris-Rex pulled within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of the diamond-shaped space rock. It will get even closer in the days ahead and go into orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body.   It is the first U.S. attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.   Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives once confirmation came through that Osiris-Rex made it to Bennu — exactly one week after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.   “Relieved, proud, and anxious to start exploring!” tweeted lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “To Bennu and back!” With Bennu some 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) away, it took seven minutes for word to get from the spacecraft to flight controllers at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado. The company built the spacecraft there.   Bennu is estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across. Researchers will provide a more precise description at a scientific meeting next Monday in Washington.   About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023.   Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the …

Kosovo to Maintain Tariffs on Serbia Despite EU Pressure

Kosovo will keep its 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods until Belgrade recognizes Pristina, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said Monday, defying calls by the European Union and United States for the tariffs to be abolished. Last month Haradinaj’s government raised tariffs on locally-produced Serbian and Bosnian goods to 100 percent from 10 percent because Belgrade blocked Kosovo’s membership of Interpol. The decision effectively halted trade between the two states and was criticized by EU and U.S. officials. “The tariffs of 100 percent for the goods on Serbia and Bosnia are to protect national security and sovereignty,” Haradinaj wrote on his Facebook page after meeting EU’s Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Pristina. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a statement Pristina’s measures would lead to the destabilization of the region. He added that there would be no counter measures. Improved relations is key to the efforts of both Serbia and Kosovo to join the European Union. Both countries agreed to a Brussels-sponsored dialogue in 2013, but little progress has been made. On Monday, Hahn met Vucic in Belgrade. Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a NATO bombing campaign to end the killing of Albanian civilians by Serb forces during a two-year insurgency. It is now recognized by more than 110 nations but not by Serbia, Russia or five EU states. Belgrade and Moscow have blocked Kosovo from joining the United Nations. According to official figures, Serbia’s exports to Kosovo amounted to 450 million euros, …

WHO Looks at Standards in ‘Uncharted Water’ of Gene Editing

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday that gene editing may have “unintended consequences” and said it was establishing a team of experts to set clear guidelines and standards after studying ethical and safety issues. The Chinese government last Thursday ordered a temporary halt to research activities for people involved in the editing of human genes, after a Chinese scientist said he had edited the genes of twin babies. Scientist He Jiankui said he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of the twin girls born this month. He said gene editing would help protect them from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. “Gene editing may have unintended consequences, this is uncharted water and it has to be taken seriously,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told a news briefing. “WHO is putting together experts. We will work with member states to do everything we can to make sure of all issues — be it ethical, social, safety — before any manipulation is done.” He’s announcement, which has not been verified, sparked an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research. “We are talking about human beings, editing should not harm the welfare of the future person,” WHO’s Tedros said. “We have to be very careful, the working group will do that with all openness and transparency.” …

3 Astronauts Safely Aboard International Space Station

Three astronauts who were launched into space aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft Monday entered the International Space Station nearly eight hours later, a relief to relatives and scientists months after a rocket failure aborted another mission. The hatch of the capsule carrying NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of Russian space agency Roscosmos was opened while the station was flying over the southern coast of Yemen. The three were greeted upon arrival Monday by the station’s current crew members, who had waited outside the hatch after the astronauts’ capsule docked and underwent safety checks.  Their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft launched from the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday at 5:31 p.m. (1131 GMT; 6:31 a.m. EST) then entered a designated orbit just under nine minutes later. The spacecraft made four orbits over six hours as it chased down the space station for the docking. The astronauts were the first sent to be sent to the space station since a crewed Soyuz launch was aborted in October after a booster rocket failed to separate properly, crippling the rocket. The families of the crew, other astronauts and space officials from several nations breathed a sigh of relief after observing the flawless launch. NASA and Roscosmos said all onboard systems operated normally and the astronauts felt fine during the six-hour trip to the space station. After two hours of waiting in their capsule to confirm their ship was firmly docked to the station, they exited …