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U.S. Now Leads the World in Coronavirus Cases

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At 20:50 UTC and 4;50 PM EST on Thursday March 26th, America overtook China as having the largest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus-19, at 81,896 total cases, as a result of having added 13,685 new cases thus far that day.

Soon after, Reuters headlined “U.S. has most coronavirus cases in world” and reported that, “The number of U.S. coronavirus infections climbed above 82,000 on Thursday.” However, that wasn’t the end of the day. 

By the day’s end, America had soared past China, to 85,377 cases, and 17,166 new cases on that day.

The U.S has the world’s steepest rate of increase in the number of cases, as I documented on March 22nd, under the headline “Coronavirus Cases Soaring Much Faster in U.S. Than in Other Countries”. It still remains so.

17,166 new cases is the largest-ever daily increase of confirmed coronavirus-19 cases in any country. The previous largest-ever national increase was China’s on 12 February 2020, when their total cases rose from 44,653 on February 11th, to 58,761 on February 12th, which was a daily increase of 14,108 new cases. The next day, the 13th, was 63,851, an increase of only 5,090. From there on, the daily increases went lower and lower, and so the total has not yet gone above 82,000.

If America duplicates China’s experience on February 12th, then America has started to get control of its coronavirus-19 crisis, as China did on February 11th.

Until America is reducing the daily increase in new cases, America hasn’t yet started to get its coronavirus-19 problem under control.

By the end of the day on March 27th, China won’t even be #2 in the number of proven coronavirus-19 infections — it’ll be #3, behind U.S. (which by then could be considerably over 10,000 cases higher than China), and the new #2, Italy (which ended March 26 with 80,589 cases).

Italy is already the biggest center of caronavirus-19 deaths: a total of 8,215 on March 26th, as opposed to #2 Spain at 4,365, #3 China at 3,292, #4 Iran at 2,234, #5 France at 1,696, and #6 U.S. at 1,295.  Here, the world’s worst-performing countries are listed, in order, from the largest to the smallest number of coronavirus-19 cases, at the end of the records-breaking day on March 26th — but China’s period as having been the worst because it was the first, is now over, and now America is the worst simply because it is performing the worst, at the present time, and is currently soaring past all the others, in what might turn out to be a national race for self-destruction (unless it reverses within a few days, and heads down again in new cases):

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

Development

Rising demand for agricultural products adds to competing pressures on tropical forest landscapes

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Annual consumption of food and agriculture products rose by 48% between 2001 and 2018 – more than twice the rate of increase in human population – as reported in a new analysis published by the Tropical Forest Alliance at the World Economic Forum entitled Forests, food systems and livelihoods: Trends, forecasts and solutions to reframe approaches to protecting forests.

The report, which tracks the relationship between the rising demand for food and agricultural products and deforestation, paints a picture of increasing competing demands on tropical forest landscapes. Since 2001, 160 million people have been lifted out of poverty and undernourishment increasing the per capita food consumption, particularly protein which has risen 45% since 2000.

In producer countries, these trends are often linked to economic development and rural livelihoods that creates a set of complex trade-offs for decision makers. For example, soybeans are now the most valuable export product for Brazil, and around 16.3 million people (12% of the total workforce) are employed in the palm oil industry in Indonesia.

The report also highlights the significant loss of primary forests, which are rich stores of carbon and biodiversity. An area exceeding 60 million hectares of primary tropical forests have been lost since 2002 – almost the size of France. The loss was 12% higher in 2020 than the previous year, despite all the efforts by governments, businesses and civil society. More than 80% of this deforestation happened in landscapes where agriculture is the dominant driver and much of this is linked to the production of globally traded commodities including soy, palm oil, cattle, cocoa, coffee and wood pulp.

In the face of this reality, the report concludes that those working to reverse deforestation need to deploy systemic solutions that take into account the multiple competing demands on these landscapes. For example, incentives can be provided for farmers to conserve more while producing food, with potential sources coming from both carbon finance and domestic finance for rural credit. More effort needs to be applied to boost productivity sustainably, particularly for smallholder farmers in the face of greater climatic stress. Improved technical assistance and new plant material to help increase yields, as well as support with the diversification of income streams, are essential.

Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Ghana says: “The time for action is now. We will pursue progressive policies with the overarching view to restoring the forest cover of Ghana, thereby contributing to the global effort against climate change.”

Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, says: “No single policy or solution can resolve this. Commodity-driven deforestation must not be treated in isolation – either as a purely environmental issue or a supply-chain problem. Keeping forests standing is linked directly to sustaining rural livelihoods, ensuring food security for a growing global population and supporting economic development. Crucially, the community of action working on this issue must broaden beyond those engaged at the forest frontier and environmental issues to include actors in the food system more broadly, such as farmers, local communities, local businesses and local governments.”

There is some evidence that private sector supply-chain strategies are helping to reduce deforestation. For example, Nestlé has assessed that 90% of key ingredients – including palm oil, sugar, soy and meat – are deforestation-free as of last year, and has committed to 100% deforestation-free products by 2025. Magdi Batato, the Executive Vice President and Head of Operations of Nestlé says: “A forest positive future is possible if the private sector collectively moves its focus on achieving a positive impact in the critical landscapes that underpin our food systems, and if we work hand-in-hand with farmers and local communities, and governments to form wider solutions across local, regional and global levels. The benefits are numerous: more resilient communities and livelihoods, more sustainable food systems, and a healthier planet.”

While many companies are committing to ambitious efforts in their own supply chains, it is also critical that this is done in conjunction with a broader sector-wide transformation to reduce net deforestation. Landscape-scale or jurisdictional approaches, which promote sustainable practices by rooting them in local governance systems, offer a practical way for both companies and governments to collaborate.

Christine Montenegro McGrath, Vice President and Chief Global Impact and Sustainability, Mondelēz International and Co-Chair, Consumer Goods Forum Forest Positive Coalition of Action says: “Important shifts are taking place – and as we look ahead to the UN Food Systems Summit and COP26 this year – we need to integrate food production as a critical part of the collective action required to meet both the Paris Agreement and goals on biodiversity. This report shows that landscape-scale initiatives provide a crucial piece of that puzzle for businesses who are on the journey to becoming forest-positive.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month provided alarming evidence about the irreversible changes to the climate including for forests, and has also established that climate change is already having an adverse impact on food security and terrestrial ecosystems, with the tropics among the most vulnerable regions in terms of crop yields. This report predicts a shrinking agricultural labour force, posing even further risks for agricultural production.

President of the World Economic Forum Borge Brende says: “This combination of risks from climate change and demographic shifts suggests that the rural development models that have underpinned the expansion of tropical agriculture in the first two decades of the century are coming under increasing pressure from several angles. This underpins the need for a multistakeholder approach to find systemic solutions exemplified by the work of the Tropical Forest Alliance and the FACT Dialogue that will be presenting its findings at COP26 in Glasgow.”

Finally, the report points to the need to tackle data gaps that can enhance transparency in supply chains. There have been a number of promising innovations in recent years in improving transparency and data quality, especially the use of satellite imagery. However, despite this progress, gaps remain, including concession boundary maps, trade and export data, distinguishing between tree cover loss and deforestation, spatial data on crop production, incorporating information on time lags (between deforestation and associated production) and improving the rigour by which drivers of deforestation are understood.

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Environment

Act now to slow climate change and protect the planet

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The ozone layer – a fragile shield of gas that protects the Earth from the harmful rays of the sun – is “on the road to recovery”, the UN chief said on Thursday in his message for the World Ozone Day.

Crediting the Montreal Protocol, which “began life as a mechanism to protect and heal the ozone layer”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that over the course of three decades, “it has done its job well”.

The multilateral treaty to phase out ozone-depleting substances has, by healing the hole in the ozone layer, protected human health, economies and ecosystems.

“The cooperation we have seen under the Montreal Protocol is exactly what is needed now to take on climate change, an equally existential threat to our societies”, he said.

Until the protocol, old equipment such as building insulation foam, fridge-freezers and other cooling systems, were manufactured using ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which leaked the damaging gas into the atmosphere as equipment deteriorated.

Other critical services

This year’s World Ozone Day highlights that the landmark environmental agreement also slows down climate change and helps to boost energy efficiency for cooling products such as freezers, which then also contributes to food security.

“The Montreal Protocol is more than just an example of how multilateralism can and should work, it is an active tool to help meet our global vision for sustainable development”, said the UN chief.

And under the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol, nations have committed to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases used as coolants, which are less harmful than CFCs as they contain hydrogen, but are nonetheless still an ozone risk.

When fully implemented, the Kigali Amendment could prevent 0.4 degrees Celsius of global warming this century.

“Furthermore, as we prepare for the Food Systems Summit this month, we are reminded that the Kigali Amendment can also help us to increase food security”, flagged Mr. Guterres, explaining that by reducing HFCs, increasing energy efficiency and creating more ozone and climate-friendly technologies, “the Kigali Amendment can bring sustainable access to vital cooling services to millions of people”.

These services would reduce food loss in developing countries, where it often spoils before reaching markets.

Getting produce from farmers to where it is needed would, in turn, help reduce hunger, poverty and the environmental impact of the agricultural sector.

Another important benefit of expanding access to safe cooling systems, is to store medicines and vaccines, including those needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment show us that by acting together, anything is possible”, said the UN chief. “So let us act now to slow climate change, feed the world’s hungry and protect the planet that we all depend on”.

Work continues

Although the Montreal Protocol marked “a critical turning point”, it was not a one-time fix, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The work continues, with scientists still providing the first line of defence.

UNEP leads a joint effort of over 100 governments, businesses and development organizations that supports countries and industry in tackling growing cooling demand, while contributing to the Paris Agreement, Montreal Protocol and Agenda 2030 called the Cool Coalition.

Together with its partners, the Coalition fosters advocacy, knowledge and action to accelerate the global transition to efficient and climate-friendly cooling. 

In 1994, through resolution 49/114, the General Assembly proclaimed 16 September as the International Day, commemorating the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

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Africa Today

Africa faces 470 million COVID-19 vaccine shortfall this year

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The Republic of Congo received just over 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccines through the COVAX Facility in August 2021. © UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

Africa needs around 470 million doses to accomplish the global of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its population by the end of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.  

The international COVAX initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to the vaccines, recently announced that it was being forced to slash planned deliveries to Africa, by around 150 million doses this year.  

The scheme is now expected to deliver 470 million doses through the end of December. These will be enough to protect just 17 per cent of the continent, far below the 40 per cent target. 

To reach the end-year target, that 470 million figure needs to double, even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union are delivered. 

Export bans, vaccine hoarding 

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that “export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa.” 

“As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” Ms. Moeti said.  

Besides export bans, challenges in boosting production and delays in approvals have constrained deliveries. COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries. 

The initiative has also called for countries with enough doses, to give up their place in the queue. Manufacturers must deliver in line with their prior commitments, and countries that are well-advanced must expand and accelerate donations. 

About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent has taken on board for any month so far. Just 50 million people, or 3.6 per cent of its population, has been inoculated to date. 

Only around 2 per cent of the nearly 6 billion doses administered globally have gone to Africans. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60 per cent of their populations and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person, than low-income nations.  

Variants risk 

“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” warned Ms. Moeti. 

WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. 

The agency has assisted 15 countries in conducting intra-action reviews and offered recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment.  

With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.  

Case summary 

As of 14 September, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125,000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September. 

This represents a 27 per cent drop from the previous week, but weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave, and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers. 

Deaths fell by 19 per cent across Africa, to 2,531 reported in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries. 

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