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Nature loss means deadlier future pandemics, UN warns

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Future pandemics will happen more often, kill more people and wreak even worse damage to the global economy than COVID-19 without a fundamental shift in how humans treat nature, the United Nations’ biodiversity panel said Thursday.

Warning that there are up to 850,000 viruses which, like the novel coronavirus, exist in animals and may be able to infect people, the panel known as IPBES said pandemics represented an “existential threat” to humanity.

Authors of the special report on biodiversity and pandemics said that habitat destruction and insatiable consumption made animal-borne diseases far more likely to make the jump to people in future. 

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic — or any modern pandemic,” said Peter Daszak, president of the Ecohealth Alliance and chair of the IPBES workshop that drafted the report.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk though their impacts on our agriculture.”

The panel said that COVID-19 was the sixth pandemic since the influenza outbreak of 1918 — all of which had been “entirely driven by human activities”. 

These include unsustainable exploitation of the environment through deforestation, agricultural expansion, wildlife trade and consumption — all of which put humans in increasingly close contact with wild and farmed animals and the diseases they harbour.

Seventy percent of emerging diseases — such as Ebola, Zika and HIV/AIDS — are zoonotic in origin, meaning they circulate in animals before jumping to humans. 

Around five new diseases break out among humans every single year, any one of which has the potential to become a pandemic, the panel warned.

Land use

IPBES said in its periodic assessment on the state of nature last year that more than three-quarters of land on Earth had already been severely degraded by human activity. 

One-third of land surface and three-quarters of fresh water on the planet is currently taken up by farming, and humanity’s resource use has rocketed up 80 percent in just three decades, it said.

IPBES conducted a virtual workshop with 22 leading experts to come up with a list of options that governments could take to lower the risk of repeat pandemics.

It acknowledged the difficulty in counting the full economic cost of COVID-19. 

But the assessment pointed to estimated costs as high as $16 trillion as of July 2020.

The experts said that the cost of preventing future pandemics was likely to be 100 times cheaper than responding to them, “providing strong economic incentives for transformative change”.

“Our approach has effectively stagnated,” Daszak said.

“We still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics.”

‘Withering reminder’

The IPBES suggested a global, coordinated pandemic response, and for countries to agree upon targets to prevent biodiversity loss within an international accord similar to the Paris agreement on climate change. 

Among the options for policymakers to reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 re-run are taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production and other forms of “high pandemic-risk activities”.

The assessment also suggested better regulation of international wildlife trade and empowering indigenous communities to better preserve wild habitats.

Nick Ostle, a researcher at the CEH Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, said the IPBES’ assessment should serve as a “withering reminder” of how reliant humanity is on nature.

“Our health, wealth and wellbeing relies on the health, wealth and wellbeing of our environment,” said Ostle, who was not involved in the research process.

“The challenges of this pandemic have highlighted the importance of protecting and restoring our globally important and shared environmental ‘life-support’ systems.”

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20201030/nature-loss-means-deadlier-future-pandemics-un-warns/57520.html

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Cher welcomes ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ to new home in Cambodia

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Superstar Cher welcomed “the world’s loneliest elephant” to Cambodia Monday to begin a new life at a specialised sanctuary after the creature was rescued from grim conditions in a Pakistani zoo.

The plight of Kaavan — a 36-year-old bull elephant at Islamabad’s dilapidated zoo and originally from Sri Lanka — sparked global uproar from animal rights groups, who launched a campaign to save him.

His cause was boosted by spirited social media support from actress and musician Cher, who travelled to see him off from Pakistan and then to Cambodia to welcome him to his new home.

Wearing a black face mask, the Oscar winner was on hand at Siem Reap airport and waved excitedly at the plane after it landed around 2:30 pm (0730 GMT).

“I am so proud he is here,” she told AFP, after greeting Kaavan through an opening at the base of the crate.

“He’s going to be really happy here,” said Cher, adding that she was hopeful his ordeal was over.

Dubbed the world's loneliest elephant by the press, Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan. Photo: AFP

Dubbed the world’s loneliest elephant by the press, Kaavan was the only Asian elephant in Pakistan. Photo: AFP

Mammoth undertaking

Kaavan’s much-anticipated journey was “uneventful”, said Amir Khalil, a veterinarian from animal welfare group Four Paws, adding he behaved “like a frequent flyer”.

“Kaavan was eating, was not stressed — he was even a little bit sleeping, standing, leaning at the crate wall,” he said.

Transporting an adult elephant by plane is no small task, and has only been undertaken a handful of times.

Helpers packed his trunk with 200 kilos (450 pounds) of food to snack on during the seven-hour flight, while a tube system was installed in his transport crate aboard a jumbo Russian cargo plane to handle up to 200 litres (58 gallons) of urine.

After Kaavan touched down, monks offered him fruit, chanted prayers and sprinkled holy water on his crate to bless him.

For the last leg, he was loaded onto a truck for the three-hour journey to his new home, a wildlife sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey province which already hosts three female elephants.

Cher followed behind in her own vehicle as Kaavan made his way through farmland and past the famous Angkor Wat temple.

“Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be ‘the world’s loneliest elephant’,” deputy environment minister Neth Pheaktra said.

“We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants — this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold,” the minister told AFP.

After being unloaded from his giant travelling crate, Kaavan walked around his new enclosure — perhaps glad to stretch his legs after his long journey.

Cher was at Siem Reap airport and waved excitedly at the plane after it landed. Photo: AFP

Cher was at Siem Reap airport and waved excitedly at the plane after it landed. Photo: AFP

Years of campaigning

Kaavan’s move is the culmination of years of campaigning from animal rights groups, who say the animal’s behaviour in captivity demonstrated “a kind of mental illness” likely due to the zoo’s woeful conditions.

In May, a Pakistani judge ordered that all the animals at the zoo be moved.

Upon hearing about Kaavan’s freedom, Cher had tweeted that the decision marked “one of the greatest moments” of her life.

A team of vets and experts from Austria-based Four Paws spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the trip — a complicated process due to his size and the amount of food needed en route.

The elephant also had to be taught to enter the four-tonne metal crate that was then secured in the belly of a mammoth Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane for the journey.

Four Paws, along with Islamabad authorities, also safely moved three wolves and some monkeys from the zoo. Currently only two Himalayan brown bears, one deer and one monkey remain.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20201201/cher-welcomes-world-s-loneliest-elephant-to-new-home-in-cambodia/58046.html

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New Zealand raises concerns with China over Australian soldier image

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WELLINGTON — New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said on Tuesday that her government has raised concerns with China about its using an image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

Australia has demanded Beijing apologise and take down the fake image, posted on Twitter by a senior Chinese official on Monday, marking another downturn in deteriorating relations between the two countries.

“New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” Ardern told reporters in the parliament in the capital Wellington.

“It was an unfactual post, and of course that would concern us. So that is something we have raised directly in the manner that New Zealand does when we have such concerns.”

The tiny, trade-focused Pacific island nation has stayed clear of the growing feud between China and Australia, and has long-standing diplomatic, trade and political interests with both countries.

New Zealand has a shared history, close cultural ties, geographic proximity and a strong economic relation with Australia. China is its largest trading partner, with two-way trade exceeding NZ$33 billion.

New Zealand, which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group with Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, joined a statement calling on Beijing to reverse its decision to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong.

Ardern’s government also backed Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Organization (WHO) despite a warning from Beijing.

New Zealand will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) next year, taking over from Malaysia, where the global event was held this year.

Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, China outlined a list of grievances about Australia’s foreign investment, national security and human rights policy, saying Canberra needed to correct its actions to restore the bilateral.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20201201/new-zealand-raises-concerns-with-china-over-australian-soldier-image/58045.html

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Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon surges to 12-year high

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Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged again over the past year, hitting a 12-year high, according to official figures released Monday that drew a chorus of condemnation of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government.

A total of 11,088 square kilometers (4,281 square miles) of forest was destroyed in Brazil’s share of the world’s biggest rainforest in the 12 months to August, according to the Brazilian space agency’s PRODES monitoring program, which analyzes satellite images to track deforestation.

That is equivalent to an area larger than Jamaica, and was a 9.5-percent increase from the previous year, when deforestation also hit a more than decade-long high.

“Because of such deforestation, Brazil is probably the only major greenhouse gas emitter that managed to increase its emissions in the year the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the global economy,” said the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a coalition of environmental groups.

Forests such as the Amazon play a vital role in controlling climate change because they suck carbon from the atmosphere.

However, when trees die or burn, they release their carbon back into the environment.

Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic, has presided over rising deforestation and wildfires since taking office in January 2019.

His government is pushing to open protected lands to mining and agribusiness, and has slashed funding for environmental protection programs.

Environmentalists say those policies fuel the destruction of the Amazon, about 60 percent of which is in Brazil.

“The Bolsonaro government’s vision of development for the Amazon is a throwback to the rampant deforestation of the past. It’s a regressive vision that’s far from the effort needed to deal with the climate crisis,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Cristiane Mazzetti said in a statement.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who presented the figures in a press conference, defended the government’s committment to fighting deforestation.

“The message I bring in the name of President Bolsonaro is that we will continue working with science and technology to support the work of environmental protection agencies,” said Mourao, a retired army general who heads Bolsonaro’s Amazon task force.

The latest annual deforestation figure was the highest since 2008, when 12,911 square kilometers of forest were destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20201201/deforestation-in-brazilian-amazon-surges-to-12year-high/58043.html

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