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23 Sep
2019

Climate change summit pressing for bigger commitments to emissions cuts

UNITED NATIONS (WNF) - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres convenes the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in a year crowded with natural disasters blamed on global warming. He wants to stiffen the resolve of world leaders to meet – and exceed – the targets agreed at the landmark 2015 Paris climate summit.
The Secretary-General will be attempting to wrest stronger commitments from the leaders, particularly the top polluters, China, the United States and India. According to the United Nations, the September summit will focus on driving action in energy transition, climate finance and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action and resilience.

At the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Poland, almost 200 countries agreed on a set of rules to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, a crucial step in implementing the Paris agreement. That pact aims to limit global warming to well under 2°C, or even 1°5 C this century.

In an audit of the global Paris pact, released in Oct 2017, the UN Environment Program reported that if action to combat climate change is limited to just the current pledges, Earth will get at least 3° C warmer by 2100 (relative to preindustrial levels). This amount of warming, blamed mainly on carbon emissions, would vastly exceed the Paris goal of 2° C.

The COP24 agreement stops short of committing the countries to the more ambitious emissions reductions necessary to slow climate change. The conference set rules for the way countries will track their emissions and communicate with each other about their progress. The rules also address the process for establishing new targets on finance from 2025 onwards to follow-on from the current target of mobilizing US $100 billion per year from 2020 to support developing countries.

A report on COP 24 from environmental group Global Witness suggests the challenges will be countering the influence on the summit from fossil fuel industry and the climate-change deniers, such as the U.S. president. Donald Trump confirmed in 2017 that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris agreement. Voter concern over global warming and the probability it will be an issue in the 2020 presidential election are making him less dismissive. The McClatchy news service reports that the United States will begin promoting carbon capture and storage technology, a rare acknowledgment from the Trump administration of the dangers of rising carbon dioxide emissions. #23069 Published: 04/11/2019

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27 Sep
2019

Doha welcomes world’s top athletes

QATAR (GN) - Doha’s iconic and technologically advanced Khalifa International Stadium is the host venue for the first ever IAAF World Athletics Championships to be staged in the Middle East.
Built in 1976, and named after former Emir Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, the 40,000-seater stadium has long been the cornerstone of Qatar’s sporting tradition. It has played host to illustrious sporting events, including the 2006 Asian Games and the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, and will host matches during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In a three-year renovation and expansion project, the national icon has been transformed into an ultramodern venue equipped with cutting-edge features such as air-conditioning technology, LED lighting and digital floodlights, providing optimal performance conditions for athletes and an unparalleled viewing experience for spectators.

The World Athletics Championships is a biennial athletics event organized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). First held in 1983 and originally held every four years, the current two-year cycle began in 1991.

In 1983 an estimated 1,300 athletes from 154 countries took part. Doha will welcome 3,500 athletes from 205 countries plus some 10,000 international guests, 30,000 spectators from outside Qatar and more than 2,000 media personnel. The third biggest sporting event in the world will be broadcast to more than seven million viewers in over 200 countries.

The word “athletics” has its roots in the Ancient Greek language and is the world’s oldest organized sport. Contestants take part in running, jumping, throwing and walking events, with the winner decided by either the fastest time, longest distance or highest jump. #22875 Published: 08/17/2019

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28 Sep
2019

Afghan presidential election faces formidable obstacles

AFGHANISTAN (WNF) - The country faces formidable hurdles when it holds its first presidential election since 2014, but it has a head start on the challenges: the Oct 2018 vote for the lower house of parliament and district councils amounted to a dry run. Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani is widely expected to win a second term, but the Taliban has denounced the polls and says its fighters will do all they can to disrupt the election process.
The Taliban insurgency drags on. The October elections were hit by over 407 Taliban attacks. The insurgents vow to stop the presidential vote, according to their spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, in a report by Bloomberg. The news service noted that more than 400 polling centers weren’t able to accept voters due to Taliban threats, malfunctioning biometric devices, a lack of election materials and staff shortages.

The election was initially postponed from April to July to allow more time to fix technical problems that surfaced during the parliamentary vote and to verify voter lists. Officials said they needed more time to train election workers on the biometric identification system that is aimed at reducing fraud. The Afghan authorities introduced new fraud mitigation measures to cut down the risk of ballot stuffing, where one person casts numerous votes. A further postponement to September was blamed on changes to election laws.

The government, election officials and foreign stakeholders now have more experience dealing with such setbacks, and they have much to gain from a credible election. Their collective determination might produce one.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which helped the Afghan government prepare for the October election, was backed by a group of international donors offering support, ideas and some €100 million. At least the same type and amount of assistance is expected for the September vote. NATO, which offered help in securing the voting in October, is also likely to step up its support.

Reuters reported in Feb 2018 that the Afghan president has offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group, part of a proposed political process that he said could lead to talks aimed at ending more than 16 years of war. He has suggested that the Taliban take part in the elections.

The last time Afghans went to the ballot box was in 2014, which produced no clear winner between the two main candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Both candidates accused each other of massive voter fraud, leading to months of arguments. An eventual deal crafted a government of national unity, with Ghani becoming president and Abdullah taking the position of the newly created position of chief executive. #22850 Updated: 03/21/2019 UPDATED MAR 21 TO MOVE DATE FROM JUL 20 TO SEP 28

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29 Sep
2019

Austrians head to the polls following the collapse of the ruling coalition

AUSTRIA (WNF) - Austrians go to the polls in a snap election called after the collapse of the ruling Austrian People’s Party (OeVP)-Freedom Party (FPO) coalition. The so-called Ibiza scandal precipitated the collapse, and led to the ousting of Sebastian Kurz as chancellor. The leader of the center-right OeVP, he was criticized for his handling of the scandal.
Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right FPO, resigned on May 18 following the revelation of a sting video allegedly showing him trying to trade public contracts for campaign help from a fake Russian backer he met in Ibiza before the 2017 parliamentary election.

The coalition campaigned in 2017 on the need for tougher immigration controls, quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and cracking down on radical Islam. The platform is likely to be resurrected as OeVP’s campaigning gains momentum.

The election opens possibilities for the Social Democrats (SPOe), but Kurz goes into the vote as a popular figure, with a chance of strengthening his party’s position if he can win over disgruntled FPO voters. Politico notes that OeVP’s first attempt to govern with the Freedom Party failed in 2002 after two years. The conservatives won an early election at the time but needed a coalition partner to govern. Should Kurz get into a similar situation, according to the publication, he may have difficulties finding allies: a new coalition with the Freedom Party seems impossible after the acrimonious split.

A Social Democratic-People’s Party coalition governed Austria prior to the 2017 election, but Kurz’ rise has been built on breaking with tradition, making it unlikely he would try to recreate the coalition.

A caretaker government of civil servants is in charge until the new election. #23134 Updated: 06/10/2019 DATE UPDATED

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29 Sep
2019

Conservatives’ annual conference a test for prime minister’s digging skills

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - New Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be expected to explain at the Conservative Party's Autumn Conference in Manchester how he plans to dig his divided party out of its hole. He has pledged to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct 31, with or without a deal.
So-called Remainers in the party have fled to the Liberal Democrats or Greens. Some Leavers have fled to Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. Any softening of Johnson’s tone on leaving the bloc will send more to Farage’s camp.

The pledge to leave on Oct 31 regardless of whether a new deal has been reached sets him up for a clash with lawmakers at the conference who have vowed to try and stop a no-deal Brexit by any means, including by trying to collapse the government.

The party’s parliamentary majority was slashed to just one on Aug 1 when Liberal Democrats won an important by-election in a constituency in Wales because of the success of a Remain alliance with other parties. The BBC describes the by-election as the first electoral test for Johnson just eight days after becoming prime minister. The broadcaster notes that it was also the quickest by-election defeat for any new prime minister since World War Two.

Johnson is reported to be considering a general election in 2020 in an effort to boost the Tories’ parliamentary presence, but he might be cornered into a snap election sooner than that. He faces the possibility of a vote of no confidence in his government when parliament returns on Sep 3 after its summer recess, and has not indicated whether he would resign if such a vote is passed. #23204 Published: 08/11/2019

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30 Sep
2019

Boeing hopes to launch unmanned crew capsule to ISS

UNITED STATES (WNF) - Boeing’s long-delayed launch of an unmanned crew capsule from Florida to the International Space Station (ISS) could finally blast off before the end of September. The continuing delays are a problem for NASA. The launch has taken on extra importance because of the agency’s urgent quest for transportation to the orbiting laboratory after the Soyuz option expires.
As it stands, NASA has limited options for accessing the ISS, according to Spacenews.com. The agency acquired three Soyuz seats for flights to the ISS in the Spring of 2019, and astronauts flying on those seats would return to Earth in the fall of 2019. Reports in February point to a probable request for two more seats, one on a mission launching in the Fall of 2019 and the other in the Spring of 2020. At the point when the Soyuz arrangement runs out, NASA will lose access to the ISS unless at least one commercial crew vehicle is online. The agency is looking at both Boeing and SpaceX to fill the void. SpaceX successfully launched an unmanned capsule to the ISS in March

Astronauts’ first flight aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, now moved to late 2019 or even early 2020, is looking less like a test flight and more like a full-fledged mission, according to Spaceflight Now. The space agency is reported to be considering the addition of a third crew member to the test, and might extend the ISS trip from two to up to 6 months, the length of a typical ISS expedition.

The CST-100 is described as similar in shape to the Apollo spacecraft, but with 50 years of improvement in the electronics. #22657 Updated: 08/19/2019 UPDATED AUG 19 WITH NEW LAUNCH ESTIMATE OF LATE SEP

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30 Sep
2019

China expects to open vast Daxing International airport

CHINA (WNF) - Beijing’s Daxing International, the world’s largest airport, is due to open by the end of September. Expected to handle 72 million passengers a year by 2025, it is one of 216 airports that China plans to build by 2035 to meet the country’s growing demand for air travel.
The eight-runway airport will lift China’s capital into the stratosphere of aviation superlatives, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reports that the golden, starfish-shaped terminal designed by the late Iraqi-British star architect Zaha Hadid, promises short walking distances despite its 7.5 million-square-foot size.

It is expected to relieve pressure on Beijing Capital International Airport, whose annual capacity has reached 100 million passengers. Foreign airlines, along with those in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, can choose which airport they want to operate in, with the option of having a presence in both.

China is planning to build airports in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Yangtze River Delta region and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, according to the Xinhua, as well as in the cities of Chongqing and Chengdu. It adds that as of Oct 2018, the country had 234 civil airports and is expected to have around 450 by 2035. Demand for passenger air transportation in China will surpass the U.S. by 2035, according to the Chinese news service, representing almost one-quarter of the world’s total flights. China’s airports handled 552 million trips in 2017, and the number is expected to increase to 720 million by 2020. #23042 Published: 03/11/2019

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30 Sep
2019

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant operator wants state help – or else

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The owner of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, Exelon Corp, plans to close the facility after having failed to secure a financial rescue package from the state of Pennsylvania. Forty years ago, the facility was the site of the country’s worst nuclear power accident.
On Mar 28, 1979, a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor failed to close and created a near-meltdown and radiation leak. Because of damage, it was never returned to service. Unit-1 did not resume operation until 1985.

There are 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 98 nuclear reactors in 30 states. They are competing with natural gas plants entering electricity markets and states moving toward renewable sources.

The Three Mile Island accident and other incidents at U.S. reactors have eroded the public’s faith in nuclear power: no new plants have been built since 1979.

The owners of the country’s now-aging plants have sought rescue packages to keep them running. The states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois have come through with aid. Pennsylvania dithered, possibly daunted by legal appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that have been launched by critics of the rescue funding, then decided against helping the company. The critics question why ratepayers should be on the hook for the cost of keeping nuclear power plants open.

Associated Press reports that FirstEnergy Corp. said it will shut down its Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in western Pennsylvania – as well as two nuclear plants in Ohio – within three years unless Pennsylvania steps up with funding.

Three Mile Island can be closed but not decommissioned until 2040, when radiation levels have fallen sufficiently. #23093 Updated: 08/18/2019 UPDATED AUG 18 TO REFLECT PLANT WILL CLOSE

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