Cuban Convention on Environment To Gather 56 Countries

Over 1,300 specialists from 56 countries will reportedly participate in the 12th International Convention on Environment and Development, which will open its doors here from July 1 to 5.

Under the motto: For integration and cooperation for sustainability, the event comprises six congresses: Management of Biodiversity; Environmental Management, Protected Areas, Environmental Education, Politics and Law and Climate Change. The latter having issues such as climate variability, mitigation actions and adaptation based on ecosystems.

In a press conference the director of the Cuban Environment Agency (AMA) Maritza Garcia, explained that this encounter is the first following the implementation of Task Life, a government plan aimed to confront climate change. "We are going to show the main results and we are going to set out how this program is carried out on Cuba," she said.

US expert Luis Solorzano, director of The Nature Conservancy´s Caribbean Division, an environmental organization dedicated to searching innovative solutions for the world´s challenges ,and that has been working with Cuba for over a century.

The academic program of the mega-event includes a magisterial conference on tourism and conservation, based on the experiences on management of biodiversity and biological corridors, by the Costa Rican Ana Baez.

During the convention,held in the Havana Palace of Conventions, four symposiums are going to be carried out: Environmental Regulation, Regulation and Control, Sustainable Land Management and Transport and the Environment.

At the same time, delegates can participate in six other symposiums: Earth Sciences for Sustainability, Disaster Risk Management, Marine Ecosystems, Museums and Karst and Caves.

The 12th Convention, organized by the AMA, from the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, will bring researchers from almost every nation on the continent.

According to the organizers, this time Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela are the most represented countries. Other outstanding colleagues come from China, Japan and Australia.

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Scientific cooperation between US, Cuba declines under Trump

The degradation of relations between the US and Cuba under President Donald Trump has begun to cut into scientific and medical cooperation on issues ranging from treatment of infectious diseases to coral reef preservation.

A biomedical fellowship exchange program has been put on hold. Cuban cardiac nurses have stopped providing training to universities in Georgia and Maryland. A Cuban marine researcher has stopped accepting invitations to events in the US because it’s nearly impossible to get visas.

The economic crackdown on Cuba does not specifically target science or academic and professional travel for US citizens to the island, which is still allowed without having to ask for permission to the Department of Treasury. Scientists, however, say uncertainty around cooperation has already prompted fewer trips to Cuba and some projects have already been affected.

Three Cuban biomedical fellows who were selected in 2018 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to study in the US have been forced to remain in Cuba because of the difficulty to travel. The US Embassy in Havana took most of its staff out of Cuba after mysterious health incidents affected US diplomats, forcing Cubans to travel to third countries to apply for a visa. Julia MacKenzie, senior director of International affairs for the AAAS, said that was too big an obstacle for the Cuban scientists.

The same problem affects the group Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba, a nonprofit known as Medicc based in Oakland, California, that promotes US-Cuba health collaboration.

The group in the past has invited a group of Cuban eye doctors to Chicago and four nurses from the William Soler children’s heart center in Havana traveled to universities in Georgia and Maryland to exchange experiences about the care of children with congenital heart problems.

“We can no longer do that,” said Gail Reed, Medicc’s director of cooperation and executive editor of Medicc Review, which publishes research from Cuba and other developing countries.

Cuban officials said last week that more than 200 professors and researchers were denied visas to attend the annual conference of the Latin American Studies Association in Boston this month. Cuba said only 24 were allowed to travel to the conference, one of the hemisphere’s largest academic meetings on Latin American affairs.

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The association, in turn, said it would not meet in the United States for the foreseeable future, due partly to the difficulty that foreign academics have had in traveling to meetings in the US. It also blamed the Trump administration’s hostile attitude toward immigrants.

The United States has enforced a trade embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s. However, US President Barack Obama started a more open relationship with the island in 2014, leading to soaring numbers of American trips for cultural and educational exchanges.

The Trump administration has reversed course.

Washington recently announced a new cap on the amount of money that families in the US can send relatives in Cuba. The US also has opened the way for lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties that Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution, including suits by Cubans who later emigrated to the United States.

Reed said she is concerned Trump could reverse Obama’s executive order that removed extra licensing requirements for Cuban medicines and biotech products going through the Food and Drug Administration approval process to reach US patients. She is also concerned the new policies will discourage US investors from joining ventures in Cuban biotechnology.

A spokesperson at the US Department of State did not reply to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

Patricia González, director of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research, said she used to travel often to the US for meetings and to visit laboratories but now she declines the invitations she gets.

“The number of scientific visas that they (the US) are giving is minimal. It is nothing compared to before, when it was really difficult to deny an academic visa,” she said.

González also said some US scientists are afraid of traveling to Cuba, worried about some sort of retaliation when they return to the US Travel difficulties in both directions, she said, “have really hurt the academic relationship.”

Taking care of species like sharks or endangered sawfish only makes sense if it is done regionally because they travel all around, Gonzalez said. The same regional approach needs to be taken for climate change or natural disasters, she added.

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“What happens if there is an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? How are we going to jointly face the problem? Because that is a threat that exists,” she said.

Some projects, like a clinical trial in New York of a vaccine for lung cancer patients developed in Cuba, are moving forward.

And some scientists try to be optimistic.

“We have been able to ride the waves of political relations and we hope to be able to continue to do that,” said Dan Whittle, senior director with the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, which has worked with Cuban universities, research centers and the Cuban government for 19 years on marine and coastal conservation.

“Science and the environment transcend politics,” Whittle said.

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Autonomous vehicles could be an environmental boon or disaster, depending on public policy

Widespread use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could either massively increase or drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions depending, in large part, on public policy, according to new research from Princeton University.

"We need fuel economy standards to ensure the cars are clean, and policies to encourage ridesharing to reduce vehicle miles traveled," said Judi Greenwald, non-resident fellow at Princeton's Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and co-author of a Jan. 4 paper published in the journal Energy Policy.

The researchers found that well-managed autonomous vehicles "could increase mobility, improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and make fleet management companies rich, while lowering emissions and reducing energy use." But, they said, poorly managed ones could make "things significantly worse on all these fronts."

By allowing passengers to work or relax en route, automated vehicles would greatly improve the experience of traveling in an automobile. But planning, management and carefully crafted regulations are essential to reducing vehicle emissions and avoiding additional miles traveled by the vehicles, specifically vehicles traveling with few passengers or without any passengers at all.

"Two big changes are coming -- automation and mobility as a service," said Greenwald, who served as deputy director for climate, environment and energy efficiency in the Department of Energy during the Obama administration. "Depending on how they interact, and how clean the fuel is, it could really end up a lot better or worse off for the environment," said Greenwald, who is a Princeton engineering alumna.

Greenwald and co-author Alain Kornhauser, professor of operations research and financial engineering who has a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton, found that the best way to ensure a good outcome is to deploy AVs in managed fleets rather than as personal vehicles, and to implement rigorous fuel efficiency standards for the vehicles. Fleet managers have strong incentives to use the most efficient fuels and to minimize the amount of time on the road that cars spend with few or no passengers.

"Fleets are motivated to deliver as many person-miles out of each vehicle as they possibly can," said Kornhauser, who is also director of Princeton's Program in Transportation. "If you're getting two person-miles out of each vehicle-mile traveled (because there are two passengers in the vehicle), energy use and pollution are chopped in half, regardless of the fuel source."

The authors conducted the study during Greenwald's tenure in spring 2018 as an inaugural Gerhard R. Andlinger Visiting Fellow in Energy and the Environment at the Andlinger Center. The program brings in seasoned professionals in energy and the environment to collaborate on research and enrich the center's education efforts. For the study, the authors examined a large body of earlier research by Kornhauser, with one study showing that a properly managed fleet, combined with public transit, could cut vehicle travel by 43 percent in New Jersey. They also pointed to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory 2016 report that showed that AVs could triple fuel use due to easier travel and an increase in empty vehicle miles traveled.

Greenwald said policy will play a big role in controlling which players are able to operate these vehicles and how. High barriers to market entry, such as expensive licenses similar to a commercial trucking license, could discourage individuals from buying autonomous vehicles. Regulations could also prohibit the technology from being sold to individuals, the report said.

"While a future with autonomous vehicles may seem far off, we must be planning for them today to ensure they deliver on their promise versus set us back," said Rob Freudenberg, vice president for energy and environment at Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization focused on the tri-state area, and unaffiliated with the study. "That includes everything from encouraging the right technology, to integrating with existing public transportation networks, to completely reimagining our streets for the better."

"We need public policy to ensure that we align the economic incentives with what we want from a societal perspective," said Greenwald. "It's really up to us."

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Materials provided by Princeton University, Engineering School. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Natural refrigerant replacements could reduce energy costs and conserve the environment

The 1987 Montreal Protocol and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol called for countries around the world to phase out substances like CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) that deplete the ozone layer and cause global warming. Many heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems still use these synthetic refrigerants that violate those international agreements and inflict environmental damage.

Recently, a team of Iranian researchers investigated how natural refrigerants could replace CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs in geothermal heat pumps to reduce energy consumption and operating costs. They report their findings in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, from AIP Publishing.

The researchers also examined the environmental and economic benefits of zeotropic and azeotropic refrigerants, as well as natural refrigerants. Based on their modeling, the researchers determined that natural materials, including ammonia and n-butane, are the most economical and environmentally friendly replacement refrigerants for geothermal heat pumps.

Geothermal heat pumps exploit how the earth's temperature below the surface stabilizes in mid-50s-degree Fahrenheit by using a vapor compression cycle equipped with buried pipes in horizontal trenches or vertical boreholes. Geothermal heat pumps extract heat from the ground (in the winter) and dissipate heat to the ground (in the summer) by circulating fluid such as water through buried pipes. This design takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems.

In their review, the researchers ran an Hour Analysis Program to calculate the heating and cooling loads in a 14-story, residential building. Then, they applied their findings to an Engineering Equation Solver to model the thermodynamic cycle of an open and closed loop ground source heat pump with different known refrigerants.

"The big challenge for the coming years in the HVAC and refrigeration industry is to establish natural refrigerant technology to substitute CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs refrigerants," said Mostafa Mafi, one of the authors on the paper. "A solution to reduce energy consumption in heat pumps is using the earth as a renewable heat source/sink to both increase efficiency and create a diversity of energy sources."

Global Quantity Of Plastic In Oceans To Nearly Double To 250 Million Tonnes By 2025

Kochi: About eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year and the global quantity will nearly double to 250 million tonnes by 2025, says a new analysis paper.

The new International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) co-authored analysis paper, released recently, warned that the 'plastic soup' contains toxic chemicals, which could pose risks to marine species and humans.

It said reliable quantitative estimations of input loads, sources and originating sectors represent a significant knowledge gap, "but it is suggested that every year almost eight million tonnes leak to the ocean."

It said estimates are that oceans may already contain over 150 million tonnes of plastic, of which around 250,000 tonnes, fragmented into five trillion plastic pieces, may be floating at the oceans' surface.

"It has also been estimated that the global quantity of plastic in the ocean will nearly double to 250 million tonnes by 2025, which likely also represents a pollutant load of millions of tonnes of chemical additives," it said.

Marine species ingest potentially contaminated plastics directly, and by eating contaminated prey, says the paper titled 'Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemicals components: the need for urgent preventive measures'.

"Seabirds are particularly vulnerable, with studies showing the presence of additives used as flame retardants in plastics, as well as foams and textiles, which were discovered in their stomachs and fatty tissue," said the paper, published in Environmental Sciences, Europe.

The paper said that at a global level, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated the economic impact of marine plastics (excluding microplastics), including losses incurred by fisheries and tourism due to plastic littering, as well as beach clean-up costs, at around USD 13 billion per year.

"Looking at the scale of the marine plastic problem today and at the projections for future growth in production of plastic globally, it is clear we are in the midst of a major crisis," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCNs Global Marine and Polar Programme.

Ludin said urgent action was needed to reduce toxic chemicals leaching into oceans from plastic.

To reduce amount of contaminants in marine plastics, the authors recommend addressing issues in the life-cycle design of plastic products and creating products that minimise use of hazardous substances, an approach known as 'green chemistry'.

They also concluded that the development of best practice codes for industry is likely to be more efficient than relying on 'end-of-pipe' solutions; and existing scientific evidence and precautionary principles should drive action from scientists, industry, policy and civil society to curb leaking of plastics into the marine environment in the short term.

"Societies need to act at multiple levels," said Joao Sousa, IUCN Project Manager for Marine Plastics, co-author of the report.

"Developed countries need to identify and adopt less harmful production processes and promote alternatives, whilst sound waste management and awareness-raising should be the main priority for developing nations," said Sousa.

The paper was authored by members of a working group associated with the Stockholm and Basel Conventions multilateral environmental agreements aimed at protecting human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes and other authors.

India to Host World Environment Day This Year

In recognition of India''s progress in defense of the environment, this country will host the World Environment Day, to be celebrated every June 5, the government and the UN announced today.

During a news conference, the executive director of the the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Erik Solheim, and Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Harsh Vardhan, stressed this nation's works to protect nature.

Under the slogan 'Overcoming Ocean Plastic Pollution', the UN convenes this year to 'join to explore sustainable alternatives to urgently reduce the production and the excessive use' of that product.

This country has one of the world's highest recycling rates, the official said.

According to the UN, the world plastic production surpasses 300 million tons annually, eight millions of which ends in the oceans.

  • Published in World

Climate Change Could Turn Earth into Venus: Stephen Hawking

The British physicist said Venus was once an inhabitable Earth-like planet, but greenhouse gases raised its surface temperatures to boiling point – and beyond.

In the second episode of his new series "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," the British physicist warns Earth could soon become as hot as Venus if action to halt climate change is not taken immediately.

RELATED: Stephen Hawking Says AI Can 'Outperform Humans'

Hawking says Venus was once an Earth-like planet with surface water, mild temperatures and an appropiate atmosphere. According to NASA, Venus was an inhabitable planet for a period of about two billion years as recently as four billion years ago.

Now temperatues on Venus reach 250°C with powerful 300mph winds. Hawking says a greenhouse effect burned the planet's oceans and lands, and that something similar could happen right here on Earth if climate change continues unabated.

"Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare," says the physicist in his show.

Hawking has severely criticized Trump's decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. The US president has stated before that this climate pact puts the US economy at a disadvantage, even denying that climate change is a real thing and stating that he cares not for the citizens of Paris, but only those of the United States.

The Paris climate agreement is an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was signed by 195 nations in 2015.

In the Starmus Festival last year, Hawking said Trump's decision was "the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen." He also said that the human race would have to colonize outer space in the next 200 to 500 years if we are to survive as species.

Since then, Hawking has stated multiple times his hopes for a new era of space exploration, in which nations unite toward a single goal.

"It is clear we are entering a new space age. We are standing at the threshold of a new era. Human colonisation and other planets is no longer science fiction, it can be science fact."

The scientist is currently working on Breakthrough Starshot, a project that could send "a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour" to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system, in just 20 years.

"Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places" won an Emmy last year and is available for streaming at Curiosity Stream.

Earth witnesses hottest August ever recorded

2016’s global temperatures keep on breaking new records, NASA has said, declaring last month the hottest ever August to be recorded on Earth.

Last month earned the title of warmest ever August on Earth since 1880, when record-keeping began, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York announced in a press release on Monday. The findings come soon after NASA branded July 2016 both the hottest ever July and the hottest ever month on record.

August 2016 was 0.16 degrees Celsius warmer than the last hottest August which took place recently, in 2014. Last month’s temperatures were also 0.98 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean August temperature from 1951-1980, scientists said.

What is more, August 2016 managed to tie with July as the hottest month on record. August is also the 11th consecutive month during which global temperatures have broken all records, scientists pointed out, adding that the trend goes all the way back to October 2015.

Scientists said that long-term trends are the key to understanding the changes taking place on our planet.

“Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet.”

To carry out its monthly analysis NASA collects data from some 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will announce its own August data later this month. Last month NOAA said that July 2016 was the 14th consecutive month with record high temperatures. April 2015 was the last month when the Earth did not encounter any record high temperatures.

READ MORE: Global temperatures set 14th consecutive monthly record

An upward trend in global temperatures has been noticed since 2014. Last year was considered the hottest on record surpassing its previous rival – 2014. This year is thought to have every chance of beating 2015, as the first six months of this year were all record warm.

NASA chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said earlier that 2016 has a 99 percent chance of being a third record hot year in a row. Last month he warned that the average temperature of Earth is rising at a pace “unprecedented in 1,000 years”.

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