Planet SOS: Transforming the way we use land and its resources

We rely on land for our food and to meet many of our basic needs. But the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says poor land-use practices are causing land degradation and desertification.

The land is losing its ability to sustain life.

Planet SOS talks to some of those trying to protect the Earth's green bastions.

Al Jazeera's David Mercer meets the Guatemalan villagers using the global system of land concessions to both use and protect their forest.

Emma Hayward travels to Wales where some farmers are employing sustainable practices to reduce the impact of pastoral farming.

We speak to environmental activist George Monbiot on ways of overhauling the global food system.

Nicolas Haque returns to Senegal to assess progress on the Great Green Wall, a project to restore land from east, right across to west Africa by planting trees.

Mohamed Vall explores possible solutions that could get people back to land they once abandoned when the water stopped flowing.

Planet SOS conducts a taste-test on the plant-based burger products that some are calling the future of food.

And Mereana Hond looks ahead to COP25, the climate talks taking place this year in Madrid.

Foreign Minister ratifies Cuba's commitment to health and environment

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez reaffirmed his country's commitment to social welfare and environmental protection as part of the high-level meeting on universal health coverage at the UN.

"Cuba present at #UNGA74. We will reaffirm our commitment to #HealthForAll, #ClimateAction and efforts to advance towards a democratic, just and equitable international order that responds to the demand for peace, sovereignty and sustainable development of our people," Rodriguez stressed on Twitter.

Ana Silvia Rodriguez, Alternate Permanent Representative of Cuba to the UN, confirmed also that during the meeting the Cuban delegation will discuss Cuba's achievements in the area and cooperation despite the blockade imposed by the US government on this Caribbean country.

The Cuban FM arrived in New York on Saturday to participate in the high-level segment of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, according to Cubaminrex website.

The Cuban delegation is also represented by the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anayansi Rodriguez; the General Director of the United States department, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio; and other officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the UN.

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Brazilian president suggests less pooping to help save environment

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday suggested eating less food, and therefore, defecating less, as an answer to some of the world's problems.

Bolsonaro — who has come under fire in recent weeks after data showed increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest — offered the response to a reporter who questioned if it was possible to boost the economy, feed those who are hungry and save the environment at the same time.

"It's enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It's enough to poop every other day," Bolsonaro said, according to AFP. "That will be better for the whole world."

Critics say that Bolsonaro's policies will help accelerate further deforestation of the Amazon — 60 percent of which is part of Brazil. A key regulator of the Earth's living systems, the rainforest's trees take in as much as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and release 20 percent of the planet's oxygen.

New data published last week by the National Institute for Space Research, a federal Brazilian agency, showed that more rainforest was lost between May and July this year than during the same period in 2018, 2017 and 2016.

In July alone, 870 square miles of vegetation was cut down — the biggest surge in deforestation rates since the institute adopted its current methodology in 2014.

Bolsonaro alleged the agency might have manipulated the deforestation data to make his far-right administration look bad. He fired physicist Ricardo Galvão, who served as director of the National Institute for Space Research, after deeming the information "doubtful."

Brazil was once heralded as a global environmental success story. But as data indicates an influx in Amazon deforestation under Bolsonaro — a climate change skeptic with a strongly pro-agrobusiness agenda — some fear what could happen to the rainforest.

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Cuba Opens New Solar Park with Foreign Funds

With foreign-granted funds Cuba has built and officially opened a new solar park in the city of Cardenas, western province of Matanzas, with the help of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD).

The other three facilities of this type are in the provinces of Sancti Spiritus (south central) and Camaguey (east).

Livan Arronte, Cuban Vice Minister of Energy and Mining said this financing is quite favorable for economic indicators of the project, it helps the development of the National Electric System and contributes to changing the generation matrix.

Arronte explained that these parks generate power for 6,944 homes a year, allow saving 4,700 tons of oil and avoid the emission of 12,700 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The country's policy until 2030 seeks to use renewable energies by up to 24 percent, reduce dependence on imported fuel for generation, and reduce costs as well as environmental pollution.

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Belarus, Cuba to cooperate in science, technology

The State Committee on Science and Technology of Belarus and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of Cuba have signed a memorandum of understanding. The document was inked by heads of the two ministries, Aleksandr Shumilin and Elba Rosa Perez Montoya, in Minsk on 24 June, BelTA has learned.

The memorandum envisages the exchange of information and technical consultations on issues related to the development of Hi-Tech parks, cooperation in technology transfer, assistance to knowledge-intensive industries in both the countries through joint companies, interaction or planning.

According to the minister of science, technology and environment of Cuba, the signing of the document will bring experience sharing between the two agencies onto a new level. “We have an absolute interest in strengthening cooperation between the countries in the field of science and technology. We are very optimistic about it and we hope there are many practical achievements ahead," she told the media.

In turn, Aleksandr Shumilin said that Belarus and Cuba have been successfully cooperating for years: “The first agreement between our agencies was signed in 2012. In 2016, we held the first joint meeting in Cuba, which gave a significant boost to bilateral cooperation. In 2017, a delegation of Cuba visited Belarus to sign an agreement on the protection of intellectual property." The implementation of a joint project in biotechnology began in 2019.

According to Aleksandr Shumilin, Cuba is most interested in Belarus' innovative infrastructure construction practices. “We are going to discuss the implementation of joint projects today and the setting up of joint ventures (eyeing the countries of Latin America as well),” he added. The parties are also expected to discuss the sci-tech cooperation program for 2019-2020 and for 2021 over the long term.

Cuba is reforming its scientific sector, the chairman of the State Committee on Science and Technology said. By the end of 2019, the country plans to open a center for nanomaterials and nanotechnologies.

The country is showing a big interest in Belarus' practices in the area. Cuba has recently made serious headway in healthcare and biotechnology. According to Aleksandr Shumilin, it would be reasonable to unite the efforts. “We have a number of chemical formulas for treating cancers.

Cuba has unique medications, too. Such medications are very expensive worldwide. Knowledge sharing and joint work on new medications can produce a very good result,” he said. As for joint companies, the matter pertains, first of all, to the processing of agricultural products and the joint assembly of machinery with the possibility of its supply not only to Cuba but also to the countries of Latin America.

In January-April 2019, Belarus' exports to Cuba exceeded $6.6 million, up 7% year-on-year. Belarus' exports comprise 83 commodity descriptions, mostly in automotive manufacturing and related industries.

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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.


“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.

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