More Wind Power, Renewables Needed to Fight Climate Change, Experts Warn

MARANCHON, SPAIN — The air was bone chilling on a recent afternoon, as blades from dozens of wind turbines lining the ridge cut through a milky sky. Not so long ago, Maranchon was Spain’s largest wind farm, its 104 machines capable of powering a mid-size city.But today it faces competition, testament to wind energy’s surging growth here and elsewhere. While Spain’s wind industry has had a rocky decade, it still remains Europe’s second biggest wind producer after Germany, and a leading exporter of wind technology.And as governments continue climate talks in Madrid, experts say wind and other renewable energy sources will be crucial to fight the escalating rise of greenhouse gasses–yet their massive potential remains untapped.Maranchon village, flanked by turbines, has few local businesses apart from Iberdrola. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Indeed, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency set for release Friday (Dec. 13) finds countries must sharply increase their renewable ambitions to meet global warming limits under the Paris climate pact.“We have a long way to go, and really need to ramp up the speed at which we’re deploying them,” says David Waskow, global climate initiative director at World Resources Institute, referring to renewables and other green sources.In the tiny village of Maranchon, roughly 160 kilometers northeast of Madrid, the turbines installed more than a decade ago are now an accepted fixture on the landscape.“At the beginning people were a bit skeptical, they thought they would be noisy and the blades would disturb the birds,” said Mayor Jose Luis Sastre, sitting in a cafe on the town’s main artery, as trucks rumbled past outside.Maranchon Mayor Jose Luis Sastre (C) says residents have switched from being skeptical about the wind farm surrounding them to happy about the income it brings in. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)“Today, the whole town perfectly accepts the the windmills,” Sastre added, “and they are happy because thanks to the revenues that the windmills bring to the municipality, the town has been able to renovate its water systems, sanitation, roads – and not just in the town of Maranchon, which is the district seat, but in five communities that are part of this municipality.”Jobs and savingsThe Maranchon wind farm is one of 300 in Spain owned by energy giant Iberdrola. Together, these and other farms provided nearly one-fifth of Spain’s electricity last year.Europe-wide, the wind sector generates roughly 300,000 jobs and accounts for billions of dollars in savings from fossil fuel imports, according to Brussels-based trade association WindEurope. But perhaps the most promising markets are in developing countries, with their growing energy demands.Iberdrola’s office is seen in Maranchon. The Spanish power giant accounts for a quarter of Spain’s wind power, and has invested in wind generation elsewhere in the world. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)“There is a great opportunity for countries in Latin America, Africa and even Asia to jump the fossil fuel part of development and just go straight to renewables,” said WindEurope’s public affairs chief Ivan Pineda. “Like Africa did by jumping straight to mobile phones, without passing through fixed lines.”One of the world’s largest power utilities, Iberdrola is also expanding its on- and offshore wind investments elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, debuting in Australia, and building Europe’s largest solar farm, in western Spain.“We can compete against oil and gas,” said Iberdrola engineer Alonso Soberon of renewables, citing steep cuts in wind and solar production costs over the past decade.Iberdrola engineer Alonso Soberon says the sharp price drop for wind makes it competitive against fossil fuels, and one solution to fighting climate change. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Earlier this month, Iberdrola announced it would phase out its last two coal plants. But it also has gas, and several environment groups accused the Spanish company—along with another, Endesa—of trying to influence the Madrid talks in ways that might dilute emissions-cutting commitments, Agence France-Presse reported.  “It is surprising for Iberdrola to be accused of green washing when in the course of 15 years the company has phased out all its coal-fired and fuel oil power generation capacity,” said Iberdrola spokesman Eduardo Gonzalez by email, noting the company has not only invested heavily in renewables over the past two decades, but also pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.Missing full potentialEven as wind power grows, opposition to the farms still remains strong in some areas. Environmentalists say badly placed ones can impact some land and marine species.Environmentalists attending the Madrid climate talks, like Ramon Marti, support wind energy but worry badly sited farms could harm birds and bats. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)“Of course, we have to support renewable energies, but considering biodiversity…not only birds, but bats are also being affected,” said Ramon Marti, network director for Birdlife Spain.While renewables are expected to surge in the coming years, experts say countries are failing to harness their full potential. Offshore wind alone could provide more than 18 times world electricity demand, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.Yet renewable energy “remains well below what is needed to meet global sustainable energy targets,” the agency said in a November report, calling for more ambitious growth targets and support.That warning also resonates across the European Union, the world’s second biggest wind energy producer after China. The EU’s new Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has vowed to make the region “climate neutral” by 2050.The Maranchon wind farm generates enough energy to power a city of 600,000 people for a year. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)But Poland and Germany count among the world’s biggest coal consumers, although Berlin announced a growing phaseout over the next two decades. And the EU recently acknowledged it will likely miss its 2030 emissions- cutting targets.A recent WindEurope report also finds a relatively underwhelming growth in wind energy in the coming years, if current national climate and energy plans are followed.“Wind energy should be growing rapidly when you consider all the interest in climate change plus the fact the wind is the cheapest from of new power energy production,” WindEurope’s CEO Giles Dickson said in a statement. “But there is real uncertainty about how far it’s going to expand in the next five years.” 

Greta Asks Media to Focus on Other Young Climate Activists

Celebrity environmentalist Greta Thunberg is urging media to pay more attention to other young climate activists.
The 16-year-old Swede has drawn huge crowds with her appearances at protests and conferences over the past year.
“Our stories have been told over and over again,” Thunberg said as she spoke Monday at a U.N. climate meeting in Madrid alongside prominent German activist Luisa Neubauer. “There is no need to listen to us anymore.”
Thunberg has been the center of attention at the climate talks ever since she sailed back to Europe last week, having shunned air travel for environmental reasons. She left a protest march through the Spanish capital early after being mobbed by crowds of protesters and reporters Friday.
“It is people especially from the global south, especially from indigenous communities, who need to tell their stories,” she said before handing the mic to other young activists from the United States, the Philippines, Russia, Uganda, Chine and the Marshall Islands.

Size of Earth’s Plastic Problems Comes Into View

Every year vast amounts of bottles and bags make their way into the world’s oceans….leaving scientists searching for solutions to purge the planet’s plastic problems.  As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, European researchers have started looking at the much, much bigger picture.

Health Experts Warn of Emerging Threat of Nipah Virus

A deadly virus called Nipah carried by bats has already caused human outbreaks across South and South East Asia and has “serious epidemic potential,” global health and infectious disease specialists said on Monday.The virus, identified in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, has sparked outbreaks with mortality rates of between 40% and 90% and spread thousands of kilometers to Bangladesh and India – yet there are no drugs or vaccines against it, they said.”Twenty years have passed since its discovery, but the world is still not adequately equipped to tackle the global health threat posed by Nipah virus,” said Richard Hatchett, chief executive of the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is co-leading a Nipah conference this week in Singapore.CEPI, a partnership between disease experts, and public, private, philanthropic, and civil organizations, was set up in 2017 to try to speed up the development of vaccines against newly emerging and unknown infectious diseases.Among its first disease targets is Nipah, a virus carried primarily by certain types of fruit bats and pigs, which can also be transmitted directly from person to person as well as through contaminated food.Within two years of being first discovered, Nipah had spread to Bangladesh, where it has caused several outbreaks since 2001.   A 2018 Nipah outbreak in Kerala, India, killed 17 people.”Outbreaks of Nipah virus have so far been confined to South and Southeast Asia, but the virus has serious epidemic potential, because Pteropus fruit bats that carry the virus are found throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, which are home to more than two billion people,” Hatchett said.He said since Nipah can also pass from person to person, it could, in theory, also spread into densely populated areas too.   The two-day Nipah conference, the first to focus on this deadly virus, is being co-hosted by CEPI and the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and starts on Monday.”There are currently no specific drugs or vaccines for Nipah virus infection, even though the World Health Organization has identified (it) as a priority disease,” said Wang Linfa, a Duke NUS professor and co-chair the conference. He hoped the meeting would stimulate experts to find ways of finding Nipah.

Samoa’s Measles Death Toll Rises to 68

Samoa said Sunday its death toll from measles has risen to 68, with three fatalities recorded in the previous 24 hours.  The Health Ministry has confirmed 4,581 cases of the disease.  Most of the victims have been young children.The South Pacific island has declared a state of emergency, closing all schools and banning children from public gatherings.”Your own son [dying] is the most complicated and painful thing in life,”  Alieta Iosefa said at her 10-year-old son’s funeral. The anguished mother said her son was a “cancer survivor” who “caught from the hospital, the germs of measles.”  She said her son’s immune system was “very low.”The ministry said Saturday almost 90% of its population has received the measles vaccine.The worldwide measles vaccination rate has “stagnated for almost a decade,” the World Health Organization reports. 
Samoa’s measles vaccination rate tumbled from 59% in 2017 to 31% in 2018, according to WHO and UNICEF, “largely due to misinformation and mistrust among parents.”This year the United States reported the most cases of measles in 25 years.Last year, four European countries — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom — lost their measles elimination status after “protracted outbreaks of the disease,” according to WHO.Samoan authorities think a traveler from New Zealand introduced the measles virus.

Congo Authorities Say Ebola Survivor Falls Ill Second Time

An Ebola survivor has fallen ill with the disease for a second time in eastern Congo, the Congolese health authorities said on Sunday, saying it was not yet clear if it was a case of relapse or reinfection.The Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo has infected over 3,300 people and killed more than 2,200 since the middle of last year, making it the second worst year on record.Experts say there has been a working assumption that Ebola survivors generally have immunity from the disease. There have been no documented cases of reinfection but some researchers consider it to be at least a theoretical possibility, while the recurrence of a previous infection is considered extremely rare.In a daily report on the epidemic, the Congolese health authorities reported that a survivor in Mabalako, North Kivu province, had fallen ill with the virus again, but did not give further details.Representatives of the World Health Organization and Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) said tests were being carried out to determine what had happened.”Clinically, we will check whether it is a reinfection to know if it is the same virus and if the person has been infected by another source,” Ahuka Steve Mundeke, a virologist at INRB, told Reuters.”We have had cases where the virus persists in immune reservoirs,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO). “In rare cases the virus can cause symptoms again. We are investigating now to see whether this was what happened.”A survivor working in an Ebola treatment center fell sick again with the virus and died in July, but it has not been determined if she relapsed, was reinfected or had a false positive the first time she was ill.Progress in containing the disease has been hampered in the last month by a surge in violence that forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last hotspots.Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they pulled their staff out of Biakoto region in Ituri province on Dec. 4 following two fresh attacks on their health centers by groups of people armed with sticks and machetes.”MSF cannot work if the security of our staff and patients is not ensured,” the aid group said in a statement.Mai Mai militia fighters and local residents have attacked health facilities on several occasions since the outbreak began, sometimes because they believe Ebola does not exist, in other cases because of resentment that they have not benefited from the influx of donor funding.

Samoa’s Measles Death Toll Rises

 Samoa said Saturday the death toll from measles has risen to 65.  Most of the victims were young children.The Health Ministry said 103 new cases have been reported since Friday.The new figures were released after a two-day lockdown, allowing the government to conduct a mass immunization campaign.The ministry said almost 90% of its population has received the measles vaccine.The South Pacific island has declared a state of emergency as the virus has infected more than 4,500 people.  Schools have been temporarily closed.    “The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, the World Health Organization director-general, said earlier this week. “To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines – which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all.”The worldwide measles vaccination rate has “stagnated for almost a decade,” WHO reports.Samoa’s measles vaccination rate tumbled from 59% in 2017 to 31 % in 2018, according to WHO and UNICEF, “largely due to misinformation and mistrust among parents.”This year the United States reported the most cases of measles in 25 years.Last year, four European countries — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom — lost their measles elimination status after “protracted outbreaks of the disease,” according to WHO.

Disappearing Frontier: Alaska’s Glaciers Retreating at Record Pace

Alaska will soon close a year that is shaping up as its hottest on record, with glaciers in the “Frontier State” melting at record or near-record levels, pouring waters into rising global seas, scientists said after taking fall measurements.Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, where records go back to the 1940s, had its second consecutive year of record mass loss, with 3 meters erased from the surface, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass told Reuters.Melt went all the way up to the summit, said Sass, one of the experts who travel to benchmark glaciers to take measurements in the fall.”That’s a really bad sign for a glacier,” he said, noting that high-altitude melt means there is no accumulation of snow to compact into ice and help offset lower-elevation losses.At Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, loss was the second highest in a record that goes back to the 1960s. Sass said it failed to match the record set in 2004 only because so much of the glacier had already melted.”The lower part’s completely gone now,” he said.FILE – U.S. President Barack Obama views Bear Glacier on a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015.Drastic melting was also reported at Kenai Fjords National Park, which former President Barack Obama once visited to call attention to climate change. There, Bear Glacier, a popular tourist spot, retreated by nearly a kilometer in just 11 months, according to August measurements by the National Park Service.”It’s almost like you popped it and it started to deflate,” said Nate Lewis, a Seward-based wilderness guide who takes travelers into the new lake that has formed at the foot of the shrinking glacier.Even one of the few Alaska glaciers that had been advancing, Taku just southeast of the city of Juneau, is now losing ice at a fast clip.Particularly ominous is the high altitude at which Taku is melting, said Mauri Pelto, who heads the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. This year, the summer melt reached as high as 1,450 meters, 25 meters above the previous high-altitude record set just last year, he said.Casting off chunksNow that it is retreating, Taku is expected to start casting off big ice chunks, increasing Alaska’s already significant contribution to rising sea levels, according to a study co-authored by Sass and Shad O’Neel, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is scheduled to be presented at the annual conference of the American Geologic Union next week in San Francisco.FILE – Chugach National Forest ranger Megan Parsley holds photos showing this summer’s ice loss at the face of Portage Glacier, Alaska, Aug. 17, 2019.Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July and the trend has continued.”Alaska is on pace to break their record for warmest year unless December is dramatically cooler than forecasted,” Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said in a Dec. 1 tweet.Alaska’s glaciers account for far less than 1 percent of the world’s land ice. But their melt contributes roughly 7 percent of the water that is raising the world’s sea levels, according a 2018 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and co-authored by O’Neel.There are also local impacts. Scientists say glacial melt affects salmon-spawning streams and harms marine fish and animal habitats. It is creating new lakes in the voids where ice used to be, and outburst floods from those lakes are happening more frequently, scientists say.Changes in the glaciers and the ecosystems they feed has been so fast that they are hard to track, said O’Neel at USGS, who measured the melt at Wolverine Glacier in September.”Everything’s been pretty haywire lately.”