The World Today for March 04, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

COSTA RICA

Green Ambitions

Costa Rica is arguably conducting the world’s most ambitious experiment in fighting climate change.

Renowned for its pacifism – Costa Rica abolished its military 70 years ago – the Central American republic recently launched a plan to use near-zero carbon by 2050.

“Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be among the first countries to achieve it, if not the first,” said President Carlos Alvarado Quesada in a Spanish-language statement.

Among the plan’s goals: Buses and taxis will emit zero greenhouse gases. New passenger vehicles will be electric. A new electrified train line will service the capital of San Jose. Cargo vehicles will be 20 percent more energy efficient than today. Green buildings will be the norm.

Some of the goals are not as big a leap as they sound. Renewable energy would supply 100 percent of the country’s electricity, but that’s only a two-percentage-point increase from today. Forests that now cover around half the country would grow to 60 percent.

The country is not banning fossil fuels per se. “We plan to phase them out through new policies and incentives so that eventually, down the road, they will be useless,” Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the country’s minister of environment and energy, told Vox.

Still, while some European countries have discussed decarbonization, and taken action, few if any have drawn a roadmap that comports so closely with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century, the National Resources Defense Council wrote.

Costa Rica’s plan could work. The technology to achieve its aims exists. The issue is whether the nation’s economy can withstand the disruption that will likely occur as it phases out petroleum.

For example, how much will bus fares rise as the government replaces old vehicles that run on cheap diesel fuel with expensive state-of-the-art electric buses that require a costly network of charging stations and an updated grid? Can workers who live in a country where per capita income is less than $10,000 a year afford to pay higher fares?

“Although one tends to see that [electric bus] prices are falling over time, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding that,” Jairo Quirós, an energy researcher at the University of Costa Rica, told Reuters.

People’s tolerance of higher living costs as the price of curbing emissions can vary. Most Germans, for example, seem OK with higher electricity prices that resulted from efforts to phase in more green energy. France is a different story: The protests on the streets of Paris since November began over a green energy tax.

It remains to be seen how Costa Ricans will feel.

Still, if one believes in climate change, a more expensive bus ticket is a small price to pay to save the world.

WANT TO KNOW

ESTONIA

Blowing in the Wind

The center-right Reform party won Estonia’s general election in an unexpectedly clear result, but the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) more than doubled its previous tally, signaling that the so-called “digital republic” is not immune to the populist wind sweeping across Europe.

The Reform party won about 29 percent of the vote Sunday, while the ruling Center party garnered 23 percent and EKRE managed around 18 percent, the BBC reported. Both Reform and Center favor maintaining austerity policies that have ensured Estonia has less debt than any other Eurozone country, while EKRE railed against immigrants and promised to slash taxes during the campaign.

Either Reform or Center – which have long alternated in power in Estonia – could form the next government without partnering with EKRE, as the conservative Isamaa party and the Social Democrats won 11.4 percent and 9.8 percent respectively. Both major parties are committed to EU and NATO membership.

ALGERIA

The Last Gasp

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would run for a fifth term in next month’s election, defying massive protests against his refusal to relinquish power.

However, Bouteflika also plans to call for early elections if he wins next month’s poll, first calling a national conference to debate proposals to amend the constitution, CNN reported. He also vowed not to run in that race.

That’s a promise that’s not likely to go down well with the thousands of people who took to the streets over the weekend to protest Bouteflika’s plan to stand for a fifth term. The octogenarian leader had a stroke in 2013 and has rarely appeared in public since, prompting many to believe he is essentially incapacitated.

In a country where the security forces generally maintain tight control, tens of thousands took to the streets Friday, with some protesters calling for a more radical rejigging of the country’s government than a fresh election without Bouteflika could deliver. At least one person was killed and 183 injured, the minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform said.

IRAQ

Tears and Fears

A group of Yazidi women and children were reunited with their families in Iraq Saturday after years of being held captive by the Islamic State. But the celebrations in honor of the lucky few – and evident signs of trauma – were a stark reminder of around 3,000 others who are still missing.

Three women and 18 children between the ages of 10 and 15 rejoined their families at a rural truck stop between Sinjar and Dohuk, Al Jazeera reported, describing a scene of both joy and tears.

When the Islamic State took over their communities in 2014, the militants treated the Yazidis with characteristic brutality – enslaving, raping and killing thousands of people they considered to be heretics.

Even for the few who returned home, concerns remain about the impact of their captivity. Along with the undoubted psychological trauma of the experience, many fear that the 11 boys among the captives may have been indoctrinated at militant training camps.

DISCOVERIES

Let the Sunshine In

Climate change and water scarcity are pushing scientists to find novel ways to secure the availability of drinking water.

Now, researchers in China say they have discovered an efficient and environmentally friendly method to remove bacteria from water, Science Alert reported.

In a study for the journal Chem, the team purified 2.6 liquid gallons of water in just one hour by putting a sheet of graphitic carbon nitride in the water and shining ultraviolet light onto it – a technique known as photocatalytic disinfection.

The carbon nitride sheet absorbs UV and natural light and speeds up the oxygen reactions in the water, producing “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) – in this case, hydrogen peroxide. ROS molecules are very effective at killing microorganisms.

The prototype eradicated 99.9 percent of all E. coli bacteria in a 50 milliliter sample in just 30 minutes, and the hydrogen peroxide safely separated into hydrogen and oxygen.

“This remarkably high efficiency is also comparable to that of the best metal-based photocatalysts,” wrote the authors.

The best part is that the nitride compound can be easily produced and used in larger scales, according to lead author Dan Wang.

But the process alone won’t purify water of all contaminants, Wang said. Other devices are needed for removing heavy-metal ions and residue.

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