Displaying items by tag: Science
Every year countries pledge to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to curb the impacts of climate change. But still temperatures keep rising. Last month scientists announced that the average rise in global temperatures would likely pass the 1.5C threshold in the next five years. With temperatures rising we will see more heatwaves, wildfires and floods. From 5 to 15 June countries’ leaders are meeting at the Bonn climate conference to discuss, among other things, local communities and indigenous peoples, pre-2020 ambition and implementation, science, and oceans. They will review their pledges as they look ahead to November’s COP28. Even a small increase in average temperatures makes a big difference as the whole distribution of daily temperatures shifts to warmer levels, making hotter days more likely and more extreme. See
Rishi Sunak has reshaped the government. Grant Shapps is secretary of state for energy, security and net zero - a new department. The government wants us to be a science superpower, but science has regularly moved departments, with many different ministers. Creating a new department enables it to be represented in cabinet. Kemi Badenoch becomes the new business secretary. Rachel Maclean is the new housing minister, the sixth person to hold the post in 12 months. She is tasked with solving the UK's housing crisis. Other government departments have also seen high turnovers since 2010, with twelve prisons ministers and ten immigration ministers. There have been five schools ministers, but Nick Gibb occupied the role on three separate occasions. Appointing Lee Anderson as vice-chairman sparked worries: he vigorously backs the death penalty and a Channel naval standoff, and believes food bank clients do not budget properly. See
Farmers in England will be paid more public money for protecting the environment and producing food more sustainably, the Government has said. It is hoped the increase in payment rates will encourage more farmers to sign up to new environmental land management schemes that are designed to replace the EU's common agricultural policy. The Farmers' Union welcomed the rise but warned it could be ‘too little, too late’ in the current economic climate. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the new system would put money into farmers' pockets while enhancing nature and driving innovation in agriculture. The announcement comes amid rises in the cost of food production, with farmers hit particularly hard by increases in the cost of animal feed, fertilisers, and fuel. The increased rates under ELMS will come from existing money, reallocated from the previous direct payment subsidies given to farmers under the EU scheme.
Luke-warm applause met a historic moment when a ‘loss and damage fund’ was agreed in the early hours of 20 November 20 after a confusing and often chaotic 48 hours left delegates exhausted. This fund will see developed nations paying poorer countries for damage and economic losses caused by climate change, ending almost thirty years of waiting by poorer nations experiencing huge climate impacts. But there was disappointment over the lack of progress on cutting fossil fuels. ‘A clear commitment to phase-out all fossil fuels? Not in this text,’ said the UK's president of the Glasgow COP26 summit. The final overarching deal did not include commitments to ‘phase down’ or reduce use of fossil fuels. It also included ambiguous new languages about ‘low emissions energy’ - which experts say could open the door to some fossil fuels being considered part of a green energy future.
Health workers in Pakistan are marking children’s fingers as having had a polio vaccination, when in reality parents have refused the vaccine after believing conspiracy theories that they are harmful, blasphemous, or a plot to sterilise Muslims. This is the biggest challenge - to eradicate the crippling virus in one of its last haunts. Deteriorating security along the border is making the situation worse, as militants cross from Afghanistan - the only other country where polio is still circulating. After two years free of polio Pakistan has two poliovirus cases. They were also paralysed, raising further concerns that there may still be hundreds of cases in the region. On average, only one in 200 infections leads to paralysis. Bill Gates, who invests billions in the polio fight, said ‘it would be tragic if the disease made a comeback because it would spread back across the world and eventually you have what you had before 1988 - hundreds of thousands of paralysed children.’
Safety trials are underway for a Cambridge-led vaccine that could be used as a booster targeting Covid variants which threaten future coronavirus pandemics. The first volunteer received the vaccine on 14 December through a needle-free ‘injection’ - a blast of air that delivers it into the skin. This offers a possible future alternative to people who fear needle-based jabs. If it is successful it could be scaled up and manufactured as a powder to boost global vaccination efforts, particularly in low and middle-income countries. As new variants emerge there is a need for newer technologies. It’s vital that science continues to develop new generation vaccines. Pray for this new trial to lead the way for vaccines that will prime the immune system to respond with broader, stronger protection. The vaccine trial will follow up volunteers for about a year to ensure it is safe.
WHO chief scientist Dr Swaminathan said reinfections with the Omicron variant 90 days after the virus first strikes are three times more common. While data on the virulence and transmissibility will take time, scientists know that Omicron is a dominant strain in South Africa. They have said there was no surge of re-infection during either the Beta or Delta waves, despite laboratory studies suggesting those variants had the potential to evade some immunity. But they are now detecting a spike in re-infections and the timing suggests the Omicron variant is the driving force. Prof Juliet Pulliam, from Stellenbosch University, said, ‘These findings suggest that Omicron's selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals.’ However, it is still only one piece of the puzzle. See
British scientists have identified a gene that doubles the risk of dying from Covid-19, opening up possibilities for targeted medicine and providing new insights into why some people are more susceptible to the disease than others. Researchers at Oxford University found that 60% of people with South Asian ancestry carry the high-risk gene. The discovery partly explains the high number of deaths seen in some British communities, and the effect of Covid in the Indian subcontinent. The scientists found that the increased risk is not because of a difference in genetic coding of the proteins, but because of differences in the DNA that makes a kind of ‘switch’ to turn a gene on. That genetic signal is likely to affect cells in the lung. The study shows that the way in which the lung responds to the infection is critical. This is important because most treatments have focused on changing the way in which the immune system reacts to the virus.
Taiwan is administering its domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, amid criticism that its approval was rushed. The Medigen vaccine had not completed phase three trials when it was granted emergency approval by regulators. Medigen said there were no major safety concerns, and antibodies created were no worse than AstraZeneca's vaccine. It is expected to complete the final round of trials being held in Paraguay later this year. Taiwan's vaccination efforts have been hampered by delivery delays and hesitancy amongst its population. President Tsai Ing-wen led the way in receiving the Medigen jab on 23 August. The objections have mainly come from the opposite political party, the Kuomintang, who say it is unsafe. More than 700,000 people have already signed up for the vaccine, which requires two doses 28 days apart. Less than 5% of Taiwan's population is fully vaccinated: around 40% have received just one dose.
There is more flash flooding, partly caused by climate change. Parts of London and the south of England were left under water and roads became impassable this week. Just 30cm of water is enough to move a car. Infrastructure and transport networks were damaged. London hospitals asked patients to stay away after they lost power. Urban areas experience ‘surface water’ flooding because they have a lot of hard surfaces - paved front gardens, car parks, roads and high streets. On 28 July several towns in Scotland were flooded, with more to come. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-57970845 Reading University says urban areas could benefit from permeable pavements and green roofs which can help rainwater to soak away rather than causing floods. Weather and flood forecasting has improved rapidly, and it is now possible to forecast surface water flooding events in advance.