Sunday, December 15, 2013

▶ China's Rover Leaves First Tracks On Moon In 40 Years - YouTube

▶ China's Rover Leaves First Tracks On Moon In 40 Years - YouTube: ""

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China's rover leaves first tracks on moon in 40 years

The successful launch marks the next step in an ambitious space program that aims to send a Chinese astronaut to the moon.

BEIJING — China's first moon rover set off slowly Sunday to travel across the right eye of the Man in the Moon, leaving the first wheeled tracks on the moon's surface in nearly 40 years.
No quote emerged to rival "one giant leap for mankind," but with one loud confirmation by mission control — "the probe landed safely" — China established its status Saturday night as the third nation ever to achieve a "soft-landing" on the moon.
Two weeks after its launch from southwest China, the Chang'e 3 lunar probe, named after a moon goddess, made a careful descent that was reported live on state television. Only the USA and former Soviet Union have previously made soft landings on the moon, whereby the spacecraft and equipment remain intact and operable.
Further celebrations followed Sunday morning as its major cargo, a solar-powered lunar rover named Jade Rabbit after the goddess' pet, rolled down a ramp and set off on a three-month mission to hunt for natural resources and conduct geological surveys.
The successful launch marks the next step in an ambitious space program that aims to send an astronaut to the moon and open a permanent space station around 2020. Still, Beijing has yet to confirm specific plans for a manned moon landing.
"They are taking their time with getting to know about how to fly humans into space, how to build space stations ... how to explore the solar system, especially the moon and Mars," Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane's Space Systems and Industry, told the Associated Press. "They are making good strides, and I think over the next 10, 20 years they'll certainly be rivaling Russia and America in this area and maybe overtaking them in some areas."
On the streets of Beijing, pride in China's slow but steady emergence as a space power was easy to find Sunday.
"It's so great," said schoolboy Wu Jing, 12, who watched news of the landing Sunday morning. "I read about it in science fiction novels, but it came true."
The space program "makes people proud of our country," and is worth every cent, said Chen Haizhen, 61, a retired worker at a foodstuffs factory.
"Finally we could catch up with the USA in this field, which has been my dream for years," he said.
However, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the program and its cost.
"Solving the people's problems of getting to college, the expense of seeing a doctor, the difficulty of old age care, and the high price of real estate is more difficult than landing on the moon," Zhao Jianjiang, general manager of a solar technology company in east Suzhou city, wrote on Sina Weibo, China's micro-blogging platform. "All of this (the lunar program) is useless."
Contributing: Sunny Yang

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Help the people, save the trees |IRIN Global |

By Jaspreet Kindra 

JOHANNESBURG, 3 December 2013 (IRIN) - Several issues around the UN mechanism that aims to curtail greenhouse gases by preventing forest loss were resolved in Warsaw at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the meeting is being described by many as the “Forest COP”. 

The decisions were mostly on how a UN mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and its successor, REDD+ (which additionally aims to reverse forest loss) will be governed. 

Perhaps the most significant development is a decision that affects local communities and indigenous peoples who live in, or depend on, forests. It has now become mandatory for countries who want to access funds for projects to conserve their forests to show that they are involving local forest-based communities in their efforts, and ensuring their livelihoods are safe. 

REDD+ was initially designed to benefit countries with rainforests but now covers all developing countries, which could be compensated for preserving their forests, either from a fund or with carbon credits to be traded on international carbon markets. But private companies as well as countries can earn carbon credits to help them offset their industrial emissions, and this has long been a sore point with the critics of REDD. 

So, will REDD+ decisions help forest-linked communities and forests? IRIN takes a closer look. 

Help the people, save the trees 

Forests are known to remove huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, while the destruction of trees releases carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Environmentalists have long argued that REDD+ must not simply protect trees, it must also protect biodiversity and forest-dependent communities. The logic is that if you don’t help the people who live with the forests, you can’t expect them to help save the trees. 

Several studies - including an assessment by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the world’s largest network of forest scientists - show that efforts to conserve forests, and so reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, cannot work without protecting biodiversity and the well-being of forest dwellers. 

“There is clear evidence that including objectives to improve the livelihoods of forest-dependent people and local communities will strengthen local involvement and acceptance, and thereby support REDD+ goals,” said Christoph Wildburger, the coordinator of IUFRO’s Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) initiative, was quoted by IRIN as saying in 2012. 

"Forest carbon (which is based on removal of carbon from the atmosphere) is NOT equivalent to industrial carbon (released by burning fossil fuels that have previously been locked away underground). Therefore, using forest carbon as offsets does not slow down climate change, but rather allows the status quo of ever-increasing impacts to continue"
“Socio-economic impacts should therefore be considered early on in REDD+ planning and implementation. Tenure and property rights, including rights of access, use, and ownership in particular, also need to be emphasized, as they are crucial to ensuring the sustainable success of REDD+ activities." 

Global thinking on forest management, even in developing countries where governments are often pressed to concede rainforest exploitation rights, has been moving towards decentralized forest management that allows local actors increased rights and responsibilities, which has been found to be effective in protecting forests. 

In the 2010 UNFCCC meeting in Cancun, Mexico, the rights of indigenous forest communities and biodiversity were recognized as "safeguards", or conditions that countries were required to meet to qualify for REDD+ funding. But subsequent meetings failed to make adherence to those conditions mandatory, which is what forest-linked communities and civil society said was necessary. 

Despite the best attempts of environmentalists and similar lobby groups, language in the proposed climate treaty that would make countries accountable for ensuring the rights of the forest-based communities remained “substantially weak”, says Anggalia Putri Permatasari, Forest and Climate Change Officer, Association for Community-Based and Ecological Law Reform in Indonesia. 

Instead of a system to monitor, report and verify (known as the MRV) for safeguards, she said, countries at the 2011 meeting in Durban, South Africa, settled for language that “obliged” them to provide a “summary of information on how safeguards are addressed and respected”. 

What happened in Warsaw? 

The incessant lobbying by civil society and other groups paid off. Countries adopted a package of seven decisions finalizing the basic governance framework for REDD+, said Allison Silverman, an attorney with the US-based Center for International Environmental Law. 

The framework requires countries to show that they have made efforts to improve the lives of forest-based communities and will involve them in initiatives to conserve and protect forests in a meaningful way. ”These benefits are known at the UNFCCC as ‘non-carbon’ benefits’,” she said. 

Is this good enough? 

Well, no. Raja Jarrah, climate advisor with the NGO, CARE International, answers the question candidly, “As with almost all the decisions on REDD+, the wording leaves a lot of room for interpretation… the spirit of the decision might be seen as making it ‘mandatory to report on safeguards’, but what it actually does is ask countries to provide their ’most recent summary of information on how all of the safeguards’… have been addressed and respected.” 

He points out that neither “summary” nor “information” is defined. The language also does not stipulate how this information will be verified by indigenous peoples and local communities. Jarrah thinks the Warsaw decision has not really taken the issue forward since Cancun. 

Permatasari, the Indonesian activist, admits the Warsaw decisions on REDD+ do not address the Safeguards Information System (SIS), which defines the information countries need to provide, and the manner in which it should be provided. Environmentalists realize they still have a “great battle” ahead at the next UN talks in Lima, Peru, in 2014 to determine the details of the SIS. 

Jarrah says in Durban it was acknowledged that “information must be transparent and cover all the safeguards, but national sovereignty and circumstances were also stressed, thereby giving countries more or less carte blanche to report as they will”. 

Permatasari feels the general message now is that in the long run the success of REDD+ will depend on “whether it creates long-term benefits for communities that live in and around forests and does not harm them. Recognition and protection of community rights is the first step towards achieving this”. 

Pasang Dolma Sherpa, national coordinator of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, sees the biggest challenge as ensuring that national governments recognize the rights of forest-based communities at all tiers of government in a meaningful manner. Nepal has a community-based forest monitoring system in place and is regarded as much more advanced in recognizing the rights of indigenous communities, but she says the recognition is still “superficial”. Dolma Sherpa notes that a process involving indigenous and forest-dependent people and communities must be put in place at all levels of government to record their grievances. 

Countries have begun to develop their SIS frameworks, but are recognizing that they do not really know how to go about it, reports the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group (R-SWG), a North-South coalition of civil society and indigenous people’s organizations. 

Lakpa Nuri Sherpa, of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)-Environment Programme, based in Thailand, points out that most of the information on REDD+ is only available in English; and there is a need to translate it to make communities aware of the requirements for implementing REDD+, and their role in the process. 

Will REDD+ prevent deforestation? 
Activists like CARE’s Jarrah say that for REDD+ to work, the world has to tackle the demand-driven drivers of deforestation. These include a growing global demand for beef from ever larger cattle ranches, soya for animal feed and biofuels, palm oil for a variety of food and non-food uses, and of course tropical timber. 

Where will the money come for REDD+? 

REDD+ was supposed to have been funded by carbon markets, which have not really worked. This is largely because mitigation efforts to create carbon credits have so far not been able to place a decent value on carbon. There was a lot of talk on the sidelines of the Warsaw conference about the enormous amounts of money it will take to conserve forests, and that public funding will not be adequate. 

Juan Carlos Carrillo from Mexican Environmental Law Center and a member of the R-SWG, says, it “seems to be clear that markets won´t save forests and therefore the GCF [Green Climate Fund ] will play a more important role.” The GCF is the biggest fund created under the UNFCCC to raise funds for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. 

In 2004, the World Bank created a BioCarbon Fund that allocates money to develop projects that sequester or conserve carbon in forests and agro-ecosystems. Rich countries like the US have already begun channelling money to this fund. The Bank hoped to create a market for soil carbon credits that will help small-farm productivity, and mobilize increased private sector investment in the agriculture sector. However, NGOs like ActionAid say farm soils will not be able to sequester the massive amounts of carbon required for such a market. 

Jarrah says the “BioCarbon Fund is to help prime a system for trading forest carbon, since the carbon market itself is dysfunctional”. Forest-dependent communities don’t really mind where the money is coming from (the private or public sector), but what does matter is the price the planet is paying if the money comes from the carbon market. At issue is the principle of forest carbon credits acquired by private companies. Since they are actually emitting the gases, practically, they are the ones who can trade to offset their continuing emissions. 

“If - and it's a big if - we had ambitious global emissions reduction targets, offsets might make sense to help us achieve these,” he said in an email to IRIN. “But we don’t, so offsets are simply a method to avoid reducing emissions. Forest carbon (which is based on removal of carbon from the atmosphere) is NOT equivalent to industrial carbon (released by burning fossil fuels that have previously been locked away underground). Therefore, using forest carbon as offsets does not slow down climate change, but rather allows the status quo of ever-increasing impacts to continue.” 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Egypt sends defence attaché to Kampala -The Observer

In move that signals thawing military relations with Uganda, Egypt was last week finalising plans to post a military attaché to its embassy in Kampala.
Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Abdel Aziz Mostafa said Uganda stood to reap benefits from the move, including enhanced military training and advice. The Ugandan military would also diversify its expertise and avoid overreliance on “certain” technology.
“We have a delegation already here finalising the arrangements, which means Egypt and Uganda are entering a new phase of their relationship at the moment,” said Ambassador Ahmed during a visit to The Observer.
Accompanied by First Secretary Mayada Essam, Ahmed hoped that enhanced cooperation would help Uganda build a strong national defence institution, borrowing a leaf from the Egyptian Army, which he said never interferes in politics.
The reference may sound rather odd, given that the Egyptian military literally removed the elected Islamist president Mohammed Morsi only five months ago.
Asked if by this action, the Egyptian military was not rejecting democracy, Ahmed said Morsi was removed by a “very democratic” protest of 33 million Egyptians keen to protect 7,000 years of history.
“It’s the people, not the army,” Ahmed said. “Morsi was taking the country into darkness. He was changing the character of the country. Instead of being Egyptian, he wanted it to be Islamic.”

Nile and survival

Ambassador Ahmed was also asked about the standoff over the river Nile basin, where his country has refused to sign the Entebbe Accord, a cooperative framework agreement on sharing of the Nile waters. The agreement was first signed in 2010 and has since been endorsed by six states.
Egypt has repeatedly cited treaties  dating back to 1929 and 1959, entitling it to as much as 87 percent of the Nile’s flow, including power to veto harmful projects in upstream countries. But riparian states have described the agreements as colonial, and Egypt’s insistence on them as imperialistic.
Ambassador Ahmed said Egypt was willing to sign the Entebbe Accord but the other states had to first include a clause committing themselves to avoid schemes that could hurt Egypt’s interests.
Ahmed, who previously worked in Egypt’s ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, argued that if Tanzania and Kenya started taking so much water from Lake Victoria that the electricity dams in Jinja stopped working, Uganda, too, would protest.
Egypt is involved in a standoff with Ethiopia, which wants to build a 6,000 Megawatt Renaissance power dam on the Blue Nile. Ahmed explained that despite technical evidence that the dam would deprive Egypt of dangerously huge amounts of water (up to 70 billion cubic metres over several years), Ethiopia was insisting on going ahead with the $4.7bn dam.
“And this is one of four dams they want to build on the Nile,” Ahmed said. “These will make Egypt a desert and children will start playing football [where the Nile now is].”
With neither country apparently willing to compromise, what will Egypt do?
Ahmed: “When it is a matter of survival, no nation can accept its civilization to be destroyed because another nation needs to develop. We are trying to make the Ethiopians to come to their senses  and discuss the matter logically.”
The ambassador was asked if his country could go to war over this “matter of survival”, and his answer was diplomatic but firm: “No. It is not our plan to go to extremes. We shall continue trying to talk sense to the Ethiopians. And if that does not work, we shall talk to friendly nations like Uganda to talk to the Ethiopians.”
That may well explain why it is in Egypt’s interest to build closer diplomatic ties with Uganda, as evidenced with the impending arrival of the defence attaché.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


AP Photo
AP Photo/AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States and Iran secretly engaged in a series of high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year, in a high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration that paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran's nuclear program, The Associated Press has learned.
The discussions were kept hidden even from America's closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago, and that may explain how the nuclear accord appeared to come together so quickly after years of stalemate and fierce hostility between Iran and the West.
But the secrecy of the talks may also explain some of the tensions between the U.S. and France, which earlier this month balked at a proposed deal, and with Israel, which is furious about the agreement and has angrily denounced the diplomatic outreach to Tehran.
President Barack Obama personally authorized the talks as part of his effort - promised in his first inaugural address - to reach out to a country the State Department designates as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism.
The talks were held in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman and elsewhere with only a tight circle of people in the know, the AP learned. Since March, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden's top foreign policy adviser, have met at least five times with Iranian officials.
The last four clandestine meetings, held since Iran's reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated in August, produced much of the agreement later formally hammered out in negotiations in Geneva among the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran, said three senior administration officials. All spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss by name the highly sensitive diplomatic effort.
The AP was tipped to the first U.S.-Iranian meeting in March shortly after it occurred, but the White House and State Department disputed elements of the account and the AP could not confirm the meeting. The AP learned of further indications of secret diplomacy in the fall and pressed the White House and other officials further. As the Geneva talks appeared to be reaching their conclusion, senior administration officials confirmed to the AP the details of the extensive outreach.
The Geneva deal provides Iran with about $7 billion in relief from international sanctions in exchange for Iranian curbs on uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity. All parties pledged to work toward a final accord next year that would remove remaining suspicions in the West that Tehran is trying to assemble an atomic weapons arsenal.
Iran insists its nuclear interest is only in peaceful energy production and medical research.
The diplomatic gamble with Iran, if the interim agreement holds up and leads to a final pact preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, could avert years of threats of U.S. or Israeli military intervention. It could also prove a turning point in decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran - and become a crowning foreign policy achievement of Obama's presidency.
But if the deal collapses, or if Iran covertly races ahead with development of a nuclear weapon, Obama will face the consequences of failure, both at home and abroad. His gamble opens him to criticism that he has left Israel vulnerable to a country bent on its destruction and that he has made a deal with a state sponsor of terrorism.
The U.S. and Iran cut off diplomatic ties in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year. But Obama has expressed a willingness since becoming president to meet with the Iranians without conditions.
At the president's direction, the United States began a tentative outreach shortly after his inauguration in January 2009. Obama and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exchanged letters, but the engagement yielded no results.
That outreach was hampered by Iran's hardline former president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose re-election in a disputed vote in June of that year led to a violent crackdown on opposition protesters. The next month, relations seemed at another low when Iran detained three American hikers who had strayed across the Iranian border from Iraq.
Ironically, efforts to win the release of the hikers turned out to be instrumental in making the clandestine diplomacy possible.
Oman's Sultan Qaboos was a key player, facilitating the eventual release of the hikers - the last two of whom returned to the United States in 2011 - and then offering himself as a mediator for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. The secret informal discussions between mid-level officials in Washington and Tehran began.
Officials described those early contacts as exploratory discussions focused on the logistics of setting up higher-level talks. The discussions happened through numerous channels, officials said, including face-to-face talks at undisclosed locations. They included exchanges between then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, now Obama's national security adviser, and Iran's envoy to the world body, the officials said. National Security Council aide Puneet Talwar was also involved, the officials said.
The talks took on added weight eight months ago, when Obama dispatched the deputy secretary of state Burns, the top aide Sullivan and five other officials to meet with their Iranian counterparts in the Omani capital of Muscat. Obama dispatched the group shortly after the six powers opened a new round of nuclear talks with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in late February.
At the time, those main nuclear negotiations were making little progress, and the Iranians had little interest in holding bilateral talks with the United States on the sidelines of the meeting out of fear that the discussions would become public, the U.S. officials said.
So, with the assistance of Sultan Qaboos, officials in both countries began quietly making plans to meet in Oman. Burns, Sullivan and a small team of U.S. technical experts arrived on a military plane in mid-March for the meeting with the Iranians.
The senior administration officials who spoke to the AP would not say who Burns and Sullivan met with but characterized the Iranian attendees as career diplomats, national security aides and experts on the nuclear issue who were likely to remain key players even after the country's elections this summer.
The goal on the American side, the U.S. officials said, was simply at that point to see if the U.S. and Iran could successfully arrange bilateral talks - a low bar that underscored the sour state of relations between the two nations.
Beyond nuclear issues, the officials said the U.S. team at the March Oman meeting also raised concerns about Iranian involvement in Syria, Tehran's threats to close the strategically important Strait of Hormuz and the status of Robert Levinson, a missing former FBI agent who the U.S. believes was abducted in Iran, as well as two other Americans detained in the country.
Hoping to keep the channel open, Secretary of State John Kerry then visited Oman in May on a trip ostensibly to push a military deal with the sultanate but secretly focused on maintaining that country's key mediation role, particularly after the Iranian election scheduled for the next month, the officials said.
Rouhani's election in June on a platform of easing sanctions crippling Iran's economy and stated willingness to engage with the West gave a new spark to the U.S. effort, the officials said.
Two secret meetings were organized immediately after Rouhani took office in August, with the specific goal of advancing the stalled nuclear talks with world powers. Another pair of meetings took place in October.
Burns and Sullivan led the U.S. delegation at each of those sessions, and were joined at the final secret meeting by chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman.
The Iranian delegation was a mix of officials the Americans had met in March in Oman and others who were new to the talks, administration officials said. All of the Iranians were fluent English speakers.
U.S. officials said the meetings happened in multiple locations, but would not confirm the exact spots, saying they did not want to jeopardize their ability to use the same locations in the future. But at least some of the talks are believed to have taken place in Oman.
The private meetings coincided with a public easing of U.S.-Iranian discord. In early August, Obama sent Rouhani a letter congratulating him on his election. The Iranian leader's response was viewed positively by the White House, which quickly laid the groundwork for the additional secret talks. The U.S. officials said they were convinced that the outreach had the blessing of Ayatollah Khameni, but would not elaborate.
As negotiators continued to talk behind the scenes, public speculation swirled over a possible meeting between Obama and Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, which both attended in September in New York. Burns and Sullivan sought to arrange face-to-face talks, but the meeting never happened largely due to Iranian concerns, the officials said. Two days later, though, Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone - the first direct contact between a U.S. and Iranian leader in more than 30 years.
It was only after that Obama-Rouhani phone call that the U.S. began informing allies of the secret talks with Iran, the U.S. officials said.
Obama handled the most sensitive conversation himself, briefing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Sept. 30 meeting at the White House. He informed Netanyahu only about the two summer meetings, not the March talks, in keeping with the White House's promise only to tell allies about any discussions with Iran that were substantive.
The U.S. officials would not describe Netanyahu's reaction. But the next day, he delivered his General Assembly speech, blasting Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and warning the U.S. against mistaking a change in Iran's tone with an actual change in nuclear ambitions. The Israeli leader has subsequently denounced the potential nuclear agreement as the "deal of the century" for Iran.
After telling Netanyahu about the secret talks, the United States then briefed the other members of the six-nation negotiating team, the U.S. officials said.
The last secret gatherings between the U.S. and Iran took place shortly after the General Assembly, according to the officials.
There, the deal finally reached by the parties on Sunday began to take its final shape.
At this month's larger formal nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran in Geneva, Burns and Sullivan showed up as well, but the State Department went to great lengths to conceal their involvement, leaving their names off of the official delegation list.
They were housed at a different hotel than the rest of the team, used back entrances to come and go from meeting venues and were whisked into negotiating sessions from service elevators or unused corridors only after photographers left.