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South African Tech Firm Creates App to Tackle Gender-Based Violence

In the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, violence against women has been on the rise around the world, including in South Africa, where half of the country’s women report at least one incident of violence in their lifetime. Now, a local tech company has developed an alarm system to help stop the abuse. For VOA, Linda Givetash reports from Johannesburg. Camera – Zaheer Cassim.

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US State Department Phones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware, Sources Say

Apple Inc. iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said.

The intrusions, first reported here, represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology.

Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded.

Reuters could not determine who launched the latest cyberattacks.

NSO Group said in a statement Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry.

“If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

NSO has long said it only sells its products to government law enforcement and intelligence clients, helping them to monitor security threats, and is not directly involved in surveillance operations.

Officials at the Uganda Embassy in Washington did not comment. A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the intrusions, instead pointing to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place the Israeli company on an entity list, making it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them.

NSO Group and another spyware firm were “added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the Commerce Department said in an announcement last month.

Easily identifiable

NSO software is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from infected phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters.

Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack.

The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily identifiable as U.S. government employees because they associated email addresses ending in state.gov with their Apple IDs, two of the people said.

They and other targets notified by Apple in multiple countries were infected through the same graphics processing vulnerability that Apple did not learn about and fix until September, the sources said.

Since at least February, this software flaw allowed some NSO customers to take control of iPhones simply by sending invisible yet tainted iMessage requests to the device, researchers who investigated the espionage campaign said.

The victims would not see or need to interact with a prompt for the hack to be successful. Versions of NSO surveillance software, commonly known as Pegasus, could then be installed.

Apple’s announcement that it would notify victims came on the same day it sued NSO Group last week, accusing it of helping numerous customers break into Apple’s mobile software, iOS.

In a public response, NSO has said its technology helps stop terrorism and that they’ve installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets.

For example, NSO says its intrusion system cannot work on phones with U.S. numbers beginning with the country code +1.

But in the Uganda case, the targeted State Department employees were using iPhones registered with foreign telephone numbers, said two of the sources, without the U.S. country code.

Uganda has been roiled this year by an election with reported irregularities, protests and a government crackdown. U.S. officials have tried to meet with opposition leaders, drawing ire from the Ugandan government. Reuters has no evidence the hacks were related to current events in Uganda.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the threat to U.S. personnel abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies such as NSO and pursuing new global discussion about spying limits.

The official added that the government has seen “systemic abuse” in multiple countries involving NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

Sen. Ron Wyden, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “Companies that enable their customers to hack U.S. government employees are a threat to America’s national security and should be treated as such.”

Historically, some of NSO Group’s best-known past clients included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense must approve export licenses for NSO, which has close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence communities, to sell its technology internationally.

In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Washington said that targeting American officials would be a serious breach of its rules.

“Cyber products like the one mentioned are supervised and licensed to be exported to governments only for purposes related to counter-terrorism and severe crimes,” an embassy spokesperson said. “The licensing provisions are very clear and if these claims are true, it is a severe violation of these provisions.” 

 

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India Tests Drone Deliveries for COVID-19 Vaccines in Remote Jammu

As the world races to vaccinate billions more people against COVID-19 while the virus’ new omicron variant spreads, India is testing using drones to deliver vaccines to people in mountainous Jammu and Kashmir, where more than 70% of the population lives in rural areas.

It typically takes a couple hours by road to deliver vaccines from one of the region’s main medical centers in Jammu to a hospital located in Marh, a village in mountains nearby. Last month, officials said the delivery took just 20 minutes by the “Octacopter” drone.

Doctors say immunization campaigns have long been challenged by the region’s mountains and weather, which can thwart efforts to reach those living in remote areas.

Director of Health Services Jammu, Dr. Renu Sharma, told VOA that the trial last month delivering 200 doses gave hope that drones could be a useful delivery option.

“If the project is given [approved] it will be very helpful for remote areas especially in Jammu division given the difficult terrain,” Sharma said.

Other parts of Kashmir remain inaccessible for vehicles at times, making drones a better option.

“The areas like Sikardar, Safaid Aab, and Marno are challenging especially in winters. It takes us six to eight hours on foot from Dawar to reach to these areas,” Bashir Ahmad Peroo, a health worker from Gurez area, told VOA.

A spokesperson for the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir, Dr. Mir Mushtaq, told VOA that doctors now often stock enough medicine in the summer to last the local population all winter. Drones could help bolster supplies during the cold months.

Its creators say the Octacopter can carry a payload of 10 kilograms, with a range of 20 kilometers, and a maximum speed of 36 kph.

India’s CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories developed the Octocopter drones and the country’s minister of state for science and technology, Dr. Jitendra Singh, said they hope they will be able to deliver more than just COVID-19 vaccines, including medical supplies, equipment, and critical packages to remote communities.

 

Indian health statistics indicate more than 4,400 people have died from coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir, and doctors say since late last month there has been a rise in the number of new positive tests each day, making the vaccination campaign ever more important. 

 

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A Futuristic Tool Helps Viewers Access Black History

To make Black history more accessible, an Oakland, California man designed his own augmented reality app. Matt Dibble has the story.

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New Twitter CEO Steps From Behind the Scenes to High Profile 

Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs. 

But his prior lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some big company backers were looking for to lead Twitter out of its current morass. 

A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing, Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Those brand-name company founders and leaders have often been in the news — and on Twitter — for exploits beyond the day-to-day running of their companies.

Having served as Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, Agrawal’s appointment was seen by Wall Street as a choice of someone who will focus on ushering Twitter into what’s widely seen as the internet’s next era — the metaverse. 

Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors,” wrote CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that Twitter shareholder Elliott Management Corp. had pressured Dorsey to step down. 

Elliott released a statement Monday saying Agrawal and new board chairman Bret Taylor were the “right leaders for Twitter at this pivotal moment for the company.” Taylor is president and chief operating officer of the business software company Salesforce. 

Agrawal joins a growing cadre of Indian American CEOs of large tech companies, including Sundar Pichai of Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Arvind Krishna. 

He joined San Francisco-based Twitter in 2011, when it had just 1,000 employees, and has been its chief technical officer since 2017. At the end of last year, the company had a workforce of 5,500. 

Agrawal previously worked at Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T in research roles. At Twitter, he’s worked on machine learning, revenue and consumer engineering and helping with audience growth. He studied at Stanford and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. 

While Twitter has high-profile users like politicians and celebrities and is a favorite of journalists, its user base lags far behind old rivals like Facebook and YouTube and newer ones like TikTok. It has just over 200 million daily active users, a common industry metric.

As CEO, Agrawal will have to step beyond the technical details and deal with the social and political issues Twitter and social media are struggling with. Those include misinformation, abuse and effects on mental health. 

Agrawal got a fast introduction to life as CEO of a high-profile company that’s one of the central platforms for political speech online. Conservatives quickly unearthed a tweet he sent in 2010 that read “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”

As some Twitter users pointed out, the 11-year-old tweet was quoting a segment on “The Daily Show,” which was referencing the firing of Juan Williams, who made a comment about being nervous about Muslims on an airplane.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a message for comment on the tweet. 

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Twitter Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey Steps Down

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as the company’s leader.  

In a news release, Twitter said Dorsey would be replaced by Parag Agrawal, who has been the company’s chief technology officer since 2017. The move is effective immediately.  

“I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead,” Dorsey said in a statement.

Dorsey made his resignation official in a tweet Monday and attached a letter with an explanation of why he was leaving.  

“not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter,” he wrote.

On Sunday, Dorsey tweeted “I love twitter.”

Dorsey, 45, founded the microblogging platform in 2006 and was CEO until 2008 when he was pushed aside only to return to the top spot in 2015.  

Last year, Elliott Management, a major stakeholder in the company, wanted Dorsey to choose between being CEO of Twitter or CEO of Square, a digital payment company he founded.  

Twitter’s stock rose on the news, but trading of the shares was suspended.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Australian Government Vows to Unmask Online Trolls

Australia’s government said Sunday it will introduce legislation to unmask online trolls and hold social media giants like Facebook and Twitter responsible for identifying them.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose conservative coalition government faces an election in the first half of 2022, said the law would protect Australians from online abuse and harassment.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others can just anonymously go around and harm people and hurt people, harass them and bully them and sledge them,” Morrison told reporters.

“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”

Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the legislation, reportedly to be introduced to parliament by early 2022, is needed to clarify that the social media platforms, and not the users, were responsible for defamatory comments by other people.

Confusion had been sown by a High Court ruling in September that found Australian media, as users managing their own pages on a social network, could be held liable for defamatory third-party comments posted on their pages, Cash said.

Under the planned Australian legislation, the social media companies themselves would be responsible for such defamatory content, not the users, she said.

It would also aim to stop people making defamatory comments without being identified, she said.

“You should not be able to use the cloak of online anonymity to spread your vile, defamatory comments,” the attorney general said.

The legislation would demand that social media platforms have a nominated entity based in Australia, she said.

The platforms could defend themselves from being sued as the publisher of defamatory comment only if they complied with the new legislation’s demands to have a complaints system in place that could provide the details of the person making the comment, if necessary, Cash said.

People would also be able to apply to the High Court for an “information disclosure order” demanding a social media service provide details “to unmask the troll,” the attorney general said.

In some cases, she said, the “troll” may be asked to take down the comment, which could end the matter if the other side is satisfied.

Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would support a safer online environment for everyone.

But he said the government had failed to propose action to stop the spread of misinformation on social media and accused some of the government’s own members of spreading misinformation about COVID and vaccinations.

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US, China and Cyberattacks, the Tool of the 21st Century

China was behind one of the biggest hacks of all time, quietly stealing email and data from organizations, according to the U.S. and other nations’ governments. Experts say China-orchestrated attacks on strategic targets have increased in recent years. Michelle Quinn reports.

Producer: Michelle Quinn. Camera: Michael Burke.

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Apple Sues Israeli Spyware Company NSO Group 

Apple says it is suing Israeli NSO Group, maker of the controversial Pegasus spyware. 

Apple will be the second company to sue NSO after Facebook, now Meta, sued over similar concerns that Pegasus was targeting WhatsApp users. Meta owns WhatsApp. The case is still working its way through the courts. 

Apple says the spyware specifically targeted its users. It also wants to prevent NSO from using any Apple product or service, which would be a massive blow to the company that sells governments the ability to hack iPhones and Android phones in order to gain full access. 

Apple says it has created a software patch to protect devices from Pegasus. 

The Cupertino, California-based company says it is seeking undisclosed damages it says it incurred because of NSO. It says it would donate any award money to organizations that investigate and expose spyware.

One such company, Citizen Lab, was central in uncovering how Pegasus worked. 

“This is Apple saying: If you do this, if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, said in an interview Monday with the New York Times. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. put NSO along with three other software companies on a blacklist that places severe restrictions on their ability to do business in the U.S. 

It said the companies “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments” and that the spyware was used “to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics and embassy workers.” 

NSO did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, but has previously said it takes precautions to prevent the abuse of its products. 

The pressure against NSO appears to be working, as many news outlets reported the company was at risk of defaulting on its loans. 

Some information in this report comes from Reuters. 

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Burkina Faso Internet Shutdown Continues into Fourth Day

The shutdown of internet access via mobile phone networks that began Saturday dragged on for a fourth day Tuesday. The government said in a statement the shutdown is in the interest of national defense and public security and will last until around 10 p.m. tonight.

VOA talked to some Burkinabes on the streets of Ouagadougou to ask how the shutdown was affecting them and what they thought of the government’s decision.

Alexi Sawadogo, a physician, spoke outside a bank on one of the city’s busy boulevards. He said he was there to check his account balance as the shutdown meant he could no longer do so online. 

“It disconnects us from our friends who are outside the country, with whom we communicate regularly,” he says. He notes that he understands that it is because of the French convoy that was blockaded in the north, but says insecurity is not a valid reason and that the government needs to review its strategy. 

The shutdown has come in the wake of protests in recent days that have blocked a French military supply convoy that is attempting to travel from Ivory Coast to Niger. Protesters say they want an end to French military intervention in the regional war against Islamist militants. 

There have also been protests against the government’s handling of security, after a terrorist group believed to be associated with al-Qai da killed more than 50 military police in an assault on a base in northern Burkina Faso on November 14th. 

Ali Dayorgo, a university student, said the shutdown has affected his ability to work and learn the latest news.

He says he doesn’t understand why the shutdown is happening, but he hears the voice of the Burkinabe youth. “I feel the anger of the youth,” he expressed, adding that even if he doesn’t join protests against insecurity, he supports them.

A funeral for some of the victims of the attack is taking place in Ouagadougou today. 

Drabo Mahamadou is the national executive secretary of the “Save Burkina Faso Movement,” one of the protest groups that is calling for President Roch Kabore to resign. He said they have called on the population to attend Tuesday’s funeral and to attend a protest on Saturday.

He says, because the government is insensitive to pain, we are calling on the population to come out en masse on the 27th. We want [protesters] to prove that this government is not helping Burkina Faso. It is the government that is causing harm to the Burkinabé people.

A government spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Eloise Bertrand is a research fellow at the University of Portsmouth who focuses on Burkina Faso. She thinks the restrictions on the internet are unwise; pointing out that “this shutdown may well backfire against the government. We can see that civil society groups and stakeholders who were not really involved in protests against the French convoy are annoyed and angered by this internet shutdown.”

Reports suggest the French military convoy is now waiting in the town of Zinaire, about 30 kilometers north of the capital. Protests are also said to be taking place in the town.

With the demonstrations continuing, it remains to be seen if the government will lift the internet shutdown tonight. Further protests are scheduled for Saturday.

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Robot Waiter Eases Labor Shortages in Australia’s Hospitality Industry

A Sydney restaurant is using a Chinese-made, multi-lingual hospitality robot to address chronic staff shortages as Australia’s economy begins to recover from COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. 

The robot waiter is programmed to know the layout of the tables and delivers food from the kitchen. It is also multi-lingual, programmed to communicate in English and Mandarin. The so-called BellaBot is built by the Chinese firm PuduTech. 

Each machine costs about $17,000. They can be leased for $34 per day for each device, or the equivalent of two hours’ wages for restaurant staff. The devices are in use in other Australian restaurants and imports into Australia appear to be unaffected by recent trade tensions between the two countries. 

Liarne Schai, the co-owner of the Matterhorn Restaurant in Sydney, is delighted with her new mechanical staff member. 

“Ah, love the robot. Love the robot, she makes my life a lot easier. It is like a tower that has got four trays. It will carry eight of our dinner plates in one go. She is geo-mapped to the floor (customer names, location of tables, etc.) The robot knows where all our tables are,” Schai said.  

Australia’s hospitality workforce has traditionally relied on international students. They have, however, been restricted from entering after Australia closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020 in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.  

Labor shortages are affecting not only hospitality in Australia, but a range of industries from construction to information technology.  

Liarne Schai says she has tried for months without success to recruit workers. 

“It is the biggest issue we have at the moment. We have been running ads for chefs, for waiters, for kitchen hands for six months and we have had zero applicants. We are offering above award wages, we are offering bonuses, we are offering everything you can think of to attract appropriate staff and I am not even getting inappropriate staff, or untrained staff. I am just getting nobody.” 

Labor shortages should ease when Australia reopens its borders to foreign nationals, but analysts expect many vacancies will remain unfilled.  

Employer groups have demanded that Australia increase its intake of migrant workers. 

Australia’s official unemployment rate stands at 5.2%.   

But with more than 700,000 Australians without a job, there are calls for the government to boost domestic training programs and wages. 

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Australian Mining Magnate to Help Publishers Strike Content Deal With Google, Facebook

Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest’s philanthropic organization will help 18 small news publishers in the country to negotiate collectively with Google and Facebook to secure licensing deals for the supply of news content.

Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation on Monday said it would submit an application with the country’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), allowing the publishers to bargain without breaching competition laws.

Forrest, Australia’s richest man, is the chairman and the largest shareholder of iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group. He has a net worth of around A$27.2 billion ($19.7 billion), according to the Australian Financial Review.

Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google have been required since March to negotiate with Australian media outlets for content that drives traffic and advertising to their websites. If they don’t, the government may take over the negotiation.

Both companies have since struck licensing deals with most of Australia’s main media companies, but they have not entered into agreements with many small firms. The federal government is scheduled to begin a review of the law’s effectiveness in March.

Frontier Technology, an initiative of Minderoo, said it would assist the publishers.

“Small Australian publishers who produce public interest journalism for their communities should be given the same opportunity as large publishers to negotiate for use of their content for the public benefit,” Emma McDonald, Frontier Technology’s director of policy, said in a statement.

Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

The 18 small publishers include online publications that attract multicultural audiences and focus on issues at a local or regional level, McDonald said.

The move comes after ACCC late last month allowed a body representing 261 radio stations to negotiate a content deal.

News organizations, which have been losing advertising revenue to online aggregators, have complained for years about the big technology companies using content in search results or other features without payment.

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Tracking Tech Turns Theft Victims into Sleuths

Frustrated with slow or no action, some Americans are using Bluetooth trackers to retrieve stolen items themselves. It’s a risky strategy that isn’t endorsed by police and could put users in harm’s way, as VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports.

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NASA’s Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Still in Action 

As researchers at U.S space agency NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory prepare for the 16th flight of Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter, the team has used recently downloaded data from the Mars mission to create the best video yet of one of Ingenuity’s previous flights. 

The 1.8-kilogram aircraft arrived on the planet packed away on NASA’s Perseverance rover when it landed on Mars in February. Originally designed to be a simple demonstration project to prove flight was possible in the thin Martian atmosphere, the aircraft has far exceeded expectations and has completed 15 flights. 

JPL scientists say Ingenuity’s 16th flight is scheduled to take place no earlier than Saturday. In the meantime, they have been examining the video footage taken by Perseverance of the helicopter’s 13th flight on September 4, which they say provides the most detailed look yet of the Martian aircraft in action. 

The Ingenuity team said the helicopter is providing NASA with data to guide the Perseverance rover. They said the 2 minutes, 40.5 seconds Flight 13 was one of Ingenuity’s most complicated. It involved flying into varied terrain within a geological feature known as the “Séítah” and taking images of an outcrop from multiple angles for the rover team. 

The images, taken from an altitude of 8 meters, complement those collected during Ingenuity’s previous flights, providing valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers. 

The video was captured by the rover’s two-camera Mastcam-Z. One video clip of Flight 13 shows most of Ingenuity’s flight profile. The other provides a closeup of takeoff and landing, which was acquired as part of a science observation intended to measure the dust plumes generated by the helicopter. 

Justin Maki, JPL’s Mastcam-Z principal operator, said the video shows the value of the camera system, and while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view, “It gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring.” 

Ingenuity’s performance will guide how future missions will be designed and how those missions will utilize aircraft to help determine where rovers should go and where they cannot. 

Aside from solar batteries, a camera and a transmitter, Ingenuity carries no scientific instruments. 

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US, China Surprise Climate Summit With Joint Declaration

The United States and China surprised the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on Wednesday with a joint declaration to take action to limit global warming over the next decade.

The declaration came as delegates entered the final hours of negotiations to agree on a final text at the conference that will outline how the world will limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

China and the United States are the world’s two biggest polluters, and scientists say their future actions are critical in the fight against climate change. The absence of Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the summit last week was strongly criticized by U.S. President Joe Biden.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told reporters in Glasgow on Wednesday that the joint declaration builds on statements made by both countries in April.

“We also expressed a shared desire for success at this COP on mitigation, adaptation, support and, frankly, all of the key issues which will result in the world raising ambition and being able to address this crisis. Now, with this announcement, we’ve arrived at a new step, a road map for our present and future collaboration on this issue,” Kerry said at a press conference.

“The United States and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done. This is not a discretionary thing, frankly. This is science. It’s math and physics that dictate the road that we have to travel,” Kerry added.

China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, echoed those sentiments.

“Climate change is a challenge, a common challenge, faced by humanity,” Xie told reporters. “It bears on the well-being of future generations. Now, climate change is becoming increasingly urgent and severe, making it a future challenge into an existential crisis. In the area of climate change, there is more agreement between China and the U.S. than divergence, making it an area with huge potential for our cooperation. We are two days away from the end of the Glasgow COP, so we hope that this joint declaration can make a China-U.S. contribution to the success of COP26.”

Among the joint pledges were cooperation on controlling methane emissions, tackling illegal deforestation, enhancing renewable energy generation and speeding up financial support for poorer nations. But the declaration did not include many specific dates or targets.

Cautious welcome

After the joint declaration, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted, “I welcome today’s agreement between China and the USA to work together to take more ambitious #ClimateAction in this decade. Tackling the climate crisis requires international cooperation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

Climate activists offered a cautious welcome to the declaration.

“This announcement comes at a critical moment at COP26 and offers new hope that with the support and backing of two of the world’s most critical voices, we may be able to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees,” Genevieve Maricle, director of U.S. climate policy action at the World Wildlife Fund, wrote in an email to VOA. “But we must also be clear-eyed about what is still required if the two countries are to deliver the emission reductions necessary in the next nine years. 1.5C-alignment will require a whole-of-economy response.”

Momentum

The joint declaration has given new momentum to the negotiations as delegates try to agree on a final text, officially known as the “cover decision,” by the end of the conference on Friday. The text details how parties to the COP26 summit will limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C in Earth’s average temperatures above pre-industrial levels — the target agreed on at the Paris climate summit in 2015.

The first draft text of the decision, published Wednesday, urges countries to “revisit and strengthen” their targets on cutting emissions before the end of 2022. It says rich countries should go beyond the pledge to pay poorer nations $100 billion a year. The draft text calls on governments to phase out coal and fossil fuels, but with no fixed dates.

The COP26 host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urged delegates to “grasp the opportunity.”

“We’re now finding things are tough, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It doesn’t mean that we can’t keep 1.5 alive,” Johnson said. “I think with sufficient energy and commitment, and with leaders from around the world now ringing up their negotiators and asking them to move in the ways that they know they can move and should move, I still think we can achieve it. But I’m not going to pretend to you that it is by any means a done deal.”

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, told VOA that the language of the draft text was weak.

“This is not a plan to address the climate emergency. It’s a bit like a pledge and a wink and a hope,” Morgan said. “Countries need to commit to actually come back to increase and strengthen their targets and their actions. That’s clearly one thing. The text does include that coal will be phased out and fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out. I think optimally, you would have dates by which time they would be phased out, but it’s important that they’re there.”

Climate finance

Delegates are also negotiating how much — and quickly — richer nations should pay poorer countries to help them deal with the impact of climate change and de-carbonize their economies. While richer countries are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, developing countries tend to suffer greater impacts of climate change. A pledge first made in 2009 by richer nations to pay $100 billion annually — and renewed at the Paris climate summit in 2015 — has still not been fulfilled.

“It’s very frustrating to see countries that have spent six years conspicuously patting themselves on the back for signing that promissory note in Paris, quietly edging towards default now that vulnerable nations and future generations are demanding payment here now in Glasgow,” Johnson said Wednesday.

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After Promise, Musk Sells $1.1 Billion in Tesla Shares to Pay Taxes

After making a promise on Twitter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has sold about 900,000 shares of the electric car maker’s stock, netting over $1.1 billion that will go toward paying tax obligations for stock options. 

The sales, disclosed in two regulatory filings late Wednesday, will cover tax obligations for stock options granted to Musk in September. He exercised options to buy just over 2.1 million shares for $6.24 each. The company’s stock closed Wednesday at $1,067.95 per share.  

The transactions were “automatically effected” as part of a trading plan adopted on Sept. 14 to sell options that expire next year, according to forms filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That was nearly two months before he floated the idea of the sale on Twitter. 

After the transactions, Musk still owns about 170 million Tesla shares. 

Musk was Tesla’s largest shareholder as of June, owning about 17% of the company, according to data provider FactSet. He’s the wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of around $282 billion, most of it in Tesla stock. 

Last weekend, Musk said he would sell 10% of his holdings in the company, worth more than $20 billion, based on the results of a poll he conducted on Twitter. The sale tweets caused a sell off of the stock Monday and Tuesday, but it recovered some on Wednesday. The shares were up 2.6% to $1,096 in extended trading Wednesday, and they have risen more than 50% this year. 

Wedbush Analyst Daniel Ives said it appears Musk will start selling shares as the year ends. “The question will be for investors if he sells his full 10% ownership stake over the coming months or is it done piece-by-piece during 2022,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. 

Ives calculated that Musk has about $10 billion in taxes coming due on stock options that vest next summer. 

The sometimes abrasive and unpredictable Musk said he proposed selling the stock as some Democrats have been pushing for billionaires to pay taxes when the price of the stocks they hold goes up, even if they don’t sell any shares. However, the wording on unrealized gains, also called a “billionaires tax,” was removed from President Joe Biden’s budget, which is still being negotiated.  

“Much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock,” he tweeted Saturday afternoon. “Do you support this?” 

Tesla does not pay Musk a cash salary, but has received huge stock options. “I only have stock, thus the only way for me to pay taxes personally is to sell stock,” Musk tweeted. 

Tesla Inc. is based in Palo Alto, California, although Musk has announced it will move its headquarters to Texas. 

ze-zradnyky

Countries Agree to Create Green Shipping Lanes in Pursuit of Zero Carbon

A coalition of 19 countries including Britain and the United States on Wednesday agreed to create zero emissions shipping trade routes between ports to speed up the decarbonization of the global maritime industry, officials involved said. 

Shipping, which transports about 90% of world trade, accounts for nearly 3% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

U.N. shipping agency the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has said it aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050. The goal is not aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the sector is under pressure to be more ambitious.

The signatory countries involved in the ‘Clydebank Declaration’, which was launched at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, agreed to support the establishment of at least six green corridors by 2025, which will require developing supplies of zero emissions fuels, the infrastructure required for decarbonization and regulatory frameworks.

“It is our aspiration to see many more corridors in operation by 2030,” their mission statement said.

Britain’s maritime minister Robert Courts said countries alone would not be able to decarbonize shipping routes without the commitment of private and non-governmental sectors.

“The UK and indeed many of the countries, companies and NGOs here today believe zero emissions international shipping is possible by 2050,” Courts said at the launch.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the declaration was “a big step forward for green shipping corridors and collective action”.

Buttigieg added that the United States was “pressing for the IMO to adopt a goal of zero emissions for international shipping by 2050”.

The IMO’s Secretary General Kitack Lim said on Saturday “we must upgrade our ambition, keeping up with the latest developments in the global community”.

Industry needs regulatory help

Jan Dieleman, president of ocean transportation with agri business giant Cargill, one of the world’s biggest ship charterers, said “the real challenge is to turn any statements (at COP26) into something meaningful”.

“The majority of the industry has accepted we need to decarbonize,” he told Reuters.

“Industry leadership needs to be followed up with global regulation and policies to ensure industry-wide transformation. We will not succeed without global regulation.”

Christian Ingerslev, chief executive of Maersk Tankers, which has over 210 oil products tankers under commercial management, said it had spent over $30 million over the last three years to bring their carbon emissions down through digital solutions.

“We need governments to not only back the regulatory push but also to help create the zero emissions fuels at scale,” he said.

“The only way this is going to work is to set a market-based measure through a carbon tax.”

Other signatory countries are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Japan, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.