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Brazil Green Groups Prepare Climate-Change Contingency Plan

With its wooden walls and posters on protecting forests and fauna, Brazil’s pavilion at the U.N. climate talks in Poland offers no hint of the angst at home and abroad over mixed messages on global warming from its president-elect.

But campaign promises made by Jair Bolsonaro that could weaken protection for the Amazon rainforest are a hot topic of conversation among visitors, said Caio Henrique Scarmocin, one of three hosts on the stand.

At the conference, whose outcome will be key to implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, scientists and environmental activists said they were laying the groundwork should calls for Bolsonaro to protect Brazil’s forests fail.

Campaign statements from Bolsonaro, who takes power in January, suggested indigenous lands could be opened up to economic exploitation, including agribusiness and mining, and environmental fines eased.

The ability of Ibama, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, to fine those who break environmental laws is one of the government’s best defenses against the destruction of forests, stoking fears of a deforestation spike under the new government.

Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a far-right platform, also pushed the Brazilian government to withdraw its offer to host next year’s U.N. climate conference.

“He has a hostile approach over environmental issues,” said Paulo Barreto, a researcher with Imazon, a Brazilian institute monitoring deforestation in the Amazon.

Brazil is home to about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, considered by many as nature’s best weapon against global warming, because trees absorb and store carbon from the air.

Alfredo Sirkis, executive secretary of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, said he thought dialogue with the incoming government was still possible.

But if environmental roll-backs proceed, there was a “contingency plan,” he told journalists.

A coalition would assemble regional governments committed to respecting Brazil’s emissions reduction goals set under the Paris pact, said Sirkis.

Governors in as many as seven Brazilian states, including Amazonas, Pernambuco, the Federal District, Espirito Santo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, had already expressed interest in joining, he said.

“This is for starters,” said the former congressman.

A spokesman for the presidency of Brazil at the climate talks declined to comment.

U.S. shows the way

The plan has similarities with “We Are Still In,” a U.S. group of more than 3,500 mayors, governors and business leaders who have promised they will not retreat from the Paris deal.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump gave notice the United States would leave the accord — although it cannot formally withdraw until 2020 — arguing it was bad for the economy.

Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil, said his group had been in touch with the U.S. campaign through WWF-US, which is part of the “We Are Still In” secretariat.

The American coalition has its own pavilion at the U.N. climate talks.

“We are learning from ‘We Are Still In’ the importance of sub-national (governments) and companies enhancing commitments for the implementation of the Paris Agreement,” Voivodic said.

But WWF-Brazil is not yet trying to emulate the model because it wants to prioritize dialogue already under way with the transition government, he added.

“It could be an option, but we are not going in the direction of starting planning this,” said Voivodic.

Brazil’s future environment minister told Reuters on Monday his “inclination” was not to leave the Paris Agreement, after Bolsonaro said on the campaign trail he might quit the deal, under which countries set their own targets to cut emissions.

Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, said he also looked to the United States as a vague blueprint to build a similar “resistance movement.”

A Brazilian version would draw on linkages between about 150 civil society groups who worked closely over the last year to oppose Bolsonaro’s campaign, he said.

Also mirroring tactics used in the United States, his group does not exclude filing lawsuits to push back against potential weakening of environmental and climate regulations in Brazil.

“It’s on the table,” he said, adding that it was still a last-resort option.

New Water Rules Mark Latest Trump Rollback on Environmental Regulations

A new proposal from the Trump White House would roll back more Obama-era environmental regulations.

Trump administration officials say Tuesday’s proposed change in the Clean Water Act provides “a clear, understandable, and implementable definition” of what kinds of bodies of water the government can regulate. Environmental groups say the new rules are a concession to industry and will pollute the nation’s already polluted waterways.

Definition of ‘waters’

During the Obama era, what constituted “Waters of the United States” was expanded under the Clean Water Act to include all kinds of wetlands from ditches that only contain water part of the year, to wetlands adjacent to larger rivers or lakes. The definition was created to help ensure that America’s water was kept clean at the source, with the assumption being that it was necessary to regulate creeks, ditches and wetlands because they eventually flow into bigger bodies of water.

But farmers, construction companies and landowners bristle at what they say is the expansive nature of the definition, arguing the rules prohibit them from using a significant portion of land under their control.

Reacting to those concerns, the Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era protections in what EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler calls a “simpler and clearer definition” that will “help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit.”

The new rules say that the federal government will now only regulate “traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.”

That leaves out huge areas of wetlands, meaning “features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; stormwater-control features; and waste-treatment systems” that were covered will no longer be subject to federal regulation.

Christopher Williams from American Rivers says the new rules will remove “protection from wetlands that don’t have an apparent surface connection to another water body, a lake or a river, and there are millions of acres across the country that are isolated like that.”

The argument is that these isolated bodies of water — some of which don’t exist year-round — don’t need protection because they don’t impact the nation’s major waterways.

Williams disagrees.

“These ephemeral streams are incredibly important parts of a freshwater ecosystem,” he told VOA, adding that the Obama-era rules are scientifically dense and lay out the “important ecological connections between all these types of water, whether it’s wetlands or ephemeral streams, isolated or otherwise.”

The old regulations made the case that these areas “should all be included in the definitions of ‘Waters of the United States’ if you’re trying to conserve that freshwater system as a whole,” Williams said.

Some environmental groups vow to fight the new rules.

“This proposal is reckless,” Jon Devine from the Natural Resources Defense Council told VOA via email. “… and we will fight to ensure it never goes into effect.”

There is a 60-day comment period before the rule can be applied. In addition, the Obama-era regulations are in place in 22 U.S. states, while the rules are held up in court in another 28 states.

Environmental policy changes

Williams sees a big change in the way the Environmental Protection Agency has evolved under the Trump administration.

“It’s clearly changed in that much of the rhetoric of the current EPA is about balancing environmental regulations with economic development,” Williams said, “and making sure that they are efficient and not costly to the economy and don’t interfere with business activity.”

Tuesday’s actions follow the U.S. refusal to endorse a new U.N. report on climate change at climate talks last week in Poland. They also follow a White House plan announced last week that would eliminate requirements that coal plants install expensive new technology designed to capture carbon emissions.

Such changes fall under Trump’s campaign promise to roll back government regulation, saying environmental mandates amount to a “war on American energy.” The president also denies the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet.

Responding last week to the 1,600-page National Climate Assessment report produced by 13 federal agencies outlining the potentially devastating impacts of climate change, the president said, “I don’t believe it.”

Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Atlantic Oil Testing 

Environmental groups opposed to offshore drilling sued the federal government Tuesday to prevent future seismic tests for oil and gas deposits 

in Atlantic waters off the U.S. East Coast. 

Seismic testing, which uses air gun blasts, violates federal laws that protect marine mammals, endangered species and national environmental policy, according the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston, S.C., against U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

The fisheries service in November gave initial permission to five companies to conduct seismic airgun tests beneath a vast region off the East Coast. The permits allow marine wildlife to be harassed but not killed.

Conservationists say the testing, a precursor to oil drilling, can cause disorientation that leads to beachings of an endangered species, the North Atlantic right whale. 

U.S. President Donald Trump is pursuing increased petroleum drilling as part of an “energy dominance” policy. A proposal to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, announced in January, is pending.

Objections ‘steamrolled’

“The Trump administration has steamrolled over objections of scientists, governors and thousands of coastal communities and businesses to enable this dangerous activity,” Michael Jasny, a director and ocean noise pollution expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

A federal marine biologist said last month that no seismic tests had been known to cause whale beachings. A spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency within the Commerce Department, declined to discuss ongoing litigation.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit also included the Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the North Carolina Coastal Federation. 

Lawmakers from South Carolina and coastal mayors held a news conference on Tuesday in Charleston to address the issue. 

U.S. Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, a Democrat, said drilling threatens fishing industries, jobs, recreation and a tourism industry worth $21 billion.

“I’m here not just to say ‘no to offshore drilling’ but ‘hell, no, to offshore drilling,’ ” added Cunningham, who said he would introduce legislation next year to reinstate a ban on U.S. offshore drilling that had been renewed by President Barack Obama. 

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, opposes drilling off the coast of his state. State Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, will send a letter of opposition to Ross soon, a spokesman said by phone.

More than a dozen states are seeking exemptions from offshore drilling leases.

“Oil spills don’t respect state boundaries,” said Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

New Golden Globes Honor Will Be Named After Carol Burnett

The Golden Globe Awards will introduce a new TV special achievement trophy at next month’s telecast and name it after its first recipient — comedic icon Carol Burnett.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association said Tuesday the Carol Burnett Award — the small-screen version of the group’s film counterpart, the Cecil B. DeMille Award — will annually honor someone “who has made outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen.”

The first Carol Burnett Award will, fittingly, go to Burnett, a five-time Golden Globe winner who was the first woman to host a variety sketch show, “The Carol Burnett Show.”

In a statement, association President Meher Tatna said: “We are profoundly grateful for her contributions to the entertainment industry and honored to celebrate her legacy forever at the Golden Globes.”

Egypt Probes Images of Naked Couple Atop Pyramid

Egyptian authorities have launched an investigation into images said to show a naked couple who scaled the Great Pyramid that has sparked outrage in the conservative Muslim country, an official said Tuesday.

In a video titled “Climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza”, Danish photographer Andreas Hvid appears to scale the 4,500-year-old tomb on the outskirts of Cairo at night with an unidentified woman who is later seen taking off her top.

Hvid says the video was taken in late November but it was published on YouTube on December 8.

A photograph released by Hvid appears to show the couple completely naked on top of each other while looking in the direction of a nearby pyramid with the horizon illuminated.

“The public prosecution is investigating the incident of the Danish photographer and the authenticity of the photos and video of him climbing the pyramid,” Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme antiquities council, told AFP.

If the video was actually filmed at the top of the pyramid, that would make it a “very serious crime”, Waziri said.

The nearly three-minute video has taken social media by storm and has been the subject of late night talk shows. It has notched up almost three million views on YouTube alone.

“A 7,000-year-old civilization has turned into a bed sheet,” a Twitter user in Egypt lamented.

Another protested that “they want to soil the dignity and pride of Egyptians because the pyramid reflects the glory and grandeur of the Egyptian people”.

The authenticity of the images has been disputed with some arguing the photograph showing the pair naked appears to be very bright whereas the video showed them scaling the pyramid at night.

Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told government newspaper Al-Ahram that the video has stirred “anger and outrage among Egyptians”, and that officials in charge of guarding the pyramids would be punished if found to have been negligent.

Hvid, 23, explained back home to the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet that he had “dreamed for many years of climbing the Great Pyramid” as well as of taking a naked photograph.

“I’m sad that so many people have got angry but I’ve also received a lot of positive responses from many Egyptians,” he said in an interview.

The young Norwegian, who runs his own YouTube channel, said he had absolutely no interest in stirring up a crisis such as that triggered by cartoons in Western newspapers of the Prophet Muhammad.

As for the girl in the video, she was not his girlfriend. “It was just a pose. We did not have sexual relations,” Hvid said.

The Great Pyramid, also known as the Khufu pyramid, is the largest in Giza, standing at 146 meters (480 feet) tall, and the only surviving structure of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Climbing pyramids is forbidden in Egypt.

In 2016, a German tourist was barred from entering the country for life after he posted online footage of climbing one of the ancient structures.

Slain Saudi Writer, Other Journalists Named Time’s ‘Person of the Year’

Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi is among a group of journalists who were named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” Tuesday.

The publication recognizes a person or a group of people who most influenced the news and world affairs over the past year “for better or for worse.”

Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal announced on NBC’s “Today” show the 2018 person of the year are the “guardians and the war on truth.”

In addition to Khashoggi, the other “guardians” are the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five members were killed in a mass shooting at the newspaper’s offices in June.

Also honored were Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, who was arrested on tax evasion charges, and Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been imprisoned in Myanmar for nearly a year.

The magazine cited Committee to Protect Journalists statistics, noting 262 reporters were imprisoned in 2017 and that the group expects the number to be high again this year.

Editor-at-Large Karl Vick wrote, “This ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward,” but “Instead, it’s in retreat.”

While “old-school despots” favored censorship decades after the Cold War, Vick wrote, the modern despot “foments mistrust of credible fact” and “thrives on confusion loosed by social media.”

Vick went on to say, “That world is led, in some ways, by a U.S. President whose embrace of despots and attacks on the press has set a troubling tone.”

On social media and at campaign rallies, President Donald Trump has regularly accused the media of being “the enemy of the people.”

МОЗ збирається впровадити європейські вимоги до безпеки косметичних виробів

Міністерство охорони здоров’я України розробило проект постанови уряду про затвердження нового технічного регламенту на косметичну продукцію. Про це повідомляє прес-служба МОЗ.

«Документ має усунути юридичні розбіжності, а також адміністративні та технічні бар’єри у торгівлі між Україною та країнами Європейського Союзу», – ідеться у повідомленні.

В міністерстві зазначили, що мають намір у середньостроковій перспективі заборонити випробування косметики на тваринах та з впровадженням нового регламенту дати можливість іноземним та національним компаніям використовувати новітні технологічні розробки, зокрема альтернативні методи тестування косметичної продукції.  Ці правила вже діють у Європейському союзі.

«Щоб український косметичний бізнес міг розвиватись без перешкод, а на ринку зберігалась чесна конкуренція, МОЗ України планує передбачити перехідний період для впровадження нових вимог до тестування косметичної продукції. Це рішення зумовлено тим, що в Україні на сьогодні відсутні затверджені методології альтернативних випробувань безпеки косметики», – розповіли у МОЗ.

Міністерство планує найближчим часом оприлюднити новий регламент для громадського обговорення на своєму сайті.