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Fossil fuel investment in Africa dwarfs clean air funding

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The report shows how little international donors spend on improving air quality while ploughing money into dirty energy and infrastructure projects across Africa
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Foreign governments are spending more than 30 times more on fossil fuel projects in Africa than on initiatives to lessen the impacts of the continent’s second-biggest killer, air pollution, research showed Wednesday.

The report, released on the International Day of Clean Air, showed how little donor nations spend on improving air quality while ploughing money into dirty energy and infrastructure projects across Africa. 

The United Nations estimates that air pollution kills around nine million people globally each year, with fossil fuels accounting for two-thirds of the levels of harmful particulates humans are exposed to. 

The financial benefits of improving air quality alone would far exceed the costs of slashing emissions to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals, according to a landmark United Nations climate science assessment this year. 

Yet, as Wednesday’s analysis by the Clean Air Fund shows, US, European and Asian governments are still going ahead with fossil fuel-based development projects that will likely worsen already poor air quality in cities and along highways across Africa.

The fund found that just 0.3 percent of African countries’ development assistance received between 2015-2021 had been specifically earmarked for air quality projects, despite pollution being responsible for some one in five deaths continent-wide. 

During the same period, donor nations provided 36 times more funding for prolonging fossil fuel use in Africa. 

“That difference alone is extremely startling,” Dennis Appiah, head of the fund’s Ghana office and a co-author of the report. 

“I think it’s also highlighted that most often governments are not paying attention to the issue of air pollution,” he told AFP. 

“Either they are not conscious of the impact of it, or they do not see it as a problem.” 

Appiah called air pollution a “silent killer” as its effects are far harder to see and message to communities compared with other climate-linked phenomena such as flooding.

– ‘Death sentence’ –

An ongoing population boom means Africa will be — on current birth rates — home to some 2.5 billion people by 2050, with the UN estimating that 26 countries will double their populations by then. 

The vast majority of population growth will occur in urban areas, with much of the infrastructure needed to support increases yet to be built.

The continent is virtually blameless for climate change yet continues to be a hotspot for extreme events linked to global heating. 

Appiah said that while Africa’s development needs were huge, governments needed to prioritise sustainable ways of electrifying and connecting communities. 

“Policymakers are stuck in going through the same traditional chain for development that we see in the West, and also in some of the Asian countries that are now suffering the consequences of some of those decisions,” he said. 

“I think Africa is positioned to take advantage of some of the technology which exists. We don’t have to go through the same process (as developed countries), we can leapfrog to new technologies.”

With renewable energy such as wind and solar already frequently cheaper than oil and fossil gas per kilowatt hour, the hope is that African governments can factor in the economic benefits of avoiding air pollution into their development plans.

In a preface to Wednesday’s report, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate said that policies featuring new fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa were “a death sentence for people in communities like mine”.

“It’s time for governments to hear the voices of people all around the world who are calling for leaders to clean up our air and protect our health,” she said.

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In Brazil, hopes to use AI to save wildlife from roadkill fate

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Some 475 million vertebrate animals die on Brazilian roads every year
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In Brazil, where about 16 wild animals become roadkill every second, a computer scientist has come up with a futuristic solution to this everyday problem: using AI to alert drivers to their presence.

Direct strikes on the vast South American country’s extensive road network are the top threat to numerous species, forced to live in ever-closer proximity with humans.

According to the Brazilian Center for Road Ecology (CBEE), some 475 million vertebrate animals die on the road every year — mostly smaller species such as capybaras, armadillos and possums.

“It is the biggest direct impact on wildlife today in Brazil,” CBEE coordinator Alex Bager told AFP.

Shocked by the carnage in the world’s most biodiverse country, computer science student Gabriel Souto Ferrante sprung into action.

The 25-year-old started by identifying the five medium- and large-sized species most likely to fall victim to traffic accidents: the puma, the giant anteater, the tapir, the maned wolf and the jaguarundi, a type of wild cat.

Souto, who is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), then created a database with thousands of images of these animals, and trained an AI model to recognize them in real time.

Numerous tests followed, and were successful, according to the results of his efforts recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Souto collaborated with the USP Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences.

For the project to become a reality, Souto said scientists would need “support from the companies that manage the roads,” including access to traffic cameras and “edge computing” devices — hardware that can relay a real-time warning to drivers like some navigation apps do.

There would also need to be input from the road concession companies, “to remove the animal or capture it,” he told AFP.

It is hoped the technology, by reducing wildlife strikes, will also save human lives.

– ‘More roads, more vehicles’- 

Bager said a variety of other strategies to stop the bloodshed on Brazilian roads have failed.

Signage warning drivers to be on the lookout for crossing animals have little influence, he told AFP, leading to a mere three-percent reduction in speed on average.

There are also so-called fauna bridges and tunnels meant to get animals safely from one side of the road to the other, and fences to keep them in — all insufficient to deal with the scope of the problem, according to Bager.

In 2014, he created an app called Urubu with other ecologists, to which thousands of users contributed information, allowing for the identification of roadkill hotspots.

The project helped to create public awareness and even inspired a bill on safe animal crossing and circulation, which is awaiting a vote in Congress. 

A lack of money saw the app being shut down last year, but Bager is intent on having it reactivated.

“We have more and more roads, more vehicles and a number of roadkill animals that likely continues to grow,” he said.

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Honda to build major EV plant in Canada: govt source

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Honda hopes to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040, with a goal of going carbon-neutral in its own operations by 2050
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Japanese auto giant Honda will open an electric vehicle plant in eastern Canada, a Canadian government source familiar with the multibillion-dollar project told AFP on Monday.

The federal government as well as the province of Ontario, where the plant will be built, will both provide some financial incentives for the deal, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official announcement is due Thursday, though Ontario premier Doug Ford hinted at the deal on Monday.

“This week, we’ve landed a new deal. It will be the largest deal in Canadian history. It’ll be double the size of Volkswagen,” he said, referring to a battery plant announced last year, for which the German automaker pledged Can$7 billion (US$5 billion) in investment.

Canada in recent years has been positioning itself as an attractive destination for electric vehicle investment, touting tax incentives, renewable energy access and its rare mineral deposits.

The Honda plant, to be built an hour outside Toronto, in Alliston, will also produce electric-vehicle batteries, joining existing Volkswagen and Stellantis battery plants.

In January, when news of the deal first bubbled up in the Japanese press, the Nikkei newspaper estimated it would be worth Can$14 billion — numbers backed up by Canadian officials recently.

In the federal budget announced last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced a new business tax credit, granting companies a 10 percent rebate on construction costs for new buildings used in key segments of the electric vehicle supply chain.

Canada’s strategy follows that of the neighboring United States, whose Inflation Reduction Act has provided a host of incentives for green industry.

Honda hopes to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040, with a goal of going carbon-neutral in its own operations by 2050.

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Denmark launches its biggest offshore wind farm tender

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Denmark's offshore wind parks currently generate 2.7 gigawatts of electricity
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The Danish Energy Agency on Monday launched its biggest tender for the construction of offshore wind farms, aimed at producing six gigawatts by 2030 — more than double Denmark’s current capacity.

Offshore wind is one of the major sources of green energy that Europe is counting on to decarbonise electricity production and reach its 2050 target of net zero carbon production, but it remains far off the pace needed to hit its targets.

Denmark’s offshore wind parks currently generate 2.7 gigawatts of electricity, with another one GW due in 2027.

The tender covers six sites in four zones in Danish waters: North Sea I, Kattegat, Kriegers Flak II and Hesselo.

“We are pleased that we can now offer the largest offshore wind tender in Denmark to date. This is a massive investment in the green transition,”  Kristoffer Bottzauw, head of the Danish Energy Agency, said in a statement.

Investment in offshore wind plummeted in Europe in 2022 due to supply chain problems, high interest rates and a jump in prices of raw materials, before bouncing back in 2023.

A record 4.2 gigawatts was installed in Europe last year, when a record 30 billion euros in new projects were approved, the trade association WindEurope said in January.

It said it was optimistic about the future of offshore wind in Europe, expecting new offshore wind capacity of around five gigawatts per year for the next three years.

However, it noted that that was still far short of what is needed if Europe wants to hit its 2030 target of 111 gigawatts of offshore wind installed capacity, with less than 20 gigawatts installed at the end of 2023.

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