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Millions face starvation as world warms, say scientists

World is unprepared for changes that will see parts of Africa turned into disaster areas, say food experts

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: “Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

“Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further”.

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government’s national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have “increasingly negative” impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada’s wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected”, says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN’s World Food Programme director, said: “We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world’s poorest people.”

Source: Guardian News

Civilisation could fail say food experts

The upcoming era of food scarcity is said to mirror the times that led to the demise of other civilisations.

 

Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third while world food prices have more than doubled.

The new geopolitics of food is said to be spreading hunger amongst poorer people while still allowing population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars in wealthier nations.

Extreme soil erosion and growing water shortages are also leading to imbalances that could ensure that food prices continue to rise, eventually leading to world hunger and the end of our social system.

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century when overproduction in agriculture was a major issue.

During that time, from 1950 to 2000, there were large grain stock carry-overs which maintained stability in world grain markets.

Countries in over-supply were able to ship the excess grain to countries which were suffering from drought or other natural disasters as a means of averting famine.

But during that time the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.

World consumption started to exceed production from 2002, which is when the unprecedented period of world food security came to an end.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations.

For instance, the Mayan civilisation declined it moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

Like the Mayans, our lands are now being mismanaged, generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While deforestation and soil erosion defeated the Mayans, farmers are currently facing new threats such as depletion of aquifers, grain yield down-trends and rising temperatures.

Source: Pakistan New

Health: Racial gaps in access to robotic surgery

Minority and Medicaid cancer patients are less likely to have their prostates removed at hospitals that use robot-assisted surgery, according to a new study that stops short of suggesting the robotic technique represents better care.

“People who are poor – frequently Hispanic, African American or black, and Medicaid patients – tend to get what is considered to be less high-quality care than those who are middle class and wealthy,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.

But Brawley, who wasn’t involved in the new study, also said there is no evidence that removing a prostate with a robot is better than the old-fashioned way, with “open” surgery that requires an incision across a man’s stomach.

Those are two of several treatment options available for prostate cancer, including radiation as well as active surveillance, also known as watchful waiting.

The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 250,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and about 28,000 died from it.

Despite a lack of evidence showing its superiority, robot-assisted prostate removal has become the predominant method since being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Simon Kim at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Robotic surgical tools allow doctors to operate through small incisions with the aid of a tiny video camera, an approach that is considered less invasive but also tends to be more expensive.

Kim and his colleagues write in The Journal of Urology that evidence does exist to show that black patients are already less likely to get radiation or to have their prostates removed, but there is less data on whether they and other minorities have equal access to robot-assisted prostate removal.

For the study, Kim’s group used two national databases to compare the differences between the approximately 20,500 cancer patients who had their prostates removed at hospitals offering robotic surgery, and the 9,500 who had their surgery at hospitals without robots between 2006 and 2008.

Overall, the researchers found, the proportion of all prostate removals shifted from about 56 percent taking place at hospitals with robots in 2006 to 76 percent in 2008.

They also found that hospitals offering robotic surgery removed more than four times the number of prostates as other hospitals during that time.

That’s important because hospitals that remove more prostates tend to report better patient outcomes after surgery.

In addition, black patients were 19 percent less likely to have their surgery at a hospital using robots compared to white patients, and Hispanic patients were 23 percent less likely.

Medicaid patients were also 30 percent less likely to go to a hospital offering robotic surgery, compared to patients with private insurance.

Dr. Michael Barry, who was not involved in the new research but has studied prostate cancer treatment and outcomes, pointed out that the new work shows a gap in who is able to access the hospitals that perform the greatest number of prostate removals.

“The issue here is not access to robot (surgery) but high-volume hospitals,” said Barry, a clinical professor of medicine at Boston’s Harvard Medical School.

The study authors, who were not available for comment by press time, similarly conclude that gaps in access to robotic surgery hospitals may also indicate limited access to high-volume hospitals.

“More effective health care policies focusing on incentives to provide better access for minorities or for patients primarily insured by Medicaid may reduce disparities in access to high volume hospitals with robotic surgery,” they write.

Source: News International

China unveils rival GPS satellite system

BEIJING: China has launched commercial and public services across the Asia-Pacific region on its domestic satellite navigation network built to rival the US global positioning system.

The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region on Thursday and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020, state media reported.

Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office, said the system’s performance was “comparable” to GPS, the China Daily said.

“Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia,” he said.

It is the latest accomplishment in space technology for China, which aims to build a space station by the end of the decade and eventually send a manned mission to the moon.

China sees the multi-billion-dollar programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The Beidou system comprises 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites, the paper said. Ran added that the system would ultimately provide global navigation, positioning and timing services.

The start of commercial services comes a year after Beidou — which literally means the Big Dipper in Chinese — began a limited positioning service for China and adjacent areas.

China began building the network in 2000 to avoid relying on GPS.

“Having a satellite navigation system is of great strategic significance,” the Global Times newspaper, which has links to the Communist Party, said in an editorial.

“China has a large market, where the Beidou system can benefit both the military and civilians,” the paper said.

“With increases in profit, the Beidou system will be able to eventually develop into a global navigation satellite system which can compete with GPS.”

In a separate report, the paper said satellite navigation was seen as one of China’s “strategic emerging industries”.

Sun Jiadong, the system’s chief engineer, told the 21st century Business Herald newspaper that as Beidou matures it will erode GPS’s current 95 percent market share in China, the Global Times said.

Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, Australia, said that making significant inroads into that dominance anywhere outside China is unlikely.

“GPS is freely available, highly accessed and is well-known and trusted by the world at large,” he told AFP. “It has brand recognition and has successfully fought off other challenges.”

Morris described any commercial benefits China gains as “icing on the cake” and that the main reason for developing Beidou is to protect its own national security given the possibility US-controlled GPS could be cut off.

“It’s that possibility, that they could be denied access to GPS, that inspires other nations to develop their own system that would be free of control by the United States,” he said.

“At a time of war you do not want to be denied” access, he said.

The Global Times editorial, while trumpeting Beidou as “not a second-class product or a carbon-copy of GPS” still appeared to recognise its limitations, at least in the early stages.

“Some problems may be found in its operation because Beidou is a new system. Chinese consumers should… show tolerance toward the Beidou system,” it said.

Source: News international

Pakistan, 10 others to surpass EU by 2030: US govt report

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios. It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

WASHINGTON: The “Next Eleven,” which include Pakistan, will collectively overtake EU-27 in global power by 2030, says a US government report released on Monday.

Although America’s influence will reduce, it will remain the “first among equals,” adds the report prepared by the US National Intelligence Council with inputs from 18 American intelligence agencies and dozens ofthink-tanks.

Based on socio-economic trends across the globe, the study also presents the best and the worst case scenarios in the report titled, “Global Trends 2030.”

The best case scenario: Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. The middle class will outnumber others. Most people will have access to technology, advanced health care and most countries will learn to link with each other. The United States and China will also cooperate with each other to lead the way.

In the worst case scenarios, rising population leads to conflict over water and food, especially in the Mideast and Africa, and the instability contributes to global economic collapse.

The study is presented to US policymakers to plan for the best and worst possible scenarios.

It includes a Goldman Sachs list of “Next Eleven” consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.

The “Next Eleven” will collectively overtake the EU-27 in global power by 2030. “When this second tier is combined with the non-Western giants of China and India, the shift of power from the West to the emerging or non-Western world is even more pronounced,” the report notes.

The study suggests that China will surpass the US in 2022 if GDP is measured at purchasing power parity and sometime near 2030 if GDP is measured at market exchange rates.

India will most likely continue to consolidate its power advantage relative to Pakistan, says the report. India’s economy is already nearly eight times as large as Pakistan’s; by 2030 that ratio could easily be more than 16-to-1, it adds.

Both Pakistan and India probably will have youthful ethnic and regional populations that could remain a security concern.

Youthful age structures are likely to persist for most of the next two decades among tribal populations in Pakistan’s western provinces and territories.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the rates of childbearing are probably greater than five children per woman among the Pushtun.

The report warns that South Asia may face a series of internal and external shocks during the next 15-20 years. Low growth, rising food prices, and energy shortages will pose stiff challenges to governance in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s youth bulges are large, similar in size to those found in many African countries. “When these youth bulges are combined with a slow-growing economy, they portend increased instability,” the study warns.

India is in a better position, benefiting from higher growth, but it will still be challenged to find jobs for its large youth population.

Inequality, lack of infrastructure and education deficiencies are key weaknesses in India, the report adds.

A growing sense of insecurity in South Asia will bolster military outlays. Conflict could erupt and spread under numerous scenarios.

Conflicting strategic goals, widespread distrust, and the hedging strategies by all the parties will make it difficult for them to develop a strong regional security framework.

Insufficient natural resources, such as water and arable land, and disproportionate levels of young men increase the risks of intrastate conflict breaking out. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan also havefaltering governance institutions.

The study notes that nuclear powers such as Russia and Pakistan and potential aspirants such as Iran and North Korea see nuclear weapons as compensation for other political and security weaknesses, heightening the risk of their use. The chance of non-state actors conducting a cyber-attack, or using WMD, also is increasing.

Globally, power will no longer reside with one or two key nations, but be spread across networks and coalitions of countries working together.

Sixty present of the world’s population will live in cities.

Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress.

Among the anticipated crises is the worry of global economic collapse, fighting among nations that don’t adapt rapidly enough to change and the

possible spillover of instability in the Mideast and South Asia to the rest of the world.

Technology is seen as a potential saviour to head off some of this conflict, boosting economic productivity to keep pockets filled despite rising population, rapid growth of cities and climate change.

The report warns of the mostly catastrophic effect of possible “Black Swans,” extraordinary events that can change the course of history. These include a severe pandemic that could kill millions in a matter of months and more rapid climate change that could make it hard to feed the world’s population.

Two positive events are also listed, including “a democratic China or a reformed Iran,” which could bring more global stability.

APP adds: Pakistan-India economic relations will be critical to determining stability of the South Asia and Islamabad’s economy could grow on sustained basis if normalisation of trade between the two nuclear neighbours takes place, a new US report, looking into the world scenario in 2030, said Monday.

“In a Turn-the-Corner scenario, sustained economic growth in Pakistan based on the gradual normalisation of trade with a rising India would be a critical factor,” says the report.

An improved economic environment would produce more opportunities for youth entering the workforce, lessening the attractiveness of  militancy and containing the spread of violence, the authors of report say of Pakistan’s economic possibilities.

Intra-regional trade would also be important in building trust between India and Pakistan, slowly changing threat perceptions and anchoring sectors withvested interests in continuing economic ties, it argues.

The report projects a strong economic engine in India could lay down new foundations for prosperity and regional cooperation in South Asia.

Over several decades, Pakistan would grow into a relatively stable economy, no longer requiring foreign assistance and IMF support. However, authors of the report stipulate that such a scenario would need sustained good governance and tax reforms that spur new industries, jobs and more resources for modern education in Pakistan.

It also presents other scenarios with pitfalls, including the militants, retarding developments in the region with violence.

A collapse in neighbouring Afghanistan would probably set back any such civilian-led agenda, reinforcing security fears and retrenchment, the report cautions.

Source: Dawn News

Lagarde says ‘fiscal cliff’ threatens US supremacy

- File Photo

– File Photo

WASHINGTON: International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday the looming “fiscal cliff” in the United States threatens the country’s international supremacy and the fragile global recovery.

In an interview with BBC World News, Lagarde noted the US fiscal cliff, a combination of severe tax increases and spending cuts due in January, would probably wipe out growth in the world’s largest economy.

“The real issues are, in a way, the supremacy of the United States and its leadership role in the world,” said the managing director of the IMF. “To make sure that that leadership endures, the uncertainty has to be removed because uncertainty fuels doubt as to that leadership.”

With the deadline fast approaching, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans remain at loggerheads in talks to find a longer-term deficit reduction plan that would avert the cliff.

“It’s not purely a political issue, it’s not ideological, it’s broader than that. It really addresses the role of the United States in the world from a geopolitical and economic point of view,” said Lagarde, according to extracts of the broadcast interview.

Source: Dawn News

Amazon, Google and Starbucks attacked by MPs over tax avoidance

Report also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for leniency in dealing with corporations that pay little or no corporation tax

Amazon, Google and Starbucks have been accused of an “immoral” use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits by a committee of MPs.

A hard-hitting report released on Monday by the Commons public accounts committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog, also criticises HM Revenue & Customs for being “way too lenient” in negotiations with corporations which pay little or no corporation tax. It calls on the government to draw up laws to close loopholes and name and shame companies that fail to pay their fair share.

The report’s scheduled release, following a humiliating parliamentary session for the three multinationals’ executives, prompted a flurry of media activity over the weekend. On Saturday night, Starbucks announced that it is reviewing its tax approach to Britain with a view to paying more following widespread criticism of the coffee chain’s tax regime.

George Osborne will on Monday announce an extra £77m a year for two years for more staff at Revenue & Customs to pursue companies which avoid paying tax. The chancellor said the extra investment would help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax.

He is also expected to confirm a deal with Switzerland which the chancellor hopes will raise more than £5bn in previously uncollected taxes from Swiss bank accounts over the next six years.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, said of the Starbucks statement: “I am delighted they are taking this issue seriously and they are listening to the feedback from their UK taxpaying customers.” He too had been boycotting Starbucks. “I might be able to buy a coffee from Starbucks again soon.”

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC, said its report showed that corporations had been allowed to get away with “ripping off” taxpayers because of a weak tax authority, poor legislation and a lack of international co-operation.

“Global corporations with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here. This is an insult to British business and individuals who pay their fair share.

“Corporation tax revenues have fallen at a time when securing proper income from taxes is more vital than ever.

“The inescapable conclusion is that multinationals are using structures and exploiting current tax legislation to move offshore profits that are clearly generated from economic activity in the UK,” she said.

Executives from the multinationals who appeared before the committee last month were singled out for criticism.

Responses to questions by Andrew Cecil, Amazon’s director of public policy, were “evasive”, “unprepared” and lacking credibility.

The company’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011, but its tax bill was just £1.8m.

Amazon avoids UK taxes by reporting European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit, MPs alleged. This structure allowed it to pay a rate of less than 12% on foreign profits last year – less than half the average corporate income tax rate in its major markets.

Troy Alstead, Starbucks’ global chief financial officer, claimed that the firm has lost money in the 15 years it has been operating in the UK except in 2006.

The world’s biggest coffee chain paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which it recorded sales of £3.1bn.

Alstead’s claim was “difficult to believe” when contrasted with boasts of success sent to shareholders, according to the report.

Starbucks has been able to cut its tax bill, MPs said, by paying fees to other parts of its global business, such as royalty payments for use of the brand.

Google had £2.5bn of UK sales last year, but despite having a group-wide profit margin of 33%, its main UK unit had a tax charge of £3.4m in 2011.

The company avoids UK tax by channelling non-US sales via Ireland, an arrangement that has allowed it to pay taxes at a rate of 3.2% on non-US profits. It also diverts some profits through Bermuda.

Revenue & Customs has been asked by the committee to be bolder in challenging tax avoidance by multinationals and to be ready to prosecute if necessary.

“Top officials need to challenge the status quo and be more assertive, for example in accepting that excessive levels of royalty payments are appropriate when businesses are making a loss,” the report states. Benchmarks for common charges such as royalty payments and intellectual property rights could be published by the Treasury or tax officials. A company’s tax practices should also be made part of its mandatory reporting requirements, which would increase transparency, the MPs say.

The government and the tax authorities should also take a greater lead internationally in closing loopholes and increasing transparency in tax havens, particularly across Europe, the report concludes.

Osborne told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that he will work closely with France and Germany to close tax loopholes. “It will be a big priority for the G7, G8, which we host next year,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC said it had reduced tax avoidance by large businesses in recent years. “We relentlessly challenge those that persist in avoiding tax and have recovered £29bn additional revenues from large businesses in the last six years, including £4.1bn in the last four years from transfer pricing inquiries alone. These figures speak for themselves.”

Source: Guardian News