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Climate change: 'Cooling paint' could cut emissions from buildings - BBC News
Researchers have developed a white paint that reflects sunlight and helps cool buildings.
By Matt McGrathEnvironment correspondent image copyrightGetty Images A new type of white paint has the potential to cool buildings and reduce the reliance on air conditioning, say researchers. In a study, the new product was able to reflect 95.5% of sunlight and reduce temperatures by 1.7C compared to the ambient air conditions. The engineers involved say the impact is achieved by adding different-sized particles of calcium carbonate. Buildings of all types are one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions. According to the World Green Building Council, the lighting, heating and cooling of buildings is responsible for around 28% of global CO2. That's because the heating and cooling of buildings is mainly powered by coal, oil and gas - In Europe, around 75% of this energy need comes from fossil fuels. image copyrightPurdue University/Jared Pike image captionA Purdue researcher uses an infrared camera to compare the cooling performance of white paint samples For decades, researchers have been trying to come up with ideas to increase the efficiency of cooling and heating. A number of reflective paints have been developed for the outside of homes and offices that would reflect away sunlight and reduce the temperatures inside. As yet, none of these products have been able to deflect enough of the Sun's rays to make the building's temperature lower than the ambient conditions. Now, researchers in the US say they have developed a white paint with strong cooling properties. "In one experiment where we put a painted surface outside under direct sunlight, the surface cooled 1.7C below the ambient temperature and during night time it even cooled up to 10C below the ambient temperature," said Prof Xiulin Ruan, from Purdue University in Indiana, who's an author on the study. "This is a significant amount of cooling power that can offset the majority of the air conditioning needs for typical buildings." image copyrightGetty Images image captionAir conditioning makes a huge contribution to carbon emissions So how does the new paint work? According to the researchers, the key has been to add calcium carbonate to the mix. The scientists found that by using high concentrations of this chalky substance, with differing particle sizes, they were able to develop a product that reflected 95.5% of sunlight. "Sunlight is a broad spectrum of wavelengths," said Prof Xiulin Ruan. "We know that each particle size can only scatter one wavelength effectively so we decided to use different particle sizes to scatter all the wavelengths. This is an important contributor eventually resulting in this very high reflectance." The researchers say the paint may have a broad range of applications - particularly in data centres, which require large amounts of cooling. Since the paint lacks metallic components, it is unlikely to interfere with electromagnetic signals, making it suitable for cooling telecommunications equipment. There are a number of steps to go through before this product will be available commercially, as it needs to be tested for its long-term reliability and efficiency. But the researchers are optimistic; patents have been filed and there is strong interest from major manufacturers. Details of the new approach have been published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science. Follow Matt on Twitter on Twitter.
Covid: Australia in talks over quarantine-free travel - BBC News
It has warned that travel to Europe and the US may be off the cards until the end of 2021.
image captionAustralia is looking to bring in quarantine-free travel for several nations with low Covid-19 figures Australia's government says it is in talks with several nations about quarantine-free travel, but warns that Europe and the US will not be on the list. The first agreement would be with New Zealand, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Other nations that could follow suit are Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Pacific Island nations. Australia closed its borders in March, early into the pandemic. To date, it has recorded 27,263 cases and 898 deaths. It has fared better than other nations but recently saw a second wave in the state of Victoria, forcing Melbourne and its surrounding areas into another lockdown. Infections have fallen dramatically since. From Friday, New Zealanders will be able to travel to some Australian states - New South Wales, Canberra and the Northern Territory - without having to quarantine. But they will have to quarantine in a hotel upon their return home. On Sunday, one person in a quarantine hotel in Auckland tested positive for the virus. Four cases were reported on Saturday, all imported. Australians are not yet allowed to travel to New Zealand. Mr Morrison said he had spoken about travel bubbles with his counterparts in Japan, South Korea and some Pacific nations, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne held talks in Singapore. "But we have to go cautiously on this - very very cautiously. Covid-19 hasn't gone anywhere. It's still there. And no less aggressive today than it was six months ago," Mr Morrison said. It came as Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham warned that travel to high-risk areas such as the US and Europe was unlikely to happen until late 2021. "The prospects of opening up widespread travel with higher risk countries will remain very reliant on effective vaccination or other major breakthroughs in the management of Covid," he said. Melbourne has been easing its lockdown for the past several weeks following a decline in cases. It had been hoped that all shops in Melbourne would be allowed to open and outdoor dining would resume by 19 October. But Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews says the number of new cases is not yet falling fast enough to ease all of the restrictions that were promised. On Sunday, 12 infections and one death were reported in the state. Queensland's border with New South Wales is still yet to open. Queensland's government said on Friday it would make a decision on re-opening the border at the end of this month. As of Friday, the state had reached 28 days without community transmission. Western Australia's borders are closed to the rest of Australia. The government there has said it may not reopen its borders until April, according to local media. media captionCrowd concerns as Australias coronavirus restrictions ease
Black hole breakthroughs win Nobel physics prize - BBC News
Three scientists including the UK's Roger Penrose have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Image copyrightNASAImage caption Recent visualisation of a black hole by Nasa Three scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for work to understand black holes. Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez were announced as this year's winners at a news conference in Stockholm. The winners will share the prize money of 10 million kronor (£864,200). Swedish industrialist and chemist Alfred Nobel founded the prizes in his will, written in 1895 - a year before his death. David Haviland, chair of the physics prize committee, said this year's award "celebrates one of the most exotic objects in the Universe". Black holes are regions of space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape from them. UK-born physicist Roger Penrose, from the University of Oxford, demonstrated that black holes were an inevitable consequence of Albert's Einstein's theory of general relativity. Image caption From L-R: Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, Andrea Ghez "The history of black holes goes way back in time to the end of the 18th Century. Then, through Einstein's general relativity, we had the tools to describe these objects for real," said Ulf Danielsson, a member of the Nobel Committee. But the mathematics of these objects was incredibly complicated to understand, and many researchers believed they were nothing more than mathematical artefacts that existed on paper alone. It took researchers several decades to realise that they could exist in the real world. "That's what Roger Penrose did," said Danielsson. "He understood the mathematics, he introduced new tools and then could actually prove that this is a process you can naturally expect to happen - that a star collapses and turns into a black hole." Penrose, he said, "laid the theoretical foundations to say: these objects exist. You can expect to find them if you go out and look for them". Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez provided the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy - the Milky Way. They found that this huge object, known as Sagittarius A*, was tugging on the jumble of stars orbiting it. American Prof Ghez, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said: "I'm thrilled to receive the prize and I take very seriously the responsibility of being the fourth woman to win the Nobel prize [in physics]." Reinhard Genzel, from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and Ghez used the world's largest telescopes to see through huge clouds of interstellar gas to the centre of the Milky Way. Their discovery stretched the limits of technology and they had to develop new techniques to compensate for distortions to their observations caused by the Earth's atmosphere. Follow Paul on Twitter. Image copyrightESO / M KornmesserImage caption Artwork: Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz have won for their detection of the distant planet 51 Pegasi b 2019 - James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz shared the prize for ground-breaking discoveries about the Universe. 2018 - Donna Strickland, Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou were awarded the prize for their discoveries in the field of laser physics. 2017 - Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish earned the award for the detection of gravitational waves. 2016 - David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz shared the award for their work on rare phases of matter. 2015 - Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald were awarded the prize the discovery that neutrinos switch between different "flavours". 2014 - Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura won the physics Nobel for developing the first blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). 2013 - Francois Englert and Peter Higgs shared the spoils for formulating the theory of the Higgs boson particle. 2012 - Serge Haroche and David J Wineland were awarded the prize for their work with light and matter.
Mike Pompeo in Japan for 'quad' meeting to counter China - BBC News
The US Secretary of State is meeting with foreign ministers from Japan, India and Australia.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is holding talks with the Quad group US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan in Tokyo to discuss how to counter China. The "Quad meeting" comes as all four countries seek to form a front against an increasingly assertive China. Before he left the US, Mr Pompeo said the meeting was "something we've been working on for a long time". Bilateral ties between the US and China have in recent months plummeted to their lowest point in decades. This has led Washington to boost co-operation with regional allies. The Quad group - represented by Japan's Toshimitsu Motegi, Australia's Marise Payne and India's Subrahmanyam Jaishankar - is expected to discuss issues including the coronavirus pandemic and cyber security. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (C) also made an appearance "Looking forward to discussing increased cooperation to promote our shared vision for a free and open #IndoPacific, composed of nations that are independent, strong, and prosperous," Mr Pompeo tweeted on departure. China had warned ahead of the meeting against "exclusive cliques" that target third-parties. "We hope relevant countries can proceed from the common interests of countries in the region, and do more things that are conducive to regional peace, stability and development, not the other way around," AFP quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin as saying. The Quadrilateral Initiative - informally named the Quad - first began in May 2007 with a meeting between the US, Japan, India and Australia in the Philippine capital Manila. The informal grouping, championed by Japan's then prime minister Shinzo Abe, was viewed by analysts as an attempt to step up co-operation in the face of a rapidly rising China. However when Beijing sent formal protests about the Quad, its members said their "strategic partnership" was only aimed at maintaining regional security and was not targeting any particular country. The Quad group then lost momentum and was only revived again a few years ago. Mr Abe's retirement in August once again throws the Quad's future into some doubt. Mr Abe was replaced by Yoshihda Suga, and questions remain over whether the new Japanese prime minister will show the same enthusiasm for the strategic grouping. Mr Suga is focused on economic reform and has little experience of foreign policy, writes the BBC's correspondent in Tokyo, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes. Why is the Quad meeting now? This latest meeting comes at a time when the US, India and Australia have all seen growing tensions in their relations with China. Since 2018, the US and China have been locked in a bitter trade war and in recent months they have clashed over multiple issues including espionage arrests, the coronavirus pandemic and revoked Chinese student visas. Australian ties with China have also been deteriorating. In September, the last two reporters working in China for Australian media were evacuated after a tense five-day diplomatic standoff. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Tensions between India and China are also growing after a recent border conflict And there have been growing tensions between Beijing and Delhi too along their disputed border in the Himalayan region. Fighting in June saw the first fatal confrontation between the two sides since 1975. Alexander Neill, an Asia-Pacific security analyst based in Singapore, thinks the "real clincher" for the renewed momentum of the Quad grouping is down to "India's buy in". "In recent years there has been much speculation about the quad becoming a formalised body. But it had been constrained by India in particular, which is a traditional stalwart of the non-aligned movement," he said. The US, on the other hand, has been "very consistent" with its messaging under President Donald Trump, he added. It has said "coercive actions by China would not only result in its self-isolation but would prompt like-minded friends and allies to coalesce together. The quad is a manifestation of this." Mr Neill expects Beijing "will accuse the US of containment and Cold War mentality" and of building alliances "to suppress China's rightful rise". Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is thought to face a more delicate balancing act. Tokyo has seen a steady improvement of ties with Beijing while it also maintains close relationships with the US, India and Australia. Mr Suga told reporters on Monday that he would seek to "promote a free and open Indo-Pacific" and also "build stable relations with neighbouring countries including China and Russia".
Nobel Prize for Medicine goes to Hepatitis C discovery - BBC News
The virus is a major cause of liver cancer and can lead to people needing a liver transplant.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption The announcement was made at a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden Three scientists who discovered the virus Hepatitis C have won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. The winners are British scientist Michael Houghton and US researchers Harvey Alter and Charles Rice. The Nobel Prize committee said their discoveries ultimately "saved millions of lives". The virus is a common cause of liver cancer and a major reason why people need a liver transplant. In the 1960s, there was huge concern that people receiving donated blood were getting chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation) from an unknown, mysterious disease. The Nobel Prize committee said a blood transfusion at the time was like "Russian roulette". Highly sensitive blood tests mean such cases have now been eliminated in many parts of the world, and effective anti-viral drugs have also been developed. "For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world," the prize committee said. However, there are 70 million people currently living with the virus, which still kills around 400,000 a year. The mystery killer The viruses Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B had been discovered by the mid-1960s. But Prof Harvey Alter, while studying transfusion patients at the US National Institutes of Health in 1972, showed there was another, mystery, infection at work. Patients were still getting sick after receiving donated blood. He showed that giving blood from infected patients to chimpanzees led to them developing the disease. The mysterious illness became known as "non-A, non-B" hepatitis and the hunt was now on. Prof Michael Houghton, while at the pharmaceutical firm Chiron, managed to isolated the genetic sequence of the virus in 1989. This showed it was a type of flavivirus and it was named Hepatitis C. And Prof Charles Rice, while at Washington University in St. Louis, applied the finishing touches in 1997. He injected a genetically engineered Hepatitis C virus into the liver of chimpanzees and showed this could lead to hepatitis. Prof Houghton, now at the University of Alberta in Canada, told the BBC: "We had limited tools available to us then, so it was rather like searching for a needle in a haystack. "The amount of virus present in the liver and the blood was very low, and the sensitivity of our techniques was not high enough, so we were sailing very close to the wind all the time. "We tried a lot of methods, probably 30 or 40 different methodological approaches over seven years, and eventually one worked." Commenting on the announcement, Dr Claire Bayntun, a clinical consultant in global public health and vice-president of Royal Society of Medicine, said the discovery was an "extraordinary achievement". She said: "[In] unlocking the door to the development of effective treatment and screening of blood transfusions, and protecting populations in many regions of the world, millions of lives have been saved." Follow James on Twitter Previous winners
- 2019 - Sir Peter Ratcliffe, William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza for discovered how cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels
- 2018 - James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovering how to fight cancer using the body's immune system
- 2017- Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for unravelling how bodies keep a circadian rhythm or body clock
- 2016 - Yoshinori Ohsumi for discovering how cells remain healthy by recycling waste
- 2015 - William C Campbell, Satoshi mura and Youyou Tu for anti-parasite drug discoveries
- 2014 - John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser for discovering the brain's navigating system
Coronavirus: Australia opens 'travel zone' to New Zealanders - BBC News
It is the first opening of borders by either nation since Covid restrictions were imposed.
image copyrightGetty Images image captionAustralia's new scheme will begin in a fortnight New Zealanders are to be granted access to Australia in the first opening of international borders by either nation since Covid restrictions were imposed. People will be able to fly from New Zealand to New South Wales and the Northern Territory - and avoid mandatory quarantine - from 16 October. The nations closed their borders in March in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. Officials say the risks are now low enough to justify a "travel bubble". "The establishment of a travel zone between Australia and New Zealand has been finalised," said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. "This is the first stage in what we hope to see as a trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries, stopping not just at that state and that territory." At first, travel will be limited to New Zealanders. Mr McCormack said a decision on when Australians may be able to visit New Zealand would be up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. image copyrightGetty Images image captionPeople from New Zealand will be able to travel to two Australian regions He said Australia had assessed New Zealand visitors as posing "a low risk of Covid-19 transmission" as it currently had no "hotspots". Australia defines a hotpot as any area with at least three local infections per day across a three-day rolling average, he added. New Zealand's most recent locally acquired case was reported on 21 August. Australia's Northern Territory has not recorded any infections in two months. New South Wales - which includes Sydney - has not seen a locally transmitted case since last week. Australia's federal government has pushed for domestic and international borders to be re-opened "as soon as practical" to help the economy, but some state governments - which have power over their own borders - have been more resistant. Victoria remains cut off from the rest of Australia, after an outbreak in the state capital Melbourne which is now abating. New Zealand has recorded 1,848 cases and 25 deaths, while Australia has seen over 27,000 cases and 888 deaths.
US bans Malaysian palm oil producer over forced labour - BBC News
Malaysia's FGV Holdings says it has taken "concrete steps" to improve its labour standards.
Image copyrightGetty Images US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has blocked the import of palm oil made by a Malaysian producer over forced labour concerns. CBP cited physical and sexual abuse, debt bondage and abusive conditions as reasons for blocking FGV Holdings. Shipments from the company and its subsidiaries will be held at US entry ports. In a statement, FGV said it had taken "concrete steps" to improve workers conditions. CBP said a year-long investigation revealed "restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime." The investigation also raised concerns that forced child labour is potentially being used in FGV's palm oil production process. FGV is a publicly-listed company, and according to its website it accounts for about 15% of Malaysia's annual production of crude palm oil. Image copyrightGetty Images Palm oil is used for a wide range of food products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and biofuels. "The use of forced labour in the production of such a ubiquitous product allows companies to profit from the abuse of vulnerable workers," said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP's Office of Trade. Media captionMake-up artist Emmy Burbidge travels to Papua New Guinea to discover the truth about whats in her products "These companies are creating unfair competition for legitimately sourced goods and exposing the public to products that fail to meet ethical standards," she said. The US has increased its use of import bans since 2016, when a change in US law renewed CBP's ability to act against products made with forced labour. Over the last few months, the US has issued a number of so-called Withhold Release Orders against Chinese companies over alleged forced labour concerns in the Xinjiang province. 'Concrete steps' FGV expressed disappointment at the decision, and said it had taken "concrete steps" to demonstrate "its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labour standards". "It is worth reiterating that FGV does not tolerate any form of human rights infringements or criminal offense in its operations," the company said in a statement. The company's plantations rely heavily on migrant workers, including more than 11,000 Indonesians and nearly 5,000 Indians. FGV said it had strengthened its procedures to hire workers and invested around $84m (£65m) to upgrade housing facilities on plantations. It rejected claims that it confiscated workers passports and said it had installed 32,000 "safety boxes" throughout all its 68 complexes to help workers secure their documents. Previous concerns FGV itself noted that its labour issues have been publicly debated for the last five years. Other organisations have previously voiced concerns over FGV's practices. In January, the not-for-profit Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil suspended the sustainability certification process for some of FGV's plantations. It also re-imposed a suspension of its certification for FGV's Kilang Sawit Serting facility, which it suspended two years earlier over labour concerns before reversing its decision. FGV's share price fell 8% on Thursday.
Buried lakes of liquid water discovered on Mars - BBC News
The underground lakes were detected in the Red Planet's south polar region.
Image copyrightEsa / ATG Medialab / DLR / FU BerlinImage caption The findings come from data collected by Esa's Mars Express spacecraft Three underground lakes have been detected near the south pole of Mars. Scientists also confirmed the existence of a fourth lake - the presence of which was hinted at in 2018. Liquid water is vital for biology, so the finding will be of interest to researchers studying the potential for life elsewhere in the Solar System. But the lakes are also thought to be extremely salty, which could make it difficult for any microbial life to survive in them. Mars' thin atmosphere means that the presence of liquid water on the surface is a near-impossibility. But water could remain liquid below ground. The latest discovery was made using data from a radar instrument on the European Space Agency's (Esa) Mars Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting the Red Planet since December 2003. In 2018, researchers used data from the Marsis radar to report signs of a 20km-wide subsurface lake located 1.5km under Mars' south polar layered deposits, a thick polar cap formed by layers of ice and dust. However, that finding was based on 29 observations collected by Marsis between 2012 and 2015. Now, a team including many of the same scientists from the 2018 study have analysed a much bigger dataset of 134 radar profiles gathered between 2010 and 2019. Image copyrightNatureImage caption The main lake (centre) is surrounded by at least three smaller bodies of water "Not only did we confirm the position, extent and strength of the reflector from our 2018 study, but we found three new bright areas," said co-author Elena Pettinelli from Roma Tre University in Italy. "The main lake is surrounded by smaller bodies of liquid water, but because of the technical characteristics of the radar, and of its distance from the Martian surface, we cannot conclusively determine whether they are interconnected." The team borrowed a technique commonly used in radar sounder investigations of sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica, Canada and Greenland, adapting the method to analyse the data from Marsis. "The interpretation that best reconciles all the available evidence is that the high intensity reflections (from Mars) are coming from extended pools of liquid water," said co-author Sebastian Lauro, also from Roma Tre University. There's not enough heat at these depths to melt the ice, so scientists believe the liquid water must contain high concentrations of dissolved salts. These chemical salts (different to the stuff we sprinkle on our chips) can significantly lower water's freezing point. In fact, recent experiments have shown that water with dissolved salts of magnesium and calcium perchlorate (a chemical compound containing chlorine bound to four oxygens) can remain liquid at temperatures of -123C. Image copyrightESA/DLR/FU Berlin / Bill DunfordImage caption The putative bodies of liquid water were discovered under the south polar cap of Mars "These experiments have demonstrated that brines can persist for geologically significant periods of time even at the temperatures typical of the Martian polar regions (considerably below the freezing temperature of pure water)," said co-author Graziella Caprarelli, from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. "Therefore we think that any process of formation and persistence of sub-ice water beneath the ice polar caps requires the liquid to have high salinity." Whether life could survive in such conditions depends on just how salty these Martian pools are. On Earth, only very specific types of microbes, known as halophiles, can survive in the saltiest bodies of water. Roberto Orosei, chief scientist on the Marsis experiment, said: "While the existence of a single sub-glacial lake could be attributed to exceptional conditions such as the presence of a volcano under the ice sheet, the discovery of an entire system of lakes implies that their formation process is relatively simple and common, and that these lakes have probably existed for much of Mars' history. "For this reason, they could still retain traces of any life forms that could have evolved when Mars had a dense atmosphere, a milder climate and the presence of liquid water on the surface, similar to the early Earth."
Climate change: China aims for 'carbon neutrality by 2060' - BBC News
China's surprise announcement of a long-term goal to curb emissions boosts UN climate talks.
Image copyrightEPAImage caption China's President Xi Jinping addressing the UN via video link China will aim to hit peak emissions before 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060, President Xi Jinping has announced. Mr Xi outlined the steps when speaking via videolink to the UN General Assembly in New York. The announcement is being seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change. China is the world's biggest source of carbon dioxide, responsible for around 28% of global emissions. With global climate negotiations stalled and this year's conference of the parties (COP26) postponed until 2021, there had been little expectation of progress on the issue at the UN General Assembly. However China's president surprised the UN gathering by making a bold statement about his country's plans for tackling emissions. He called on all countries to achieve a green recovery for the world economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the official translation, Mr Xi went on to say: "We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060." Until now China has said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest, but it has avoided committing to a long-term goal. Emissions from China continued to rise in 2018 and 2019 even as much of the world began to shift away from fossil fuels. While the Covid-19 crisis this spring saw the country's emissions plunge by 25%, by June they had bounced back again as coal-fired plants, cement and other heavy industries went back to work. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption In 2014 the US and China reached a surprise agreement on climate change Observers believe that in making this statement at this time, the Chinese leader is taking advantage of US reluctance to address the climate question. "Xi Jinping's climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump's speech, is clearly a bold and well calculated move," said Li Shuo, an expert on Chinese climate policy from Greenpeace Asia. "It demonstrates Xi's consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes." Back in 2014 Mr Xi and then US-President Barack Obama came to a surprise agreement on climate change, which became a key building block of the Paris agreement signed in December 2015. Mr Xi has again delivered a surprise according to Li Shuo. "By playing the climate card a little differently, Xi has not only injected much needed momentum to global climate politics, but presented an intriguing geopolitical question in front of the world: on a global common issue, China has moved ahead regardless of the US. Will Washington follow?" There are many questions about the announcement that remain unanswered, including what is meant exactly by carbon neutrality and what actions the country will take to get there. "Today's announcement by President Xi Jinping that China intends to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is big and important news - the closer to 2050 the better," said former US climate envoy Todd Stern. "His announcement that China will start down this road right away by adopting more vigorous policies is also welcome. Simply peaking emissions 'before 2030' won't be enough to put China on the rapid path needed for carbon neutrality, but overall this is a very encouraging step." Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption This week has seen the second lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record Most observers agreed that the announcement from China was a significant step, not least because of the country's role in financing fossil fuel development around the world. "China isn't just the world's biggest emitter but the biggest energy financier and biggest market, so its decisions play a major role in shaping how the rest of the world progresses with its transition away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change," said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a UK-based think tank. "The announcement today is also a major fillip for the European Union, whose leaders recently urged President Xi to take exactly this step as part of a joint push on lowering emissions, showing that international moves to curb climate change remain alive despite the best efforts of Donald Trump and [Brazil's president] Jair Bolsonaro in the run-up to next year's COP26 in Glasgow." Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc
Coronavirus: Care homes to get free PPE until March under winter plan - BBC News
A new chief nurse will also be hired to provide more guidance, as part of the government's winter plan.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption A care worker visits a client at home in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, during the pandemic Personal protective equipment will be free for care homes until next March, as part of a government coronavirus plan for the winter. A new chief nurse will also be appointed to provide more guidance for nurses working in the care sector. The plan will be published in full by the Department of Health later. Council care directors say the initiative is welcome, but that there are significant gaps in what it is offering. The government has already said care homes would get £546m to try to reduce transmission of the virus. The money will help to pay care workers their full wages when they are self-isolating, and ensures carers only work in one care home, reducing the spread of the virus. The BBC's social affairs correspondent Alison Holt said that for a sector still reeling from the high number of deaths, "this plan is important". Providing free PPE - such as masks - recognises the steep increase in the cost of supplies, she said. And the role of chief nurse "should also provide a stronger national voice for the sector". But whilst welcoming the plan, some directors of council care services have said it does not address the need to pay care staff better. It also does not provide the funding needed to meet the expected increase in demand, particularly for home care, over the winter, they added. Media captionHow care home workers are trying to cope The head of charity Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said what she had seen of the plan was "promising" - but she wanted to see what the plan said about visiting care homes. "Although the devil will be in the detail, which we have not yet seen, on the face of it this plan seems to get some important things right," she said. "The extra funding is welcome, though a little more would give us, and no doubt providers, more confidence that they will get through the next few months without a financial crisis." Care homes in England were allowed to reopen again for family visits in July - as long as local authorities and public health teams said it was safe. A similar reopening of homes followed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, many care homes have not yet fully reopened - either retaining strict rules over visitors or banning them completely. Media captionLynn hasn't seen her husband, who has dementia, for six weeks due to care home restrictions "Any sense of a 'blanket ban' would be highly inappropriate, however anxious we may all feel," said Ms Abrahams. "Risks, capabilities and opportunities of all kinds differ hugely across care homes and for the sake of older people this enormous variation must be taken fully into account." The most recent figures show there were 35 homes that were dealing with coronavirus outbreaks - defined as having at least one positive case - during the first week of September. During April, the number of homes with outbreaks was about 20 times that rate. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons the government would do "whatever is humanly possible" to protect care homes "so they are a place of sanctuary this winter". Ministers have also promised to make people in care homes a priority for coronavirus tests - along with the NHS - amid ongoing issues with the UK's testing system. Coronavirus swept through UK care homes during the peak of the outbreak, with tens of thousands of deaths. Almost 30,000 more care home residents in England and Wales died during the coronavirus outbreak than during the same period in 2019, Office for National Statistics figures published in July show. But only two-thirds were directly attributable to Covid-19. According to the figures, there were just over 66,000 deaths of care home residents in England and Wales between 2 March and 12 June this year, compared to just under 37,000 deaths last year.