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New July 2013

Student’s mother pleads for release

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The mother of a London student who is to be deported to her native Mauritius pleads with MPs to release her from Yarl’s Wood immigration centre.

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Nato suspends Russia co-operation

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Nato suspends all practical civilian and military co-operation with Russia over the annexation of Crimea, describing it as a grave threat to European security.

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15 Years Later, The Matrix Still Has Us

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In the early months of 1999, Americans were met with something strange and intriguing: the first trailers for a mysterious new film called The Matrix. They offered a series of haunting images: people leaping across skyscrapers; a woman suspended in air, mid-kick, while a camera swirled around her; and — … More »

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‘Chocolate King’ to Save Ukraine?

Billionaire candy manufacturer Petro Poroshenko may well be elected president of Ukraine in May. His mission: take his country into Europe while making peace with Putin.

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How did Vancouver get so green?

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Vancouver is supremely green, in both senses of the word. Set between ocean and mountains and lined with verdant trees, Vancouver also has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major city in North America. In 2007, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, Vancouver had annual emissions of 4.9 tons of CO2 equivalent per capita. By 2012, according to Vancouver’s city government, it had dropped to 4.4 tons per person. “Vancouver has done really well at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and showing leadership on climate change,” says Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental research organization. “Vancouver is bucking the trend of a lot of North American cities when it comes to how quickly the city is growing in population — it’s increasing quite dramatically, its economy and jobs have increased — while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 9 percent in the last decade.” How did Vancouver achieve that? It’s an outlier in even the green-friendly Pacific Northwest: While Seattle and Portland look and feel a lot like Vancouver, their per capita emissions are roughly three times as high. The U.S.’s closest competitor to Vancouver is New York, followed by San Francisco, then Philadelphia. All of those cities are older, with many dense, walkable rowhouse neighborhoods developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the car rose to dominate the landscape and city planning. Like its Pacific Northwest peers, Vancouver was built later, with more detached houses and parking garages. In part, Vancouver is just lucky. British Columbia is rich in hydroelectric power, so keeping the lights on in all those coffee bars pumps a lot less CO2 into the atmosphere than in cities where power comes from fossil fuels. It also helps that Vancouver has a relatively mild West Coast climate. Inland cities like Minneapolis and Denver, with more weather extremes, need more fuel for heat in the winter and electricity for air conditioning in summer. But Vancouver has also made a lot of smart public policy choices. Even as the Canadian national government backslides on environmental protection, Canada’s more liberal localities are making progress. Ontario banned coal-fired electricity this year. Vancouver has been committed to sustainability, and creating policies to advance that goal, for several decades. Mayor Gregor Robertson keeps raising the bar on his predecessor’s successes. He developed the comprehensive “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan,” which lays down benchmarks that each sector of the city’s government must achieve. According to environmental advocates, the city has pursued three main agendas that account for its success: 1. Offering transportation alternatives. Vancouverites are eager to ditch their cars, and the city is trying to help them do so. In 2010 Vancouver started building separated bicycle lanes and it is launching a bikeshare system this year. “Continuing to shift people out of cars to walking, biking, and transit is crucial,” said Mayor Robertson in a phone interview with Grist. Robertson boasts that Vancouver has reached 44 percent of its trips being made without a car. That’s the third-highest percentage in North America, after New York City and Washington, D.C. His administration has also encouraged carsharing, which helps reduce car ownership and total driving, with free dedicated parking spaces for the Car2Go car-sharing service. Winston WongVancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson, IRL.Even as the city grows, its number of car trips decreases. That means its drops are even more impressive when adjusted for population. “In the past decade, the population in Vancouver has increased 18 percent, the number of jobs has gone up 16 percent, while vehicles entering downtown have decreased by 20 percent,” notes Bruce. The proportion of all trips taken into and within Vancouver by car have each dropped around 5 percent during the same timeframe. “It’s not based on breakthrough technology,” Bruce explains, “just planning decisions to invest in transit, bike, and walking infrastructure.” “Vancouverites have chosen to shift out of cars for 20 years in a row now,” says Robertson. The city’s average decline in car mode share is 1 percent per year. In addition to pedestrian and bike safety, Robertson is trying to expand mass transit. But without sufficient investment at the provincial and federal level, the biggest projects may not be completed. Right now, Roberston is lobbying Ottawa for help building a $3 billion subway line that would go to the University of British Columbia (UBC) and unclog traffic on Broadway, a major road through the city. 2. Density, building codes, and transit-oriented development. Walk around downtown Vancouver and you’ll see a lot of skyscrapers. But unlike the downtowns of many big cities, these aren’t all just office buildings. Vancouver has encouraged building housing upwards in its downtown and along transit corridors. This manages the population growth so that most new residents are living in dense, walkable, transit-accessible environments. Denser buildings also tend to be more energy-efficient. “Vancouver has been designed around the notion of building complete communities,” says Bruce. Shopping, housing, office space, parks, and public amenities are all found in the same neighborhoods, especially downtown. “A lot of downtown cores are ghost towns after businesses close at 5 p.m.,” adds Bruce. “Vancouver has tried to redesign the downtown and build enjoyable places. That has made public transit more efficient and a better investment — with more people living in the downtown core it made more sense to invest in things like mass transit.” Or, as Robertson concisely puts it: “We’ve battled hard against suburban sprawl.” All that development has its environmental challenges. “A lot of the new development is in high-rise condos. Their actual energy performance does not look like it’s as good as anticipated,” notes Ellen Pond, senior policy advisor at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank. Buildings are the largest source of Vancouver’s emissions. And while density is preferable to sprawl, luxury high-rises encased in glass are not necessarily more efficient than, say, compact low-rise brick apartment buildings or townhomes. “The modeled energy performance and actual performance can be quite different,” Pond explains. “For example, sometimes there is no thermal barrier between an apartment’s concrete balconies and the floor inside. So, basically you’re building a building with fans that transmit energy in or out.” That can make it colder in winter and hotter and summer, and thus less energy-efficient. The city is working on these issues. Last fall the city council adopted amendments to the city’s building code requiring all new large buildings to be designed to meet strict energy standards and use 20 percent less energy – below 2007 benchmarks – by 2020. Pond says she expects these new regulations to help make future high-rises more efficient. 3. Clean, productive waste management. Trucking garbage to landfills uses energy. Burning garbage may be even worse. Vancouver also tries to make efficient use of its waste. “Our waste goal of diverting waste away from landfills and incinerators is crucial,” says Robertson. The city has introduced compost pick-up for single family homes and is now working on doing the same for multi-unit buildings. “Vancouver has a really aggressive waste management strategy to divert organics from the waste stream,” says Pond. Food waste and yard waste go to a large composting facility. The city’s compost materials are then sold to gardeners. Vancouver even makes use out of leaky gas (although not the kind that comes out when you’ve eaten a burrito). The city captures methane at the landfill and use it to heat greenhouses. They even take the warmth that naturally accumulates in sewers and use it to heat homes. The biggest problem with Vancouver is that this high quality of life attracts too many people. Last year, The Economist ranked Vancouver the most expensive city in North America [sub req]. Robertson argues that his environmental initiatives also make it less expensive. “Greening a city makes it more affordable,” says Robertson. “You have more affordable transportation, with walking, biking, and transit. Healthier buildings burn less fuel. You get more success by investing in a green city — both [in] quality of life and affordability.” Certainly, Vancouver’s high cost of living is a byproduct of its success. If local governments elsewhere were smart — never a safe assumption — they will seek to emulate it. Robertson is also working on climate adaption, as any responsible mayor must these days. Vancouver, like so many coastal cities, is experiencing adverse effects from climate change and CO2 emissions, and could face much worse problems if CO2 pollution continues unchecked. The city’s harbor has become increasingly acidic due to CO2 pollution, and that may be why its shellfish are dying in droves. Vancouver has adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which is leading to policies such as flood-proof building regulations and developing plans to deal with extreme heat. And that illustrates the most daunting fact of all: While Vancouver is doing great comparatively, it still needs to do more if it is to meet the generally accepted goal of an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. While environmentalists have almost nothing but praise for Vancouver’s existing policies, they want to see the city go farther, faster. “The greenhouse gas emission targets need to be more ambitious than they are today,” says Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace’s director for British Columbia. Vancouver may not even meet its own goals. “We’re less than halfway to our emissions targets,” says Goodwin. “They want to reduce emissions by 33 percent from 2007 by 2020. They’ve made less than a 10 percent reduction so far. How far will the city really get over the next 6 years? I have hope but whether they’ll get from single digit reductions up to 33 percent? I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for that.” Goodwin notes that while the city is following its roadmap to make its buildings carbon neutral by 2020, it is not yet on pace to get there. And so Vancouver’s status as a global warming mitigation leader is both encouraging and discouraging, depending on how you look at it. It shows how much can be done with the strongest political will and the boldest leadership – but is also uncovers a concerted strategy’s limits. At the end of the day, even most liberal Vancouverites don’t want to stop heating their homes or using electricity, and all that energy has to come from somewhere. Says Goodwin of the Vancouver government, “They’ve achieved what’s politically feasible, not what’s ecologically necessary.”Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy

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Russia sets terms for Ukraine deal as 40,000 troops mass on border

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Lavrov demands that Kiev have only limited powers as Kerry says military moves are obstructing peace dealRussia on Sunday night repeated its demand that the US and its European partners accept its proposal that ethnic Russian regions of eastern and southern Ukraine be given extensive autonomous powers independent of Kiev as a condition for agreeing a diplomatic solution to the crisis over its annexation of Crimea.Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told reporters Ukraine could not function as a “unified state” and should become a loose federation. He made the remarks after an inconclusive meeting with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at the Russian ambassador’s residence in Paris following a day in which tensions over Ukraine deepened appreciably. Lavrov called the talks “very, very constructive”.

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New international preschool finds pricey space to fill a gap

<!– google_ad_section_start –> With an increasing number of local parents enrolling their children in international schools, two more international kindergartens have set up shop in Hong Kong since the start of the year to cater to the growing demand. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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1,400 homeless in Hong Kong, double government estimate: study

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The number of homeless people in Hong Kong is likely to be double that of previous government estimates, a City University study has found. The university, with the help of three other community organisations, puts the figure at 1,414 – far higher than the government’s last citywide tally of 674 made more than 15 years ago. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Delivery of actress’ baby was smooth, says doctor in infant death inquiry

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A doctor charged with professional misconduct over the death of former actress Eugina Lau Mei-kuen’s newborn baby yesterday told the Medical Council that the delivery was smooth and the baby was not distressed at birth. But Dr Christine Choy Ming-yan was accused of lying to the council, and of having tampered with medical records. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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‘Like end of the world… for a while’

<!– google_ad_section_start –> As thunderstorms and gusts of wind up to 100 kilometers per hour spread across the city, a freak hailstorm featuring hailstones of about three centimetres in diameter hit Wong Tai Sin, before spreading to areas including Yuen Long, Tsing Yi, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Kowloon Tong and parts of the North District. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Big, mysterious and rich: China according to Deneuve

<!– google_ad_section_start –> France has a fascination with China, says French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve, who hopes people from China share the same fascination with France. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Hospital bed crisis looms as demand projected to outstrip supply

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The Post has calculated that all planned major construction of new hospitals and expansion of existing ones will bring the number of beds up by at least 7 per cent to 38,587 beds by 2026. But the current ratio of one bed for every 200 residents will rise to one for every 208 residents when predicted population growth occurs. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Government’s electric-cab plan fails to spark more suppliers’ interest

<!– google_ad_section_start –> At present, only four models of electric private cars are available in Hong Kong – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Renault Fluence ZE and BYD e6. The BYD cars are already being used as taxis, with 45 on the roads. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Black rain alert as storm causes damage across Hong Kong

<!– google_ad_section_start –> A freak downpour caused widespread damage across Hong Kong in the first black rainstorm alert of the year. Hailstones the size of golf balls hammered parts of Kowloon and the New Territories, cracking the glass canopies of the Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong, and causing widespread flooding. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Do Lu Ping’s comments reveal Beijing’s hidden bottom line?

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The “carrot and stick” approach is common in negotiating and bargaining. It would not be exceptional for Beijing to use this tactic in its talks with Hong Kong’s pan-democrats on who may be eligible to run as the city’s leader in 2017, hopefully through universal suffrage. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Liberal academics push compromise 2017 plan

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The blueprint, spearheaded by the vice-chairman of the SynergyNet think tank, Dr Brian Fong Chi-hang, and Community Care Fund chairman Dr Law Chi-kwong, dispenses with public nomination, a point that radical pan-democrats consider is indispensable. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Why says pan-democrats can’t be patriots?: Jasper Tsang

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Patriotism – Beijing’s requirement for Hong Kong’s chief executive candidates in 2017 – should not be defined as being pro-Beijing or pro-establishment, says Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Politics is second to solving people’s problems: New People’s Party’s Judy Chan Ka-pui

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Four months ago, few in Hong Kong – not to mention the political arena – would have heard of the name Judy Chan Ka-pui. Yet, the New People’s Party freshman shot to fame in the small hours of March 24 when she defeated Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai and People Power chairwoman Erica Yuen Mi-ming to win a Southern District Council by-election. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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