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Spain, paralysed by snowstorm, sends out vaccine and food convoys

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The Spanish government will send convoys carrying the COVID-19 vaccine and food supplies today (11 January) to areas cut off by Storm Filomena which brought the heaviest snowfall in decades across central Spain and killed four people, write Graham Keeley, Juan Medina and Susana Vera Guillermo Martinez.

Across central Spain, over 430 roads were affected by the rare blizzard and hundreds of travellers were stranded at Madrid’s Barajas airport, which closed on Friday but will reopen gradually later on Sunday.

Forecasters warned of dangerous conditions in the coming days, with temperatures expected to fall to up to minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) next week and the prospect of snow turning to ice and damaged trees falling.

“The commitment is to guarantee the supply of health, vaccines and food. Corridors have been opened to deliver the goods,” transport minister Jose Luis Abalos said on Sunday.

About 100 workers and shoppers have spent two nights sleeping at a shopping centre in Majadahonda, a town north of Madrid, after they were trapped by the blizzard on Friday.

“There are people sleeping on the ground on cardboard,” Ivan Alcala, a restaurant worker, told TVE television.

Dr Álvaro Sanchez walked 17 km through the snow on Saturday to work at a hospital in Majadahonda, prompting owners of 4x4 vehicles to give health workers lifts to work.

One man and a woman in a car drowned after a river burst near Malaga in the south, while two homeless people froze to death in Madrid and Calatayud in the east, officials said.

Train services from Madrid, which were cancelled since Friday (8 January), resumed on Sunday (10 January).

The State Metereological Agency (Aemet) said up to 20-30 cm (7-8 inches) of snow fell in Madrid on Saturday, the most since 1971.

Brexit

Commission proposes to amend the EU's 2021 budget to accommodate the Brexit Adjustment Reserve

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Following the proposal for a Brexit Adjustment Reserve the Commission put forward on 25 December, the Commission has today proposed a €4.24 billion increase (equal to €4bn in 2018 prices) of the EU's 2021 budget. This will ensure sufficient resources are available this year to support EU countries in addressing the immediate effects of Brexit. The total amount for the Brexit Adjustment Reserve is €5bn in 2018 prices, or €5.37bn in current prices for the MFF 2021-27. This would bring the budget to €168.5bn in commitments and €170.3bn in payments.

Commenting on the decision, Commissioner Hahn said: “The EU budget has always been and continues to be a tool to deliver on EU's political commitments. The Brexit Adjustment Reserve is yet another example of European solidarity. The Commission will now work with the European Parliament and the Council to ensure that money becomes available to businesses and companies, regions and local communities as soon as possible.”

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) added: “Our motto in Cohesion policy is to leave no one behind. The Brexit Adjustment Reserve will come in support to those most impacted by Brexit. European unity was key throughout the negotiations and European solidarity will be crucial to deal with the outcome.”

The Brexit Adjustment Reserve will be rapidly available and flexible, and will cover expenditure to counter adverse consequences of Brexit in all member states over a period of 30 months. The vast majority will be allocated through pre-financing already in 2021, calculated on the basis of the expected impact of the end of the transition period on each member state's economy, taking into account the relative degree of economic integration with the UK. This includes trade in goods and services, and the negative implications on the EU fisheries sector.

An initial breakdown per member state is available online here. The remaining €1 billion in 2018 prices will be paid in 2024, after the member states have notified the Commission about the actual expenditures incurred. This will allow to respond to unforeseen events, and ensure that the support from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve is concentrated on the members states and sectors most affected by the withdrawal. For more information on the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, see here and here.

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Environment

UK and France can lead mobilization of tropical forest protection investment

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Lack of adequate finance has long been one of the biggest challenges facing natural climate solutions. Currently, the primary sources of revenue from forests, marine ecosystems, or wetlands come from extraction or destruction. We need to change the underlying economics to make natural ecosystems worth more alive than dead.  If we don’t, the destruction of nature will continue at pace, contributing to irreversible climate change, biodiversity loss and devastating the lives and livelihoods of local and Indigenous people, writes Emergent Executive Director Eron Bloomgarden.

The good news is that 2021 is off to a promising start. Earlier this month at the One Planet Summit, significant financial commitments were made for nature. Chief among these was UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to spend at least £3 billion of international climate finance on nature and biodiversity over the next five years. Prior to this announcement, 50 countries committed to protect at least 30% of their lands and oceans.

This is welcome news. There is no solution to the climate or biodiversity crises without ending deforestation. Forests make up roughly a third of the potential emissions reductions needed to achieve the targets set in the Paris Agreement. They hold 250 billion tons of carbon, a third of the world’s remaining carbon budget for keeping temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age. They absorb approximately 30% of global emissions, hold 50% of the world’s remaining terrestrial biodiversity, and support the livelihoods of more than a billion people who depend on them. In other words, ending tropical deforestation (in parallel with decarbonizing the economy) is essential if we are to keep on the pathway to 1.5 degrees and preserve our essential biodiversity.

The question is how to commit this funding in a way that drives toward ending deforestation, for good.

For this, tropical forest protection needs to happen across entire countries or states, working with governments and policymakers, who with the right mix of public and private funding, can commit to reducing deforestation at massive scale.

This isn't a new idea, and it builds on lessons learned over the past two decades. Central among those is that large scale programs will not materialize in the absence of massively increased levels of both public and private support. Even funding support amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars is not always sufficient to give countries confidence that large-scale forest protection programs are worth the up-front investment in monetary and political capital.

The scale of funding needed is far beyond what can realistically be achieved with government-to-government aid flows or conservation funding alone; private sector capital has to be mobilized as well.

The best way to achieve this is by using international markets for carbon credits and capitalizing on the growing demand from the private sector for high-quality, high-impact offsets as they race toward net-zero emissions goals. Under such a system, governments receive payments for the emission reductions they achieve through preventing forest loss and/or degradation.

The key is for donor governments like the UK, France and Canada to help build the infrastructure to value nature properly, including supporting conservation and protection, as well as the establishment and expansion of voluntary and compliance carbon markets that include crediting for forest credits.

On this latter point, following Norway’s lead, they can use part of their pledged funding to establish a floor price for the credits generated by large-scale programs. This approach leaves the door open for private buyers to potentially pay a higher price in light of the soaring demand for such credits, while giving the governments of forest countries peace of mind that there is a guaranteed buyer no matter what happens.

We are at an inflection point where significant new forest protection programs could be mobilized by a quantum increase in public and private finance. Donor governments are in a position now to secure US$ billions in co-funding from a range of private actors in order to support national forest protection programs that generate carbon credits. Channeling additional public and mission-driven funds will catalyze private investment and would be transformative in accelerating the development of this critical market, which would benefit the green recovery, the creditworthiness of forest countries, and the well-being of the planet and humanity.

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Frontpage

Google threatens to quit Australia search market

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Google threatened to pull its search engine from Australia if the nation passes a law requiring the company to negotiate payment terms with local publishers to access their content, writes Joseph Waring.

Melanie Silva, MD for Australia and New Zealand, told a Senate committee reviewing the plan Google would have “no real choice” but to pull its search services if it became law.

Google published Silva’s comments in a blog: she stated the current proposal presents “unmanageable financial and operational risk” for the company, and pressed for an approach which allowed it to pay publishers without withdrawing its search services.

In a blog, Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said the comments are “part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy”.

Lewis noted the threat follows a “secret and cynical experiment” on Google users in recent weeks, where news had been withdrawn from its services without warning.

Fair payment

The government’s proposal is designed to ensure digital platforms agree to fair payment for accessing local news content.

Last week, the US government called for Australia to drop the move and adopt a voluntary code of conduct.

In a submission earlier this week, Google argued the planned code  would require it to pay all registered news businesses for merely having a link to their news content in search: “Such a requirement would destroy the business model of any search engine”.

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