NUNZIUM

News That Matters

27/02/2023 ---- 10/03/2023

Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil, sediment, and rock that remains at or below freezing (0°C or 32°F) for at least two consecutive years. It is found in regions with sub-zero temperatures, typically at high latitudes in the Arctic and subarctic regions and in high-altitude areas. Permafrost is a critical component of the Earth's cryosphere. Its extent and characteristics impact global climate, ecosystems, infrastructure, and human communities. However, with the ongoing effects of global warming, permafrost is melting at an unprecedented rate. This permafrost thawing has severe implications for the environment and the global climate. The thawing of permafrost is a significant feedback loop in the climate system, and its effects can be felt far beyond the areas directly impacted by permafrost. As permafrost thaws, it releases trapped carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and further exacerbating global warming. Additionally, melting permafrost can cause physical instability of the land, leading to erosion, landslides, and changes in hydrology, which can have severe consequences for human communities and infrastructure in the affected regions.

Permafrost can also contain microorganisms such as viruses that, after lying dormant for ten thousand years, could endanger animal and human health. To better understand the risks of frozen viruses, Jean-Michel Claverie, an Emeritus professor of medicine and genomics at the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in Marseille, France, has tested earth samples taken from Siberian permafrost to see whether any viral particles contained therein are still infectious. He's searching for what he describes as "zombie viruses", — and he has found some. In his research recently published in the journal Viruses, Claverie and his team isolated several ancient virus strains from multiple permafrost samples taken from seven different places across Siberia and showed they could each infect cultured amoeba cells. That amoeba-infecting viruses are still infectious after so long, and this can be an indication of a potentially more significant problem. Traces of viruses and bacteria that can infect humans have been previously found preserved in permafrost. A lung sample from a woman's body exhumed in 1997 from permafrost in a village on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska contained genomic material from the influenza strain responsible for the 1918 pandemic. In 2012, scientists confirmed the 300-year-old mummified remains of a woman buried in Siberia had the genetic signatures of the viruses that cause smallpox. Understanding permafrost and its complex interactions with the environment is crucial for mitigating the impacts of climate change and adapting to a changing world. The best course of action would be to try and halt the thaw and the broader climate crisis and keep these hazards entombed in the permafrost for good.

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Xi Jinping was born in Beijing, China, on June 15, 1953. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a prominent revolutionary leader and one of the founding members of the Communist Party of China. In 1969, during the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping was sent to live and work in rural China as part of a government program to reeducate urban youth. He spent several years doing manual labour and studying Marxist ideology. In the 1970s, Xi Jinping returned to Beijing and began his political career in various government positions. He became the party secretary of Fujian Province in 1999. Then he moved on to become the party secretary of Zhejiang Province in 2002.

In 2007, Xi Jinping was elected to the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body of the Communist Party of China. He was seen as a rising star in the party and was widely expected to succeed Hu Jintao as China's top leader. In 2012, he became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, making him the supreme leader of China. He became the President of China in 2013. In 2018, the National People's Congress abolished term limits for the presidency, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely. Today March 10, Xi Jinping secured a precedent-breaking third term as president of China during a parliamentary session in which he tightened his control of the world's second-largest economy as it emerges from a COVID slump and diplomatic challenges mount. Nearly 3,000 members of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), voted unanimously in the Great Hall of the People for the 69-year-old Xi in an election without any other candidate.

During his tenure, Xi has launched a massive anti-corruption campaign, cracked down on dissent and human rights activists, and promoted the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy. He has also increased China's military assertiveness in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait and implemented policies to strengthen China's economy and enhance its technological capabilities. With this third term confirmation, Xi is taking China on a more authoritarian path since assuming control a decade ago, amid increasingly adversarial relations with the U.S. and its allies over Taiwan, Beijing's backing of Russia, trade and human rights. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Xi on his third term. The two sealed a "no limits" partnership between China and Russia in February last year, days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

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Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has a long and complex history, marked by periods of foreign rule, including Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian, as well as occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Since gaining independence, Belarus has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Lukashenko has been accused of human rights abuses, suppression of opposition, and rigged elections. In August 2020, Lukashenko faced a significant challenge to his rule when he claimed a landslide victory in a presidential election that was widely considered rigged. The opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, disputed the result, and large protests erupted nationwide. The protests were met with a violent crackdown by the government. Thousands of people were arrested, with reports of torture and other abuses in detention. The international community, including the European Union and the United States, has condemned the actions of the Belarusian government and imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and his associates.

Ales Bialiatski is a prominent Belarusian human rights activist and the founder of the human rights organization Viasna (Spring). He was born in 1962 in Grodno in the Soviet Union. Bialiatski continued his activism throughout the 2000s, documenting human rights abuses in Belarus and advocating for the release of political prisoners. He also worked to raise awareness of the situation in Belarus internationally, meeting with European Union officials and participating in international human rights conferences. In 2011 he was arrested by the Belarusian government and charged with tax evasion. The charges were widely believed to be politically motivated. During his imprisonment, Bialiatski continued to be a vocal advocate for human rights. He was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013. He was released in 2014 following a presidential pardon. Since his release, Bialiatski has continued to work as an activist and human rights defender in Belarus. In 2021 he was arrested again as he was among the individuals and organizations targeted by a government crackdown on civil society and the opposition following disputed presidential elections. In 2022 he was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize. Although his international figure is widely recognized worldwide, on Friday, March 2, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. Shortly after, on March 6, the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in exile, was sentenced to 15 years.

The reactions to the news were quick. A series of mass protests followed met with thousands of arrests, cases of torture, the death of several demonstrators, harsh sentences and forced exile. Tikhanovskaya vowed to continue her struggle and political activities. She labelled the trials a "farce". "Today I don't think about my sentence. I am thinking of thousands of innocents, detained and those sentenced to real prison terms," she said on Twitter. "I will not stop until each of them is released." The EU is following these recent events very closely, condemning Lukashenko's regime and supporting the civil society of Belarus. In general, the international relationship between Belarus and the Western countries is gradually deteriorating on all fronts. The West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Minsk for its ongoing crackdown after the 2020 elections. However, the regime still enjoys unwavering support from Moscow. Belarus agreed to serve as a staging ground for Russian troops to attack Ukraine in February 2022; however, the Belarusian army has taken no direct part in the fighting yet.

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The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has gained popularity recently as a weight loss and health improvement strategy. The diet involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fats to put the body into ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose, leading to weight loss. However, recent evidence highlights the negative impact that this diet can have on human health.

A recent research led by Dr Iulia Iatan with the Healthy Heart Program Prevention Clinic, St. Paul’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver found that regular consumption of a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol – or “bad” cholesterol – and a higher risk of heart disease. This study contributes to the scientific literature and suggests the harms outweigh the benefits. In the study, researchers defined a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet as 45% of total daily calories from fat and 25% from carbohydrates. The researchers compared the diets of 305 people eating an LCHF diet with about 1,200 people eating a standard diet, using health information from the United Kingdom database UK Biobank, which followed people for at least a decade. The researchers found that people on the LCHF diet had higher levels of low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B. Apolipoprotein B is a protein that coats LDL cholesterol proteins and can predict heart disease better than elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can. The researchers also noticed that the LCHF diet participants’ total fat intake was higher in saturated fat and had double the consumption of animal sources (33%) compared to those in the control group (16%).

After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking, people on an LCHF diet had more than two times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. It is essential to highlight that this study can only show an association between the diet and an increased risk for major cardiac events, not a causal relationship because it was observational. However, their findings are worth further study, especially when approximately 1 in 5 Americans report being on a low-carb, keto-like or full keto diet.

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It is a scientific fact that human life depends on oceans and their biodiversity. In the last decades, an incredible number of species in the sea have reduced in number so much that they are now at risk of extinction. The scientific community found that under business-as-usual global temperature increases, marine systems will likely experience mass extinctions on par with past great extinctions. Therefore, protecting the biodiversity created in the seas in the last 50 million years is now a critical and urgent global matter. In late August, a fifth round of negotiations for a UN ocean treaty to protect and manage the high seas failed in New York. However, last Saturday, March 4, these negotiations concluded positively. For the first time, the United Nations members have agreed on a unified treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas. This marks the end of 15 years of arduous negotiations and a historic moment for our species' future survival.

The exact content of the treaty has yet to be released. Still, the negotiations focused on four key areas: (1) Establishing marine protected areas for more than 30% of the earth's surface; (2) Improving environmental impact assessments; (3) Providing finance and capacity building to developing countries; (4) Sharing of marine genetic resources - biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food. One of the most sensitive issues revolves around sharing possible profits gained from developing genetic resources in international waters, where pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic companies hope to find miracle drugs, products or cures. Such costly research at sea is primarily the prerogative of wealthy nations. Still, developing countries want to be included in potential windfall profits drawn from marine resources that belong to no one. Similar issues of equity between the Global North and South arise in other international negotiations, such as on climate change, where developing nations feel outsized harms from global warming and try in vain to get wealthier countries to help pay to offset those impacts.

The treaty now aims to protect the high seas, which begin at a maximum of 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometres, from the coastline and are not under the jurisdiction of any state. Those waters, representing more than 60% of oceans, have long been ignored in environmental regulations. And only around 1% of the high seas are currently subject to conservation measures. Once enacted, the new agreement will create a new body to manage the conservation of ocean life and establish marine protected areas on the high seas. During the conference, global powers also pledged billions of euros worth of funds to help protect the world's oceans. The European Union promised 40 million euros to facilitate the treaty's ratification and to help with its implementation. Beyond that, it has also pledged more than €800 million for ocean protection in general by 2023. There were "341 new commitments" worth nearly €18 billion made at the conference, including almost €5 billion from the United States. Despite the breakthrough in agreeing on the treaty, there is still a long way to go before it is legally agreed upon. The treaty must first be formally adopted at a later session. Then it only enters "into force" once enough countries have signed up and legally passed it in their own countries. Russia was one of the countries that registered concerns over the final text. Governments have to start looking at practically how these measures would be implemented and managed.

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Nigeria's importance to the world lies in its vast natural resources, its position as a regional power in Africa, and its potential for growth and development. Nigeria is a country located in West Africa, and it is the most populous nation on the African continent. Its history is rich and diverse, from pre-colonial times to its current state as an independent nation. Various indigenous tribes initially inhabited the country. Over time, different groups migrated and settled in Nigeria, including the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo people. Nigeria was colonized by the British in the late 19th century. It remained under colonial rule until 1960 when it gained independence—the period of colonial rule significantly impacted the country's development, as the British implemented policies that favoured their economic interests and disrupted the social and political structures of the Nigerian people. Following independence, Nigeria struggled to establish a stable and democratic government. The country was plagued by political instability, coups, and civil war, which led to a cycle of military dictatorship and civilian rule. In 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic governance with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as president. Nigeria has vast natural resources, including oil and gas. Still, its political history has been marred by corruption, tribalism, and religious conflicts. These factors have contributed to the country's economic underdevelopment and slow progress towards social and political stability.

Currently, Nigeria is facing significant political and social challenges. The country's economy has been hit hard by falling oil prices, and corruption remains a pervasive issue. The current president of Nigeria is Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected in 2019 for a second term in office. Buhari is a retired major general in the Nigerian Army and served as military ruler of Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. He won the 2019 presidential election defeating his primary challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). His campaign focused on his track record of fighting corruption and promoting security and his plans to improve the economy and create jobs. During his time in office, Buhari has implemented various policies to strengthen the economy, such as diversifying the country's revenue sources away from oil, investing in infrastructure, and promoting agricultural development.

However, Buhari's administration has faced criticism for handling social and political issues, particularly regarding human rights and press freedom. The government has been accused of clamping down on dissenting voices and failing to protect citizens from violent attacks by criminal groups. The government has been criticized for handling security issues, particularly in the country's northeastern part. The Boko Haram insurgency has caused widespread destruction and displacement of people. Additionally, there have been increasing tensions between various ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria, leading to violent conflicts in some areas. The government has responded to these challenges by implementing different policies promoting peace and development, but progress has needed to be faster. In recent years, the country has seen a surge in youth-led protests calling for an end to police brutality and corruption. The #EndSARS movement, which began in 2020, was a nationwide protest against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police force. The protests sparked a conversation about governance and accountability in Nigeria. They highlighted the frustrations of young Nigerians with the current political system.

On February 25, 2023, more than 93 million voters were called to elect the country's next president and their representatives in Parliament. At only three weeks from the elections, two major crises have impacted the vote considerably. The Central Bank of Nigeria introduced the redesigned notes and new limits on large cash withdrawals to help curb money laundering and make digital payments the norm. The push to replace the old banknotes with new ones has left minimal cash in circulation, causing frustration and anger for many people who spend hours at the banks attempting to withdraw their money and the possibility of theft for business-owner. On top of this, in the same days, an oil shortage also forced car owners to have extremely long queues to buy fuel.

After eight years in office, Muhammadu Buhari will be stepping down as president. Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress Party is the new president to replace him. Tinubu received 37% of the vote, or nearly 8.8 million while leading opposition candidate Abubakar won 29% with almost 7 million. Third-place finisher Obi took 25% with about 6.1 million, according to the results announced on live television by the Independent National Electoral Commission. During the votes counting, several party agents, including those from the main opposition PDP and Peter Obi's Labour Party, alleged over-voting and disparities between results announced from some states and what electoral officials uploaded on the election commission's result portal. Tinubu's ruling All Progressives Congress party urged the opposition to accept defeat and not cause trouble after they demanded a revote for irregularities. The president-elect thanked his supporters in the capital, Abuja, after his victory was announced and struck a reconciliatory tone in a message directed at his political adversaries. "I take this opportunity to appeal to my fellow contestants to let us team up together," Tinubu said. "It is the only nation we have. It is one country, and we must build together." The new government inherits a critical situation of long-term underfunded public services, widespread corruption, meagre salaries (a teacher earns about $65/month) and significant tax evasion. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of a new era for Nigeria.

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Northern Ireland is a region in the northeast of the island of Ireland that has been a part of the United Kingdom since its creation in 1921. The region was created due to the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland into two separate entities: Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK, and the Irish Free State, which later became the Republic of Ireland. The partition of Ireland was a contentious issue, with many Irish nationalists opposing it and seeking a united Ireland. This led to a conflict known as the Troubles, which lasted from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The conflict was primarily between Irish nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland reunited with the rest of Ireland, and unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, with representatives from both nationalist and unionist parties. The agreement also included provisions for decommissioning paramilitary weapons and prisoners' early release.

Brexit has had significant implications for Northern Ireland, as it shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. The UK's decision to leave the EU meant that a border would need to be established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which raised concerns about the potential impact on the peace process. The Northern Ireland Protocol, included in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with some EU rules, which has led to some trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Protocol has been a contentious issue in Northern Ireland, with some unionists opposing it and some nationalists supporting it.

On Monday, February 27, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen sealed a deal to resolve their strained post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland. The critical point of the agreement is the definition of two different lanes for good export from the UK to Ireland. Goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland will travel through a new "green lane, " with reduced checks and paperwork. A separate "red lane" is instead for goods at risk of moving into the EU, which will be subject to usual checks according to the EU regulations. Under the new deal, UK VAT and excise rules will apply to Northern Ireland for alcoholic drinks for immediate consumption and immovable goods such as heat pumps - EU VAT rules will still apply for other items. A procedure is also agreed on to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to object to new EU rules that introduce substantial changes. Finally, it will be easier for pet owners to travel between the UK and Northern Ireland. Monday's outcome has been primarily hailed positively between Dublin, Belfast, London and Brussels. But the deal is not yet entirely over the line, as Sunak still needs to appease and get the backing from some Conservative party members and Northern Ireland's politicians – especially the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members.

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