Conservationists warn almost a third of tree species could die out – dpa international

Trees are plentiful in Dublin's Pheonix Park (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most recognisable trees, including oak, magnolia and maple, are among the 30 per cent of species at risk of extinction, according to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Published on Wednesday, the BGCI’s State of the World’s Trees report warned that over 17,000 of the world’s 60,000 kinds of tree could soon be no more due to logging, forest clearances, farming and extreme weather. The most vulnerable are 440 species which “have fewer than 50 individuals remaining,” according to the report, which the BGCI said was based on five years of work involving 60 institutions and 500 researchers. Around one in five tree species are used by humans “for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture,” the BGCI said, with only around 40 per cent of species confirmed as not at risk.

Humans were sheltered from ancient Toba eruption, according to scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN — It was the world’s biggest volcanic blast for at least the last 2 million years, but when Mount Toba in Indonesia exploded around 74,000 years ago, humans were not as badly affected as previously thought, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the US. While the blast “likely caused severe global climate disruption,” early humans “were sheltered from the worst effects,” according to the NAS study. Overall, the scientists said, “the impacts [of the eruption] on climate and human evolution remain unclear.” Other scientists have in the past blamed Toba for causing a decade-long volcanic winter, leading to a millennium of global cooling and then an ice age.

Singapore aiming to live with flu-like ‘endemic’ Covid-19 – dpa international

DUBLIN — Singapore’s government on Thursday said it should be possible “to live normally” with Covid-19, which it expects to become “endemic” like influenza.  The three ministers responsible for the government’s coronavirus response announced “a broad plan” to “turn the pandemic into something much less threatening.” Pointing to the example of influenza, Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that “we can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19.” 

Singapore cedes top spot to Switzerland in competitiveness index – dpa international

Singapore harbour seen from Marina Bay, a popular vantage point for visitors (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Wealthy city-state Singapore is no longer the world’s most competitive economy, according to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), which on Thursday put Switzerland top of its 2021 World Competitiveness Ranking. Singapore topped the list for the previous two years and was the sole Asian representative in the top five, which was rounded out by Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Though most European countries were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, measured by lives lost and case numbers, the Lausanne-based IMD said the continent’s economies “weather[ed] the health crisis better than most other regions,” with Switzerland ranked highest after it “kept a disciplined financial strategy.” Singapore’s fall from first to fifth came despite being it being relatively lightly hit by the pandemic – and was down to “problems with job losses, lack of productivity and the economic impact of the pandemic,” the IMD said.

Most Asian economies do not innovate in line with growth levels – dpa international

DUBLIN — Most East Asian countries “innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels” and could therefore struggle to sustain recent economic growth, according to the World Bank. Countries in the region are dogged by “insufficient staff skills and limited financing options,” the bank said in a report published late Tuesday, with firms often seeming wary of investing in innovation because “policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.” Lower-than-expected innovation could lead to questions about “whether the region’s past model of development can continue to deliver rapid growth and poverty reduction,” the bank said.

Forest peoples accuse governments of using pandemic to damage jungles – dpa international

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has facilitated government-backed “economic opportunism” in the world’s rainforests, according to a report published on Thursday. Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru “have set aside social and environmental safeguards in favour of destructive development projects that are harming indigenous communities,” said the Forest People’s Programme, a British-based organization that works with indigenous people’s representatives in dozens of countries.

Ireland’s ‘first Covid-free pub’ gets back to pouring pints – dpa international

Pints of Guinness served on June 29 2020 as Ireland allows some pubs to reopen after almost 4 months closure due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A bar in the west of Ireland is reopening on Thursday evening as the country’s “first Covid free pub,” with drinkers being tested for the novel coronavirus before entry.cAccording to Eileen’s Bar, a pub in the village of Aughamore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from capital Dublin, customers must first wait at “a designated area” where they are “tested for Covid by a trained tester.” Announcing the reopening in a Tuesday Facebook post, pub owner Donal Byrne said only regular patrons will be permitted entry and then only after testing negative – but with the promise that they can “enjoy a drink in the testing area” while waiting for the result.

Singapore team develops one-minute coronavirus test – dpa international

DUBLIN — Mention of a breathalyzer typically evokes images of a bedraggled five o’clock shadow peering bloodshot-eyed through a driver’s window after being pulled over by police. That could change if a new test for the novel coronavirus gets a second wind after successful first-round trials.. According to a Tuesday statement by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the device, which resembles a drink-driving breathalyzer, generates a result in around 60 seconds. The outcomes, which NUS reports as having proven 90 per cent accurate among the 180 people tested, “are generated in real-time” by analysis of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in a person’s breath. Jia Zhunan, doctor and chief executive officer of NUS spin-off company Breathonix, said the test is “is easy to administer,” needing neither trained staff nor laboratory processing.

London trial starts for four accused in deadly migrant smuggling plot – dpa international

DUBLIN — A lorry container became a “tomb” for 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated while being smuggled into Britain in 2019, a jury at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales was told on Wednesday. “Obviously, any time you fill an airtight container with a large number of people, where they will be left for hours and hours … it is fraught with danger,” said prosecution lawyer Bill Emlyn Jones. British resident Gheorghe Nica and Irish lorry driver Eamonn Harrison face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist illegal immigration. Valentin Calota, also listed as a British resident, and Christopher Kennedy, from Northern Ireland, face the latter charge, to which Nica pleaded guilty ahead of the trial. The 39 bodies were discovered in the container after it was parked in an industrial estate in Essex in October 2019. The container had been taken by road from Dunkirk in France to Zeebrugge in Belgium, from where it was put on a Britain-bound ferry.

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.