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COP26 president says ‘coal must go’ if planet to meet climate targets

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Justin Merriman | Bloomberg Creative Photos | Getty Images

This year’s COP26 climate change conference must consign coal to the past, according to the U.K. lawmaker who will lead formal negotiations at the summit.

In a wide-ranging speech delivered on Friday, COP26 President-designate Alok Sharma sought to emphasize the importance of ending international coal financing, an ambition he described as “a personal priority.”

“We are urging countries to abandon coal power, seeking the G-7 to lead the way,” he said. “At the same time, we are working with developing countries to support their transition to clean energy.”

“The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past, and in the past they must remain,” he went on to state.

Sharma said the science was clear that “coal must go” in order to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The above target was laid out in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was agreed at 2015’s COP21 summit in the French capital.

Described by the United Nations as a legally-binding international treaty on climate change, the accord aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”

The COP26 summit is set to be hosted by the U.K. and held in the Scottish city of Glasgow between Nov. 1 and 12, 2021. It was originally due to take place in Nov. 2020, but was rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.K.’s official website for COP26 states it will “bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

In his remarks on Friday, Sharma went on to state: “The reality is, renewables are cheaper than coal across the majority of countries. The coal business is, as the UN Secretary General has said, going up in smoke. It’s old technology.”

“So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, whilst of course supporting workers and communities to make the transition, by creating good green jobs to fill the gap.”

While some will view Sharma’s ambition as laudable, coal still supplies more than one-third of the planet’s electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency.

According to analysis from the IEA, worldwide coal consumption dropped by 4% in 2020, but this fall “was concentrated mostly in the early months of the year.”

“By the end of 2020, demand had surged above pre-Covid levels, driven by Asia where economies were fast rebounding and December was particularly cold,” the IEA adds.

In the U.S., coal still plays a significant role in electricity production. Preliminary figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that natural gas and coal’s shares of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020 were 40.3% and 19.3% respectively.

Sharma’s comments come at a time when plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, a county in the northwest of England, have proved to be extremely controversial in some quarters.

The proposed development has generated a great deal of debate, not least because the U.K. will host COP26 in November. The project’s fate is still to be determined. 

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BuzzFeed announces plans to go public via SPAC

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Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO, Buzzfeed, speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 18, 2017.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

BuzzFeed, a 15-year-old digital media company, announced Thursday it plans to go public via a merger with a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company. 

The company, merging with 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, is targeting a $1.5 billion valuation. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

BuzzFeed also plans to acquire Complex Networks, a digital publisher that specializes in streetwear, music and culture, for $300 million. The deal is made up of $200 million in cash and $100 million of equity in BuzzFeed, the company said. They added it will “immediately accelerate BuzzFeed’s revenue growth.”

“With this acquisition, BuzzFeed becomes even better-positioned to thrive in an age of media consolidation,” the company said. BuzzFeed in November acquired news site HuffPost from Verizon Media for an undisclosed amount.

BuzzFeed generated $321 million in annual revenue and $31 million in adjusted EBITDA in 2020, in large part due to its e-commerce business, a spokesperson previously told CNBC. The company is estimating $654 million in revenue in 2022 and $117 million in adjusted EBITDA, according to an investor presentation.

SPAC deals have become an increasingly popular route to go public over this past year. Several digital publishers, including Bustle Digital Group, Vox Media and Vice Media, had held talks about a market debut via a SPAC, CNBC previously reported.

BuzzFeed will trade under the ticker symbol “BZFD” on the Nasdaq. The company said its management team will stay in place following the deal, with founder Jonah Peretti remaining CEO and Felicia DellaFortuna as its CFO.

“With today’s announcement, we’re taking the next step in BuzzFeed’s evolution, bringing capital and additional experience to our business,” Peretti said in a statement. The company has also bulked up its business in other areas, leaning into e-commerce, selling things like branded cookware, and affiliate commerce.

This story is developing. Please refresh for updates.

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Singapore to expand its vaccination campaign to everyone 12 and older on July 2

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People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore.

Maverick Asio | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore will expand its Covid vaccination program to all residents 12 and older starting early next month.

The government said Thursday that some permanent residents and long-term pass holders can begin booking appointments on July 2.

Since June 11, citizens between the ages of 12 and 39 had a priority window to book vaccinations. Singaporeans were originally given a two-week window, but the Ministry of Health said that period will be extended by one week.

Authorities approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old in mid-May.

The Southeast Asian country has one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in Asia-Pacific, but lags many countries in the West.

The health ministry said around 3 million people have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine so far, of whom 2 million have been fully vaccinated. Singapore’s population is around 5.8 million people.

Accelerating vaccinations

Singapore will be ramping up its inoculation campaign, increasing daily doses to 80,000, up from 40,000 in May, authorities said.

The country previously extended the duration between first and second doses in order to allow more people to receive their first shot. But as the country speeds up its rollout, officials said some people who have already booked appointments will be able to receive their second shots sooner.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singapore aims to have two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated by August 9, the country’s National Day.

Ong added that the country has signed an advanced purchase agreement with biotech firm Novavax. Last week, the company said its vaccine candidate was 90.4% effective overall in a phase three clinical trial.

“We hope the vaccine supplies can arrive before the end of the year for those who want to take something that is not mRNA,” he said. “But in the meantime, please continue to consider mRNA vaccines. They work very well.”

Restrictions could potentially be loosened for fully vaccinated people

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs Singapore’s Covid taskforce, also said authorities are discussing revising public health guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated.

“We could allow gatherings involving just vaccinated persons to have larger group sizes, and also relax the social distancing rules in such settings,” he said during a press conference, adding that this could apply to religious services, concerts and sporting events.

Wong added that the government is working on new guidelines for people in Singapore to be able to travel. For example, stay-home notices or hotel quarantines may be waived or shortened for vaccinated people, depending on the country they are returning from, he said.

“These are the, potentially, revised guidelines that will apply to vaccinated persons. We are still working through them and we will announce them when we are ready,” he said.

As of Thursday, Singapore has reported 62,493 cases of Covid-19 infections and 35 deaths.

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Here’s what you need to know

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People queue outside a vaccination center in Sydney on June 24, 2021, as residents were largely banned from leaving the city to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta Covid-19 variant spreading to other regions.

SAEED KHAN | AFP | Getty Images

The “delta variant” has come to dominate headlines, having been discovered in India where it provoked an extreme surge in Covid-19 cases before spreading around the world.

But now a mutation of that variant has emerged, called “delta plus,” which is starting to worry global experts.

India has dubbed delta plus a “variant of concern,” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transmissible. In the U.K., Public Health England noted in its last summary that routine scanning of Covid cases in the country (where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections) has found almost 40 cases of the delta variant, which has acquired the spike protein mutation K417N, i.e. delta plus.

It noted that, as of June 16, cases of the delta plus variant had also been identified in the U.S. (83 cases at the time the report was published last Friday) as well as Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.

India third wave?

As is common with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly since it emerged in China in late 2019. There have been a handful of variants that have emerged over the course of the pandemic that have changed the virus’ transmissibility, risk profile and even symptoms.

Read more: The fast-spreading delta Covid variant could have different symptoms, experts say

Several of those variants, such as the “alpha” variant (previously known as the “Kent” or “British” variant) and then the delta variant, have gone on to be dominant strains globally, hence the attention on delta plus.

India’s Health Ministry reportedly said Wednesday that it had found around 40 cases of the delta plus variant with the K417N mutation. The ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it said that INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories genome sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had informed it that the delta plus variant has three worrying characteristics.

These are, it said: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response (which could reduce the efficacy of a life-saving monoclonal antibody therapy given to some hospitalized Covid patients).

India’s health ministry said it had alerted three states (Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh) after the delta plus variant was detected in genome sequenced samples from those areas.

The detection of a variation to the delta variant largely blamed for India’s catastrophic second wave of cases has stoked fears that India is ill-prepared for a potential third wave. But some experts are urging calm.

Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist and vaccines and health systems expert based in New Delhi, told CNBC Thursday that that while the government should remain alert to the progress of the variant, there is “no reason to panic.”

“Epidemiologically speaking, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ alters the current situation in a manner to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” he told CNBC via email.

“If we go by the currently available evidence, Delta plus is not very different from Delta variant. It is the same Delta variant with one additional mutation. The only clinical difference, which we know till now, is that Delta plus has some resistance to monoclonal antibody combination therapy. And that is not a major difference as the therapy itself is investigational and few are eligible for this treatment.”

He advised the public to follow Covid restrictions and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Analysis from Public Health England released last week showed that two doses of the PfizerBioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.

The WHO has said that it is tracking recent reports of a “delta plus” variant. “An additional mutation … has been identified,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead said at a briefing last week.

“In some of the delta variants we’ve seen one less mutation or one deletion instead of an additional, so we’re looking at all of it.”

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