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Environment ministers try to get Montreal biodiversity talks on track in final days

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A successful biodiversity framework to halt the devastation of global ecosystems and wildlife will require compromise from the world’s wealthy and developing nations both, Canada’s environment minister said Thursday.

Steven Guilbeault is helping guide international nature talks toward a conclusion, with Canada hosting the COP15 in Montreal despite China remaining the president and chief architect of the summit.

After negotiations temporarily stopped Wednesday amid an impasse over how a resulting framework would be funded, they resumed Wednesday evening and Guilbeault said he is feeling confident that progress is now underway.

But there remains a chasm between wealthier nations and developing countries, with the former demanding a target to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and marine areas by 2030 and the latter demanding that the wealthiest countries come up with more cash to pay for it.

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A framework won’t happen unless both things are included, said Guilbeault.

“Those of us who want ambition, in the north, certainly need to understand that we need to be serious about resource mobilization, and those countries in the south who want resources to be mobilized need to understand that there won’t be money unless there’s ambition,” he said.

The Montreal talks began Dec. 6 with country negotiators taking the lead, and government ministers arrived Thursday for a three-day “high-level segment” aimed at bringing the toughest issues to a consensus.

Guilbeault said the hope is that a compromise agreement will be ready by Sunday, a day before the meeting is supposed to end.

But the finance issue still looms large, as does the amount of money required.

Estimates suggest US$700 billion a year is needed to properly conserve nature. About $200 billion of that would come from contributions from governments, the private sector and charities, while the rest could be achieved by redirecting government subsidies that harm nature, such as those for fossil-fuel projects.

That is on top of the commitment to fund climate action and adaptation measures at US$100 billion a year.

Developed countries are adamant that they cannot fund it all.

“It’s doable, but not just with public money,” Guilbeault said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Developed countries are counting on private-sector financing and philanthropy to help bridge the gap, though Guilbeault acknowledged that the business case isn’t as easy to make for conserving nature as it is for developing clean technology to help slow climate change.

Lord Zac Goldsmith, the British minister for international environment and climate, said Thursday that to put the size of the need into perspective, the annual total of all government aid for everything — not just nature and climate — is US$160 billion.

“So even if we quadrupled all global aid and put all of it into nature, we still wouldn’t quite get there in terms of closing that gap,” Goldsmith said.

Canada and the U.K. were among a group of developed nations that issued what they called a “donor statement” on Thursday, trying to prove they aren’t falling down on financing commitments.

It lists a number of existing pledges — including 7 billion euros from the European Commission between 2021 and 2017 — and a handful of new ones made in Montreal.

Early last week, Canada said it will increase its global environment financing by another $350 million, specifically to help implement a biodiversity framework in developing countries. Japan said Thursday it will increase its biodiversity financing by 114 billion yen, the equivalent of about $1.2 billion, between 2023 and 2025.

The “joint donor statement” calls the commitments “a major breakthrough in addressing the twin challenges of climate change and nature loss as the world sees mass species extinctions and habitat loss accelerate at an alarming rate.”

The money aside, there is also a disagreement about how any funds would actually be disbursed. Developed countries want a new biodiversity fund, because they say existing mechanisms are too slow. Wealthier nations do not want to create a new fund.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European environment commissioner, said he knows the biggest need is to make finance flow more efficiently, but that doesn’t have to require a new fund.

“What’s very important is not to concentrate on new funds, which you know, the old problems are not going to be gone with them,” he said. “We have to look at the innovative mechanisms, which can help African countries, Latin American, countries in Southeast Asia to have accessibility to funds sooner than they have now.”

Destruction of nature has serious consequences for human health and prosperity, affecting everything from clean air and clean water to food security and economic growth.

The destruction of and human encroachment into wild ecosystems is also creating health risks due to animal-borne viruses, an issue many people are more acutely aware of as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2022.

— Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Jacob Serebrin in Montreal.

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WHO decision on COVID-19 emergency won't effect Canada's response: Tam – CP24

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OTTAWA – On Monday, exactly three years from the day he declared COVID-19 to be a global public health emergency, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will decide whether to call it off.

But declaring an end to the “public health emergency of international concern” would not mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It will also not do much to change Canada’s approach.

“In Canada, we’re already doing what we need to do,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in her most recent COVID-19 update.

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She said the WHO discussion is important but COVID-19 monitoring and public health responses are not going to end. That includes continued surveillance of cases, particularly severe illness and death, and vaccination campaigns.

The WHO’s emergency committee, which was struck in 2020 when COVID-19 first emerged as a global health threat, voted Friday on whether to maintain the formal designation of a public health emergency.

Tedros will make the final call Monday based on the advice the committee gives him.

He warned earlier this week that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus, noting there were 170,000 deaths from COVID-19 reported around the world in the last two months.

“While I will not pre-empt the advice of the emergency committee, I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths,” he said Jan. 24.

“While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”

He is worried not enough health-care workers or seniors are up to date on vaccinations, that access to antivirals is limited and that health systems around the world remain fragile following three years of pandemic strain.

In Canada, there was a noticeable rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over Christmas and early in January but all are trending down again. Tam said there were no surges of the virus anywhere in Canada, though the latest variant of Omicron was being watched closely.

Federal surveillance data shows more than 30 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day, and hundreds of people are still hospitalized.

The formal designation of the global public health emergency was made on Jan. 30, 2020, when 99 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were still restricted to China.

The decision was made to declare an emergency because human-to-human transmission was starting to occur outside China, and the hope was that by designating an emergency it could prompt a public health response that could still limit the impact of COVID-19.

That did not happen. On March 11, 2020, Tedros declared a global pandemic, practically begging countries to do more to slow it down.

The declaration of a pandemic meant that there was exponential growth in the spread of the virus.

By WHO terminology, a “public health emergency of international concern” is the highest formal declaration and the one which triggers a legally binding response among WHO member countries, including Canada.

It is what is done when a health threat is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected,” when it carries global public health implications and may require “immediately international action.”

A designation prompts the WHO director-general to issue recommendations for member countries including increased surveillance to identify new cases, isolating or quarantining infected people and their close contacts, travel measures such as border testing or closures, public health communications, investments in research and collaboration on treatments and vaccinations.

Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious diseases physician and the director adult infectious diseases residency training at Western University in London, Ont., said to his mind the WHO should end the global emergency designation even though the pandemic itself is not over.

“I don’t know that we should continue to call it an emergency,” he said. “I hope they say that we’re going to bring it down a notch.”

Elsayed said for vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat, but for most people there are far bigger threats, including suicide. He said with limited health resources, COVID-19 needs to be put in its proper place alongside other health issues.

Children, in particular, said Elsayed, are much more at risk from influenza and RSV than COVID-19 in wealthy countries, and from food insecurity and the lack of access to clean water in many developing nations.

Tam said regardless of what WHO decides, Canada won’t stop monitoring the evolution of the virus that causes COVID-19, including for new variants that may require adjustments to vaccines or other treatments.

She also said we must continue to monitor the ongoing developments in long COVID.

“We mustn’t, I think, let go of the gains that we’ve had in the last several years,” she said.

“I think whatever the decision is made by the director-general of WHO, I think we just need to keep going with what we’re doing now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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COVID still a concern despite drop in flu, RSV cases: expert – CTV News

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As RSV and flu cases steadily decline in Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to announce on Monday whether it still considers COVID-19 a global health emergency.

Ahead of that announcement, one of Canada’s top infectious disease specialists warns that the WHO’s consensus won’t necessarily mean the virus is behind us.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is not about … whether COVID is gone or not,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as well as the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

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“This is a real committee-based decision at the WHO level to decide in whether this is still a public health emergency of international concern,” she told CTV News Channel Sunday.

Barrett explained that this a matter of prioritizing access to resources and research, and not to determine an end point for COVID-19.

“So what this all means is that COVID is not done,” she said. “And the way it looks in different countries is different in many situations. That’s what they’re trying to decide at this point, not whether a pandemic is done or whether COVID is going away.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will make the official call on the status of COVID-19, based on the advice of his committee. Earlier this week, he warned that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus and mentioned that there were 170,000 COVID-related deaths reported around the world in the last two months.

The WHO update comes at a time when concerns over a combination of respiratory illnesses are easing. Canadian data shows that influenza hospitalizations are now dropping.

“We’re starting to see influenza, perhaps RSV, starting to come down somewhat,” Barrett said.

“There’s still a lot of debate about whether we’re catching many cases that are not important. But really, I think the big [question] from the last year as we start to see influenza and RSV maybe go down is, what’s the best way forward?”

Barrett noted that the FDA recommended a change to booster shot roll outs.

“They’re suggesting a once-a-year, similar to a flu shot. I think that’s the right approach at this point,” she said.

“I think the first thing we should remind Canadians is that if they are due for an additional dose in the vulnerable populations — older folks, people who have bad immune systems — please don’t think it’s too early to go out and get that last dose from the fall if you haven’t.”

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Where did B.C.’s beloved Nanaimo Bar come from?

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The Nanaimo bar. It’s a sweet treat made from chocolate, custard, coconut and walnuts. Love it or hate it, it’s uniquely British Columbian.

But where did this chocolatey delicacy come from?

To celebrate the launch of CBC’s new permanent Nanaimo bureauNorth by Northwest host Margaret Gallagher spoke to food historian Lenore Newman about the origins of the treat that shares the city’s name.

Newman says it can be traced back to three women in Nanaimo after the Second World War.

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Originally — and uncreatively — called chocolate slices, Newman says the “dainties” popped up around 1952, in, no surprise here, Nanaimo. The base layer, made of graham wafer crumbs, shows up earlier, but the square as we know it with the thick custard middle and chocolate on top appeared in a local hospital auxiliary cookbook in the early ’50s, Newman said.

 

A B.C. baker’s “ultimate” Nanaimo bars

 

CBC’s Midday talks to a woman who extended her recipe into a business selling aprons and tea towels in 1987.

It was first deemed the Nanaimo bar by Vancouver Sun columnist Edith Adams in 1953 when she wrote that the dessert came from Nanaimo.

This is important to note, Newman says, because other places such as Mississauga and England have tried to claim it as their own.

The bar was later featured in the Expo ’86 cookbook, giving it a little more notoriety.

“I think if it had been called the chocolate slice, it would have faded into the past, but the fact that it was called the Nanaimo bar kept it rolling forward,” Newman said.

 

A modern interpretation of Nanaimo Bar loved around the world

 

Samuel Hartono of Northern Bars shows the unique shippable design

The Nanaimo bar’s fame has been far-reaching; when Harry and Megan visited B.C. in 2020, their interest in the treats caused a media frenzy in the U.K. and the U.S., prompting questions of what the square was and where it came from.

The Daily Mail even printed a headline titled: Were Harry and Meghan Markle lured to Canada by chocolate treats?

And in 2021, British Columbians were nonplussed when the New York Times published a recipe and photo of a Nanaimo bar that was, quite frankly, all wrong.

That wasn’t the first time people were offended over Nanaimo bars. In 2019, a Canada Post stamp featuring the dessert showed far too much of the middle layer, prompting outrage from Nanaimo bar enthusiasts.

Famous, infamous

Any self-respecting British Columbian can confirm that these layers are just plain wrong. (Canada Post)

“I like to say it’s like the Kardashian of Canadian desserts in that it’s famous for being famous and sometimes infamous, and it’s amazing how much play it gets,” Newman said.

So, how do you make the perfect Nanaimo bar? Here’s a recipe from The Great Canadian Baking Show.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 cup graham wafer crumbs.
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut.
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.
  • 1/3 cup cocoa.
  • 1/4 cup sugar.
  • 1/4 tsp salt.
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 egg, beaten.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.

For the middle layer:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened.
  • 2 tbsp custard powder.
  • 2 tbsp milk.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.
  • 1/8 tsp salt.
  • 2 cups icing sugar.

For the glaze:

  • 110 g semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup).
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter.

Instructions

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an eight-inch pan with parchment paper, with ends extending over the sides of the pan. Set aside.

Stir together graham crumbs, coconut, walnuts, cocoa, sugar and salt. Add butter, egg and vanilla, stirring to combine.  Press firmly into the prepared pan.

Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the middle layer. Mix butter and custard powder in a large bowl with a hand mixer. Add milk, vanilla and salt and mix to incorporate. Add icing sugar in two additions. Mix until light and fluffy. Spread over the bottom layer. Refrigerate for one hour.

While the crust and middle layer are in the refrigerator, stir chocolate and butter together in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water until melted.

Spread chocolate glaze over the middle layer. Chill for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan with parchment edges and cut into 25 squares.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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