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Talks held on Asian outbreak of swine fever

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An environmental activist displays a placard during a rally in front of the UN building in Bangkok on Tuesday. AFP

Talks held on Asian outbreak of swine fever

An emergency meeting to head off an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) across Asia opened in Bangkok on Wednesday, after a mass pig cull in China sparked fears of a potential pandemic.

Participants at the Bangkok meeting come from Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

The three-day meeting led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) brings together specialists in animal diseases as well as agricultural policy from nine countries neighbouring China.

China, the world’s largest pork producer and consumer, reported its first case in August in northeastern Liaoning province.

The disease has since spread south prompting a cull of 38,000 pigs.

African swine fever does not affect humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs and wild boars that is nearly always fatal.

There is no antidote or vaccine, and the only known preventive measure is a mass cull of infected livestock.

“It’s critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that ASF could jump the border into other countries,” the FAO’s Wantanee Kalpravidh said in a statement.

“That’s why this emergency meeting has been convened – to assess where we are now and to determine how we can work together in a coordinated, regional response.”

Swine fever spreads by contact between infected pigs, ticks or other wild animals and can inflict massive economic damage on farms.

Hours after the meeting was convened, China’s agricultural ministry announced its latest case of African swine fever, with 12 more pigs dead in northeastern Heilongjiang province, and another 39 infected.

The disease has spread through pig herds in several Chinese provinces, prompting authorities to take emergency steps like shutting live hog markets in affected areas and banning pig transport from affected provinces.
But fears persist that the rapidly spreading disease could dent production in the world’s largest pig market.

Meanwhile, UN climate experts warned at a key Bangkok meeting that time is running out to save the Paris Agreement, as rich nations were accused of shirking their responsibility for environmental damage. The six-day UN conference opened on Tuesday with an urgent plea from delegates to finalise a “rule book” governing the Paris Agreement, the most ambitious global pact yet, to address the impacts of climate change.

The rule book will have guidelines for the treaty’s 197 signatories on how to provide support to developing countries worst affected, and manage the impact of climate change.

If nations cannot reach an agreement by a December summit in Poland – known as COP24 – the Paris Agreement, carved out in 2015, will be at risk.

“The credibility of the process . . . is at stake,” Michal Kurtyka, president designate of COP24, said at the opening of Tuesday’s meeting. “We are not moving as swiftly as we can,” he added. “We need concrete propositions and solutions now.”

Money the issue

Money is at the heart of issue. The Paris Agreement has promised $100 billion annually from 2020 to poor nations already coping with floods, heatwaves, rising sea levels and super storms made worse by climate change.

Developing countries favour grants from public sources and demand visibility on how donor nations intend to scale up this amount. Rich countries want more private capital in the mix and prefer projects with profit potential.

Pressure is mounting on developed nations to take on more long-term financial responsibility given that their progress has exacerbated climate change.

As the impacts get worse, “the poorest and most vulnerable, who have contributed almost nothing to the problem, suffer more,” said Patricia Espinosa of UN Climate Change, in a statement.

The Paris Agreement promises to cap the rise in global temperatures at “well below” two degrees Celsius.

But current pledges by countries would allow it to climb by more than three degrees.

The talks have also been marked by high-profile exits.

President Donald Trump announced last year that the US was leaving the agreement, and has refused to honour a $2 billion pledge.

Environmental activists called for more accountability by richer countries in a protest outside Bangkok’s UN building on Tuesday.

The lack of movement in the talks presses “developing countries to shoulder the undue burden of the triple costs of loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation on their own,” said ActionAid International’s Harjeet Singh.

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