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Colombia ELN rebels agree to free captive, start peace talks
19 January 2017 - Colombia's second-largest rebel group has agreed to free a prominent politician held captive for almost a year, clearing the way for repeatedly postponed peace talks to begin next month. The agreement worked out during months of backchannel talks with the National Liberation Army was announced at a news conference Wednesday in Quito, Ecuador. The two sides have been holding exploratory peace talks for more than three years. President Juan Manuel Santos praised the breakthrough from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (more)

Hawaii bill aims for 100 percent renewable transportation
19 January 2017 - Hawaii has the most aggressive renewable energy targets in the nation, aiming for its utilities to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2045. Now advocates want to extend that goal to the transportation sector to urge all forms of ground transportation to fuel up using renewable sources by 2045. The bill is being introduced in the Hawaii Legislature, which began Wednesday (18 January). If passed, Hawaii would be the first in the nation to set such a high goal for its transportation sector. Vermont also has an aggressive goal for renewable fuel in transportation ... (more)

Hawaii residents renew push for stricter pesticide rules
19 January 2017 - Hawaii residents concerned about pesticide use by major agriculture companies on the islands are planning a push to strengthen regulation over chemicals they fear harm their health. Advocates are pushing bills to require companies to fully disclose when and where they're spraying pesticides and to mandate buffer zones around schools and hospitals. Another proposal calls for the state and counties to stop using sprays containing glyphosate, an herbicide originally brought to market by Monsanto. (more)

Zambia tries new way to beat drought: solar grain mills
18 January 2017 - Across Zambia, drought that swept across the region last year, leading to widespread crop failure, has sent cereal prices soaring. the result of lack of rainfall hitting hydropower -- mean many small grain mills are charging higher prices for milling, or don't have sufficient capacity. But Zambia's government hopes it has an answer: Since 2015 it has been installing hundreds of small solar-powered mills in rural areas as a way to help hold down the price of producing food. (more)

Want to learn Arabic, Korean, or Swahili? Refugee language tutors can help
18 January 2017 - Although he was a qualified dentist in Syria, Eiad Zinah is doing a postgraduate dentistry degree and English language tests so he can practice in Britain. He joins a growing number of newly-arrived, degree-educated refugees that Chatterbox has employed to teach languages, including Swahili, Arabic, Korean, and Farsi, to university students, businesspeople, and private clients. Former Afghan refugee Mursal Hedayat said she founded Chatterbox after watching her mother, a civil engineer, struggle to get relevant work when they first arrived in Britain in 1994. She now employs dozens of English-speaking refugees from countries like Iran, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- many of whom have worked as lawyers, teachers, health workers, and translators. Hedayat said she hopes the Chatterbox program will expand across Europe and to Canada or the United States, so refugees can gain quality work experience and get to know the local population through language tutoring. (more)

Mauritius tourist arrivals climb 11 pct in 2016: stats office
18 January 2017 - Visitor numbers to Mauritius rose 11 percent in 2016 compared with the previous year, driven by more arrivals from Europe, official data showed on Tuesday (10 January). Tourism is an important component of the Mauritian economy and a key source of hard currency for the Indian Ocean island state, best known for its luxury spas and beaches. (more)

Americans want strong environmental regulator - Reuters/Ipsos
17 January 2017 - More than 60 percent of Americans would like to see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's powers preserved or strengthened under incoming President Donald Trump, and the drilling of oil on public lands to hold steady or drop, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday [17 January]. (more)

In latest move, China halts over 100 coal power projects
17 January 2017 - China's energy regulator has ordered 11 provinces to stop more than 100 coal-fired power projects, with a combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, its latest dramatic step to curb the use of fossil fuels in the world's top energy market. Putting the power projects on hold is a major step towards the government's effort to produce power from renewable sources such as solar and wind, and wean the country off coal, which accounts for the majority of the nation's power supply. (more)

U.S. makes $500 million grant to climate change fund: State Department
17 January 2017 - The United States has made a $500 million grant to the Green Climate Fund, meant to help developing nations combat climate change, the State Department said on Tuesday, 17 January. (more)

Inspired by Nepalese, UK architect rebuilds ancient temple
16 January 2017 - When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal last year, villagers in Changu Narayan ran up the steep rocky path that cuts through their town to their renowned temple. Seeing the piles of rubble, they figured their lives were over. Less than two years later, the community is cleaning up their World Heritage Site themselves, and one of the world's leading architects has taken on the recovery as his pet project. British architect John Sanday, who led the World Monuments Fund restoration of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, fell in love with the place decades ago. (more)

US: President Obama celebrates World Series champion Chicago Cubs (+ videos)
16 January 2017 - President Barack Obama celebrated the World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Monday and spoke about the power sports has to unite people. 'Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided,' Obama said at a White House ceremony for his hometown team. 'Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves.' (more)

US: Retail group launches training for entry-level job seekers
14 January 2017 - Trying to stem high turnover in store jobs, nonprofit groups and chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and the Home Shopping Network are launching a program to help people develop the skills to land entry-level jobs and advance in a retail career. More than 20 major retailers including Neiman Marcus and Ashley Stewart have pledged general support for the Rise Up program being launched Sunday [15 January]. It's part of a broader credential plan that would help workers move up that may include training for store supervisors and in specific areas like retail analytics. Thirty-two percent of all first jobs in the U.S. are in retail, the trade group says . . . (more)

Makar Sankranti 2017: From holy dip in Ganga to flying kites, here's how people are celebrating around India (in pictures)
14 January 2017 - India is a land of diversity and each region has its own share of festivals that are celebrated with utmost fanfare and galore. Makar Sankranti is one such occasion that is celebrated across the country -- with different names but with a common purpose. The harvest festival celebrated by Indians across the world, falls on January 14, this year. Here's how people around India celebrated the holy occasion (in pictures): (more)

Feasts with family mark Makar Sankranti celebrations
14 January 2017 - Celebrations, of multiple hues across different communities, will ring in Makar Sankranti, a festival that not only heralds the harvest season in Maharashtra, but also marks the transition of the sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn). The day is regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture, known as the 'holy phase of transition'. Kite-flying remains the most popular activity among kids. The sessions are expected to get a boost with the festival coming on a weekend this year. (more)

Peru to begin cleaning up South America's largest lake
13 January 2017 - South America's largest lake is about to get a major clean up after years of uncontrolled pollution. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the construction of 10 treatment plants on rivers emptying into Lake Titicaca will carry a price tag of $437 million. He made the announcement Friday during a visit to the high-altitude lake straddling the border with Bolivia. (more)

Panera Bread removes artificial ingredients from U.S. menu
13 January 2017 - Bakery cafe operator Panera Bread Co said on Friday (13 January) it had removed artificial ingredients from its food menu and Panera at Home products in the United States. The company had said in August that by the year end it would remove artificial flavors and colors, preservatives and sweeteners from the food served at its 2,000 restaurants. (more)

Euro zone economy registering surprisingly strong growth spurt
12 January 2017 - Industries across the euro zone cranked up output in November and Germany ended the year with its strongest growth in five years, data showed on Thursday [12 January], pointing to an economic spurt that may be arriving earlier than some ECB policymakers expect. Thursday's figures add to a jump in the bloc's economic sentiment which in December reached its strongest level since March 2011. (more)

Foreign tourists visiting Spain at record high in 2016
12 January 2017 - The number of visitors to Spain hit a new record in 2016 for a fourth consecutive year, the government said on Thursday (12 Janurary) . . . A popular holiday destination for decades, Spain's thriving tourism industry accounts for around 11 percent of gross domestic product. (more)

German economy surges at fastest rate in five years
12 January 2017 - The German economy expanded at the fastest pace in five years in 2016 and the growth momentum is expected to continue this year as rising private and state spending help Germany cement its position as the locomotive of the euro zone. 'The German economy in 2016 once again defied an entire series of downside risks, thanks to strong domestic demand,' said ING economist Carsten Brzeski. (more)

World's largest peatland with vast carbon-storage capacity found in Congo
11 January 2017 - Scientists have discovered the world's largest tropical peatland in the remote Congo swamps, estimated to store the equivalent of three year's worth of the world's total fossil fuel emissions. Researchers mapped the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the central Congo basin and found they cover 145,500 sq km -- an area larger than England. The swamps could lock in 30bn tonnes of carbon that was previously not known to exist, making the region one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth. (more)

Zero-emission boat prepares for round-the-world odyssey
11 January 2017 - The first self-sufficient boat powered only by emission-free energy will start a six-year trip around the world in the spring. Energy Observer, a former multi-hull race boat converted into a green vessel equipped with solar panels, wind turbines, and a hydrogen fuel cell system, will be powered by wind, the sun, and self-generated hydrogen. The boat, which is currently in a shipyard in Saint-Malo (western France), will set sail from the Brittany port. (more)

Carbon deposit in Congo swamp equal to 20 years of U.S. gas emissions: study
11 January 2017 - Scientists say a recently discovered area of peatland straddling the two Congos contains 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 20 years of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and must be protected to prevent major environmental damage. The British and Congolese teams, who made the discovery in 2014, say it is the largest known tropical peatland -- home to rare gorillas and forest elephants -- and in Wednesday's edition of Nature they say development there would release the gas. (more)

U.S. Border Patrol recruits: wild horses, tamed by prisoners
11 January 2017 - Long before the desert sun has had a chance to heat the dusty prison yard, some 20 inmates at an Arizona state prison begin quietly tending horses. Prisoners participating in the Wild Horse Inmate Program train mustangs that will eventually be adopted by the U.S. Border Patrol, providing the agency with inexpensive but agile horses, and inmates with skills and insights they hope to one day carry with them from prison. At least 80 percent of the U.S. Border Patrol's current stable of 400 horses come from inmate training programs in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Nevada. Some 55,000 mustangs roam the Western U.S., more than double the number public land can support, said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jason Lutterman. Those that do not end up in adoption programs face an uncertain future. (more)

US: Duke Energy Florida to build solar power plant in Suwannee County
11 January 2017 - Duke Energy Corp expects to break ground in spring for a solar power plant in Suwannee county. The new Suwannee solar facility will produce 8.8 megawatts energy, which is enough to power about 1,700 average homes at peak production (more)

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