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World leaders must do more to protect the oceans, a major United Nations conference concluded on Friday, setting its sights on a new treaty to protect the high seas.
"Greater ambition is required at all levels to address the dire state of the ocean," the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon said in its final declaration.
The meeting in the Portuguese capital -- attended by government officials, experts and advocates from 140 countries -- is not a negotiating forum.
But it sets the agenda for final international negotiations in August on a treaty to protect the high seas -- those international waters beyond national jurisdiction.
"Biodiversity loss, the decline of the ocean's health, the way the climate crisis is going... it all has one common reason, which is... human behavior, our addiction to oil and gas, and all of them have to be addressed," Peter Thomson, the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, told AFP.
Oceans produce half the oxygen we breathe, regulate the weather and provide humanity's single largest source of protein.
They also absorb a quarter of CO2 pollution and 90 percent of excess heat from global warming, thus playing a key role in protecting life on Earth.
But they are being pushed to the brink by human activities.
Sea water has turned acidic, threatening aquatic food chains and the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon. Global warming has spawned massive marine heatwaves that are killing off coral reefs and expanding dead zones bereft of oxygen.
Humans have fished some marine species to the edge of extinction and used the world's waters as a rubbish dump.
- Patchwork of agreements -
Today, a patchwork of agreements and regulatory bodies govern shipping, fishing and mineral extraction from the sea bed.
Thomson said he was "very confident" national governments could agree on a "robust but operable" high seas treaty in August.
Tiago Pitta e Cunha, head of Portuguese foundation Oceano Azul (Blue Ocean) said: "Pressure has increased a lot on less interested countries to create an effective mechanism to protect the high seas."
Laura Meller from Greenpeace called for more action.
"We know that if words could save the oceans, then they wouldn't be on the brink of collapse," she told AFP.
"So in August when governments meet at the United Nations, they really need to finalize a strong global ocean treaty."
Efforts to protect the oceans will then continue at two key summits later this year -- UN climate talks in November and UN biodiversity negotiations in December.
Overfishing, mining, plastic
At the heart of the draft UN biodiversity treaty is a plan to designate 30 percent of Earth's land and oceans as protected zones by 2030.
Currently, under eight percent of oceans are protected.
A number of new, protected marine areas could be declared off-limits to fishing, mining, drilling or other extractive activities which scientists say disrupt fragile seabed ecosystems.
Making things worse is an unending torrent of pollution, including a rubbish truck's worth of plastic every minute, the United Nations says.
"The ocean is not a rubbish dump," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Monday. "It is not a source of infinite plunder. It is a fragile system on which we all depend."
© 2022 AFP
A series of strong earthquakes rocked southern Iran on Saturday, killing at least five people and causing damage to dozens of buildings, state media reported.
The quakes, including two of magnitude 6.0, struck west of the major port city of Bandar Abbas in Hormozgan province, the US Geological Survey said.
The first rattled an area north of the town of Dezhgan shortly after 2:00 am (2130 GMT), before a 5.7 tremor hit two hours later followed quickly by the second 6.0 magnitude quake, said the USGS.
Hormozgan governor Mehdi Dousti said five people were killed, as cited by the official news agency IRNA.
Dousti said most of the damage occurred in the village of Sayeh Khosh, close to the epicenter.
State television said 49 people were injured and showed video footage of residential buildings reduced to rubble in Sayeh Khosh, which was plunged into darkness in a power outage.
Ambulances and other vehicles tried to navigate roads covered in debris as shocked residents took to the streets or tried to recover items from their flattened homes.
People also spent the night outdoors in the provincial capital Bandar Abbas, with a population of more than 500,000, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the epicenters, where long queues formed in front of gas stations, state media reported.
Village half destroyed
The Red Crescent said in the morning that search and rescue operations were nearly over.
"We are concentrating on housing the victims of the earthquake," Dousti told television, adding that half of Sayeh Khosh was destroyed.
Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
The Islamic republic's deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in the north, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.
In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeastern Iran leveled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.
In November 2017, a 7.3-magnitude quake in Iran's western province of Kermanshah killed 620 people.
In December 2019 and January 2020, two earthquakes struck near Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors have raised concerns about the reliability of the country's sole nuclear power facility, which produces 1,000 megawatts of power, and the risk of radioactive leaks in case of a major earthquake.
In February 2020, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake in northwestern Iran killed nine people, including children, in neighboring Turkey and injured dozens on both sides of the border.
One person was killed in November last year when Hormozgan province was hit by twin 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes.
© 2022 AFP
Google announced Friday it would delete users' location history when they visit abortion clinics, domestic violence shelters and other places where privacy is sought.
"If our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit," Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior vice president at Google, wrote in a blog post. "This change will take effect in the coming weeks."
Other places from which Google will not store location data include fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, and weight loss clinics.
The announcement comes a week after the US Supreme Court made the tectonic decision to strip American women of constitutional rights to abortion, leading a dozen states to ban or severely restrict the procedure and prompting mass protests across the country.
Activists and politicians have been calling on Google and other tech giants to limit the amount of information they collect to avoid it being used by law enforcement for abortion investigations and prosecutions.
Fitzpatrick also sought to reassure users that the company takes data privacy seriously.
"Google has a long track record of pushing back on overly broad demands from law enforcement, including objecting to some demands entirely," she wrote.
"We take into account the privacy and security expectations of people using our products, and we notify people when we comply with government demands."
Concerns over smartphone data and reproductive rights arose even before the Supreme Court ruling, when several conservative US states in recent months passed laws that give members of the public the right to sue doctors who perform abortions -- or anyone who helps facilitate them.
That led a group of top Democratic lawmakers in May to send a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, asking him to stop collecting smartphone location data lest it become "a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care."