IS turns to artificial intelligence for advanced propaganda amid territorial defeats

Washington — With major military setbacks in recent years, supporters of the Islamic State terror group are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence (AI) to generate online propaganda, experts said.

A new form of propaganda developed by IS supporters is broadcasting news bulletins with AI-generated anchors in multiple languages.

The Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) group, an IS affiliate active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, produced in a video an AI-generated anchorman to appear reading news following an IS-claimed attack in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan on May 17 that killed four people, including three Spanish tourists.

The digital image posing as an anchor spoke the Pashto language and had features resembling local residents in Bamiyan, according to The Khorasan Diary, a website dedicated to news and analysis on the region.

Another AI-generated propaganda video by Islamic State appeared on Tuesday with a different digital male news anchor announcing IS’s responsibility for a car bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“These extremists are very effective in spreading deepfake propaganda,” said Roland Abi Najem, a cybersecurity expert based in Kuwait.

He told VOA that a group like IS was already effective in producing videos with Hollywood-level quality, and the use of AI has made such production more accessible for them.

“AI now has easy tools to use to create fake content whether it’s text, photo, audio or video,” Abi Najem said, adding that with AI, “you only need data, algorithms and computing power, so anyone can create AI-generated content from their houses or garages.”

IS formally began using the practice of AI-generated news bulletins four days after an attack at a Moscow music hall on March 22 killed some 145 people. The attack was claimed by IS.

In that video, IS used a “fake” AI-generated news anchor talking about the Moscow attack, experts told The Washington Post last week.

Mona Thakkar, a research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, said pro-IS supporters have been using character-generation techniques and text-to-speech AI tools to produce translated news bulletins of IS’s Amaq news agency.

“These efforts have garnered positive responses from other users, reflecting that, through future collaborative efforts, many supporters could produce high quality and sophisticated AI-powered propaganda videos for IS of longer durations with better graphics and more innovation techniques,” she told VOA.

Thakkar said she recently came across some pro-IS Arabic-speaking supporters on Telegram who were recommending to other supporters “that beginners use AI image generator bots on Telegram to maintain the high quality of images as the bots are very easy and quick to produce such images.”

AI-generated content for recruitment

While IS’s ability to project power largely decreased due to its territorial defeat in Syria and Iraq, experts say supporters of the terror group believe artificial intelligence offers an alternative to promote their extremist ideology.

“Their content has mainly focused on showing that they’re still powerful,” said Abi Najem. “With AI-generated content now, they can choose certain celebrities that have influence, especially on teenagers, by creating deepfake videos.”

“So first they manipulate these people by creating believable content, then they begin recruiting them,” he said.

In a recent article published on the Global Network on Extremism and Technology, researcher Daniel Siegel said generative AI technology has had a profound impact on how extremist organizations engage in influence operations online, including the use of AI-generated Muslim religious songs, known as nasheeds, for recruitment purposes.

“The strategic deployment of extremist audio deepfake nasheeds, featuring animated characters and internet personalities, marks a sophisticated evolution in the tactics used by extremists to broaden the reach of their content,” he wrote.

Siegel said that other radical groups like al-Qaida and Hamas have also begun using AI to generate content for their supporters.

Cybersecurity expert Abi Najem said he believes the cheap technology will increase the availability of AI-generated content by extremist groups on the internet.

“While currently there are no stringent regulations on the use of AI, it will be very challenging for governments to stop extremist groups from exploiting these platforms for their own gain,” he said.

This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service.

Ocean heat, La Nina likely mean more Atlantic hurricanes this summer

WASHINGTON — Get ready for what nearly all the experts think will be one of the busiest Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, thanks to unprecedented ocean heat and a brewing La Nina. 

There’s an 85% chance that the Atlantic hurricane season starting in June will be above average in storm activity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday in its annual outlook. The weather agency predicted between 17 and 25 named storms will brew up this summer and fall, with eight to 13 achieving hurricane status (at least 75 mph sustained winds) and four to seven of them becoming major hurricanes, with at least 111 mph winds. 

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms — seven of them hurricanes and three major hurricanes. 

“This season is looking to be an extraordinary one in a number of ways,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said. He said this forecast is the busiest that NOAA has seen for one of their May outlooks; the agency updates its forecasts each August. 

About 20 other groups — universities, other governments, private weather companies — also have made seasonal forecasts. All but two expect a busier, nastier summer and fall for hurricanes. The average of those other forecasts is about 11 hurricanes, or about 50% more than in a normal year. 

“All the ingredients are definitely in place to have an active season,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said. “It’s a reason to be concerned, of course, but not alarmed.” 

What people should be most concerned about is water because 90% of hurricane deaths are in water and they are preventable, Graham said. 

When meteorologists look at how busy a hurricane season is, two factors matter most: ocean temperatures in the part of the Atlantic where storms spin up and need warm water for fuel, and whether there is a La Nina or El Nino, the natural and periodic cooling or warming of Pacific Ocean waters that changes weather patterns worldwide. A La Nina tends to turbocharge Atlantic storm activity while depressing storminess in the Pacific, and an El Nino does the opposite. 

La Nina usually reduces high-altitude winds that can decapitate hurricanes, and generally during a La Nina there’s more instability or storminess in the atmosphere, which can seed hurricane development. Storms get their energy from hot water. Ocean waters have been at record temperatures for 13 months in a row, and a La Nina is forecast to arrive by mid- to late summer. The current El Nino is dwindling and is expected to be gone within a month or so. 

“We’ve never had a La Nina combined with ocean temperatures this warm in recorded history, so that’s a little ominous,” said University of Miami tropical meteorology researcher Brian McNoldy. 

This May, ocean heat in the main area where hurricanes develop has been as high as it usually is in mid-August. “That’s crazy,” McNoldy said. It’s both record warm on the ocean surface and at depths, which “is looking a little scary.” 

He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see storms earlier than normal this year as a result. Peak hurricane season usually is mid-August to mid-October, with the official season starting June 1 and ending November 30. 

A year ago, the two factors were opposing each other. Instead of a La Nina, there was a strong El Nino, which usually inhibits storminess a bit. Experts said at the time they weren’t sure which of those factors would win out. 

Warm water won. Last year had 20 named storms, the fourth-highest year since 1950 and far more than the average of 14. An overall measurement of strength, duration and frequency of storms last season was 17% bigger than normal. 

Record hot water seems to be key, McNoldy said. 

“Things really went of the rails last spring [2023], and they haven’t gotten back to the rails since then,” McNoldy said. 

“Hurricanes live off of warm ocean water,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. “That tends to basically be fuel for the hurricane. But also, when you have the warm Atlantic, what that tends to do is also force more air up over the Atlantic, more rising motion, which helps support strong thunderstorms.” 

There’s the background of human-caused climate change that’s making water warmer in general, but not this much warmer, McNoldy said. He said other contributors may include an undersea volcano eruption in the South Pacific in 2022, which sent millions of tons of water vapor into the air to trap heat, and a reduction in sulfur in ship fuels. The latter meant fewer particles in the air that reflect sunlight and cool the atmosphere a bit. 

Seven of the last 10 Atlantic hurricane seasons have been more active than the long-term normal. 

Climate change generally is making the strongest hurricanes even more intense, making storms rain more and making them rapidly intensify more, McNoldy said. 

This year, Colorado State University — which pioneered hurricane season forecasting decades ago — is forecasting a season that’s overall 71% stronger and busier than the average season with 23 named storms and 11 hurricanes. 

That’s at “levels comparable to some of the busiest seasons on record,” said Klotzbach. 

Klotzbach and his team gave a 62% probability that the United States will be hit with a major hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph. Normally the chance is 43%. The Caribbean has a two-out-of-three chance of getting hit by a major hurricane, and the U.S. Gulf Coast has a 42% likelihood of getting smacked by such a storm, the CSU forecast said. For the U.S. East Coast, the chance of being hit by a major hurricane is 34%. 

Klotzbach said he doesn’t see how something could shift soon enough to prevent a busy season this year. 

“The die is somewhat cast,” Klotzbach said. 

India determined to end World Cup title drought

NEW DELHI — In the ever-growing Twenty20 cricket landscape, India boasts the richest and most-watched league in the world. Yet all that investment and attention hasn’t translated into international success for India’s national team.

Rohit Sharma’s India squad travels to the T20 World Cup in the United States and Caribbean in search of a second title to end a long drought.

Undoubtedly, the Indian Premier League is flush with cash and talent, attracting the best cricketers from across the world.

Since the advent of IPL, though, India hasn’t lifted the World Cup trophy. 

After winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007, India has only reached one more final — losing to Sri Lanka in 2014.

The title drought crosses formats, too. India last won an International Cricket Council title in 2013 – the Champions Trophy in England. It last lifted the Cricket World Cup in the 50-over format in 2011.

Last year was an exceptional one in that sense – India lost the World Test Championship final to Australia in England and, a few months later, also lost the 50-over World Cup final to Australia, this time on home soil.

That caused major anguish in a cricket-mad country of 1.4 billion, considering India was on a 10-0 winning streak and a hot favorite going into the final.

Seven months later, Sharma and star batter Virat Kohli are leading the campaign in what in all probability will be their last T20 tournament in India’s blue.

Sharma has been a part of every Indian squad at the T20 World Cup. Kohli made his debut in the 2012 edition, making this his sixth attempt at the title.

Kohli has scored 1,141 runs at an average of 81.50 and strike-rate 131.30 in his 27 games at the tournament. Sharma has scored 963 runs in 39 games at a strike rate of 127.88.

Both players missed all of India’s T20 internationals between the 2022 semifinal loss in Australia and January of this year, leading to some speculation they’d miss out on the 2024 World Cup starting June 1.

That was dispelled by both BCCI secretary Jay Shah and chief selector Ajit Agarkar. Now, there will be big focus on their contributions – in terms of runs and strike-rate.

Sharma only managed 417 runs for Mumbai Indians in the club’s unsuccessful 2024 IPL campaign. Kohli, meanwhile, topped the run charts for Royal Challengers Bengaluru with with 741 runs runs in 15 matches, avering 61.75. But his strike-rate earlier in the season was criticized by some TV broadcast analysts.

In a news conference to confirm the India squad, Agarkar brushed off any concerns regarding Kohli’s strike-rate.

“There’s a difference between IPL and international cricket,” Agarkar said. “You need experience as the pressure of a World Cup game is different. You (only) try to take positives from what is happening in the IPL.”

Kohli opens the batting for his IPL franchise but goes in at No. 3 for India in T20s. It has led to a significant debate over his batting position for the World Cup because it holds the key to India’s XI.

Should Kohli continue to bat at No. 3, Yashasvi Jaiswal will open the innings with Sharma. India will then have to play with only four specialist batters including Suryakumar Yadav, the world’s top-ranked T20 batter.

Allrounder Hardik Pandya and first-choice wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant would slot in next, with bowling allrounders to follow.

If Kohli opens with Sharma, it allows for an extra batter in the middle order and likely makes room for Shivam Dube, who has impressed selectors with his power hitting in the IPL and strike rate of 162.29.

Dube can also bowl useful medium pace if needed, and could provide backup to Pandya.

Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah will lead a bowling attack that will contain four spinners, including left-arm all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzendra Chahal complete the line-up.

“I asked for four spinners,” Sharma explained. “Most of our matches will start at 10-11 a.m. (and) we expect all-rounders to do a job for us. It gives us a variety of combinations to explore depending on the opposition.”

India begins its World Cup campaign against Ireland on June 5, then faces fierce rival Pakistan in New York on June 9 in what could be the highlight of the group stage. India will play the U.S. on June 12 and Canada on June 15.

While it is a seemingly straight-forward road for India in the first round, the tension to end a prolonged title drought will grow once it reaches the West Indies for the Super Eight stage.

Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu in 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

New York — A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows. 

The patient had mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday. The worker had been in contact with cows presumed to be infected, and the risk to the public remains low, officials said. 

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested positive, “indicating an eye infection,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. 

The first case happened in late March, when a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient also reported only eye inflammation and recovered. 

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries. The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans. 

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. 

Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan. Health officials there have declined to say how many people exposed to infected cattle have been tested or monitored. 

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus. 

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows. 

Judge in Tennessee blocks effort to put Elvis Presley’s former home Graceland up for sale 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge on Wednesday blocked the auction of Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, by a company that claimed his estate failed to repay a loan that used the property as collateral. 

Shelby County Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins issued a temporary injunction against the proposed auction that had been scheduled for Thursday this week. Jenkins’ injunction essentially keeps in place a previous restraining order that he had issued after Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough filed a lawsuit to fight off what she said was a fraudulent scheme. 

A public notice for a foreclosure sale of the 13-acre estate in Memphis posted earlier in May said Promenade Trust, which controls the Graceland museum, owes $3.8 million after failing to repay a 2018 loan. Keough, an actor, inherited the trust and ownership of the home after the death of her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, last year. 

Naussany Investments and Private Lending said Lisa Marie Presley had used Graceland as collateral for the loan, according to the foreclosure sale notice. Keough, on behalf of the Promenade Trust, alleged in her lawsuit that Naussany presented fraudulent documents regarding the loan in September 2023. 

Neither Keough nor lawyers for Nassauny Investments were in court Wednesday. 

“Lisa Maria Presley never borrowed money from Naussany Investments and never gave a deed of trust to Naussany Investments,” Keough’s lawyer wrote in a lawsuit. 

Kimberly Philbrick, the notary whose name is listed on Nassauny’s documents, indicated that she never met Lisa Marie Presley nor notarized any documents for her, the court filing said. 

Graceland opened as a museum and tourist attraction in 1982 as a tribute to Elvis Presley, the singer and actor who died in August 1977 at age 42. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. A large Presley-themed entertainment complex across the street from the museum is owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. 

White House chef duo has dished up culinary diplomacy at state dinners for nearly a decade 

Washington — A house-cured smoked salmon, red grapefruit, avocado and cucumber starter. Dry-aged rib eye beef in a sesame sabayon sauce. Salted caramel pistachio cake under a layer of matcha ganache.

While President Joe Biden and his guest of honor at a White House state dinner chew over foreign policy, the female chef duo of Cris Comerford and Susie Morrison take care of the culinary diplomacy. They pulled off the above menu for Japan’s leader in April, and they’ll have a new array of delicacies for Kenya’s president on Thursday night.

Comerford, the White House executive chef, and Morrison, the executive pastry chef, are the first women to hold those posts, forming a duo that has tantalized the taste buds of guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with their culinary creations for nearly a decade. Comerford is also the first person of color to be executive chef.

“Both are just exceptional examples of success in their field,” said Bill Yosses, who was the executive pastry chef for seven years before his departure in 2014 cleared the way for Morrison to be promoted. “They excel at what they do.”

Comerford and Morrison get to do it again Thursday when Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, host the administration’s sixth state dinner, for Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, Rachel. It will be the first such honor for an African head of state since 2008 and the first for Kenya since 2003.

A lavish state dinner is a tool of U.S. diplomacy, a high honor reserved for America’s longstanding and closest allies. In the case of Kenya, Biden wants to elevate a relationship that he sees as critical to security in Africa and far beyond.

Jill Biden planned to preview the dinner setup for the news media on Wednesday afternoon.

State dinner planning is done by the first lady’s staff and the White House social office, and starts months in advance. Ideas are kicked around before the chefs propose a few different menus. The meals are prepared, plated as they would be served and tasted by the social secretary and the first lady, who makes the final call on what will be served.

The menus change, but the overarching goal has stayed the same.

“We’re trying to showcase American food, American regions, American farmers,” while incorporating small tributes to the guest of honor, Yosses said. “It would be rare that we would really try to imitate something from the guest’s country.”

Ingredients for April’s state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko, came from California, Maryland, Oregon and Ohio. The wines were from Oregon and Washington state.

At the media preview for that glitzy event, Comerford explained that the diets of the Bidens and the visiting dignitaries are factored into the preparations, along with those of other guests.

“When we formulate and we create the state dinner menu, we take into consideration all the principals and most of our guests,” she said. “We also take into consideration the season because this is the perfect time for some beautiful bounties right now, with the spring coming up, with all the morels and the mushrooms, and Susie’s cherries and all the stuff she has on her plate.”

The chefs contact their regular purveyors to find out what’s in season, and go from there.

The salmon appetizer served in April was inspired by the California roll, which Comerford said was invented by a Japanese chef.

Morrison’s dessert highlighted Japan’s gift of cherry trees to the United States, many of which are planted in Washington, and its matcha tea. She decorated the pistachio cake with sugary mini cherry blossoms.

“We wanted to bring a little bit of the cherry blossoms that are here on the Tidal Basin right here to our dessert in order for everyone to enjoy the cherry blossoms that we enjoy every year,” she said.

Serving dinner to hundreds of guests at once comes down to timing. Thursday’s event will be held in an expansive pavilion put up on the South Grounds of the White House.

Sam Kass, who was an assistant chef during President Barack Obama’s administration, said tradition holds that the president is the first one served and that plates are cleared away when he is finished eating.

“You have to have a service that is so efficient and quick to get those plates out so that the last table has a chance to eat,” he said.

Comerford, 61, sharpened her culinary skills while working at hotels in Chicago and restaurants in Washington before the White House brought her on in 1995 as an assistant chef. A naturalized U.S. citizen and Filipino native, she was named executive chef in 2005. Her responsibilities include designing and executing menus for state dinners, social events, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons.

Morrison, 57, started at the executive mansion as a contract pastry employee in 1995 while she was working at a hotel in northern Virginia. She was named an assistant pastry chef in 2002 and became the executive pastry chef in November 2014 — just in time to sweat over the details of that year’s gingerbread White House for the holiday season.

The pair has worked together at the White House for nearly 30 years.

Yosses recalled at least one instance where the honoree’s wishes dictated the menu selections.

In 2015, China’s Xi Jinping wanted a very American menu, “which I think was a polite way for him to say that he didn’t think we could do Chinese food very well,” Yosses said.

The Chinese leader was served butter-poached Maine lobster and grilled Colorado lamb.

Australian researchers unveil device that harvests water from the air

SYDNEY — A device that absorbs water from air to produce drinkable water was officially launched in Australia Wednesday.

Researchers say the so-called Hydro Harvester, capable of producing up to 1,000 liters of drinkable water a day, could be “lifesaving during drought or emergencies.”

The device absorbs water from the atmosphere. Solar energy or heat that is harnessed from, for example, industrial processes are used to generate hot, humid air. That is then allowed to cool, producing water for drinking or irrigation.

The Australian team said that unlike other commercially available atmospheric water generators, their invention works by heating air instead of cooling it.

Laureate Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, a chemical engineer and director of the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Innovative Energy Technologies, told VOA how the technology operates.  

“Hydro Harvester uses an absorbing material to absorb and dissolve moisture from air. So essentially, we use renewable energy, let’s say, for instance, solar energy or waste heat. We basically produce super saturated, hot, humid air out of the system,” Moghtaderi said. “When you condense water contained in that air you would have the drinking water at your disposal.”

The researchers say the device can produce enough drinking water each day to sustain a small rural town of up to 400 people. It could also help farmers keep livestock alive during droughts.

Moghtaderi says the technology could be used in parts of the world where water is scarce.

Researchers were motivated by the fact that Australia is an arid and dry country.

“More than 2 billion people around the world, they are in a similar situation where they do not have access to, sort of, high-quality water and they deal with water scarcity,” Moghtaderi said

Trials of the technology will be conducted in several remote Australian communities this year.

The World Economic Forum, an international research organization, says “water scarcity continues to be a pervasive global challenge.”

It believes that atmospheric water generation technology is a “promising emergency solution that can immediately generate drinkable water using moisture in the air.”

However, it cautions that generally the technology is not cheap, and estimates that one mid-sized commercial unit can cost between $30,000 and $50,000.

 

Small island states secure climate win at international ocean court

BERLIN — A group of small island states that include Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas secured a win on climate change in an international court Tuesday as they seek to combat rising sea levels.

In its first climate-related judgment, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or ITLOS, said that greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by the ocean are considered marine pollution and countries are obliged to protect marine environments by going further than required under the Paris climate agreement.

The opinion was requested by a group of nine island nations facing climate-driven rises in sea levels.

The opinion is not legally binding, but it can be used to help guide countries in their climate policy and, in other cases, as legal precedent.

“The ITLOS opinion will inform our future legal and diplomatic work in putting an end to inaction that has brought us to the brink of an irreversible disaster,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

The other nations in the group that brought the case were Tuvalu, Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, St.Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The court said states are legally obligated to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels according to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas.

In the case hearings in September, China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, had challenged the islands’ request, arguing that the tribunal does not have general authority to issue advisory opinions. Beijing said its position was taken to avoid the fragmentation of international law.

“If ITLOS were to find that such an obligation exists, Beijing’s response would most likely be to characterize this as falling outside of its proper scope of authority,” said Ryan Martinez Mitchell, law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Eselealofa Apinelu, a representative of the South Pacific island of Tuvalu, said the advisory opinion spells out the legally binding obligations of all states to protect the marine environment and the states against the existential threats posed by climate change.

“This is a historic moment for small island developing nations in their request for climate justice, an important first step in holding the major polluters accountable, for the sake of all humankind,” Apinelu said.

Climate activists and lawyers said the decision could also influence two upcoming legal opinions by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the International Court of Justice, which are also considering states’ climate obligations.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights issued a historic ruling in favor of plaintiffs who argued that Switzerland was violating their human rights by not doing enough to combat climate warming.

“Now we have clarity on what states are obligated to do, which they have failed to do through 30 years … but this is the opening chapter,” Payam Akhavan, lead counsel for the nine island nations in the proceedings, said of the ITLOS opinion, adding that the next step was to ensure that major polluters would implement their obligations.

Global carbon emissions pricing raised record $104 bln in 2023

LONDON — Countries raised a record $104 billion last year by charging firms for emitting carbon dioxide, but prices remain too low to drive changes needed to meet Paris climate accord targets, the World Bank said in a report on Tuesday.  

Several countries are using a price on carbon emissions to help meet their climate goals by making polluters pay in the form of a tax, or under an emissions trading (ETS), or cap-and-trade, system.

“Carbon pricing is a critical part of the policy mix needed to both meet the Paris Agreement goals and support low emissions growth,” the World Bank’s State and Trends of Carbon Markets report said.  

There are 75 global carbon pricing instruments in operation, up two from a year ago, covering around 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The figure raised in 2023 in carbon revenues was up from around $95 billion raised in 2022.  

However, the report said less than 1% of global greenhouse emissions are covered by a direct carbon price at or above the range recommended by the High-level Commission on Carbon Prices to meet the 2015 Paris agreement target of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.  

In 2017, a report by the High-Level Commission indicated carbon prices need to be in the $50-100 per ton range by 2030 to keep a rise in global temperatures below 2C. Adjusted for inflation those prices would now need to be in a $63-127 metric ton range, the World Bank report said.  

The largest single contributor to global carbon revenue is the EU’s Emissions Trading System.

“Recent price drops in the EU ETS… suggests global carbon pricing revenues may fall in 2024,” the report said.  

The benchmark EU carbon contract CFI2Zc1 is currently trading around 73 euros/ton, down from around 80 euros/ton at the start of the year and having touched a record over 100 euros/ton in February 2023.

‘The Apprentice,’ about a young Donald Trump, premieres in Cannes

CANNES, France — While Donald Trump’s hush money trial entered its sixth week in New York, an origin story for the Republican presidential candidate premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, unveiling a scathing portrait of the former president in the 1980s. 

“The Apprentice,” directed by the Iranian Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi, stars Sebastian Stan as Trump. The central relationship of the movie is between Trump and Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), the defense attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s Senate investigations. 

Cohn is depicted as a longtime mentor to Trump, coaching him in the ruthlessness of New York City politics and business. Early on, Cohn aided the Trump Organization when it was being sued by the federal government for racial discrimination in housing. 

“The Apprentice,” which is labeled as inspired by true events, portrays Trump’s dealings with Cohn as a Faustian bargain that guided his rise as a businessman and, later, as a politician. Stan’s Trump is initially a more naive real-estate striver, soon transformed by Cohn’s education. 

The film notably contains a scene depicting Trump raping his wife, Ivana Trump (played by Maria Bakalova). In Ivana Trump’s 1990 divorce deposition, she stated that Trump raped her. Trump denied the allegation and Ivana Trump later said she didn’t mean it literally, but rather that she had felt violated. 

That scene and others make “The Apprentice” a potentially explosive big-screen drama in the midst of the U.S. presidential election. The film is for sale in Cannes, so it doesn’t yet have a release date. 

Variety on Monday reported alleged behind-the-scenes drama surrounding “The Apprentice.” Citing anonymous sources, the trade publication reported that billionaire Dan Snyder, the former owner of the Washington Commanders and an investor in “The Apprentice,” has pressured the filmmakers to edit the film over its portrayal of Trump. Snyder previously donated to Trump’s presidential campaign. 

Neither representatives for the film nor Snyder could immediately be reached for comment. 

In the press notes for the film, Abbasi, whose previous film “Holy Spider” depicts a female journalist investigating a serial killer in Iran, said he didn’t set out to make “a History Channel episode.” 

“This is not a biopic of Donald Trump,” said Abbasi. “We’re not interested in every detail of his life going from A to Z. We’re interested in telling a very specific story through his relationship with Roy and Roy’s relationship with him.” 

Regardless of its political impact, “The Apprentice” is likely to be much discussed as a potential awards contender. The film, shot in a gritty 1980’s aesthetic, returns Strong to a New York landscape of money and power a year following the conclusion of HBO’s “Succession.” Strong, who’s currently performing on Broadway in “An Enemy of the People,” didn’t attend the Cannes premiere Monday. 

“The Apprentice” is playing in competition in Cannes, making it eligible for the festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or. At Cannes, filmmakers and casts hold press conferences the day after a movie’s premiere. “The Apprentice” press conference will be Tuesday.

Study: Climate change key driver of record-low Antarctic sea ice

Paris — Climate change played a key role in last year’s record-low levels of Antarctic sea ice, a study published on Monday found, marking an abrupt shift from the growth seen in previous decades.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) found that human-caused global warming resulted in a once-in-2,000-year low in ocean surface around the continent blanketed by ice.

Compared to an average winter over the last several decades, the maximum extent of Antarctic sea covered by ice shrank by two million square kilometers — an area four times the size of France, the BAS said.

“This is why we were so interested in studying what climate models can tell us about how often large, rapid losses like this are likely to happen,” the study’s lead author Rachel Diamond told AFP.

Scientists, having analyzed 18 distinct climate models, found that climate change quadrupled the likelihood of such large and rapid melting events.

Understanding the cause of sea ice melt is complex as there are many variables — from ocean water to air temperature to winds — that can effect it, scientists say.

But determining the role of climate change is critical since ice formation has global impacts from ocean currents to sea-level rise.

Sea ice, which forms from freezing salt water already in the ocean, has no discernible impact on sea levels.

But when highly reflective snow and ice give way to dark blue ocean, the same amount of the Sun’s energy that was bounced back into space is absorbed by water instead, accelerating the pace of global warming.

Recovery unlikely

Unlike the Arctic, where sea ice has been declining since satellite records began in the 1970s, the melt trend in Antarctica is a more recent phenomenon.

Antarctic sea ice increased “slightly and steadily” from 1978 until 2015, according to the BAS.

But 2017 brought a sharp decline, followed by several years of low ice levels.

In the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, BAS researchers also ran projections to see whether the ice would return.

“It doesn’t completely recover to original levels even after 20 years,” Diamond told AFP. That means “the average Antarctic sea ice may still stay relatively low for decades to come”, he added.

“The impacts… would be profound, including on local and global weather and on unique Southern Ocean ecosystems — including whales and penguins,” co-author Louise Sime said.

Previous studies by the BAS have shown that the abnormal melt has led to the deaths of thousands of emperor penguin chicks.

Reared on the ice sheets, they perished when they were plunged into the ocean before they had developed their waterproof feathers.

Researchers use artificial intelligence to classify brain tumors

SYDNEY — Researchers in Australia and the United States say that a new artificial intelligence tool has allowed them to classify brain tumors more quickly and accurately.  

The current method for identifying different kinds of brain tumors, while accurate, can take several weeks to produce results.  The method, called DNA methylation-based profiling, is not available at many hospitals around the world.

To address these challenges, a research team from the Australian National University, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute in the United States, has developed a way to predict DNA methylation, which acts like a switch to control gene activity.  

This allows them to classify brain tumors into 10 major categories using a deep learning model.

This is a branch of artificial intelligence that teaches computers to process data in a way that is inspired by a human brain.

The joint U.S.-Australian system is called DEPLOY and uses microscopic pictures of a patient’s tissue called histopathology images.

The researchers see the DEPLOY technology as complementary to an initial diagnosis by a pathologist or physician.

Danh-Tai Hoang, a research fellow at the Australian National University, told VOA that AI will enhance current diagnostic methods that can often be slow.

“The technique is very time consuming,” Hoang said. “It is often around two to three weeks to obtain a result from the test, whereas patients with high-grade brain tumors often require treatment as soon as possible because time is the goal for brain tumor(s), so they need to get treatment as soon as possible.”

The research team said its AI model was validated on large datasets of approximately 4,000 patients from across the United States and Europe and an accuracy rate of 95 percent.

Their study has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Cannes film follows Egypt feminists on brink of adulthood

Cannes, France — Filmmakers Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir spent so much time following an all-girl theatre troupe in a remote Egyptian village that at one point someone tried to sell them a house.

“He thought we were always there so we might as well live there,” Riyadh told AFP after the premiere of their documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.

“The Brink of Dreams” follows a group of teenage girls in rural southern Egypt over four years, between rehearsals, as they navigate the tough decisions that will determine their adulthood.

Majda dreams of studying theatre in Cairo, Monika wants to become a famous singer and Haidi is being pursued by the hottest guy in the village.

In their feminist street performances, they boldly rail against the patriarchy, challenging members of the crowd on issues such as self-fulfillment and early marriage.

But soon life takes over and the teenagers from Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority find themselves confronted with these concepts for real.

The camera discreetly captures conversations in the family shop, between a father and daughter, or two lovers, as neighbors and animals go about their daily lives.

“In the beginning there was a lot of people always looking at the camera. Everybody was self-conscious,” said Riyadh.

But “once the trust had been built between them and us, we had that chance to blend in.”

Riyadh said the documentary, which is screening in a sidebar section of the festival, was driven by her and co-director Amin discovering the troupe in 2017.

The film “is intentionally feminist in every way but I think it was also dictated by what this inspiring group of women was already doing,” she said.

It’s “mind-blowing because they’re demanding answers about very important things and opening a dialogue with everybody in their community.”

Co-director Amin said the main challenge was editing down 100 hours of footage to tell this coming-of-age tale and convey a seldom seen side of Egypt.

“Most mainstream films in Egypt tell stories about living in gated compounds and shopping in malls,” Amin said.

“It’s very rare to see stories that take place in the south outside of Cairo or Alexandria and see girls like those girls on screen.”

The documentary has a French distributor, but the filmmakers also hope to show the film widely in Egypt, including in the rural south.

Until then, six of the actors in the film got to attend the Cannes premiere, after a last-minute rush to get them their first passports and visas on time.

Monika, the aspiring singer, has two children now. But on the red carpet, the DJ played the catchy song that she made with a popular Egyptian producer called Molotof for the film’s final credits.