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What Ireland’s climate experts think

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We asked politicians, researchers and climate activists in Ireland what they thought of COP26. Here’s what they had to say.

It’s been almost a week since COP26 ended, and the verdict is out: it was disappointing. Rich countries shied away from funding poorer ones, China and India delivered a last-minute “gut-punch” on coal, the civil society voice was absent, and the hope to keep 1.5 alive is nearly dead.

However, experts in the climate space were quick to point out that there is much yet to be hopeful for after COP26, an upgrade on the universal sense of failure prompted by COP25 in 2019, which saw many of the big decisions pushed to Glasgow.

Ciarán Cuffe, an Irish MEP from the Green Party who attended COP26, thinks that while it was “desperately weak in ambition” and did not tackle the climate crisis with urgency, it sent a clear message to decision makers on the need for a future powered by renewable energy.

“The age of coal, oil and gas is slowly coming to an end, and the future is bright for renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage,” he told Siliconrepublic.com, adding that he hopes people continue to pressure MEPs to deliver on the EU’s Fit for 55 proposals to reduce emissions.

“There will be winners and losers as this transition takes place, but the Glasgow COP signalled that the world’s economies must shift towards a cleaner future,” Cuffe added.

David Robbins, director of Dublin City University’s (DCU) Centre for Climate and Society, echoed the optimism. “The outcome was disappointing, especially the gut-punch right at the end from India and China,” he told Siliconrepublic.com, referring to their refusal to “phase out” coal.

“But there is a growing feeling that the climate movement has to welcome the good things that happened in Glasgow – on methane, deforestation, and some movement on finance – while continuing to work on the bad,” Robbins said.

Rich nations shrug responsibility

One contentious debate that stood out in COP26 was the role and extent of historical responsibility that rich countries share in the climate crisis, with developing nations looking to the developed world to help fund their green transitions.

According to Christian Aid Ireland’s Conor O’Neill, COP26 will be remembered for the refusal of rich countries to acknowledge their “ecological debt” and financially help countries “on the frontline of the climate crisis” to help them pay for impending losses and damages.

“This is not just a heavy blow to developing countries but a reminder that the international order continues to prioritise the power and influence of wealthy countries,” said O’Neill, who attended the conference as Christian Aid Ireland’s policy and advocacy director.

Dr Eoin Lettice, who was a part of University College Cork’s (UCC) delegation to COP26, said that the refusal of rich countries to fund developing nations that had a smaller contribution to the climate crisis was one of the conference’s “missed opportunities”.

“That fact must be recognised, and sufficient financial assistance provided to help deal with a problem that these countries did not cause,” Lettice told Siliconrepublic.com, who is a lecturer of plant science at UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES).

Civil society to ‘keep 1.5 alive’

From the organisational perspective, COP26 was criticised by some attendees for lacking adequate inclusion of voices from the broader society, all while world leaders lined up for photo-ops and signed commitments that ebb us further away from the Paris Agreement.

Diarmuid Torney of DCU’s School of Law and Government said that the conference witnessed a limitation on the voices of civil society. “This is troubling, and not all of it can be put down to covid restrictions,” he said.

“The voices of vulnerable and marginalised communities need to be heard louder, not least because they are on the front lines of the climate crisis,” added Torney, saying that Ireland has a responsibility as a developed country to step up efforts on implementation.

“There seems to be a new energy for more pressure on ‘keeping 1.5 alive’ among campaigners,” said Robbins. “They were disheartened by what happened inside the COP but fired up by the huge mobilisation of civil society that was evident outside in the streets.”

It seems like where world leaders failed in talks, or as climate activist Greta Thunberg called it, “blah, blah, blah”, the global civil climate movement will attempt to step in. “The real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever,” Thunberg tweeted after COP26.

COP26. Image: Karwai Tang/UK Government (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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