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CWA # 653, 11 January 2022

NIAS Fortnightly on Science, Technology & International Relations
Reviewing the COP 26: Major Agreements, Issues, and Challenges 

  STIR Team

 Vol 1, No 13, 11 January 2022

By Rashmi Ramesh, Keerthana Nambiar and Akriti Sharma



COVER STORY
Reviewing the COP 26: Major Agreements, Issues, and Challenges 

COP 26 concluded with three major agreements on methane, coal and deforestation. Previous initiatives/agreements on methane, coal and deforestation have not delivered the commitment. The new agreements will have to fix loopholes of the previous ones to be successful.
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The Agreements

Global Methane Pledge
On 2 November 2021, the second day of the COP26, the US and the European Union jointly launched the Global Methane Pledge, an agreement to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent from 2020 levels in the next ten years. Over 100 countries are signatories to the pledge, representing approximately 50 per cent of all the methane emitted. 

The pledge was jointly proposed by the US and the European Union in September 2021 as a primer to the possible expectations from the COP26 to be held in November at Glasgow. Under this, signatories agree to the following. 

First, to reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by at least 30 per cent below 2020 levels. 

Second, to focus on national commitments to meet the target, and particularly concentrate on energy, agriculture and waste sectors. 

Third, invest in technology and innovations in forms of partnerships and incentives. 

Fourth, support other methane-related international initiatives and the International Methane Emissions Observatory. 

Fifth, maintain transparency, conduct annual progress reviews, and encourage private participants to take voluntary actions towards cutting methane emissions.

("Explained: What is the Global Methane Pledge, and why is methane significant for climate change?," The Indian Express, 03 November 2021) ("About the Global Methane Pledge," Global Methane Pledge)("Global Methane Pledge," Climate and Clean Air Coalition, 2021).

Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement
On 4 November 2021, 23 countries made new commitments to 'phase-out coal.' In the new agreement' Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement', 40 countries are transitioning away from coal to clean energy. The largest coal-using countries, China, India, and the US, did not sign-up for the agreement. By the end of 2021, major international banks have committed to end financing to unabated coal power effectively. 

Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, said: "the end of coal is now within sight. Securing a 190-strong coalition to phase out coal power and end support for new coal power plants and the Just Transition Declaration signed today, shows a real international commitment to not leave any nation behind...together we can accelerate access to electricity for more than three quarters of a billion people who currently lack access, consigning energy poverty to history as we create the clean power future needed to keep 1.5 alive." The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "it is time to go into emergency mode. The climate battle is the fight of our lives and that fight must be won" ("End of Coal in Sight at COP26," United Nations Climate Change, 4 November 2021; "Global coal to clean power transition statement", UNFCCC, 4 November 2021).

Glasgow declaration on forests and land use
On 2 November, at COP 26, the world leaders signed the 'Glasgow declaration on forests and land use'. The declaration reaffirmed "respective commitments, collective and individual, to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Sustainable Development Goals; and other relevant initiatives." It further reaffirmed commitments to sustainable land use and the conservation, protection, sustainable management and restoration of forests, and other terrestrial ecosystems." The pledge includes nearly USD 19.2 billion of public and private funds.

Around 141 countries signed the agreement, including Brazil, where deforestation in Amazon has been blatant. Additionally, Vatican City, Nicaragua, Singapore, and Turkmenistan are the new signatories to the declaration. The signatories together constitute about 90.94 per cent of the forest area. Brazil, Congo, and Indonesia, the countries that account for most deforestation, have also signed the declaration. The declaration aims at the following- first, to conserve and restore forests and other terrestrial systems. Second, facilitate domestic and international sustainable trade policies that do not drive land degradation and deforestation. Third, reduce vulnerability and enhance indigenous communities and rural livelihood. Fourth, promote sustainable agriculture policies to ensure food security. Fifth, reaffirm financial assistance from the public and private sectors on the above objectives. Sixth, facilitate financial aid with the international policies on deforestation, sustainable land use, climate change and biodiversity. ("Glasgow declaration on forests and land use", UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, 2 November 2021).

II 
Historical Initiatives


Methane
Before the global methane pledge, initiatives were predominantly country or region-specific and lacked a solid agreement to cut down methane emissions. Much of the initiatives have been undertaken by the European Union. The European Commission adopted a strategy in 1996 to reduce emissions from landfills, which halved the methane emissions. In 2020, the European Green Deal adopted a strategy to reduce methane emissions as part of its attempt to cut down overall GHG concentration by 55 per cent in the forthcoming decade.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), based in UNEP, has been set up with 71 countries and 78 non-state actors. The focus is on curbing four major SLCPs and initiatives on waste management, hydrocarbons, and improvement of techniques on agriculture and the primary sector at large. CCAC's Mineral Methane Initiative, which reduces emissions from the hydrocarbon sector, has three projects- The oil and Gas Methane Partnership, the Global Methane Alliance, and the Methane Science Studies. Through their implementation, it targets to cut down methane emissions from the energy sector by 45 per cent by 2025. 

The UNEP announced the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) in March 2021 and was launched at the G20 Summit with support from the European Commission. IMEO was set up based on the CCAC's Mineral Methane Initiative, and it focuses on addressing the gap between data collection and strategic action ("IMEO History", UN Environment Program; "Joint EU-US Press Release on the Global Methane Pledge", European Commission, 18 September 2021; "International Methane Emissions Observatory", UN Environment Program).

Coal
International efforts to phase out coal have always been made, without significant results. Over the last decades, countries worldwide have signed various agreements to slow down global warming with hollow pledges. The Kyoto Protocol, 2005 was the first agreement to legally bind countries to climate change requiring developed countries to reduce emissions. However, the treaty failed to compel developing countries to take action thus, becoming unsuccessful. The Paris Agreement, 2015, is deemed the most significant and partially successful pact so far. It requires governments to set targets, submits their achievements, and aim for a global net-zero. Some countries acted upon the pledge and made a considerable difference; others failed. ("Global Climate Agreements: Successes and Failures", Council of Foreign Affairs, 17 November 2021; "The future of coal in a carbon-constrained climate," Nature, 27 July 2020)

Deforestation
The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) was adopted in 2014 to restore and conserve the forests. It aimed at reducing 50 per cent deforestation by 2020 and halting it by 2030. Forty countries signed the agreement. It is known as the starting point for global agreements on forests. It was endorsed in the Climate Summit of 2014 and had more than 200 endorsers, including non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and indigenous people, and private organizations. The participation was limited as significant countries like Brazil and Russia were not a part of the declaration. According to the reports, the agreement had not achieved its targets and halted deforestation. The agreement failed to address deforestation, which was happening at an alarming rate. ("The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF)",  NYDF; Mark Kinver, "World' losing battle against deforestation'"BBC, 12 September 2019)

III 
Issues: Methane, Coal, Deforestation


Methane
Methane is a short-lived powerful greenhouse gas, with an atmospheric lifetime of approximately 12 years. According to the CCAC, "short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are powerful climate forcers that remain in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than carbon dioxide (CO2), yet their potential to warm the atmosphere can be many times greater". The four prominent SLCPs- black carbon, methane, hydrofluorocarbons and methane- contribute to around 45 per cent of human-induced global warming. In other words, there is a profound and stronger impact on the biosphere. 

Studies have proved that methane attracts more radiation and can push global temperatures despite its short atmospheric lifespan. The IPCC notes that methane's impact on climate change is recorded as 86 times greater than carbon dioxide in 20 years and is responsible for at least 25 per cent of the warming being experienced today. 

Naturally, methane is emitted by wetlands and the decomposition of biomass, and this accounts for 40 per cent of all the methane emitted. The remaining 60 per cent comes from hydrocarbons, coal mining, livestock rearing, fracking, landfills, agriculture (mostly rice production), and biomass burning. When further specifically categorized, anthropogenic methane emissions are a result of agriculture and livestock rearing (40 per cent), fossil fuels (35 per cent) and waste sector (20 per cent).

Kayrros, a European technology start-up, developed a tool to detect and point to the sources of methane from outer space. Scientists combine the data received from Copernicus Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-2 and, using artificial intelligence, accurately point to the source. For instance, Kayrros detected significant amounts of methane, around 164 tonnes per hour emanating from the Yamal-Europe pipeline along with Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany, in 2019-20 ("Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report", Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014; "What are short-lived climate pollutants?", Climate and Clean Air Coalition; "New global methane pledge aims to tackle climate change", UN Environment Program, 2021; "Monitoring methane emissions from gas pipelines", The European Space Agency, 4 March 2021; "Explained: What is the Global methane Pledge, and why is methane significant for climate change?", Indian Express, 3 November 2021) 

Coal
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that threatens mankind. Burning fossil fuels causes the most severe and long-term impacts and, when released, reacts with oxygen in the air forming carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide works as a blanket surrounding the earth's atmosphere thus, heating the planet- global warming. The world witnessed the consequences of global warming with growing risks of floods, droughts, heatwaves, clarifying that an unchecked climate change could lead to profound ecological disruption. Cutting down carbon emissions is essential to battle climate change. The process of extracting fossil fuels and burning coal threatens the landscape with a serious loss of habitat, jeopardizes the water bodies with the challenge of spilling heavy metals and radioactive materials in the freshwater and compromising the earth's natural greenhouse effect. The rise in sea levels, coastal flooding, and species loss impacts global warming. 

Millions of years of prehistoric organisms, vascular and nonvascular plants, organic-inorganic materials, water, oxygen are the components of coal. However, coal combustion takes a toll on the climate and the entire ecosystem. It releases nitrous oxide (N2O), methane, and sulphur among carbon dioxide (CO2). These gases form volatile organic compounds (VOCs) interacting with the ground-level ozone magnifying the ozone layer depletion. Besides the gases, burning coal produces solid waste consisting of toxic elements like arsenic, cadmium, selenium, boron, cobalt and creates a serious negative impact on the environment. Coal exposes the environment to naturally occurring isotopes and low levels of uranium and thorium, impacting flora and fauna of the world. The coal plants use 'pulverized coal' technology which grinds the coal, burns it further to form steam and runs it through turbines to generate electricity. ("
How Coal Works," Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 December 2017; "Coal as an energy source and its impacts on human health," Science Direct, 2 April 2021)

Deforestation
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), deforestation of the world's forests is increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Global Forest Watch, in 2010, the world had 3.92 Gha of tree cover, extending over 30 per cent of its land area. In 2020, it lost 25.8 Mha of tree cover. Brazil, Russia, Canada, the US, and the Democratic Republic of Congo account for 55 per cent of global forests. However, in Brazil, deforestation has taken place at an alarming rate. Forests are sources of 283 gigatons of carbon. According to a report by the Chatham House titled "Rethinking the Brazilian Amazon Sustainable development for a thriving future", the Amazon is switching from being a carbon sink to a carbon emitter. The forests are major carbon sinks and have a role in reducing greenhouse gases. However, deforestation leads to converting the sinks into emitters of gases.

Deforestation happens due to various reasons. First, agricultural activities. The increasing demand for food is resulting in high rates of deforestation. The meat and food industry is a significant cause of deforestation. According to the Global Forest Watch, beef and soy result in increasing deforestation rates. According to FAO, agriculture leads to 80 per cent of deforestation. Second, urbanization, overpopulation indirectly causes it. Third, illegal logging; wooden products, infrastructure and paper, are some products for which the demand for wood. Fourth, mining for coal and oil demand increases the demand for forest land. Fifth, forest fires caused by natural and human-induced factors also increase large amounts of forest land.

Carbon is found in several pools in the forests in the form of· the vegetation and biomass (35-65 per cent). At the global level, 19 per cent of the carbon in the earth's biosphere is stored in plants, and 81 per cent in the soil. In all forests, tropical, temperate and boreal together, approximately 31 per cent of the carbon is stored in the biomass and 69 per cent in the soil. In tropical forests, approximately 50 per cent of the carbon is stored in the biomass and 50 per cent in the soil.

The process of photosynthesis explains why forests function as carbon sinks, removing CO2 from the atmosphere. They serve as CO2 sinks when they grow biomass or extend their area. The participation of forests in climate change is thus three-fold. First, they are carbon pools. Second, they can become carbon emitters by deforestation. (Georgina Rannard & Francesca Gillett, "COP26: World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030", BBC, 2 November 2021"; "Forests and climate change Carbon and the greenhouse effect", FAO).

IV 
Significance and Challenges


Methane

Global Methane Pledge is the first concrete international agreement on methane that brings together countries representing nearly two-thirds of the global economy. If implemented and realized to the fullest, this could act as a game-changer in meeting the Paris Agreement's targets and keeping the warming below 1.5 degrees. 

The Global Methane Assessment, a study by the UNEP and Climate and Clean Air Coalition, concluded that decreasing anthropogenic methane emissions by 45 per cent in the next ten years would help avert warming of 0.3 degrees, which can go a long way in tackling the effects of climate change. Alongside, the study also showed it will "prevent 2,55,000 premature deaths, 7,75,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally." 

Curbing methane emissions is also an effective tool to fight climate change in the short run. In the words of Inger Anderson, the Executive Director of UNEP, "cutting methane emissions is the best way to slow climate change over the next 25 years. The Global Methane Pledge has great potential to increase ambition and improve cooperation by countries". While immediate and urgent targets are being met, states and businesses are benefitted from the precious time they avail for reducing carbon dioxide, which is a long-term plan.

The pledge also comes with some crucial challenges. First, though states that are part of the pledge represent 50 per cent of the methane emitted, significant emitters, including China, India, Iran and Russia, are not signatories, which hinders the full realization of the global targets. Second, much similar to other climate-related agreements, the commitments towards the pledge are voluntary and lack a strong enforcement mechanism. Third, the global economy is under severe pressure due to the pandemic. States and businesses find the need to bounce back and eventually support practices contributing to climate change. ("New global methane pledge aims to tackle climate change", UN Environmental Program, 22 September 2021)

Coal
Over the last year, governments worldwide have vouched to make a difference with pledges and promise to reduce the greenhouses and reach the goal of carbon neutrality. Recently, with the active participation of international organizations like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the Paris Agreement have started taking concrete steps to make visible changes and announce long-term goals. At the recent COP26 summit, the 200 countries accepted the deal to accelerate moves to "phase down" coal. The agreement calls for developed nations to raise funds for under-developed and developing nations to adapt to climate measures. The pledges control the temperature rise predicted by 2030 with a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Predicting the rise in global temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. If the temperature reaches the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, then there will be no going back. 

Coal is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The major challenge of the deal was negotiations of phrasing coal 'phase down' rather than 'phase-out'. The commitments made by the countries to tackle climate change have not been ambitious enough. The pledges compel countries to limit financing the coal industry's expansion, and coal investments have slowed down. Countries have delivered less than enough without making serious contributions, keeping track of the current policies. Despite decades of knowledge on the impacts of coal on the environment, there have been no significant efforts to restrict the power sector from using coal. A billion-dollar industry like coal mining employs millions of people and creates revenues boosting the economies of many countries. 

The statement only focuses on coal and ignores other fossil fuels such as oil and gas. However, taking into account fossil fuels will help better. ("
Over 40 Countries Pledge at UN Climate Summit to End Use of Coal Power," The New York Times, 6 November 2021; "COP26: World agrees to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and reduce coal," New Scientist, 13 November 2021; "COP26: Can the World Slash Coal Use by 2030?," Council on Foreign Relations, 10 November 2021)

Deforestation
The declaration is the second step towards deforestation on a global level after the NYDF. However, it has more participation than NYDF. Growing industrialization and globalization has led to reduced forest cover. Even though little is achieved through such declarations, they are important institutions to restrict deforestation globally. Such concrete agreements are the first step towards limiting deforestation. A multilevel approach to address national and domestic issues of environmental degradation are significant. It also becomes a channel to support the indigenous communities and link them to the global system of environmental governance. Inclusion of the countries that are the source of maximum deforestation, including Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an attempt to watch globally at their activities resulting in deforestation. Such declarations at the global level are a watchdog for the countries to reduce deforestation. Additionally, such declarations also help generate little finance from the developed world to keep in check deforestation in the least developed and developing countries.

One of the significant challenges of the declaration is its non-binding nature. There is a difference between the global declarations and the practice at the domestic and national levels. The international institutions will have to ensure that such declarations work as watchdogs. Second, the issue of funding. The developing and least developed countries fall short of resources to address issues such as deforestation. 



The Road Ahead


Methane
First, there is a need to address the cycle. Methane is a major source of global warming and climate change, and in turn, warming is also responsible for releasing methane. While climate change results in permafrost thaw in the Arctic and other parts of the cryosphere, the thaw releases methane held within otherwise. 

Second, reducing methane emissions with existing technologies and capacity and fixing crucial loopholes like leaky oil and gas pipelines will go a long way. It is necessary to pave the way for efficiency in existing technologies rather than investing in new technology to which the developing world has no access. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than 75 per cent of the methane emissions can be mitigated by efficient use of existing technology, with nearly no additional costs. 

Coal
First, coal is the crux of political realities and has become a medium of diplomacy, given that the coal industry is a powerful stakeholder. Governments face a challenge striking a balance between economic growth and the pressing need to transition away from coal. 

Second, costs and viability. A viable coal phase-out strategy demands sufficient funds and investments in alternative energy sources and efficient technology. Under the current climate deal, finance and development banks have pledged USD 20 billion to help governments shift to cleaner energy. The effectiveness of such pledges might be limited. 

Third, coal pollution controls. Pollution control technologies have been introduced, and pre and post-combustion technologies to capture CO2. Carbon capture and storage technology captures CO2, transports it to a "geologic sequestration" site, and pumped it into the ground. 

The recent agreement is a very small step where a giant leap was required. In order to reach the agreed targets and pledges, governments must strategize to phase-down coal rapidly. With the looming political challenge, perfectly synthesized roadmaps are necessary. Effectively using a combination of techniques and policies and integrating stakeholders into the process is vital for success. 

The induction of modern and effective technologies is a necessity. The momentum of achieving the goals can only be accelerated by inculcating technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the process. Moving ahead, technology would be a game-changer in solving energy challenges, regulating the ups and downs while transitioning to renewable energy. 

The world has to contemplate more partnerships. At the COP 26 Summit, the 'Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet' partnerships, Green Hydrogen Alliances, were formed to transition to cleaner energy and help developing economies grow. 


Deforestation
First, a sustainable approach. To limit deforestation, the demand for wooden products and meat needs to decrease. The meat industry and their land-use need to be checked. The governments need to have stringent environmental regulations in place for the same. The development needs to be sustainable.

Second, a multilevel approach. Deforestation and land-use need to be addressed at global, regional, national, sub-national and local level. At the local level, the idegenous communities have played a key role in conserving the forests. Following a bottom-up approach through shifting some authority to the local community in forest management can be effective.

Readings

Lindsay Maizland, "COP26: Can the World Slash Coal Use by 2030?," Council on Foreign Relations, 10 November 2021
"
Global coal to clean power transition statement", UNFCCC, 4 November 2021
Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman, "
Over 40 Countries Pledge at UN Climate Summit to End Use of Coal Power," The New York Times, 6 November 2021
Jakob, M et al, "
The future of coal in a carbon-constrained climate," Nature, 27 July 2020
Adam, Vaughon, "
COP26: World agrees to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and reduce coal," New Scientist, 13 November 2021
"
End of Coal in Sight at COP26," United Nations Climate Change, 4 November 2021
Juciano Gasparotto, Kátia Da Boit Martinello, "
Coal as an energy source and its impacts on human health," Science Direct, 2 April 2021
"
At COP26, nations strike a climate deal with coal compromise," NPR, 13 November 2021
"
How Coal Works," Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 December 2017
"
Explained: What is the Global Methane Pledge, and why is methane significant for climate change?", The Indian Express, 03 November 2021
"
Glasgow declaration on forests and land use", United Nation Climate Change Conference UK 2021, 2 November 2021
"
IMEO History", UN Environment Program
"
Joint EU-US Press Release on the Global Methane Pledge", European Commission, 18 September 2021)
"
International Methane Emissions Observatory", UN Environment Program
Georgina Rannard & Francesca Gillett, "
COP26: World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030", BBC, 2 November 2021"
"
Forests and climate change Carbon and the greenhouse effect", FAO
"
New global methane pledge aims to tackle climate change", UN Environmental Program, 22 September 2021


About the authors
Rashmi Ramesh and Akriti Sharma are PhD Scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Keerthana Rajesh Nambiar is currently pursuing her post-graduation in International Relations at Maharajas College, University of Mysore. 

 

 

In Brief
By Harini Madhusudan and Akriti Sharma


The James Webb Space Telescope successful launch 
On 08 January, the final wing of the James Webb Space Telescope was deployed. On 25 December 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched. The telescope is headed for the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitationally stable spot about 1.5 million kilometers that lie opposite the Sun. This spot is popular for several other space telescopes like the Planck Space Observatory and the Herschel Space Telescope. The Webb is currently on its 29-day trip to its observing spot as the largest and the most powerful space telescope ever launched. 

The JWST results from a massive collaboration that involves over 200 universities, organizations, and companies across 14 countries and 29 US states. The telescope is the product of international cooperation between NASA, the ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. The JWST would look at the exoplanets that were identified through the Kepler Space Telescope. The nominal duration of the telescope is five years but the ESA says the goal is ten years. 

According to NASA, the telescope is designed to focus on four main areas. "The light in the universe, assembly in the galaxy in the early universe, the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems, and planets (including the origins of life.)" Once launched, the telescope would initially undergo a series of science and calibration tests, including sunshield deployment, telescope deployment, instrument turn-on, and telescope alignment. The best images from the telescope are expected to emerge six months after the launch. The JWST's predecessor, the Hubble telescope, remains in good health and creates the probability of the two telescopes working together in the early years of the Webb. 

Though the JWST is the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, it is believed that the Webb would aid Hubble. It is believed that scientific advancements are all about "standing on the shoulders of giants," and thus, the JWST goals would be motivated by the results that Hubble has captured through the years. A major difference between James Webb and Hubble is that the JWST will orbit the Sun while the Hubble has been orbiting the Earth, and unlike Hubble, which could be accessed and serviced by space shuttle missions, JWST would be too far away to be serviced. The James Webb was slated for launch in 2007, and since then a combination of political hesitancy and engineering/project problems have led to the innumerable delays of the launch. (Elizabeth Howell and Daisy Dobrijevic, "NASA's James Webb Space Telescope: The Ultimate Guide,Space. Com, 25 December 2021; 

Keith Cooper, "A New Cosmic Dawn,"Physics World, 07 January 2022; Jonathan Amos, "James Webb Telescope extends secondary mirror,", BBC06 January 2022) 

 

COVID-19: Omicron is less severe, reveal studies
On 31 December, according to the New York Times, a study on mice and hamsters revealed that Omicron is less severe than the previous variants of COVID-19. The variant is less harmful to the lungs and often restricts itself to the upper respiratory system. It has caused reduced difficulty in breathing. 

On 26 November 2021, the World Health Organization declared Omicron as a "variant of concern", and it was first found in South Africa. Scientists have found out that this variant has more than 50 mutations. It was also observed that the variant was more infectious than previous variants but was milder, resulting in fewer hospitalization rates, especially in the vaccinated population.

A consortium of Japanese and Americans have conducted studies on mice and hamsters. It has been found out that those infected with Omicron had less lung damage, lost less weight, and were less likely to die. Even the studies performed on the Syrian mice who are known to get severely ill by the previous variants of COVID-19 had a mild illness. According to a study performed by a researcher from the University of Hong Kong, who studied bits of tissue taken from human airways in 12 lung samples, the researchers found that Omicron grew less than the Delta. A similar study on the tissues of bronchi found that Omicron grew less than Delta. However, British scientists have found that Omicron effectively damages nasal cells, and while breathing, they release more virus load through the nose, making it more infectious. According to the New York Times, a team of British Scientists have found out that an omicron replicates itself faster in a cell than the delta variant.

Although the virus is highly infectious and has been a major concern for countries like the US and the UK, scientific studies have proven that Omicron is less severe and less likely to land people in hospitals. Lower morbidity rates are a relief for the states. However, in countries with less vaccinated populations, the variant is more harmful. The unvaccinated population is at high risk. The countries need to fully vaccinate the population and provide boosters. Vaccine inequity is a primary concern which has led the less developed countries in becoming breeding grounds for the mutants. (Carl Zimmer and Azeen Ghorayshi, "
Studies Suggest Why Omicron Is Less Severe: It Spares the Lungs", The New York Times, 31 December 2021; Carl Zimmer and Andrew Jacobs, "Omicron: What We Know About the New Coronavirus Variant", The New York Times, 3 January 2022)

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