Greens urge halt to G7 nations' funding for overseas coal

BONN, Germany Environmental groups urged Group of Seven (G7) nations led by Japan and Germany to stop financing coal projects abroad, which they said amounted to $42 billion since 2007.Japan provided more than half of the total, with $22 billion between 2007 and 2015, a study released on Tuesday by groups including the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), WWF and Oil Change International said.Many rich nations have sharply restricted financing of coal-fired power plants at home in recent years in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the report said Tokyo was considering a further $10 billion in coming years in projects including Mozambique and Myanmar.The report said the $42 billion from G7 countries was for coal projects in developing nations in the form of "direct finance, guarantees, technical assistance, and aid for coal power, coal mining, and related projects." The study, released before a G7 summit in Japan this week, said Germany was second behind Japan on $9 billion, ahead of the United States ($5 billion), France ($2.5 billion), Italy ($2 billion), Britain ($1 billion) and Canada (below $1 billion). South Africa, India and the Philippines were the main recipients of finance. Almost 200 nations agreed at a summit in Paris in December to shift the world economy towards cleaner energies from fossil fuels in coming decades. Governments are meeting in Bonn this week to start planning detailed rules.Last November, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed to restrict subsidies used to export technology for coal-fired power plants. From now on, funds will only go to the most efficient plants. $42 billion "is probably an under-estimate," NRDC's Jake Schmidt told a news conference in Bonn, adding it was an "inconsistent use of scarce public dollars" to invest in coal rather than cleaner energies such as wind or solar power. (Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Sochi doping allegations could show unprecedented criminality: IOC

BERLIN Allegations of Russian doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics would represent a shocking new dimension and an "unprecedented level of criminality", if proven to be true, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.Russia is at the heart of the biggest doping scandal in sport, with its track and field athletes suspended as a result of a probe into accusations of widespread doping and their participation at this year's Rio Olympics in doubt.Citing the former head of Russia's anti-doping agency, the New York Times reported last week that Russian anti-doping experts and members of the intelligence services secretly broke into tamper-proof bottles to replace urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected earlier."If these allegations are true we will hold everybody responsible who is implicated and there are different kinds of actions that are possible," Bach said in a conference call, citing possible bans or fines for athletes up to entire federations being excluded from the Games. The Kremlin dismissed the allegations Russia ran a sophisticated doping programme at the 2014 Games at the Russian resort as treacherous slander, calling former agency head Grigory Rodchenkov "a turncoat".The New York Times report was broadly consistent with accusations of the independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission last November of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, which led to a ban on the country competing in international athletics competitions.WADA is now investigating the new allegations over Sochi, while the U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into the accusations of state-sponsored doping."Should the investigation (into Sochi) prove the allegations true it would represent a shocking new dimension in doping with an, until now, unprecedented level of criminality," Bach said. "I would like to call on those who may have information to come forward to WADA and to come forward today so as to enable WADA then to come to a result which shows the full picture. We can then make a real judgment to which degree these allegations are true."SAMPLES TESTEDAdding to the questions over doping, the IOC said on Wednesday up to 31 athletes could be banned from Rio 2016 following re-tests using newer methods of doping samples from the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Bach said if any medallist was among those 31 there would not be any automatic reallocation of medals without those athletes also being retested. The names of the 31 athletes are expected to be announced in early June.The IOC also ordered some 250 retests from London 2012 this week, the results of which are expected within seven days.The world athletics organisation, the IAAF, meets on June 17 to discuss the participation of Russian track and field athletes in Rio.Bach said Russian athletes would also possibly need to prove they were clean to compete in Rio. "The results of the WADA investigation will also greatly influence the nature of the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Games Rio 2016," Bach said."Should there be evidence of an organised system contaminating other sports, the international federations and the IOC would have to make the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice.""This could mean that concerned athletes would have to demonstrate that their international and independently proven test record is compliant with the rules of their International Federation and the World Anti-Doping Code," Bach said.Russia's Sports Ministry said on Wednesday it fully supported actions by the IOC to bar athletes who dope from competitions, but said clean athletes should not be excluded from the Rio Games.However, the Kremlin said it did not accept the application of U.S. justice outside Washington's jurisdiction. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Canadian oil producers warn of supply shortfalls after wildfire

WANDERING RIVER, Alberta CNOOC Ltd's Nexen is the latest Canadian oil sands company to warn customers it may not be able to fulfill supply contracts in the wake of a massive wildfire, as producers scramble to get facilities back online.Nexen has issued a force majeure for all of its May production of Canadian heavy crude, two sources said on Thursday. Four major oil firms have now declared force majeure, a contract clause to remove liability for unavoidable catastrophes.The fire that blazed through oil sands hub Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of about 90,000 people last week, has moved into sparsely populated woodlands further east. It spans 241,000 hectares (596,000 acres), growing much more slowly than before, but still posing a threat. Cool temperatures are helping contain it, but hot, dry weather is expected starting Saturday, said Chad Morrison, Alberta's senior wildlife manager."We're long from over in this fight," he said on a conference call with other officials.Nexen's Long Lake facility, located south of the community known as Fort Mac, sustained minor damage from the fire, Alberta officials said this week.Three major oil firms warned last week they will not be able to deliver on some contracts for Canadian crude.BP Plc and Phillips 66 alerted customers some grades of Canadian crude would not be available, while Suncor Energy, Canada's largest producer, warned clients that some supplies from the region would be disrupted by the fires.While downtime has crimped supplies, Enbridge Inc said late Wednesday it had restarted its 550,000 bpd Line 18 pipeline, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc has also partly resumed operations in the area. Roughly 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of output were shut down during the fire, about half the oil sands' usual daily production. Alberta holds the world's third-largest crude reserves and is the No. 1 exporter of crude to the United States. No oil sands sites are under immediate threat from the fire, which is burning about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the neighboring province of Saskatchewan, Morrison said.U.S. oil prices dipped on Thursday after jumping to six-month highs, when buying on a forecast for tighter global supplies gave way to selling. [O/R]Travel to Fort McMurray is restricted to essential services, including workers, supplies and equipment for oil sands operations. Suncor workers are expected to begin returning to shuttered facilities on Thursday. DEBIT CARD LINESHundreds of people lined up around the evacuee center in Lac La Biche, Alberta, on Thursday to collect provincial government debit cards loaded with C$1,250 per adult and C$500 per dependent."I just think for government, this could have been organized better," said Wanda Anderson of Fort McMurray, about the debit card distribution, standing in line wrapped in a purple blanket as morning temperatures hovered just above freezing. Even so, Anderson, who is staying in a trailer park with her family, said they have been well cared for with meals, and her kids are enrolled in local schools. Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said the idea behind the debit cards was to give residents immediate access to cash.The Canadian Red Cross is also distributing C$50 million ($38.93 million) in donated funds, or C$600 for each adult and C$300 for each child.Evacuees who had been sleeping on cots in a hockey rink in Lac La Biche were moved late Wednesday to longer-term housing in the towns of Bonnyville and St. Paul, Alberta, about 120 to 130 km (72 to 78 miles) to the southeast. A plan to allow residents to return, either permanently or to view their homes, is about 10 days away, Larivee said. In the meantime, government officials said there is much work to do to restore the community's only hospital, after it was damaged by smoke and water, as well as natural gas, water and other infrastructure.While the community rebuilds, providers of temporary housing, such Civeo Corp and Target Logistics [AGSCS.UL], have seen demand spike.In another sign of life returning to normal in the oil sands, Syncrude Canada Ltd reported its herd of 300 bison, which grazes on a reclaimed area of the oil sands mine site, was doing well after being left behind during the evacuation. (Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Catherine Ngai in New York; Writing by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)

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Wildfire-hit Canadian boomtown starts to resume oil production

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta Oil sands companies around wildfire-hit Fort McMurray hoped to resume production on Tuesday after an initial inspection found the Canadian boomtown was less severely damaged than first feared.Premier Rachel Notley was slated to meet with energy company executives a day after officials found about 90 percent of businesses and homes survived the blaze that began on May 1, forcing the evacuated of 88,000 people.Royal Dutch Shell Plc resumed production at its operation in the center of Canada's oil sands region, while Enbridge Inc began inspecting its facilities and prepared plans to restart operations shuttered during the blaze."These are difficult circumstances," said Al Monaco, Enbridge chief executive officer, in a statement. "We have a well-trained and experienced team that has developed a detailed logistical plan to enable the safe restart of our pipelines and terminals."Officials grappled with transportation problems as the blaze spread across 229,000 hectares (560,000 acres) of Alberta, spreading east to connect with another fire burning near Campbell Lake, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Fort McMurray. The specialists who run the oil production sites were also among the area residents displaced by the blaze.In another sign a recovery was underway, the amount of power from cogeneration plants in the region increased by early Tuesday with the restart of Syncrude Energy Inc's 510-megawatt plant. Still, just 21 percent of the total capacity was online. Shell said it will fly staff in and out of the region, while Imperial Oil Ltd said its Kearl oil sands mining project will remain shut until the company worked out the logistics of moving people and materials to and from the remote site.About half of Canada's crude output, or 1 million barrels per day, was taken offline by the blaze, according to a Reuters estimate.Canadian crude prices slipped on Tuesday, trading below the U.S. crude benchmark, as signs of resuming production eased supply concerns. The fire's growth was not likely to trigger further evacuations, Travis Fairweather, an Alberta wildlife information officer said.Cool weather, with overnight temperatures dropping below zero degrees Celsius (32F), helped firefighters contain the blaze, though forecasts from Environment Canada showed rain was unlikely in the coming days.The fire's massive size has prompted some officials to say that rain would be necessary to fully extinguish it, as much of Alberta is tinder-box dry after a mild winter and warm spring. The inspection revealed scenes of devastation, with blocks of homes reduced to blackened foundations, front steps and metal barbecues. Notley said 2,400 structures had burned within the city while almost 25,000 were saved.Officials warned it was not safe for residents to return to Fort McMurray, with parts still smoldering and large areas without power, water and gas. Notley said repair crews will need weeks to make the city safe.About 250 workers with utility company ATCO were in Fort McMurray working to restore gas and electricity, Notley said.Insurance experts on Monday revised sharply downward their estimates of the cost of damage from the blaze. (Additional reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Writing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Ryan Woo and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Michelle Obama helps Prince Harry launch second Invictus Games

ORLANDO, Florida Britain's Prince Harry and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama mixed with headline acts from music and film to launch the second edition of the Invictus Games for wounded military personnel on Sunday.British singers James Blunt and Laura Wright performed at the two-hour ceremony before Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman led the crowd at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Champion Stadium in reciting the Invictus Games pledge.Former U.S. President George W Bush, the honorary chairman of this year’s Games, also spoke on stage to the near 500 athletes from 14 different countries who will compete over four days from Monday in 11 Paralympic sports.Harry, who started the Games two years ago in London, paid tribute to the courage of the athletes, who paraded through an interactive 3-D cube decorated in their country's colors to warm applause. "When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let's also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn't leave his house," the 31-year-old royal told the crowd. "Let's cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress." That spirit was echoed by Obama, who thanked U.S. veterans for their service. "I'm here and honor all of you: our extraordinary service members, our veterans, and of course our military families. You all are amazing. Truly amazing," she said. (Reporting by Gavino Garay. Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore. Editing by Ed Osmond)

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