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In Davos, an Australian mining boss presses industries to go green

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Australian mining boss Andrew Forrest has been called a 'climate evangelist'
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Andrew Forrest, a blunt Australian billionaire who made his fortune in iron ore mining, stood out among the heads of emissions-spewing industries at the meeting of global elites in Davos.

He has been dubbed a “climate evangelist” who is working to decarbonise his company’s operations and presses fellow industrialists to also stop burning fossil fuels.

“I’m saying to the industrial world, if the crabby, backwards old mining industry can do it, so can everyone else,” Forrest told AFP in an interview in the Swiss Alpine resort.

Forrest is a regular at the World Economic Forum, where he came again this week to talk about climate change and sparred with an oil executive on the global energy transition.

His company, Fortescue, plans to use renewable power instead of diesel and natural gas across its energy-intensive mining operations by 2030.

He is also betting heavily on green hydrogen, ploughing billions of dollars into projects to produce the clean fuel by using renewable energy.

Last week, Forrest pledged to deliver 14 gigawatts in clean energy to Australia by the end of the decade through his solar and wind firm, Squadron Energy, which could power the equivalent of six million homes.

His critics point out that Forrest became rich through mining operations that last year alone emitted 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, more than a small Pacific island.

Forrest admits his own culpability.

“There’s about 1,000 industrialists who are responsible for the consumption of oil and gas around the world. And I am one of those. I burn a billion litres of diesel a year,” he said.

“But before you put my head up on a spike alone, look at the other 999, because at least I’m moving with thoroughly economic plans to eliminate all fossil fuels from my supply chain. And that’s what I’m asking every other executive to do.”

– ‘Death race’ –

Forrest reserves his most scathing criticism for the oil and gas industry, accusing it of “peddling poison”.

He said the planet was in a “death race” and that the fossil fuel sector was “dragging the rest of the world down with them”.

He said he asks oil executives the same question: “When will you allow your customers to stop burning fossil fuel?”

“If they said, ‘well, we’re not going to’, then you say, ‘thanks for telling the truth’. If they say, ‘well, we are already’, then you say, ‘please don’t treat me like a moron’.”

During the UN’s COP28 conference in Dubai last month, Forrest took out newspaper ads criticising the oil and gas industry and calling for a fossil fuel phase-out. The summit ended with an agreement for the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

In Davos on Thursday, he had a lively debate with Vicki Hollub, the CEO of US firm Occidental Petroleum, during a panel discussion on the energy transition.

“I haven’t seen really anything just and fair about the fossil fuel sector,” Forrest told the panel.

Hollub said the oil industry would play a “key part” in the energy transition, in part by continuing “to provide the fuel that the world needs”.

While solar and wind energy can be used for power generation, maritime shipping, aviation and road haulage will still require fuel, she said.

“(In) the transition, as much as you would like, we cannot stop fossil fuels today,” Hollub said.

– ‘Miracle molecule’ –

Forrest’s campaign has drawn praise among some climate activists.

“Andrew Forrest has voiced the urgency to halt fossil fuel expansion and has been decidedly critical of oil companies,” said Harjeet Singh, global engagement director for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, which campaigns for an end to the expansion of coal, gas and oil.

“We need a greater number of business leaders to fully acknowledge the enormity of the climate crisis and actively invest their resources in real solutions,” Singh told AFP.

But Forrest’s belief that hydrogen — which he calls “the miracle molecule” — will play a major part in the energy transition has drawn scepticism.

Hydrogen, which emits only water vapour, is touted for potential use in high-polluting industries such as transport, shipping and steel.

But producing it at mass scale is a major challenge, as costs remain high and the infrastructure is lacking so far.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report last week that only seven percent of projects announced worldwide to use renewables to produce hydrogen this decade are expected to come online by 2030.

IEA chief Fatih Birol told AFP it was good that “billionaires also want to see a clean energy future. This is great.”

“Green hydrogen definitely belongs to the future of our clean energy mix,” he added. “But one should be a bit careful not to have high expectations.”

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn

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Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker

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Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs

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Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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