While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Dec 1 edition

China smog at crippling levels as climate talks open

Choking smog blanketed Beijing and much of northern China on Monday (Nov 30) as climate change talks opened in Paris and a new Chinese report raised the alarm about rising sea levels.

As the global summit began, the US embassy in Beijing recorded concentrations of PM2.5, tiny airborne particles which embed deeply in the lungs, at 625 micrograms per cubic metre - 25 times above the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 25 microgram recommended maximum.

Plummeting visibility grounded flights and local authorities said levels in one southwestern district had reached 976 micrograms per cubic metre - more than 39 times the WHO limit.


India and France launch international alliance to scale-up solar power, target poorer nations

India and France launched an International Solar Alliance on Monday that groups 121 prospective countries to boost development, finance and investment to rapidly scale-up solar power, particularly in poorer nations.

The alliance, an initiative promoted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, focuses mainly on nations within the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, a band of the planet that receives large amounts of sunlight.

In a declaration read out at a lavish launch ceremony on the sidelines of UN-led climate talks in Paris, the alliance aims to mobilise US$1 trillion (S$1.41 trillion) of investments by 2030 for massive investment in solar.


Number of Aids deaths among young Asians doubles over past decade

The estimated number of adolescents dying of AIDS in the Asia Pacific region has more than doubled since 2005, experts said on Monday (Nov 30), warning of a "hidden epidemic".

Unicef urged Asian countries to improve teenagers' access to testing, saying many young people do not know their HIV status because of parental consent requirements for tests.

The Asia Pacific region has made enormous strides against HIV/Aids in the adult population, with a 31 per cent drop in new HIV infections between 2000 and 2014, and 28 per cent decline in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2014.


IMF approves China's yuan for benchmark currency basket

The International Monetary Fund on Monday (Nov 30) admitted China's yuan into its benchmark currency basket in a win for Beijing's campaign for recognition as a global economic power.

The IMF's executive board agreed to add the yuan, also known as the renminbi, to its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket alongside the dollar, euro, pound sterling and yen, in a move earlier backed by IMF chief Christine Lagarde and in-house experts.

To meet the IMF's criteria, Beijing has undertaken a flurry of reforms in recent months, including better access for foreigners to Chinese currency markets, more frequent debt issuance and expanded yuan trading hours.


US to tighten rules for visa-free visits: White House

After recent extremist attacks, the United States is to tighten security procedures for its visa waiver programme for visitors from friendly countries, the White House said Monday.

Among other measures, travellers who are eligible to come to the United States without a visa will henceforth be screened for prior travel to any country deemed a "terrorist safe haven."

US federal agents will also work with the authorities in countries whose citizens are eligible for visa-free travel to help them collect biometric data.