Kelly Clarkson, Zac Efron to get stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, actor Zac Efron and British star Benedict Cumberbatch are among celebrities who will be getting a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2021. Shia LaBeouf, Missy Elliott and “American Pie” singer-songwriter Don McLean were also among the 35 stars of film, television and music announced for the honor on Thursday by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the tourist attraction. The late Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences” playwright August Wilson will be given stars posthumously. They will join more than 2,600 celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Jennifer Aniston, Jimi Hendrix and rapper Snoop Dogg, whose names are inscribed on pink and bronze stars embedded on the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard in a tradition that started in 1960. Ceremonies unveiling the stars on the Walk of Fame were suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The unveilings that were postponed for six unnamed celebrities will be rescheduled at a later date, officials said.

Thousands evacuated in Arizona as wildfires scorch U.S. Southwest

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Over 2,000 people were evacuated from three large wildfires in Arizona on Thursday as dry conditions and gusty winds whipped blazes across the U.S. Southwest. Over 1,500 residents fled small communities in mountains about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, as a wildfire grew to an area larger than the city of Detroit overnight, fire officials reported. Firefighters battling the Bush Fire faced gusting winds, low relative humidity and triple-digit temperatures as flames leaped through ponderosa pine, piñon and juniper in the Tonto National Forest. The fire, which began with a vehicle blaze, was the largest of 37 fires burning in the United States at 114,941 acres (46,515 hectares) and already the seventh largest in Arizona history, according to National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and National Weather Service (NWS) data. “We have hotter temperatures approaching,” said Marvin Percha, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Phoenix, forecasting above-average temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) by Monday. Around a dozen other fires burned in Arizona, which also faced a record spike in coronavirus cases this week. The Mangum Fire had blackened 56,780 acres (22,980 hectares) in the Kaibab National Forest around 40 miles (65 km) north of the Grand Canyon, forcing 230 people to leave their homes. Four hundred homes were evacuated for the Bighorn Fire north of Tucson, which had burned 23,892 acres (9,669 hectares). Large fires have been contained in California, Colorado and Utah this week, but a string of smaller blazes continue to burn. In southwestern Colorado, a young bear was rescued on Tuesday after its paws were badly burned in a blaze west of Durango, Colorado, Parks and Wildlife said in a statement. Much of California remained under a “red flag warning” for the kind of erratic gusty winds that have caused a plague of “megafires” of over 100,000 acres (40,470 hectares)in recent years. Across the United States, the area of land torched by fires year to date was 865,575 acres (350,285 hectares), nearly double that of 2019, the NIFC reported.

EU lawmakers back green finance rules, urge use in COVID recovery fund

(Reuters) – European Union lawmakers on Thursday approved green finance rules ensuring investments do not prop up polluting industries, requirements they and investors say should also guide spending of hundreds of billions of euros in coronavirus recovery funds. The rules, known as the EU sustainable finance “taxonomy”, will restrict which investments can be classed as green and force providers of financial products to disclose which investments meet the criteria, from the end of 2021. But the coronavirus pandemic has given the rules a new purpose – to guide spending from the Commission’s proposed 750 billion euro EU economic recovery fund, which EU leaders will discuss on Friday. The EU’s executive, which has until the end of 2020 to approve the final green finance rules, has proposed applying them to parts of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery fund including a 15.3 billion euro “InvestEU” pot. “The Commission continues to explore how the taxonomy can be used in the context of the European Green Deal by the public sector” a Commission spokesman told Reuters, referring to its “Green Deal” plan to reduce net EU emissions to zero by 2050. Bas Eickhout, the EU lawmaker who led parliament’s talks on the green finance rules, said the rules should apply to the entire 750 billion euro recovery fund. “This is taxpayers’ money. In order to make it compliant with the green deal, the taxonomy should be your guidance,” he told Reuters. Investors also urged the Commission to weave climate conditions throughout the entire EU recovery package. “The stimulus package cannot at the very least harm or undermine the climate and environmental goals nor contravene social standards,” said Helena Viñes Fiestas, Global Head of Stewardship and Policy at BNP Paribas Asset Management. Spending EU money on polluting projects would “end up costing taxpayers twice the amount”, since such projects would need to be replaced with low-carbon infrastructure in the long-run, she said.

Lebanese film director keeps faith after COVID-19 dashes Cannes dreams

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Many directors would have been devastated when their plans to show their first feature at the Cannes Film Festival were wrecked by the spread of COVID-19. But Lebanon’s Jimmy Keyrouz said he took heart from the themes of his movie “Broken Keys”, which tells its own story of finding hope in the midst of disaster. The film follows a young man called Karim living somewhere in Iraqi and Syrian territory occupied by Islamic State militants and dreaming of escaping to Europe to become a musician. At the start of the film, the fighters smash up his piano. He then tries to rebuild the instrument to sell it to fund his journey. “If I was to summarize the spirit of the film in one sentence or saying I would say: ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass – it’s about learning to dance in the rain,’” Keyrouz told Reuters TV. “I guess it sums up the film pretty well and sums up our situation. You just gotta keep working, keep moving forward.”  Keyrouz said he filmed part of “Broken Keys” in the Iraqi city of Mosul. “We filmed at the last area that ISIS (Islamic State) fought, and even there in some places we smelled … dead bodies under the rubble.” Cannes chose the film for its 2020 lineup, alongside works by Wes Anderson and other star directors. But the world’s biggest cinema showcase, usually held in May on the French Riviera, called off its events during the lockdown. Organizers this month published the list of their 56-film line-up, saying they still wanted to use the festival’s cachet to help promote the movies. “I can only be very happy and grateful for Cannes to have supported and selected the film, despite not having the festival,” Keyrouz said, adding that he was still hoping to start releasing the film later this year.

Locked-down puppeteer brings her characters to life in Madrid flat

MADRID (Reuters) – Madrid-based Colombian actress and puppeteer Yohana Yara has been using her time in lockdown filming puppet shows on her balcony and creating an online fan base for her characters. Just two months after she moved to the Spanish capital the country went into lockdown, depriving her and thousands of others who work in the arts of a job and shattering her plans for 2020. Confined to her flat and filled with disappointment and boredom, Yara, 39 decided to create a YouTube channel for her show “Leo the Lion and his Friends”.    She shot and uploaded videos with children’s stories, poems and songs and captured an audience of youngsters.    “It helped me, it was therapeutic and stopped me from feeling down and it gave me a creative outlet,” Yara said. “I think that in times of crisis creativity surges and you start working with what you have at home. As I’m a puppeteer, fortunately I have a lot of puppets I can work with.”     She can’t wait to start performing in front of children again, and experience the reaction of a live audience. Spain has suffered one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks but has been gradually reopening since May. The lockdown will end on June 21 but certain restrictions will remain in place, such as social distancing and the use of masks.

Divers cut, plant coral off UAE coast to build reef

FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) – Off the east coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) coral freshly removed from a reef is cut into pieces and replanted by a group of divers in the waters below. The divers, from the Fujairah Adventure Centre, are building artificial reefs they hope will spur a resurgence in sea life degraded over the years by climate change and development. The small team and other volunteers have planted more than 9,000 corals over about 600 square metres in the past year. Within five years, they hope to cover 300,000 square metres with 1.5 million corals. “It’s a fertile environment for coral reefs, and this diversity has started spreading and has helped bring back sea life,” diver Saeed al-Maamari told Reuters. Reefs, developing over thousands of years, are crucial to the survival of many marine species, while also acting as a barrier against waves that can help reduce erosion. As elsewhere, UAE reefs have suffered substantial degradation over the past two decades, mostly due to climate change but also because of land reclamation. Artificial reefs can help restore reefs that become a habitat for marine life and help combat coral bleaching and other degradation caused by climate change. But it could take 10-15 years until meaningful levels of coral begin to grow naturally on artificial reefs, marine biologist John Burt told Reuters. “This is a programme that is going to take a considerable amount of time before it is able to demonstrate efficacy in terms of rehabilitating a coral reef,” said the associate professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. The project in Fujairah, one of the poorer parts of the oil-rich Gulf Arab state, has government support with technical expertise provided by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. Fujairah is where most of the country’s few popular diving spots are located and officials hope the reef will help foster sustainable fisheries and eco-tourism. “We’re recreating the coral reef environment and system, which will become colonized with fish and increase biodiversity and become a habitat for fish species that are threatened and become a nice environment for diving tourism,” said Ahmed Al-Za’abi, director of the ministry’s marine environment research department.

Exclusive: Vanguard names names and backs some calls for climate steps

BOSTON/LONDON (Reuters) – Vanguard Group, the world’s largest mutual fund manager, backed shareholder resolutions for shippers United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc (JBHT.O) and oil driller Ovintiv Inc (OVV.N) to limit their climate-warming emissions, according to a top Vanguard executive and a company report being released on Thursday. The details marked the first time the Pennsylvania-based firm has named names in describing such proxy votes at recent shareholder meetings. In an interview with Reuters, Vanguard principal Glenn Booraem said the firm’s views on climate and its proxy votes reflect a growing consensus among investors and companies that businesses should account for the risks of operating on a warmer planet. Climate change “is getting increasing attention at every level of the market,” he said. Vanguard had raised climate concerns previously, without singling out companies by name or airing too much “dirty laundry,” as Booraem put it last year. But with growing interest among investors about climate impacts, the new vote details are a way for Vanguard to show executives and its own clients how the firm puts its views into practice, Booraem said. “We are on this climate journey and will continue to evolve, over time, at our own pace,” he said. As a top shareholder in nearly every major U.S. company, Vanguard’s voice is often dominant in boardroom decisions. Vanguard manages some $6 trillion under management for 30 million mom-and-pop investors. Traditionally Vanguard and its main rival, BlackRock Inc (BLK.N), have backed shareholder climate resolutions only about 10% of the time. Critics, including Vanguard’s late founder, John Bogle, have long called for more transparency on how the asset managers vote. Booraem declined to say what Vanguard’s overall support rate will be for climate measures this year, which will make up a tiny slice of the votes it will cast at roughly 13,000 companies worldwide during the 12 months ended June 30. He declined to comment whether Vanguard would follow BlackRock in joining the Climate Action 100+ investor group seeking emissions cuts. But Booraem said a report scheduled to be posted Thursday on Vanguard’s website includes specific examples that are meant to be representative of the company’s thinking on climate change. It aims to take a fiduciary approach and not an ideological one, he said, especially given the wide range of views among its clients. The report shows that among nine shareholder resolutions voted on since April, Vanguard sided with management five times. For instance Vanguard voted against a proposal to have JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) report how it would use its lending to cut emissions, saying the bank has already taken adequate steps. In four other examples Vanguard sided with shareholders sponsoring the resolutions. One was a call for UPS (UPS.N) to report on plans to reduce its climate-warming carbon emissions, saying UPS had failed to disclose how it would cut airplane fuel usage. Vanguard also voted in favor of a proposal to have Ovintiv (OVV.N) set emission-reduction targets, saying they would help investors understand the company’s strategy. Vanguard’s votes did not determine the outcomes of the two questions. Public securities filings show at UPS 30% of votes cast favored the measure, a figure that would include Vanguard’s roughly 8% holding of Class B shares. At Ovintiv 56% of votes favored the measure; Vanguard owns less than 1% of shares outstanding. Representatives for UPS and Ovintiv declined to comment. Vanguard did determine the outcome at J.B. Hunt (JBHT.O), where it holds about 10% of shares. A measure calling for the trucker’s plans to cut emissions — similar to what was asked of UPS — won support from 54% of votes cast, filings show. A J.B. Hunt representative did not respond to requests for comment.

Vera Lynn, voice of hope in wartime Britain, dies at 103

LONDON (Reuters) – Vera Lynn, the singer who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and again during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, has died at the age of 103. Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back home with songs such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” that gave voice to the hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany. To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected on to those white cliffs and a new album released. She was back in the headlines as recently as April when Queen Elizabeth used words from Lynn’s song to tell the country “We will meet again” and urged people to show resolve during the coronavirus lockdown. “Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.” Lynn was born Vera Welch on March 20, 1917, the daughter of a plumber in London’s East End, and was singing in working men’s clubs at the age of seven. She began radio broadcasts and singing with bands in the late 1930s. But it was her wartime songs that won her fame and led to British tanks trundling into battle with ““Vera” painted on their sides and more than 1,000 written offers of marriage from servicemen. In 1941, she began a weekly radio broadcast from London called ““Sincerely Yours” in which she relayed messages from British troops serving in all war theatres to their loved ones. She also toured Burma in 1944 and was later presented with the Burma Star medal. Captain Tom Moore, a veteran of that campaign who this year raised more than 33 million pounds for the National Health Service during the pandemic, tweeted: “She had a huge impact on me in Burma and remained important to me throughout my life.” “EVERYONE PULLED TOGETHER” Ironically, Lynn’s biggest hit had a German title and came after the war. ““Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”, backed by a soldiers’ chorus, sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and made Lynn the first British performer to top the U.S. hit parade. The song made her a star in the United States in the 1950s. But the noisy advent of rock and roll eventually elbowed aside her more sedate brand of nostalgia. In 1975 – amid a chorus of press disapproval that it had taken so long – Vera Lynn was given the title of Dame of the British Empire. Always modest about her contribution to Britain’s wartime effort, she told an interviewer in 1984: “”Everyone pulled together and tried to live their lives as normally as possible.” Lynn never sought publicity and lived quietly for most of her life on England’s south coast near Brighton with Harry Lewis, the man she had married in 1941 – a clarinet player who became her manager. Known locally in the village of Ditchling as Mrs Lewis, she had a passion for gardening and detective novels. “”I was lucky,” she said. “”I had a talent; it lifted me out of the bracket I was born into. “”And when I got my house and a little car, I thought, well that’s all I want.”

Eni CEO working to make green drive irreversible

MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) – Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi wants to turn the 67-year-old Italian oil and gas firm into a greener business, focusing on clean low-carbon products to build a huge customer base which he believes can steady the ship and attract investors more than ever.  The veteran oil executive, reappointed as Eni (ENI.MI) chief for a third time in May, told Reuters he wants to ensure Eni will play a role in the energy transition which he believes has accelerated in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. “In these next 3 years I want to trace a completely irreversible path for the group,” Descalzi said. The 65-year-old, who was in charge of upstream business at Eni before taking over the top spot in 2014, is looking to create a slimmer and more flexible company that can switch very rapidly to meet market conditions but which has a clear long-term direction. “What’s clear is we need to deliver different kinds of energy products to our clients,” he said. In February Eni pledged to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in one of the most ambitious clean-up drives in an industry under pressure from investors to go green. To do that it will have less oil and more gas in its portfolio, build its renewable capacity, convert refineries to biofuels and step up forestry and carbon capture projects. “The impact of COVID-19 will be with us for a year or two and that’s why we worked extra fast on our new re-organisation,” Descalzi said. Eni split its business in two this month, creating a division to focus on clean energy to prepare for a decarbonised future. The plans come as the oil and gas sector faces a collapse in demand following the coronavirus epidemic and uncertainty over longer-term demand as governments battle climate change. Descalzi dismissed concerns that pivoting away from oil could undermine returns since the new “Energy Evolution” businesses are less capital intensive and less risky with some 80% of the new energy in OECD countries. The group intends to introduce new raw materials to feed its bio-refineries and power stations including biogas, animal fats, and inorganic waste as it looks to develop the clean products it says will increase its customer base from 9 million to more than 20 million by 2050. “We’re getting 15% returns on our bio-refineries and that will grow further when we take palm oil out of the mix by end 2022,” Descalzi said. “So we can compare the returns to upstream business – only with lower risk.” CARBON HUB The energy giant is also betting on large-scale carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) investments to help clean up the gas that will feature large in its fossil fuel portfolio as oil is wound down after 2025. In January it announced an agreement with ADNOC to develop CCUS facilities in Abu Dhabi and Descalzi said there are plans for carbon storage at Liverpool Bay in Britain. That is in addition to large-scale investments around Ravenna, the Italian town close to the Adriatic Sea, where the group has a power plant, chemical production and offshore gas reserves. Eni has vast areas of depleted gas fields in the Adriatic it can use to store its CO2 as well as that of others. “We want to create one of the biggest CO2 hubs in the world,” he said. Eni’s plans also include developing its own renewable energy business where the aim is to install 15 gigawatts (GW) of capacity by 2030, from 0.2 GW last year, before taking it to more than 55 GW in 2050. “On the Energy Evolution front our aim is to grow organically but we don’t rule out small affordable M&A if the right opportunity comes along,” he said.

Vatican urges Catholics to drop investments in fossil fuels, arms

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican urged Catholics on Thursday to disinvest from the armaments and fossil fuel industries and to closely monitor companies in sectors such as mining to check if they are damaging the environment. The calls were contained in a 225-page manual for church leaders and workers to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praised Be) on the need to protect nature, life and defenseless people. The compendium suggests practical steps to achieve the goals of the encyclical, which strongly supported agreements to contain global warming and warned against the dangers of climate change. The manual’s section on finance said people “could favor positive changes … by excluding from their investments companies that do not satisfy certain parameters.” It listed these as respect for human rights, bans on child labor and protection of the environment. Called ‘Journeying Towards Care For Our Common Home’, one action point called on Catholics to shun “shun companies that are harmful to human or social ecology, such as abortion and armaments, and to the environment, such as fossil fuels”. Another section called for the “stringent monitoring” of extraction industries in areas with fragile ecosystems to prevent air, soil and water contamination. Last month, more that 40 faith organizations from around the world, more than half of them Catholic, pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies. The Vatican bank has said it does not invest in fossil fuels and many Catholic dioceses and educational institutions around the world have taken similar positions. The document urges Catholics to defend the rights of local populations to have a say in whether their lands can be used for oil or mineral extraction and the right to take strong stands against companies that cause environmental disasters or over-exploit natural resources such as forests.