President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, speaks at an ECB press conference in Frankfurt [EPA]

The European Central Bank has cut its key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to a record low 0.75 per cent to try to help ease Europe’s financial crisis and boost its sagging economy.

The action, which was widely expected, is meant to make it cheaper for businesses and consumers to borrow and spend money.

But experts said that fear over the economy was so high in Europe that the cut might only have limited effect.

In a more surprising move, the ECB cut the interest rate it pays banks on overnight deposits by a quarter percentage point – to zero.

This pushes banks to lend the money, rather than sock it away with the ECB.

ECB President Mario Draghi said the eurozone economy would recover only gradually. Some of the risks foreseen from the debt crisis had already materialised, pushing the bank to act, he said.

‘Artillery ready’

Analysts warned the rate cut might do little to jolt the eurozone economy back to life, however.

Borrowing rates are already low, but businesses and households are not spending money because they are afraid of the economic outlook.

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Draghi said there is more the ECB could do to stimulate growth. “we still have all our artillery ready,” he said, adding that low inflation gives the bank more wiggle room. But he suggested no further actions were imminent.

Stock markets initially rose after the news, but the gains faded as investors worried about a slowdown in the global economy.

Germany’s DAX stock index fell 0.5 per cent and the Dow 0.2 per cent. The euro was down 1.1 per cent to $1.2380.

“Today’s ECB interest rate cut does little to alter the bleak economic outlook,” said Jennifer McKeown, analyst at Capital Economics.

She said the ECB is likely to now wait and see how the financial markets and the economy react to the rate cut and to the new emergency measures announced by European leaders last week.

Rescue loans

The leaders agreed to make it easier for troubled countries and banks to receive rescue loans from Europe’s bailout fund and also signaled greater willingness to use emergency funds to purchase government bonds.

The goal would be to drive down troubled countries’ borrowing costs. They also agreed to create a single Europe-wide banking regulator to prevent bank bailouts from wrecking individual countries’ government finances.

Collectively, the moves sent a message to financial markets that leaders from the 17 countries that use the euro could work together to fix their problems.

They also helped lower the high borrowing costs for financially stressed countries such as Italy and Spain, the euro region’s third- and fourth-largest economies.

Lending activity in the eurozone has remained weak because businesses are not asking for credit because of the slow economy and out of fear that the eurozone may suffer a further financial calamity.

Concerns remain that bankrupt Greece could eventually leave the euro, causing more turmoil, or that Spain and Italy could need bailouts that would strain the resources of donor countries.

Undersea mountains march into the abyss.

(Royaltv)The pictures were created by sonar in waters up to 6km (4mi) deep.

They expose how tectonic action is dragging giant volcanoes into a chasm in the seabed.

The volcanoes are strung across several thousand kilometres of ocean floor and are moving westward on the Pacific tectonic plate at up to 6cm per year.

The extraordinary scene was captured along the Tonga Trench during a research expedition last summer.

The trench is a highly active fault line running north from New Zealand towards Tonga and Samoa.

The first images have been released to BBC News as the findings are presented to the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union.

They are the result of a joint project by the universities of Oxford and Durham, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
Into the abyss

Where the Pacific plate collides with the Indo-Australian plate, it is forced downwards into the trench, a subduction zone, and the volcanoes are carried with it.

The trench, reaching a depth of 10.9km, forms the second deepest stretch of seabed anywhere in the world – easily large enough to hold Mount Everest.

One image shows the volcano nearest the edge of the abyss – the next to be destroyed – already starting to collapse.

With frequent earthquakes, the region is vulnerable to tsunamis and one aim of the research is to understand whether the destruction of the volcanoes adds to the risk.

One theory is that the volcanoes add friction to the movement of the two plates which leads to a greater build-up of tension and consequently to a more explosive quake.

Another is that by shearing into blocks as they collapse, the volcanoes provide a kind of buffer easing the subduction process.
Earthquake puzzle

Professor Tony Watts of Oxford University, joint leader of the project, says that earthquakes are less frequent at the precise point where the volcanoes enter the trench.

“When you see size of these features you’d think they’d cause massive earthquakes and disruption – and that was our starting hypothesis.”

“But we found that the volcanoes were highly fractured before they entered the trench – which is very important for what happens after they enter the system.

Analysis so far has not determined the precise impact of this process.

Professor Watts says the key question still isn’t settled: “Are they added to the Australian plate or are they carried down in fragments into the deep earth mantle?”

UN climate talks ‘ambition’ call.

(Royaltv)South African President Jacob Zuma has called on governments to be more ambitious as they search for agreement at the UN climate talks.

The Earth is in danger, he said – but deciding what to do about it was a more difficult issue.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also asked for more ambition, saying that the financial crisis should be a spur.

Twelve heads of state and about 130 ministers have until Friday to decide what outcome they want from the talks.

Earlier in the day, their delegations heard analysts confirm that the Earth’s surface is on course to warm by about 3.5C (6.3F) by 2100, rather than the 2C (3.6F) that governments have agreed as the maximum.

Opening the ministerial segment, Mr Zuma described the UN talks, in the coastal city of Durban, as “a decisive moment”.

He appealed for all governments to respect the tradition of multilateralism, describing climate change as “a global problem that requires a global solution”.

Decisions here need to reflect current and future concerns, he said.

“We are all agreed that the Earth is in danger, and we’re all agreed that we must do something about it,” he told delegates.

“But the problem is when we’ve got to say what it is, and how.”

Mr Ban said that movement towards a green economy was crucial in order to overcome not only climate change, but the coming shortages of natural resources.

“The answer is clear, even if the exact path is not,” he said.

ndian anger

Behind the scenes, ministers and their teams began to step up diplomatic activity in a series of multilateral and bilateral meetings.

Many delegates are particularly keen to discover how far and how fast China is prepared to go towards a future legally-binding agreement to drive emissions down.

It is widely believed that China holds the key to whether the talks end with a breakthrough or a breakdown.

Many developing countries are also angered by the hard line being taken by the Indian delegation, which is holding to the line that only the traditional “developed” countries should have to engage in binding restrictions, despite the fact that some countries in the “developing world” bloc now have higher per-capita emissions and incomes.

Some African nations and small island states are keen to tell the Indian government that it risks isolating itself from the rest of the developing world bloc here.

There is also generalised frustration with the US. Despite President Obama’s pledge three years ago to “lead the world” on climate change, many sources indicate that behind the scenes, his officials are blocking whatever measures they can.
Rising tide

Concern of countries that feel vulnerable to climate impacts has been fuelled by several recent analyses showing that current pledges made by governments are very unlikely to keep the rise in global average temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C.

The latest Climate Action Tracker, compiled by analysts Climate Analytics, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Ecofys, was released on the sidelines of the UN talks.

Their top-line conclusion is that warming of about 3.5C is likely by 2100.

That could be brought down by tougher caps on emissions after the current pledges’ end-date of 2020; but that would be far more expensive, they calculate.

“To put it bluntly, the longer we wait, the less options we will have, the more it will cost, the less likely we are to be able to stay below global warming of 2C, and the bigger the threat to the world’s most vulnerable,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics.

Other recent reports from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and the International Energy Agency (EIA) reached similar conclusions.

“The door to achieving our objectives is rapidly closing,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

“While I strongly urge an agreement on emissions, I have a simple message for the participants in these talks: don’t wait for a global deal – act now.”

The longer governments wait, the more they risk locking themselves into a high-carbon energy system that is insecure and inefficient, the agency said.

Ms van der Hoeven’s words were echoed by a plethora of campaign groups around the conference venue.

While they are keen to see agreement on a package of measures here, some are concerned that an overwhelming desire for a deal could make the final document very weak.

They maintain that it should be based on the science coming from groups such as Unep, Climate Analytics and the IEA.

“Ministers here in Durban have no excuse if they ignore the deafening alarm bells coming from the scientific community,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK.

“Durban can and must agree a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period, and a mandate to strike a comprehensive legal agreement in 2015.

“But we also need strong action to increase ambition right now – being legally bound to a world of 4C warming is simply unacceptable.”

The future of airport security: Thermal lie-detectors and cloned sniffer dogs

(Royaltv)After the EU’s announcement that it will ban “backscatter” x-ray body scanners, airports may have to look harder at alternative security measures. From Bluetooth tracking to thermal lie-detector cameras, we take a glimpse into the weird and wonderful future of airport security.

The check-point of the future

Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) demonstrated its vision for the “checkpoint of the future” — a series of neon-lit tunnels, each equipped with an array of eye-scanners, x-ray machines, and metal and liquid detectors.

Heralding an end to “one size fits all screening,” the association says that passengers will be assigned a “travel profile” and ushered into one of three corridors accordingly.

“Known Travelers,” (those who have completed background checks with government authorities) for instance, will cruise through the light blue security corridor with little more than an ID check, while those guided through the yellow “Enhanced” corridor will be subjected to an array of iris scans and sensitive contraband detectors.

Although still at the proof of concept stage, the IATA is hoping to have these colorful checkpoints installed in airports within the next five to seven years.

Thermal lie-detection

Feeling guilty? Got something to hide? A team of UK-based researchers claim to have developed a thermal lie-detection camera that can automatically spot a burning conscience.

The system could be used during customs interviews and at passport control to check whether people entering the country are giving a true account of themselves.

The thermal-imaging camera captures variations in facial temperature in response to questioning. “When someone is making something up on the spot, brain activity usually changes and you can detect this through the thermal camera,” said professor Hassan Ugail, who leads the research.

At present, the UK’s Home Office and HM Revenue & Customs are sponsoring the system’s development, but will not reveal the name of the airport where it’s being tested.

Bluetooth passenger tracking

Finland’s largest airport is harnessing the tracking potential of a device already carried by most passengers: their mobile phones.

The new system at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport monitors Bluetooth signals to examine passenger movement around the terminal, and uses this information to predict waiting times in front of the security gate.

For now, the technology is simply helping airport operators with crowd management at busy periods, while providing “opted-in” passengers with accurate waiting-time estimates, lit-up in front of them on flight information display screens.

Further down the line, Amor Group — which developed the technology — says that the system could track any passenger as soon as they enter the car park or bus station and, in time, be used to create “passenger profiles” — detailing the behavior of individuals to create “targeted retail activity and process optimization.”

Professor Byeong-chun Lee, who established his reputation in 2005 as the driving force behind the world’s first ever dog clone, has bought a new breed of super-sniffers to South Korea’s Incheon Airport.

They may look like an ordinary pack of golden Labrador Retrievers, but these dogs are all genetically identical to “Chase,” a dog whose legendary snout kept him top of Incheon’s drug-detection rankings right up until his retirement in 2007.

While, on average, only three out of 10 selectively bred sniffer dogs trained by the airport’s security staff have the nostrils for the job, every single one of the new clone recruits have made the grade — providing Incheon with one of the world’s most formidable teams of drug detectors.

But it’s not just contraband smugglers who should fear the arrival of this sniffing super-breed. Lee’s next clone will be a high-performance “quarantine dog” — gifted with an enhanced capacity for detecting the presence of disease in humans.

Behavioral Detection Officers

In the United States, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) is not just relying on fancy gadgets and genetically enhanced nostrils to improve security: it’s turning to good old-fashioned human instinct.

Behavioural Detection Officers (BDOs) have been trained to engage passengers in casual conversation in an effort to weed out suspicious behavior.

According to the TSA, the pilot scheme aims to stimulate the “involuntary physical and physiological reactions” that people display when they are fearful of being discovered.

BDOs are currently operating at approximately 161 airports nationwide. So next time an airport official starts talking about the unseasonably good weather, chances are they think you’ve got something to hide.