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The Vatican, the world’s smallest sovereign state, has stepped up its fight against global warming by installing a huge rooftop solar energy system.

More than 2,000 photovoltaic panels have been fixed to the roof of one of the city state’s main buildings, enabling the Holy See to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by about 225 tonnes a year, saving the equivalent of 80 tonnes of oil annually.

Looming over them is the imposing bulk of St Peter’s Basilica, but the panels will not be visible from ground level, leaving the Vatican’s impressive skyline unblemished.

The solar energy system covers the massive roof of the “Nervi Hall”, where Pope Benedict XVI holds general audiences.

The 2,400 panels, designed by a Germany company, will heat, light and cool the hall and several surrounding buildings, producing 300 kilowatt hours (MWh) of clean energy a year.

The hall, built in 1971 and one of the Vatican’s newest buildings, has a sweeping, wave-shaped roof which made the project feasible.

The Vatican’s official mouthpiece, the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial that “the gradual exhaustion of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect have reached critical dimensions.”

Pope Benedict, like his predecessor John Paul II, has made several appeals for greater efforts to protect the environment.

Last year the Holy See announced that it would become the world’s first carbon-neutral state by planting trees in a national park in Hungary in order to offset its carbon-dioxide emissions.

This latest initiative puts the Vatican at odds with Italy. The Italian government said this week that it would veto new European Union limits on greenhouse gas emissions unless it won concessions.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said a plan proposed by France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, was unrealistic.

Italy’s greenhouse gas emissions are around 13 per cent above 1990 levels – one of the worst performances in the EU.

Analysts believe that Italy may be dragging its heels in order to secure a better deal for its industry and that the government would not dare risk the stigma of sabotaging the EU’s self-declared role as the world leader in tackling climate change.

Source: Telegragh

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The Vatican has fired a warning shot over the bows of Barack Obama in response to the President-elect’s intention to lift the US ban on embryonic stem cell research.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, who acts as the Vatican health minister, said that stem cells taken from human embryos and involving the destruction of the embryos “serve no purpose”.

Asked whether the Vatican was concerned about reports that Mr Obama might reverse the Bush Administration’s ban, the cardinal said that embryonic stem cell research had not resulted in any significant health cure so far and was “good for nothing”.

Research on adult stem cells and umbliical cords had been shown to have “positive value”, by contrast, although even that was not “a panacea for everything.”

He said the Vatican would seek clarification of the new administration’s position on stem cells, and he himself was not “fully aware” what it was.

Aides to Mr Obama indicated this week that he will reverse Mr Bush’s stand on stem cell research. The US Senate voted in July to remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, but the President vetoed the legislation the following day.

Mr Obama has supported stem cell research to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. His views are supported by Joe Biden, the Vice-President-elect, who is a Roman Catholic.

John Podesta, who is handling the President-elect’s preparations to take over in the White House on January 20, said Mr Obama wanted “all the Bush executive orders reviewed”.

He added: “I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country.”

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, a leading American Vatican watcher, said the Vatican would have “deep differences” with the Obama administration over abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

These, however, must not be allowed to impede US-Vatican co-operation in promoting “religious freedom and human dignity worldwide” or on issues such as immigration, economic justice, peace, and environmental protection, he said.

Carinal Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, made the remarks at a press conference on childhood disease and illness and infant mortality.

He called for an intensive effort to improve “both medical and pastoral” aid to children, saying that four million babies in the world died each year in their first 26 days of life.

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