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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Ben Parker from the UNEP has been in touch to highlight a set of useful links he has assembled which outline the impacts of War on the environment.

Link categories include:

* The enviromental impact of the Gulf War (marine, land + atmosphere)
* UNEP Post Conflict Assessment Unit (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan + Occupied Palestinian Territories)
* Reports and Publications
* International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict

Monday, February 24, 2003

The Scottish Executive has announced plans to recycle 25% of municipal waste by 2006, rising to 55% by 2020, + a reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill sites.

A BBC NewsOnline forum has allowed people to ask an energy expert (Prof Ian Fells) about the Energy White Paper that the UK has just published, and the government's ability to follow up on their goal of a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2050 based on their proposals for greater energy efficiency and the relative roles of renewable + nuclear energy sectors.

Prof. Fells makes many interesting + quite subtle points regarding the realities of the UK's current + future energy provision...

Overall there appear to be a number of "reality gaps" that are largely to do with the political difficulties associated with increased nuclear power being dodged + a lack of funds being made available for renewables.

The absence of a tax on aircraft fuel is highlighted yet again...

Zambia's former President Frederick Chiluba has been arrested + charged with 66 counts of corruption.

Zambia's Supreme Court has recently stripped the former President of his immunity from prosecution following accusations that he illegally spent millions of dollars of government money while in power. Chiluba has also been questioned by the police following accusations made by his successor, President Levy Mwanawasa, regarding a $20 million arms deal which never materialised...

If state corruption interests you I recommend a report by Global Witness called "All the President's Men: the devastating story of oil and banking in Angola's privatised war".

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Earlier this year John Prescott, The UK's Deputy Prime Minister, unveiled plans to build 100,000s of new homes in south-east England, to tackle a severe shortage of affordable homes.

The plan identified four key areas for housing developments (1) The London-Cambridge-M11 corridor (between 250,000 and 500,000 new homes), (2) Milton Keynes (up to 300,000 new homes), (3) the Thames Gateway (up to 40,000 new homes) + (4) Ashford (up to 31,000 new homes).

Many NGOs, including the RSPB, are disappointed that the although there will be a requirement on new social housing to meet Eco-homes “Pass” standard they will not have to meet tougher “good” or “excellent” standards, and that it does not cover the private sector housing. They are also concerned that “infrastructure-led development” in the Thames Gateway may include the proposed Cliffe Airport (which has been vigorously opposed by local branches of the Woodland Trust, the RSPB + Council for the Protection of Rural England) and that the government has failed to insist on increased energy efficiency, reduced water use and other tried + tested sustainable construction technologies.

For further reading see the WWF's One Million Sustainable Homes ("the typical home built in the UK requires a total of more than 3.5 times the of energy of a home built in Germany or Denmark"), the Sustainable Homes website and the deliberations of the Commons Committee stages where the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill has been discussed prior to moving on to the Houses of Commons and Lords later this year...

Friends of the Earth has produced an summary of what is expected to be contained in the next week's Energy White Paper from the UK government. It is expected to contain some relatively good news for backers of renewable energy, to delay making any decisions on the building of new nuclear power stations + to avoid setting emissions targets that are backed by money from the UK Treasury.

The Energy White Paper was initiated because in 2000 The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published a report on climate change, which said that the UK needs to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

The Government is known to be concerned about the security of the UK's energy supplies given that our reserves of gas and oil are declining and could expire within the next 25 years. By 2010 we will be a net importer of fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

The White Paper is therefore intended to set out Government thinking on how to achieve a low carbon economy while at the same time ensuring that the lights stay on and our economy is not damaged by the shock of rapidly rising energy prices.

Friends of the Earth hope that there will be measures that encourage greater energy efficiency, make ordinary consumers + airlines pay more towards their environmental impact of the fossil fuels they use + stimulate a public debate as to the role of the nuclear industry [which FoE bitterly oppose] in future energy policy....

The Bretton Woods Project have produced an thought-provoking assessment of the role of good governance in the World Bank's priority setting.

Their report's executive summary states that "The World Bank's 'good governance' agenda is concerned with the relationship between the state, the market, and civil society in loan-receiving countries", that "The ideal of the 'minimalist state' has been replaced with that of the 'effective state'" and that "The Bank argues that in order to be effective, the state must play a critical role in managing and regulating the market and civil society."

Although the report "welcomes the move towards a good governace agenda that attempts to establish well-functioning market economies with stable property rights, enforceable contracts, high levels of transparency, and low levels of corruption" the Brettons Wood Project is less impressed by the Bank's neoliberal philosophy "leaving the good governance agenda market-centric rather than state-centric".

The report also finds that "the Bank's faith in market mechanisms underestimates the significant challenges posed by institution-building and the need to protect the vulnerable".

You can find the complete report here...

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Yesterday James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, was in Oxford to give a lecture as part of a series organised by Amnesty International.

Before his main speech he participated in an informal seminar at the Oxford Union and took a large number of varied questions from the audience.

Issues that Mr Wolfensohn covered included recent reform of the World Bank, perceptions of the Bank, agriculture, aid + donor co-ordination, corruption, conditionality (conditions attached to loans), investment in fighting AIDS, debt forgiveness + the use of matching funds.

In his opening comments Mr. Wolfensohn acknowledged that the World Bank has been perceived as arrogant, clinical, theory orientated + overly economically driven. He said that he had tried to humanise the institution, encouraged issues to be considered in human terms, as well as economic terms, and had invited his staff to "fight poverty with passion". He also said that he wanted to involve faith-based organisations (who provide 50% of health and education services in Africa) in development work + to use national cultures to help promote development.

When answering questions Mr. Wolfensohn said that the decline of World Bank spending on agriculture (from 30% to 6%) in developing countries was due to poor countries being reluctant to borrow money for agricultural advice when grants were available... in terms of co-ordination he said that donors lacked co-ordination and did a bad job of saving knowledge. He also came up with the amazing statistic that Tanzania receives 2,000 donor visits per annum and that this generates in the region of 10,000 reports. As a result of these separate visits there is inevitable replication of effort and institutions are therefore being asked to do things in a similar way and to demonstrate their efficiency in terms of the Millennium Development Goals.

Earth-Info.Net then asked Mr. Wolfensohn to explain the thinking behind the World Bank's recent decision to loan Indonesia $2.7 billion ( - where Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has claimed that 20% of World Bank funds get siphoned off in corruption - ) and to comment on the ability of the World Bank to encourage reform of the military, law and democratic systems within Indonesia.

Mr. Wolfensohn started his answer disputing the 20% figure from ICW and with a story of his first time at the UN's General Council where corruption was considered to be a taboo subject, referred to as the "C word"... However, corruption was a social and an economic issue found around the world and the World Bank had recently formed a partnership with Transparency International and was attempting to tackle this issue. He also said that when in power Indonesia's former President Soharto had told him that "corruption means family values"... Mr. Wolfensohn added that Indonesia is a country of 200 million people, less corrupt (than it had been), but had fallen behind and was potentially very unstable... faced with the choice of disengaging or helping fulfill hopes the World Bank had decided to back the government, introduce audit procedures + teams, but could not expect to achieve perfection, and felt that the World Bank could do more inside than outside...

In terms of the World Bank's board (which has 24 members made up of 1/3 - 1/2 from developing countires but with voting rights according the funds contributed by shareholder countires) Mr. Wolfensohn said that he felt it was important to give the board members representing developing countries a greater capacity to represent the interests and concerns of their countries or regions. He also said that if each country was given equal voting rights then "donor countries would vote with their feet" and take direct control of their funds rather than disperse it through the World Bank as they currently do, that developing nations could "win the battle, but lose the war" if they do get one country one vote, and that it was probably better for poor countries to have strengthened "persuasive influence than no influence". He expressed relief that it would be his successor's task to resolve this problem.

In respect of conditionality (the conditions attached to loans) Mr. Wolfensohn said that the World Bank negotiated terms in advance of granting loans and that countries often wanted conditions attached to their loan so that they were able to push difficult change through their parliaments... Mr. Wolfensohn emphasised that the World Bank tried to give maximum flexibility to countries but not where the programme or country were in danger. The US Millennium Challenge Account (recently endowed with an extra $5 billion) will be used to lend to 17 well behaved countries but Mr. Wolfensohn pointed out that a further 140 countries needed to be dealt with and could not be forgotten or ignored. Citing the example of Vietnam he also said that the World Bank was open to negotiation where countries knew what they wanted to do, with there being some areas where the World Bank and countries cannot negotiate, others they can agree and others where clients and the World Bank both want the same thing...

When asked about AIDS Mr. Wolfensohn said AIDS had not had the focus it needed, that it was not just an issue for Africa and that "no AIDS project would go unfunded". On debt relief Mr. Wolfensohn said that the poorest countries were lent to at low interest... "the World Bank or any other financial institution will never say that if a project fails you don't have to pay back" (the money). On matching funds he said that this was used as a means of making countries feel part of projects, that the World Bank will find ways round it if countries have no matching fund to contribute (e.g. Afghanistan, East Timor or Bhutan) and that where capital flight exceeds development assistance something needed to be done in order to help keep money in countries.

Giving the example of Bhutan - "a country whose economy is based on happiness" - Mr. Wolfensohn said that the World Bank would be thrilled to lend to countries that had decided for themselves to be market economies but that shareholder nations had prevented the World Bank from lending to countries such as Iran, Syria + Cuba - although the Bank had now recommenced lending to Iran and Syria based on poverty.

See the Brettons Wood Project, Whirled Bank + Jubilee Research websites for some alternative views of the Banks priorities and activities...

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

A report from the National Consumer Council (NCC) entitled Everyday Essentials has found that the needs of up to 13 million poor people living in the UK are being virtually ignored by companies + the service industry.

The report concluded that 3 simple changes would help the plight of Briton's poor include:

* Affordable + convenient pushchair friendly bus services to the supermarket.

* Help for people whose first language isn't English, or who have literacy problems, to communicate with their children's school.

* An end to "time-consuming" + "complicated" automated telephone systems.

Other facts highlighted by the report include... an estimated 4 million people are fuel poor, over 4.4 million households are in debt to water companies, despite government initiatives, 20% of the poorest households still remain without any type of bank or building society account, a 1/3 of the population have no savings at all + an estimated 750,000 people in England and Wales fail to get their medical prescription dispensed because of the cost...

Scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Denver have warned that Leatherback turtles could go extinct within a 10 to 30 years if current fishing practices continue.

In addition to poachers taking eggs from beaches the 4 million baited hooks that are used every day to catch tuna + swordfish often ensnare leatherback turtles as an unintended by-catch. When turtles try to eat the bait anywhere on the 60km long fishing line they can become snared and as they need air to breathe once they become exhausted they drown.

In order to reduce this problem the hooks could be redesigned, longline fishing could be banned in certain areas + the total amount of fishing limited.

In a related story that Earth-Info.Net posted last November we learnt that many large, wide-ranging seabirds such as albatross + petrels also drown on tuna longlines in the world's southern oceans. These birds could also be better protected by different fishing practices + reductions in illegal fishing.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Tereza has sent in a fascinating story from AllAfrica.Com which suggests that efforts to increase competition in Mozambique's mobile phone sector may in fact lead to a doubling of the basic unit price that mobile phone users are charged.

Mozambique's Sunday paper "Domingo" has reported that the South African company Vodacom, which won the tender for the second mobile phone licence in Mozambique, is refusing to operate in Mozambique unless its competitors are forced to put up their prices...

In late August, deputy executive director of Vodacom, Andrew Mthembu, described M-Cel's rates as "ridiculously low", and stated that they should be doubled.

This raises the obvious questions of why Vodacom bid for the 15 year licence if they are so unlikely to be able compete within existing pricing structures and whether "competition" is always such a good thing for the consumer?

The President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, will be giving a lecture as part of the Oxford Amnesty Lecture series later this week...

While undertaking background reading in preparation for this visit Earth-Info.Net came across a speech Mr. Wolfensohn gave recently in Ireland entitled "Towards a More Secure World". Here are a few quotes:

"....we have of the order of $50 billion being made available for development assistance globally"

"The United States this year will contribute $10 billion. The United States will spend $360 billion this year on defense. The world will spend between $800 billion and $1 trillion on defense, while $50 billion is spent on development assistance. $350 billion a year will be spent on agricultural subsidies, while $50 billion a year is spent on development assistance."

"And the world has set a series of goals called the Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty by 2015, to get all the kids in school by 2015, to reduce infant mortality and maternal mortality, to deal with AIDS, to deal with the environment. And, frankly, it's just not possible to get there with $50 billion, even on the assumption that we get, as we should, a much more effective use of the $50 billion."

"Even on the assumption that we get $10 billion or $15 billion more , we're still short $30, $40, $50 billion in terms of achieving goals that all the leaders of the world have said we should."

"The primary issue, then, which I think we need to address is how seriously all of us take the question of development, both in terms of how we come together and how we provide resources in terms of development assistance and how we deal with the question of trade. Because if you encourage people to build their productive capacity and then block them from your markets, it's not a great incentive. Cotton is a single example in one country that you know well, in Uganda. The cotton subsidy provided by the Northern countries to their growers has cost Uganda $250 billion-just on cotton."

In a second speech on African development entitled Putting Africa Front and Centre Mr. Wolfensohn deals with the importance of partnerships, capacity building, prevention, education, tackling corruption + implementation of existing plans in achieving development...

Earth-Info.Net cannot help wondering how + why governments repeatedly fail to fulfill their international funding commitments and why after dozens of reports + summits so little progress has been made with regard to implementation.

The Brettons Wood Project has been in touch to highlight a feature length documentary which is currently being shown in selected UK cinemas called Life and Debt .

This film covers some of the economic problems that affect Jamaica and the problems being caused by economic mismanagement, the tough lending requirements of major institutions + international trade rules...

For example the film includes "a segment on the banana industry wherein Jamaica has been granted preferential treatment from the British through the Lome Convention, providing a tax-free import quota for 105,000 tons/fruit per year to England.

Through a case the U.S. brought to the WTO, the U.S. government is demanding the Lome Convention quota removed, (although the U.S. does not grow bananas on its own soil) forcing Jamaica to compete with exporters from Central America + South America. Specifically Chiquita + Dole, which are U.S. companies who produce bananas on a large scale. Central America is characterized by cheaper labor, a different soil type, high rainfall and a climate suited to large-scale banana production and thus more efficient.

Jamaica's entire banana production could be produced by one farm in Central America. Banana's bring in $23 million to Jamaica, comprising 8% of all exports. Yet, in the Windward Islands, bananas account for 50% of total exports. In St. Lucia, St.Vincent, bananas also comprise significant % of total exports, so quota loss will impact the entire Caribbean. At present the European Union has granted $600 million to help Jamaica become more efficient in their banana production so that they may attempt to compete on the "free market" in year 2000. The quota that is being so forcefully contested by US multinationals is under 5% of all global banana production. It is unlikely that the banana industry here could match the price of bananas from Central America. Already the number of small banana growers on the island have shrunk from 45,000 to 3,000."

Sadly, there are similarly depressing segments covering Jamaica's milk + chicken industries...

Joanne Clark has been in touch to let me know about the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) news service which covers a wide variety of issues in sub-Saharan Africa + Central Asia, including the environment, from a humanitarian perspective.

Earth-Info.Net has signed up for their daily news updates and will pass on as much as possible...

If you would prefer to have this news delivered directly to your own inbox why not visit their email subscription page?

Sunday, February 16, 2003

BBC NewsOnline's Alex Kirby has produced a compelling summary of the environmental consequences of the 1990-1991 Gulf War based on a dossier of information, maps + photographs that Birdlife International has sent to the government in Baghdad and to the five UN Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia, the UK + the US.

Highlighted environmental threats include:
* Physical destruction + disturbance from the use of weapons
* Toxic pollution from oil spills or oil well fires through fighting or deliberate damage
* Radiological, chemical or toxic contamination from the use of weapons of mass destruction or conventional bombing of military or industrial sites
* Physical destruction of wildlife + habitats because of increased human pressure caused by mass movements of refugees.

BirdLife says the 1991 war saw by far the largest marine oil spills in history, with 6 - 8 million barrels of crude oil spilled, severely polluting 560 kilometres (350 miles) of coast, and totally obliterating intertidal ecosystems".

Due to the deliberate destruction of the marshes by Iraq, the bandicoot rat + a sub-species of otter are also believed to have been driven to extinction and on the human scale, the Ma'dan people who have lived in the marshes for 5,000 years have lost their traditional homeland.

InterAction - the largest American alliance of humanitarian groups - has called on President Bush to outline the United States strategy + state of preparedness to respond to the inevitable consequences of a war with Iraq, particularly if this war is done without United Nations endorsement and therefore without the degree of support for international humanitarian and reconstruction efforts we have seen in the past from the international community.

InterAction also point out that 2 million people may be internally displaced, leaving them in search of food + shelter, adding to the 1 million people who are already without homes. Refugees – as many as 1.5 million - could flee to neighboring nations, such as Iran, already host to millions of Afghan refugees, and Turkey. In addition to which:

* 16 million people - 60% of the population - rely solely on the United Nations assistance for their monthly food needs.

* 10 million Iraqis - 40% of the population - may need immediate food aid in the event of war.

* 5.2 million of those who may need immediate food aid are children younger than 5 years or women in some stage of childbearing or infant care

* Potential costs of humanitarian assistance for just the first six months are likely to run as high as $800 million.

* There are only 1000 international UN staff in Iraq, and all of them would be evacuated at the start of hostilities.

* Unlike in Afghanistan, NGOs in Iraq have very limited personnel + few facilities.

Joel Charny of Refugees International highlights that the lack of preparations that have been put in place to deal with the humanitarian crisis likely to develop follow the anticipated invasion of Iraq in a field report posted on Reuters' AlertNet.

A second report, also posted on AlertNet, lists the various relief organisations that are currently active in Iraq and outlines some of the dilemmas + difficulties associated with accepting the US government's humanitarian relief funds.

... and finally, an interview with John Howard of Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief makes the point that it will be difficult for relief organisations to deploy staff with US or UK passports if a US-led force does eventually invade Iraq.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

The transcripts of the recent press conferences given by Hans Blix the head of the UN's inspection team in Iraq (UNMOVIC) + Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei the director general of the IAEA contain a great deal of detail and some interesting nuances (all too frequently skimmed over by the mainstream media) and both statements deserve very careful reading + consideration.

Two letters from Iraqi exiles worth reading have been posted on the 10 Downing Street website.

They are not particularly flattering of either US / UK policies over the past 30 years or the present peace protests...

Rania Kashi, a student at Cambridge University sent one of the letters and Dr Safa Hashim from the "Iraqi community" sent the other.

BBC NewsOnline has set up a weblog covering the comments of people taking part in the anti-war march in London.

See the Stop the War Coalition + IndyMedia UK websites for more news + links and here for a BBC photo gallery showing the huge scale of today's protests, in numerous countries...

Friday, February 14, 2003

Tomorrow 500,000+ people are expected to take part in a peace march through London.

The march will now have two assembly points. The main assembly point, permitting the march to travel down Whitehall and past Parliament, is [A] Embankment (tubes: Blackfriars, Temple, Waterloo, Charing X*). A second assembly point is [B] Gower Street (tubes: Tottenham Court Rd, Goodge St, Warren St, Euston*). Assemble at 12:00 to march at 12:30pm [Route].

At the later rally in Hyde Park speakers will include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, Bianca Jagger + former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella.

Police advise marchers to:
* Be patient
* Wear warm clothes
* Bring snacks
* Carry a radio + monitor events on local radio

A wide coalitions of NGOs such as CND, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, Stop the War + The Muslim Association of Britain have expressed their opposition to a US led war in Iraq...

Friends of the Earth have strongly condemned the looming war against Iraq and deplored the humanitarian + environmental impacts that will result from such a war. Given the likely impacts, Friends of the Earth believes that the proponents of war against Iraq have failed to justify military action.

Friends of the Earth has also stated that they "support global treaties, diplomacy, and negotiation to resolve disputes and to promote human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable societies. Under the prevailing circumstances, pre-emptive military action contradicts such an approach, and risks furthering a vicious circle of terrorism + violence that would damage prospects for sustainable development in the Middle East and elsewhere around world."

The WWF has just sent out an fun press release on the lonely heart problems faced by endangered species such as Giant Pandas, Amur Tigers + Javan Rhinos...

"Shy, sensitive, cuddly female giant panda seeks companionship with male. Does not want too much commitment. Must like living at high altitudes in mountains, and sitting in trees. Hobbies include eating for up to 14 hours a day + taking twilight strolls."

Due to habitat loss, giant pandas are restricted to bamboo thickets on steep mountain slopes and have become isolated in small populations. This is could create inbreeding problems + declining reproductive rates.

"What's up pussycat? World's largest cat seeks frisky feline company. Must like going out at night and hunting. No vegetarians please. Must be brash and not timid – the bigger the roar the better!"

The Amur tiger is in a critical state, only 450 remain, mostly in Russia, where WWF is working to conserve them. This tiger is native to Siberia. It is a very cold and harsh land, covered with snow for much of the year. There are more Amur tigers in zoos than there are in the wild.

"Strong and beefy one-horned rhino looking for friendship with female rhino. Must like tropical rainforest. Hobbies include wallowing in mud + making large dung piles."

During the 1970's half of the world's remaining rhinos disappeared. Javan rhinos are mainly confined to western Java and southern Vietnam. The population was estimated at between 50-70 in 2002 Asian Rhinos in the Wild: 2002 - A WWF Species Status Report. The greatest threat today to all rhinos is the demand for their horn, which is used in traditional Asian medicines.

"Unique beautiful blue male parrot, answer's to name of Spix, desperately seeks relationship with broody female. Must enjoy going on woodland flights, eating fruits + raising chicks. Come fly with me!"

Sadly only one solitary male remains in the wild following decades of decline from collectors trade + habitat loss. Not a happy ending for this Spix macaw – doomed to be very lonely this Valentine's Day...

Visit this WWF/ Traffic website to find out more about the campaign to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Thanks to The Guardian Unlimited for linking to Earth-Info.Net in their section on niche weblogs.

Following the victory of Mwai Kibaki's National Rainbow Alliance over Daniel Arop-Moi's Kanu party after 39 years of rule Kenya's politicians seem to be amazed what they are able to achieve now that they have found the political will to give all children a primary school education + improve care for homeless street children...

A positive indication that current reforms may be profound and long-lasting is that John Githongo, has been named as Kenya's anti-corruption czar. Githongo set up and ran the Kenyan chapter of global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International and was a lone voice against the corruption associated with Moi's rule.

Another good sign is that on the basis of recent progress The World Bank has told the newly-elected Kenyan government that it is keen to resume lending [which was stopped in 2001 due to concerns over corruption] in order to help the country bridge a $740m budget short fall...

It obviously remains to see how long these good intentions + efforts last, but lets hope that they are able to take root and grow.

The UNEP's Dr. Klaus Toepfer has said that the world needs safeguards to protect the environment that match the Geneva Conventions and that the environment is often neglected as "the long-term casualty of war".

The UNEP's Post Conflict Unit has found that soot released by oil wells set on fire during the last Gulf War had increased death rates in Kuwait by 10% over the following year, landmines left in Afghanistan, Cambodia + Bosnia still pose a serious threat to life and keep people off productive farmland + that many conflicts have been fuelled by greed for natural resources: for example Angola's Unita rebels were estimated to have made more than $4bn from diamonds between 1992 and 2001...

"We have an alliance against terrorism", Dr Toepfer said. "We need an alliance against poverty, and solidarity with the marginalised.

"Putting poverty to the sword is the peace policy of the 21st Century." But we had to go further, he said, and outlaw those who deliberately put the environment at risk in war.

"We have the Geneva Conventions, aimed at safeguarding the rights of prisoners and civilians. We need similar safeguards for the environment.

"Using the environment as a weapon must be universally condemned, and denounced as an international crime against humankind, against Nature."

The Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government and head of the Office of Science and Technology, Professor Sir David King has suggested nuclear power as one way of supplying both hydrogen and electricity to the hydrogen economy without raising carbon dioxide emissions.

In a lecture on 'The Role of Government in Response to Global Warming' given at Oxford University today, he hinted that the forthcoming government White Paper on energy would be more favourable to supporters of renewable energy such as wind power than the nuclear power industry (see .Renew Online for background to the nuclear power debate).

As part of the government's measures to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, he highlighted the need for research and development in renewable energy, carbon seqestration and fusion technology. This will be facilitated through the establishment of a new National Energy Research Centre, with six key areas for increased R & D investment, outlined in the 2001 Energy Research Review:

- carbon sequestration
- energy efficiency
- hydrogen economy
- nuclear power
- solar PV
- wave & tidal power.

The London Farmers' Market organise farmers' markets in London and bring food grown within 100 miles of the M25 to London...

Everything on sale has been grown, raised, baked, caught, shot or made by hand by the people selling it. The LFM have strict rules guaranteeing that everything is sold by the farmer who grew it. No one is allowed to sell another farmer's produce. All of their markets are certified by the National Association of Farmers' Markets.

According to their website there will always be fresh fruit and vegetables, salads, cheeses, meats, juice, bread + eggs. They also like to have honey, preserves, wine, cider, milk, cream, cakes, fish and herbs where possible... although because they are seasonal, produce will vary throughout the year.

At this and other farmers markets you can expect to find unusual varieties you don't see at the supermarket, like Tatsoi salad greens and striped or golden beetroots. You'll also find things you don't expect - red chilli peppers, edible flowers + buffalo cheese!

It sounds like quite an experience as well as a good way of encouraging local food production + employment...

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Greater Manchester's Peter Black + Ben Thomas have put together a great set of innovative sustainable development and travel websites at GMPTE.

Sites they highlight include CarFree.Com which offers both practical and some ingenious + radical solutions to the many problems caused by the overuse of the private car, The Light Rail Transit Association, the National Cycling Strategy + Sustrans a charity that works on practical projects to encourage people to walk, cycle and use public transport...

Thanks to Brett for letting me know about efforts in Syracuse, New York to assess and clean up industrial, household + agricultural contamination including mercury, PCBs, raw sewage, ammonia, phosphorous, oil + other chemicals in Onondaga Lake, one of the United States's most polluted waterways.

Onondaga Lake used to be a popular tourist destination, ringed by grand resorts and an amusement park. It was spoiled by decades of industrial + urban pollution which have introduced untreated sewage, reduced levels of oxygen and poisoned aquatic plants + animals.

The situation started to improve in 1994 when the lake became a federal Superfund site (with $380 million allocated to stop municipal sewage from fouling the lake) and a federal court has since ordered that the lake must be cleaned up by Dec. 1, 2012. As part of this clean up, Honeywell International, who merged with AlliedSignal in 1999 and became responsible for pollution that Allied dumped in Onondaga Lake and along its shoreline have said that they will publish specific recommendations on possible cleanup options by May 30...

Earth-Info.Net will endeavour to return to this story once the Honeywell report is made public in order to hear how they intend to minimise the re-release of pollution into the water column (often associated with dredging up sediment) as well as where + how contaminated material will be disposed of safely.

New NGO links include Global Exchange, The RICS Foundation + OpenSecrets.Org (thanks to Kevin at Reach M).

Global Exchange is a very practical NGO from the US which campaigns for fair trade, greater democracy in international decision making + improved understanding within and between rich and poor countries.

The RICS Foundation conducts research into land, property, construction + development and applies it's knowledge in ways that help to encourage more sustainable development by acting as a "catalyst between the private, academic and government sectors".

Finally, OpenSecrets.Org provides a fascinating breakdown of how the US Republican + Democratic parties are funded. This site offers details on how much money each candidate has received in hard + soft funds from different business sectors, individual donors and by geographical area.

I was amazed to see that the Democratic Party raised $466,095,255 + the Republican Party raised $652,098,012 during the 2001-2002 Election Cycle! By comparison the total for political funding in the UK is tiny (less than $30,000,00 per annum) and provided to a considerable extent by the state - as you can see at the CleanPolitix website.

The Sustainable Development Commission has reviewed the UK Government's Climate Change Programme and found the UK is in danger of failing to deliver on its key goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, unless action is taken now.

More positively the Commission believes that "the UK is likely to achieve its Kyoto target for reductions in greenhouse gases as a whole. Few other countries can claim that. It is a positive point, which we must build on in encouraging greater efforts internationally.”

Key findings of the commission include:

* The measures to achieve the Government goal, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2010, are simply not in place. The UK is unlikely to achieve even two-thirds of that reduction, and maybe less than half.

* This is not a reason to abandon the goal, but to redouble efforts to achieve it. There is still time to do so.

* There are great benefits (in taking action), not only for the long term by helping to slow global climate change, but immediately through business opportunities for low-carbon technologies and by giving ourselves a better quality of life all round.

* The emissions reductions from the 10 year transport plan are particularly at risk. And international air travel, not even included in the calculations or the goal, threatens to blow away all the good work in industry and other sectors.

These are disturbing findings. The Government must now seize the opportunity of using the energy White Paper to bring us back on track for 2010, and set us on a low-carbon path into the longer term,” concludes Jonathon Porritt.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

A Chinese tanker collided with a Cambodian cargo vessel near Shanghai yesterday and spilled about 20 tonnes of oil at the mouth of the Yangtze River. The spill has been contained and a rapid clean-up effort has been largely successful, according to a spokeswoman for the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration.

Meanwhile, 300 oil-stricken seabirds have been brought to the UK from Belgium for treatment. The birds, mostly guillemots, are among 7,000 picked up by volunteers along the Belgian coast over the last three weeks. They're thought to have been caught in an oil slick stemming from the sunken car-carrier Tricolor, which was hit by a salvage tug three weeks ago (the third boat to hit the ship since it sank in December!).

The birds will be treated in an RSPCA centre in Norfolk, as rescue centres in Belgium are struggling to cope with the casualties. RSPCA vet Ian Robinson said : "We treat thousands of oiled birds every year but the last few months has seen spill after spill. It is about time something was done to prevent oil spills devastating our marine environment and its wildlife."

On 9 February, India launched the largest ever mass immunization campaign against polio, targeting 165 million children.

85% of all new cases of polio confirmed last year occurred in India and this vaccination campaign is one of several recent efforts to rid the planet of the disease, a viral infection that can cause paralysis when it attacks nerve cells. The campaign will involve over 1.3 million vaccination teams of volunteers and health workers, equipped with nearly 200 million doses of vaccine, will go house-to-house and work at booths in communities to reach every child under the age of 5 years. To succeed, the teams will have to cover a country the size of Western Europe in 6 days!

At present polio eradication efforts are currently facing a funding gap of US$ 275 million worldwide, and US$ 100 million in India alone.

In a bid to help rid the world of the preventable disease Rotary International aim to raise US$ 80 million by June 2003, but it is clear that even more funds are going to be needed... it is therefore good to know that the The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is being spearheaded by World Health Organisation, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF... all organisations with a remarkable history of getting things done + persuading people to work together.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Two new environmental law links, suggested by Cinnamon, have just been added to the research/specialist links...

These sites are called Earth Justice ("because the earth needs a good lawyer") + The Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

Both sites are very impressive and appear to be doing an excellent job of ensuring that the law gets more fairly applied.

On a slightly different note, the revamped Business + Human Rights website is also a phenomenonal resource... see their "24 items to read for an introduction" to find out what is and can be done to improve the relationship between business + human rights and why this work matters.

On February 17th people living in London will have to start paying a congestion charge if they want to drive their car in the centre of the city (7.00am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public Holidays).

This scheme requires drivers to pay £5 per day if they wish to drive in central London during the scheme’s hours of operation...

The idea is that those using valuable + congested road space make a financial contribution (on top of existing road tax) and that this charge will act as an incentive for people to use of other modes of transport and will also speed up journey times for those who are prepared/able to pay to use the road (the average speed of traffic in central London is still only 9mph)...

Those who will be exempt from the charge include disabled people,residents living within the congestion charging zone, drivers of alternative fuel vehicles, vehicles with 9 or more seats, drivers of roadside recovery vehicles + accredited breakdown organisations.

The political stakes are high for the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, but in order to help people adapt Transport for London have produced a Journey Planner which should help people to discover what the alternative routes for their journey using public transport are (be warned this site takes a bit of exploring!) . Alternatively, travellers can call TfL’s Travel Information Centre 020 7222 1234.

Personally, I found the various official websites looked good but were a little bit light on usable + detailed information... so here are the links for the buses, The Tube + Streetmap...

On the bright side the eTag toll system used in Sydney + Melbourne seems to be working quite well, although visitors often have more difficulty working out how to get from A to B than do the locals...

Thursday, February 06, 2003

I've just added the Reporters Without Borders website to our useful links.

This French NGO campaigns for press freedom + protection worldwide and has produced a very interesting map which gives an indication of the relative commercial + political freedom experienced by journalists in different countries.

Interestingly, their front page story informs us that a Maputo court has just convicted the killers of the Mozambiquan investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso + handed down jail sentences of between 23 + 28 years...

Cardosa was murdered in 1996 while investigating the theft of millions of dollars from the state-run Commercial Bank of Mozambique.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

My thanks to Will Femia at MSNBC's Weblog Central for making Earth-Info.Net one of his "Best of Blogs" + for linking to us...

According to a BBC News Online report by Alex Kirby the IUCN has estimated that worldwide invasive species cause $400 billion of damage a year!!!

Speaking at the annual meeting of the governing council of the United Nations Environment Programme, Dr Klaus Toepfer, executive director of UNEP, said invasive species were one of the greatest threats to Africa's wildlife.

A report also published at this meeting entitled "Alien Invasive Species in Africa's Wetlands" gives a number of examples of the damaging effects individual invasive species have already had. These include;

* Nile perch, an alien fish introduced to Lake Victoria in East Africa, which constituted 1% of the annual catch soon after its introduction in the 1960s but which now makes up 80% of the catch, and is thought to have helped to drive more than 200 native fish species to extinction.

* The ornamental water hyacinth which now forms very dense floating mats on many of East Africa's freshwater lakes. These fast-growing mats can be extremely difficult to destroy and cause serious problems when they block water supplies, harbours + hydro-electric dams...

* The Red fern (azolla) which also smothers lakes, but in this case provides the perfect breeding grounds for mosquito larvae + for snails carrying bilharzia, a debilitating disease which infects about 300 million people...

For further details see the Global Invasive Species Programme + Ramsar Convention of Wetlands websites...

The Woodland Trust have produced an online petition which enables people to comment on the impact the development of new airports in the UK will have on ancient woodlands.

Information is also available from the site which outlines what plans that are being developed in different regions and why ancient forests need protecting...

You can also see the government's consultation document here...

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The EU is proposing new rules that will force biotech companies to say where they found plants or genes they use to develop new crop varieties. These rules would also permit farmers in poor countries to keep + swap patented seeds.

The problem the EU is worried about is bio-piracy - the determination by some companies in developed countries to find and control natural resources or traditional knowledge simply for profit. The 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) tries to make sure that the benefits are shared between the exploiters and the communities from which they take their resources.

But many countries think the CBD may be fatally damaged by the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (Trips), agreed in 1995 by the WTO.

On a related note the governing council of UNEP is also meeting at its headquarters from 3 - 7 February, and will be discussing ways to tackle poverty + environmental destruction by using poor countries' genetic resources to benefit them.

There will be an Abrupt Climate Change Discussion Meeting at the Royal Society, London, on 4th + 5th February 2003.

Speakers will include:
Professor Richard Alley (Pennsylvania State University)
Dr Robert Dickson (Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture, Lowestoft)
Professor Henry Elderfield (University of Cambridge)
Dr Andrey Ganopoloski (Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)
Professor Brian Hoskins (University of Reading)
Dr Hugh Jenkyns (University of Oxford)
Professor Alan Kemp (Southampton Oceanography Centre)
Dr Richard Wood (Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction & Research).

For briefing material I recommend listening to the online talks given by Sir John Houghton and Dr. Robert Watson (of the IPCC) at the Climate Forum 2002 and the talk given by the Met Office's Dr Richard Jones at the Oxford Earth Summit.