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Saturday, March 29, 2003

Earth-Info.Net feels that anyone trying to understand the present war in Iraq (and world affairs in general!) would benefit from reading a CIA report entitled Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts...

The report outlines 4 alternate scenarios for the future:

* Inclusive Globalization: A virtuous circle develops among technology, economic growth, demographic factors, and effective governance, which enables a majority of the world's people to benefit from globalization.

* Pernicious Globalization: Global elites thrive, but the majority of the world's population fails to benefit from globalization. Population growth and resource scarcities place heavy burdens on many developing countries, and migration becomes a major source of interstate tension

* Regional Competition: Regional identities sharpen in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, driven by growing political resistance in Europe and East Asia to US global preponderance and US-driven globalization and each region's increasing preoccupation with its own economic and political priorities.

* Post-Polar World: US domestic preoccupation increases as the US economy slows, then stagnates. Economic and political tensions with Europe grow, the US-European alliance deteriorates as the United States withdraws its troops, and Europe turns inward, relying on its own regional institutions.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

The US will commit billions to war to destroy WMDs in Iraq, but Senator Richard Lugar, and a new Harvard University report reiterate that the most plentiful + unguarded nuclear stocks are in Russia.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative website offers a wide variety of relevant non-proliferation news + back-ground material.

Earth-Info.Net's getting a bit fed up of missing major events (until just after they have finished!) so has decided to start using OpenDemocracy's excellent events calendar at bit more...

Apparently, we have World Health Day (April 7th) + an OECD Forum in Paris (April 28th - 29th) to look forward to in April...

Direct action peace campaigners Josh Richards, Philip Pritchard, Toby Olditch + Ulla Roder are all in trouble for damaging military vehicles + aircraft (on UK airbases) and would appreciate letters of support if you feel so inclined...

You can email Phil + Toby using this email address hellophilandtobyatyahoo.co.uk or snail mail them all using the contact details in the link above...

Please remember to put their prisoner number(s) and a return address on the envelope(s).

They have especially requested pictures or postcards of "gorgeous outside places".

From March 4th to 6th a conference "Energy Security through Hydrogen" took place in Washington DC...

This conference involved some of the biggest car manufacturers + energy companies in the world and came hot on the heels of President Bush's pledge of $1.7 billion dollars to help the hydrogen-powered vehicle sector develop...

The extra money already seems to have made a difference with Shell + GM announcing a partnership that could help to 10,000 people to test drive hydrogen powered vans at a petrol station equipped with hydrogen pumps.

It is also welcome news that Shell Hydrogen chief executive Donald Huberts has said that his company wants to demonstrate the practical and everyday use of hydrogen fuel + that General Motors has declared plans to sell 1,000,000 fuel cell vehicles over the next decade.

Now all we need is a renewable (non-polluting / non-carbon emitting) way of generating the electricity needed to produce large amounts of hydrogen (i.e. solar or wind power), the infrastructure necessary to distribute hydrogen to consumers + for people to buy the hydrogen-powered cars!

Ben's Swamp Cottage blog is less that a week old but has already become a welcome source of sustainable development news, jobs + resources with a humourous twist...

Keep up the good work Ben!

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Follow this link for a list of humanitarian organisations seeking donations in support of their work in Iraq.

Earth-Info.Net recommends a couple of videos that are available for free on One World TV

The first is a film by Water Aid called Water for Life which explains why safe water and sanitation should be available to people all over the world...

A second film by the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE) called Boiling Point explores the tension that is rising along many of the world’s 250 shared rivers as the demand for water grows...

Click on the flow-chart on the right-hand side of the appropriate page in order to view these Real Audio videos.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Earth-Info.Net has belatedly discovered that March 24th was World TB Day!

Tuberculosis is a curable disease and the challenge is not so much to find a cure but for more people to have access to the cure...

Find out more by visiting Stop TB or the World Health Organisation's TB website.

The IUCN has released a statement reminding the international community that the Geneva Conventions (Protocol 1) prohibit the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected to, cause wide-spread, long-term + severe damage to the environment.

The UK government has just announced the list of 34 international biodiversity projects which will benefit from funds allocated to the Darwin Initiative.

Earth-Info.Net is very pleased to see that projects set up by the following friends have won support...

Dr. Kate Oddie: The Steppe Forward Programme: Training conservationists for Mongolia's Future

Ross Macleod: Bolivian Important Biodiversity Areas Project

Professor David W Macdonald (+ Hernan Vargas) of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit: Climate Change and Conservation of Galapagos Endemic Bird Species

The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute have set up a weblog called Future Harvest which aims to build public understanding of the importance of international agricultural research to global peace, prosperity, environmental renewal, health, and the alleviation of suffering.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Ever wondered what the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners actually says? If so click here...

You may also find the International Committee of the Red Cross's valiant efforts to urge the warring parties in Iraq to respect international humanitarian law + to protect the civilian population of interest...

Amnesty International says that up to 500 people in Zimbabwe have been detained in "a new and dangerous phase of repression".

The World Water Forum in Kyoto has just finished after spending a week discussing how to provide clean water + basic sanitation to the 1.2 billion people who currently lack what most of us can take for granted...

Key stories from the last week include:

* Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev telling the forum that a failure to reverse the global water crisis could lead to "real conflicts" in the future.

* The role of community projects and the need to revert to the use of human solid waste as compost and fertiliser and allowing liquids to drain into the ground rather than trying to provide "wasteful" flushing toilets.

* The ideological battle between those who want to drive through change via water privatisation and those that don't.

* The need for good water governance to include ethical leadership that focuses on the interests of poor communities, reliable information on technologies + financing options for the poor.

* The pooling of donor funds by African nations in order to better tackle water problems.

* The role of agriculture in enhancing water efficiency.

Unfortunately, the Forum's final declaration has been denounced as bland + vague (for leaving out references to access to water being a right, for failing to prioritise the protection of fresh water ecosystems + for failing to call for a global watchdog to monitor progress made towards the UN goal of halving to one billion the number of people without access to water and sanitation by 2015).

These significant failures have understandably left the event open to charges of it having been a giant talking shop...

See the BBC's excellent coverage for more stories and visit Water Aid's site if you want to find out more detail about what can be done...

P.S. One of the World's best kept secrets is that March 23rd was World Water Day!

P.P.S. Fortunately, it is never to late to find out what needs to be done in order to stop 2,000,000 people a year dying from water related diseases.

Earth-Info.Net recommends Reuters Alertnet as a source for practical + fair assessments of the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Alertnet also offers excellent coverage of humanitarian issues and perspectives from many other troubled places including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic + Guatemala...

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Yesterday, Earth-Info.Net attended a day of talks which outlined some of biggest ecological problems faced by the Arctic region...

Threats include industrial waste products known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (e.g. PCBs + Brominated Flame Retardants) which accumulate in the fatty tissues of predators such as marine mammals + birds and poison them, the nuclear reactors of decommissioned Russian ships + submarines which have been dumped in the Barent + Kara seas and last-but-not-least the retreat of the polar ice cap associated with climate change.

A talk by a Norwegian environmental charity called Bellona was of particular interest as it emphasised the scale of the problems faced by the region as well as the need for stronger co-ordination, expert advice and co-operation when dealing with trans-boundary environmental issues, such as nuclear contamination + storage.

On a related note, click here to find out more about the dangerously full reservoirs containing radioactive sludge at Russia's nuclear re-processing plant in Mayak, Siberia...

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The International Monetary Fund, the Washington-based bank set up to police the financial globe and assist the Third World, yesterday made the startling admission that the policies it has been pursuing for the last 60 years do not often work.

In a paper that will be seized on by IMF critics across the political spectrum, leading officials reveal they can find little evidence of their own success with countries that follow IMF suggestions often suffering a "collapse in growth rates and significant financial crises", and open currency markets merely serving to "amplify the effects of various shocks"...

The report also says that "financial integration" has often led to an "increased vulnerability to crises" because foreign speculators pull out as soon as trouble emerges.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

On Wednesday the U.S. Senate voted 52-to-48 to reject oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge...

Opening up the Arctic's oil reserves to exploitation had been a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's energy policy so this is a very dramatic vote...

According to the editorial in the latest edition of the scientific journal Nature (which has a special section on water):

"Our growing demand for water threatens the world's development and security. Solving this crisis need not involve flashy technologies. But it will require science, plus a large dose of political will..."

Click here to read more.

BBC NewsOnline is running an interesting story explaining how loudspeakers in mosques are being used in Bangladesh to broadcast up-to-date flood news to people without access to radio, television or newspapers.

My thanks to Vincent for letting me know about the French Sommet Johannesburg portal site which offers technical reports + discussion relating to World Summit on Sustainable Development.

If you are anything like me you may find the English translation of the site offered by Google of use... the reports from African countries are paticularly interesting and far more comprehensive than those available from most Anglophone countries.

To translate additional pages I recommend using Google language tools... they are not 100% accurate but will give you a good idea of a page's content.

It's a wee bit technical but the IUCN's Sustainable Use Specialist Group site covers a wide range of resources relating to international wildlife conservation policy, including CITES and wildlife trade, protected area management, community-based conservation + the sustainable use of natural resources.

This Reuters Alertnet article says that the World Water Forum is being undermined by the blanket coverage of the imminent war in Iraq hogging the headlines with the threat of war also preventing senior participants, such as the UNDP's administrator Mark Malloch Brown from attending.

This is a shame as according to the World Water Council's William Cosgrove "Every year 2, 000, 000 children are dying from lack of access to water or water-borne diseases."

Sadly the timing of the war is also a threat to World Water Day on March 22nd 2003.

Click here to read a Media Guide suitable for anyone interested in investigating one of the biggest scandals of the last 50 years – the failure to develop solid foundation of public health through sanitation, hygine + safe water supply

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

According to a BBC report bananas may be at risk of extinction due to long-term inbreeding and large-scale plantations resulting in a loss of the popular fruit's resistance to a fungal disease called black sigatoka.

As yet nothing on the scale of the Irish potato famine has occured... Even so Bananalink doesn't paint a very happy picture of what it is like to be a banana farmer... exposed to high levels of pesticide and vulnerable to their monoculture crop being wiped out by a disease.

In fact Bananalink and International Network for the Improvement of Banana + Plantain are so concerned about the social + environmental costs of modern banana farming that they are calling for greatly enhanced investment + research to be devoted towards the development of new, robust banana varieties - suitable for both African + European consumers.

P.S. Did you know there are 300 varieties of banana, that some are square and taste like apples or pears?!?!

Speaking on the third day of the Third World Water Forum in Japan, Water Aid + the Tearfund have hit out at international lending institutions such as the World Bank for their "obsession" with the private sector.

Eric Gutierrez of Water Aid said: "The international private sector currently only provides 5% of all the water services in the world, very largely in richer and more developed countries... The obsession with the private sector to provide clean water to those most in need is a total distraction. We must move on to stop the millions of needless deaths from water-related diseases..."

Joanne Green from Tearfund added: "International policy-makers and institutions like the World Bank are misguided in thinking that the private sector will have any real impact on reaching the 1.2 billion poorest people in the world who lack access to safe water and... "The international community must stop arm-twisting countries to give access to private sector companies as a condition for receiving development aid, grants and loans."

The World Bank's vice-president for sustainable development, Ian Johnson, has responded by stating: "We have discussions with governments who have to determine what the right mix of public and private sector roles should be in delivering services, and then we work with them"... "We do not have an ideological prima facie position that says that we must force privatisation on anyone. We are not religious zealots when it comes to privatisation."

Looking through my log of how people have reached Earth-Info.Net I found that someone had arrived via a search on Daypop for information on invasive species...

Out of interest I had a look to see who else was covering this (greatly overlooked!) topic and found the excellent Invasive Species Weblog.

It's full of fascinating information and highly recommended.

Keep up the good work Jennifer!

See here for Earth-Info.Net's latest entry on this subject...

Monday, March 17, 2003

The United Nations Environment Programme has jazzed up it's website...

Although it is very helpful that UNEP has made it easier for journalists, students + members of civil society to find information tailored to their needs Earth-Info.Net found the photo-links to the additional categories of information awkward + slow to explore...

The site contains a great deal of high quality information, however, and it is worth perservering.

Also worth a look is the UNEP's Dams + Development Project which aims to promote a dialogue on improving decision-making, planning and management of dams + their alternatives based on the World Commission on Dams (WCD) core values and strategic priorities.

According to a story on the BBC World Service's radio programme Health Matters millions of terminally-ill people around the world die in agony each year.

This is because many, particularly those living in developing countries, do not have access to painkillers.

In rich countries drugs are available which can control 90% of patients' pain.

By contrast morphine (which is used to counter pain in terminally-ill cancer patients) only became available in Tanzania in the year 2000 and still cannot be offered to all of those who would benefit from its use...

Speaking at the World Water Forum, Peter Rouse the President of the World Water Association has said that the world should revert to using human solid waste as compost + fertiliser and allow liquids to drain into the ground...

Mr Rouse also said that it will be almost impossible to meet the UN target of halving the number of people without fresh water and sanitation by 2015 and that the focus should be on community-led programmes which are more environmentally friendly and use less water, such as dry and low water toilets.

Unfortunately, according to Water Aid's Timothy Doyle many northern countries would however prefer to fund the building of western-style flushing toilets that are an "incredible waste of water resources" rather than the provision of fixed point latrines which can do a lot to improve basic sanitation + water use...

Please click here for more water-related useful links...

The British Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has released a Water Poverty Index in which water efficiency was classified together with drinking water, water resources, the country's ability to buy water, and the environmental impact of water policies, to produce a complete "water poverty index."

The index was compiled to "demonstrate that it is not the amount of water resources available that determine poverty levels in a country, but the effectiveness of how you use those resources", explained Caroline Sullivan, leader of the team that compiled it.

In summary the US, with 23,000 golf courses (frequently located in "water-stressed" portions of the country), was judged to be the most wasteful water user... Haiti came bottom overall due to land clearance policies that have devastated their water infrastructure... whilst Finland, Canada + Iceland were judged to be the wisest users of their water resources.

BBC NewsOnline's Alex Kirby has produced a concise summary (based on the consequences of the 1991 Gulf War) of the potential long-term consequences to the environment + human health of the anticipated War on Iraq.

Problems include:

* The contamination of drinking water + water tables by oil and other chemicals.
* The release of dangerous compounds when factories or weapons facilities are destroyed.
* The release of soot, sulphur + other air pollution if oil wells are set on fire.
* The coating of hundreds of kilometers of coast if oil is released into the sea.
* The draining of southern marshes as a weapon of war.
* The dispersal of radioactive dust if Depleted Uranium is used in armour piercing munitions.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Founder-Director of the Bangalore-based Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre Professor Raman Sukumar has won the Whitley Golden award, the most prestigious international award in the field of environment conservation.

Raman Sukumar has been given the award for his efforts to save endangered Asian elephants.

Sukumar received the award popularly known as the "Green Oscar" along with a cash prize of £50,000 from Princess Anne at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday.

Yesterday, I met a hugely inspirational person called Jacci Garside...

She is working to improve the lives of disabled Vietnamese orphans and was featured on BBC Radio 4's Home Truths programme last year.

Jacci has a lovely attitude to problem-solving + people and I would like to recommend that you visit her website www.kianh.co.uk to find out what she is doing + how she goes about it.

Jacci's is a very positive and touching story and Earth-Info.Net feels that she and the children deserve as much support as possible.

If you are in any kind of position to sponsor her work then please consider doing so...

Air travel currently accounts for approximately 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and it is expected to triple by 2015.

Given that this is the case it is somewhat surprising that airline fuel is the cheapest in the world - due to the industry being exempt from fuel taxes.

This situation (the result of an international agreement reached at the end of the Second World War) may be about to change, however, with the a ministerial review in the UK suggesting that airport tax should be increased by £5 to £100 in order for air travel costs to better reflect the social and environmental impacts of the aviation industry... such as noise + air pollution and airport expansion.

A major conference on the future of the world's supply of fresh water has opened in the Japanese city of Kyoto.

At the third World Water Forum over 10,000 delegates from 150 countries will debate solutions to the crisis facing more than 1,000,000,000 people (comprising one in six of all people) without access to clean water.

However, the solutions to this problem are mired in controversy with some groups favouring grand projects such as dams, major water diversion schemes or water privatisation while others would prefer greater use of basic technologies which could be used to conserve water more effectively for the world's poor and the environment.

Friday, March 14, 2003

A proposed new recycling law, which would greatly improve the UK's recycling record, successfully passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons today. It will now be discussed in detail by a Committee of MPs.

Joan Ruddock's Municipal Waste Recycling Bill, which passed its Second Reading unopposed, would require the Government to ensure that 50% of domestic waste is recycled by 2010. The current target is 30 per cent (by 2010). Latest figures show that the UK only recycles around 11% of its waste.

Friends of the Earth Director, Tony Juniper, said:

"We are delighted that Joan Ruddock's Municipal Waste Recycling Bill has passed its crucial second reading unopposed. MPs and the Government clearly understand that we must drastically increase the amount of domestic waste that this country recycles. We hope that this Bill will pass through its remaining stages as quickly as possible so that Britain can finally have a recycling record to be proud of."

So far Jonathan Sayeed MP, Shadow Minister for the Environment, has pledged that the Conservative Party will support the Bill...

Thursday, March 13, 2003

On Thursday U.S. defence officials argued in Congress for an exemption from environmental laws they said hindered training, including for a possible war against Iraq.

Officials from the Pentagon and regulatory agencies told lawmakers some environmental laws had led to lengthy legal challenges and this jeopardized training for the fight against terrorism as well as a looming attack on Baghdad.

The military, while insisting it will continue to protect the environment, has proposed exemptions from legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act...

Environmentalists, have however expressed concern that the Pentagon may be using the war as an excuse to erode these laws + introduce exemptions that would give the military a green light to dump spent munitions, poison the seas + endanger protected wildlife.

BP has been warned in a report by a panel of experts led by the retired US senator, George Mitchell, that it could trigger human rights abuses if it proceeds with a $2bn gas scheme in Indonesia.

"There is enormous potential for good but also a potential for an adverse effect, and this must be handled carefully," explained senator Mitchell at a first public briefing since delivering a report to BP.

Key recommendations from the report include:

* Implementing some form of community-based security.
* Helping to modernise the local fishing fleet to mitigate any "dislocations".
* Implementing healthcare services that help to prevent the 5,000 construction workers needed by the project from bringing HIV and other infectious diseases to local villagers.

Throughout the report concerns are expressed that separtist activities may disrupt exploitation of the Bintuni Bay's gas reserves, that the military + police have a history of intimidation, violence and worse + that the mechanisms needed to prevent high-level political corruption denying local communities access to the wealth generated by the scheme are not yet in place.

Shell chairman Sir Philip Watts has called for global warming sceptics to get off the fence and accept that action needs to be taken "before it is too late".

He also said that "we can't wait to answer all questions [on global warming] beyond reasonable doubt" and that "there is compelling evidence that climate change is a threat".

Speaking that the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice University in Houston Sir Philip said that Shell had "seen and heard enough" to believe there is a problem related to the burning of fossil fuels and because of this "we stand with those who are prepared to take action to solve that problem ... now ... before it is too late ... and we believe that businesses, like Shell, can help to bridge differences that divide the US and Europe on this issue".

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Oliver Tickell has put together a very interesting + useful site called Green Electricity...

It offers green electricity links covering:

* Consumer tariffs
* Business / industrial tariffs
* Wind power
* Solar Photo Voltaics
* Biomass
* Domestic scale windpower
* Combined Heat + Power
* Carbon offset schemes
* Trade associations
* Media
* Government sites

There are plenty of innovative + exciting initiatives on this website and it is great to have a site that makes it so much easier for everyone to find out what they can do to minimise their environmental impact, without having to sacrifice too much of their time or effort...

Of all the sites mentioned I would draw your attention to Solar Century's work making buildings as energy efficient + productive as possible and the Combined Heat + Power Association website which explains how lower cost energy can be used to keep people warm + make factories more competitive while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions...

Well done Oliver!

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

In a BBC interview Princess Anne has highlighted the threat that illegal logging poses to the forests of many tropical countries.

Princess Anne also outlined the need to provide economic alternatives to the cash on offer from loggers and to ensure that communities have access to the funds + law enforcement necessary to protect their natural resources...

It was also pointed out that consumers in rich countries bore a responsibility to avoid buying the unsustainably harvested hardwoods commonly used to make expensive furniture + ornaments.

On Friday 14th March the Doorstep Recycling Bill, drawn up by Friends of the Earth, will be introduced to the UK Parliament as a Private Members Bill by Lewisham Deptford MP, Joan Ruddock.

The Bill calls for 50% of the UK's municipal waste to be recycled or composted by the end of 2010.

In order for this to be achieved the Bill calls for recycling targets + strategies to be drawn up, for the relevant authorities to encourage waste minimisation, recycling + reuse, and for door-step recycling schemes to be established nationwide so that householders are able to dispose of their waste sustainably.

At present the UK recycles around 12% of its waste, with some local authorities recycling as little as 1%.

By comparison some other countries such as Austria (64 %) and Belgium (52%) have a far more impressive waste record!

Friends of the Earth estimate that comprehensive doorstep recycling has backing from more than half of all MPs (384 out of 659) but this reasonable and practical Bill will only become law if enough turn up and vote when it is debated in the House of Commons this Friday...

This might be a good time to Fax Your MP!

Monday, March 10, 2003

As part of the UK's Comic Relief week the BBC has broadcast a special edition of their Panorama TV show which investigates how unfair trade harms development in poor countries.

Some of the tactics that rich countries use to protect their farmers from cheaper overseas producers include charging imports high taxes (tariffs), preventing imports such as catfish being called the same name as local produce, flooding overseas markets with subsidised exports, requiring higher hygiene standards than third world producers can meet, subsiding farmers in rich countries + manipulating world markets (so that there is constant over-production) in ways that ensure low prices for consumers but also result in low incomes for farmers in poor countries.

The programme uses the following examples to highlight how the world's fixed + distorted trade system has affected different industries + countries:

* Vietnamese Catfish
* Haitian Rice
* Ghanaian Tomatoes
* Kenyan Sugar Cane
* Guatemalan Coffee

These examples draw heavily on Oxfam's "Make Trade Fair" campaign as well as the related work of Christian Aid + Action Aid...

Friday, March 07, 2003

A number of great news service links have recently been added to this site's useful links...

They include Environmental Media Services, Global Issues.Net, Idealist.Org + Tide Pool.

Please be sure to drop me a line if you have any further suggestions!

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Many thanks to blogging guru Rebecca Blood (who is up for a lifetime achievement award at this year's Bloggies!) for linking to Earth-Info.Net

Yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the world's wealthiest nations to stop subsidising their farmers as a first step toward dealing with famine in Africa.

Annan said to a contact group from the G8 nations (made up of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy and Russia) that the world's governments had to deal with the structural causes of a looming famine as well as the lack of food itself.

They also need to do more to develop agriculture, improve the global marketplace for farm goods and bolster the fight against AIDS, which is rapidly killing off farmers while creating a generation of orphans in Africa.

Annan said "Achieving these goals will require significant additional resources + investment" and he called on the rich nations to "recognize that agriculture is an essential pillar of development" and that "dismantling the agricultural subsidies from rich countries, which currently total more than $300 billion a year" will be necessary in order for "Africa [to] be able to achieve truly sustainable agricultural production."

So far the US has agreed to "move toward ending farm subsidies and trade barriers", the EU + US have agreed "to reduce tariffs + subsidies which hinder world commerce" and France (one of the major beneficiaries of EU subsidies) has called on developed nations "to observe a moratorium on subsidizing farm exports destined for Africa".

Although these pledges sound most promising, it has to be remembered that there has not yet been an agreement in world trade talks on winding down farm subsidies, leaving developing countries increasingly frustrated at the difficulty of getting their agricultural goods into markets in the developed world, particularly in highly protected Europe + Japan.

A BBC report on the role of health in African development has a number of staggering statistics. These include:

* Malaria costs Africa up to $100bn (£62.4bn) a year in lost productivity, five times more than annual development aid received. The disease also kills 1 million Africans a year + consumes 40% of the continent's health expenditure.

* Pharmaceutical firms have developed 1,700 medicines approved for clinical use in the last 15 years. Yet only 11 were targeted at tropical diseases.

* About 28 million Africans are now living with HIV/Aids and has become the biggest cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report also notes that changes in investment policy can create new problems, as has been the case in education where...

* Free schooling (in Tanzania) means there are up to 180 pupils in each class due to a shortage of teachers and buildings!

A new European satellite called Envisat has completed 12 months in orbit and sent back some amazing images of the Earth...

One of the most dramatic images is of the oil slick from the Prestige oil tanker, which sank off the northwest coast of Spain last year...

This and other images in the BBC NewsOnline photo gallery can be seen by following the link and are courtesy of the European Space Agency and Oxford's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Earth-Info.Net would like to see a much greater proportion of the scientific effort from the world's space agencies focused on studying our own planet rather than deep space or other planets... interesting though they are!

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

The National Academies' National Research Council (made up of some the most distinguished scientists in the USA) has said that the US Government's Climate-Change Research Plan is a good start, but that major improvements are needed to meet the nation's needs.

The federal government formed the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) a year ago to facilitate climate-change research across 13 federal agencies. The CCSP released its draft strategic plan for public comment in November and also held a workshop in Washington where hundreds of climate scientists and other stakeholders commented on the plan and the CCSP asked the Research Council to review the draft plan...

The National Academies' press release for the completed review is rather long and detailed but in summary states that:

"While the federal government has taken a good first step toward better understanding + responding to climate change by drafting a strategic plan that contains new research initiatives, the plan lacks a clear guiding vision + does not sufficiently meet the needs of decision-makers who must deal with the effects of climate change"

"The president's fiscal year 2004 budget request appears to leave funding relatively unchanged for the CCSP, which wrote the draft plan, despite the important new initiatives called for in the plan."

"The government's goals should be accompanied by ways to measure progress, clear timetables, and an assessment of whether current research efforts are capable of meeting them."

"The plan should be revised to present clear + consistent goals for a new component of CCSP called the Climate Change Research Initiative, designed to support activities that would produce results of value to decision-makers within 2 to 4 years."

"The committee agreed with CCSP's new emphasis on short-term results to inform decisions, but said that scientific support for decision-making also will be needed over the long haul."

"The draft plan has serious gaps when it comes to studying the effects of climate change on human societies and ecosystems"

"The revised plan should ensure that CCSP supports research on understanding + predicting the impacts of climate change, and providing the scientific foundation for possible actions to minimize the effects."

"Research on the costs + benefits of possible strategies for responding to climate change is also needed."

"The draft plan misses an opportunity to improve cooperation with other countries on research, observation networks, and future assessments because the plan is too focused on U.S. issues and includes little on international activities."

"While it acknowledges both that uncertainty is inherent in science and that it is not an excuse for inaction by policy-makers."

In conclusion the report recommends that:

"The revised plan should do more to identify which uncertainties are most important to reduce and by how much, and to look at how uncertainties can be better explained to policy-makers."

"Existing management processes may not be adequate to ensure that the 13 agencies involved in CCSP cooperate toward the program's goals."

"The revised strategic plan needs to clearly describe the responsibilities of program leadership and ways to foster greater agency cooperation."

Earth-Info.Net is in awe of this example of diplomatic criticism...

Monday, March 03, 2003

The World Health Organisation + the Food and Agriculture Organisation have released an independent Expert Report on diet + chronic disease.

It says that less saturated fats, sugar + salt but more fruit and vegetables + physical exercise are needed to counter cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and obesity

The Report includes advice on ways of changing daily nutritional intake and increasing energy expenditure by:

* Reducing energy-rich foods high in saturated fat and sugar;
* Cutting the amount of salt in the diet;
* Increasing the amount of fresh fruit + vegetables in the diet.
* Undertaking moderate-intensity physical activity for at least an hour a day.

The Report, based on the analysis of the best available current evidence and the collective judgement of 30 experts, emphasizes that energy consumed each day should match energy expenditure.

Evidence suggests that excessive consumption of energy-rich foods can encourage weight gain, the report calls for a limit in the consumption of saturated and trans fats, sugars and salt in the diet, noting they are often found in snacks, processed foods + drinks...

The finalists for the Whitley Awards for international conservation have just been announced.

The prestigious Gold Award carries a prize of £50,000, while five others will receive Whitley Awards with a prize of £25,000 each and the other two finalists will receive Whitley Laing Grants.

Earth-Info.Net wishes all of the finalists the best of luck and hopes that you will find the following biographies of interest...

Dale Lewis, Zambia: – a 51 year old American-born environmentalist working in Zambia who has successfully managed to convert poachers to farming by teaching them new skills. Lewis now plans a regional trading centre to support local farmer groups – boosting their agricultural skills and encouraging their involvement in wildlife production.

John Waithaka, Kenya: who is developing a community-based ecotourism business in the Greater Amboseli region of Kenya. The development of such programmes linking economic activity to conservation means that agricultural development and land use changes pose less of a threat to the large mammals, their habitat and the Maasai culture.

Gustavo Kattan, Colombia: – whose Fundacion EcoAndina is helping to define a regional system of protected areas in the Andes of Colombia, an area of extraordinary biodiversity. The region – a major coffee-growing area – is heavily populated and severely deforested but under mandate from the Columbian government, Kattan’s Fundacion EcoAndina is determining which ecosystems are currently under-represented and where new protected areas can best be established.

Victor Vera, Paraguay: a 40 year-old Paraguayan who is fighting to save one of the most threatened and biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. Paraguay is losing forest faster than any other Latin American country but, with 97% of land in private hands, conservation is wholly dependent on private initiatives. Victor’s Natural Land Trust is working with land-owners and farmers in the San Raphael area of the Paraguayan Atlantic Forest to create private reserves and develop sustainable economic alternatives to deforestation.

Jon Paul Rodriguez, Venezuela: who has launched an ambitious programme of conservation and education initiatives on the Venezuelan island of Margarita. Margarita is the only island in the Caribbean with native carnivore populations, including the ocelot, but at least seven endemic birds and mammals here are under threat. Rodriguez’s projects range from monitoring the yellow-shouldered parrot to encouraging locals to protect sea turtle nests.

Ines Hinojosa, Bolivia: a 37 year old Bolivian who is helping the isolated Ayoreo community of Santa Cruz state protect the last fragment of the Chiquiano-Chaco transitional forest. The area is under pressure from large commercial soybean operations but local people are keen to develop sustainable economic activities, such as weaving, that are more in keeping with their way of life.

Gregor MacLennan, Peru: who is helping local Nahua people in the remote Purus River area of the Peruvian rainforest protect and secure their land and resources against increasing exploitation by oil, gas and timber companies. The remoteness of the region and the lack of state or NGO presence means violations of environmental and human rights frequently go unreported.

Raman Sukumar: India: who has devoted his life to saving elephants in the Nilgiri region of Southern India, a biodiversity hotspot which is home to the world’s largest population of Asian elephants Sukumar plans detailed mapping of land-use in the area as well as education and training to help promote elephant conservation amongst local people. By leveraging private enterprise and community involvement, Sukumar hopes to mitigate elephant-human conflict with initiatives such as electric fences or ditches.

The winners will be announced on March 13th...

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Charity Help the Aged has called on the UK government to do more to ensure that the 2 million pensioners living below the official poverty line get all of the benefits to which they are entitled...

At present 1 in 3 pensioners fail to claim the financial assistance they are due.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic in this report is that 20,000 pensioners die from the cold each winter and that these deaths are preventable with the installation of adequate heating + insulation.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

"The UK is making progress on achieving a better quality of life through sustainable development, but we all still have a lot to do."

This was the key message from Achieving a better quality of life, the Government's third annual report on sustainable development in the UK, which was launched on the 24th of February by Defra Secretary of State Margaret Beckett.

The Prime Minister and Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), spoke at the launch.

..click on the following links to read the Prime Minister and Margaret Beckett's speeches or read the report...

The formal acknowledgement of the scale and scope of our inter-connected social and environmental problems is undoubtedly an important first step, and real progress...

Earth-Info.Net would however like to see more funds, mechanisms, targets + timelines included in government plans in order for us to accelerate progress towards more sustainable development...

There are still very few short-term deadlines for action, too many sustainable development targets are modest, voluntary or under-funded / unfunded, available technologies are not being fully exploited and perverse subsidies continue to distort markets in a number of economically + environmentally damaging ways.