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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Pentagon report on Abrupt Climate Change
You might like to read the US Pentagon's recent report entitled An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, which concludes:

It is quite plausible that within a decade the evidence of an imminent abrupt climate shift may become clear and reliable. It is also possible that our models will better enable us to predict the consequences. In that event the United States will need to take urgent action to prevent and mitigate some of the most significant impacts. Diplomatic action will be needed to minimize the likelihood of conflict in the most impacted areas, especially in the Caribbean and Asia. However, large population movements in this scenario are inevitable. Learning how to manage those populations, border tensions that arise and the resulting refugees will be critical. New forms of security agreements dealing specifically with energy, food and water will also be needed. In short, while the US itself will be relatively better off and with more adaptive capacity, it will find itself in a world where Europe will be struggling internally, large number so refugees washing up on its shores and Asia in serious crisis over food and water. Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.

The Bush administration's environmental record
In the US, the Natural Resources Defense Council has put together a detailed summary of the Bush administration's record when it comes to favouring short-term economic growth over long-term environmental health...

The attacks on hard-won environmental protection are wide-ranging + profound, and (to be frank!) difficult to believe...

I'll therefore let Bush's record on Air, Energy + Global Warming, Wildlands + Wildlife, Water + Oceans, Toxic Chemicals + Health, Nuclear Weapons + Waste and Other Issues speak for itself...

Read it and weep!

Climate change could kill Great Barrier Reef by 2100
A report, Implications of Climate Change for Australia's Great Barrier Reef, written for WWF Australia and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council has revealed that the long-term prospects for the Reef are bleak...

Under a best case scenario, global temperatures will increase by less than 2°C and, though seriously reduced in size by 2100, the Reef will slowly recover as the climate stabilises again - over the next century.

Under the worst case scenario, coral populations will collapse by 2100 and the re-establishment of coral reefs will be highly unlikely over the following 200-500 years...

Strong action to increase the reef's resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions today, is therefore recommended in order to secure the future economic + environmental wealth of Australia.

Only if global average temperature change is kept to below 2°C can the Reef have any chance of recovering from the predicted damage.

The report highlights that this can best be achieved by replacing oil + coal-based energy with clean, renewable energy sources.

As things stand, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of 1200 international climate scientists, has predicted that the mean global temperature will increase by between 1.4 and 5.8°C by 2100... although it should be noted that the lower increase is based on us doing absolutely everything within our power to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, without delay.

This is of course not happening at present!

Friday, February 27, 2004

Giant tortoises held hostage by fishermen
Thirty research staff + an unknown number of giant tortoises are being held hostage by fisherman at the Charles Darwin Research Centre on the Galapagos Islands.

The fishermen are unhappy that they are not allowed to fish for sharks using long lines, and that large cruise ships can no longer dock on the islands.

Environmental campaigners are urging the Ecuadorian government not to cave into this pressure...

"Environment News" weblog established
Earth-Info.Net has established a sister weblog called Environment News.

The new weblog offers direct links to daily news stories, from a wide selection of respected media organisations, and can be reached via the Latest News! link at the top of this page (above the picture of the globe).

The selection of stories is based on email alerts distributed by EarthWire - a service sponsored by the UNEP, Norway's Grid Arendal + the UK's DEFRA.

Any feedback you have would be most welcome...

Commission for Africa to tackle "scar on the world's conscience"
Prime Minister Tony Blair is to establish an international commission to propose solutions to Africa's problems and has pledged to make the fight against poverty an "absolute priority".

The commission, will consist of British politicians Tony Blair, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown and International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, activist Bob Geldof, as well as Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi + South African finance minister Trevor Manuel who will together deliver their comprehensive review by spring 2005, just before the UK takes over presidency of the G8.

DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), an organisation that campaigns on debt cancellation, trade reform and raising money to fight AIDS + poverty in Africa said "This is a bold and exciting move from the Prime Minister and puts Africa at the top of the international agenda where it desperately needs to be"

Unfortunately, it has already been acknowledged the commission wasn't guaranteeing to plug the emerging aid funding deficit, ease Africa's enormous debt obligations or create equitable trade rules - all seen as key to making the continent a competitive economic force.

It can only be hoped that this commission will not degenerate into being another talking shop as, Africa is poorer than it was 25 years ago, many of the UN's recent Millennium Development Goals show few signs of being achieved + ever since Willy Brandt's 1980 report North-South: A Programme for Survival, it has been argued that the rich north should help countries in the poor southern hemisphere.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Greenpeace blockade prevents illegally felled trees leaving Kalimantan
A blockade by Greenpeace's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has resulted in the Indonesian navy escorting into international water a ship (owned by the Vietnamese government) which was attempting to load a cargo of illegally felled trees.

Find out more by visiting the live weblog being produced on the Rainbow Warrior.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

BBC wins international environment prize for its reporting
The BBC has won the world's richest environment prize, the Zayed Prize, in recognition of its outstanding coverage of environment + sustainable development issues.

Programmes cited by the judges awarding the Zayed Prize include BBC World's one-to-one interview show, Hard Talk, which has developed an effective way of grilling those in position of authority as to why they are not doing their job and the Earth Report (produced in partnership with TVE) which specialises in taking complex issues such as child development, primary health, poverty or desertification, and translating them into mainstream TV programmes. Last but not least, there is the lifelong output of the BBC's Sir David Attenborough, which has brought the beauty + majesty of the natural world into the living rooms and minds of hundreds of millions of people...

This award is richly deserved, and is in part due to the exceptional efforts of a small core of environment correspondents, as well as their support staff + editors. In Earth-Info.Net's opinion some of the environment correspondents who deserve a special mention include:

* Alex Kirby, whose work first came to my attention while I was producing the www.earthsummit.info in the run up the UN's Johannesburg World Summit. In particular, Alex's "Disposable Planet" reports, which were compelling, clear + helped to expose the problems we face, as well as some of their potential solutions. It also happened to be about the best written coverage in the English speaking world, and certainly better than anything produced by the US media, who more-or-less ignored the entire event!

* Roger Harrabin is a radio correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Roger has established a formidable reputation for being able to tell the most worthy of stories in a dynamic + accessible way and of exposing the human cost of corruption, environment degradation + resource depletion, as perhaps exemplified by the Costing the Earth series, which he also helped to found.

Other correspondents who deserve a mention include Tim Hirsch + Jonathan Kent.

However, in the end, none of it would be possible without the BBC, the way it is funded + it's editorial standards... and this is why this recognition is so well deserved.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Supermarket watchdog called for...
Earth-Info.Net doesn't usually post entire press releases but the following one from Friends of the Earth is hard to improve + the details are interesting...

The Office of Fair Trading's (OFT) long awaited review of the Supermarkets Code of Practice, published today [1] is a blow to farmers and other suppliers hoping for action to give them greater protection from the bully behaviour of the big supermarkets.

The review took a year but despite its conclusions that the current Supermarket Code of Practice is not working the only action to be taken by the OFT is a further investigation.

The review is a huge disappointment to an alliance of 14 environmental, consumer and farming organizations [2], including Friends of the Earth, FARM, and the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the British Independent Fruit Growers Association who have called for the Code to be scrapped and replaced by a much stronger statutory Code and independent supermarket Watchdog.

In its report the OFT says that "there may have been no change in supplier-supermarket relationships" as a result of the Code and even Tesco and Sainsbury's say that the Code has not made a difference to their relationships with suppliers. Some suppliers say that conditions have got worse since the Code was introduced.

Sandra Bell, food and farming campaigner for Friends of the Earth said

"The OFT's review confirms what farmers and other suppliers already knew, that the Code of Practice is useless. The bully behaviour of the biggest supermarkets is continuing unabated to the detriment of farmers and consumers. Its time that Tony Blair finally lived up to his promise to release farmers from the supermarket arm lock by creating an independent Watchdog to ensure fair trading practices".

The Code of Practice was introduced in 2002 after the Competition Commission found large supermarkets operating against public interest, reducing the choice and quality of goods. In today's review the OFT concludes that "the code is not working effectively " but has failed to put forward any recommendations. Instead it has proposed further investigation and an audit of the supermarket's records.

Although it is welcome that the OFT will be using its powers to investigate the supermarkets records Friends of the Earth is warning that this will fail to uncover the full truth about the way the retailers bully suppliers because so much business is done verbally. Nor will the audit be able to pick up on the climate of fear which clearly exists amongst suppliers dealing with the biggest supermarkets.

The OFT's lack of action or firm recommendations to the Government will be a huge blow to the suppliers that participated in the review. The overwhelming message from respondents was that the Code has not made any difference to the way that the supermarkets treat them.

The OFT acknowledges that suppliers are afraid to complain about the activities of the supermarkets so its suggestion that suppliers should bring forward more complaints is extremely niave. No official complaints have been brought forward, and this is not surprising when the supplier must complain to the supermarkets in the first instance. Also niave is the OFT's suggestion that definitions of "reasonableness" would be refined by the mediation process. The vague wording of the Code and in particular the use of the word "reasonable" throughout is another reason for the lack of complaints. As one supplier put it " If you are a small supplier negotiating with a retailer who has more than 15% of the market you can bet its not you who defines what is "reasonable". [3]

The OFT has failed to recommend the idea of an independent retail regulator. But Friends of the Earth says that the complete failure of the mediation system backs the need for an independent Watchdog to whom suppliers could take their complaints. The Watchdog would also need to pro-actively go out and talk to suppliers in the UK and overseas about relationships with the supermarkets.

The failure of the Code is a symptom of the huge market power wielded by the biggest supermarkets. About three quarters of the grocery market is controlled by just five companies. The Government's go ahead for Safeway and Morrison's to merge will tip the power imbalance further in favour of the retail giants. Yet the OFT seems happy to allow the supermarkets to continue to be in charge of the process of governing their own behaviour.

Robin Maynard, National Co-ordinator of FARM said :

"With the chair of Sainsbury's Sir Peter Davis prophesying an even fierce price war between the remaining four major retailers, it doesn't take a genius to see that their suppliers are going to get squeezed even harder. That means the primary producers, farmers face a very bleak future. "

"One balancing factor could have been a statutory code providing some legal and regulatory protection against the unreasonable demands on producers, which ultimately all stem from the supermarkets. The Office of Fair Trading has failed in its duty and should be renamed the Office of Feeble Timidity."

[1] Office of Fair Trading, The supermarkets code of practice, Februray 2004

[2] The Alliance: Banana Link, British Independent Fruit Growers Association, FARM, Farmers for Action, Farmers Link, Friends of the Earth, Grassroots Action for Food and Farming, IIED, National Federation of Women's Institutes, New Economics Foundation, Pesticide Action Network-UK, Soil Association, Small and Family Farms Alliance, WyeCycle.

[3] 'No Cracking under the code' the Grocer 7 September 2002

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Making Gloablisation Work For All
A conference organised by the UK Treasury, to discuss "Making Globalisation Work For All", has heard speeches by Bono, Gordon Brown MP ( Chancellor of the Exchequer), James Wolfensohn (President of the World Bank), President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Hilary Benn MP (Secretary of State for International Development), Lord Carey (Former Archbishop of Canterbury) + Cardinal Cormac.

Key themes of the conference have included the need to broaden definitions of terrorism + failed states, and ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are adequately financed.

Interestingly, with the UK due to host the G8 and take over the Presidency of the EU in 2005, Gordon Brown is calling on rich countries to double their annual contributions to international development, and to help establish an International Finance Facility, which will work in the following way:

The Facility would be built on long-term donor commitments to make 'streams' of annual payments to the IFF, earmarked for specific countries.

The IFF would borrow against the security of this committed income stream by issuing bonds in the international capital markets.

Donors would be legally bound to make the payments to the IFF in each 'stream', subject to one or two high-level financing conditions related to the relevant recipient countries.

In this way, the IFF will deliver upfront resources over the next few years when it will have the most impact on achieving the targets.

And the IFF would not be an agency for disbursement. It would disburse funds through existing effective bilateral + multilateral mechanisms.

It would be a temporary finance facility. It would be in existence, raising and disbursing funds, for around 15 years with the repayment phase continuing for around a further 15 years after which the Facility would be wound up.

The IFF will build on existing agreements between developed and developing countries, with developing countries demonstrating that the money will achieve the results intended + developed countries making a commitment to provide long-term, predictable, untied and effective aid as investment to the countries that need it most.

At the recent World Economic Forum it was highlighted that the world is currently spending only one third of the resources that will be necessary in order to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Last weekend James Wolfensohn also said that the developed world should make trade rules fairer and that the amount spent globally on weapons rather than education + health was "madness", and "We're spending 20 times the amount on military expenditure than we're spending on trying to give homes to people."

Monday, February 16, 2004

Export Credit Agencies and Corruption
A new report written by Dr Susan Hawley of The Corner House entitled Underwriting Bribery: Export Credit Agencies and Corruption highlights the hypocrisy of many of the developed world's demands for anti-corruption measures to be tightened in the developing world. This is especially the case while the same level of scutiny is not being applied to the rich world's own backyard. Extracts from the press release include:

The international community is adamant that corruption must be stopped. It is demanding that poorer countries eradicate corruption if they want to be considered eligible for Western aid.

But there is a deep hypocrisy in the international community's approach. At the heart of this are the export credit agencies of industrialised countries.

Export credit agenices use taxpayers' money to insure their domestic companies doing business abroad against risks such as the company not being paid. These agencies support many of the large, mainly Western, companies that continue to bribe their way into getting government contracts from poorer countries.

The price of Western companies' bribery is ultimately paid for by the people of the Southern countries in which the companies operate in the form of increased debts for overpriced + poorly planned projects that often provide little benefit to people or country.

This briefing outlines measures governments export credit agencies should be taking to tighten their anti-corruption procedures.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Babirusa.Org weblog launched
Earth-Info.Net has established a weblog co-operative designed to enable conservation + development fieldworkers to publicise, in their own words, the reasons for their work, as well as the ups + downs they experience.

The first of the conservation weblogs, called Babirusa.Org, has been built for Dr. Lynn Clayton, an ecologist who studies a rare + unusual species of pig, called a Babirusa, in the forests of Sulawesi in Indonesia.

Lynn has been studying Babirusa for 15 years and, in partnership with many local organisations + people, has done a great deal to help protect + understand these little known + enigmatic animals.

I hope you'll find this new weblog of interest...

I think it is one of the first of its kind!

Further weblogs covering the wildmeat trade in Central Africa, the interactions between predators + people in South Africa and the pollination of Australian plants will hopefully also be online before too long...

England's lowlands deteriorating
A report produced by English Nature entitled State Of Nature: Lowlands - Future Landscapes For Wildlife has called for improvements in the environmental standards of farming, better water management, and measures to reduce the impact of alien species.

Key recommendations include:

* Investment in environmental management + wildlife recovery on farms
* Stimulation of appropriate management of farmland + woodland
* Improved water management
* the restoration of wetland habitat
* Reducing the threats and impacts of non-native invasive species
* Reducing the cumulative impacts of development
* Reducing the adverse impacts of transport
* Reducing atmospheric pollution
* Adapting to the impacts of climate change
* Improving the management of the impacts of access + recreation

Despite some conservation successes, the state of wildlife in England's lowlands is still worsening and that the only way of reversing the decline will be to manage the lowlands as whole landscapes, not separate bits.

Improved protection of the landscape will, however, benefit wildlife, the economy as well as people's health and their sense of wellbeing...

Dr Keith Duff, English Nature’s Chief Scientist said: "We don’t have some romantic notion about recreating the past, but believe we must move forward to sustainable land management in a modern context. We call on everyone to work with us to develop an integrated and landscape-scale approach across the whole of England to deliver benefits for all."

Rich countries need to spend more to protect the global environment
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has said that the rich world's record on protecting the global environment is appalling and that $25bn a year more will be needed to establish a proper working system of protected areas for wildlife.

In 1992, 200 countries signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity which commits rich countries to helping to fund conservation in poorer ones, and joint work by the RSPB and Cambridge University has calculated that a global network of protected areas could deliver goods + services worth between $4400bn + $5200bn annually, yet internationally governments are failing to live up to their promises...

Alistair Gammell told BBC News Online: "It's appalling. All the rich countries are foot-dragging: they are not giving money for conservation.

"The UK is probably worse than most. It provides money through the Darwin Initiative, about £6m ($11.1m), and that's almost the end of it"

Mr. Gammell also stated that "There is not point having a protected area plan without the money to fund it. Decisive action must be taken by world leaders now to secure a future for global biodiversity and provide the resources to protect it, as well as an agreed means of tackling longer-term problems such as misguided economic policies and the destructive use of natural resources"

Commission on Sustainable Development's programme of work...
At its 11th session, the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development decided that its multi-year programme of work beyond 2003 would be organized on the basis of seven two-year cycles, with each cycle focusing on selected thematic clusters of issues...

In each cycle, the thematic clusters of issues will be addressed in an integrated manner, taking into account economic, social + environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The Commission agreed that the implementation process should cover all these issues equally and noted that the selection of some issues for a given cycle did not diminish the importance of the commitments undertaken with respect to the issues to be considered in future cycles.

The Commission further agreed that means of implementation should be addressed in every cycle and for every relevant issue, action and commitment, and drew up the following set of (highly ambitious, wide-ranging) priorities for the next few years...

For example:

2004/2005 Water, Sanitation +Human Settlements

2006/2007 Energy for Sustainable Development, Industrial Development, Air Pollution / Atmosphere + Climate Change

2008/2009 Agriculture, Rural Development, Land, Drought, Desertification + Africa

Earth-Info.Net feels that the issues contained within each of these two years cycles will take many, many years to improve significantly, and that the failure to focus longer term global effort on simpler, more achievable priorities is a major weakness, as it dilutes effort on entrenched problems, builds in excuses for failure + repeatedly leaves important work unfinished.

World changing stuff...
A team blog called World Changing is doing a great job of discussing ideas + practical steps that will enable us to achieve a more sustainable way of life using approaches that are already available and can be implemented straight away provided that the determination is there...

It's a great approach, and a blog well worth visiting!

Recent posts include a synopsis of a Pentagon report on the potential consequences of abrupt climate change, the precautionary principle + the production of hydrogen from ethanol.

Bretton Woods Project... latest news update released
The Bretton Woods Project has released its latest Update (No. 38) of news which contains the usual range of fascinating insights and comments on, and criticism of, World Bank + the International Monetary Fund activities...

One report includes the following, highly evocative description of the proceedings at a meeting organised by the UK Department for International Development, the World Bank, IMF + UNDP...

...in the second panel when Kamal Malhotra, Head of UNDP's International Trade Department, just off a snow-delayed flight from New York, ran into an implacable Hans Pieter Lankes, the IMF's trade chief. The jumper-clad Malhotra, his luggage apparently still somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, was first off the mark, asserting that "trade liberalisation follows, rather than precedes growth". He demanded that "the multilateral trading regime must shift to an enabling rather than disabling policy environment", and pointed to four conditions that must be met: trade should be seen as a means to human development and not an end in itself; a diversity of trade strategies should be encouraged; governments must have the right to protect institutions; and, finally, no country has the right to impose institutions on others. Malhotra closed with a call for "asymmetric rules, where the principles of reciprocity should be limited to the more developed."

Lankes appeared rattled by the frankness of Malhotra's intervention and went off-script to defend the trade liberalisation camp. Developing country representatives must have been left stunned by his opening remarks that "the reality in the past has been a lot of space for developing countries." Despite conceding the need for such policy space to take into account the impacts of liberalisation, Lankes lamented that it would be "unfortunate to shift to the extreme of eclecticism." The Fund view was that government failure was more damaging than market failure. Lankes concluded giving some clue as to the direction of Fund work in trade in the coming months: "there is no reason to put sensible policies in the fridge just because multilateral talks are off-track."

DTI slips out nuclear consultation
The following extract comes from a newsletter produced by Globe UK, an all-party sustainable development group based in the UK's Houses of Parliament, and outlines how the UK's Department for Trade and Industry plans to change the way that the UK's nuclear waste is disposed of, and to establish Nuclear Decommissioning Authority...

"On the day that saw the news dominated by the Hutton Report, the DTI released a consultation paper on proposals for dealing with intermediate level nuclear waste (ILW).

The DTI commissioned consultants NAC International to undertake an independent study to assess the environmental case for implementing ILW substitution on existing BNFL reprocessing contracts now, rather than waiting until there is greater certainty on the long term management strategy for ILW.

The proposals will mean disposal of all overseas ILW in the UK, whilst sending back additional high level waste (HLW) - HLW that otherwise would be disposed in the UK. The amount of extra HLW sent back would be equivalent on environmental grounds but smaller in volume than the equivalent ILW. The report says the amount of extra ILW will be equivalent to four detached houses, but is not clear about the exact amount of HLW which will be sent back in return.

The report says the motivation for substitution is that (subject to there being no significant environmental detriment to the UK) it would be a more efficient way of discharging the requirement to return wastes. It would also mean fewer international waste shipments ending sooner (from approximately 225 to 38) and a net income that the Department of Trade and Industry has stated would be allocated to the activities of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the net present value of which would exceed £200m.

Based on views expressed in consultation with the FCO, the report states that it was unlikely that the public would perceive the difference between international ILW and HLW shipments and so it anticipates that a smaller number of international HLW shipments would be more beneficial for international relations than a larger number of ILW shipments. In terms of inland transportation, the proposals would mean 3 less HLW and 162 more ILW inland transports over the next 50 years.

The deadline for consultation is 30th April 2004

For further details see www.dti.gov.uk/nuclearcleanup

NAO report: The Nuclear Liabilities of British Energy plc
The UK's National Audit Office, which independently scrutinises public spending on behalf of Parliament, has produced a damning report which highlights the conflicts of interest, hidden costs and risks to the taxpayer/energy market that resulted from the way British Energy (and its associated nuclear liabilities) were privatised in 1996.

Responding to the National Audit Office Report into British Energy, Malcolm Bruce MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow DTI Secretary, said:

"This report shows that British Energy continued to pay dividends that the company's performance could not justify. At the same time the DTI failed to realise the effect the new market for electricity would have on British Energy's profitability and the exposure of taxpayers to the company's nuclear liabilities.

"Despite the potentially large public liability the DTI relied on analysts and the fact that the company continued to pay dividends.

"According to the NAO, part of the DTI's problem was that there were too many Government agencies involved without ever knowing the full story of the mess British Energy was in, or the adverse effect Government policy was having on the company.

"The rise in the price of British Energy shares in the past week shows that shareholders are still hopeful of getting some return. It is unacceptable that shareholders in a private company who have failed to hold the management to account should be bailed out by the British taxpayer."

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Illegal logs passing through Malaysian port unhindered
Roger Harrabin, the environment correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, has teamed up with the Environmental Investigation Agency + Telapak to expose how thousands of tonnes of illegally logged Ramin timber from Indonesia are being laundered through Malaysian ports on to world markets...

You can listen to Roger's undercover interview with a middle man in the smuggling trade here...

Today, a new report has also been released by the EIA + Telapak entitled “Profiting From Plunder”, which details how endangered ramin wood from Indonesia, which is banned from international trade, is smuggled from Sumatra by sea to the Malaysian port of Pasir Gudang, in the state of Johor Baru. There the sawn timber is dried and given false certificates of origin, before being loaded into containers and shipped to Hong Kong + Shanghai. Once in China most of the ramin is manufactured into finished products such as picture frames + pool cues and exported to markets including the US and Europe.

Approximately, 3.8 million hectares of Indonesia is illegally logged each year and the EIA believes that (with the assistance of endemic corruption) one man, nicknamed “Jambi Lee”, is able to control much of the trade.

Ironically, between Feb 9 and 20, Malaysia will be hosting a conference of the parties (COP 7) to the Convention on Biological Diversity which will be discussing ambitious targets to achieve significant reductions in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Fair trade company annouces share issue
Cafe Direct the UK's largest fair trade hot drinks company is launching a public share issue designed to raise £5 million ($9.1 million).

At the moment world coffee prices are extremely low and many developing country farmers are being forced to sell their produce at a loss.

Cafe Direct is unusual, however, in that it agrees to pay farmers a guaranteed minimum price, which can be 2 or 3 times the market price, and ensures that a percentage of profits go into long-term invesment in the organisations of producer partners...

For those interested in buying shares, the minimum investment for those interested in buying shares is £300 and you can find out more about the share prospectus by visiting the Triodos Bank website.

Note: The International Federation for Alternative Trade's (IFAT) definition of Fairtrade is:

'Fairtrade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency + respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers. Fairtrade organisations are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.'

The goals of Fairtrade are:

* To improve the livelihoods and wellbeing of producers by improving market access, strengthening the producer organisations, paying a better price and providing continuity in the trading relationship.

* To promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women and indigenous people, and to protect people from exploitation in the production process.

* To help consumers exercise their purchasing power positively, by raising their awareness of the negative effects of international trade on producers.

* To set an example of partnership in trade through dialogue, transparency + respect.

* To campaign for changes in the rules + practice of conventional international trade.

* To protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices + economic security.

Kofi Annan calls for world to refocus on fighting poverty
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations announced that he will be convening a meeting to refocus attention on the problems faced by the worlds poor, and find practical solutions to their plight.

Mr. Annan expressed frustration that the world's attention had been diverted away from tackling global poverty over the past couple of years, and expressed hope that efforts to make global trade more equitable could be relaunched following the collapse of talks at the recent World Trade Organisation meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

Intensive farming is harming bird species acrosss Europe
A report produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) + Birdlife International has found that, over the past 25 years, intensive farming practices have reduced the number of bird species found in Europe by one third.

The RSPB says that:

"These declines have been severest in countries in north-west Europe. In the UK, for example, between 1970 and 1999, the skylark declined by 52%, the yellowhammer by 53% and the corn bunting by 88%."

"Governments of the newest members (of the European Union) must learn the lessons from countries like the UK, where declines of farmland wildlife have seen once common species, like the tree sparrow + lapwing, disappear from many areas.

"They should use EU financial support to maintain farming systems which respect environmental limits and leave room for wildlife."

"The decline of the corncrake has been one of the most obvious effects of the industrialisation of farming across Europe."

"Subsidies paid to farmers to maximize output have driven it out of much of the EU. This has been so marked you can pick out the outline of the Common Agricultural Policy imprinted on the distribution map of the bird."

If you would like to find out more, follow this link to read about BirdLife International's "Farming for Life" campaign, which is aims to make Europe's agriculture sustainable, protect natural resources and to save our disappearing farmland birds.

EnvironmentalSustainability.Info, Earth Blog + News Feed
Glen Barry the editor of the excellent www.environmentalsustainability.info website has launched a discussion forum, called Earth Talk, which aims to stimulate, and host, discussions of issues relating to environmental sustainability, forests, the climate + water.

Earth-Info.Net whole-heartedly recommends a visit to this site, and wishes Glen well with his mighty endeavours... which incidentally also include the Earth Blog and a very good environmental news feed service.

Report urges greater aid effectiveness + reduced use of emotive language in campaigns
Auditors Valid International have said that, in 2002 and 2003, British non-governmental organisations overstated the severity of a famine affecting southern Africa and should look at ways to improve the effectiveness of the aid they provide to those in need, and of reducing the use of emotive language in fund-raising campaigns.

You can access the full report on the Disaster Emergency Committee's website.

Viva news...
Many thanks to those of you who wished me well during the build up to my PhD viva... You know who you are!

The good news is that my examiners were firm but fair, and that I rather perversely enjoyed the experience! The bad news is that I now need to make quite a few corrections - though fortunately nothing too serious or daunting.

Preparing for my viva, which tested and challenged everthing I had done for the past few years was a terrifying process, so the encouragement and kind words I received during the build up to my big day were, and are, very greatly appreciated.

For the next couple of months I will be concentrating on making the corrections that have been asked of me. I will continue to post my thoughts on the most interesting + important stories I come across, but hope you will understand if I limit what I produce until I have safely secured my doctorate.