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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Monitoring environmental votes by MEPs
A new website called www.EU-votewatch.org has been set up by Friends of the Earth, WWF, Birdlife + Greenpeace in order to help voters see how Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are voting on environmental issues such as Agriculture, Air pollution, Chemicals, GM food, Liability, Nuclear power, Recycling, Renewables + Transport.

The European Union is responsible for around 90% of environmental laws in the UK, and very few people - if any! - are aware of how their representatives vote on these issues!

Using the www.EU-votewatch.org site it is possible to look at the voting records of individual politicians, countries (e.g. UK) or political blocks (e.g Greens) within the parliament, and to see how the percentage of environmentally friendly votes varies between countries.

Sadly, UK MEPs have the worst record in Europe for voting in favour of supporting the environment, with the majority of UK MEPs (51%) voting against environmental improvements in ten key votes.

At the other end of the scale, Danish MEPs came out on top with 84% of votes in favour of the environment, followed by the Swedes (81%) and the Austrians (77%)...

Five UK MEPs voted against every environment vote they took part in and 10 others voted against the environment 90% of the time. All were either Conservatives or members of the UK Independence Party.

Fifteen UK MEPs have a 100% record of voting green - (10 Liberal Democrats, 2 Green Party, 2 Plaid Cymru and 1 SDLP).

The England, Wales and Northern Ireland political parties' votes for environmental improvement were ranked as follows:

Greens, Plaid Cymru, SDLP - 100%
Liberal Democrats - 99%
Labour - 70%
DUP - 50%
Conservatives - 13%
UUP - 12%
UKIP - 0%

A recent report by the European Commission showed that the UK had one of the worst records for infringement actions for failing to properly implement EU laws. Recent research shows that over 30% of UK citizens are "very worried" about environmental issues. The environment is one of the few areas where the European Parliament has co-decision making powers with the Commission and Council of Ministers and is therefore one of the few areas where MEPs can make a significant difference.

Friends of the Earth's Campaigns Director Mike Childs said:

"European Union laws have been the driving force in cleaning up Britain's drinking water, rivers + beaches. Its waste laws are improving safety standards at waste disposal sites and improving recycling. The EU is an important influence at international negotiations on issues such as climate, trade and wildlife protection. If people want to see further environmental gains then they can use this new interactive website to see how their MEP has voted in the past and which parties are greener than others."

Earth-Info.Net feels that this monitoring should greatly improve transparency + accountability in the EU and help to make it harder for politicians to hide from the consequences of their short-term actions. It is also very good to see different NGOs working together in such a constructive way...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

UK seeks to help defeat a murderous Ugandan cult
Later today, the UK's International Development Secretary, Hillary Benn, will be meeting Uganda's President Museveni to discuss what assistance the UK can provide with tackling a crazed + murderous cult, called the Lord's Resistance Army, that has been terrorizing northern Uganda, and forcing abducted children to become soliders, for the past 18 years.

You can listen to this piece from BBC Radio 4's Today Programme if you would like to learn more...

The latest Bretton Woods Project newsletter
The latest edition of the Bretton Woods Project newsletter has just been released.

This update offers plenty of high-quality retrospective analysis and the latest news on the controversial projects + policies of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and is well worth a read.

Articles on offer include:

1. The World Bank and IMF at sixty...
2. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers: a continuation of structural adjustment
3. Life under the IMF's magnifying glass
4. World Bank pushes Malawi agriculture privatisation
5. Iraq and Ethiopia treatment shows debt relief double standards
6. The World Bank's high-risk hypocrisy
7. Parliaments: the missing link in democratising national policy making
8. Parliamentarians increase demands on World Bank
9. IMF selection mess only a symptom
10. 60th anniversary spring meetings protest plans
11. IMF and poverty: strange bed fellows
12. Disengaging from the Fund: possible and worthwhile?
13. Challenges to World Bank report on MDG progress
14. Are you listening carefully?
15. Pakistani hunger strikers seek reparations for damaging project
16. Global warming speaks louder than words
17. Acres debarment: Litmus test for Bank on corruption
18. World Bank faces lobbies on human rights, climate change
19. Congolese groups unite to demand scrutiny of forest policies
20. BWP seeks new Coordinator
21. BWP welcomes Atieno Ndomo
22. At issue - World Bank, IMF: Helping peace or creating conditions for war?

Undercurrents News Network launched
Last night Earth-Info.Net attended the Oxford launch of the Undercurrents News Network, an alternative media group, which plans to help distribute videos highlighting the work of activists from around the world.

Undercurrents have been producing videos, featuring their own alternative news stories, for the past 10 years, and discovered that on average it takes 4 years for these stories to be covered by documentaries on the mainstream media.

Stories featured in the latest video include a demonstration outside a Premier Oil AGM, (protesting at the company's investment in Burma inspite of the ruling regime's appalling human rights record), a mass break-out from the Woomera detention centre in the South Australian desert (where asylum seekers were often detained for months, until UN pressure finally led to the site's closure in April 2003) and a student occupation of the President's office at Harvard University in protest at the university's policy of offering poverty pay to 1000 workers, despite the institutions's own immense wealth ($20 billion) and profits (approx. $150 million per annum).

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Why Australia's soil + drinking water are going salty...
The latest edition of BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme investigates the threat posed by dryland salinity to Australia's most productive farmlands + drinking water.

Dryland salinity is caused by a combination of ancient + modern events.

In prehistoric times, the tectonic plate that was to become Australia was located under the sea.

When this plate was eventually lifted above sea-level, salt deposits and evaporation, formed a salt crust that was, only very slowly, washed underground, by many millions of years of rain...

More recently, over the last 200 years, and especially the last 50 years, vast areas of Australia have been cleared for agriculture...

The consequent loss of big trees (which drank, and then sweated large quantities of water, into the air, through their leaves), and their replacement with less thirsty grasses, such as wheat or pasture (which do not), has resulted in water tables, across Australia, being pulled towards the surface, by the heat of the sun.

Unable to escape into the air, this water has started to pool around soil particles close to the surface and, once here, steadily pulled up salts from deep underground (a bit like wet tissue paper soaks up ink).

Gradually, the concentration of salts at the surface has increased and, in more and more places, produced lifeless salt pans... It is almost impossible for most plants to live, or for animals to find untainted water, on such hyper-salty soils. As a consequence, millions of acres of formerly productive land have been turned into lifeless desert.

Unfortunately, it is not just the country people and wildlife that suffer from the impacts of this problem...

Country streams, draining from salty land, eventually flow into rivers which then supply most of Australia's major cities with their drinking water...

Food production, which is already difficult in semi-arid areas, and generally expected to increase, has also become impossible in previously fertile areas, and even native plants, which evolved while areas were salt-free, are unable to survive.

The threat posed by salinity is immense, and this programme does a good job of looking at what the problems are and what can be done to tackle them...