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Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Mr Blair sought to marry the pursuit of growth with a secure future for the planet, at the launch of the government's strategy for sustainable development. The response from environmentalists was mixed. They liked hearing the government say the current model of development was "unsustainable" but found this hard to square with abolishing the fuel duty escalator to appease motorists or bowing to pressure from airlines for airport expansion. "They're trying to have their planet and eat it" said Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation, an alternative think-tank. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of The Earth, said recent years had seen a number of "contradictory decisions and missed opportunities." [ The Guardian; Larry Elliott ]

Monday, 7 March 2005

For a President of Britain's Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific academy, to openly and angrily attack a President of the United States is virtually unprecedented. But Lord May's broadside against President Bush reflects the growing anguish at the Bush administration's obstructionism, from scientists who are concerned about the threat of climate change. [ The Independent; Michael McCarthy ]

Monday, 7 March 2005

The more one knows the more one is likely to conclude that global warming is not a threat the world will master. The core of the matter is a question of scale: the scale of the danger and the scale of the human response to it. These two trends whose shape is increasingly discernible are not only ill-matched, they are moving apart. Never mind how much you may have heard over the past ten years about what this country or that country is doing to combat global warming, all the signs are that the gap between the danger and the response, far from narrowing, is widening, and that danger is set to accelerate away from the response leaving the gap unbridgeable.
For the threat to the world from a changing climate appears to be growing faster than anybody thought it would, even four years ago, when the last assessment report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. That was dire enough predicting global temperatures would rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees centigrade by the end of the current century. A month ago the international conference at Exeter updated this research with a number of real shocks. They included the threat of collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which would raise global sea levels by 16 feet, the threat of acidification of the oceans by CO2 dissolving in sea water, which would devastate marine life, increasing threats of the melting of Greenland's ice sheet and the collapse of the Gulf Stream and several more. The conference report concluded that compared with the last IPCC assessment in 2001 "in many cases the risks are more serious than previously thought".
But here's the rub; here's the second ominous trend. Not only is the threat growing faster: the human response is not moving to match it, but is actually moving backwards. Societies everywhere seem just too wedded to dependence on carbon, especially in the areas of motor transport and aviation. Programmes to cut emissions are everywhere failing. Controlling climate change would require a cut of perhaps 60% in present global CO2 levels; the parties to the Kyoto treaty are struggling to make a 5% cut, and failing. Nobody else - the US, China, India - is doing anything. On present trends, according to last year's World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency, global CO2 emissions will rise by another 62% by 2030.
What is becoming clear is that controlling CO2, really getting a handle on emissions and curbing them, would require a programme of action far more radical and far more comprehensive than any yet remotely comprehended by any nation-state.
It would require something approaching a wartime command economy, for all countries, where human ingenuity and limitless resources are directed to one overweening end - the replacement of carbon as an energy source. [ The Independent; Editorial & Opinion, Michael McCarthy ]

Monday, 7 March 2005

Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society and former chief scientific advisor to the Government, has attacked President George Bush for acting like a latter-day Nero who fiddles while the world burns because of global warming. Continuing to deny the impact of human activities on the environment may ultimately have catastrophic consequences for everyone on the planet.
The Royal Society has calculated that the 13% rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the US since 1990 will dwarf the cuts resulting from all the other countries following the Kyoto protocol. In a speech to policy-makers in Berlin today, Lord May will also castigate elements within the British media who promote "misleading" opinions about the true nature of the scientific uncertainties surrounding climate change.
"Small actions now are disproportionately important. They are more important than bigger actions later because of the non-linearity of the process we are talking about" he said. "We need a whole suite of actions that, in a sense, have to have an underlying embrace that there is a problem, and it is a big problem" he added.
In addition to urging America to ratify the Kyoto agreement, Lord May accused The Daily Mail of waging an undeclared propaganda war against the science of climate change, misleading its readers with a misinformed campaign. [ The Independent; Steve Connor ]

Sunday, 6 March 2005

Worried about global warming, but not too worried? Quietly worried about the scientists' most apocalyptic claims? Then you've been duped, say environmental and political campaigners.
Keeping you in doubt has become an international multimillion-dollar industry they claim - and now that industry is focusing its efforts on the UK.
The "denial lobby" may already have notched up some victories here. Tony Blair has called climate change the greatest threat to civilisation, but his government's much-trumpeted efforts to curb Britain's greenhouse gas emissions have virtually collapsed. Under industry pressure, Blair recently raised the limit on how much CO2 companies can emit over the next three years.
The climb down jeopardises Labour's stated target of 20% cut in total emissions by 2010, and has enraged green activists. The government has also declined to tighten energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, and commissioned new runways to help the airline industry, a major polluter.
Downing Street and other government departments have been vigorously lobbied by captains of industry from the energy, airline, construction, manufacturing and chemical sectors as well as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The affair is faintly reminiscent of George Bush's decision to withdraw the US, the world's biggest polluter from the Kyoto protocol on climate change. That decision was encouraged by lobbying and PR campaigns financed by the polluting industries, which made large donations to Senators and Congressmen and sponsored neo-liberal think tanks and contrarian scientific research. Exxon Mobil the oil major, has been accused by Friends of the Earth and others of giving millions of dollars to a long list of think-tanks and lobbyists opposed to Kyoto.
Nothing on that scale has happened in Britain. For one thing BP and Shell, the UK's two oil giants, have been quicker than their US counterparts to accept that greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels. Nor is there evidence of improper influence here - although it would be difficult to uncover if it existed. [ The Observer; Business & Media, Conal Walsh ]

Sunday, 6 March 2005

Scientists will tomorrow fly a spy plane high into the world's protective ozone layer, amid increasing fears that it may be about to develop a hole over Britain and Northern Europe. The danger... has been provoked by the coldest winter on record about 12 miles above the Arctic, setting up ideal conditions for destruction of the ozone layer. It is linked with global warming - as the atmosphere nearer the Earth warms, the stratosphere cools.
For over 20 years, a hole as big as the US and as high as Mount Everest has opened up over Antarctica every southern spring. But since the continent is almost entirely uninhabited, the hole has posed little danger to human health - though skin cancer rates in Southern Chile, the only populated area under the hole, are three times as high as elsewhere. [ The Independent; Geoffrey Lean ]

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

It is often stated how difficult it would be to introduce enough renewables in time to make a difference to the climate. Less is heard about the same difficulty that would face nuclear power stations. One authoritative estimate puts the earliest operational opening of a new nuclear power station in Britain at about 15 years. For the most part, the other options have shorter planning and construction cycles, thus allowing revenues to flow earlier and driving down the cost of capital. The shorter cycle times combined with a more competitive suppliers market, drives rapid technical progress and lower costs.
Maintaining a stable climate, while meeting energy needs is perhaps the sternest test of the 21st century. It will require great innovation and investment. Nostalgia for an unrealised dream is no substitute for a clear-eyed look at the future. Nuclear power does have a part to play in meeting the climate challenge, but it is unlikely to be very much greater than the pert it is currently playing. [ The Guardian; Tom Burke ]

Sunday, 27 February 2005

An 18 month study compiled by Defra reviewing all marine research, found that water temperatures and sea levels are rising around Britain, while salt levels are dropping because of melting Arctic ice caps. Meanwhile native plankton species - vital to the survival of many fish stocks - are slowly disappearing. The 900 page audit reveals that
  • sea temperatures have risen by 0.6°C a decade and by up to 1.5°C in winter.
  • sea levels are rising by up to 2mm a year because of melting ice caps and increased rainfall.
Elliott Morley, the Environment Minister who oversaw the report said

"For the dwindling band of doubters, I would really recommend that they look at this report. It demonstrates there are serious problems with climate change, and we've really got to get a grip on it. The longer we delay taking effective action, the more difficult it will be to turn things around. Even a five year delay could be significant".

He warned that these trends could lead to the weakening of a crucial ocean current and weather system that keeps Britain warm, which is known as the North Atlantic Oscillation and is connected to the Gulf Stream.

"This is new. These are the kinds of things which have just appeared on the radar screen".

There was he claimed an urgent need to start preparing an even more sweeping global agreement to cut climate change gases to replace the Kyoto Protocol despite US opposition. Seven red "warnings" were given to key problem areas including the collapse of fish stocks, unprecedented changes in plankton species and the deaths of dolphins and porpoises from trawler nets. [ The Independent; Severin Carrell ]

Saturday, 26 February 2005

The German government's energy agency published a report which says that wind farms prove a costly form of reducing greenhouse gases. It costs between 28 and 53 to avoid emitting a tonne of CO2 using wind energy. This is three times the cost of conventional (fossil-fuel derived) energy. Stephan Kohler the head of Germany's energy agency told the Guardian "Conventional methods are cheaper. But you have to do both". The German environment minister, Jurgen Trittin, of the Green Party hit back saying that the "central parts" of the report vindicated his claim that an expansion of wind energy could be done quickly and cheaply. Jim Footner of Greenpeace said "You can't energy-efficiency your way out of climate change. You need to have clean forms of energy generation, and wind power is a technology that's competitive, current and it's the one that's available now." Richard Ford of The British Wind Energy Association said "The UK has a far greater wind resource than Germany. The winds blow harder and therefore the economics of wind power in the UK will be better than those of our European neighbours." The Audit Office last week last week said that wind was the most expensive way to fund carbon emission reductions in Britain. However it did not condemn wind-power saying that a mix of renewable energies and energy savings were needed. [ Guardian; Luke Harding, John Vidal and Alok Jha ]

Saturday, 26 February 2005

British Energy and Amec are proposing a development of 234 wind turbines on the Scottish island of Lewis which is set to be the fiercest clash yet in Britain over the wind-farm issue. The RSPB have announced formal objection in the "strongest possible terms", on the basis it would threaten one of the most important wildlife sites in Britain. The site is protected under European law for a variety of rare birds including golden eagles, merlins, black-throated divers, red-throated divers, dunlins and greenshanks. The proposed development would have an electricity producing capacity 720 megawatts, enough to supply renewable energy to more than a million people. [ Independent; Michael McCarthy ]

Friday, 25 February 2005

Mystery of the silent woodlands: Scientists are baffled as bird numbers plummet at a rate that threatens them with extinction... and nobody knows why. Perversely, the decline is happening as Britain plants more woodlands and forest management is more sympathetic to wildlife conservation. Five species the spotted flycatcher, lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser whitethroat, lesser redpoll and the tree pipit plunged more than 3/4 between 1966 and 1999 and decline continues. Climate change is one of seven possibilities offered by RSPB research team. See March edition of British Birds journal. [ Independent; Michael McCarthy ]

Friday, 25 February 2005

Eskom, one of Africa's biggest electricity companies yesterday unveiled plans to build the world's biggest hydro-electric plant at the Inga Rapids near the mouth of the Congo river, generating 40,000MW, enough power for the whole continent. Rather than damming up the river entirely the plan involves creating a "run-of-river" plant, in which water is siphoned off, channelled through turbines and then fed back into the river. The World Rainforest Movement in a report on the 26bn project said "One big unknown is the effect on fish and river ecology... Even run-of-river plants can eliminate fish migrations, and they can badly damage silt flows, which are crucial to river ecology" Any environmental damage from the project could have a grave impact on subsistence farmers who depend on flow of sediment downriver to fertilise fields, and to harvest fish to supplement their diets. The Congo river is fed by 10,000 streams that funnel into powerful rapids along its 2900 mile course to the sea. Some 526 million people in Africa have no access to electricity. [ Guardian; Jeevan Vasaga, in Nairobi ]

Wednesday, 23 February 2005

Report on scientists putting together the pieces behind the transformation of Australia's outback from lush green interior with a myriad of species to barren desert. Gifford Miller from the University of Colorado unearthed convincing evidence suggesting that deforestation by early man 55,000 years ago over a sustained period eventually resulted in the end of the monsoons changing the climate of Australia. If Miller and his colleagues are correct, it provides a sobering lesson. Rainforest is being felled all over the world at an unprecedented rate and ecosystems pushed way out of kilter. What kind of effect will this have on the world's climate? Are we leaving a legacy to future generations of desert landscapes and unpredictable rainfall? [ Independent; Kate Ravilous ]

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

The National Trust for Scotland is concerned that many of the 120 properties it has responsibity for could be at risk from violent storms, rising sea levels and a dramatic change in temperatures that will devastate wildlife and extensive damage to buildings. Flooding will also have an impact on natural habitats in vulnerable areas while distinctive habitats will undergo ecological change. Last week the National Trust for Scotland joined 25 other environmental groups to launch a campaign aimed at challenging politicians to step up action to cut global climate change. [ Independent: Paul Kelbie; Scottish Correspondent ]

Sunday, 20 February 2005

Tony Blair is being enlisted by leading US lobby group the National Commission on energy policy in order to bring Bush closer to the rest of the world's position on climate change. Blair's role as leader of the G8 group of industrialised nations this year and from July his presidency of the EU are seen as critical opportunities. [ Independent; Katherine Griffiths ]

Sunday, 20 February 2005

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth says Western countries' addiction to economic growth has to be recast, if not the consequences will be "utterly disastrous". China is now forging significant alliances with Russia, Venezuela, Sudan and Middle Eastern countries to secure oil and gas supplies. [ Observer; Nick Mathiason ]

Sunday, 20 February 2005

In the week when Kyoto came into force the European Commision threatened legal action because the UK wants to raise its CO2 emissions quota. Stephen Tindale, Director of Greenpeace said:

"Business as represented by the CBI and trade associations has a Neanderthal attitude to climate change. What is really depressing is that people like Patricia (Hewitt), who should know better are now spouting the nonsense about competitiveness themselves".

Some corporate giants - notably Exxon - also see no need for environmental precautions. [ Observer; Oliver Morgan ]

Saturday, 19 February 2005

The final proof: global warming _is_ a man-made disaster. Researchers funded by the US government analysed more than 7 million recordings of ocean temperature and 2 million readings of salinity from around the world, and compared the rise in temperatures at different depths to predictions made by two computer simulations of global warming, one from England and one from the US. Both models predicted the observed warming almost exactly. Tim Barnett a marine physicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and a leading member of the team said: "So when a politician stands up and says 'the uncertainty in all these simulations start to question whether we can believe in these models', that argument is no longer tenable..."

"We've got a serious problem. The debate is no longer: 'Is there a global warming signal?' The debate is now what are we going to do about it?"
Christine Whitman who resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 wrote in her book It's My Party Too of the "obsession" of many in the energy industry and the Republican party "with doing away with environmental regulation". "We care about the climate" Mr Bush said this week on the eve of his trip to Europe where global warming will be a major issue and many Europeans regard the 43rd President as "the toxic Texan". [ The Independent; cover story ]

Saturday, 19 February 2005

Last Thursday Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed decrees initiating a reserve of 8.2 million acres and a national park spanning 1.1 million acres in the eastern Amazon state of Para, where sister Dorothy Stang, 73, was shot to death after a dispute with a rancher (see Sat 12 February story). A new national forest and conservation areas totalling 3.5 million acres were also created in three other states in the Amazon. In all the land placed under federal environmental protection covers 19,900 square miles.
"It is sad to see that things that had been in the pipeline for months and years needed a tragic development in order to receive priority" said Roberto Smeraldi, director of Friends of the Earth, Brazil. The decrees were announced after more than 60 groups signed a letter to the President demanding strong moves to curb the "violence and impunity associated with the illegal occupation of lands and deforestation" in the Amazon, especially in the vast Para state. Unless he took action, Mr da Silva would "risk making history as the champion of rural violence, illegal occupation of public lands and illegal logging" said the letter signed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other groups.
Development, logging and farming have so far destroyed as much as 20% of the rainforest. [ The Independent; Michael Astor in Anapu, Brazil ]

Friday, 18 February 2005

Yesterday campaigners renewed calls to halt pair-trawling for bass by British and French fishing boats in the English Channel following a report by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). The report cites pair-trawling, involving large nets towed between two boats for killing more than 2000 Dolphins per year. Last week Greenpeace launched a High Court challenge to the Government calling for a ban on all pair-trawling for Bass within 200 miles of the UK. Incidental capture in fishing nets of whales, porpoises and dolphins worldwide is estimated to kill 300,000 of these mammals each year. [ Independent; Sam Marsden and Arifa Akbar ]

Thursday, 17 February 2005

The Bush administration was accused yesterday of deception (by Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defence Council environmental group) after Scott McClellan President Bush's Spokesperson claimed the Administration "...had made an unprecedented commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that continues to grow our economy" [ Independent; Andrew Buncombe ]

Thursday, 17 February 2005

WWF (World Wildlife Fund) reports on increasing concentrations of toxic chemicals in Arctic wildlife. Chemicals ranging from the band pesticide DDT to modern flame retardants used in electrical equipment appear to be accumulating in the Arctic food web affecting the immune, hormonal and reproductive systems of Polar Bears. [ Metro; Sarah Hills ]

Thursday, 17 February 2005

A Shell-led consortium is planning a drilling project off the eastern coast of Russia which could lead to the extinction of the Western Pacific Grey Whale. An independent report by the IUCN-World Conservation Union estimates that there are only about 100 Western Grey Whales left with just 23 females of reproductive age, leaving the species "on the edge of survival". The IUCN said the project posed risks from noise pollution - to which whales are particularly sensitive - collisions between the mammals and ships during construction, oil spills, and disturbance of the sea bed. [ The Independent; Saeed Shah ]

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Global Warming is having an accelerated effect in Spain where temperatures have risen 1.5°C in the last 100years. The global average during this time is 0.6°C and the European average 0.9°C. Research suggests that summer temperatures could exceed 50°C (122F) by the end of the century. Spain already includes Europe's only desert. [ Guardian; Itziar Reinlein & Emma Graham-Harrison ]

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Kyoto came into effect 13 years after it was first proposed making the 41 participating countries legally bound to meet emission-reduction targets averaging 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The US and Australia are notable omissions to the list of signatories. See Kyoto Agreement

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

European judges ruled today that environmental campaigners known as the McLibel Two were denied a fair trial because they were not allowed to apply for legal aid. In the mid 1980's Helen Steel and David Morris handed out leaflets outside McDonalds outlets criticising it for destroying rainforests, causing Third World starvation, exploiting children in its advertising and selling unhealthy food. This led to McDonalds suing for libel and the longest-ever trial in an English court. [ Wed 16, Guardian; John Vidal: www.mcspotlight.org/case/ ]

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Brussels accused the UK Government of reneging on a formal agreement by attempting to increase the ceiling for CO2 emissions by 20 million tonnes over the next three years - almost 3%. Norman Baker (Liberal Democrat environment spokesman) claimed that the Prime Minister was "squirming" over climate change while "making grandiose speeches on an international stage". The European Commission believes that if it concedes to the UK request other countries will ask for similar treatment and the entire trading scheme could unravel.

Monday, 14 February 2005

The Carlyle Group, the American Private Equity firm whose former Saudi links were highlighted by film-maker Michael Moore, yesterday reported its "best-ever" year returning profits of $5.3bn.

Sunday, 13 February 2005

China has halted work on 22 major dams and power stations amidst growing environmental concern. In the first instance of its kind, the Chinese State Environment Protection Agency intervened in order to review the impact of the projects on the environment. Among the halted projects is the highly controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtse River. Growing interest in the environment by premier Wen Jiabao and other national leaders is considered to be the driving force. [ The Independent; Geoffrey Lean ]

Saturday, 12 February 2005

Successful Climate Change demonstration in London, culminating in rousing speeches by Caroline Lucus (Green MEP), Tony Juniper (FoE), Director of Friends of the Earth, Muzammal Hausain from Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Enviromental Sciences and Phil Thornhill campaign for climate change.

Saturday, 12 February 2005

American Rainforest activist nun Sister Dorothy Stang (74) assassinated by Gunmen in Anapu on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest.
For 30 yrs she organised efforts to try to protect the rainforest and its people from disastrous and often illegal exploitation by logging firms and ranchers. (Greenpeace estimate that 90% of timber in the vast Para region of Brazil is illegally logged.) She is the most prominent activist to be murdered since Chico Mendez in 1988. Her death has triggered outrage among environmental and human rights activists. In 2003 Samuel Clements made a film of her work entitled "The Students, The Nun and The Amazon" [ The Independent; Andrew Buncombe ]

Thursday, 1 January 1970

Unveiled: the clean queen of the sea
It is the ship of the future - powered by the sun, wind and waves. The futuristic vessel has no conventional engines, uses no fossil fuels and releases no harmful emissions into the atmosphere or pollution into the sea. The first ship to use the technology will be a cargo vessel that will transport up to 10,000 cars from Britain to Australia, New Zealand and other countries. If successful, it will be used on passenger ferries and cruise ships. A spokesman for Wallenius Wilhelmson, the ship's Scandanavian designers who have a British Headquarters in Southampton, said

"This will be the first truly environmentally friendly ship, protecting the atmosphere and marine species. It will transform ocean transport."

[ The Sunday Telegraph; David Harrison ]