Climate change: How snakes and ladders could save the planet

The EPA was directed to set standards for radi...

The EPA was directed to set standards for radioactive materials under Reorganization Plan No. 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snakes and ladders, bingo and top trumps might be old-fashioned games most associated with childhoods past, but if climate-change experts are to be believed, they could just help us to save the planet. The Independent reports 

Paula Owen is on a one-woman mission to discover if a bit of fun and competition can convince people to lead more environmentally friendly lives. Firefighters, city workers, museum-goers, teachers, schoolchildren and university students will test out her eco-inspired games over the next year as she tries to show that learning about sustainability does not have to be dull.

Next week, Science Museum Lates, in London, will display her take on the classic games – including life-size snakes and ladders, where squares containing good activities (walking to work, say) send you up the ladders, while bad squares (overheating your home) send you sliding down snakes. And there’s eco-bingo, where you can expect to hear: “Lag your loft; you’ll save a ton – it’s number one.”

The former chemist told The Independent on Sunday: “I am trying to find a way to get the message across that’s new, affirmative, positive and inclusive. I want to move people who are not informed by the messages of old into doing something – even if it’s just the smallest thing. People are bored with the misery messaging that tries to guilt you into doing things; it means most people end up dismissing the whole thing.”

Her new e-book, How Gamification Can Help Your Business Engage in Sustainability, is gaining attention worldwide. Venezuela, Brazil, Australia and Canada are all following Dr Owen’s study and she says that the US Environmental Protection Agency is interested in a version of her eco-top trumps. Meanwhile, Manchester University wants 2,000 of the cards for this year’s freshers.

But Paula Owen is not the only one to notice how games can be used to change people’s behaviour in the real world. Gartner, a technology research company, predicts that more than 50 per cent of organisations involved in innovation will be “gamifying” processes by 2015, applying the mechanics of games in the real world. Deloitte, the consultancy firm, rates it as one of the top 10 trends to watch in coming years.

“The games aren’t new; what’s new is that we’re taking games seriously,” said Oliver Lawder, creative planner at Futerra, a sustainability communications agency. “Climate change is a massive global issue; lots of things individuals can do feel small and insignificant. What game mechanisms can do is start to reward, incentivise and show the collective effort of everyone coming together to have a positive effect.”

The idea is not without critics who see it as just another gimmick. Plus, there are practical difficulties in collecting data for the more complex, digital games. But Mr Lawder predicts that we will move towards a “Gamification 2.0” as technology improves. As for the eco-factor, the idea is catching on. Nissan‘s Leaf line of electric cars now monitors efficiency-based achievements in the form of trees on the steering wheel, which drivers can compare, receiving virtual medals.

For Dr Owen, early results look good. More than 60 per cent of those playing her eco-games at the Science Museum’s launch last month said they learnt new information which they could take home; and 64 per cent of the fire-fighters who piloted them said they could help the London Fire Brigade become greener.

Whatever happened to Cameron, the idealistic young eco-warrior?

Department of Energy and Climate Change

Department of Energy and Climate Change (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: David Cameron's picture on the 10 Dow...

English: David Cameron’s picture on the 10 Downing Street website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After spending five years in opposition trying to detoxify the Tories’ image, David Cameron promised to lead ‘the greenest government ever’ when he entered No 10, exactly two years ago. Matt Chorley of The Independent on Sunday investigates what became of that pledge

David Cameron is today accused of doing no more than pay lip service to his boast that he would lead the “greenest government ever” and of leaving Britain vulnerable to the economic and environmental dangers of failing to tackle climate change.

On the second anniversary of his speech setting out his “simple ambition” for the coalition, the Prime Minister comes under fire from business leaders, eco-campaigners and politicians who warn that ministers’ anti-green rhetoric, policy U-turns and turbulent backbenchers are thwarting efforts to foster a low-carbon economy.

Samantha Smith, the environmentalist who took Mr Cameron to hug huskies in the Arctic to show a new Tory enthusiasm for the green agenda, leads the criticism. She claims the PM’s reluctance to lead the way threatens investment in renewable energy and undermines attempts to persuade developing countries to go green.

She told The Independent on Sunday: “This where we see whether David Cameron is a global leader or not. It is about being out in front, showing leadership and direction. We are not seeing enough of that.”

Her comments have been echoed by a diverse coalition, ranging from the CBI and renewable-energy firms to Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and even Tory MPs.

From botched cuts to solar subsidies to the aborted forests sell-off, from a new rush for gas to subsidies for nuclear power, there is plenty in the coalition’s record that has raised doubts about the competency and commitment of ministers to the cause.

Repeated attacks by George Osborne on low-carbon policies – claiming “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” – have been highlighted as a major cause of concern, with the Chancellor suggesting there is a choice between growth and being green.

The need for action remains acute. Last month, the International Energy Agency warned that energy-related CO2 emissions are on course to almost double by 2050, pushing global temperatures up by at least 6C. “Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships,” said its deputy executive director, Richard H Jones.

Last Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech was seen by some as a turning point for the coalition. The Energy Bill will aim to provide long-term certainty for investors in low-carbon power, by guaranteeing a steady rate of return. But critics warn it amounts to a subsidy for nuclear plants, something Lib Dems are vehemently opposed to. The heads of four of the country’s biggest environmental organisations – Greenpeace, WWF, RSPB and Friends of the Earth – have written to the Government warning against an “over-reliance on gas”, which could account for 70 per cent of generating capacity by 2020. The letter, seen by The IoS, calls for more support for renewable energy to “provide investors with long-term certainty”.

Ultra-green members of the Government would like more “aggressive” policies, including council tax and business rate discounts for properties that are more energy-efficient. But these are unlikely to get past sceptics who would see it as another “green tax”.

Earlier this month, Mr Cameron made his first public comment on the green agenda since becoming Prime Minister, though confusion over whether it was a “keynote speech” or simply “opening remarks” at a meeting of international energy ministers added to the sense that this is not a policy priority. A YouGov poll in March revealed that just 2 per cent of people thought he had kept his promise to lead the greenest government ever.

It is all a long way from the day in April 2006, when Mr Cameron burnished his green credentials by posing with huskies in Svalbard, declaring: “It is possible to take a lead and make a difference.”

Six years on, it is the absence of leadership that most worries environmentalists. Ms Smith, now leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative, revealed she was “impressed” by the Tory leader on the infamous dog-sled trip, but today is fearful of a lack of conviction. “We understood that part of it was about promoting the new greening of the Tory party, but it also seemed to us to be genuine, beyond some false commitment and a nod to climate change.” She warns that Mr Cameron must stand up to the “huge pushback” claims from climate-sceptic Tory MPs and Mr Osborne, who express doubts “on whether the UK can ‘afford’ to fulfil its obligations”.

There is a stark difference between being the “greenest ever” and the “greenest possible” government. Without a pro-green zeal at the very top of government, ambitious plans are unlikely to reach their potential. “It’s the difference between a policy that trundles along and one which is given some welly,” says one government source.

Like many, Tim Yeo, the Tory chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, warns that the Department of Energy and Climate Change looks like “a second-division Whitehall department” when up against the Treasury, which is institutionally suspicious of green policies. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs fares little better. Responsible for the countryside – and the infamous plan to sell off Britain’s forests – it is damned with faint praise even by its backers. “Defra’s heart is in the right place,” says one. “It just needs a bit more clout.” The Campaign to Protect Rural England fears Defra is “an isolated, and not especially influential, outpost”.

The loss of Chris Huhne, who resigned as Energy Secretary in February after being charged with perverting the course of justice, is a mixed blessing. A Lib Dem big beast, he regularly stood up to Tories in general and Mr Osborne in particular. But there is a growing school of thought in Westminster, too, that Mr Huhne’s spiky relationship with the Chancellor was counterproductive. Friends of Mr Osborne say his anti-green rhetoric while Mr Huhne was in the Cabinet was in part a way of putting up “two fingers” to the Lib Dems. Since the latter’s departure, his language has been tempered. “George has drawn a line under the antagonistic stuff now Chris has gone,” says one Tory minister. “Politics is based on people and relationships – shock!” adds another.

Observers say the jury is still out on Mr Huhne’s successor, Ed Davey. In his first interview after his appointment in March, Mr Davey told The IoS: “Let no one be under any illusion, I am completely committed to the ambition for this to be the greenest government ever.”

He might be committed. But there are real doubts about whether David Cameron’s priorities now lie far away from the glaciers of Svalbard.

Cameron’s Green ratings (are all over the place)

Leadership

David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” boast on 14 May 2010 was followed by almost two years of silence. George Osborne filled the void, claiming green regulations imposed a “ridiculous cost” on business. The loss of Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary leaves both the Lib Dems and the green lobby one big beast down. But William Hague boasts that the Foreign Office is “leading this charge with vigour” and Nick Clegg is to lead the UK delegation to the Rio Earth Summit.

Verdict Sometimes words speak louder than actions.

Economy

The low-carbon economy, employing one million people, has been growing by 4 per cent a year, despite the recession. The UK is ranked seventh in the world for investment in clean energy, which was $9.4bn in 2011 – up 35 per cent, from $7bn, on 2010. Business leaders dispute claims about the green “burden”, but want consistency to reassure investors. The £3bn Green Investment Bank, to fund low-carbon energy schemes, will start lending this year, though critics note it won’t be able to borrow until 2016 at the earliest.

Verdict Treasury blind to potential green shoots of growth.

Solar

Panicked by the high uptake of generous subsidies for people installing solar panels, the Government rushed to cut the payouts by half. The High Court blocked the move, which had triggered claims that manufacturers and installers would go bust, and set alarm bells ringing about ministers’ commitment and competence.

Verdict Cock-up, not conspiracy, but investors spooked.

Wind

More than 100 Tory MPs demanded cuts to subsidies for “inefficient and intermittent” onshore wind farms, but the PM responded there were “perfectly hard-headed reasons” to build more. There are plans for big expansion by 2020, pushing onshore turbine output up from 4.7GW to 13GW and offshore from 1.6GW to 18GW.

Verdict “Bird shredders” or things of beauty, they are vital to green energy future.

Marine and tidal

Coalition pulled the plug on Severn Barrage, but has a target for 200MW to 300MW of marine capacity by 2020. However, a £20m fund is a drop in the ocean for a technology still in its infancy.

Verdict A lack of vision means the sector could sink.

Energy efficiency

The Green Deal, offering homes lagging, boilers and low-energy lights paid for through future savings on bills, is seriously ambitious – hoping to stimulate £14bn-worth of private funding – but it has real potential to go wrong and risks low take-up. Smart meters, giving live updates on energy use, rolled out by 2019.

Verdict Big, bold thinking but could be a damp squib.

Carbon emissions

The fourth carbon budget promises to halve carbon emissions, from 1990 levels, by 2025. The UK government is leading the argument in Europe to go for a 30 per cent cut in emissions by 2020, up from 20 per cent. Government departments cut emissions by 14 per cent in the coalition’s first year. Plans for a carbon capture and storage project in Fife, Scotland, were scrapped but a £1bn fund has been made available to help this burgeoning technology.

Verdict Ambitious targets require ambitious politicians.

Countryside

A plan to sell off half the Forestry Commission’s woodland was ditched after a campaign attracted 500,000 signatures. A planning shake-up sparked fears the countryside would be concreted over before a partial climbdown. An injection of £250m to reinstate weekly bin collections contradicts the recycling message. But a Defra review of habitat directives showed just 0.5 per cent caused major problems. There are plans to plant one million trees by 2015.

Verdict The rural champion risks trampling on its grassroots.

Oil and gas

A £3bn tax break in March to help oil firms to drill new deep wells off the north of Scotland dismayed campaigners, coming 12 months after a £2bn increase in tax on oil production. The requirement for power stations to be more efficient and less polluting is to be scrapped. Critics warn it will lead to a new dash for gas. Fracking – pumping water into shale rock to release gas – remains controversial, including fears it causes tremors.

Verdict No sign of ending our addiction to the black stuff.

Airports

The PM promised to scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow, but the Chancellor is pushing for a U-turn, telling MPs the country must “confront airport capacity in the South-east”.

Verdict A U-turn after the 2015 election would retoxify the Tories.

The experts’ view

“Treasury noises-off are not helpful. A lot of this is work in progress but more signs are encouraging than discouraging.”

Tim Yeo, MP; Tory chairman, Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee

“The Government’s record is good in parts. They say the proof is in the pudding, well the pudding is still in the oven.”

Gordon Edge; Policy director, RenewableUK

“It’s more subtle than saying it’s all been terrible – but it’s more tragic, as well, because they have the bits of the jigsaw.”

Caroline Lucas, MP; Leader, Green Party

“The economic climate has made politicians less receptive to the green agenda, but the ‘environment vs growth’ argument is self-defeating. This Government can still be the greenest ever, but it needs to raise its game.”

Ben Stafford; Head of campaigns, Campaign to Protect Rural England

“The real issue is whether the ‘greenest government ever’ was a genuine aim, a sop to the Lib Dems, or a PR slogan.”

Joan Walley, MP; Labour chairwoman, Commons Environmental Audit Committee

“The Government has caved into fossil-fuel lobbyists and green-lighted a risky increase in our dependence upon imported, polluting gas.”

Joss Garman; Senior campaigner, Greenpeace

“The chopping and changing of green policies has been damaging to business confidence. The Government must ensure it has a clear message.”

Rhian Kelly; Director for business environment, CBI

“We need to ensure more advanced engineering and manufacturing to create the solutions that will be essential to meeting our climate-change goals.”

Greg Barker, MP; Climate Change minister

“David Cameron’s pledge to vote blue and go green was nothing more than a con, designed to trick people into thinking the Tories had changed.”

Caroline Flint, MP; Labour climate change spokeswoman

“The ‘greenest government ever’ aspiration was hardly setting the bar high, so it’s a let-down to see the Government struggle to rise to that standard.”

David Nussbaum; Chief executive, WWF-UK

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/whatever-happened-to-cameron-the-idealistic-young-ecowarrior-7742344.html

Matterhorn disintegrating in the face of climate change

Deutsch: Matterhorn (Ostseite), gespiegelt im ...

Deutsch: Matterhorn (Ostseite), gespiegelt im Riffelsee, vom Ufer des Riffelsees aus English: Matterhorn (4,478 m, Walliser Alps, East side) mirrored in Riffelsee, photograph taken from shore of lake Riffelsee. Français : Le mont Cervin (4 478 m, est des Alpes Valaisannes) se reflète dans le Riffelsee. Photo prise sur la berge du lac. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Matterhorn is at risk.

With its four steep faces reflecting the compass points, the mighty Matterhorn has proven an irresistible and often deadly challenge to mountaineers. This report from The Independent.

But now, the mountain – one of Europe‘s tallest and most celebrated peaks – is falling to bits due to climate change, according to a new scientific report.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/matterhorn-disintegrating-in-the-face-of-global-warming-7615558.html

As with other Alpine mountains, experts have already documented the retreat of the peak’s glaciers and the thinning of its permafrost in the wake of rising temperatures.

But scientists now say they have evidence that these rising temperatures are also prompting the physical disintegration of the mountain itself.

Researchers from the University of Zurich, who have been studying the mountain closely since 2007, say melting water is permeating exposed cracks and crevices on the 4,478m (14,690ft) mountain, which straddles the Swiss-Italian boarder. Subsequent cycles of freezing and thawing in these gaps are creating subtle movements under the rock surface, causing ever-widening fissures with the result that lumps of rock are falling off, the researchers say.

Their investigation, which relies on sophisticated monitoring devices situated on 17 key parts of the mountain, was prompted by a huge rock fall from the Hörnligrat part of the mountain in July 2003, when more than 50 climbers had to be airlifted off the mountain in the one of the big- gest rescue operations ever mounted in the Alps.

The disintegration of the Matterhorn, which the researchers warn is symbolic of the problems affecting the rest of the Alps, appears to have continued since, the Swiss research team’s report in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

“There has been a big increase in the number of rock falls in the past decade that can’t be explained simply by the fact that we’re looking out for them more now,” the lead researcher, Stephan Gruber, told The Independent.

His team’s discovery of the key role that icy crevices play in the Matterhorn’s decay suggests that global warming’s deleterious effect on mountain ranges is greater than previously thought.

“We have shown the importance of icy crevices and the melting water entering them, in the process of rock falls,” Mr Gruber said. “Unlike rock itself – changes to which take place over a very long period of time – just a few decades of temperatures rising by a degree or so are enough to affect the ice and water on the mountains.”

“It’s reasonable to expect the same processes are widespread elsewhere in the Alps at the same altitude,” he added.

Dr Gruber noted that his discovery might have important safety implications. “In high altitudes, key cable-car structure in areas with icy clefts might need to be checked carefully,” he said.

Climate change Update : Vast methane ‘plumes’ seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats

Methane

Image by London Permaculture via Flickr

 

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region. The Independent reports.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.

“I was most impressed by the shear scale and the high density of the plumes.  Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire Arctic region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov’s team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were in the region of 8 million tons a year but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the true scale of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast, in cooperating with the University of Georgia Athens. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the “fountains” or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said.

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” he said.

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. He is now preparing the study for publication in a scientific journal.

The total amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the overall quantity of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the polar region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth.

Natalia Shakhova, a colleague at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that the Arctic is becoming a major source of atmospheric methane and the concentrations of the powerful greenhouse gas have risen dramatically since pre-industrial times, largely due to agriculture.

However, with the melting of Arctic sea ice and permafrost, the huge stores of methane that have been locked away underground for many thousands of years might be released over a relatively short period of time, Dr Shakhova said.

“I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned. But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases. There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don’t know,” Dr Shakova said.

“Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentration of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean,” she said.

“The concentration of atmospheric methane increased unto three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That’s a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet,” she added.

Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide. However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vast-methane-plumes-seen-in-arctic-ocean-as-sea-ice-retreats-6276278.html

Independent Exclusive: UK Backlash grows over Cameron’s green sell-out

David Cameron is a British politician, Leader ...

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David Cameron today faces a revolt of business leaders, councils, environment campaigners and unions furious at his decision to cut funding for household solar energy, severely undermining his claim that the coalition would be the “greenest government ever”.

Click HERE to read the letter in full

In a letter to the Prime Minister seen by The Independent on Sunday, a coalition of 55 individuals and groups warns he will “strangle at birth” Britain’s booming solar panel industry – threatening 25,000 jobs – by halving the state subsidy for the popular “feed-in tariff” scheme.

The funding for households who feed excess electricity generated by their solar panels into the national grid is to be cut from 43p to 21p per kilowatt hour (kwh) from next month, doubling the length of time people would have to wait before their solar panels became economically viable.

The feed-in tariff scheme is one of the most popular environmental measures introduced by any government. It has already been adopted by 100,000 private and housing association homes, and was championed by David Cameron within weeks of him becoming Conservative leader.

Yet last month ministers announced that, from 12 December, the subsidies would be cut in half, despite claims they were consulting on the plan.

A letter by a broad alliance – from the Federation of Small Businesses and house-building organisations to council leaders from all three political parties, as well as the Town and Country Planning Association – has been organised by Friends of the Earth and the Cut Don’t Kill campaign, which is pressing for the Government to temper the reforms. Mr Cameron and Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, are also under pressure from the Confederation of British Industry, whose chief, John Cridland, said the measure was an “own goal”. Mr Huhne has also been warned that 20 Liberal Democrat MPs – more than a third of the parliamentary party – are fighting the proposals.

In scathing language, the letter tells Mr Cameron: “This could only knock confidence in the UK’s determination to build a low-carbon economy and hugely undermine your determination to lead the ‘greenest Government ever’.”

In his first week as Prime Minister, Mr Cameron told civil servants at the Department for Energy and Climate Change: “I want us to be the greenest government ever – a very simple ambition and one that I’m absolutely committed to achieving.” Yet the solar electricity cut is just the latest in a series of U-turns and retreats on environmental policies by the coalition government.

The boom in solar energy has not been confined to middle-class families: 100,000 properties belonging to housing associations have applied for panels on their roofs.

The feed-in tariff scheme’s popularity has led to its downfall, as ministers claim they must scale back the subsidies to keep funds within the £867m budget.

Howard Johns, of the Cut Don’t Kill campaign, said: “This is poorly thought out, counterproductive and absurdly rushed. David Cameron can set this right and prove his commitment to green growth by stepping in to prevent such a deep cut. We can accept a cut, but the current proposal is devastating.”

Caroline Flint, Labour’s climate change spokesperson, said: “Until consumers are offered a simple, fair tariff, and all energy producers are forced to sell their energy to any supplier, the public will not be given a fair choice; people power alone will be unable to force down prices.”

But Greg Barker, Climate Change minister, said: “My priority is to put the solar industry on a firm footing so that it can remain a successful and prosperous part of the green economy, and so that it doesn’t fall victim to boom and bust.”

A typical solar panel installation costs around £12,000, meaning homeowners have to wait eight years under the feed-in-tariff rate of 43p per kwh to earn the money back. This would double to 16 years’ payback time under the new 21p rate.

Environmental u-turns: How PM has failed to make his government ‘greenest ever’

Planning New rules will strip away protection of the countryside from development – the Government has so far resisted a continuing, widespread campaign against the plans.

Motorway speeds To the horror of environmental campaigners, the Government is raising the limit to 80mph, adding more than two million tons a year to carbon emissions.

Forests Ministers announced last year a mass sell-off, despite no reference in the Conservative manifesto or coalition agreement, but a public campaign forced a U-turn.

Green investment bank A flagship environmental policy has been severely undermined by a Treasury block on it providing loans. It will not be allowed to borrow until 2015.

Eco-homes Another legacy of Labour, but any new homes built with “zero carbon” credentials will not have carbon emissions from electrical appliances counted, undermining the definition.

Quangos The Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Environment Agency have all been prevented from policy-making, while the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution have been axed.

Illegal tropical timber Ministers have scrapped a Conservative manifesto pledge to criminalise the possession of illegal tropical timber.

Aggregates The Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, which diverted £20m in taxes raised from the sand and gravel industry to 200 green projects, has been scrapped.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exclusive-backlash-grows-over-camerons-green-sellout-6261657.html

‘Developed’ and ‘developing’… UN close to ban on West’s toxic waste exports

Pile of e-Waste / Electronic waste: A few olde...

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One of the most persistent and insidious pollution problems visited by the West on the developing world has taken a huge step towards a permanent solution this weekend.

 

A UN environmental conference in Cartagena, Colombia, attended by more than 170 countries, has agreed to accelerate a global ban on the export of hazardous waste, including old electronics and discarded computers and mobile phones, from developed to developing countries.

Environmental campaigners, who have been battling to broker a deal on the dumping of toxic waste for more than 20 years, said they were “ecstatic” about this “major breakthrough”.

Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace’s EU chemicals policy director, toldThe Independent on Sunday: “This is a great breakthrough for the environment and human health. Finally, the way forward into forcing developed countries to assume responsibility for their own hazardous waste and stop shipping it to developing countries has been agreed.

“All forms of hazardous waste including that sent for recycling, to obsolete electronic waste, will be banned from leaving wealthy countries destined for developing countries.”

The ban will be introduced when 17 more countries ratify an amendment to the 1989 Basel Convention, a treaty aimed at making nations manage their waste at home. It is expected that this could be achieved in two to five years. More than 50 countries have already ratified it.

The ban was adopted as an amendment to the Convention in 1995, but a disagreement, about how it would be translated in law, left it inactive for years.

Now, after a deal was brokered by Indonesia and Switzerland at the conference, a legal obstacle has been lifted by the 178 parties in attendance.

Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN), said he was “ecstatic” with the decision: “I’ve been working on this since 1989 and it really does look like the shackles are lifted and we’ll see this thing happen in my lifetime.”

Mr Puckett added that there are no reliable estimates on how many tons of toxic waste are exported as nations do not accurately record or report what they ship abroad.

He said a private US company will, for example, list waste as “exports” when sending them to a developing nation so they can avoid paying taxes and other fees. The UN has estimated that, worldwide, up to 50 million tons of electrical and electronic goods which had come to the end of their lives were being thrown away every year – of which only 10 per cent is recycled – and often end up in landfills in developing countries.

Up to 1.2 million second-hand televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners were estimated to have entered the Philippines between 2001 and 2005, and, according to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Philippine Board of Investment, 60-70 per cent of it came from Japan.

An investigation by CBS News at a landfill in Manila found an increasing prevalence of tuberculosis among workers and their children, which a doctor treating them attributed to chronic exposure to burning copper from the electrical goods. One community youth leader had brought more than 200 people suffering from TB to a health centre.

The chemical, which coats much of the e-waste burned by the women and children at the dump, polyvinyl chloride plastic, is even more dangerous due to its emission of carcinogenic gases, according to scientists.

A 2008 Greenpeace report found containers of e-waste from Germany, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands being opened at Tema harbour, the biggest port in Ghana. The team documented children, most between the age of 11 and 18, but some as young as five, taking the electronic scraps apart with their bare hands, releasing toxic fumes.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal allows members to ban imports and requires exporters to gain consent before sending toxic materials abroad. But critics say insufficient funds, widespread corruption and the absence of the US as a participant have undermined the convention, leaving millions of poor people exposed to heavy metals, PCBs and other toxins.

The issue took centre stage in 2006 when hundreds of tons of waste were dumped around the Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan, reportedly killing at least 10 people and making tens of thousands ill. The waste came from a tanker chartered by the Dutch commodities trading company Trafigura Beheer BV, which had contracted a local company to dispose of it.

China has received global attention over electronic waste export issues since 2002, when environmental groups exposed “egregious” electronics recycling and disposal practices in the city of Guiyu, a place reported by scientists to have the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. Scientists found pregnancies in the city to be six times more likely to end in miscarriage, with seven out of 10 children reported to have too much lead in their blood – a metal which can have irreversible effects on a child’s nervous system.

The US, the world’s top exporter of electronic waste, is among nations that have yet to ratify the original convention. “Unless the US joins the treaty they are just going to be a renegade,” Mr Puckett said, adding that the US has no rules for exporting electronic waste, which it sends mostly to China but also to Africa and Latin America.

Mr Puckett said shipping companies had opposed their inclusion in the ban, wanting to keep sending old ships to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to scrap them. “Earlier this week another six people died on the beaches of Bangladesh,” he said.

The global ban has been strongly backed by African countries, China, Colombia and the EU, which already prohibits toxic exports. Opponents have been led by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and recently joined by India, said Mr Puckett.

While it is illegal in Britain to export hazardous waste to other countries, the Environment Agency, who has its own crime team looking into the matter, said there are 11 ongoing investigations into illegal shipments abroad. One case is due to be tried tomorrow at Basildon Crown Court.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/un-close-to-ban-on-wests-toxic-waste-exports-2374685.html

Live animals circus update: Victory in the campaign!

MPs voted to ban wild animals in circuses last night after David Cameron’s attempts to bully Conservative backbenchers into voting against the measure backfired and ended in a humiliating public defeat. In a decision hailed by campaigners as an “historic victory for animal welfare and protection”, MPs of all parties unanimously backed a ban and the Government signalled that it would introduce one, ending forever the days of lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals in the big top.

In an act of desperation, Conservative whips had warned they would impose the most serious parliamentary voting sanction, a three-line whip, to bring recalcitrant backbenchers to heel and get them to support the Government’s alternative proposal of a licensing system. But in a victory for The Independent’s campaign for a ban and for the long campaigns waged by animal welfare organisations, Downing Street backed down when it became apparent that it would lose the vote despite what backbenchers described as “desperate” measures. One of the three MPs who brought the cross-party motion for a ban disclosed that he had first been offered a government job – and then threatened that the Prime Minister would look “very dimly” on his recalcitrance – unless he amended or withdrew the motion. Mark Pritchard, a Conservative backbencher, stood firm and insisted that the measure be voted upon.

As astonished MPs listened, Mr Pritchard said: “Well I have a message for the whips and for the Prime Minister of our country – and I didn’t pick a fight with the Prime Minister – I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background but that background gave me a backbone. It gives me a thick skin and I’m not going to be cowed by the whips of the Prime Minister on an issue I feel passionately about and have conviction about.

“There may be some other people with backbones on this side and they will speak later, but we need a generation of politicians with a bit of spine, not jelly. And I will not be bullied by any of the whips.”

MPs from all sides of the House including the Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, Labour’s Nia Griffiths and the Green leader Caroline Lucas attacked the Government’s position, saying that both public and parliamentary opinion was in support of a ban.

The motion was to “direct” the Government to introduce a ban.

Shortly before the vote, the Animal Welfare minister, Jim Paice, said: “If at the end of this debate the House were to approve this motion then of course we will have to respect that.”

Animal welfare groups were ecstatic. The RSPCA said: “This is a win for democracy as well as animal welfare.” It said it hoped the Government would quickly and formally announce a ban.

Animal Defenders International, the group which shot undercover footage of the beating by a Romanian groom of Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts Circus, said: “This debate and vote has exposed the Government and demonstrated just how out of touch they have been with their peers, the public, and animal welfare groups.”

Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: “The public will be absolutely delighted that MPs from all parties have stood up to the Tory-led Government on this issue to achieve such a fantastic result. The vote brings to an end 48 hours of chaos and confusion from the Government about their position on a ban. It is extraordinary that David Cameron used such bully-boy tactics to threaten his own MPs and tried to impose a three-line whip on the vote.”

The Government had initially planned to ban wild animals from circuses but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was forced to do a U-turn, and instead proposed a licensing system, after Mr Cameron, a keen hunter and shooter, blocked the move.

Mr Paice blamed a court challenge to a ban in Austria for the decision, but there was no court challenge and he was forced to admit during an emergency debate, called because of the misinformation, that he had misled the Commons. The Government’s subsequent claim that a ban could be challenged under the Human Rights Act or the EU Services Directive was challenged by lawyers and the European Commission.

The Government and MPs came under intense pressure from voters. More than 32,000 signedThe Independent’s online petition calling for the Government to change its mind, and supporters of the protest group 38 Degrees, which had forced Defra to abandon plans for its forests sell-off, deluged MPs’ offices with hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls.

During the debate, MPs said the issue was emblematic of wider animal welfare issues. But the most astonishing contribution came from Mr Pritchard who had secured the backbench debate, which should have had a free vote. He said: “On Monday if I offered to amend my motion or drop my motion or not call a vote on this motion – and we’re not talking about a major defence issue or an economic issue or an issue of public-sector reform, we’re talking about a ban on wild animals in circuses – I was offered reward and incentive. If I didn’t call for a ban – I was offered a job. Not as a minister, it was a pretty trivial job.

“Then it was ratcheted up to last night and I was threatened. I had a call from the Prime Minister’s Office directly and I was told unless I withdrew this motion that the Prime Minister himself would look upon it ‘very dimly indeed’.”

He told MPs: “It remains a mystery why the Government has mounted such a concerted operation to stop there being a vote on this motion.