Environment News from the UN Daily News of February 25th 2009
Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of February 25th 2009
UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
Xinhua News (China): African youth to climb Kilimanjaro in UN climate change campaign
Feb 25, 2009
A group of 10 African youngsters will set off on a grueling trek to the "rooftop of Africa" -- Mount Kilimanjaro -- under the UN banner to draw attention to the effects of climate change.
The 10 underprivileged youths, from Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, will join 25 others in the fourth annual ascent organized by the Kilimanjaro Initiative, a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization, in partnership with the "UNite to Combat Climate Change" global campaign.
"This year's climb will highlight, with the melting ice of Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop, how global warming has a direct impact on living conditions throughout the world," Wilfred Lemke, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, said.
At the top of Kilimanjaro, the group will use a satellite telephone to call Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently on an African tour that will take him to Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda and Egypt.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said that rising temperatures, increasing rainfall, and extreme weather conditions are dramatically changing where and how people live in cities.
The change in climate also does untold damage to economic and public infrastructure and stretches the ability of urban centers to accommodate displaced populations, leading to unemployment, deteriorating educational facilities, inadequate health care systems, and a possible rise in crime, UNEP said.
White House Briefing Room (US): Making Strides, Improving Standards
Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 at 12:31 pm
We’ve been seeing a lot of excitement about the dramatic change in environmental priorities in the executive branch, most recently about the consensus to develop a new international agreement on mercury. We asked Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to give us her thoughts.
As the President’s environmental advisor, I help develop policies, set priorities, and coordinate the efforts of the many agencies and departments of the Federal Government. Across the country, Americans have shown that they are eager to see improvements when it comes to the environment and the President has made it clear that he plans to make a lot of progress on this issue.
It is hard to miss the significance of the fact that one month to the day after the President was inaugurated, the United States led an effort to secure international consensus on the fact that we must take immediate action to reduce mercury emissions across the globe. This agreement between the United States and 40 other countries marks a major step forward in protecting human health and the environment from mercury, which can improve the lives of woman and children throughout the world.
I’m extremely proud that under the President’s leadership, we are taking a leading role in working with other nations to craft this global, legally binding agreement. I thought Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program, captured the moment speaking to the Washington Post: "Only a few weeks ago, nations remained divided on how to deal with this major public health threat which touches everyone in every country of the world... Today, the world's environment ministers, armed with the full facts and full choices, decided the time for talking was over -- the time for action on this pollution is now."
The President said he wanted to protect our children from health hazards and developmental disabilities caused by environmental toxins. This commitment to reducing mercury emissions is a step in the right direction for future generations around the globe. As a side note, I also just wanted to say how exciting it is to be able to discuss this, and I am looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful things to come from the new whitehouse.gov.
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_________________________________________________________________ Green Biz (US): U.S. Agrees to Negotiate Global Mercury Emissions Treaty February 24, 2009
The United States reversed its policy on mandatory mercury emissions reductions last week and joined roughly 140 countries in agreeing to treaty negotiations.
The reversal in U.S. policy prompted other countries, including China and India, to consent to talks that will begin later this year and conclude by 2013. The Bush administration, critical of the negotiation process, reportedly opposed mandatory emissions cuts in favor of voluntary reductions.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest source of human-caused mercury emissions in the U.S. is coal-fired power plants, but less than half of all mercury deposits in the U.S. originate in the country. Crude oil refining is also a significant but less publicized source of mercury emissions, said Greg Karras, senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment. "There's sort of a history of cover-ups on the sources, and therefore, the solutions to the problem," Karras said.
Once it hits bodies of water, mercury is transformed into methylmercury, which accumulates in seafood, the main source of exposure for humans.
An interim Global Mercury Partnership will be put in place until the treaty is finalized. The voluntary commitment will include provisions aimed at reducing mercury in products and processes, such as thermometers and papermaking, as well as help countries safely stockpile mercury and raise awareness of the risks for miners and their families.
The agreement marks a swift about-face on an issue that, until just a few weeks ago, divided countries, Achim Steiner, UN undersecretary general and UNEP executive director, said in a statement last week, adding that the the agreement sent a clear signal to the world that the environment has moved back to the top of the global agenda.
"I believe this will be a major confidence-building boost for not only the chemicals and health agenda but right across the environmental challenges of our time from biodiversity loss to climate change," he said.
On Monday the Supreme Court opted not to hear a case brought by electric utilities over mercury emissions regulations for power plants. The Bush administration sought to remove mercury from a list of controlled power plant pollutants and create a mercury cap-and-trade program that would have allowed facilities to buy mercury emissions offsets rather than make the reductions directly.
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_________________________________________________________________ IPS (Italy): Q&A:"Environmental Key Lies with Young People"
Feb 25 The road to sustainable development begins with the participation of children and young people, says Argentine environmental expert and activist Cecilia Iglesias.
Iglesias, 32, has a degree in environmental sciences and has worked for more than a decade on global projects of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that involve children and young people, such as GEO and the Tunza Strategy, adopted in 2003 to involve youth in environmental efforts.
Nearly 10 years ago she set up "Argentina EcoPibes" (EcoKids), a website with 750 pages of content in Spanish for children. The site receives around 80,000 visits per month from Internet users in 30 countries.
She has won international awards for her environmental leadership, and in 2005 the World Bank and other institutions recognised the EcoPibes website for its success in applying information technology.
Iglesias works from a small apartment in Buenos Aires, where she lives with her two young children, surrounded by books and computers. The children "are not only the most vulnerable to environmental harm, but they are the ones who tomorrow will be making the decisions that affect the planet," she says.
Iglesias was in Nairobi, Kenya, for the Feb. 14-15 UNEP Global Civil Society Forum, held ahead of the 25th session of the Feb. 16-20 UNEP Governing Council-Global Ministerial Environment Forum.
Civil society representatives presented their concerns about the impact of the current economic crisis on the environment and the reduction of development aid. However, many see opportunity arising from the situation.
Meanwhile, the government ministers debated how to confront the main environmental challenges in the middle of a global depression. But they did so "behind closed doors," said Iglesias.
Iglesias spoke with Tierramérica, in Buenos Aires and later in Nairobi.
TIERRAMÉRICA: What is the objective of Latin American participation in the UNEP events?
CECILIA IGLESIAS: To influence the decisions about the administration of UNEP and its work plan for the coming years on priority issues, and to influence the Forum of Ministers.
TIERRAMÉRICA: What are those priority areas?
CI: Climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, toxic substances and waste, efficient use of resources, and sustainable production and consumption.
TIERRAMÉRICA: Who participated in the Civil Society Forum?
CI: Regional representatives, academics, youths, non-governmental organisations, entrepreneurs, local governments, workers, indigenous people and women. However, the representation of indigenous and peasant organisations was very scarce.
TIERRAMÉRICA: What are the Latin American concerns?
CI: There were many discussions about climate change. For a while now there has been work on how governments and UNEP are preparing to finance and carry forward efforts for climate change adaptation. Each organisation has its priorities, which are turned towards reaching a consensus that expresses this concern.
But the discussions of the governments about this were behind closed doors. It is a shame that the demands of civil society were not heard. We hope that the governmental bubble meant that they were able to speak openly. But the first reports that have arrived from our region's delegates are that there was too much left to talk about.
TIERRAMÉRICA: Is there concern about the Initiative for Regional Integration of South America?
CI: Yes, and it's very strong. It involves a series of regional infrastructure projects that would have great environmental impact. This year civil society expressed its deep concern about the initiative. The problem is in convincing the ministers to consider those worries.
TIERRAMÉRICA: And what are the probabilities of success?
CI: Well, because of that we also proposed the issue of governance. They spoke of the need to create strong institutions, nationally and globally, institutions that can implement the agenda of responses to the challenges ahead.
TIERRAMÉRICA: What about the reaction to the impacts of the global financial crisis?
CI: Back in November, at the Latin American forum held in Buenos Aires, everyone was already concerned about how it is going to affect development assistance. There was even specific dialogue about the crisis, but we don't yet have clear responses.
However, the final message was optimistic. Many are suggesting that the crisis is an opportunity to expand the principles of a green economy. It's more hopeful to propose alternatives when there is a widespread perception that something didn't work out. Today it is clear that we need a Plan B.
TIERRAMÉRICA: What is the outlook for young people?
CI: In that regard we achieved something very important: the approval of the UNEP strategy for the next six years. Our hope is to incorporate youth in the government delegations for international negotiations, especially on climate change. The achievement could have been greater, but we have a lot to be proud of.
Our region began the debate, the youth representatives from the rest of the world supported us, and Argentina made it possible for them to be heard. It was the only moment in which the Forum was applauded for its support. I feel very satisfied about that.
Also, Latin America stated the need to ensure the full participation of children and youth from different groups, but especially indigenous, rural and handicapped, in the various activities of the Tunza Strategy.
(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) Back to Menu
Vanguard (Nigeria): UNEP team set to clean up Ogoni land
Thursday, 26 February 2009
The Technical Team of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has promised to execute and complete the cleaning of the impacted sites in Ogoniland in a timely and prompt manner.
The team led by the Director of the African Regional Office of UNEP, Mr.Mounkaila Goumandakoye gave the assurance in Abuja yesterday when it met with the members of the Presidential Implementation Committee on the Clean-Up Ogoni project.
According to Mr. Goumandakoye, “UNEP is making sure that everything that would be required to do the project is in place.
“Since the financial resources are in place, we are making sure that the scientific and technical team is in place. We are determined to make sure the project is implemented in a timely manner”
He added that UNEP would recruit indigenes of the area as part of its core staff in order to facilitate good understanding of the project among the communities. “ We are going to pay attention to the local people. We are recruiting the local people as part of our staff in the liaison offices by the end of second quarters.”
The UNEP team leader pointed out that UNEP was in the country for the project on the invitation of the Federal Government so that the organization can provide un-biased clean-up and remediation service to the people of Ogoniland whose land had been polluted over the years as a result of oil spill.
Not less than 300 sites had been identified as having been impacted by oil spill as at 2007 but the present UNEP team stated that a review of the sites would be carried out again as new ones might have arisen.
Addressing the team, the Minister of Environment, Mr John Odey pointed out that Mr. President was very keen about the execution of the project and that the people of the area were also looking on to UNEP to get their land cleaned.
The Chair of the Presidential Implementation Committee, Rev. Father Mathew Kukah described the project as a good one and urged UNEP to feel free to talk with anybody and interact with the local people. The minister assured that the Federal Government would support UNEP with every requirement to make the project a success.
“Ordinary people in Ogoni land are interested in getting this resolved.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Environment, John Odey, has assured the people of Anambra State of Federal Government intervention to tackle the erosion problems in the state.
The Minister gave the assurance in Abuja yesterday when he met with the State Governor, Peter Obi in his office.
The meeting was a follow-up discussion on the directive of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua to do baseline study of the erosion problems in the states. According to the Minister, the report of the baseline study is ready and there is a need to follow-up on how we can do some remediation on the affected areas. We want to see how we can fast-track this.
Governor Obi stated that his visit to the Minister was to further elucidate on the particular and peculiar problem of erosion in Anambra State.
He noted that the State is the most erosion ravaged state in the country and that the State Government would need the collaboration with the Federal Government to tackle the problem.
AFP: After Obama appeal, Congress renews efforts on climate change
Thu, Feb 26 2009
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US lawmakers this week took up the issue of climate change and how to address it after President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for action on fighting global warming.
But even as the Senate and House of Representatives convened experts Wednesday who presented scientific bases for global warming, some scientists and political experts voiced skepticism over the need to combat climate change and the likelihood of passing any such legislation this year.
In his first address to the US Congress since taking office five weeks ago, Obama late Tuesday called on legislators to forge "a market-based cap on carbon pollution," similar to systems adopted in Europe which create financial incentives for non-polluters.
He also highlighted the need to "truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change."
According to Michael Levi, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, even if Obama's commitment to such a system were embraced by all players in the contested battle over carbon gases, passage of a law requiring such a system this year would be difficult.
"The president appeared to be careful to ask for a bill this Congress, not for a bill this year," Levi said, noting that there is a key United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen set for December.
"I know there are members in the House who would like to move a bill this year... but the job in the Senate will be considerably more difficult," he said.
Levi said several energy initiatives in the works are getting lukewarm reception from some lawmakers, particularly those representing coal-producing states averse to punishing restrictions on their energy production.
"It would be very embarrassing for the president to try and fail in advance of Copenhagen," where Washington is expected to aggressively take up the fight on global warming after inaction by the previous administration, Levi told AFP.
The United States is the world's largest emitter of carbon gases, blamed for global warming, yet president George W. Bush walked away from the 1997 Kyoto treaty aimed at battling climate change.
Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Senate's environment committee, said Wednesday's hearing would "answer that call" made by Obama the night before.
"We must be guided by the best available science as we address the challenge of global warming," she said.
But in a stark display of the polarization of US opinions about the reality of climate change and the debate over whether it needs to be fought, the committee's number two member, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, took the opposite view.
"Contrary to what the media and the UN have promoted, there is a growing body of scientific studies and scientists who are openly rebelling against the so-called consensus" that use of fossil fuels is causing climate change, Inhofe said.
Obama administration officials have already floated the prospect of a carbon emissions tax, and hinted that any new climate legislation would likely lead to higher energy costs even as Americans grapple with a harsh economic recession.
Inhofe, warning of the extraordinary financial costs of reaching "pie-in-the-sky" reduction levels, decried Obama's proposed cap-and-trade system as a 6.7-trillion-dollar "climate bailout."
Some researchers at the Senate hearing, among them India's Rajendra Pachauri who chairs the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, cited earlier climate models and recent studies in reiterating the need to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible in order to reverse global warming.
"Delayed emission reductions significantly constrain opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels and increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts," Pachauri warned.
One of the four scientists who testified, physics professor William Happer of Princeton University, openly challenged the IPCC's conclusions and told the committee that the increase in carbon gases "is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind."