The environment in the news

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Friday, 18 July 2008

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News

  • Kazinform: UN seeks children’s depictions of impact of climate change

  • Guardian: Grim forecasts of the harvest of war - African refugees explain why they fled

  • Africa Energy News Review: UNEP - clean energy investment reached $148bn in 2007

  • Voice of America: UN Reports Rising Energy Prices Spurs Green Gold Rush

  • Kuensel Online: Zero CFC emission by 2010

  • The Lindsay Post: The Perfect Storm

  • The Nation (Pakistan): Wasa fails to ensure clean water

Other Environment News

  • Economist: Five-ring circus

  • AFP: Olympic chief says committee won China rights reforms

  • AFP: Rogge upbeat over Beijing Games' green legacy

  • BBC: Gore challenges US to ditch oil

  • Independent: Woodland birds on route to extinction as numbers dive

  • Daily Nation (Kenya): Wildebeest migration to boost tourism

  • Financial Times: Soil under strain: A thinning layer of life evokes concern

  • Le Monde : La Réunion gèle 40 % de ses terres pour protéger la biodiversité

Environmental News from the UNEP Regions

  • ROA


Other UN News

  • Environment News from the UN Daily News of 17 July 2008

  • Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of 17 July 2008

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News

Kazinform: UN seeks children’s depictions of impact of climate change

NEW YORK. July 18. KAZINFORM. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) yesterday launched its annual painting competition for children, calling for artwork from youth on the subject of climate change, ranging from its impact on the planet to steps everyone can take, such as using renewable energy and energy-saving light bulbs, using public transportation and planting trees.

The agency is urging youngsters around the globe between the ages of 5 to 13 to take part in the 18th International Children’s Painting Competition, which this year is focusing on the theme “Climate Change: Our Challenge.”

The contest – organized by UNEP, Japan’s Foundation for Global Peace and Environment, Bayer and Nikon Corporation – is gaining momentum every year, with a record 15,550 entries from 90 countries submitted last year.

One global winner will receive a $2,000 cash prize, while one winner each from the six regions – Africa, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America – will receive $1,000 each.

All winners will receive fully paid trips, along with a chaperone, to next year’s Tunza International Children’s Conference, where the 2009 global winner will be announced, the UN News Service informs.

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Guardian: Grim forecasts of the harvest of war - African refugees explain why they fled

  • Peter Martell


Ask Sudanese farmer Abdul Abubakr if he fled his home because of the weather, and he'll return you a puzzled look. To him, the reason he's in Cairo is simple.

"All I had was destroyed," the 30-year old said, who left the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur a year ago after fighting between government and rebel forces.

"Life was always hard, but I could not stay after that," Abubakr added, who survives on the part-time work he can find as a building labourer.

Yet it's the weather - or the growing uneven distribution of water linked to climate change -that environmental experts and leaders are increasingly pointing to as a root cause for conflicts such as Darfur.

Strong links have been made between land degradation, desertification and conflict, problems exacerbated by the pressures that population growth puts on the environment.

Last year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while acknowledging the complex range of ethnic, social and political causes behind the Darfur conflict, said its origins lay in an "ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change."

He's not alone. In April, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned global warming could make Darfur "only one crisis among dozens of others".

Such direct connections between climate and war may seem far from clear to those caught up by them such as Abubakr, and reducing any deeply complex conflict to a single point opens up criticism of simplification.

But the experts' statistics make grim reading. A detailed 2007 study of Sudan by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found "almost unprecedented" levels of climate change in north Darfur, with rainfall there dropping by a third in the past 80 years.

It's created the conditions for conflicts to be "triggered and sustained" by political, tribal or ethnic differences, UNEP concluded.

The gloomy report also predicted that climate change could re-ignite other historical flashpoints within Sudan, and threaten security elsewhere in Africa where water resources and grazing lands are increasingly under pressure.

Such talk of "water wars" are a worrying forecast. Climb the stairs in the apartment block opposite the elegant wrought iron gates of Cairo's British ambassador's residence, and you'll come to an office packed not only with Sudanese, but also Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Offering pro-bono legal aid and advice to refugees arriving in Egypt, the offices of the African and Middle East Assistance (AMERA) are very busy place.

Centred at the crossroads between Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Egypt is estimated to have one of largest urban refugee population in the world – and its growing.

Their clients come mostly from the Horn of Africa. But it's a long-troubled region and - like Abubakr - you'd be given strange looks if you expected those who've fled their homes to say they did so due to climate change.

War, poverty, government repression, dreams of a better life: the list of motives is long.

"I left Somalia because the war," according to Mohammed Abdilrahman, who said his home and computer business in the capital Mogadishu was destroyed in clashes between militias fighting Ethiopian troops backing the transitional government in the capital Mogadishu.

"Climate change? Its political change that is needed, I know that, to make the Ethiopian troops withdraw," he added.

But if lack of rain did not cause the conflict in war-torn Somalia, a lawless nation without effective government since 1991, the weather is certainly not helping it either.

Abdilrahman added that drought is not only making coping in the conflict more difficult but is feeding wider fighting by provoking disputes over grazing.

"In the countryside the people have nothing, no water for their animals," he added. "They are desperate, and they will fight to survive."

In April, aid agency Care International warned that poor rains in the arid region of Somalia, as well as northern Kenya, could leave an estimated 14 million people facing a food emergency. Many are already struggling to recover from a crippling drought two years ago.

"Spells of drought in the Horn have become longer, as predicted by climate change experts," the aid agency said in a press release.

"Conflict in both Somalia and Kenya has recently escalated. All of these factors have contributed to the poverty and vulnerability that underpin the current precarious situation."

Efforts to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, as well as to ensure environmental sustainability, are all part of UN Millennium Goals.

Against a backdrop of rising global food prices, the UN agency tasked with minimising the threat posed by natural disasters, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), has said that addressing drought and unsustainable water management are "essential" to finding a long term solution.

For the steady stream of refugees arriving in Cairo from across the Horn of Africa and Sudan such efforts are already too late. If predictions are right, however, there could be many more that will follow.
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Africa Energy News Review: UNEP - clean energy investment reached $148bn in 2007
Published: Thu 17 July 2008

A United Nations Environmental Progamme (UNEP) report says concerns about climate change, rising oil prices, energy security and growing support from world governments have resulted in a 60% increase in "clean energy" investment.

The report entitled "Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2008," prepared by UK-based New Energy Finance for UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative (SEFI), says that wind energy attracted the most investment, $50.2 billion in 2007, but solar grew most rapidly, attracting some $28.6 billion of new capital and growing at an average annual rate of 254% since 2004.

"The clean energy industry is maturing and its backers remain bullish. These findings should empower governments... to reach a deep and meaningful new agreement by the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009," said UNEP head Achim Steiner.

"What is unfolding is nothing less than a fundamental transformation of the world's energy infrastructure," said Steiner.

The report noted that investment in biofuels had shifted to Brazil, India and China from the US, where rising feedstock costs and dropping ethanol prices had resulted in venture capital and private equity investment falling by almost one-third in 2007.

The reputation of biofuels as a so-called "green alternative" took a dive this year after numerous reports linked the diversion of grains for fuel production to soaring food prices, and two large studies published in the Journal Science suggested that biofuels cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan African recently warned African nations to be wary of growing biofuels on prime farm land or risk uprisings triggered by food shortages.

According to the report, most new alternative energy investment has flowed into Europe, followed by the United States. However, China, India and Brazil are drawing growing investor interest with their share of investment increasing from 12% in 2004 to 22% in 2007, an increase from $1.8 billion and $26 billion.

Sustainable energy accounted for 23% of new energy adding 31 gigawatts of new power capacity, about 10 times that of nuclear.

"Investment between now and 2030 is expected to reach $450 billion a year by 2012, rising to more than $600 billion from 2020," the report said. "The sector's overall performance during 2007 and into 2008 sets it on track to achieve these levels."

The EU remained the leading region for investment, particularly later-stage financing. Supportive policies, as well as an investor base that is comfortable with financing renewable energy projects and more intense competition for deals, drove European asset finance to a record level of $49.5 billion in 2007. This was 62% of asset finance worldwide.

During 2007, investment in non-hydro renewables capacity in China increased by more than four times, to $10.8 billion, and new wind capacity doubled to 6 gigawatts.

The report says the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games "sharpened the country's political resolve and strengthened programmes to promote cleaner generation and cut energy intensity."

In India, asset financing grew significantly, to $2.5 billion, mostly for 1.7GW of new wind projects. These installations place India fourth in the world, both in terms of new capacity added in 2007 and total installed capacity.

Africa however appears to be lagging behind the rest of the world in clean energy investment. According to the report, Sub-Saharan Africa, "arguably the region that has the most to gain from renewable energy," remains largely unexploited.

Related Resources: UNEP SEFI site

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Voice of America: UN Reports Rising Energy Prices Spurs Green Gold Rush

By Paul Sisco


17 July 2008
Some economists and venture capitalists say the long term rise in gas and oil prices is driving something of a technology boom. In 2007, $148 billion went towards alternative energy development. One report says such investment is expected to triple in the next few years, creating more energy efficient products for use on the road, and in homes and businesses. VOA's Paul Sisco has today's Searching for Solutions report.

Billions of dollars were spent on new wind, solar and biofuel projects last year.  According to the United Nations Environmental Program, 60 percent more money was in invested in 2007, than in the 2006.

"There is certainly a gold rush of speculation. Kind of like 1849, when everyone was rushing with their picks and shovels and finding opportunities," venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson said.

Some call it a green gold rush. Efforts are under way to turn everything from cow manure, algae, cooking oil, corn, even tiny microbes into new sources of fuel.

At the laboratories of a Maryland company called Zymetis. Dr Steven Hutcheson is developing a process to turn waste paper products into biofuels, using bacterium.

"We can work with materials that are not currently being recycled,” Hutcheson said. “We can get reasonable yields of ethanol from that material and use that for production. It is not going to solve the countries total energy needs but it's a place to start."

Technology forecaster Paul Saffo says energy investments are accelerated by soaring gas prices. 

"There is a lot of money coming in,” Saffo said. “It is going to make a difference but all of these technologies take time to deploy."

Jurvetson says higher gas prices can be seen as a good thing. "If gas prices stayed artificially low for the next 10 to 20 years we probably wouldn't see as much innovation that we desperately need as a planet to stave off future global warming," Jurvetson said.

The U.N. says such yearly investment will triple in the next few years and continue rising through the next decade.

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Kuensel Online: Zero CFC emission by 2010

home Retrofitting workshop in Thimphu

19 June, 2008 - Bhutan, in compliance with the Vienna convention for protection of ozone layer and the Montreal protocol, will have to cut chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) to zero percent by 2010.

According to the national ozone officer of the national environment commission (NEC) secretariat, Peldon Tshering, Bhutan had already phased out 85 percent CFC of the baseline.

Retrofitting old air conditioners and refrigerators that use CFC with other alternatives had been effectively implemented since 2005, according to her. Licensing rules do not permit import and export of products containing ozone-depleting substances (ODS) like CFC.

“The rules and regulation on control of ODS are being revised to incorporate control of hydro cholorofluoro carbons (HCFC),” she said.

A two-day train-the-trainers workshop on retrofitting of refrigeration appliances and mobile air conditioners was held from June 10 in Thimphu. The workshop was organised by the United Nations environment programme (UNEP) regional office for Asia-Pacific and the NEC secretariat.

The concept of retrofitting came into being after the Montreal protocol 1987, according to R S Agarwal from Indian institute of technology (IIT), a resource person at the workshop. “People were not aware that CFC is harmful to the ozone layer until the Montreal protocol,” he said.

According to Mr Agarwal, developed countries started producing non-CFC appliances from 1996 after the Montreal protocol, and developing countries started from around the year 2000. “However, most developing countries started producing non-CFC equipment since 2005,” he said. “Therefore older cars and refrigerators need retrofitting.”

The depletion of the ozone layer allows ultraviolet rays (UVR) to pass through and causes many diseases such as carcinoma skin cancers, and malignant melanomas, etc.

Training programmes on retrofitting refrigeration and mobile air conditioning are expected to be introduced soon for students of vocational training institutes and the college of science and technology, according to Peldon Tshering.

The Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer is a landmark international agreement designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. The treaty was originally signed in 1987 and substantially amended in 1990 and 1992.

Around 22 participants from vocational training institutes (VTI) and the college of science and techonology (CST), and technicians from the armed forces attended the retrofitting workshop.

By Samten Yeshi

The Lindsay Post: The Perfect Storm


Posted 18 hours ago

The global food shortage that has sparked bloody riots around the world serves as another grim reminder of how international crises are intimately tied to the state of the planet.

Last year, this column devoted a page to Darfur that explained how the humanitarian crisis that has killed 200,000 people and displaced another 2.2 million has its roots not in a web of politics, but in an "ecological crisis" described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Similarly, extreme weather patterns linked to climate change, the rising price of oil and the frenzied production of ethanol are all being blamed for the "silent tsunami" that has the potential of becoming a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale.

For years, environmentalists and economists have been sounding the alarm about food security.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has long warned of the folly of raising food crops for fuel. About one-third of the American corn crop is now being used to produce biofuel -- at a time when 18,000 children around the world die of hunger a day.

Ten years ago, the world's carryover stocks of grain had enough food to last six months. Today that number is down to 40 days, said Don Smith, chairman of the Department of Plant Sciences at McGill University.

"That's perilously trim," he said.

But the global food shortage that has killed 40 people in Cameroon in violent riots and raised the price of food by 83% since 2005 was a long time coming, Smith said, with several forces at work to create the perfect storm of events.

"The situation was already precarious," he said. "It came to a tipping point in a number of ways, and biofuels was one of them."

Increased wealth in countries such as China and India translates into increased consumption of meat, for example, which demands increased production of crops.

It's been estimated that in a few decades, 80% of the world's meat will go to China. Meanwhile, it takes 10 kilos of plant material to produce one kilo of beef, Smith said.


The world's population is growing at a pace the planet can't sustain.

The number of humans on the planet has grown more since 1950 than it has in the past 400 million years, from one billion in the 1900s to 6.6 billion today. Much of that growth is concentrated in the developing world.

Meanwhile, Canada, the U.S. and the European Union have long been under fire for their history of agricultural subsidies that undercut Africanfarmers. For decades, American and European farmers have enjoyed huge subsidies, allowing them to export their agricultural surplus to Africa and sell it at a price well below production, forcing their own farmers who can't compete to go bust.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN's Environmental Programme, has said there's enough food to feed everyone on the planet and blamed market speculation for distorting availability, resulting in the stockpile of supplies and driving up prices.

Extreme weather patterns have also sent cues to the world, when droughts in Australia halved its wheat production last year.

Warming has been projected to reduce maize production by 30% in southern Africa, and a 15% drop in wheat yields by 2030.

The crisis has renewed fresh debate over the role of "Frankinfoods," genetically modified foods advocates say will become a necessity in order to feed the planet. But like the knee-jerk reaction of modifying corn for fuel, perhaps it's best to tread with caution when tampering with our food supplies.

"We'll see more extreme weather patterns which will reduce global production of grains. This is going to be an ongoing problem," Smith said.

All of these issues -- ecological warfare, ethanol euphoria and overpopulation -- have been discussed in these pages and are sadly reunited under this one giant human disaster. Indeed, it has become the perfect storm.
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