WorldScan: December 2, 2002

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$573 Million Will Halve Developing Country CFCs

ROME, Italy, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - Negotiators from 140 governments have adopted a $573 million funding package to halve the consumption and production in developing countries of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the leading destroyer of the stratospheric ozone layer, by the year 2005.

The CFCs will be reduced by 50 percent relative to a baseline of average 1995 to 1997 levels. CFCs have been used since the 1930s in refrigerators and air conditioners. They remain in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries. Exposure to UV-C and to too much UV-B can cause melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, more eye cataracts, weakened immune systems, reduced plant yields, damage to ocean eco-systems and reduced fishing yields, adverse effects on animals, and damage to plastics.

The funding package was adopted at the 14th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, held from November 25 to 29. Also gathering at the same time was the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Vienna Convention, which meets every three years and is the framework treaty under which the Montreal Protocol was negotiated.

The funds will also finance projects for reducing other substances targeted for phaseout under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Developing countries have until 2005 to cut CFCs and halons by 50 percent, the fumigant methyl bromide by 20 percent, and the solvents carbon tetrachloride by 50 percent, and methylchloroform by 30 percent.

Halons are primarily used in fire extinguishers. Together with other chemicals, they destroy ozone molecules in the stratosphere that protect all living things from ultra-violet (UV) radiation.

"Eliminating CFCs and other ozone depleting substances in developing countries is the top priority today for the global campaign to return our protective ozone layer to health," said Shafqat Kakakhel, deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

"This agreement demonstrates just how much the world's governments can achieve when they collaborate with one another in good faith to tackle a common challenge. The partnership between developed and developing countries must remain strong for many years to come, however, if the ozone layer is indeed to make a full recovery," he said.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol requires developing countries to continue reducing CFCs, halons and carbon tetrachloride by a total of 85 percent by the year 2007 and to phase them out completely by 2010; they also have until 2015 to phase out methyl bromide. Developed countries phased out virtually all of their CFCs by 1996.

The funding levels agreed today - the highest ever - will replenish the Protocol's Multilateral Fund for the 2003 - 2005 period. The funding includes $474 million in new contributions, $76 million in earlier contributions that were not allocated during the 2000 - 2002 period, and $23 million from interest earnings and other sources.

Last week, the Fund's Executive Committee also met in Rome and approved the expenditure of $82 million for new projects. These projects will eliminate the consumption of some 9,000 metric tons of ozone depleting substances and the production of 2,000 metric tons.

This will bring the total amount to be eliminated through Fund supported projects in 125 developing countries to 226,000 metric tons.

The newly approved projects will complete the phaseout of CFC consumption in industrial processes in Nigeria and the Philippines as well as in Indonesia's refrigeration industry. They will also end all CFC production in Argentina and most of China's production and consumption of carbon tetrachoride.

The Fund has dispersed some $1.5 billion of the $1.6 billion approved in previous replenishments on projects and activities in developing countries since 1991.

Official documents and other information materials are posted at: www.unep.org/ozone/. See also www.unmfs.org and www.uneptie.org/ozonaction.

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Greenpeace Pressures Dow for Bhopal Cleanup

BHOPAL, India, December 2, 2002 (ENS) – The environmental group Greenpeace today brought contaminated soil and water from Bhopal to the Dow Chemicals factory in Map Tha Phut Industrial Estate, Thailand as part of a protest to challenge the world’s biggest chemical company to clean up Bhopal, site of the world’s largest industrial disaster.

Eighteen years after gas leaked from a tank of methyl isocyanate at a plant in Bhopal owned and operated by Union Carbide India on December 3, 1984, at least one person a day still dies from diseases related to gas exposure. Some 150,000 are in urgent need of medical attention, and hundreds of families living near the site still routinely use the contaminated water.

When it bought Union Carbide last year, Dow became the largest chemical company in the world based on total sales of chemicals of US$28 billion.

Greenpeace representatives handed a petition letter to James Fitterling, managing director of Dow Chemical Thailand, urging the company to show responsibility for the poison gas leak which has killed 20,000 people.

“We came here to tell Dow to start cleaning up Bhopal and to remind everyone that the lessons of Bhopal still have to be learned. With increasing regularity, similar scenarios continue to occur around the world. Environmental disasters caused by irresponsible corporate practices are becoming more frequent. Bhopal is an example of what can happen to people when companies are not liable for their actions,” said Tara Buakamsri, toxic campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

In India, survivors and their supporters from around the world formed a procession through central Bombay to Dow Chemical's headquarters, where they delivered contaminated soil and water from the disaster scene and challenged Dow, as the new owners of Union Carbide, to clean up Bhopal.

The procession was led by more than 200 women, who had travelled from Bhopal to Bombay to lend their support, to deliver 4,000 brooms to Dow with the message “Jhadoo Maro Dow Ko” or "Dow, clean up your mess."

The protesters say that hundreds of tons of hazardous waste are still strewn around the Union Carbide site.

Champa Devi, who survived the Bhopal disaster and led the women in the procession, said, “We're delivering this toxic soil and water to Dow to urge it to save thousands of lives in Bhopal by cleaning up the dangerous chemicals that have been dumped in Bhopal. Ever since the horrific night of the gas leak we, the people who survived, and our children, have been slowly poisoned by them. They've seeped into our water and have now been found in mother's milk."

"It’s time Dow stopped killing us and put an end to our tragedy by cleaning up the site. Until it does, we cannot move on with our lives,” Devi said.

Since the gas leak, no one has taken responsibility for the contaminated factory site in Bhopal or the waste that still lies there. On August 31, Greenpeace served a statutory notice to the government of India that Dow, as the new owners of Union Carbide, is liable for the cleanup of Bhopal, and that it is violating Indian law by leaving the toxic waste at the Bhopal factory site. Greenpeace says the Indian government has told the organization it acknowledges that the existence of hazardous chemicals at the site is illegal.

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Switzerland Wants Paraquat Placed on Caution List

BERNE, Switzerland, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - The Swiss government says it will support efforts to add the pesticide paraquat to Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention to protect developing countries from its harmful consequences. The pesticide is produced by the Syngenta corporation. Product names include Crisquat, Cyclone, Dextrone, Dexuron, Gramoxone Extra, Herbaxone, Ortho Weed and Spot Killer, and Sweep.

Classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a highly toxic compound in toxicity class I, it may be found in formulations with many other herbicides, including simazine and diquat dibromide.

The Berne Declaration and other nongovernmental organizations from around the world welcomed the Swiss government's announcement.

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was ratified by Switzerland on January 10. The convention stipulates that certain chemicals and pesticides may not be exported without the express approval of the importing country. The protection offered by the convention is important for farmers and farm workers in developing countries.

Due to its high toxicity, especially if misused, paraquat was banned for use in Switzerland after December 31, 1989. After Finland and Sweden, Switzerland was one of the first countries to ban the product. Other countries - among them Austria, Denmark, Slovenia, and, only recently, Malaysia - have since followed suit. Companies such as Chiquita have stopped using the product.

Paraquat is one of the best selling products of Syngenta, a Basel based agri-chemical corporation. An international coalition of NGOs has been pressuring Syngenta since April 2002 to stop production of this pesticide.

"If even Switzerland bans paraquat because of its extreme toxicity it is high time for Syngenta to take the product off the market" says François Meienberg of the Berne Declaration.

"But Syngenta buries its head in the sand and desperately holds on to its product. With the new production facility in China the company even intend to increase sales to Third World countries," said Meienberg.

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Russia Applies for Release of Toothfishing Vessel

HAMBURG, Germany, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - The Russian Federation submitted an application today to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea against the Australia for the release of the "Volga," a vessel flying the flag of the Russian Federation, and three members of its crew.

According to the Application, on February 7, the "Volga" was boarded by Australian military personnel from a military helicopter on the high seas in the Southern Ocean for alleged illegal fishing in the Australian fishing zone around Heard Island and McDonald Islands.

The vessel was directed by an Australian warship to proceed to Perth, where it is still detained. The crew of the vessel were repatriated to their respective home countries after a period of detention with the exception of three officers, of Spanish nationality, who remain in Perth under court orders.

The catch which had been on board the vessel at the time of boarding was sold by the Australian authorities for the amount of A$1.93 million. The Australian authorities set the amount of the security for the release of the vessel and the crew in the amount of A$4,177,500.

The Russian Federation requests the Tribunal to order Australia to release the "Volga" and the officers upon the posting of a bond or security in an amount not exceeding A$500,000, or another "reasonable" amount.

Australian Fisheries Minister Senator Ian Macdonald said he was disappointed that the Russian Federation "has decided on the path of litigation rather than one of cooperation in implementing measures aimed at eliminating illegal fishing."

He said the amount of the bond for the release of the "Volga," set by Australia at AU$3.33 million was "reasonable, legal under international law and can be justified."

In setting the amount of the bond, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority considered the assessed value of the vessel, and its equipment, potential fines under Australian law and costs associated with ensuring that the vessel does not return to illegal fishing, he said.

"The illegal fishers who raid our valuable Patagonian toothfish resources are pirates. The returns that they generate are significant and the damage they do to the near pristine sub-Antarctic ecosystem is a serious concern," Senator Macdonald said.

"The Australian government is also very disappointed with the failure of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to make significant progress at its meeting in Hobart in October 2002 in implementing measures that will effectively prevent illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean," Senator Macdonald said.

In an Order today, the President of the Tribunal Judge Dolliver Nelson fixed December 12 and 13 as the dates for the hearings. The Tribunal will deliver its judgment at a public sitting of the Tribunal, to be held no later than 14 days after the closure of the hearing.

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Opposition to Pipeline through Ecuadorian Rainforest Intensifies

SASSENBERG, Germany, December 2, 2002 (ENS) Representatives of 40 nongovernmental organizations from eight countries, along with German parliamentarians and political party activists, concluded a three day summit today in Sassenberg on the environmental and social problems caused by a oil pipeline under construction in Ecuador. The participants vowed to intensify the international campaign against the Ecuador Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline, in Spanish, Oleoducto Crudos Pesados (OCP).

The OCP would transport heavy crude oil some 300 miles from Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region to the Pacific Coast. The pipeline route cuts through seven legally protected national parks and reserves, including a World Bank financed biodiversity project.

The Sassenberg International Civil Society Stakeholders' meeting took place at the same time as OCP organized a closed door meeting in Coral Gables, Florida that OCP termed a "stakeholders' scoping meeting."

The OCP pipeline has been the focus of environmental protests since it broke ground more than 15 months ago. In October, one of the two financial rating agencies for the project, Moody's, downgraded the OCP's investment rating, citing, among other things, growing environmental, political and economic risks.

Meeting participants plan to step up the campaign in the home countries of the OCP consortium members, which include: EnCana (Canada, 31.4 percent share), Repsol-YPF (Spain, 25.6 percent), Pecom Energia (Argentina, 15 percent), Occidental Petroleum (U.S., 12.2 percent), ENI-AGIP (Italy, 7.5 percent), Techint (Argentina, 4.1 percent), Perenco (UK, 4.0 percent).

In order to fill the OCP, oil production is expected to double in Ecuador, impacting indigenous peoples and intact forests in the Amazon rainforest as well as along the 300 mile pipeline corridor to the sea.

The international NGO meeting took place in the German province of North Rhine Westphalia because of what the NGOs called "growing public outrage" over the environmental and social negligence of the lead syndicator of the OCP loans, the West Deutsche Landesbank (West LB). West LB is 43 percent owned by the provincial government of North Rhine Westphalia.

West LB has publicly stated that compliance by OCP with World Bank standards is a condition of its financing which, if violated, could trigger a recall of the OCP loans.

Natalia Arias, representing the Ecuadorian national environmental organization Accion Ecologica, said, "We came here to support the rapidly expanding international campaign that will carry the concerns of affected groups in Ecuador who are demanding that investors withdraw from such an environmentally and socially risky project."

The summit participants noted that on November 7, two vice presidents of the World Bank wrote Andy Patterson, OCP CEO, reiterating that OCP should either stop claiming compliance with World Bank standards, or obtain independent verification of compliance, which to date not occurred.

Bruce Rich of U.S. based Environmental Defense, said, "The public needs to know that West LB, OCP and finance consortium banks such as the Italian Banca Nazionale del Lavouro, continue to make blatantly false statements that the pipeline meets World Bank environmental standards. Such statements directly contradict several independent field studies over the past six months which all documented massive violations of World Bank guidelines."

The Sassenberg group says it will escalate the international civil society campaign to alert investors, governments and financial rating agencies to the growing financial and reputational risks of this project.

The campaigners intend to press for withdrawal of financial support by an international consortium of banks, insurance companies and pension funds from Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the United States.

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African Ants Turfed out of Kakadu National Park

DARWIN, Australia, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - In a world first, a big-headed ant from Africa has been successfully eradicated from Kakadu National Park under a joint initiative by two Commonwealth agencies, the government research organization CSIRO and Parks Australia.

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr. David Kemp and Minister for Science, Peter McGauran congratulated the work conducted by the organizations.

"This is the largest eradication of a pest ant infestation in the world and the only one to have occurred in a national park," McGauran said.

"Through the prompt action and collaboration of CSIRO and Parks Australia a potentially devastating ecological disaster has been averted.

"Colonies of the African Big-headed ant in Kakadu were first confirmed by CSIRO last year, and Parks Australia has since implemented procedures to eradicate the infestations and then prevent re-entry of the ants into Kakadu," McGauran said.

The eradication project was coordinated by Parks Australia which jointly manages Kakadu National Park with the traditional aboriginal owners.

"The African Big-headed ant has been widely introduced throughout the tropical world. It is a highly aggressive species capable of forming enormous colonies containing millions of ants," Dr. Kemp said.

"In infested areas the ants virtually exterminate all native ants and reduce populations of other small creatures such as other insects by between 40 and 85 percent. This has very serious implications for biodiversity conservation," he said.

"The eradication has saved Kakadu National Park millions of dollars in future control programmes. We are now in a much stronger position to deal with any future outbreaks of the pest ant," Dr. Kemp said.

A study on Big-Headed ants will be presented Tuesday in Cairns by Dr. Ben Hoffman CSIRO Ecologist and Simon O'Connor from Parks Australia at the Joint Conference of the Ecological Society of Australia and the New Zealand Ecological Society.