WorldScan: January 27, 2003

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Countries Phase Out Leaded Gasoline

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - African countries are phasing out lead gasoline in increasing numbers because of the hazards it poses to human health and the environment. Around 90 percent of the world's petrol supplies are now unleaded, but the 10 percent that is still leaded is concentrated in developing countries, especially Africa.

Research that will be presented to some 100 environment ministers attending the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council taking place all next week in Nairobi shows that within five years most African countries will have phased out, or be close to phasing out, the lead in gasoline.

"This is one of, if not the, first concrete outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held six months ago in Johannesburg, South Africa," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

"The voluntary initiative, a so called Type II project, was born there with funding and support from governments, the private sector including the oil and automobile industries, civil society and international organizations like UNEP," Toepfer explained. "Let us hope that the success being achieved, bodes well for the other Type II voluntary partnerships in areas ranging from coral reefs to environmental law."

As a symbolic gesture toward the lead free goal, the onsite filling station at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, which currently sells both leaded and unleaded petrol, will sell only unleaded fuel in the future.

A survey carried out by UNEP, a member of the global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, shows that four countries - Egypt, Libya, Mauritius and the Sudan - are now completely free of leaded gasoline. This year four other nations or dependent territories - Morocco, Reunion, Tunisia and Western Sahara - will join them.

Another 22 nations, including Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Uganda, are in the process of drawing up action plans to phase out leaded fuel by 2005 to 2006 or have already done so, the research indicates.

Toepfer said, "It has been known for many years that lead in petrol or gasoline is a serious health risk particularly to children. Studies have demonstrated that children living near roads and in urban areas where leaded petrol is used can suffer brain damage with symptoms including lower intelligence scores. This is why it has been phased out and banned in countries in Western Europe, North America, parts of the Far East and elsewhere and why it is being rapidly phased out in many other parts of the world."

But in Africa, due to lack of technology and lack of awareness of the health risks, leaded gasoline is still used.

Rob De Jong, UNEP's program officer for urban environment, said motoring myths make some vehicle owners reluctant to use the cleaner fuel. "Many people who drive older cars are convinced that they will suffer engine damage if they fill up with unleaded fuel," De Jong said.

But this really is not the case. Only under the extreme conditions of a laboratory test can effects be seen, he said. "In the real world, under normal motoring conditions prevailing in Africa, unleaded petrol works well if not better in most if not all vehicles." With unleaded gas motorists are able to drive vehicles with catalytic converters which can "reduce emissions by 90 percent," said De Jong.

Lead is not the only pollutant being targeted by the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicle. Others include sulfur, which is linked with effects including smog and acid rain.

The WSSD and its Plan of Implementation has targets and timetables for a wide range of sustainable development issues. It calls for the rapid, global phaseout of leaded gasoline. This work is also being guided by the Dakar Declaration of March 2002 in which countries backed a phaseout of leaded gas by 2005.

Partners have pledged nearly $500,000 for this, says UNEP. The agency is serving as a "clearing house," through which the various partners will gather and exchange information on issues, such as the status of phaseouts in developing countries.

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Draft Law Decriminalizes Some Environmental Offenses

ROME, Italy, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - The Italian Cabinet is to examine a draft decree prepared by the Justice Ministry to decriminalize 200 offences, including several environmental ones. The move has been described by green group WWF as further evidence that environmental protection is a low priority for the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Breaches of building and hunting regulations, air and marine quality rules, ozone layer protection rules, as well as norms on the marketing and labeling of dangerous substances become administrative offences, rather than crimes, under the draft decree.

The current criminal offences carry penalties including up to 12 months' imprisonment, but the same actions reclassified as administrative offenses would only draw fines ranging between €300 and €18,000 (US$276 and $19,544).

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said the reform is needed to reduce pressure on criminal courts, which have accumulated a large backlog of cases. He refuted accusations of "laxity," stating that the new law would allow administrative sanctions to be applied promptly, effectively deterring potential offenders.

The conservation group WWF hit back, claiming that the change would reduce the deterrent effect of environmental laws. The group called for criminal sanctions for serious environmental offences to be toughened rather than abolished, though it accepted that decriminalization might be appropriate for very minor offenses.

Since taking power in 2001, the Berlusconi government has introduced a series of environment related deregulatory measures designed to help business, particularly regarding laws on the definition and management of waste.

{This Italian report published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk; Website: http://www.ends.co.uk }

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Government Loggers to Cut Some of the Last Old-Growth

HELSINKI, Finland, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - The Finnish state forestry enterprise Metsahallitus intends to start logging old-growth forests in Malahvia, in northeastern Finland, drawing condemnation from four conservation organizations. BirdLife Finland, Greenpeace, Finnish Nature League and the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation have denounced the logging plan because it will fragment what they have identified as one of the most important hot spots of boreal biodiversity in Scandinavia .

Local residents, too, have appealed to the Finnish Ministry of the Environment and to Metsahallitus to leave these forests outside the logging operations. Still, bulldozers cut two forestry roads into the area just before Christmas and logging operations are scheduled to start shortly.

Metsahallitus is a state enterprise operating under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The company says that most of its turnover is generated by timber sales. Metsahallitus also is responsible for most of Finland's protected areas under the Ministry of the Environment.

The Malahvia old-growth forest extends for nearly 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) and takes in natural bogs, streams, lakes and ponds. Vanishing species dependent on old-growth forests are found here.

Malahvia has been designated as one of Finland's nationally Important Bird Areas, say the groups. Numerous as late as the 1940s, the Siberian jay and three-toed woodpecker are now rarely seen in the forest.

"This is a sad act in view of mounting evidence that worldwide we must protect more of the last remaining old-growth forests in order to save the species that depend on them from extinction," said Marcus Walsh of the BirdLife Europe Forest Task Force, speaking on behalf of the four groups.

"If a wealthy country such as Finland cannot achieve ecological stability in forest use, what hope is there for tropical rainforests? he asked. "European countries will have precious little moral authority in conservation if they do not practice what they preach."

Situated close to the Finnish-Russian border, this area is one of the old-growth sites mapped by the Taiga Rescue Network in 2000 as part of efforts to protect what remains of the last of these ecologically valuable forests in northern Europe.

The Russian administration has recently agreed to establish the 70,000 hectare Kalevala National Park on the Russian Karelian side of the Finnish-Russian border. Malahvia is part of the Green Belt of old-growth forests between Finland and Russia and almost adjacent to the forests of the Russian Kalevala Park. The conservation groups maintain that Malahvia is "an inseparable part of one of the most important hot spots of boreal biodiversity in Scandinavia and northwestern Russia, whose natural features should be maintained and enhanced rather than further logged and fragmented."

Metsahallitus plans to do both clearcutting and selective logging in spite of scientific evidence of the high biological value of Malahvia forest, the groups warn. The Friendship Park Research Centre, a government funded scientific body, has recognized Malahvia as an ecologically valuable old-growth forest that should not be further fragmented by logging.

Only part of the area has been included in the European Union's Natura 2000 protected areas network, yet logging is planned inside the area designated as a Natura 2000 site.

The groups are urging the Finnish government to start paying more attention to scientific results about the required level of forest protection, instead of bowing to industrial pressure about jobs and income.

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Wild Zebras, Asses and Horses Disappearing

GLAND, Switzerland, January 27, 2002 (ENS) - There are only seven species of wild horses, zebras and asses remaining in the world, and most or them are endangered mainly due to human activities, says the latest report from experts who serve on the IUCN-World Conservation Union's Equid Specialist Group. They have written a plan of action to recover these increasingly threatened animals.

During the Pleistocene Era, which ended about 10,000 years ago, wild equids were abundant, but the Specialist Group report says they are vanishing from the grasslands and steppes of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

One of the seven wild species, Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), was last seen in the wild in 1969 - a solitary stallion in the Dzungarian Gobi, Mongolia. Small groups were reported back in the 1940s and 1950s, but their decline occurred rapidly, the reasons cited include hunting, military activities, and increasing land use pressure. The species is now Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and survives due to captive breeding, the group of equid experts reports.

Today, only seven wild equid species remain - African Wild Ass (Equus africanus), Asiatic Wild Ass (Equus hemionus), Kiang (Equus kiang), Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi), Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra), Plains Zebra (Equus burchellii), and Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii).

Five of these seven species are listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They face the demographic and genetic challenges of managing small populations, the expert group says.

"Equids: Zebras, Asses and Horses. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan," released by the Equid Specialist Group late last year, is scientific assessment of these wild equids and their ecosystems. For the biology and conservation of the zebras, asses and horses of the world, the IUCN says this publication "represents the new benchmark" for knowledge in the field.

"Most of the endangered equids live in desert and savanna ecosystems," says Dr. Patricia Moehlman, who chairs the Equid Specialist Group. "These habitats are not rich in biodiversity, but do contain unique and endemic animals and plants. Zebras, asses, and horses can serve as flagship species for the conservation of these ecosystems and their biodiversity."

The new Equid Action Plan is the result of many experts working together as part of IUCN's Species Survival Commission to develop programs to study, understand, and manage wisely wild equids and their habitats, says the IUCN., this publication represents the new benchmark of knowledge in the field.

"This new action plan for the conservation of equids is an urgently needed response to the problem of creating effective conservation strategies in equid habitats. Its value has been greatly enhanced because its authors are grounded in the realities of local socio-economic circumstances as well as cognizant of the scientific basis needed for the protection and management of species," writes Dr. Mary Pearl, president of Wildlife Trust.

Humans and wild equids each need the same natural resources, such as water, which are in short supply. "The arid homes of many equids are also home to human populations that face the same extreme environmental pressures. Involving local pastoralists in conservation management is likely to be significant and indeed essential in the maintenance of equid populations," Dr. Moehlman warns.

The mountain zebras (Equus zebra) once ranged from southern parts of South Africa through Namibia and into western Angola. The species is Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species on the basis of a suspected population decline of at least 50 percent in 10 years, or three generations.

Two subspecies of mountain zebras are known (Equus z. zebra, and E. z. hartmannae), and although it has been subjected to hunting excesses and loss of habitat to agriculture in the past, numbers of Equus z. zebra are now being gradually built up through conservation programs.

Threats to mountain zebra survival include the risk of cross-breeding between the two subspecies and the resulting loss of genetic diversity. There is also the ever present drought and water scarcity in the region. The loss of a single mountain zebra population, the specialist group says, "could reduce the world population of mountain zebras by around 30 percent."

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WWF Champions Caucasus Leopard

TBILISI, Georgia, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - The most critically endangered species in the Caucasus ecoregion, the Caucasus leopard, is getting some help from humans to survive. Small populations of this rare and threatened cat still exist in two mountainous areas of Georgia, says the conservation group WWF's Caucasus Programme, although the leopard was thought to have disappeared from the Caucasus region in the 1960s.

Investigations conducted as part of the WWF Caucasus leopard conservation project found that 20 to 23 leopards survive in the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Chain and Talysh Mountains of south Caucasus. The investigators describe the leopards as "secretive, cautious, and highly mobile."

They estimated there are five to eight leopards in Armenia, 10 to 12 in Azerbaijan, and two or three in the Armenia-Nakhichevan border area. The number of leopards in the conflict zone of the district of Karabakh is estimated to be five to seven, from data provided by hunters that the conservation group says is "not completely reliable."

The goal of the WWF project is to conserve the Caucasus leopard in its historical range. This three year endeavor incorporates government and non-governmental partners plus leopard experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. The conservation significance of sites associated with the leopard already has been assessed, and urgent measures for protecting these areas have been identified and submitted to the relevant ministries for approval.

Plans for direct protection of the leopard and prey species include strengthening the management of existing protected areas and a range of other measures such as improving the protected areas network in the south Caucasus region, and the establishment of new protected areas.

Anti-poaching units will be formed, and local farmers will be offered compensation for damage done by the rare leopards. and developing education and awareness programs.

A monitoring program for leopard populations in southern Armenia has been launched, and initial studies have been conducted to look at the establishment of new protected areas in Armenia.

A study for extension of protected territory in the Talysh Mountains in Azerbaijan is underway, and plans call for upgrading the protection status of Ordubad Sanctuary in the Nakhichevan autonomous region of Azerbaijan.

Documents have been prepared for the establishment of anti-poaching units in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Lessons and and publications on leopard conservation have been prepared for local schools and small grant programs in Armenia and Azerbaijan. And surveys have been undertaken to determine the condition of leopard populations in the north western and central Greater Caucasus.

WWF Caucasus hopes that the project will secure effective protection of valuable leopard habitat and migratory routes, reduce poaching, and help leopard populations begin their recovery.

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Canadian Colleges to Teach Renewable Technologies

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - The Canadian government has partnered with the countries community colleges for a new national training program in renewable energy, such as wind, solar, earth and biomass. Canada is contributing C$148,000 to this initiative this year as part of its commitment to positioning Canada as a world leader in innovation and learning, and as a magnet for talent and investment.

“This innovative program demonstrates our commitment to encouraging the deployment of renewable energy technologies,” said Minister of Natural Resources Herb Dhaliwal. “We need a training infrastructure in place as more Canadians choose renewable energy technologies to reduce energy costs and to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) have formed a renewable energy training advisory committee with representatives from colleges and industry. The committee is identifying core competencies and knowledge requirements, researching other programs around the world, and developing a framework for delivering renewable energy courses at the college level.

NRCan hopes to encourage other key Government of Canada departments to participate in 2003, increasing business, training and innovation possibilities.

The ACCC is the national voice of Canadian community colleges and represents 175 member colleges and institutes across Canada.

NRCan promotes the use of renewable energy technology through its Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative, a program established in 1998 to help Canada address climate change. The funding initiative is intended to strengthen the renewable energy industry, promote the use of renewable energy systems and create public awareness.

The Liberal Government led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien has identified the increased use of renewable energy as "an important way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in its Climate Change Plan for Canada."

The government is betting that a national training program would encourage more Canadians to consider careers in the renewables industry, ensuring a greater pool of technologists and technicians trained in the marketing, design, installation and maintenance of renewable energy technologies.