WorldScan: May 22, 2003

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Mount Everest Cleaned and Celebrated

KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Year by year, the world's tallest peak, is being cleared of mountains of trash left by teams of climbers. Concern for the environment of the mountain has surged this year as the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first Everest ascent by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal who reached the summit on May 29, 1953.

Tents and oxygen bottles, packaging waste and batteries - it mounted up to hundreds of tons of garbage at base camp, the most crowded area on Mount Everest, known by Tibetans as Chomolungma - Goddess Mother of the World. At 8,848 meters (29,028 feet), Mount Everest is the highest place on Earth.

Everest cleanups began when a New Zealand team removed about four metric tons of garbage in the early 1990s. In 1996, the government of Nepal made it the law that Everest expeditions must haul out their garbage. Nepal included a charge of $4,000 as "garbage deposit" from each team, refundable if the garbage was handed in at the end of the expedition.

Last year, Japanese climbers brought out 2.6 metric tons of garbage, and this year, a joint U.S. sherpa team intends to clear about a ton of trash from a camp at 6,300 meters.

In addition to clearing the mountain of trash, many events are planned to celebrate the historic first ascent of Mount Everest. Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee joined Sir Edmund Hillary and others on Tuesday as part of the anniversary celebrations at a function organized by the New Zealand High Commission in Mumbai. The road outside the Commission was rechristened in the name of Hillary and Norgay.

In Nepal, the Mount Everest Golden Jubilee Celebrations Committee has been celebrating the achievement since June 2002 with events such as the first Trans-Himalayan Lhasa – Kathmandu – Lhasa Auto Rally last October which opened the road between Nepal and China to adventure tourism.

A high altitude Everest marathon race May 19 began at the Everest Base Camp and finished at the town of Namche Bazaar.

Festivities will end with the Gathering of Everest Summiteers on May 28 and 29 in Kathmandu.

Nepal's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has granted permission to 12 teams to climb Everest this season.

The Everest 2003 American Commemorative Expedition is making its way up the South Side of the mountain headed by Bob Hoffman. The team hopes to reach the summit sometime this week, as wind and weather permit.

Many other expeditions summited this week or are on their way up, including three Romanian climbers who reached to top today. On another expedition, one armed climber Gary Guller who lost his left arm in a mountaineering accident, is heading for the summit.

For daily reports from Everest expeditions, visit: EverestNews.com at: http://www.everestnews.com/

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Lost Revenues from Illegal Logging Top $10 Billion

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Annual losses from illegal logging exceed $10 billion, according to a new report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. The report on the economic aspects of forests, which was prepared in collaboration with the World Bank, estimates the net loss of forests in the 1990s was 94 million hectares - an area larger than Venezuela.

In addition, undervaluing the economic worth of forests causes governments around the world to lose some $5 billion a year in taxes and royalties. This amount is equal to more than three times the level of official development assistance for financing sustainable forest management, the secretary-general's report states.

The report was issued in advance of the third session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting here from May 26 to June 6. The economic aspect of forests is one of three key issues that will be discussed at the forum. Maintenance of forest cover to meet present and future needs, as well as forest health and productivity are also on the agenda.

"Healthy market practices and responsible forest policies are the best tools for achieving sustainable forest management," said Pekka Patosaari, coordinator for the UNFF, the key intergovernmental body to facilitate and coordinate implementation of sustainable forest management worldwide.

Inadequate tax collection decreases government revenues, poses as a disguised subsidy to producers, and reinforces wasteful logging, the secretary-general's report says, and improper accounting of forest resources and poor forest valuation are to blame for the losses. "With prices that do not reflect the real value of the products and malfunctioning market mechanisms, illegal economic activities flourish and forest cover continues to decline."

In developing countries, with scarce resources and capacity, forest data is often hard to come by. But even where information on the value of wood products is available, the report says, the system of collecting revenues from logging fails to capture the real price of timber.

Forests provide more than wood or non-wood products. They also contribute to conserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change, protecting watersheds, and generating employment, as well as having recreational and spiritual value.

In a message marking the International Day for Biological Diversity, which is observed 22 May, Annan declared, "Biodiversity is an essential heritage for all humankind. Stopping its loss, and guaranteeing the continued functioning of the earth's ecosystems - both marine and terrestrial - should be a high priority for everyone."

"The preservation of biodiversity is not just a job for governments," Annan said. "International and nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and each and every individual have a role to play in changing entrenched outlooks and ending destructive patterns of behavior.

"The involvement of local communities is particularly important, he said, "since many have already devised innovative approaches in resource management and other areas from which others can learn."

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Conservation Initiative Proposed for Whaling Commission

CAMBRIDGE, UK, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Eighteen member countries of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have joined forces to sponsor a new initiative that could tip the balance of the 49 member organization towards whale conservation as opposed to whale harvesting.

Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the USA have proposed the "Berlin Initiative on Strengthening the Conservation Agenda of the International Whaling Commission" for consideration at the upcoming IWC meeting in Berlin during the week of June 16.

The initiative is intended to counter the efforts of pro-whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland to lift the global moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in effect since 1986.

The Berlin Initiative notes that through the adoption of more than 100 conservation oriented resolutions and amendments, the Commission has evolved into an organization internationally recognized "for its meaningful contributions to the conservation of great whales."

The Initiative proposes that the IWC establish a Conservation Committee supported with adequate funding. If the Initiative is approved by the IWC members in June, the Conservation Committee would meet before the next IWC annual meeting to write a conservation agenda that can be considered for adoption at that 2004 meeting.

Noting that since the IWC was established in 1948, many other international conventions affecting the survival of the great whales have entered into force, such as the UN Law of the Sea, and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, the Conservation Committee would "explore how the Commission can coordinate its conservation agenda through greater collaboration with a wider range of other organizations and conventions."

At the same time, the IWC will consider proposals for a South Pacific whale sanctuary from Australia and New Zealand, and for a South Atlantic sanctuary from Brazil and Argentina.

Greenpeace Australia oceans campaigner Richard Page said that the oceans are in crisis and cetaceans now face a number of threats that did not exist when the IWC was formed in 1946.

“With its global reach and scientific research resources, the IWC is well placed to look after the conservation of threatened cetacean species like the North Atlantic right whale, the baiji, the vaquita and Western North Pacific population of gray whale, which may become extinct this century unless drastic action is taken,” Page said.

In addition to commercial and so-called “scientific” hunting, a range of other human-induced threats is jeopardizing cetaceans’ future throughout the world.

Commercial and scientific research hunting, global warming and ozone depletion, toxic chemical pollution, noise pollution from military sonar systems, and overfishing are among some of the threats to whales.

Toxic chemical buildup in their flesh poses a serious health risk not only for the whales and dolphins, but also for consumers of whale and dolphin products.

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UK May Allow GM Crops over Public Resistance

LONDON, England, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Environment Minister Michael Meacher has suggested that the UK government may allow genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in the UK regardless of public opinion. Speaking on the BBC radio program "Farming Today" on Monday the minister said a ban on transgenic crops would be illegal unless there is scientific proof that they harm people or the environment.

The government’s public consultation on genetically modified (GM) crops begins June 3, but Friends of the Earth UK did not wait for the formal public comment period to express its reaction.

Pete Riley, the organization's campaigner on the issue, said, “The public have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to eat GM food. Allowing GM crops to be commercially grown would threaten our food, farming and environment with GM pollution, and take away people’s right to say no to GMOs. There is genuine scientific uncertainty surrounding the potential impacts these crops have on people, the environment and the food chain. But this government is so pro-GM it chooses to ignore them.”

In April, the largest independently owned market research company in Great Britain, Market & Opinion Research International, released results of a survey showing that 56 percent of those questioned opposed GM food, and 14 percent supported it. Other polls conducted within the past year came up with similar results.

But the UK government, like all European governments, is under pressure from the United States to permit transgenic crops. Earlier this month the United States filed a formal complaint against the European Union's moratorium on GM crops at the World Trade Organization.

Major issues such as the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and liability for economic and environmental harm are still being debated in Europe and the UK.

Wales, Devon, Dorset, Lancashire, Cornwall and South Gloucestershire have recently taken action to go GM-free. This includes taking steps to stop tenant farmers from growing GM crops, and banning GM food from local food services such as school meals and residential homes.

Some local authorities have pledged to write to the UK government and to the European Commission in Brussels applying, under new European laws, to be excluded from growing certain GM crops.

Friends of the Earth says these actions are the result of its GM-Free Britain campaign which was launched last year. On May 28 Friends of the Earth Europe is organizing a conference on the subject of GM crops in Brussels. More information is online at: http://www.gmfreebritain.com

“Next month," said Riley, "the government is launching its public debate on GM crops. But if it is to have any credibility, ministers must guarantee beforehand that if the public say they don't want GM crops, the government will not give them the commercial go-ahead. Without that guarantee, there seems little point in debating the issue.''

The UK government’s GM policy advisers, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, has been conducting an investigation into coexistence and liability for the past two years and is due to report later in the summer.

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Greenpeace: NSW Biotech Crop Moratorium Has Loophole

SYDNEY, Australia, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - The Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Bill 2003 was tabled in the New South Wales Parliament on Wednesday in an attempt by the state government to establish a three year moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops.

"The object of this Bill," states the legislation, "is to recognize and designate New South Wales as an area in which certain genetically modified plants may not be cultivated, in order to preserve the identity of GM crops or non-GM crops, or both, for marketing purposes." The measure provides for a maximum penalty of two years in prison for violators.

But Greenpeace Australia says a provision in the bill that allows the agriculture minister to grant exemptions to the moratorium leaves the door open for large scale biotech crop trials, "effectively circumventing the moratorium" and NSW Premier Bob Carr's election promise.

Announcing the moratorium during his election campaign, Carr said, "It is right to exercise caution on this issue." He said that "once the wide scale planting of GM crops begins in NSW, we cannot go back."

Greenpeace is calling on the Carr government to "act on community concerns" and make amendments to the bill to ensure that conventional crops are not contaminated by trials of genetically modified plants. Pollen from genetically modified crops can be carried on the wind far from the trial crop site.

In support of their position, Greenpeace Australia, the Australian Consumers Association, the Network of Concerned Farmers, the Biological Farmers of Australia and the NSW Greens presented the Premier's Office with some two thousand postcards from NSW citizens who support a real moratorium.

"Most Australian's don't want to eat GE [genetically engineered] foods, and most farmers in NSW are opposed to GE food crops being introduced," says Greenpeace campaigner, John Hepburn. "The government needs to significantly tighten the bill so that its election promise of a three year moratorium is actually implemented."

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Solar Technology Workshop Empowers Thai Villagers

PRACHUAB KIRI KHAN, Thailand, May 22, 2003 (ENS) – More than 60 community leaders and villagers from Ban Krut and Bo Nok in Thailand completed a workshop on solar technology last weekend. The workshop, conducted by Greenpeace and Thai Agency Engineering Co. Ltd., explained in detail the adverse impacts of global warming, the benefits of renewable energy, and the technical aspects of solar technology.

Jintana Kaewkhao, leader of Ban Krut Conservation group, said, “We are happy that we now have the capacity to operate and maintain the solar systems in our respective communities. We have struggled so much in our fight against polluting energy sources like coal, and to make the government understand that we want only energy sources that preserve the environment and our livelihood. This is our contribution to the global movement to reduce the impacts of global warming."

In April 2002, Greenpeace with assistance from Thai Agency Engineering installed two solar photovoltaic systems in Bo Nok and Ban Krut to demonstrate the practicality and affordability of clean energy in the two communities. The capacity of both is 3.85 kW and they are providing free electricity to community centers and schools in both villages.

As part of the project, the solar technology workshop was designed to provide technical know-how to villagers, who for a long time have wished to be able to manage clean sustainable energy sources in their villages.

Penrapee Noparumpa, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said, “People, once presented with alternatives, will always choose energy sources that will preserve their way of life, their community and environment. The government should always bear this in mind when they set out on large projects which will destroy communities and nature."

Thailand’s solar energy market is poised to grow exponentially in the next few years, says Noparumpa. The Kingdom currently has an installed solar generating capacity of five megawatts. A government solar project in Maehongson, billed as one of the world’s largest solar generation projects, will bring this capacity to a total of 10 megawatts once it is completed.

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New Website Tracks Rare Lesser Flamingoes

LONDON, UK, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - A conservation research project designed to improve understanding of the movements and habitat use of the rare lesser flamingo in East Africa, was given extra support today by the launch of a dynamic new interactive website created by the London based international wetland conservation charity, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

The website project "Survival at the Edge of the Earth" showcases the expansion of a lesser flamingo satellite tracking research project which is the result of a partnership of conservation organizations led by The University of Leicester and the Earthwatch Institute based at Lake Bogoria, Kenya. The study site focuses on the string of alkaline lakes of the Great Rift Valley where the largest population of lesser flamingos is found.

Solar powered satellite transmitters weighing 40 grams (1.2 ounces) are strapped to the backs of the flamingos to track their movements and identify the different lakes and wetlands they use.

This information, which has not been previously recorded, is then relayed to the WWT website. "This information is vital if we are to understand how the lesser flamingo survives in one of the most inhospitable habitats on Earth, the organization says.

The WWT Flamingo Research Team is led by Dr. Brooks Childress supported by Dr. Baz Hughes, head of WWT Threatened Species.

“Our primary aim is to understand and describe the complex movement patterns of this important threatened species”, said Childress. “This will support the development of an international flyway management and protection plan. We also hope to determine whether lesser flamingos have home lakes which they return to often, and on which they spend a majority of their time.”

Researchers hope to determine if there is a link between East African and Southern African lesser flamingo populations.

WWT Managing Director Tony Richardson said, “When we see images of thousands of pink flamingos on our TV screens, stretching as far as the eye can see, it is hard to imagine that we might be watching a spectacle that is under threat. Lesser flamingos usually favor inhospitable and often remote wetlands but it is becoming apparent that as levels of pollution and disturbance increase, these fragile habitats and the flamingos that depend upon them are in trouble."

"At the heart of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s conservation mission," Richardson said, "is the realization that it is only through gaining knowledge and communicating facts that we can hope to protect wildlife. This website will pass on new information about lesser flamingo movements virtually in real time and a worldwide audience can share and help support a conservation program as it happens.”

WWT launched the new website and a Flamingo adoption scheme at: www.wwt.org.uk/flamingo

Other supporters of this project include National Museums of Kenya, the Max Planck Centre for Research in Ornithology, the Darwin Initiative, International Flamingo Foundation, the Vodafone Group Foundation, Peter Scott Trust for Education and Research in Conservation and BirdLife Belgium.

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Companies in Europe Must Disclose Output of Pollutants

KIEV, Ukraine, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - A new international treaty under which companies will be required to publicly disclose information on their output of pollutants was adopted and signed Wednesday at the Environment for Europe conference of European environment ministers in Kiev.

Some 35 countries signed the unprecedented treaty, which has been developed over the past two years under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, in the form of a legally binding protocol to the Aarhus Convention.

Under the new protocol, companies will be required to report annually on their releases into the environment and transfers to other companies of certain listed pollutants. The information will then be placed on a public register, known as a pollutant release and transfer register (PRTR).

Each country that is a Party to the Protocol will be required to establish a publicly accessible and user friendly PRTR based on mandatory reporting.

The register will cover information on 86 pollutants considered to pose significant threats to the environment or public health, including greenhouse gases, acid rain pollutants, heavy metals and cancer causing chemicals such as dioxins.

Reporting will be required for a wide range of large scale activities, including refineries, thermal power stations, the chemical and mining industries, waste incinerators, wood and paper production and processing, and intensive agriculture and aquaculture.

While the primary focus of the protocol is on large point sources of pollution, it also provides a framework for reporting on pollution from diffuse sources such as traffic, agriculture, small and medium sized enterprises.

Some of the reported information may be kept confidential, for example where disclosure could affect commercial confidentiality, national defence or public security, but such exemptions should be interpreted in a restrictive way, taking into account the public interest served by disclosure.

Releases to air, water and land are to be reported. Information should be provided and made available on the register facility by facility, so that members of the public will be able to find out about the annual pollution outputs of factories in their neighborhoods when these are covered by the protocol.

The register should be accessible through the Internet and searchable according to the separate parameters such as facility, pollutant, location, and medium.

The protocol sets minimum requirements and countries are free to establish more accessible or extensive registers than required either by including more pollutants or additional facilities or providing fuller public access.

Through their "name and shame," effect the ministers said, PRTRs can be an effective instrument for indirectly encouraging companies to reduce pollution, since none will want to be seen as among the worst polluters.