Mountains of outdated electronics are accumulating in landfills around the world. A new law in the U.S. state of California seeks to fight the problem through a recycling program to enter into force in July.
A pioneer in this area, the new California law, known as SB20, establishes that the consumer will pay six to 10 dollars at the time of purchase of each electronic item that contains heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, or cadmium.
The products covered by this legislation are mostly televisions and computers. Items with screens measuring less than four inches are excluded.
Once the electronic device has become outdated or no long works, the consumer can hand it over to a recycling center, free of charge. Currently, consumers pay recyclers around 20 dollars per item.
Estimates are that more than 22 million computers are sold every year in the United States alone. With the constant development of new technology, computers become obsolete in just two years.
Among the biggest concerns about electronic waste in landfills is the impact on the environment, as the chemical compounds contaminate the soil and can filter into underground water supplies.
And the process of recycling is not free of controversy. In the United States, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition denounced that Dell Computers obsolete machines were being recycled by prisoners who did not have the minimum protection for working with the dangerous substances.
A large portion of electronic waste is exported to developing countries, particularly in Asia, where companies restore used computers or dismantle the machines to recover metals like gold and copper. The practice is under scrutiny by the Basil Convention, which aims to prevent industrialized countries from transferring dangerous waste to developing countries.
While the European Union is working to eliminate the use of toxic materials in electronics by 2007, in Latin America, Brazil has had a program since 2000 under which manufacturers and importers of batteries containing heavy metals must take responsibility for collecting and recycling the used products.
Other efforts include "eco-labeling" of computers, which takes into consideration the design and use of materials, energy efficiency and manufacturing processes.
Corporate strategies for electronics recycling: A tale of two systems
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Eco-labels for computers
Ten Years of NAFTA
Amidst both enthusiastic applause and loud condemnation, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) reaches its 10th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2004. Relegated to the back seat, environment and labor rights have been only accessory issues in that trajectory.
NAFTA is a regional treaty involving Canada, Mexico and the United States to create a free trade zone and, originally, with a goal of opening borders in 2005. Other objectives include eliminating trade barriers and facilitating trans-border circulation of goods and services, respecting competition, increasing investment opportunities and ensuring intellectual property rights.
The first decade of NAFTA has left a bittersweet taste. Food First, a non-governmental food security watchdog group, says that in Mexico, while economic reports celebrate export growth -- with more than 80 percent going to the United States -- the agricultural sector is suffering the impacts of subsidies for U.S. products, against which Mexican farmers cannot compete.
Meanwhile, big U.S.-based manufacturers have cut production costs by moving their factories -- textile, automobile, electronics -- to Mexico. The U.S. Department of Labor has tallied a lost of 500,000 jobs in the United States, ostensibly as the result of NAFTA.
A study about the negotiating process states that when the leaders of the three countries agreed in 1990 to work on creating the treaty, they didn't expect environmental and labor issues to be important for ratification. But that same year, a small group of activists launched a campaign, targeting the U.S. Congress, so that their positions would be included in the talks.
Environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund, National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation monitored and supported the process for creating an international body in charge of ensuring respect for the environment, with the authority to impose non-commercial sanctions.
But other organizations, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Public Citizen, resoundingly rejected the process, and demanded that U.S. companies operating in other countries must be required to comply with U.S. environmental laws.
The result was the creation in 1994 of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), which operates under the terms of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). Its mandate is to attend to shared environmental concerns and to prevent trade-related environmental disputes among the three NAFTA partners.
That same year, the Commission for Labor Cooperation was founded to improve working conditions and living standards for employees, and to promote 11 Labor Principles.
The two commissions are the first to link environmental and labor issues with an international trade treaty.
In early 2004, an independent committee made up of environmental officials will assess the operations and effectiveness of the NAAEC.
NAFTA - 10 Years Later - IPS Special Coverage
Food First - Genetic Pollution and Maize Diversity
Negotiating NAFTA: Political Lessons for the FTAA
Decade of NAFTA brings pains, gains
Ten Years After NAFTA: How Has Globalization Affected Mexico?
World Wildlife Fund-WWF
National Resources Defense Council - NRDC
National Wildlife Federation
Friends of the Earth
Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Efforts are underway to convert 20,000 hectares of Brazilian pastureland back into the rich forest ecosystem it once was. Picking up the bill are polluting companies that want what is known as a carbon dioxide "sink" to clean up their sins against the environment.
This is one of the many greenhouse gas mitigation projects being carried out around the world, under the special mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, an agreement that has yet to be ratified.
The pastureland reconversion plan is centered in the area of the southeastern Brazilian city of Curitiba with a price tag of 20 million dollars.
Financing the initiative are the U.S.-based corporations ChevronTexaco, General Motors and American Electric Power, which are warming their engines for the potential enactment of the Kyoto Protocol.
The mechanism must be ratified by 55 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and whose combined greenhouse gas emissions represent at least 55 percent of the world total.
Ratification of the protocol is now in the hands of an indecisive Russia. The United States, alone responsible for 25 percent of emissions, has refused to support the treaty.
The Protocol contains legally binding goals under which industrialized countries are to reduce emissions by 2008-2012 of six types of greenhouse gases by at least five percent with respect to their 1990 levels.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries can attain their goals by trading emissions credits. The buying and selling of these credits, joint implementation projects (like that underway in Curitiba), and so-called "clean development" are the three established mechanisms.
Through these channels, a country that helps reduce emissions in others is given credit towards its reduction objectives stated in the treaty.
However, this does not exempt the country from reducing greenhouse gas production -- at least in part -- at home.
The World Bank's Prototype Carbon Fund, create in 2000, is a public-private initiative for clean development and aims to reduce poverty.
Its projects generate certified emissions credits that are purchased by the fund and then distributed among the participants, which can use them to meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals.
In the private sector, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development alongside the World Resources Institute in 1998 launched a greenhouse gas initiative aimed at developing practices that help companies monitor and report their emissions.
In early December the World Economic Forum announced the creation of a global greenhouse gas registry to facilitate management of companies' emissions worldwide. The information will be available on the Internet.
More information on climate change and greenhouse gases, as well as the market for emissions credits can be found on the websites for the Secretariat of the Convention on Climate Change (and the recent COP9 meeting), and the International Emissions Trading Association.
Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol
A Beginner's Guide to Climate Change
Tierramérica Special Edition on Climate Change
World Bank Prototype Carbon Fund
World Business Council on Sustainable Development
World Resources Institute
International Emissions Trading Association
World Economic Forum
Secretariat of the Convention on Climate Change
COP 9 - Ninth Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC
More than half a century since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrated on Dec. 10, the struggle for the right to a healthy environment is growing fast.
In this section, we provide several informative web-sites on the linkages between human rights and the environment.
The right to food, health and housing and freedom of expression are several of the aspects that the universal declaration covers with the aim of guaranteeing just and peaceful coexistence among humankind.
Reports indicate that the first steps to link human rights and the environment within the sphere of the United Nations began in the early 1990s, when the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities named a special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
Later, the Stockholm Declaration, drafted at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, established the foundations for linking human rights and protection of the environment by declaring that human beings have the “fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”
The declaration also states that human beings bear “a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.”
In 1992, the Rio de Janeiro Conference on the Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, proclaimed the public’s right to know, to participate, and to work on improving environmental conditions.
In January 2002, a conference was held to assess the progress made since the Earth Summit. The meeting’s web site presents several documents that study the link between human rights and the environment.
According to experts while environmentalists have long been using human rights as a platform to analyze the negative effects of environmental degradation on health, human rights groups are now beginning to comprehend that many of the injustices committed against humanity are environmental in essence.
Health problems like diarrhea and respiratory ailments, the main causes of death among the world’s poor according to the World Health Organisation, are preventable if a safe and healthy environment is provided, including, in this case, clean water and adequate health infrastructure.
In November 2002, the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Committee declared access to clean water a human right, citing it as an indispensable requisite for the fulfillment of other rights.
In March 2003, the Third World Water Forum was held in Kyoto, Japan, where more than 24,000 participants discussed the actions needed to overcome global obstacles standing in the way of guaranteeing access to clean water.
The right to information has given rise to an initiative known as the International Right to Know campaign, aimed at requiring companies based in the United States or traded on U.S. stock exchanges and their foreign subsidiaries and major contractors to disclose information on their overseas operations.
The campaign is an attempt to prevent abuses and ensure that companies respect the environmental, labour and human rights of local communities in the countries where they operate.
The web site of the The People's Movement for Human Rights Education lists international treaties and laws that link human rights and the environment.
Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos (Español)
Movimiento de los Pueblos para la Educación en Derechos Humanos (Español)
Comité Económico, Social y Cultural de las Naciones Unidas (Inglés)
Tercer Foro Mundial del Agua (Inglés)
Integrating Human Rights and the Environment Within the United Nations (Inglés)
Declaración de Estocolmo (Inglés)
Conferencia de Río de Janeiro sobre Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo (Inglés)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (Inglés)
Organización Mundial de la Salud (Español)
Joint UNEP-OHCHR Expert Seminar on Human Rights and the Environment, Geneva 2002 (Inglés)
International Right to Know (IRTK) (Inglés)
Environment and Human Rights Project (Inglés)
The Information Society
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) gets underway on Dec. 10 in Geneva. Eight thousand people are expected to take part in deliberations on how to bridge the digital divide and reduce the imbalance in knowledge -- which are seen as the main obstacles on the road to sustainable development in the new economy.
Among the key objectives of the Summit is the interconnection of all cities, educational institutions, health centers and hospitals and local and central government bodies before 2015.
Among the WSIS participants will be more than 50 heads of state, and thousands of representatives of governments, international organizations, civil society groups, the private sector and the communications media.
In the first phase of the WSIS, in Geneva, the delegates are to adopt a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. The second phase, in Tunis in 2005, will revolve around issues of development and evaluation of progress made.
The 2000 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Council says that the revolution in information and communications technologies (ICTs) offers new opportunities for economic growth and social development, but that it also poses new challenges and risks.
The report points to applications for development such as electronic commerce and access to financial markets, the creation of jobs, increases in agricultural and industrial production and even "tele-medicine" and "tele-education" -- providing services to communities in remote areas.
But the text underscores that the majority of the global population still lives in poverty and has yet to benefit from the ICT revolution.
The report "Sustainability at the speed of light" states that of the eight billion micro-chips produced in 2000, just two percent ended up in computers. Most people around the globe live in continuous proximity to technology -- in their cars, toys, cellular phones and even their sports shoes, says the study.
Dubbed by some as "the second industrial revolution", the rise of the ICTs is expected to continue, and could ultimately reach each person in the world.
Some observers fear that the pace of expansion could mean that issues like the environment and sustainable development will be ignored.
Among the proposals to anticipate the spread of this new economy is the Digital Opportunity Initiative, a public-private association involving the Accenture company, the Markle Foundation and the United Nations Development Program.
Launched at the G-8 Summit in Okinawa in 2000, the initiative aims to identify the roles of ICTs in promoting sustainable economic development and social equalities.
Among the case studies are Costa Rica and Brazil, as the Latin American examples of successful government strategies to insert themselves in the economy of the future.
If you are looking for more information about the WSIS and links related to ICTs, Inter Press Service is providing special coverage on the unfolding of the information society.
World Summit on the Information Society
2000 ECOSOC Report
Sustainability at the speed of light: Opportunities and challenges for tomorrow's societ
Digital Opportunity Initiative
United Nations Millennium Declaration
IPS - Information Society - Special Coverage
Forum of Environment Ministers
Environment ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean gathered Nov. 20-25 in Panama to assess the region's sustainable development agenda.
The 14th Meeting of the Environment Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean debated strategy for implementing the Latin American and Caribbean initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC).
Since 1982, the region's ministers meet periodically, convened by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
However, it was not until 1995 that they began to incorporate issues from the international environmental agenda into the debate, during the 9th meeting, held in Havana, Cuba. With the groundwork in place, the Forum of Environment Ministers was consolidated at the 10th meeting, in 1996 in the Argentine capital.
Among the thematic lines the forum is following are: institutional framework, policies and instruments for environmental management, integrated watershed management, biological diversity and protected areas, and climate change and its repercussions for the region.
The forum has an inter-agency technical committee made up of the World Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). These institutions provide technical assistance and support in identifying sources of financing.
According to UNEP, one of the achievements of the ministerial forum was the presentation of the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC) at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. ILAC was explicitly included in the Johannesburg Implementation Plan.
The importance of ILAC lies in the relevance of regional goals for the sustainable use and development of biodiversity and the increase in the use of renewable energy sources.
Equally valuable are plans to develop technologies to ensure water quality and appropriate water management, as well as the implementation of plans and policies to reduce urban environmental vulnerability to natural and manmade disasters.
On the other hand, the first UNEP regional report on environmental perspectives, the GEO Report, indicates that while concern about the natural surroundings has grown considerably, it remains a secondary issue on the economic and development agenda. The changes that have been implemented have not substantially improved the environmental situation or reduced degradation. The number of poor continues to rise and the rich-poor gap keeps growing, and these are inherently related to the need to protect the environment and pursue sustainable development.
Forum of Environment Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean
GEO Report - Environment Outlook 2000
Inter-American Development Bank
United Nations Development Program
World Summit on Sustainable Development
Tierramérica: World Summit on Sustainable Development
Free Trade Area of the Americas
In the middle of a tug-of-war between the United States and Brazil, the co-chairs of the negotiations, the 8th ministerial meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will take place Nov. 20-21 in the U.S. city of Miami.
A broad range of civil society groups, including environmentalists, is opposed to the hemisphere-wide agreement.
The 34 countries of North and South America and the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba, will be represented at the meeting, where ministers will try to clear the way for the free flow of goods and services in the region beginning in 2005.
The United States is reportedly seeking a "broad" agreement that establishes regional rules for intellectual property rights, investment and government procurement, as well as a reduction of tariffs throughout the hemisphere.
Meanwhile, Brazil, the largest Latin American market, is mostly looking for a pact that reduces the barriers standing in the way of market access.
Brazil charges that the U.S. farm subsidies cost the South American giant millions of dollars in losses. But the U.S. government, like Japan and the European Union, does not want to deal with the issue outside of the World Trade Organization.
The gradual elimination of trade and investment barriers in the region is the aim of the FTAA, an initiative that emerged from the 1994 Summit of the Americas. The traditional policy of U.S. aid through financial credits to the developing South has been replaced by the idea of a Canada-to-Argentina free trade zone.
The areas of negotiation within the FTAA include: market access, investment, services, public procurement, dispute settlement, agriculture, intellectual property rights, subsidies, anti-dumping rules, and competition policies.
The "Tripartite Committee", comprising the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, provides analytical, technical and financial support for the FTAA process.
There are many who view the trade agreement with skepticism. A study by Canada's International Development Research Center indicates that the FTAA is considered a means for strengthening the U.S. negotiating position against the European Union and the countries of Southeast Asia.
Friends of the Earth says that the implementation of the FTAA would have negative consequences for the environment. Accords on services, which would range from the oil industry to tourism, would make it difficult for governments to limit investment and to regulate environmental protection.
Groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, based in the U.S. state of Florida, say they fear a repeat of the experience of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the 1994 treaty between Canada, Mexico and the United States. After the agreement entered into force, they say, the Mexican market was flooded with U.S. corn, driving down prices and forcing small farmers out of business.
But defenders of the treaty point to the fact that Mexico's trade with its big neighbor to the north currently runs at a surplus.
FTAA - IPS Special Coverage
Free Trade Area of the Americas
North American Free Trade Agreement
Friends of the Earth - FTAA environmental impact
Inter-American Development Bank
Organization of American States
Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
World Trade Organization
International Development Research Center
Transnational Oil Companies
Thirty thousand Indians from the Ecuadorian Amazon were able to put the U.S.-based petroleum giant ChevronTexaco in court on charges of environmental destruction.
The unprecedented trial began Oct. 21 in Ecuador. Tierramérica invites you to check out some Internet sites to learn more about international oil companies.
An assessment report, contracted by the plaintiffs, was presented in October. Global Environmental Operations, entrusted with the study, estimated that the costs for cleaning up the rivers and underground water supplies affected by the ChevronTexaco oil operations would reach 6 billion dollars.
The oil company denies that it is responsible for the contamination in Ecuador and affirms that it follows environmental safety standards.
On its web site, British Petroleum, one of the world's biggest oil firms, states that oil exploitation activities can have environmental impacts, such as altering habitat, contamination, introduction of non-native species, the non-sustainable use of resources and contribution to climate change.
The presence of transnational oil companies in Latin America dates to 1950, when the consumption of fossil fuels in the region began to accelerate rapidly.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the big oil companies, known as "The Seven Sisters" (Exxon, Gulf, Texaco, Mobil, Standard Oil of California, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell), controlled more than 98 percent of petroleum production in the countries that later formed OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
Through their subsidiaries, these companies held exclusive rights over initial exploration and, following the entire process, over the final marketing of petroleum products internationally.
OPEC today controls approximately 40 percent of the world's crude supplies. And through recent acquisitions and mergers, such as British Petroleum, Amoco and Arco, or that of Exxon-Mobil, the biggest private western transnationals will go from controlling 10 percent of the global oil market in 1997 to approximately 25 percent next year.
A report on world energy indicates that in 2002 Saudi Arabia was the world's leading producer of petroleum, followed by the Russian Federation and the United States.
In Latin America, Mexico was the leading oil producer, with Venezuela coming in a close second.
There are many Internet sites that allow web surfers to follow the performance of the oil industry. The web page of the U.S. Department of Energy provides a daily review of prices and production levels on a country-by-country basis.
Global Environmental Operations
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
British Petroleum, Amoco and Arco
Environmental impacts of oil exploration
BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2003
U.S. Department of Energy
Latin Petroleum Analytics
Petroleum reserves - by region
International Year of Rice
In an effort to attend to the problems of hunger and malnutrition, among others, the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 31 declared 2004 the International Year of Rice. Sixty percent of the world's 1.3 billion poor live in Asia, and rice is their principal sustenance.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is urgent to boost rice supplies, given the growing demand by a population with very limited income and whose numbers are growing exponentially.
A study by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) states that the average person in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Burma consume 150 to 200 kilos of rice a year, representing two-thirds or more of their daily calorie intake and approximately 60 percent of their daily protein consumption. "For the poorest, rice is a luxury," says the study.
Among the notable characteristics of this cereal is its low level of sodium and zero cholesterol. Rice is also an important source of vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) and minerals (phosphorous, iron and potassium). Rice also has limited amounts of protein, containing eight amino acids essential for the human body.
Worldwide, more than 585 million metric tons of rice were produced in 2001, 84 percent in Asian countries. The vast majority of consumers are in Asia (91 percent). Latin America represents 3.7 percent of consumption and Africa 3.4 percent.
The prediction that growing demands for rice will outstrip production has led organizations like FAO to support the development and cultivation of hybrid rice, produced by cross-pollination of two species. Hybrid varieties discovered in 1974 by Chinese scientists currently produce 15 to 20 percent more than traditional varieties.
Accompanying poverty is malnutrition. According to figures from the non-governmental Bread for the World Institute, there are 840 million people suffering malnutrition worldwide. Of that total, more than 95 percent live in developing countries and more than 153 million are five years old or younger. An estimated six million of these young children die of hunger each year.
Land, water and labor resources are on the decline in rice producing countries, there are those who put forth other arguments in the world hunger debate.
The World Health Organization, for one, states that hunger is the result of poor distribution and inequality, not the lack of food."
International Year of Rice
Rice Facts - Essential Food for the Poor
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
International Rice Research Institute
Major Rice Producers
Bread for the World Institute
World Health Organization
Hybrid Rice for Food Security
Magnificently decorated, peacocks carry in their plumage more than just an evolutionary riddle. A new study reveals that the brilliant colors of peacock feathers are the result of a delicate and complex structure similar to glass, and are not pigments, as in other bird species. The new discoveries could serve to improve telecommunications and create new microchips for computers.
The blue royal or common peacock is the most familiar. Its scientific name is Pavo cristatus and it belongs to the Phasianidae family. In the 17th and 18th centuries the English physicist Isaac Newton was already studying the origins of the colors in this majestic bird's feathers.
The neck and chest of the male peacock are a metallic blue-green. The long tail feathers are green-hued and have dark circles towards the tips, resembling eyes. During courtship, the male displays his tail feathers, which measure around 1.2 meters, forming a broad fan as he slowly struts around the female, who generally feigns indifference.
The reproductive unit usually consists of one adult male and one to three females. Studies show that the most colorfully decorated males are generally chosen over less showy males. In peacocks, more ostentatious plumage is linked to a stronger immune system.
Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution, suggested in 1871 that this preference on the part of females in selecting their mate is another form of natural selection.
The blue royal peacock is native to India and Southeast Asia, where they can be found in the wild, and in nature parks. These birds feed on snails, spiders and insects, as well as grains and plants.
In the times of King Salomon, peacocks were presented in offerings alongside gold and silver. Today, they have been domesticated and can be found around the world, and are even kept as pets.
Scientists admire these unique birds, whose genetic code has already been deciphered, and is sure to hold even more secrets.
Peacock plumage study
North American Breeding Bird Survey
Peacock DNA studies
The biggest environmental-automotive event in the world, Challenge Bibendum, highlighted the latest technological advances in the field of so-called "green cars", which represent an attempt to reconcile mobility and environmental sustainability.
This year's exposition drew several car, truck and bus manufacturers that work with alternative fuels, and low levels of pollutant emissions.
Organized by the Michelin Group, a tire manufacturer, participants compete for awards in the categories of lowest emissions and noise, and best performance, safety and design. The vehicles are subject to a series of tests by a technical team.
According to a study by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, global population growth (expected to reach 8.1 billion people by 2030) and increased urbanization are the two factors that will dramatically increase pressure on the world's ecosystems, in large part due to greater transportation demand.
Dependence on petroleum, a non-renewable energy source, for driving the automotive industry, air pollution and its effects on human health, and emissions of greenhouse gases are just some areas of concern.
In the United States, the number of vehicles utilizing alternative fuels grew from 455,000 in 2000 to more than 518,000 in 2002. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a guide that lists the least contaminating vehicles, the ones with best gas mileage.
Cars with fuel cells, hybrid vehicles (gas/electricity), electric and diesel are some of the initiatives in the different sectors of the automotive industry that aim to lay the groundwork for the future of ground transportation.
Several factors can make a car more environmentally efficient. Some qualities that define the automobiles of the future include insulation in the roof and floor to cut down the need for air conditioning, ultra-light tires to conserve energy, and a double-layered air circulation system. Such is the case of the gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius 2004, winner of the Challenge Bibendum.
Japan: Hybrid Cars in Race against Climate Change
Challenge Bibendum tests
EPA guide to green vehicles
Hybrid vehicles - questions and answers
Alternative energies FAQ
Toyota Prius 2004
Toyota: Hybrid system
Whale Hunting Season
Thirty-six dead whales is the result of Iceland's whale hunting season, which ended in the first week of October, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
With the renewal of the hunt after a 14-year moratorium, the European island nation dealt a blow to the efforts of whale conservationists -- and possibly to its own national economy.
Despite its recent "re-admission" in 2002 to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), created in 1946 to regulate the development of the whaling industry, Iceland decided to take to the seas to hunt Minke whale in August of this year.
The country thus made use of an IWC exception that allows hunting of certain species for scientific purposes, which environmentalists consider a dangerous loophole.
The move could be counterproductive for Iceland, where whale-watching excursions for tourists has been a growing industry. IFAW reports that 40 percent of the people who visit Iceland take a whale watching tour, generating around eight million dollars in revenues annually.
It was in the 11th century that Spain's Basque fishermen began commercial whale hunting. By the 20th century, with high-tech hunting methods, the world's whale populations were nearly wiped out.
IFAW estimates that Norway and Japan kill more than 1,300 whales each year. The IWC has established quotas for the number of whales of the various species that may be hunted, and there are also sanctuaries, set aside to protect the sites where whales feed and reproduce.
Hunters are not the only danger that whales face. Climate change, the thinning of the atmospheric ozone layer, pollution and sonar are also threats to the giant sea mammals.
In June of this year, the IWC approved the Berlin Initiative, which aims to organize efforts to protect whales and dolphins. Eventually, a combination of protective measures and more advantageous economic alternatives than hunting could emerge -- so that the world does not lose forever the song of these intelligent and majestic beings.
International Fund for Animal Welfare
International Whaling Commission
Institute for Cetacean Research - Japan
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
The Kyoto Protocol has suffered a setback that threatens its very existence. Russian president Vladimir Putin stated Sep. 29 that his country is undecided as to whether it will ratify the international accord for curbing emissions of greenhouse gases.
The signature of Russia alone, which hosted the latest United Nations Conference on Climate Change, would be enough for the Protocol to enter into force.
Established in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that has set a goal that by 2008 to 2012 the industrialized countries will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by five percent below their 1990 rates. Failure to meet the target could force a country to cut back its industrial production.
Although the initial draft of the Protocol lacked specifics, beginning with the Marrakech meetings in late 2001, five main points were defined: legally binding commitments for industrialized countries; alternative implementation methods to emissions reductions (joint implementation); minimization of impacts in developing countries, including assistance to diversify their economies; reports and assessment by a team of experts and compliance evaluated by a committee.
As a complement to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the first international agreement to deal with the issue, the Kyoto Protocol is a response to growing concern that gases emitted by human activities, particularly carbon dioxide, contribute to the greenhouse effect and to climate change.
More frequent heat waves, floods, and drought are predicted as a result of the average global temperature increasing by one to 3.5 degrees centigrade by 2001, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, founded in 1988, and entrusted with providing scientific information for the Kyoto Protocol.
The Protocol will take effect once it is ratified by 55 countries, including those responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As of Sep. 29, 2003, 84 countries had signed and 119 had ratified or adhered to the protocol, but the refusal of the United States -- which alone produces 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases -- means the survival of the treaty falls to Russia.
Washington based its withdrawal from the Protocol on arguments that curbing emissions would be too much of an economic burden and that the scientific research linking emissions with global warming are questionable.
The aim of the Putin government is to double Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) within a decade, bringing with it an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and thus requiring costly investment if the country is to meet the Protocol goals. Without Russia, the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain indeed.
U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
IPCC Summary Report
Signatories of the Kyoto Protocol - as of Sep. 29, 2003
Understanding Climate Change: A Beginner's Guide to the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
World Meteorological Organization
One thousand years climate history
Joint Implementation - Forestry Congress
The InterAcademy Panel, comprising 60 international scientific organizations, has called on all countries to ban human cloning experiments. The appeal reflects the viewpoint of a broad swath of the scientific community, warning that the cloning process -- which has been conducted with animals -- deteriorates genetic mechanisms and would cause human suffering.
Many of the cloned mammals die before reaching maturity due to "genetic errors" or deficiencies in their embryonic development. This makes techniques for cloning human non-viable, says the panel.
Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned animal, in April 2003 became part of the Royal Scotland Museum in Edinburgh, two months after having been euthanized because she suffered a progressive pulmonary disease.
Several countries have proved able to clone mammals. In 2001, Brazil became the first developing country to clone a live animal, with the birth of Victoria, a calf, in an experiment conducted by the Brazilian agro-research enterprise EMBRAPA.
The InterAcademy Panel, however, does not oppose the use of cloning techniques for purposes of scientific research.
With no global consensus on the issue, the use of embryonic cells, or mother cells, for medical purposes has been gaining ground in many countries. These cells have the capacity to create any type of tissue in the body.
Researchers at the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, Scotland, plan to experiment with special cells, extracted from embryos left over from the artificial fertilization process that couples may opt for when they cannot conceive through natural means.
The International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) says it is up to each country to decide on whether to permit or ban studies using embryonic cells.
The conclusions of the InterAcademy Panel were covered in a recent edition of Science magazine, which suggests that it may never be possible to copy human beings using cloning methods.
National Museums of Scotland
The Cartagena Protocol
On September 11 the Cartagena Protocol entered into force, the first international treaty on the transfer, management and use of organisms modified using biotechnology techniques. It is hoped that the treaty will foment the safe use of transgenics, an issue that has awakened a heated global debate, pitting the United States against Europe.
Adopted in 2000 by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the treaty seeks to make international trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) more transparent through security measures that meet the needs of consumers, industry and, most of all, the environment.
The Protocol is intended to prevent potential conflicts between trade rules and the international biosecurity regimen, says a guide to the treaty provided by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The process of reconciling the legitimate interests of trade, biosafety and others has not been easy. There is a bitter dispute between those who see biotechnology as the road to food security and those who point to ethical, environmental, health and social reasons to establish tight controls for GMOs.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued a Statement on Biotechnology in March 2000, maintaining that this branch of science offers powerful tools for sustainable development of agriculture, fishing and forestry, as well as for the food industry.
Meanwhile, environmental groups like Greenpeace believe that the biological wealth inherent in traditional crops is a global natural heritage threatened by genetic contamination. They blame biotech transnationals like Monsanto, the world's leading seed producer, of pressuring governments to discard mechanisms for controlling transgenic products.
And the United States and the European Union are at the forefront of the dispute. Last July, the European Parliament adopted a law requiring all foods containing GMOs to be labeled so that consumers are aware of what they are buying and eating.
The United States and other producers of transgenic crops, including Argentina, are demanding that the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend the ban on sales of genetically modified foods in the EU, imposed in 1999.
In June of 2003, the republic of Palau became the 50th country to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety, allowing the treaty to enter into force. The first meeting of the parties to the Protocol will take place in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004.
Convention on Biological Diversity
FAO on Biotechnology
WTO - dispute on biotech products
World Ozone Day
The scientific community estimates that the ozone layer, which filters the ultraviolet rays of the Sun, could recover its density by the middle of this century. Recent studies show an improvement, a closing of the so-called ozone hole, but only in the upper stratosphere.
Efforts to limit production and use of ozone depleting gases must continue, and that is the point of World Ozone Day, observed every Sep. 16.
A report from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) found that the depletion of the ozone in the upper stratosphere -- 35 to 45 km above the earth's surface -- has slowed since 1997.
But the authors state that only a small percentage of ozone is located at that level, and the problem of ozone depletion remains serious.
Ozone is a harmful contaminant in the atmosphere closest to earth, but in the stratosphere, it protects the planet from excessive solar radiation. The process of restoring this protective shield should continue with the progressive elimination of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
The Montreal Protocol, signed Sep. 16, 1987, limits the use of substances that damage the ozone layer. In 1985, the international community agreed on the Vienna Convention to protect the ozone layer from CFCs, and other gases like methyl bromide, halons and carbon tetrachloride.
Since the scientists Mario Molina, of Mexico, and F. Rowland, of the United States, warned of the role of CFCs in the depletion of stratospheric ozone, concern about environmental and health consequences have led to international campaigns, and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded the two experts in 1995.
The United Nations Environment Program's OzonAction website underscores that the international fight to protect the ozone layer is a success story among global environmental campaigns.
Since 1985, studies have revealed the existence of the ozone hole over Antarctica.
In 2000, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported that the hole had reached a record size of 28.3 million square km, three times bigger than Australia or the United States, including Alaska.
But in 2002, abnormally warm climate conditions produced the smallest ozone hole since 1988.
UNEP - Ozone Secretariat
American Geophysical Union
FAQs about Ozone
Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer