Monday, October 20, 2008

EU forest bail out falls short

International — Forest destruction is costing the global economy US $2 to $5 trillion per year — more than Wall Street has lost since the start of the current financial crisis. After stalling for years, the European Commission has finally come out with a proposal for illegal logging legislation and recommendations to tackle deforestation. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t do enough to address deforestation and illegal logging or what it is really costing us.

Illegal deforestation and land grabbing (grilagem) in the Middle Land,  State of Pará

If the last ancient forests and all the life that’s in them don’t get a little love from the Environmental Ministers they will soon be wiped out.

Over the last few months, more than 125,000 of you wrote to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, asking him to show a little Forest Love and put an end to the EU’s massive contribution to deforestation and illegal logging. Your message got to the EU Commission, their response just doesn’t go far enough.

EU forest footprint not getting any smaller

The proposed law won’t keep illegal timber out of the EU, or help you figure out if the flat-pack wardrobe you bought last Saturday is the result of forest crime. There’s no plan to make sure that businesses prove their wood is legal or to make sure that forest criminals bringing in illegal timber pay for their crimes. And while the commission recognises the damage being caused by the demand for agricultural commodities (such as soy beans, cattle and palm oil) as a major contributor to deforestation, it doesn’t suggest a plan to eliminate the problem. It commits only to more studies and exploring policy options.

The destruction of the world’s rainforests to make way for things like more palm oil plantations is driving climate change and pushing species such as the orang-utan, to the brink of extinction. Every time the rainforest is trashed, huge amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. The destruction of our rainforests accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than all the planes, trains and cars in the world.

Baby Steps

But it’s not all bad news, there are parts of the recommendations that get forest protection right. We are happy to see a recommendation for the creation of a fund for forest protection under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The plan itself only provides a fraction of the money needed for the fund to succeed, so now the Commission needs to figure out how to make sure the fund can succeed.

The Commission also rightly opposes forest offset credits for the next decade. If forest credits were approved, they could allow the energy sector to buy its way out of necessary reforms and emission cuts. The EU Commission is taking a step in the right direction by rejecting forest credits in the carbon markets.

What’s next?

European environment ministers are expected to discuss deforestation at their Council on 4 December and the first ministerial debate on the timber legislative proposal is expected to take place at the agriculture Council on 17-19 December.

If the last ancient forests and all the life that’s in them don’t get a little love from the Environmental Ministers they will soon be wiped out. If the EU is serious about protecting forests and keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, then Parliament and Council need to step it up on the Commission proposals. We need a strong timber law and new economic incentives and financial resources to put an end to deforestation and illegal logging.

Probe studies Solar System's edge

Nasa's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (Ibex) spacecraft has been launched into Earth orbit to study the edge of our Solar System.

Ibex was launched on Sunday aboard a Pegasus rocket that was dropped from a jet flying over the Pacific Ocean.

It is the first probe to study particle interactions at the boundary where our Solar System meets interstellar space.

Ibex under construction (SWRI)
The Ibex probe will chart particle interactions at the edge of deep space

The two-year mission should shed light on the decline of the solar wind, which is at its lowest pressure in 50 years.

The interstellar boundary is the point in space at which the particles emitted from the Sun begin to compete with those from elsewhere in the galaxy.

This region serves as a buffer that protects the Solar System's interior from 90% of the cosmic rays heading towards it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

EU 'holds firm' on climate goals

EU leaders will maintain their targets and timetable for tackling climate change, despite objections from some nations, the French president has said.

At a summit in Brussels, Nicolas Sarkozy said "solutions" would be found for those that had expressed concerns.

Penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula

Some countries have threatened to block a deal agreed last year for EU-wide cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, citing the economic slowdown.

The split over climate change contrasts with EU unity over the banking crisis.

The financial crisis has prompted some countries such as Poland and Italy to argue that they cannot afford to enforce tough emissions targets on their industrial sector.

Mr Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said: "The climate package is so important that we cannot simply drop it, under the pretext of a financial crisis."

Speaking at the close of the meeting, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said "we are not going to let up on the battle against climate change."

Last year, EU leaders vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, and to derive 20% of energy from renewable sources.

However, the BBC's Oana Lungescu, in Brussels, says a finalised agreement by December looks like a tall order, amid darkening prospects for Europe's economy.


Europe has moved fast to tackle the financial crisis but it is only starting to count the cost for jobs and economic growth, our correspondent says.

The French president said EU nations should consider a co-ordinated rescue plan to tackle the broader economic crisis as with the financial crisis.

All 27 EU states broadly support a bank rescue plan proposed for the bloc and the holding of a summit on world financial reform, Mr Sarkozy said.

Eurozone leaders have agreed on a comprehensive package designed to shore up banks, including making more than a 1,000bn euros ($1,366bn) available for interbank loans.

Mr Sarkozy said the EU wanted to launch "a new Bretton Woods summit" in November, referring to the 1944 meeting which led to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and other global institutions.

Other members of the group of eight industrialised nations (G8) have also signed up to the summit.

With a recession looming, some Eastern and central European countries are unhappy at the burden of cuts they will be expected to bear under the existing climate agreement.

They argue that a legacy of inefficient and coal-dependent industry, dating from the Soviet era, has made it much harder for them to achieve big emissions cuts.


Mr Sarkozy said he was pushing hard for an agreement on climate change and energy action by the end of the year.

"On the climate package, we have obtained unanimity... It is now for President Barroso and myself to find solutions for those countries which have expressed concerns," Mr Sarkozy said.

In other summit business, talks on a new EU-Russia partnership treaty were postponed, amid continuing concern about Russia's military presence in Georgia. There were divisions about when to resume them.

A decision to revive the failed Lisbon treaty, meant to give the EU more stable institutions in difficult times, is expected to be put on the back-burner until December.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen promised to come up with an action plan by then on the best way to move ahead next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Earliest confirmed TB case found

The 9,000-year-old remains of a mother and her baby discovered off the coast of Israel provide the earliest concrete evidence of human TB, say researchers.

The bones were excavated from Alit-Yam, an ancient Neolithic village near Haifa, which has been submerged in the Mediterranean for thousands of years.

TB skeleton
Experts suspect the mother passed the disease to her baby shortly after birth

The experts from University College London and Tel-Aviv University used DNA technology to confirm the bacterium.

Others have found remains that hint at TB dating from about 500,000 years ago.

However, there is no firm proof that the tell tale signs seen in the skeleton of a young man believed to belong to the first human species to migrate out of Africa - Homo erectus - were in fact caused by TB. Some experts doubt it.

Watery grave

The Israel bones, discovered by Dr Helen Donoghue and Dr Mark Spigelman, prove the disease is at least 3,000 years older than previously confirmed in other remains found in Italy. The watery grave provided the ideal environment to preserve the skeleton and its DNA.

The Atlit-Yam site was located within marshland, the graves were encased in clay, eventually covered by thick layer of sand and later by salt water, protecting the bones from decay.

The size of the infant's bones, and the extent of TB damage, suggest the mother passed the disease to her baby shortly after birth.

They lived around the time of the first great transition of man from hunter-gatherers to a settled agriculture-based lifestyle.

One theory is that TB originally spread from cattle to humans.

But these latest findings, published in PLoS One journal, suggest human TB predates bovine TB.

Dr Donoghue said: "What is fascinating is that the infecting organism is definitely the human strain of tuberculosis, in contrast to the original theory that human TB evolved from bovine TB after animal domestication.

"This gives us the best evidence yet that in a community with domesticated animals but before dairying, the infecting strain was actually the human pathogen.

Diving to find the skeletons
The remains were submerged in the Mediterranean sea

"The presence of large numbers of animal bones shows that animals were an important food source, and this probably led to an increase in the human population that helped the TB to be maintained and spread."

The scientists were also able to show that the DNA of the strain of TB in the skeletons had lost a particular piece of DNA which is characteristic of a common family of strains present in the world today.

"The fact that this deletion had occurred 9,000 years ago gives us a much better idea of the rate of change of the bacterium over time, and indicates an extremely long association with humans," said Dr Donoghue.

Dr Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology, said: "This does predate the other earliest convincing cases of TB from Italy by about 6,000 years.

"It tells us that the human form of TB is quite ancient."

Ultimately, Dr Donoghue's team hope their work will help others find more effective treatments for TB.

About nine million new cases of TB, and nearly two million deaths from TB, are estimated to occur around the world every year.