December 02, 2005

In This Issue

US STAND POSES CHALLENGE AT CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS

The Kyoto Protocol became fully operational after delegates at a United Nations (U.N.) climate change conference in Montreal, Canada approved a set of final regulatory measures defining how the Protocol will proceed in coming years. The decision gives legal force to the agreement by 34 developed nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions until 2012. The United States and Australia, which refused to ratify the protocol to the UN framework convention on climate change, attended as observers.

The rules spell out how emissions will be reported and verified, and give industrial nations credit if they help developing countries produce clean energy. They set out the terms for emissions trading, which allows countries that produce too much greenhouse gas to buy credits from those that are under their limit. The final rules also ease pollution standards by allowing countries to take into account carbon dioxide produced by growing trees.

But the United States, the biggest emitter of heat-trapping gases, opposed any future discussions of extending Kyoto-style limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Harlan Watson, head of the U.S. delegation, said Americans did not want an approach that includes objectives or a timetable to reduce emissions.

Instead, Washington has, since 2002, embarked on a voluntary policy to reduce its emissions by 18 percent without harming the U.S. economy, he said.

Still, Canada and the European Union hope the Montreal talks will launch a twin track — new talks among Kyoto nations about what to do beyond 2012 and a wider set of discussions also involving developing countries and the United States.

PUBLIC LAND AT STAKE IN HOUSE BUDGET BILL

Private companies and individuals would be able to buy large tracts of federal land, under the terms of the House budget bill passed in November. The bill includes a revision of a federal mining law that could benefit real estate developers, whose business has become a more potent economic engine in the western U.S. than mining.

Under the existing law, a mining claim is the vehicle that allows for the extraction of so-called hard-rock metals like gold or silver. Under the House bill, for the first time in the history of the 133-year-old mining law, individuals or companies can file and expand claims even if the land at the heart of a claim has already been stripped of its minerals or could never support a profitable mine. The measure would also lift an 11-year moratorium on the passing of claims into full ownership.

Critics say the provisions could open the door for developers to use the claims to assemble large land parcels for projects like houses, hotels, ski resorts, spas or retirement communities. Some experts on public land use say it is possible that energy companies could use the provision to buy land in the energy-rich fields of Wyoming and Montana on the pretext of mining, but then drill for oil and gas.

But supporters of the bill, including Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) argue that critics are missing the point of the legislation, and that allowing more mine-claim lands to be purchased would be an economic boon to rural communities that often struggle in the boom and bust cycle of mining. ”Not only is this rhetoric false, it is an affront to the rural American families whose livelihoods depend on sustained economic development,” Mr. Gibbons said in a written statement.

Gauging the impact of the bill, however — and the volume of transfers that may occur — is a complete guess, most land experts say. In some cases, lawyers say the current language in the bill, which is likely to be altered somewhat by a House-Senate conference committee, is vague and would almost certainly lead to court challenges.

CHINA ENVIRONMENT MINISTER RESIGNS AFTER TOXIC SPILL

China’s environment chief resigned following a two-week crisis over a toxic spill that polluted a river in northeast China, forced the shutdown of tapwater supplies to millions of Chinese and raised alarm bells in Russia.

The resignation follows mounting criticism over the government’s handling of the spill, where a blast at a chemical plant poured 100 tons of benzene into the Songhua River on November 13. Most criticism has been aimed at local officials, who did not report the spill until November 17.

Environmental Protection Administration Vice-Minister Wang Yuqing said that due to the failure to report the spill, the “best opportunity” to control the spill had been lost. By the end of November, 36 major pollution accidents had been reported, Wang said, warning that there could be more that have gone unreported.

“A reckless pursuit of economic growth and a lack of emergency response mechanisms have seen China experiencing a high rate of environmental disasters,” he added.

The toxic slick forced officials in Harbin, a city of 9 million people downstream from the spill, to shut off its water for five days. The slick is making its way towards the Russian border.

SOUTHEAST COUNTRIES LAUNCH FIGHT AGAINST WILDLIFE SMUGGLING

Southeast Asian countries on Thursday launched what they said is the world’s largest wildlife law enforcement network, aiming to fight cross-border trade in endangered species.

“The success of this network is critical to the future of the region’s biological diversity,” said Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya, the Permanent Secretary at Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations approved the network, which Petipong said will be the world’s largest, to be known as ASEAN-WEN, for ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network.

The network aims to bolster cross-border cooperation, information exchanges, cooperation between national environmental and law enforcement officials, and training for wildlife trafficking agencies, Petipong said.

Conservation groups estimate that criminal gangs around the world make at least $7 a year in trading anything from tiger parts to live orangutans and pythons.

Until now, governments in the region have largely operated independently in fighting the trade, playing into the hands of traffickers who can take advantage of corrupt customs agencies, weak law enforcement, porous borders and a lack of cross-national cooperation.

The United States, which is providing $3 million for the network, praised its creation.


Sources: CBC News; Environmental News Network; Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; Reuters; The New York Times; Yahoo! News

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