Earth, Air and Water
An Information Service supplied by the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society

30  June 2005     

This information service also serves to draw attention to current news items
 and readers are directed to the hosts' websites

In the News
Green group warns of dangers of e-waste
Loss of Kleinschmidt a 'blow to the whales'
You can bank on environmental ambassadors
Scientists expect go-ahead for nuclear fusion reactor
Kyoto : waste of cash or green lifeline?
Weblog -
In the News
Green group warns of dangers of e-waste - 20 June
  Bangkok - Thailand must pass legislation forcing manufacturers of electronic products to take responsibility for the disposal and recycling of discarded items, Greenpeace said on Saturday.

The international conservation group said Thailand is faced with a growing problem of how to discard mounting volumes of electronic scrap, or "e-waste", which is now accumulating in junkyards nationwide.

"At the moment, local governments, taxpayers and communities are bearing the burden for dealing with discarded materials, and yet manufacturers who profit from the production and deployment of these products into the market are getting away scot-free without any kind of liability," said Kittikhun Kittiaram, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace South-east Asia.

Thailand's use of personal computers is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years, while industry sources estimate that half the population will be using mobile phones by the end of this year.

The average life span of a PC is three to five years, while most mobile phones are discarded within 18 months, said Greenpeace in a press statement.

Greenpeace urged the government to immediately introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation and mandate product take-back for intractable electronic waste components such as batteries. - Sapa-dpa

IOL website

Loss of Kleinschmidt a 'blow to the whales' - 20 June

John Yeld

South Africa is set to be severely embarrassed at the crucial International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting which opens in South Korea on Monday by the absence of vice-chairperson Horst Kleinschmidt.

The blame is being laid squarely at the door of the department of environmental affairs and tourism, of which he was until recently deputy director-general and head of its marine and coastal management section.

He resigned suddenly this year.

Veteran whale conservationist Nan Rice has even suggested that Kleinschmidt, who until a week ago was all set to attend the annual meeting, was effectively blocked by "inside politicking" in the department, although others say indecision is to blame.

The IWC is on the rack, being pulled in opposite directions by the pro-whaling nations led by Japan, and the anti-whaling lobby backed by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Africa.

This morning it appeared Japan had for the first time garnered enough support from the changing IWC membership to gain a slim majority.

Although this will be insufficient to approve the resumption of commercial whaling, which requires a 75 percent majority vote, it will have a profound psychological effect and could lead to significantly increased "scientific" whaling.

Kleinschmidt, who was to have been South Africa's commissioner at the meeting and holds the IWC's second most senior position, is a seasoned negotiator in this forum.

He has strongly pushed South Africa's non-lethal whaling line in recent years, stressing the lucrative tourism option of whale-watching.

He was expected to have played a significant role in countering the pro-whaling arguments, particularly from Denmark which holds the IWC chair.

Under normal circumstances, Kleinschmidt would assume the chairmanship next year.

Although another senior official in the department, marine scientist Hermann Oosthuizen, and a foreign affairs official were also scheduled to attend, Kleinschmidt was to have been South Africa's official representative, or commissioner.

But he confirmed on Friday that he would no longer be going. The official line from the department is that Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk approved Kleinschmidt's travel plans, but "local difficulties" like Kleinschmidt getting flu prevented him from going.

On Sunday, department spokesperspon J P Louw could not elaborate on these difficulties, nor could he say when Van Schalkwyk had approved Kleinschmidt's travel plans.

However, Louw said Kleinschmidt had confirmed all South Africa's rights and obligations at the meeting with Oosthuizen, and that its non-lethal whaling line remained unchanged.

Kleinschmidt himself declined to comment, other than to say that Oosthuizen "knows the game" and had been preparing South Africa's position on all the issues.

"So technically, South Africa will stick to its guns," he said.

Kleinschmidt also said that, because of his position as vice-chairman, he still considered himself entitled to speak on IWC issues and would be following the meeting closely.

He also said he would discuss the issue of his succession as IWC chairman with Van Schalkwyk afterwards.

Rice, who heads the Dolphin Action Group (incorporating Save the Whales), said she had learned of the move "with some surprise and disappointment".

"While not denigrating his replacement Hermann Oosthuizen, Kleinschmidt has been an excellent commissioner who was lauded by many anti-whaling countries and also international non-government organisations," Rice said.

"He would naturally have become chairman of the IWC in due course, a great honour for South Africa."

The department had not explained the "sudden change" for the "absolutely crucial" meeting.

"Neither the media nor my organisation was informed. Frankly, this smacks of inside politicking, which is not what saving whales is all about.

"Kleinschmidt's withdrawal from the commission is a great loss to the anti-whaling lobby and also to the whales." - Environment Writer.

    • This article was originally published on page 3 of Cape Argus on June 20, 2005

IOL website

You can bank on environmental ambassadors - 20 June
A pair of environmentally-minded Sheffield bank workers are leaving their desks to join conservation expeditions in South Africa and Canada.

HSBC assistant programmer Nathan Wood will head to Manitoba in Canada to work with scientists investigating climate change.

Colleague Phillip Haughton, a programmer, will join experts monitoring the meerkat population at the Kuruman River Reserve in South Africa.

Both men will be away for two weeks as part of Investing in Nature, an 11 million project run by HSBC and environmental group Earthwatch.

Nathan said: "I hope to learn a lot more about global changes and the role that individuals can play.

"There is so much talk of climate change in the media, and it is easy to feel helpless. I hope this project will educate me about the environmental changes facing our planet, so I can return home and spread my knowledge."

Phillip and Nathan were selected from more than 220,000 HSBC employees around the world. They are two of 500 HSBC Environmental Fellows who will work on Earthwatch conservation projects in 2005.

HSBC spokeswoman Irene Dorner said: "Our employees will be investing a massive amount of time and energy in conservation and we expect it to change them and us.
"We want HSBC Fellows to become environmental ambassadors within the company, sharing what they learn with colleagues".

Sheffield Today website

Scientists expect go-ahead for nuclear fusion reactor - 28 June
Scientists should on Tuesday finally get the go-ahead to build a prototype nuclear fusion reactor which could offer a clean source of unlimited energy.

Ministers are expected to announce at a meeting in Moscow that a $12-billion experimental reactor, designed to prove the new type of nuclear power is commercially viable, will be built in France. The reactor is intended to produce electricity by harnessing the nuclear reaction at the heart of the sun.

The announcement follows years of often bitter negotiations. The international project - called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or Iter - has been deadlocked since December 2003, when the world's leading scientific powers fell out over where to build it. Russia and China supported the EU's plan for Cadarache in southern France while the US and South Korea favoured a rival bid from Japan for Rokkasho.

Reports say Japan has been persuaded to drop its claim in return for lucrative construction contracts.

Unlike conventional nuclear power stations that harness the energy released when atoms split, Iter would work by capturing the heat produced when hydrogen isotopes combine to form helium.

Supporters claim such fusion reactors could produce enough electricity to solve the world's energy demands and, because they would not release carbon dioxide, the problem of global warming. Critics argue that the science is unproven, and say that the promise of nuclear fusion has been 30 years away since the 1960s. Iter will show who is right.

Christopher Llewellyn Smith, director of a fusion research facility called the Joint European Torus (Jet) in Culham, Oxfordshire, said: "It's great news because it will enable us to get on with fusion. Iter is the absolutely vital step on the way to building a real fusion power station".

Experimental reactors such as Jet have proved fusion can work in principle but they have not been able to produce more energy than they use to get the reactions going in the first place. Iter aims to produce 500 megawatts of power, or 10 times its predicted input.

Some problems remain. The US cannot ratify any agreement until Congress looks at complaints from domestic energy researchers that their grants have been slashed to pay the US contribution. - Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Mail & Guardian website

Kyoto : waste of cash or green lifeline? - 27 June
  Alister Doyle

Bonn, Germany - A waste of more than $1 300(about R9 000) a year for every American, undermining economic growth and jobs? Or a lifeline for the planet costing just an annual $20 for each European?

The UN's Kyoto protocol on curbing global warming looks utterly different when viewed from Washington, which opposes the 150-nation pact, or from its main backers in the European Union, Japan or Canada.

So who is right?

Experts say there is no sign that investors are shifting to favour the United States out of worry that Kyoto's supporters are shackling their economies with vast costs to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, factories and cars.

"I think the United States was wrong" to say that Kyoto was too expensive, said Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the European Commission's Climate, Ozone and Energy unit. "This is a huge opportunity to get on a path towards clean energy".

US President George Bush will meet the main backers of Kyoto at a July 6-8 Group of Eight summit in Scotland, where British Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes radical action will be agreed to combat global warming.

But given Washington's reaction to Kyoto, hopes that further concrete measures can be agreed look slim.

The United States says the EU got off lightly in its targets for cutting use of fossil fuels and shifting to cleaner energies such as solar and wind power under Kyoto.

"The reductions (in greenhouse gases) the EU have to make were modest compared to what might be required by the United States," said US senior climate negotiator Harlan Watson.

Supporters of Kyoto, which entered into force on February 16, see it as a tiny first step to avert what could be far higher costs of more storms, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels that could drive thousands of species to extinction by 2100.

The EU Commission reckons Kyoto will cut the EU's annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 0,06 percent by 2010 when it has full effect, Runge-Metzger said. That would work out roughly at $20 for each EU citizen in 2010 alone.

"We think this is affordable, in fact it disappears in the noise of the statistics," Runge-Metzger said. Japan and Canada also see costs as manageable.

In the past, US officials have estimated Kyoto could mean a brake in US economic output of up to $400-billion by 2010 in the worst case, or 4,2 percent of GDP. That would mean more than $1 300 for each American that year.

Bush pulled the United States, the world's biggest polluter, out of Kyoto in 2001, branding it too costly and unfair because it omits developing nations from a first round of cuts until 2012.

Kyoto obliges participants to cut emissions of carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas - by 5,2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

"The costs for the EU probably work out at the cost of a light lunch for each citizen," said Alexander Ochs of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Views about Kyoto's effects are more at the level of belief than fact".

Some investors might be attracted to companies that stress environmentalism by promising to respect Kyoto, he said. Others may prefer to invest in firms that stress profit over what might turn out to be unreliable climate science.

Watson said the United States would have faced a bigger burden under Kyoto than its main allies, partly because of US heavy reliance on domestic coal for generating electricity. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than gas or oil when burnt.

"Europe's overall reduction from business as usual is 4 to 5 percent," he said. For the United States "we would estimate in the order of 30 to 35 percent reduction versus business as usual".

And east European EU members are far below target because of a collapse of Soviet-era smokestack industries, he said.

Watson also said it was hard to assess the impact of Kyoto on investment flows since there were so many other factors at play. "A lot of heavy industry is going to China. Clearly that's happening in any event".

China, along with all other developing nations, has no targets for limiting emissions under Kyoto's first period to 2012, though lower costs, rather that its exemption from the environment pact, are driving the shift.

"There are much more important factors like tax rates, wage rates for deciding investments," said Runge-Metzger, noting a shift in EU investments to lower-cost members in east Europe.

After quitting Kyoto's caps on emissions, Washington has stressed research in clean technologies like hydrogen.

Kristian Tangen, managing director of Oslo-based Point Carbon analysis group, said most models estimated that Kyoto's first period will cost its backers 0,1-0.3 percent of GDP.

He said the EU's flagship Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), creating a market for carbon dioxide emissions quotas, would have little impact for an investor deciding whether to buy shares in, for instance, a German or a US steelmaker.

EU sectors exposed to international competition, like steel or cement makers, had generally been given more allowances than they were likely to need, he said. By contrast, many companies in need of buying allowances were in the power sector, often shielded from international competition.

Top emitters of carbon dioxide under the ETS include German energy groups RWE AG and E.ON, Swedish power company Vattenfall, Spanish utility Endesa, Anglo-Dutch steel and aluminium company Corus Group and energy firm Royal Dutch/Shell.

IOL website

Contributions to this bulletin were made by the Librarians and Information Manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, and Marina Rubidge (Librarian - Jowell Glyn and Marais, Johannesburg)

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