Saturday, October 27, 2007

now or never, warns landmark UN report

Save the planet? It's now or never, warns landmark UN report
25/10/2007 16h41

David McNew

NAIROBI (AFP) - Humanity is changing Earth's climate so fast and devouring resources so voraciously that it is poised to bequeath a ravaged planet to future generations, the UN warned Thursday in its most comprehensive survey of the environment.

The fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is compiled by 390 experts from observations, studies and data garnered over two decades.

The 570-page report -- which caps a year that saw climate change dominate the news -- says world leaders must propel the environment "to the core of decision-making" to tackle a daily worsening crisis

"The need couldn't be more urgent and the time couldn't be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations," GEO-4 said.

The UNEP report offers the broadest and most detailed tableau of environmental change since the Brundtland Report, "Our Common Future," was issued in 1987 and put the environment on the world political map.

"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland. I sincerely hope GEO-4 is the final one," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged -- and where the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," he added.

Earth has experienced five mass extinctions in 450 million years, the latest of which occurred 65 million years ago, says GEO-4.

"A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour," it says.

An empty lake outside the small Australian rural town of Ararat
©AFP/File - William WestOver the past two decades, growing prosperity has tremendously strengthened the capacity to understand and confront the environmental challenges ahead.

Despite this, the global response has been "woefully inadequate," the report said.

The report listed environmental issues by continent and by sector, offering dizzying and often ominous statistics about the future.

Climate is changing faster than at any time in the past 500,000 years.

Global average temperatures rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius (1.33 Fahrenheit) over the past century and are forecast to rise by 1.8 to four C (3.24-7.2 F) by 2100, it said, citing estimates issued this year by the 2007 Nobel Peace co-laureates, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With more than six billion humans, Earth's population is now so big that "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available," the report warned, adding that the global population is expected to peak at between eight and 9.7 billion by 2050.

"In Africa, land degradation and even desertification are threats; per capita food production has declined by 12 percent since 1981," it said.

The GEO-4 report went on to enumerate other strains on the planet's resources and biodiversity.

Fish consumption has more than tripled over the past 40 years but catches have stagnated or declined for 20 years, it said.

"Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 percent of amphibians, 23 percent of mammals and 12 percent of birds are threatened," it added.

Stressing it was not seeking to present a "dark and gloomy scenario", UNEP took heart in the successes from efforts to combat ozone loss and chemical air pollution.

But it also stressed that failure to address persistent problems could undo years of hard grind.

And it noted: "Some of the progress achieved in reducing pollution in developed countries has been at the expense of the developing world, where industrial production and its impacts are now being exported."

GEO-4 -- the fourth in a series dating back to 1997 -- also looks at how the current trends may unfold and outlines four scenarios to the year 2050: "Markets First", "Policy First", "Security First", "Sustainability First".

After a year that saw the UN General Assembly devote unprecedented attention to climate change and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and former US vice president Al Gore for raising awareness on the same issue, the report's authors called for radical change.

"For some of the persistent problems, the damage may already be irreversible," they warned.

"The only way to address these harder problems requires moving the environment from the periphery to the core of decision-making: environment for development, not development to the detriment of environment."


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Editing Is Alleged In Climate Testimony

Heavy Editing Is Alleged In Climate Testimony

By H. Josef Hebert
Associated Press
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; Page A10

Testimony that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to give yesterday to a Senate committee about the impact of climate change on health was significantly edited by the White House, according to two sources familiar with the documents.

Specific scientific references to potential health risks were removed after Julie L. Gerberding submitted a draft of her prepared remarks to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

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Instead, Gerberding's prepared testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee included few details on what effects climate change could have on the spread of disease. Only during questioning did the director of the government's premier disease-monitoring agency describe any specific diseases likely to be affected, again without elaboration.

A CDC official familiar with both versions said Gerberding's draft "was eviscerated," cut from 14 pages to four. The version presented to the Senate committee consisted of six pages.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process, said that while it is customary for testimony to be changed in a White House review, these changes were particularly "heavy-handed."

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner sought to play down the White House changes. He called Gerberding's appearance before the Senate panel "very productive" and said she addressed the issues she wanted to during her remarks and when questioned by the senators.

"What needed to be said, as far we're concerned, was said," Skinner said from Atlanta, where the CDC is based. "She certainly communicated with the committee everything she felt was critical to help them appreciate and understand all the issues surrounding climate change and its potential impact on public health."

The OMB had no comment on Gerberding's testimony. Gerberding could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

"We generally don't speculate and comment on anything until it is the final product," said OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan. He added that OMB reviews take into consideration "whether they . . . line up well with the national priorities of the administration."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, said in a statement last night that the Bush administration "should immediately release Dr. Gerberding's full, uncut statement, because the public has a right to know all the facts about the serious threats posed by global warming."

The Bush administration has been accused by government scientists of pressuring them to emphasize the uncertainties of global warming. Earlier this year, climate scientists complained to a House committee that the administration had sought frequently to manage or influence their statements and public appearances.

The White House in the past has said it has sought only to provide a balanced view of the climate issue.

The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and its congressional testimony, as is normal with all agencies, is routinely reviewed by OMB.

But Gerberding was said by the CDC officials to have been surprised by the extensive changes.

The deletions directed by the White House included details on how many people might be adversely affected because of increased warming and the scientific basis for some of the CDC's analysis on what kinds of diseases might be spread in a warmer climate and rising sea levels, according to one official who had seen the original version.\

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Afghan poll not as clear

Afghan poll not as clear as it seems - News - Afghan poll not as clear as it seems

October 21, 2007
Thomas Walkom

Do ordinary Afghans want Canada to stay in Kandahar until the Taliban is defeated?

Initial reports of an Environics survey released Thursday suggest the answer is a strong yes. "Majority of Afghans want foreign troops to stay and fight" was The Globe and Mail's headline.

Analysts argued that the poll results, based on interviews conducted last month in the war-torn country, would bolster Prime Minister Stephen Harper's efforts to keep Canadian troops fighting in Kandahar past February 2009.

But when the poll is examined more carefully (it's available at, its findings become far less definitive. Indeed, it is not clear that they provide solace to any of the politicians now debating Canada's Afghan mission.

First, let us be clear about what the survey did not find. It did not find that a majority of Afghans want foreign troops to stay and fight. It did find that a majority of those polled approved of the "presence of foreign countries" in Afghanistan.

But that term "presence" included everything foreigners are doing in the country, from aid to business to soldiering.

In Kandahar, for instance, India was rated more highly than Canada. But, as the survey notes, India's main contribution there is not troops but goods and entrepreneurs.

On the question of foreign troops, the poll concluded that Afghans are split down the middle – with 52 per cent calling for a full withdrawal within five years versus 43 per cent who want NATO to stay until the Taliban are crushed.

In short, the vast majority of Afghans don't want us to keep fighting in their country until, as Harper puts it, the job is done. Yet neither, it seems, do they favour those, like the New Democrats, who would pull out Canadian troops immediately, or even those, like the Liberals, who would have us end our combat role by 2009.

Elsewhere, the poll results are equally murky. On the one hand, the survey shows that close to three quarters of Afghans do not like the Taliban – thereby strengthening Harper's pro-war argument.

Yet at the same time, 74 per cent say they want their government to negotiate with the Taliban, which is the NDP position.

And more than half say they want to be ruled by a coalition government that includes the Taliban.

Assuming that it is possible to carry out a scientific poll in a country wracked by civil war, what then does this survey tell us?

One, it demonstrates that Afghans do not want to be abandoned by the world again. Hence the overwhelming desire for a continued "foreign presence." Two, while they do not like the Taliban, neither do they demonize them – which is why most would prefer a negotiated end to civil war over continued violence.

Three, they are deeply ambivalent about the presence of foreign troops. They don't want to throw them out. But, at the same time, they are not sure they want them to remain indefinitely. There is a limit to their patience and hospitality.

Finally, the survey provides a rather humbling insight into how Afghans view Canada's military role. The short answer is that they don't. Even in Kandahar, just 2 per cent of those polled knew that Canada was fighting the Taliban. Germany got a bigger mention and it has no troops there.

When Afghans were asked specifically about Canada, most were delightfully complimentary. But first they had to be reminded we were there. One hopes they weren't just being polite.

Thomas Walkom's column appears Thursday and Sunday