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March 2010 printable subscriber newsletter


26th February, 2010

In this month's newsletter we print a special, two-part investigation in jatropha biofuels, look at the horrors of the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh, examine the possibility of a trade war as a result of climate change policy, and ask whether we are paying too high an environmental price for the convenience of the Pill. To download, login and scroll to the bottom of the page...

There’s a certain air of smugness that seems to accompany the UK in international environmental negotiations.

On the surface, much of it might appear legitimate: the country looks set to surpass its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol; it has one of the only domestic legal obligations in the world to hit a 2050 carbon reduction target in the shape of the Climate Change Act; and it campaigns noisily for international action on tackling global warming.

In other areas, the UK has played a role in some progressive European legislation, on chemical usage (REACH), on carbon trading (the EU-ETS) and, recently, with a call by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn for an endangered listing for bluefin tuna. But, despite this (undeniably good) progress, there’s much that the fervent policy-making hides, or shifts out of view.

This month’s features help to shine a light on some of these inconsistences. Dan Box’s unravelling of the complex world of trade disputes highlights the extremely awkward situation that is fast emerging in the world of climate change policy – that countries (like the UK) that have been proactive on legal action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions now face the difficult choice of watching their energy-intensive industry disappear, or slapping taxes on imports from poorer nations.

Our two-part, special investigation into the investment, farming and production of jatropha biofuels highlights another such dilemma. EU policy requiring a fixed amount of biofuels to be blended into all forecourt fuels seemed like a great way to shave some carbon from the transport sector. Unfortunately, it has led to a fuel-crop dash in the less-industrialised world, and even when more sustainable crops such as jatropha – the grow-anywhere ‘wonderweed’ – are put forward, there’s still evidence to that they are being planted in the wrong places and contributing to food insecurity.

Andrew Hickman’s shocking investigation into Bangladesh’s ship-breaking industry underlines the impact that policies written at the desks of western bureaucrats can have in poorer parts of the world. Whilst rules on the condition in which ships may be sent for breaking are strict (and the costs of making them so high) in the industrialised world, UK companies are happy to exploit a loophole that allows them to send their ships, with still toxic payloads, to be torn apart on beaches in south-east Asia by men wearing only sunglasses and rags for protection from fumes and asbestos.

Finally, in an extract from their new book, Matt Lobley and Michael Winter point out that allowing our land-use policies to be governed exclusively by the need for ‘productivity’ – be that of fuel crops or food – will not necessarily give us the most valuable, or enjoyable, countryside.

The UK has much to be proud of, but no excuse to sweep problems under the global carpet.

Mark Anslow

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