Environmental fugitives get own most-wanted list

By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The government is starting a different kind of most-wanted list — for environmental fugitives accused of assaulting nature.

These fugitives allegedly smuggled chemicals that eat away the Earth’s protective ozone layer, dumped hazardous waste into oceans and rivers and trafficked in polluting cars.

And now the government wants help in tracking them down.

In its own version of the FBI most-wanted list, and the first to focus on environmental crimes, the Environmental Protection Agency is unveiling a roster of 23 fugitives, complete with mug shots and descriptions of the charges on its Web site at http://www.epa.gov/fugitives.

A top EPA enforcement official said the people on the list represent the “brazen universe of people that are evading the law.” Many face years in prison and some charges could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

“They are charged with environmental crimes and they should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court,” said Pete Rosenberg, a director in the agency’s criminal enforcement division.

On display will be John Karayannides, who allegedly helped orchestrate the dumping of 487 tons of wheat tainted with diesel fuel into the South China Sea in 1998. Karayannides is believed to have fled to Athens, Greece.

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Science paves way for climate lawsuits

David Adam and Afua Hirsch | The Guardian

People affected by worsening storms, heatwaves and floods could soon be able to sue the oil and power companies they blame for global warming, a leading climate expert has said.

Myles Allen, a physicist at Oxford University, said a breakthrough that allows scientists to judge the role man-made climate change played in extreme weather events could see a rush to the courts over the next decade.

He said: “We are starting to get to the point that when an adverse weather event occurs we can quantify how much more likely it was made by human activity. And people adversely affected by climate change today are in a position to document and quantify their losses. This is going to be hugely important.”

Allen’s team has used the new technique to work out whether global warming worsened the UK floods in autumn 2000, which inundated 10,000 properties, disrupted power supplies and led to train services being cancelled, motorways closed and 11,000 people evacuated from their homes – at a total cost of £1bn.

He would not comment on the results before publication, but said people affected by floods could “potentially” use a positive finding to begin legal action.

The technique involves running two computer models to simulate the conditions that led to extreme weather events. One model includes human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the second assumes the industrial revolution never happened and that carbon levels in the atmosphere have not increased over the last century. Comparing the results pins down the impact of man-made global warming. “As the science has evolved this is now possible, it’s just a question of computing power,” he said.

Allen and his colleagues previously demonstrated that man-made warming at least doubled the risk of heatwaves such as the 2003 event that killed 27,000 people across Europe. No legal action resulted, but Allen said that was partly because most of the deaths were in France, where the legal system makes such cases difficult.

“We can work out whether climate change has loaded the dice and made extreme weather more likely. And once the risk is doubled, then lawyers get interested,” he said.

Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice programme, said the most likely route for seeking damages would be tort cases, which deal with civil wrongs. Several have been attempted by US states against power and car companies only to be rejected by the courts.

Roderick said developing countries such as Nepal could also sue for compensation over damage caused by global warming. “As the issue of damages gets worse and worse, the chances of this happening will get greater and greater,” he said. “I hope it happens.”

Lawyers say it is only a matter of time before class actions are brought. However, Stephen Tromans, an environmental law barrister, said establishing causation would be one of the main difficulties. “It is one thing to be able to link levels of greenhouse gases with a specific event causing damage but, even assuming you can do that, quite another to establish causation against a particular company or industrial sector.”

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Under the Weather: Internal Report Says U.N. Climate Agency Rife With Bad Practices

By George Russell | Fox News

As more than 10,000 delegates and observers gather in Poznan, Poland, to discuss the next phase in the battle against “climate change,” a U.N. agency at the center of that hoopla badly needs to do some in-house weather-proofing.

The Poznan conference, seen as a major step toward a negotiated successor to the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse gases, is taking place until Dec. 12 under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a subsidiary of the World Meteorological Organization, a global association of scientific weather forecasters.

But the WMO, the $80 million U.N. front-line agency in the climate change struggle, and the source for much of the world’s information in the global atmosphere and water supply, has serious management problems of its own, despite its rapidly expanding global ambitions.

The international agency has been sharply criticized by a U.N. inspection unit in a confidential report obtained by FOX News, for, among other things, haphazard budget practices, deeply flawed organizational procedures, and no effective oversight by the 188 nations that formally make up its membership and dole out its funds.

The inspection was carried out by a member of the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), a small, independent branch of the U.N. that reports to the General Assembly and is mandated to improve the organization’s efficiency and coordination through its inspection process.

The investigations took place in late 2006 and extended through at least May 2007, and subsequently were presented to the WMO’s ruling bodies and its secretary general, Michel Jarraud, in December 2007. It was forwarded to the U.N. General Assembly only in November 2008.

The confidential document was a follow-up to an earlier examination in 2004, which also led to suggestions for greater internal controls of the WMO. (That inspection followed the discovery in 2003 of a multi-million-dollar embezzlement of WMO funds by an employee who subsequently disappeared.)

According to the more recent report, the WMO still has a lot of changing to do — starting with the agency’s far-flung regional offices, which the WMO touts as key units in the climate change struggle, especially in helping the world’s poorest people. But in the report, the regional offices are described as being of “questionable” value, and the organization’s plans to bolster its scientific programs in poor countries are said to be based on “ad hoc demands” rather than carefully examined needs.

Moreover, the report says, “there is no systematic, regular reporting by the offices in the regions to headquarters regarding their activities, achievements, performance or lessons learned.” The JIU inspector declared it “imperative” that the WMO get better reporting from its local offices.

Similar quality-control problems apparently infect the WMO’s Geneva head office, where, the report dryly notes, “a results-oriented culture is lacking among staff.” Among other things, the report notes that WMO “suffers from the lack of a set of internal procedures, guidelines and instructions regarding work processes, departmental responsibilities and workflow” — administrative lapses that were “particularly the case in the budget preparation process.”

Click here to see the Joint Inspection Unit report.

In a survey done by the JIU inspector, more than 58 percent of the WMO’s staff found the level of coordination and cooperation in their organization “inadequate.” (And elsewhere, the report notes, “it is a cause for concern that 30% of staff had seen conduct in recent months that they thought violated the WMO Code of Ethics.”)

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Conservation group sues for walrus protection from climate change

 

AP | By DAN JOLING

ANCHORAGE, Alaska  — A conservation group is going to court to force the federal government to consider adding the Pacific walrus to the list of threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday for failing to act on a petition seeking protection for walruses under the Endangered Species Act.

Walruses are threatened by global warming that melts Arctic sea ice, according to the group, one of the parties that successfully petitioned to list polar bears as threatened. The group also has filed petitions to protect Arctic seals.

The walrus petition was filed in February. The Fish and Wildlife Service was required by law to decide by May 8 whether the petition had merit, which would trigger a more thorough review and a preliminary decision after 12 months. The agency missed the deadline.

Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the delay would harm walruses.

“Every day that goes by without protecting the walrus, we’re emitting more greenhouse gases, accelerating the ice melt,” Noblin said.

“In addition to the climate change, the other main threat is oil and gas development that continues to go forward without any consultation regarding walrus,” she said.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said Wednesday the agency anticipates making a decision on the petition soon but has limited resources. Decisions on endangered species listings are driven by litigation, he said, forcing the agency to rank actions by court order rather than species need.

Global warming is blamed for Arctic sea ice shrinking to record low levels.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center said summer sea ice in 2008 reached the second lowest level, 1.74 million square miles, since satellite monitoring began in 1979. The loss was exceeded only by the 1.65 million square miles in 2007.

Like polar bears, listed as a threatened species in May, walruses depend on sea ice to breed and forage.

Walruses dive from ice over the shallow outer continental shelf in search of clams and other benthic creatures. Females and their young traditionally use ice as a moving diving platform, riding it north as it recedes in spring and summer, first in the northern Bering Sea, then into the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, shared with the Russian Far East, for the last two years receded well beyond the outer continental shelf over water too deep for walruses to dive to reach clams. In the fall of 2007, herds congregated on Alaska and Siberia shores until ice re-formed.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, warming sea temperatures and sea ice loss may also be reducing walrus prey at the bottom of the ocean.

The group hopes a listing could slow plans for offshore petroleum development. Oil companies in February bid on 2.7 million acres in the Chukchi Sea. Other lease sales are planned.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with its Russian counterparts, has nearly completed a comprehensive population count of walruses. The numbers are anticipated in the coming weeks, possibly by the end of the year, Woods said.

World Bank: New UN Pact May Be Needed for Climate Victims-WWF

The World Bank

“The world may need a new U.N. pact to compensate victims of climate change or risk a tangle of billion-dollar lawsuits linked to heatwaves, droughts and rising seas, a study said on Wednesday.

 

The report, commissioned by the WWF UK environmental group, said the world already had compensation deals for accidents from nuclear power, oil spills, or even objects launched into space. But there were no U.N. schemes for damage from climate change…

 

Among options were an international compensation fund set up by some future U.N. treaty to compensate victims, according to the report, released on the sidelines of Dec. 1-12 U.N. talks in Poland on fighting climate change.” [Reuters News]

 

In related news:  “A group of 43 small island states called on Wednesday for tougher goals for fighting global warming than those being considered at U.N. climate talks, saying that rising seas could wipe them off the map….

 

The 43 nations, including low-lying coral atolls from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, said global warming should be limited to a maximum of 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, below a 2.0 C goal by the European Union.” [Reuters]

 

AP adds:  “Climate change could become the main driver of refugee movements, uprooting millions each year, a U.N. official said Wednesday as the United Nations and Red Cross urged a stronger global effort to help people face the fallout from global warming.

 

Worse storms, more flooding and decreasing rainfall, which are likely to hit the world’s poorest people hardest, are among the expected consequences as climate change takes hold….

 

[Jose] Riera, [a senior policy adviser with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] said conservative estimates predict about 250 million people being forced to move by climate change by 2050.”  [The Associated Press]

 

“Half of humanity could face water shortages by 2050 if the world lets the financial crisis distract it from fighting global warming, a key UN climate change summit of more than 185 countries has been told…

 

[Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri] cited projections that the number of people living in river valleys and facing water stress could quadruple from more than 1.1 billion in 1995 to more than 4.3 billion by 2050, that a third of species could face extinction, that the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets could melt, triggering massive sea-level rises.” [The Age]

Washington: Task force suggests ways state can curb climate change

SEATTLE — A task force created by Gov. Christine Gregoire has released final recommendations on how to curb climate change in Washington state.

The final report of the Climate Action Team calls for more energy-efficient buildings, compact urban development, better collection of recycled materials, tolls to reduce driving and revision of development rules to account for greenhouse-gas emissions.

The team has been working since last year to find ways to help the state reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and even more by 2050.

The report released this week outlines two dozen recommendations, but doesn’t say how state agencies plan to carry them out. The plan with specifics is expected in two weeks.

Because the state faces a $5.1 billion budget shortfall, state agencies were given more time to figure out how to carry out the strategies, state Ecology Department spokesman David Workman said Wednesday.

Increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are most responsible for triggering global climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

To reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, the advisory team looked at four areas, including energy-efficient buildings, transportation, waste and environmental-review rules.

To encourage more energy-efficient buildings, the report recommends giving public-utility tax credits to commercial buildings that meet specific levels of energy efficiency and requiring public buildings to post how much energy they use.

Climate change should be considered when state and local governments do environmental reviews on projects, the report said.

And the state should find new revenue sources to encourage more transit choices, and consider more tolls as one way to get motorists to change their driving habits.

The team included lawmakers, government officials and business people.

Energy Department, change is coming

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com

NEW YORK — President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for energy secretary will likely lead the department through a new era with a sharp focus on renewable energy, but who’ll lead a revamped agency is far from clear.

Despite what some may think, the current Department of Energy isn’t really about wind or solar power. It’s not even about coal, oil or gas. Mainly, the agency is about nuclear – nuclear weapons to be exact.

The new agency is likely to focus on a big push into renewable R&D greater conservation efforts and some role in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently about $15 billion out of the department’s $24 billion dollar budget is spent maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, cleaning up sites used to produce those weapons, or dealing with non-proliferation issues.

Spending on energy programs and research – including nuclear, fossil fuels, renewables, and conservation – totals about $4 billion. Research into renewables alone totals just over $650 million.

“There’s a misconception that the prime responsibility of the energy secretary is energy,” said Melanie Kenderdine, an associate director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative and a former department head at DOE. “It’s really nuclear weapons, cleanup, and proliferation.”

The agency will likely retain it’s nuclear focus, although that branch has been gaining independence from the energy side since the Clinton Administration.

“Under Obama you’re likely to see an energy secretary focus more on energy rather than nuclear weapons,” said Paul Bledsoe, strategy director for National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan research group.

Who’s it going to be?

Who Obama might pick for the post remains a mystery – The Obama team would not comment. But some names discussed include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., former NATO commander Wesley Clark, Google’s renewable energy guru Dan Reicher, MIT’s Ernest Moniz, even the Republican governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bledsoe thinks it’s likely to be a governor.

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