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Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise returns from Russia

The Arctic Sunrise has docked in Amsterdam, almost a year after it was seized by Russia following a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace said it hoped to have the vessel back on the ocean within two months. The Arctic Sunrise received a warm welcome in the Netherlands on Saturday, greeted by dozens of well-wishers, many of whom waved Greenpeace's rainbow flag. The icebreaker had set sail from the Russian port city of Murmansk on August 1. Russia had released the ship in June but then it took around a month to get the vessel seaworthy; Greenpeace said equipment including navigation and communication aids "disappeared or had been severely damaged." "It's great to have her back," veteran Greenpeace captain Pete Willcox, the ship's skipper when it was seized by Russia after a protest at an oil rig last September, told news agency AFP by telephone. "We were missing a big member of our family for many months." A group of 30 Greenpeace activists and journalists, later dubbed the "Arctic 30," were arrested on September 18, 2013, after two of the protesters attempted to scale a Russian offshore oil platform. They were initially charged with piracy, then faced less severe hooliganism accusations. They were bailed after around two months in detention, before a Kremlin-approved amnesty secured the group's pardon in December. The same law led to the release of jailed members of the feminist "Pussy Riot" music group. Greenpeace is seeking to sue Russia at the European Court of Human Rights for what it describes as the illegal detention of its activists, including four Russian crew members. 'Na Zdarov'ye' More than half of the Arctic 30 boarded the ship after it arrived in Beverwijk port on Saturday, ready for the festive entry into nearby Amsterdam harbor. They drank a ceremonial cup of tea made in a traditional Russian teapot, a samovar, as part of their celebrations. After the welcoming ceremony, the Arctic Sunrise was taken to a shipyard for repairs. Skipper Willcox said he expected the ship to be "back out campaigning in about a month, maybe six weeks." Greenpeace opposes efforts to expand offshore oil and gas operations in the gradually-thawing waters around the Arctic, arguing that such operations pose a threat to the regions pristine ecology. International efforts to lay claim to what could become a key shipping lane and a resource-rich area of ocean are intensifying, meanwhile. Canada on Friday dispatched two icebreakers to the High Arctic on a data-gathering mission, part of its bid with the United Nations to vastly expand its Atlantic Ocean boundary. Canada faces competing bids from countries including Russia, Norway and Denmark.

The Arctic Sunrise has docked in Amsterdam, almost a year after it was seized by Russia following a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace said it hoped to have the vessel back on the ocean within two months. The Arctic Sunrise received a warm welcome in the Netherlands on Saturday, greeted by dozens of well-wishers, many of whom waved Greenpeace’s ... Read More »

African biodiversity under threat

Researchers meeting in Cameroon have warned that Africa could lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century because of global warming, population growth and unregulated development. It is mid-afternoon in Lom Pangar in Eastern Cameroon. People are busy working, digging holes and cleaning up. Some are cutting down trees in preparation for the construction of a new dam that could generate up to 30 megawatts of hydroelectric power. Nformi Johnson works for one of the contractors. "We are entering the forest to do a survey of the area before Chinese engineers come in and destroy the trees. They will build company offices and hospitals after destroying the trees." The World Bank is contributing $132 million (98 million euros) in funding for this project. African forests at risk A group of researchers from 20 African, American and European universities, who met recently in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde, said such hydroelectric dam projects, along with industrialization and the plantation of cash crops, have turned into a real threat to the environment. It is the vast natural expanses of forest that suffer. Sub-Saharan countries are losing forest faster than anyhwere else on earth, the researchers said. Trees are being cut down to build houses, to make ways for huge hydroelectric dams and to meet the demand for timber from China, Europe and the US. Thomas Smith from the Center for Tropical Research at the University of California told DW that the felling of trees reduces the density of wildlife, destroys its habitats, and causes temperatures to rise. "With a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, Africa may lose 30 percent of its animals and plants," said Smith. He also said that a rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in global temperatures could mean a loss of 40 percent of all mammal species in Africa by the end of the century. Disappearing species One species that researchers say is disappearing is the African chimpanzee. Mary Katherine Gonder from the Department of Biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia in the United States, told DW the primate's forest habitat was falling victim to the loggers. Chimpanzees continue to be hunted and sold as food. She predicted dire consequences over the next 20 years. "Their habitat will change fundamentally and they will no longer be around," Gonder said. South African researcher Teddie Eddie believes the process of replacing the disappearing species could take a very, very long time. "For certain species in Central Africa, their replacement time might be at least 25 million years." Such warnings about disappearing species comes as African countries are investing in energy and extractive industries in a bid to develop their economies and eradicate poverty. Green economies as an answer The United Nations 2013 Development Report says a majority of the population in Africa lives below the poverty threshold of $1 (74 euro cents) Smith said development and conservation in Africa need not be mutually exclusive. "With these enormous challenges we need to develop green economies. We need to make sure that the development we do is sustainable,” Smith said. He said his university is working with third parties to develop new strategies for the creation of green jobs which can preserve forests and at the same time produce commercially viable crops for food. "So we need to be thinking about how to preserve the natural processes and at the same time provide for the economic needs of the country," he said. The Congo Basin, which covers a large part of Cameroon, is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change. Tens of millions of people depend on the Congo forest for their livelihood.

Researchers meeting in Cameroon have warned that Africa could lose up to 30 percent of its animal and plant species by the end of the century because of global warming, population growth and unregulated development. It is mid-afternoon in Lom Pangar in Eastern Cameroon. People are busy working, digging holes and cleaning up. Some are cutting down trees in preparation ... Read More »

New hope for Antarctic Ocean?

A new report calls for protection measures in the Antarctic Weddell Sea, one of the world’s last, intact ecosystems. Cooperation between Germany and Russia could help achieve a better situation. Located to the south of the Atlantic Ocean, the Weddell Sea region is renowned for having one of the most intact ecosystems left on earth and for being a major engine of global ocean circulation. An alliance of leading environment groups called the (AOA) has launched a new report entitled "Antarctic Ocean Legacy: Towards Protection of the Weddell Sea Region." It’s part of the group’s recent proposal to designate marine protected areas (MPA) and marine reserves across 19 regions around Antarctica. The findings in the report aim to support ongoing scientific and policy work in the region. New Russian position? "Recognising the ecological importance of the Wedell Sea, Germany, in collaboration with Russia, is leading the process that will bring about the protection of this crucial area," said Steve Campbell, AOA Campaign Director at the launch of the report. "AOA supports this collaboration and welcomes Russia's commitment to implementing marine protected areas." The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for conducting inter-governmental negotiations on creating a network of marine protected areas (MPA) in the Antarctic. At the last major conference of the commission last year, Russia prevented the creation of two large MPAs. Now the country is working with Germany on a proposal to protect the Weddell Sea. Threat from fishing and climate change The ice-covered Weddell Sea, which covers an area of 2.8 million square kilometers (1.08 million square miles) and varies in depth from 500 to 5000 metres, is renowned for its huge diversity of marine life. "Large, fully protected marine reserves are essential to ensure that the incredible biodiversity of the Weddell Sea remains intact," said Andrea Kavanagh from the Pew Charitable Trusts organization. The report also draws attention to the vulnerability of the area to the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. It shows that there are major differences between the West Antarctic, around the Antarctic peninsula, and the East Antarctic. West Antarctica is one of the regions of the world that is warming fastest, resulting in a decline of sea ice. The eastern part has seen an increase in sea ice in recent years. "Protecting the Weddell Sea in a network of large-scale marine reserves will help krill populations and higher predators like whales, seals and Emperor penguins to continue thriving," said Bob Zuurj, manager of WWF's Antarctic and Southern Ocean Initative. He added that it will also help ensure that the region remains resilient in the face of ocean acidification, climate change and increased fishing interests. The long path to Antarctic Ocean protection In its report the AOA calls on Germany and Russia to come up with a strong proposal for marine protected areas in the Weddell Sea in 2015. In the meantime, it is calling on countries that are party to the CCAMLR to designate large-scale, permanent and ecologically-diverse MPAs in East Antarctica and the Ross Sea this year. "The commission's member countries have a duty to establish comprehensive protection for Antarctic waters but they have not been able to designate the Ross Sea and East Antarctic as reserves, despite years of meetings and discussions," said Andrea Kavanagh. "We welcome the cooperation between Germany and Russia on the Weddell Sea proposal," she said, adding that she hopes the commission will now make progress at its next meeting in October.

A new report calls for protection measures in the Antarctic Weddell Sea, one of the world’s last, intact ecosystems. Cooperation between Germany and Russia could help achieve a better situation. Located to the south of the Atlantic Ocean, the Weddell Sea region is renowned for having one of the most intact ecosystems left on earth and for being a major ... Read More »

Australia repeals contentious carbon tax

The Australian government has voted to repeal a carbon tax and abandon the world's third-largest emissions trading scheme. The decision to scrap the latter is a major setback for global CO2 trading. The Australian Senate voted on Thursday to repeal the country's contentious carbon tax and to scrap plans for what would have been one of the world's biggest emissions trading schemes (ETS). The decision leaves Australia, one of the world's worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita, with no established plan for meeting its carbon reduction goals. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who heads the conservative Liberal government, hailed the Senate's decision, saying it would benefit the economy and save individual households some 550 Australian dollars (380 euros, $515) per year. "Scrapping the carbon tax is a foundation of the government's economic action strategy," he said after the vote, describing the tax as "useless and destructive" and damaging to employment. Abbott plans to replace the tax with a taxpayer-financed fund to pay industry incentives to use cleaner energy. Vehement criticism The move to repeal the tax and abandon the ETS was criticized by opposition parties, who say the decision will tarnish Australia's international reputation. "Today, Tony Abbott has made Australia the first country in the world to reverse action on climate change," opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters. "History will judge Tony Abbott very harshly for refusing to believe in genuine action on climate change," he added. Greens leader Senator Christine Milne called it "an appalling day for Australia." Controversial tax The carbon tax, introduced under former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, charged around 350 of Australia's biggest companies 25.40 dollars for each tonne of CO2 they emitted. The implementation of the tax led to a rapid drop in Labor's popularity, with many consumers believing their rising power bills resulted largely from the levy, although it in fact accounted for a relatively small portion of the increase. Although Labor itself planned to drop it under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who replaced Gillard following an internal party vote, public discontent with the levy played a large role in Abbott's election victory last year. Australia has set itself a goal of cutting overall emissions by 5 percent compared with 2000 levels by 2020, but Thursday's decision makes it unclear how it can achieve it. The country also wants to ensure that 20 percent of its electricity comes from renewables by 2020, moving from its heavy reliance on the nation's vast coal reserves. The Australian emissions trading scheme had been set to come into force in 2015, and would have been the world's third largest after those in the European Union and China's Guangdong province.

The Australian government has voted to repeal a carbon tax and abandon the world’s third-largest emissions trading scheme. The decision to scrap the latter is a major setback for global CO2 trading. The Australian Senate voted on Thursday to repeal the country’s contentious carbon tax and to scrap plans for what would have been one of the world’s biggest emissions ... Read More »

Change afoot for Egypt’s Zabaleen garbage collectors

Cairo's traditional garbage collectures, the Zabaleen, are an important fixture, collecting and recycling waste. Over the years they faced persecution from the authorities and Egyptians alike. But that could be changing. Sitting in the middle of towering plastic bags stuffed full of garbage is a 14-year-old girl. Her brown hair hangs in tangles around her face as she peers intently into each bag, her thin fingers throwing aside apple cores and banana peels. She works quickly, sorting paper, toothpaste tubes, yoghurt pots and cans into separate bags, ready to be sold for recycling. This girl is one of the Zabaleen, people who work to collect garbage in Egypt's capital city, Cairo. Some go from door to door, while others sort the waste for recycling once it's brought back to their homes, here in the village of Mokattam. The girl's mother, 35-year-old Um Georg, stands close by. Her long skirt falls down to her ankles revealing a small section of skin before her feet. Clad in brown pumps, they are almost completely covered by plastic rubbish, which gives off a faintly chemical smell. "I don't go and collect the garbage myself, but I hire a car and people and they bring garbage to me," she said. "I segregate everything and make money out of selling stuff – cartons, this kind of rubber for gloves, plastic." Garbage is a big problem in Cairo. With more than 17 million people estimated to be living in the Greater Cairo area, the city produces around 14,000 tons of trash every day, much of which is left on the streets. Waste recycling Since moving to the city in the 1940s, the Zabaleen have informally collected rubbish from its residents. They now gather about two-thirds of Cairo's waste, recycling around 85%. Despite the vital service they provide, the Zabaleen suffered persecution from the Egyptian authorities for decades. Under former President Hosni Mubarak, around 300,000 pigs were slaughtered. The government at the time said it was to prevent the spread of swine flu, although many experts said it was unnecessary. It hit the Zabaleen hard - pigs were an important part of their recycling system, eating the organic waste and also providing pork. While Egypt's Muslim majority saw pigs as dirty animals, the Zabaleen, a minority Coptic Christian community, did not. But with the ousting of Mubarak and Egypt's ongoing political upheaval, organizations supporting the Zabaleen have been trying to push through changes. The interim government put in place before the election of new President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signaled a turnaround. Speaking in her office before she was replaced on June 17, the country's former environment minister Laila Iskandar said the authorities were moving to formalize the way the Zabaleen collect rubbish. Pilot program A pilot program was set up, to show how working with the Zabaleen would work where other methods of trash collection, such as using international hauling companies, has failed. It is thought the new environment minister Khaled Mohamed Fahmy Abdel Aal will continue with the reforms. "The governor of Giza was the first governor to accept this pilot because the international company that had been contracted in three of the largest neighborhoods had withdrawn, so he had a gap and was willing to test something new," said Iskandar. Iskandar has been working with the Spirit of Youth Association, an organization founded by Zabaleen from Mokattam, to encourage the garbage collectors to set up small and medium sized enterprises, so they can gain contracts with local authorities. Currently, the Zabaleen earn about 4 Egyptian pounds per day – the equivalent of 41 euro cents ($0.56) – to take garbage from apartments. Under the new scheme they would earn much more, with the local authorities paying them 12 pounds – around 1.20 euros - per apartment per month, said Iskandar. "It's a sizeable shift," she said. "But it'll allow them to upgrade their trucks, to clean their appearance and gain some dignity to lead better lives and educate their kids" Encouraging young people The Zabaleen are getting on board, establishing more than 750 garbage companies in Mokattam alone, according to Ezzat Naem Guidy, the Spirit of Youth director. But it's not only the Zabaleen who would benefit from the formalization. He says the changes would also encourage young people who are not part of the Coptic Christian community to get involved. "A lot of Egyptians are unemployed and started to register for garbage and recycling," he said. “They found our business of garbage is not stigmatized and is being acknowledged by the government." Despite the potential for competition from outside the traditional Zabaleen community, Guidy says it wouldn't cause conflict – there's plenty of trash to go around. "Greater Cairo is producing 14,000 tons of garbage every day, the capacity of the Zabaleen is to collect 9,000, so there are 5,000 tons without coverage," he added. "The multinationals are not capable of collecting all of them, so they leave about 3,000 tons a day without collection." After generations of persecution, it is believed the hoped for changes to Cairo's garbage system could help the Zabaleen children. According to the Spirit of Youth, almost half of the Zabaleen are estimated to suffer from Hepatitis C. Meanwhile, only around half of boys are literate and even fewer girls. But most will, after all, take over from their parents in the family business. Learning through shampoo bottles In Mokattam, teachers at a school in heart of the Zabaleen neighborhood. As well as learning to read and write, in their mathematics classes the youngsters learn how to sort and count empty shampoo bottles for recycling. The school encourages the children to attend by paying them to bring in the bottles. It teaches them how to work in the local industry, while also enabling them to bring money home to their families, says IT teacher Mary Moufeed. "We are using a special way here, an unusual way to teach the children," she said. "They bring the shampoo bottles by the kilo and give it to us. The families are dependent on their children to bring more money, so we try to teach them and help them from the money side because we dont want the children to feel like they are not doing anything here [in school] and think that working outside is better." It is children like these and their families that organizations like Spirit of Youth in conjunction with the government are hoping to help with the new scheme, says Guidy. Still, there are some who are skeptical. Back on the street amid piles of garbage bags, collector Abd el Mseih Fayez dodges trucks hooting their horns as they bring rubbish back to the neighborhood for sorting. As he watches his daughter sort through the bags he has brought with him from a day of work, he considers what will happen if and when the process is formalized. "They [the apartment dewllers] used to pay a specific amount of money for us every month directly, but they are now paying that on top of their electricity bill and then the government will take a quarter of the money we used to get from the people themselves. No, [I don't trust the government] not really. I have to work by myself to make a living for myself and my children." Hugging his seven-year-old son close to his side, Fayez said what he really wants is a better future for his three children. "My life was wasted and my father's life was wasted, and my grandfather's also, as garbage collectors without any revenue" he said. "I have to get my sons educated and send them to school. They can be whatever they want - a doctor or lawyer. Those children who want to stay in this profession, their parents are crazy to let them."

Cairo’s traditional garbage collectures, the Zabaleen, are an important fixture, collecting and recycling waste. Over the years they faced persecution from the authorities and Egyptians alike. But that could be changing. Sitting in the middle of towering plastic bags stuffed full of garbage is a 14-year-old girl. Her brown hair hangs in tangles around her face as she peers intently ... Read More »

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