Friday, November 27, 2009

How your taxes pay to despoil the environment

One of the many depressing things about overfishing is the extent to which taxpayers fund it through subsidies to the industry.

Rashid Sumaila at the University of British Columbia and colleagues have recently completed a study of how this works for deep-sea fish.

Deep-sea fish are long lived and slow growing, and as a consequence most of them are horribly over-exploited. The team studied the subsidies paid to bottom trawl fleets on the high seas--in other words, those outside of the exclusive waters owned by nations. Fisheries subsidies to these fleets are about $152m per year, about 25% of the total landed value of the fish.

Economic data for bottom trawlers suggest that the profit is usually no more than 10% of the landed value. Without these subsidies, says economist Dr Sumaila, most of the world's bottom trawl fleet would be operating at a loss and unable to fish. Simply cutting this funding would have a major effect on reducing the current threat to deep-sea and high-seas fish stocks.

Think such misspending of your money is bad? It is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of dollars spent annually that encourage the use of fossil fuels. Cutting fossil fuel subsidies, say studies by the International Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Development, would result in a carbon saving of 10% by 2020.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The buzz from Buzz

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recifed wisdom

So after ten days in Recife, Brazil, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has failed to make significant cuts to the tuna quota.

Certainly, the quota is a great deal lower than last year. But given that some in the industry itself had been arguing for either zero quotas or in four digits, and given the monumental scale of the illegal fish being landed, this is hardly a victory for the adherence to scientific advice. With the bluefin population in a state of collapse, some demonstration of serious concern about the recovery of the species was what was needed.

Instead, we see in ICCAT the usual serious concern about the state of the industry, and what levels of quota will support fishermen. As if biology is a matter for negotiation.

As the industry continues to shrink, year after year after year, we are all paying the price for the loss of this source of wealth from our oceans.

The world now looks towards the CITES meeting in Doha in March next year, when nations will discuss whether to ban the trade in bluefin because its population is in so much trouble.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Earth journalism

Congratulations are surely due to Gerard Wynn and Sunandra Creagh at Reuters for their triumph at the Earth Journalism Awards. At the start of the week, the awards described how Reuters had single-handedly "exposed sharp practice at the office of climate change in Papua New Guinea" and how the head of the office of climate change was "suspended within weeks of the story being published", and how questions have even been asked in Parliament.

The overview of this piece is now in at least its fourth version, having been altered to avoid one libel, and (I suspect) one repetition of a claim that is almost certainly known not to be true. What is more important to someone who has been reporting on this story since the beginning, and for the last six months, is that the most recent changes on the awards site now offer a small acknowledgment of my work in The Economist.

Thank you to everyone who supported this.

At this point, I think it is also important to recognise, Ilya Gridneff of AAP Port Moresby who has also written up a storm on this subject over this year. Ilya has recently won an award from the Asia Pacific Forum of Environmental Journalists for excellence in science journalism for all his work.

As for the Earth Journalism Awards, you can vote for your choice of overall winner of these awards here and/or leave comments on the entries. The current overview of the winner of the forest award follows:

Forest Carbon Market Already Shows Cracks
Wynn, Gerard & Creagh, Sunanda (2009-06-04)

This article exposed sharp practice at the office of climate change in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the use of funds to protect rainforests. UN climate talks and a prospective U.S. climate bill have laid the foundations for a scheme whereby rich countries pay tropical countries to protect their rainforests and in return earn carbon offsets to help them meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets. But development and environment groups have warned that multi-million carbon deals already taking place in advance of such a deal threaten to stoke corruption and land grabs.Reuters in May ran an exclusive report using leaked 2008 papers which showed that the director of the office of climate change had endorsed a $10 million donation to the office from Australia-based carbon brokers. In return, that deal would have given the brokers exclusive rights to sell the carbon stored in vast swathes of the country's forests even though these are owned by the thousands of people that live in them. Reuters obtained a face-to-face interview in Bali with the director of the office of climate change who confirmed the authenticity of the papers. The report raised concerns of questionable practice in emerging forest carbon markets in Papua New Guinea. Shortly afterwards further news of misdeeds at the Office of Climate Change emerged in The Economist. Both these stories resulted in the Head of this office being suspended. The Reuters story was published as negotiations progressed to include a rainforest carbon market in a global deal to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

No deal at Copenhagen

The ticking clock display at Barcelon is appropriate, as time has run out. The news from the floor here at Barcelona, and also appearing in media outlets, is that we will get no legal deal at Copenhagen. Yves Boer had said at the start of the week that it was possible, but four days on and it is apparently not so. This view is being echoed by UK's David Miliband, and others. The only option now is a political deal of some sort, we are told.

Conveniently, there have been negotiations over a political deal for some time, outside of the UN. Was it always going to be like this? Did we just have to wait long enough for the politicians to say that time had run out, so they could come and save the failed UN deal with a political fudge?

At the end of the day the negotiators here negotiate according to a political mandate. If a legally binding deal had been wanted by all the key countries then more progress would have been made.