A special session of the parties
to the Montreal
Protocol will be held in Canada on Mar. 24 and
25 to finalize negotiations on the exceptions to the
use of methyl bromide requested by the United States.
Used as an agricultural pesticide, methyl bromide
is an ozone-depleting gas.
In November 2003, the George
W. Bush administration sought exceptions
to uses of methyl bromide in order to allow U.S. farmers
to continue using the chemical on a variety of vegetable
crops, particularly tomatoes.
But during the 15th conference
of parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances
That Deplete the Ozone Layer, held in Nairobi last
November, negotiators refused the U.S. request and
resolved to leave the matter to a decision by a special
session to take place in Montreal.
The text of the Montreal Protocol,
ratified by 183 countries, establishes a total ban
on methyl bromide and on CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)
and other substances that deplete the Earth's atmospheric
ozone layer, which is responsible for filtering the
Sun's ultraviolet rays, thus protecting all forms
of life on the planet.
The treaty states that the industrialized
countries must eliminate all use of methyl bromide
by 2005. The gas is commonly used to fumigate crops,
shipments and warehouses, and is blamed for causing
harm to the environment and to human health.
pesticide that is easily applied, methyl bromide
is slow to degrade and thus accumulates in crops,
becoming dangerous to humans. According to the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO
the human tolerance level in food is 0.3 mg of bromide
per kilo of body weight.
In high concentrations, experts
say methyl bromide can cause irreversible damage to
lungs and the central nervous system, and can cause
birth defects. The substance is linked to an increase
in prostate cancer among farm workers, according to
by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health
FAO drafted a global
report on alternatives to methyl bromide for agricultural
use, based on studies by other technical agencies
of the United Nations.
Environmental Protection Agency maintains that
there is no one alternative to replace methyl bromide,
but rather several tools that used together can be
effective, although only in the longer term.
Ten years ago, the United States
began a gradual reduction of methyl bromide use, but
annual consumption is still 21 tons.
An additional 10,000 tons would
be manufactured in the United States if the exceptions
to the Montreal Protocol are approved. That would
increase U.S. utilization of the substance by 39 percent
with respect to 1991.
Environmentalists and activists
condemn the Bush administration's request to allow
the ozone-depleting gas to continue to be used. But
there is pressure from farmers, particularly from
tomato growers in the southern state of Florida.
U.S. Environmental Protection
on methyl bromide
U.S. Department of Agriculture
bromide exceptions requested by the United States
by U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health
report on methyl bromide alternatives
Methyl Bromide on Its Way Out in Brazil and Cuba
U.S. Wants to Expand Use of Methyl Bromide
Barcelona Forum 2004
More than five million people
are expected to take part in the Barcelona
Forum 2004 beginning May 9, a global encounter
for debate on three major issues of the 21st century:
cultural diversity, sustainable development and peace.
The event will last nearly five
months, taking place in various spaces around Barcelona,
a Spanish city known for its cosmopolitan spirit,
its architecture and its cultural wealth.
Venues along the Mediterranean
coast will host the Barcelona Forum 2004, which with
an investment of some 400 million dollars is expected
to draw citizens from around the world to discuss
ways to reinforce their rights and cultural values
as a means to improve the quality of life in the new
Opinion leaders like Mikhail
Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, Carlos Fuentes and José Saramago are
invited to be part of the 141-day event -- from May
9 to Sep. 26 in this Catalonian city that hosted the
1992 Olympic Games.
Among the hundreds of associations,
foundations and non-governmental organizations to
participate are Amnesty
The Children and Green
Cross International, as well as United Nations
agencies, like UNESCO.
The Barcelona municipal government,
the province of Catalonia and the General Administration
of the State are drafting a Statement
of Principles and Values that is to serve as a
code of ethics to govern the activities of the forum.
The Agenda is based on the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the principles
of the United Nations, "the only values that
have global acceptance," say the organizers.
"One of the wonders of our
threatened planet lies in the variety of its experiences,
of its memories and of its desires. Any attempt to
impose a uniform policy on this diversity is a prelude
to death," Mexican author Carlos
Fuentes has said about cultural diversity, one
of the forum's three pillars.
The environment is another pillar,
and includes protecting biodiversity through conservation
and rational use of natural resources, but also building
a socially responsible global community that is committed
to equitable and technologically sustainable economic
For the third pillar, "conditions
for peace", the words of 1991 Nobel Peace laureate
San Suu Kyi serve as the motto: "Peace, development
and justice are all connected to each other. How can
we expect economic development in a battlefield?"
Rounding out the Barcelona Forum's
long agenda is an endless array of exhibits, concerts,
plays, and food fairs. Internationally famed musicians,
Dylan, will perform during the Forum.
Declaration of Human Rights
Green Cross International
Peace Laureates 1991
Animal Welfare, Human
More than 450 delegates from
70 countries took part in the Global
Conference on Animal Welfare, in Paris last week.
Inadequate conditions in managing farm animals could
be the cause of diseases like avian flu, which is
currently taking its toll on the poultry industry
in Asian countries.
Headed by the World
Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the conference
sought to take the first steps towards defining international
standards for appropriate livestock management, based
on scientific studies.
discussed in regards to animals raised in captivity
included: space and natural surroundings; management
and transportation; pain, fear and anxiety; injuries
and illness; and food, water and nutrition.
According to the organization
PETA (People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals), industrial scale
livestock operations use methods that are extremely
cruel to animals, but profits have made them widespread.
Cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits
and other animals are often kept in such small enclosures
that they cannot turn around, says PETA.
Deprivation of exercise, food
containing growth hormones and genetic modification
are some of the other practices reported to be common
on industrial farms.
Furthermore, says PETA, these
farms are major sources of contamination of soil and
water, and livestock use more than half of the water
consumed in the United States.
Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) says
the repeated outbreaks of animal-based diseases in
Asia could be related to the expansion of industrial
WSPA is conducting the campaign
Farmwatch to serve as an incentive for humane
and sustainable animal raising practices.
According to the U.N. Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as of early
February 2004, around 45 million birds had been killed
in Asian countries in an effort to halt the spread
of avian flu.
Thailand is especially hard hit
by this livestock disease, as its poultry exports
-- a billion dollars in 2003 -- represent around seven
percent of the global total.
Health Organization (WHO) says there have been
cases of avian flu in humans, but they are believed
to be the result of direct contact with infected birds
or with surfaces contaminated by poultry excrement.
According to the U.S.-based Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention the avian flu
virus is known as A(H5N1) and is also present in the
U.S. state of Texas. The symptoms in infected humans
are similar to the normal flue, but may also include
eye infections, pneumonia and other serious complications.
According to FAO, without appropriate
protection measures, infectious
diseases can easily be reintroduced into areas
that have been declared "disease-free",
such as brucelosis (cows, sheep and goats) or tuberculosis
can be passed from animals to humans.
The OIE conference underscored
the importance of supporting developing countries
in establishing animal welfare standards and respecting
local realities. The OIE Internet site provides links
to other organizations specializing in animal -- and
human -- welfare.
Conference on Animal Welfare
Organization for Animal Health
People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals
Society for the Protection of Animals
Food and Agriculture Organization - on Avian Flu
World Health Organization
for Disease Control and Prevention
Viable but costly, solar energy is just beginning
to find its way a half-century after it was proposed
as an alternative. For developing countries, the use
of this energy source could facilitate sustainable
Fifty years ago, in 1954, Bell
Laboratories presented the first solar cell capable
of converting the Sun's rays into electricity, using
a silicon semiconductor.
energy is abundant but its distribution is very
scattered, which means it must be concentrated to
make it useable. In that sense, it is more costly
to produce than other sources of energy, including
According to the World Book Online Reference Center,
there are two main ways to turn light into electrical
energy: directly, through a photovoltaic conversion,
or indirectly, through thermal conversion, which first
turns light into heat, and then into electricity.
Considered an environmentally friendly energy source,
the Sun's rays are used for various purposes, in the
home, in farming and even in outer space.
Already, solar energy is used in homes to heat water
and in heaters in general, as well as in small devices
like watches or calculators. In farming, it is used
in greenhouses, dryers and water purification or desalinization
The major market for photovoltaic modules has been
in the space industry. In 1962, Telstar,
the first communications satellite to transmit television
signals across the Atlantic, used 3,600 solar cells
as its energy source.
The limited demand in the space industry is seen as
one of the reasons why solar technology has remained
costly over several decades.
The world's main solar
energy markets are Japan, which has 40 percent
of all solar cells installed, followed by Germany,
with 20 percent, and the United States, with 12 percent.
Efforts to reduce costs of solar energy systems include
selling surplus energy to electrical companies. Once
the costs of investment are covered, the energy produced
is practically free.
From the environmental perspective, an increased used
in solar energy would mean reduced dependence on fossil
fuels, which cause serious problems like global warming.
According to the United Nations Development Program
to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing
by half the number of people living on less than a
dollar a day by 2015, access to affordable energy
services is essential. Some two billion people, mostly
in rural areas, do not have access to electricity.
Through its Energy
Sector Management Assistance Program, the UNDP
has set up partnerships with organizations like the
World Bank to establish options and financing for
sustainable energy policies.
Other institutions working with the UNDP are the World
Energy Council, E-7
Network of Utilities and the World
Business Council for Sustainable Development.
In preparation for the World
Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the
UNDP put together three initiatives to ensure poor
populations' access to modern energy services: Global
Network on Sustainable Energy, Global Village Energy
Partnership and LPG Challenge.
by the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development
presents the results of a pilot solar energy project
in San Francisco, Honduras, which has been transformed
into a village with Internet, distance education,
tele-medicines and videoconferencing -- an example
of how sustainable rural electrification and telecommunications
can lead to economic and social development.
Energy, World Book Online Reference Center
- Energy for Sustainable Development
COP7 of the Convention
on Biological Diversity
More than 2,000 experts in biodiversity
and sustainable development are participating in the
Conference of Parties (COP7) to the Convention
on Biological Diversity, in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 9-20.
The central theme of the two-week debate is how to
reduce biodiversity loss at all levels.
on Biological Diversity was adopted during the
global meeting that was dubbed the Earth
Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in
Ratified by 188 countries, the
Convention aims for sustainable development through
three key objectives: conservation of biodiversity,
sustainable use of its components, and the fair and
equitable distribution of the benefits arising from
the use of genetic resources.
At the COP7, government ministers,
scientists and representatives of non-governmental
and community organizations are gathered to discuss
considered priority, such as mountain systems, the
role of protected areas in preserving biological diversity,
and transfer of technology and technological cooperation.
The delegates also seek to implement
established at the COP6 that took place in 2002, for
significantly reducing the loss of biodiversity by
2010 as a means to alleviate poverty and improve lives
around the world.
That goal was ratified by the
Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg
Global biodiversity indicators are to be used to evaluate
progress in meeting the targets, and include: extension
of natural habitats, abundance and distribution of
species, change in the status of endangered species,
genetic diversity of socioeconomically important species,
and coverage of protected areas.
Indigenous leaders have issued
an appeal to ensure that their communities are consulted
in the creation of protected areas. Debra Harry, of
the non-governmental Indigenous
Peoples Council on Biocolonialism says the rights
of native peoples over their lands and biological
resources must be recognized before going on to other
aspects, such as technology transfer and equitable
distribution of biodiversity benefits.
The members of the Andean Community
signed the Cuzco
Declaration in Peru in 2002 on access to genetic
resources, traditional knowledge and intellectual
property rights in "megadiverse" countries.
Debate also includes the need
to promote socially responsible investment by the
private sector. A.H. Zakri, director of the Institute
of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University,
says there are signs that companies are finally joining
the debate on biodiversity management, in areas such
as carbon credits, labeling genetically modified products
and a role for the private sector in international
Extensive information on many
topics covered by the Convention on Biological Diversity
can be found on its web
Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological
on Biological Diversity
Summit on Sustainable Development
Targets for Conservation of Biodiversity
of indigenous people and communities must be protected
Council on Biocolonialism
of Advanced Studies, United Nations University
Weapons of Mass Destruction
on Feb. 2 of the toxin ricin in the mailroom at the
offices of the U.S. Senate majority leader has reawakened
fears about the scope of bioterrorism.
The deadly poison ricin caused
commotion when it was found in the offices of Senator
Bill Frist. Some 40 employees were put through sterilization
processes to make sure they weren't contaminated.
None reported any symptoms from the poison.
Alarm increased when it was revealed
that documents contaminated with the same chemical
had been sent to the White House in late 2003.
Sudden fever, cough and excess
fluid in the lungs are some of the symptoms
associated with ricin poisoning. There is no known
antidote. These symptoms may be followed by severe
respiratory problems -- and potentially death.
Speculation about new attacks
by terrorist groups have returned 28 months after
letters laced with a white powder identified as anthrax
claimed five lives and damaged the health of 17 people
in the United States.
Some consider chemical
and biological weapons among the greatest threats
to humanity in the new century.
Internationally, these sorts
of weapons are controlled by the Convention
on Biological and Toxic Weapons that entered into
force in 1975, and other multilateral agreements.
2002 it was believed that Iraq, Iran, North Korea,
Libya and Syria possessed what are known as weapons
of mass destruction (WMD), and the United States is
thought to be the world's leading holder of such weapons.
The United States led the invasion
of Iraq in March 2003, accusing the Arab country of
possessing WMDs and thus posing a threat to the U.S.
and the world.
However, on Feb.
5 the director of the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the first time acknowledged
that intelligence data may have overestimated the
potential arsenals of illicit weapons in Iraq.
A study on bioterrorism
in the 21st century says that in may 2002 the
U.S. deputy secretary of state, John R. Bolton, reiterated
accusations that Cuba could be using its biotechnology
for other purposes, such as applying it to WMD programs.
As a result of the visit
by former U.S. president , Jimmy Carter, to Cuba
that same month, it was determined that there was
no evidence of biological weapons production on the
island and that Cuba's efforts to support the scientific
development of other countries must be recognized.
Biological agents developed for
war are being put to other uses. As part of Plan Colombia,
a U.S.-backed campaign against drug trafficking in
the South American country, it was proposed to use
the U.S.-developed fungal agent fusarium oxysporum
to eradicate illegal fields of coca bush, used in
That proposal came under fire,
especially from environmental groups. The non-government
Colombian organization Mama
Coca charged that the fungus is a living organism
that could migrate and reproduce, growing out of control
and threatening fragile ecosystems, including the
Amazon, where illegal drug crops are planted.
The Internet has numerous sites
with information on WMDs -- biological and chemical
weapons -- and about efforts to stop their proliferation.
- Poison Ricin Found in Sen. Frist's Office
for Disease Control: ricin
and chemical weapons
on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxic Weapons
of the world's biological weapons
admits gaps in CIA intelligence on arms in Iraq
in the 21st century
Coca - in Spanish
- Carter visit to Cuba
Hispana.com (Spanish and English)
Fight Against Slavery
2004 is the International
Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and
its Abolition. A half-century since its international
prohibition, new forms of slavery persist around the
(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization) on Jan. 10 launched a series of events
having to do with the international year against slavery,
as a reminder of one of the darkest -- and ongoing
-- chapters in the history of humankind.
The year 2004 also marks the
bicentennial of one of the first nations of black
a symbol of slave resistance.
The existence of modern forms
of slavery was resoundingly condemned by the international
community gathered at the World
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in 2001. As a
follow-up, delegates are debating the effective application
of the conference's Program of Action, in a meeting
Jan. 26 to Feb. 6.
Article 4 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 establishes
that: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude;
slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in
all their forms."
According to a factsheet from
High Commissioner for Human Rights:
"The word 'slavery' today
covers a variety of human rights violations. In addition
to traditional slavery and the slave trade, these
abuses include the sale of children, child prostitution,
child pornography, the exploitation of child labor,
the sexual mutilation of female children, the use
of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage, the
traffic in persons and in the sale of human organs,
the exploitation of prostitution, and certain practices
under apartheid and colonial regimes."
According to the non-governmental
International, 20 million people were held in
bonded labor in 1999, forced to work as a means to
pay off a debt of some sort.
As for child labor, the anti-slavery
watchdog group estimates that 70 percent of boy workers
are in the agricultural sector, while most girl workers
are employed as domestics.
Among those who are trying to
deal with this problem are the group Working Children
in Latin America (NATS),
the African Movement of Children and Adolescent Workers,
Sangha, in South Asia.
According to the American Anti-Slavery
among the products of today's slave labor are sugar
from the Dominican Republic, chocolate from Cote d'Ivoire,
paperclips from China, carpets from Nepal and cigars
The Internet holds a wealth of
information on treaties and protocols related to eradicating
slavery. The UNESCO portal provides historical information
on slavery in Latin
America and the Caribbean as well as in Africa.
Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and
Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Declaration of Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Meeting of Working Children's Movements
Anti-Slavery Group (AASG)
World Economic Forum
criticisms from civil society groups, more than a
thousand executives from the world's biggest corporations,
national leaders and economists gathered in Davos,
Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World
Economic Forum, a defender of the current globalization
process. Just days early, in Mumbai, India, some 100,000
people gathered to assert that "another world
and security were the central issues of the WEF,
also known simply as "Davos", which in addition
to executives and political leaders, drew academics,
non-governmental organization activists and religious
Founded in 1971, the Davos Forum
has attempted to find solutions to the world's economic
problems through its annual workshops and panel discussions.
Its critics say the aim of these meetings is to seek
ways to benefit the participants at the cost of global
society and the environment.
In part as a response to criticisms
of its closed-door meetings, since 2003 the WEF has
held forums open to the public. The topic
of debate this year was "Globalization or Deglobalization
for the Benefit of the Poorest?"
Taking place in parallel to the
WEF was the alternative meet known as Public
Eye on Davos, a project of a coalition of non-governmental
organizations from around the world.
Environmental watchdog Friends
of the Earth notes that the first report of the
Governance Initiative reveals just how big business
fails to protect the Earth's natural resources and
to attend to the needs of the poorest populations.
The initiative was designed to monitor progress on
global efforts to implement the plans established
by the United Nations Millennium
Declaration. The report shows that the international
community merited three points, out of 10, in areas
like the environment, human rights and security.
As a counterweight to the Davos
Forum, the World Social
Forum was created, the objective being to create
a platform for discussing strategies in opposition
to the WEF's model of neoliberal economic globalization.
One of the criticisms of both
the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum
as that they failed to produce concrete results. IPS
news agency provided broad coverage of the two
Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Eye on Davos
Friends of the Earth
Greenhouse Gas Register
World Social Forum
Under suspicion of violating
international rules against the proliferation of nuclear
weapons, in late 2003 Iran signed a protocol
that opens the doors to unrestricted inspections
of its national territory. The apparently innumerable
efforts to stop the global arms race have proved insufficient.
The protocol that Iran signed
requires states to provide a detailed declaration
of their nuclear activities. In February 2004 the
first report of inspections will be presented, after
a year of investigations.
Other countries are also under
reports indicate that Libya's announcements in
December 2003 that it had renounced acquisition of
weapons of mass destruction and would cooperate with
United Nations inspections of its nuclear installations
came after months of secret talks with London and
But contrary to expectations,
the United States then took a step against the tide
by beginning development of new
The decision harks back to the
War, when the superpowers of the time, the United
States and the Soviet Union, were enmeshed in an arms
race that led to the proliferation of nuclear bombs.
Britain, France, China, India,
Israel and Pakistan joined the club of nations possessing
nuclear arms. Today, an estimated 28,000
atomic bombs exist worldwide.
Among the numerous disarmament
agreements, the Non-Proliferation
Treaty stands out. Since 1968 it has been the
main international commitment to prevent the multiplication
of nuclear arms and arms technology. It is the only
legally binding multilateral treaty and has been ratified
by the greatest number of countries.
Compliance with the treaty is
verified through inspections led by the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
An accord specific to Latin America
is the Treaty
on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, signed
in Mexico in 1967. It calls for nuclear technology
to be used for peaceful purposes only, such as generating
The United States and Russia
signed the Strategic
Offensive Reductions Treaty, which commits both
sides to reducing their nuclear stockpiles so that
by the end of 2012 their totals do not surpass 1,700-2,200
bombs in each country.
Endowment for International Peace website offers
an extensive list of references on treaties, reports
and analyses related to nuclear weapons.
Signs Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards
Cooperated Fully with UN Nuclear Inspectors
Era of Nuclear Weapons
Numbers - global stockpiles
American and Caribbean Treaty on the Prohibition of
Offensive Reductions Treaty
Bureau of Non
Endowment for International Peace
Mountains of outdated electronics
are accumulating in landfills around the world. A
new law in the U.S. state of California seeks to fight
the problem through a recycling program to enter into
force in July.
A pioneer in this area, the new
California law, known as SB20,
establishes that the consumer will pay six to 10 dollars
at the time of purchase of each electronic item that
contains heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, or cadmium.
The products covered by this
legislation are mostly televisions and computers.
Items with screens measuring less than four inches
Once the electronic device has
become outdated or no long works, the consumer can
hand it over to a recycling
center, free of charge. Currently, consumers pay
recyclers around 20 dollars per item.
are that more than 22 million computers are sold every
year in the United States alone. With the constant
development of new technology, computers become obsolete
in just two years.
Among the biggest concerns about
electronic waste in landfills is the impact on the
environment, as the chemical compounds contaminate
the soil and can filter into underground water supplies.
And the process of recycling
is not free of controversy. In the United States,
the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition denounced that Dell Computers obsolete
machines were being recycled by prisoners who did
not have the minimum protection for working with the
A large portion of electronic
waste is exported to developing countries, particularly
in Asia, where companies restore used computers or
dismantle the machines to recover metals like gold
and copper. The practice is under scrutiny by the
Basil Convention, which aims to prevent industrialized
countries from transferring dangerous waste to developing
While the European
Union is working to eliminate the use of toxic
materials in electronics by 2007, in Latin America,
Brazil has had a program
since 2000 under which manufacturers and importers
of batteries containing heavy metals must take responsibility
for collecting and recycling the used products.
Other efforts include "eco-labeling"
of computers, which takes into consideration the design
and use of materials, energy efficiency and manufacturing
strategies for electronics recycling: A tale of two
Silicon Valley Toxics