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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ecology in Europe, October,2008

In today's edition:
  1. Industry slams EU hydrogen initiative
  2. Business calls for EU deal on visas for skilled immigrants
  3. Animal cloning for food 'unjustified', say EU citizens
  4. First REACH list of dangerous chemicals agreed
  5. Industry urges new evaluation of pesticides ban
  6. 'Landmark consensus' on forests' pivotal climate role
More bad news, than not. I hate weakness and stupidity and here we have enough examples for that particular behaviour. But let's not see it all in black. Things sometimes have to become worst, before they become better. And there are some good news among those, too.

Industry slams EU hydrogen initiative

15 October 2008

The European Commission yesterday (14 October) launched a long-term public-private research partnership aimed at accelerating the commercialisation of eco-friendly hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. But industry leaders immediately slammed the initiative's lack of ambition.

Over the next six years, the EU 'Fuel cells and Hydrogen' joint technology initiative (JTI) is to receive €470 million from the EU's current research budget (known as Framework Programme Seven, or FP7, which runs until 2013). This figure has to be at least matched by private sector contributions.

The Commission says the new structure will help to speed up the development and deployment of these still nascent technologies by at least two to five years, primarily by bringing public and private interests together and implementing a jointly defined research programme.

According to EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Joint Undertaking should succeed in bringing forward the commercial launch of early market applications such as portable generators to 2010, while 'stationary' applications should become available as of 2012-2015.

Transport applications are likely to take longer, with researchers only expecting them to become available after 2020. Paul Lucchese, chairman of the European Research Grouping for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells, stressed that this timeline would also depend on support from infrastructure managers. "There would be no point in having a car without having the filling stations that go with it," he told EurActiv.

Despite the launch being praised as a "significant moment for industry," which "culminates six years of joint efforts to bring commercialisation forward" by the head of research and environment operations at Daimler AG Herbert Kohler, others were far less optimistic about the initiative.

Marcus Nurdin, the executive director of Fuel Cell Europe, told EurActiv that the majority of his association's membersexternal were "frustrated and angry at how the initiative has been dealt with and what will come out of it".

He points out that the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, launched by the Commission in 2004 with a view to defining a common strategic research agenda on these technologies, had stressed that some €7.4 billion of public and private resources would be needed between 2007 and 2015 if the bloc was serious about deploying hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

"But in effect, what we have got from the Commission represents no more money than we got before," he lamented, adding that even the minor increase in funding from FP6 (€315 million) to FP7 (€470 million) was offset by the fact that companies are being forced to pay an annual membership fee of €35,000 (€17,000 for SMEs) if they wish to qualify for some of the funds. "The bottom line is that industry is being told to pay if it wants to get any of the money and there's not even any more money than there was before."source

My comment: I don't really understand why the industry should receive any money to develop a technology that it would profit from afterwards. It's like paying M$ to produce a new OS and then letting it sell it. I disagree with this attitude. True, the money are far from enough, but it's also true that there are enough member-state funded projects where you can obtain additional money. And it's fair when you want to sell something, to invest some money in its development.

Business calls for EU deal on visas for skilled immigrants

13 October 2008

As EU leaders prepare to give the green light to a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum later this week, businesses underline that immigration is not only about controlling borders and illegal workers, but also about attracting highly skilled people to Europe thanks to smoother and faster allocation of work and residence permits.

While conceding that home-grown talent is the most important factor in tackling shortages of highly qualified people in Europe, business representatives taking part in an informal debate ahead of the EU summit on 15-16 October noted that immigration and the increased contribution of high-skilled immigrants to Europe's competitiveness was "a critical factor".

One of the main points of the new EU Immigration Pact spearheaded by France, which was already agreedPdf external upon late last month by EU ministers in charge of immigration, is to decide on a common EU approach to legal immigration and to increase the attractiveness of Europe for highly skilled people, students and researchers.

Although not legally binding, the pact builds upon the EU Blue Card initiative and the Commission's Policy Plan on Legal Migration, currently under debate in the EU institutions. It aims to make it easier for skilled migrants to come to Europe by replacing 27 different visa regimes with a single European one.

Proposed last October by the Commission, the Council has "nearly" agreed on the Blue Card after first focusing on other immigration issues. While businesses wish to get rid of costly bureaucracy in recruiting and moving their staff around the globe as soon as possible, member states remain divided over a political problem: defining 'high-skilled worker' and thus deciding who the scheme is for.

Governments also seem to disagree on how quickly the Blue Card should be handed out following the date of application-whether it should be thirty days, sixty or ninety. Businesses say they could wait two weeks at most. They therefore lament that the current Blue Card scheme remains "totally unattractive" from a business point of view and call for "a more ambitious plan".

But EU countries are also divided between those who are already thinking about the business opportunities that an EU Blue Card could offer and those who wish to protect their labour market, in particular in the current context of high unemployment.

The Parliament's civil liberties committee will vote on the Blue Card initiative in early November, after which its report will be voted on in plenary. The Parliament's role is only consultative. source

My comment: Interesting, I live in a country full of skilled people and they get hired mostly by US companies. Where is that vacuum of skill the EU business seems to see?It's not about protecting the home market, it's about using it to the maximum. Because obviously they can import scientists from Ukraine that would work on half the salary of a German one. The question is should they be allowed to do it on the back of European universities. As for the difference between business requirements and university's degrees-they are completely free to organise courses or fund universities that would teach what they require. This is simply not serious.

Animal cloning for food 'unjustified', say EU citizens

10 October 2008

The vast majority of European citizens have a general negative perception of animal cloning for food production, saying that too little is known of its long-term health and safety effects, according to an EU-wide poll presented yesterday (9 October) by the European Commission.

The findings come from a Eurobarometer Flash survey carried out by the EU executive between 3 and 7 July 2008 on 25,000 randomly selected citizens aged over 15 years in the 27 EU member states.

According to the survey, 58% of EU citizens believe that such cloning for food production "should never be justified," with only 9% of respondents saying they could accept it.

What's more, 61% of respondents believe animal cloning to be "morally wrong", while another 84% caution that the "long-term effects of animal cloning on nature were unknown".

On top of this, 38% of the respondents stressed that no potential health or economic benefits could ever justify breeding cloned animals for food production.

The results of the Eurobarometer appear to confirm calls last month by the European Parliament and Eurogroup for Animals asking the Commission to submit proposals prohibiting the use of cloned animals in food products.

Earlier this year, the Commission's ethical advisory group also found no argument to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring (EurActiv 18/01/08), while the EU's Food Safety Authority (EFSA) strongly underlined the lack of scientific data on the subject and the repercussions that cloning had on animal health and welfare (EurActiv 25/07/08).

Nevertheless, citizens appeared more open to cloning to preserve rare breeds or to improve the robustness of animals against diseases. Also, 31% of respondents said that animal cloning might help to solve the global food problems.

The survey shows that a majority of EU citizens find it unlikely that they would ever buy meat or milk from cloned animals (63%), even if a trusted source stated that such products were safe to eat. source

My comment: I don't like words like "moral" or "ethical". I think that the fact something is useless is enough to argument why you won't use it. But I also agree with the moral of the survey. Cloning animals for meat is utterly stupid. However, I disagree on the idea that it should be used "to improve the robustness of animals against diseases". That is a total nonsense and I can't believe someone even thought of it. Nature has its ways to improve its creatures. No need of the all-powerful man to mess with it. The only thing that makes sense is for endangered species, though that is far from being practical.

First REACH list of dangerous chemicals agreed

10 October 2008

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has agreed on the first group of 15 "very high concern" chemicals to undergo special health and safety scrutiny under the bloc's chemical regulation REACH.

These are "only the first substances of very high concern identified through the formal process," stressed ECHA Executive Director Geert Dancet, adding that new proposals were being prepared and that the candidate list would be updated.

The first list, published on 9 October, contains 15 substances identified as carcinogenic, very presistent, bioaccumulative and toxic as well as toxic for reproduction. It includes three phthalates (EurActiv 24/06/05) and a brominated flame retardant (EurActiv 12/09/08)

Once the candidate list is officially published later this month, companies will be obliged to inform consumers within 45 days whether such chemicals are present in the products on sale in the EU single market.

Greenpeace and WWF welcomed "the fact that that the engine for substituting the most hazardous chemicals under REACH has finally started," but deplored the low number of substances on the list "compared to the hundereds of known hazardous chemicals in use". source

My comment: Good :) What more can I say? I just hope that they will enlarge that list soon enough with other dangerous substances. And that they will be banned from use, not only put to the attention of consumers.

Industry urges new evaluation of pesticides ban

10 October 2008

If the EU pesticides review goes through as it currently stands, food prices will at worst more than double, according to a new industry-funded impact assessment.

Conducted by EuroCARE GmbH, a German consultancy on the agricultural economy, the study predicts "huge increases" in basic commodity prices if the review is adopted without changes.

The study predicts a 20%-69% increase in wheat prices, 19%-58% in potato prices and significant increases for animal products, which are expected to be affected by increased feed imports, said Marcel Adenauer, who presented the report on 9 October.

"Our results are quite similar" to a recent study from Italian research institute Nomisma (EurActiv 05/02/08), Adenauer said.

The findings of the Nomisma study, which argued that stringent EU rules on pesticides will lead to a decline in European agricultural self-sufficiency, ever-increasing food prices and job losses in the agri-food sector, was rejected by environmental activists, who derided the study as "professional scaremongering".

Adenauer also admitted that "there are several uncertainties around these figures" as they do not take account of any technological or policy changes or fluctuations in international trade. The EuroCARE economic analysis is thus a prediction of a situation assuming that no pesticide is substituted and that policies remain the same.

The recent Nomisma study was also based on the "worst case scenario", noted Stefano Baldi, a researcher at the institute.

But price increases could also be lower if the potential lost output was made up with imports, said Sean Rickard of the Cranfield School of Management. Yet this would not only lead to reliance on food quality standards, it would also mean less sustainable EU farms and reductions in domestic production, Rickard warns. What's more, it would risk job losses in many food processing and manufacturing sectors and have an adverse effect on the EU's international food trade, he added.source

My comment:Yeah, right. If we do it, it really MIGHT get worst. Unless it gets better. That's absolute nonsense. I mean, of course price would rise. They rise in ANY possible, probable or likeable situation. Even if the price rise a little-it would be only temporarily until better solutions are found.

'Landmark consensus' on forests' pivotal climate role

10 October 2008

Meeting in Barcelona on 8 October, representatives of governments, forest owners and forestry companies, trade unions and civil society urged world leaders to take into account the "pivotal role" forests can play in mitigating climate change.

According to a Forests Dialogueexternal press release, the 250-odd participants achieved a "rare consensus" on exactly what role forests can play in the battle to halt damaging climate change, and offered five "guiding principles" to ensure the success of current negotiations on a global climate pact.

These principles include the need to guarantee sustainable forest management that reduces deforestation and degradation. This "must be one of the world's highest priorities," states the group. The initiative also emphasises the need to clarify and strengthen the rights of forest-dependent communities in accessing forests and their resources. Lastly, it calls on leaders to provide "substantial additional funding" to build the capacity to put these principles into practice.

"Consensus on forests is rare. When it is achieved, the world should listen. When it offers a solution to climate change, the world must listen," stressed the group. Stewart Maginnis, head of the Forest Conservation Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, agreed:

Delegates from the world over have been exploring mechanisms to reward those that curb deforestation, especially in developing countries. But environmentalists have warned that without the right safeguards, such proposals could backfire.

In particular, NGOs are opposed to including forests in carbon emissions trading schemes, saying this was a mere ploy to avoid real carbon emissions reductions at home.

But members of the European Parliament's environment committee (ENVI) this week voted to include the issue forests in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (see EurActiv Links Dossier), saying countries should be allowed to offset up to 5% of their total emission reduction commitments in exchange for preserving forests in developing countries.

The Commission had originally left forests out of its climate package, arguing that it was too difficult to measure emissions from this sector with accuracy. source

My comment: Agreement sounds nice, but unless it is put into action, I don't see a use of it. Forests are still being massively cut, so...

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