Peace and Environment News, March–April 2010
by Mike Buckthought
An open letter signed by 100 scientists from 28 countries calls on Québec Premier Jean Charest to ban the use and export of asbestos. Canada’s exports of asbestos are responsible for escalating rates of mesothelioma. The rare form of lung cancer is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. In Mexico, as many as 500 people die each year because of mesothelioma, according to the Mexican Institute of Social Security. The true toll from exposure to asbestos is believed to be much higher. Around 1,500 Mexicans die each year because of asbestos, according to occupational health expert Guadalupe Aguilar. Canada’s aggressive marketing of asbestos has devastating health impacts. About 95 per cent of asbestos mined in Québec is exported to developing countries, including India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Pakistan, Mexico, Thailand and Colombia. Meanwhile, the Canadian and Québec governments undermine international efforts to ban asbestos. (Globe and Mail, January 29–February 16, 2010)
Following Washington’s Plan
On January 30, Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced Canada’s new target for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The government sent a notice to the United Nations, declaring that Canada will reduce its emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. The latest target will actually increase emissions by 2.5 per cent from 1990 levels. Canada’s new goal is intended to match the target of 17 per cent specified in American legislation that has not been passed yet. Prentice indicated that he would like to align the federal government’s policies with the approach of the Obama administration. In order to ensure that Canada follows decisions made in Washington, the Canadian government declared its target the day after the American target was announced. (Globe and Mail, February 3, 2010)
Canada in 46th Place
While organizers of the Vancouver Olympics urged Canadian athletes to “own the podium,” Canada’s environmental practices have not earned any medals. Yale University’s 2010 Environmental Performance Index places Canada in 46th place, down considerably from 12th place in 2008. The index ranks 163 countries in all, considering a wide range of performance indicators. Canada’s environmental performance was ranked behind scores for Algeria, Mexico, Ireland and Romania. In first place: Iceland, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Sweden. Canada received low scores for its emissions of air pollutants, including greenhouse gases, ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides. (Le Soleil, January 27, 2010; Yale University Environmental Performance Index, http://www.epi.yale.edu/Countries/Canada)
Banning Cluster Bombs
On February 16, Burkina Faso and Moldova ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This brings the total number of ratifications up to 30. With 30 ratifying states, the Convention becomes binding international law effective August 1, 2010. The Convention will put an end to the devastating impacts of cluster bombs, with a comprehensive ban on the use, production and transfer of the munitions. Signatory countries include states that led the Oslo Process to create the convention, as well as many states that have used or stockpiled cluster munitions. A total of 104 countries have signed the Convention since December 2008. Countries are already taking action. Spain destroyed its stockpiles last year, and other countries are following. (Cluster Munition Coalition, February 16, 2010, http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/news/?id=2040)
India Halts GM Eggplants
Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced a six-month moratorium on the introduction of a genetically modified variety of eggplant. He said more research was needed before cultivation could be started. The moratorium was announced after strong pressure from the public and state governments. People expressed concerns about the potential health hazards from the genetically modified Bt Brinjal variety of eggplant, developed by a company that is partly owned by Monsanto. There are also concerns that cultivation of the genetically modified plant would harm the over 2,000 traditional varieties of eggplant currently grown in India. (Associated Press/The Guardian, February 9, 2010)
Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and social justice issues.
Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 25, Number 2, March–April 2010, page 8.