Environment

Extreme Energy

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The panic that ensued when tanker drivers threatened to strike recently brought home the absolute centrality of oil to our modern economy.

Oil has been in the news recently, not least because the first few months of 2012 saw some of the highest ever prices for crude. The threat of war on Iran, instability in oil-rich Nigeria and the ongoing economic crisis combined to push prices above $125 a barrel. This is below the record of $147 set in July 2008, but the weakness of the pound and euro means that, in reality, the price is much worse for European consumers.

From small beginnings

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The Kyoto Protocols are set to become an empty shell following the 17th meeting of the UN Convention on Climate Change ("COP 17") in Durban.

The limited progress since 1997 towards achieving a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions will be scrapped in favour of a voluntary pledge and review process that to date has only resulted in increased carbon emissions.

Letter from Japan

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Six months on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Dave Handley assesses the mood in Japan.

On 11 March the biggest earthquake in Japan's recorded history struck off the coast of north eastern Honshu and the resulting tsunami wreaked havoc for millions of people. More than 25,000 have been reported dead or missing and many more are coming to terms with the human and economic cost, and the reality that they'll never be able to return to their former homes. The sheer scale of the damage and the resulting debris is mind-boggling.

Food: between hunger and plenty

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Billions of people regularly struggle to get enough to eat. Mike Haynes argues that the problem isn't a lack of produce or a rising population. It is a system driven by profit

The global price of food has risen again to a new high, breaking the records set in 2008. In Britain this matters, especially if you are on a low income or benefits. In the poorer parts of the world where nearly a billion people are hungry it becomes a matter of life and death. The reason is simple - we must have food to live. This is why food prices are politically explosive, including in the upheavals in the Middle East. The lower your income, the more you must spend to buy food to survive.

Japan's nuclear nightmare

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The true extent of the destruction that followed the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is only just being
seen. But it is clear that many thousands of people have lost their lives and billions of pounds worth of damage has been done.

A further casualty of this natural disaster may well be the plans to expand the use of nuclear power. Japan is the third largest user of nuclear power, with over 50 nuclear plants which provide over a third of its electricity. The magnitude 9 earthquake was greater than the plants were designed to withstand - yet such earthquakes could certainly have been foreseen.

Food prices leave many hungry for change

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Global food prices are once again rising sharply. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's monthly index of agricultural commodity prices rocketed upwards by over 30 percent in the last six months of 2010.


Biofuels crop

Prices now surpass the levels seen at the height of the 2007-8 food crisis. Back then it led to over 30 countries being hit by unrest linked to the soaring cost of food, from Haiti to Bangladesh.

Sugar and meat prices are at record levels, while cereal prices are back at the levels of 2008. Last year saw European wheat prices double, US corn prices increase by more than 50 percent and US soybean prices rise by over 30 percent.

New enclosures

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Government plans to sell Britain's forests have run up against massive opposition from the public.

According to an online YouGov poll, 84 percent of people believe that woods and forests should be kept in public hands, with only 2 percent wanting their sell-off.

Coalition minister for environment, food and rural affairs Jim Paice told a select committee last November, "We wish to proceed with very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it."

Cancun conference recycles old excuses

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The outcome of the UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, is being spun as a success. Such claims can only be made because of the chronically low expectations before the conference.

After the devastating failure to reach an agreement at Copenhagen last year, negotiators are patting themselves on the back - not for real achievements in tackling climate change but simply for keeping the talks going for another year. There has once again been no agreement by the rich countries to legally binding emissions cuts that would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Welcome to "austerity countryside"

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The environmental record of a government that once described itself as "the greenest ever" is already deeply worrying.

Cuts in the budget for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been announced that could fundamentally change our natural areas.

Among plans being considered are the privatisation of nature reserves and the Forestry Commission, a reduction of grants to the body that manages Britain's canals, and cuts so severe that Natural England, the country's main conservation organisation, could lose a third of its staff.

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