Environment body goes to pieces New Scientist 15 Feb 97
PLANS to put science at the heart of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) were thrown into disarray last week. The annual meeting of its governing council in Nairobi broke up after a fierce argument which split the rich and the poor nations. British environment secretary John Gummer and Eileen Claussen, US Assistant Secretary of State for International Environmental Affairs, refused to pay their nations'subscriptions for 1997. The two countries, which between them pay almost a third of the agency's bills, were angry that some Asian countries, including India, blocked the formation of a task force to devise reforms. The Nairobi-based agency has become a cash-starved backwater of the UN. In recent years, the US has cut its annual contribution from $21 million to $7 million. The UN Development Programme in New York has more environmental staff than UNEP, while the Global Environment Facility, run by the World Bank, has a budget twenty times as large. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, UNEP's execuCK tive director, has said that the agency will become extinct if it does not adapt. In the current issue of its magazine, Our Planet, she says that the agency should give up carrying out local environment projects-such as pest control, soil conservation, and providing solar power and clean drinking water-and stick to science addressing global environmental problems. Its main tasks should be to turn scientific research from such bodies as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set up nine years ago by UNEP, into policy proposals. Many developing nations are suspicious of reform, but Western governments say it is tong overdue. According to Peter Unwin, a British delegate in Nairobi last week, there has been widespread unease that UNEP failed to get involved in recent UN summits on environmental issues, such as the cities and food summits during 1996. During the meeting, Gummer accused some governments of wanting to use UNEP "to fight turf battles and not protect the environment". To shake up the organisation, the US and the European Union want to wrest control of its operations from a board of Nairobi-based diplomats, known as the permanent representatives, who are supported by most developing countries. But according to UNEP spokesman Michael Williams: "This row is part of a bigger game over reform of the UN." The danger for UNEP is that, without internal reform, the winds of change within the UN could sweep it away entirely, science and all. Fred Pearce
UNEP accused of falsifying Methyl Bromide Data New Scientist 30 Aug 97
BUREAUCRATS at the UN Environment Programme this week stand accused of censoring vital scientific advice to governments on how to save the ozone layer. Angry scientists say that a study on the practicalities of banning methyl bromide, a pesticide that destroys ozone, has been rewritten to present a dishonestly rosy picture of the potential for introducing substitutes. In a letter sent to UNEP at the beginning of August, 22 members of its methyl bromide technical options committee express "deep and serious concerns" that their report, drafted in February, has been "unilaterally rewritten" without their consent. Ministers are due to vote at a meeting in Montreal next month on a plan to eliminate the chemical, which is used to fumigate soil and processed foods. It is thought to be responsible for about a tenth of ozone destruction in the stratosphere. The scientists claim that, following the rewritten advice, UNEP will tell the Montreal meeting that the world could achieve a 75 per cent cut in the use of methyl bromide by 2001. "This is totally contrary to everything that has been agreed by the experts in the options committee," says Colin Smith, a committee member who works for the British pest control company Rentokil. "The 75 per cent figure appeared from nowhere " says Chris Bell of the Central Science Laboratory, in York, an agency of Britain's agriculture ministry. Parts of the report that have been excised include a warning that there is a "lack of practical alternatives [for] dried fruits and nuts as well as spices and processed foods". Smith resigned from the committee last month in protest. He claims that, under pressure from the US, officials subverted the report in an effort to persuade next month's ministerial meeting to agree to an early global ban on methyl bromide. The US, the world's largest user of the fumigant, has passed a law banning it from 2001 and wants to protect its farm ers by forcing the rest of the world to follow suit. "Our draft report has been rewritten to fit the US Environmental Protection Agency's agenda," says Smith. "We are in favour of phasing out methyl bromide," Smith insists, "but in a sensible way. Right now, trade in some crops would cease without methyl bromide. No grapes could be sold from Chile to the US. The world's usable soil would be reduced because nema todes couldn't be controlled." Maria Nolan from Britain's Department of the Environment, who also sits on the committee, denied that the science had been subverted but agreed that "the issue is highly controversial and many people believe the agenda has been driven by the US". In 1995, governments that si ned the 1987 Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer agreed to ban most uses of methyl bromide in indus trial countries by 2010 and to con sider tougher rules this year. At a meeting in June, the US proposed a global phaseout by 2001, while the EU backed a 50 per cent cut in 2001 and a phaseout by 2005. One of the protesters, Ralph Ross, from the US Department of Agriculture, has written to the committee's chairman, Jonathan Banks of Australia's national research organisation CSIRO, accusing him of making an "overt effort ... to mislead the Parties [to the Protocol]" about the availability of substitutes. Banks admits that parts of the report were rewritten but denies that committee members have been deceived. He hit back this week with an attack on the industry: "I have been horrified and disgusted at the level of political pressure and misinformation circulated by some defenders of the methyl bromide industry," he told New Scientist. Fred Pearce
Subsequently Europe delayed the implementation of this phasing out.