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08 Jun 14:46

Lesotho election: Thomas Thabane's ABC defeats Mosisili's DC

This was the third time in three years that voters in Lesotho elected a new government
09 Jan 09:53

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Hey Rob, sorry it took me a while to get back to you! Sure, I'd love to see WALL-E opening weekend! Are you still doing that, or...?
08 Oct 19:20

Who is Billy Bush: the man egging on Trump in tape about groping women

by Nigel M Smith

TV host and member of the influential Bush dynasty is featured in a 2005 clip of the GOP nominee saying he ‘can do anything’ to women because of his fame

Donald Trump isn’t the only familiar face in the 2005 taped recording of the Republican nominee bragging about attempting to “fuck” married women. The other man in the frame making lewd comments is former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, a cousin of former president George W Bush.

Related: Trump brags on tape about fame and groping women: 'You can do anything'

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09 Sep 19:27

Locals oppose plans for East Sussex's first caviar farm

by Adam Vaughan and Aletha Adu

Britain’s only caviar farmer plans to expand with a second site in rural East Sussex but locals say the site will impact the landscape and put pressure on a river where sea trout spawn

Plans by Britain’s only caviar farmer to expand his operations to a tiny rural community in East Sussex have sparked a backlash from locals concerned over its environmental impact.

Ken Benning opened the country’s first caviar farm in Devon two years ago and supplies Michelin-starred restaurants in Britain, but his planning application for a further sturgeon farm at East Chiltington has been greeted with a wave of opposition.

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18 Jun 12:54

The pope's encyclical on climate change – as it happened

by Adam Vaughan

On Thursday the Vatican published Pope Francis’s long-awaited encyclical on the environment, which warns of ‘serious consequences’ if the world does not act on climate change

Our Rome correspondent Stephanie Kirchgaessner has filed a new report on the encyclical and reaction to it. Here’s an extract:

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the pope’s top official on social and justice issues, flatly rejected arguments by some conservative politicians in the US that the pope ought to stay out of science.

“Saying that a pope shouldn’t deal with science sounds strange since science is a public domain. It is a subject matter that anyone can get in to,” Turkson said at a press conference on Thursday.

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28 Feb 18:51

Ireland and Afghanistan show need for rethink before 2019 World Cup

by Vic Marks in Auckland
When the associate nations show the sufficient talent and confidence to seek victory rather than respectability it is time to reconsider the planned reduction to a 10-team tournament
• Dhoni gives associate nations short shrift after India’s previous plight

In the World Cup of 2011, England kept the tournament alive in the early stages by losing to Ireland and Bangladesh and beating West Indies and South Africa, thereby scraping into the quarter-finals before producing an anaemic performance against Sri Lanka.

This time, until the little epic at Eden Park on Saturday, the associates were the ones keeping us interested. Ireland, who thrashed West Indies and scraped past the United Arab Emirates, have yet to be beaten. Afghanistan frightened Sri Lanka and then participated in a thrilling game when they defeated Scotland by one wicket in Dunedin.

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19 Jul 14:56

Jonathan Franzen: 'Egypt is the worst place to be a migratory bird' | Adam Welz

by Adam Welz

US author sounds warning over Egyptian trapping that kills millions of birds as they migrate from Europe into Africa

Next month the killing will begin in earnest. August marks the start of the annual migration of millions of birds from their European breeding areas to their wintering grounds in Africa. Many will fly across the eastern Mediterranean towards Egypt, where they will land, exhausted, on a coast along which hundreds of kilometres of trappers' nets have been spanned to create almost unbroken walls of death on the seaside dunes.

These nets will catch at least 140 million birds this year, according to one biologist's estimate, more than one in twenty of the migrant birds leaving Europe for Africa. This number does not include those killed along Egypt's coast by other means: trees shrouded in nets with north-facing openings catch instinct-propelled, southbound migrants before they can head across the Sahara, ingenious shade traps set on the ground snare birds seeking relief from the sun and lime-coated sticks strategically placed in bushes bring birds to a sticky end.

Those birds that make it through the coastal gauntlet into the Western Desert face more danger. Almost every oasis and isolated grove of acacia trees, 'magnets' for birds seeking shade and rest during their strenuous desert crossings, is occupied by hunters who shoot at every bird they see, say local conservationists.

"I think it's very safe to say that Egypt is the worst place to be a migratory bird," said the bird-loving American author Jonathan Franzen, who visited the country last year to report on threats to migrants across the Mediterranean for National Geographic. "For someone from the western hemisphere, the scale of the killing of small birds is just totally shocking because we really don't do that over here," he told me. "It was clear that I was up against a completely different understanding of what a bird was."

"It's just like fishing, and we're not outraged by fishing," he continued, "by and large we accept fishermen. 'They're just fish for god's sake! You pull 'em out, cut their heads off and you eat 'em!' And that was really the only way I had to wrap my mind around what I was seeing in Egypt. And in a number of cases they were using the identical nets to both catch fish and then to throw over a bush and catch birds, which really underlined that that's how it was for them."

Egyptians have caught migrant birds for subsistence since the time of the pharoahs, but in recent years the intensity of the trapping and shooting has escalated to unprecedented levels according to conservationists I interviewed. Birds are increasingly being killed purely for recreation, and wildlife law enforcement, never strong, has become almost nonexistent in the political turmoil that has enveloped the country since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in early 2011.

A German wildlife TV crew working in Egypt last year estimated that continuous nets lined at least 700km of the Egyptian Mediterranean coast during the autumn migration, the only places not intensively netted being military bases and cities. The Egyptian coast is "the world's biggest bird trap," they said, with nets running right through small towns and private gardens. Franzen told me that he saw tourists squeezing their way through small gaps in nets to get from their beach resorts to the sea.

The barrier-like nets erected on coastal dunes are set for common quail flying in across the Mediterranean from Europe. Quail are traditional and legal quarry for Egyptian netters, and although there has never been a strict bag limit, regulations limit the height of nets, stipulate that they be spaced a certain distance apart and that non-target species ('bycatch') be released unharmed.

In recent years, as policing has evaporated, the nets have become taller and are no longer spaced apart. Sometimes they're spanned three deep. New electronic bird calls placed under the nets broadcast recordings of quail song, increasing the catch. The European population of common quail suffered a decline in the twentieth century and no good data exist to quantify what percentage of the population is being caught annually in Egypt, but it's likely to be substantial. Quail, according to the German TV crew, can sell for as much as five euros each to local restaurateurs, pricing them well out of reach of the average Egyptian and making trapping profitable.

Bycatch species such as shrikes, wheatears and warblers are not released. Their wings are typically broken and they're transported live and sold for pennies to local merchants, who later slit their throats according to Muslim custom before butchering and selling them. The numbers of bycatch species caught is poorly known because "nobody has investigated this in a systematic way," says Franzen (the estimate of 140 million birds per year is a simple calculation by the German conservation group NABU based on documented net catch rates in Cyprus, which, like Egypt, is on the Eastern Mediterranean migratory flyway).

Some birds sold cheaply in Egyptian markets belong to threatened species that benefit from expensive, taxpayer-funded EU conservation programmes.

Another species specifically targeted by hunters is the European golden oriole, which is known throughout the Middle East as a 'natural Viagra', according to Franzen. There are no Egyptian laws restricting the hunting of orioles, which are typically shot as they seek shade and rest in isolated acacia trees in the desert, either by Bedouins who have traditionally laid claim to particular trees or by young men spending 'guy time' away from their parents.

Sherif Baha El Din of Nature Conservation Egypt, a wildlife NGO, told me that remote acacia groves had been hard to find and access in the past, but with GPS devices and fast SUVs being easily available to wealthy youth, "now every tree has someone waiting with a shotgun or an air pistol" during migration. There are even fist fights over trees, which can return a tidy profit to enterprising shooters. (Franzen visited an oasis frequented by oriole hunters where he reckoned at least 5,000 were shot in a single year.)

Dead orioles are sold to middlemen who transport them to consumers with sexual problems in the Gulf states, presumably in refrigerated trucks. As with almost every aspect of the bird hunting issue, conservationists don't understand the economics of and participants in the trade very well.

Although bird hunting takes place on a massive scale, said Baha El Din, a minority of the country's population is involved and most people know nothing about it. "If you just pick some random Egyptian on the street or in the government, it just doesn't register with them."

Click here to see this video on YouTube.

The important first step, therefore, was to make migratory bird conservation an issue in Egypt and around the world. "We need some pressure combined with assistance," he told me. Concerned people around the world should contact their local conservation groups and Egyptian embassies to raise the profile of uncontrolled hunting and trapping, because "these are not just Egyptian birds, after all"; the species most affected by Egyptian hunters breed in Europe and spend a large part of the year in sub-Saharan Africa.

The conservation community should take an integrated approach to the problem, he said, combining research and persistent pressure with co-operative action that engages communities and the government, taking care to avoid destructive conflict.

Jonathan Franzen cautioned that overly-strong outside pressure on Egyptians could backfire. When addressing bird-trapping with Egyptians, as he has, "You run up against the substantially legitimate resentment that many Egyptians feel towards the West." Westerners seen as arrogantly telling Egyptians what to do could cause serious problems, so outsiders should offer assistance to internal groups like Nature Conservation Egypt, he recommended. Even though Egyptian laws make it very difficult for foreigners to support Egyptian NGOs financially, they can help with such items as used binoculars and even moral support, he said.

A nascent Chinese bird conservation movement has recently emerged in the wake of the publication of an affordable, quality Chinese-language field guide to the birds of China, Franzen said. No equivalent, up-to-date book exists in Egypt that would allow locals to learn about migrants, start to watch them and then build a larger community of local birders and bird-conservationists.

"If there's ever going to be cultural change," he said, "it's going to come from Egyptians themselves realising, y'know, there aren't as many birds as there used to be, maybe there's a different way for us to interact with them." Such a change, said Franzen, "is probably going to have to come from the bottom up because the Egyptian population has a very problematic relationship with police and with regulation at this point.

"Unfortunately it's the long game — and the birds are declining at such a rate that it's wrenching to play the long game."

Germany's largest wildlife conservation nonprofit, NABU, has drawn up a petition encouraging the Egyptian government to act against uncontrolled bird slaughter. An English-language version is available to sign here

For NatureUp blog and wildlife conservation updates, follow @NatureUpBlog on Twitter


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03 Jul 20:01

Wild foods: a food security strategy that's hard to swallow?

by Caspar van Vark

Rural communities often eat leaves, roots and wild eggs during times of food insecurity, but agriculturists and doctors have to take them more seriously for their potential to be realised

A recent FAO conference on Forests for Food Security highlighted the importance of wild foods for the food and nutrition security of millions of people. Often overlooked in food security strategies, these resources are both vital and under threat, and development actors have a valuable role to play in safeguarding them.

Wild foods – including fruits, nuts, leaves, mushrooms, roots, animals and eggs – are important as part of coping strategies during times of food insecurity, but they are also consumed more routinely and therefore contribute to overall nutrition through dietary diversity.

According to Bronwen Powell, a research fellow at the Centre for International Forestry Research who has conducted research on the role of wild foods in diets in Tanzania, the nutritional contribution is particularly important.

"Where I did my research in Tanzania, wild foods contributed only 2% of the total energy in the diet, but they contributed more than 30% of the vitamin A, 20% of the vitamin C, 19% of the iron and 16% of the calcium consumed," she says.

"Previous research from Vietnam found similar results. In the central highlands of Vietnam, wild vegetables alone contributed 19% of the vitamin A, 13% of vitamin C and 14% of iron intake. These results are important because vitamin A, iron and calcium are some of the nutrients most commonly lacking in diets in developing countries."

The recent FAO conference suggests that attention to wild foods is rising up the policy agenda, but this hasn't necessarily percolated down to national and local policy levels yet – which can sometimes be attributed to cultural reluctance to acknowledge their value.

"There has been a lot of recent international attention and support, but there is a long way to go," says Powell. "We need to reach not only international policymakers but agricultural extensionists working on the ground who call wild vegetables weeds and doctors and nutritionists who have never imagined that grubs might be a good source of vitamin D or B12, and who shudder at the idea of eating them themselves."

This point is echoed by Barbara Vinceti, a forest genetic resources scientist at Bioversity International, who says that the importance of wild foods risks being neglected as wild foods tend sometimes to be considered "foods for the poor".

"Promoting the consumption of wild foods to counter negative perceptions and attitudes to local, traditional foods, triggering a behavioral change, requires strong awareness-raising through extension services, NGOs, schools, hospitals and health centres," she says.

For those communities who do rely on wild foods, access to resources is often a significant barrier. Forests are not the only source of these foods, but they're very important and using them can be problematic.

"In many countries, people do not have secure tenure and often do not have legal access to forest lands because 80% of forests are still owned by the state," says Eva Muller, director of FAO's forest economic policy and products division.

"Restrictions to access to forests is an issue, because if people don't have legal access they do it illegally and countries usually are very good at punishing the small people and not the big ones."

Reduced access to wild foods as a result of deforestation and unsustainable sourcing of some foods are also increasingly an issue, particularly with bushmeat which has been over harvested in places to supply urban markets.

This is why recent advocacy at the global level has included a focus on policies that encourage communities to be stakeholders in their forests. The FAO's Forest Connect programme and the IIED's Forest Governance Learning Group have both emphasised the value of community-based, small and medium-sized forest enterprises (SMFEs) that have the potential to give people more organised access to forest resources. This can ensure that the resources are better managed while also delivering food and nutrition security benefits.

SMFEs already represent some 80 to 90% of forest enterprises in many countries but tend to be informal and weakly structured, with poor market links and unclear rights of land access. Targeting development efforts at these organisations could reap rewards in both environmental and food security terms by helping communities to sustainably harvest wild foods both to eat and to sell.

"In west Africa - Burkina Faso and Mali for example - a lot of non-wood forest products such as fruits and nuts are collected and processed by women in the communities," says Muller.

"This is a very important source of income for them, and the income is used to support their families so it has a direct impact on food security. We've done quite a bit of work with women's groups in these countries to strengthen their marketing capabilities and getting better market access. This has a lot of promise and needs to be promoted further."

FAO has delivered some of this work in partnership with Tree Aid in the Sahel, but its potential extends beyond Africa. In Guatemala, from the mid 2000s, community-led forest enterprises were given distinct parcels of land to manage, leased from the government. With support from the Rainforest Alliance and USAid, these enterprises now manage more than 420,000 hectares of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Between October 2006 and September 2007, they had already generated almost $150,000 in sales of non-wood forest products. Biodiversity had improved, while forest fires and illegal logging and hunting had decreased.

For any such programme to maximise its benefits to food and nutrition security, it's important that development actors engage with communities to understand the roles that certain wild foods play. This is a complex but important area, says Caroline Gullick, a wild foods expert with extensive experience of working with communities in Sudan.

"Everyone has a different name for every single plant, and it's hard to appreciate the value of all these plants, but it's something that people should take seriously," she says.

"The balanites tree, for example, is used for treating malaria. One of the primary uses for it is extracting the nut oil, and if people stop taking that and replace it with other oils, they could be potentially more prone to getting malaria. So it's about being aware that these foods are used for a purpose, and listening to indigenous information. People use these things for a reason."

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03 Jul 20:01

How Australian campaigners target fossil fuel companies and their backers

Campaigns capture public imagination as the issue of unburnable carbon enters the mainstream

A hoax media release, announcing a big Australian coal mine had lost critical funding, kicked off a busy year for anti-fossil fuel campaigners – and a challenging one for the companies that extract energy and their financial backers.

Shares in Whitehaven Coal, developer of the controversial Maules Creek mine in New South Wales, plunged 9% in just two minutes after the spoof circulated the market – slicing A$314m from its market capitalisation and A$67m from the stake of its biggest shareholder, mining magnate Nathan Tinkler.

Embossed with the ANZ logo, the press release included a fictional quote from the bank's head of corporate responsibility, Toby Kent: "We want our customers to be assured that we will not be investing in coal projects that cause significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict."

ANZ Bank, the miner's lender and one of Australia's largest banks, scrambled to correct the hoax, perpetrated by anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan from Front Line Action on Coal, to draw attention to the loss of thousands of hectares of critically endangered forest and farmlands.

Six months later prominent Australians are getting involved in the campaign against fossil fuels, signing an open letter to the heads of Australia's big four banks calling on them to divest in fossil fuel projects.

The more than 60 signatories to the letter, initiated by Friends of the Earth affiliate Market Forces, include authors Peter Carey, Kate Grenville and J M Coetzee, environmentalist and chair of the Australian Conservation Foundation Ian Lowe, ethicist Peter Singer and Australian climate commissioner Professor Lesley Hughes.

Campaigns build a head of steam

Campaigns targeting fossil fuel companies and their backers are capturing the public's imagination and are beginning to represent a significant risk to the resources sectors and their financial backers.

John Hepburn, a former Greenpeace campaigner and executive director of the Sunrise Project said campaigns targeting fossil fuels are "building a head of steam", partly because of the ongoing and sustained broader climate change movement.

"Two years ago the whole idea of "unburnable carbon" and implications thereof was really just an idea a few NGOs were talking about. But now it has shifted into mainstream discourse," he says.

Australian coal reserves owned by listed companies are equivalent to 51 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO), or 15-25% of the global coal carbon budget through 2050, according to a report by UK-based Carbon Tracker and Australia's Climate Institute. The data brings a stark new reality to the investment markets.

Citigroup analyst Elaine Prior, who specialises in assessing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks facing companies, expects organised opposition to fossil fuels to grow. "Various initiatives are underway to encourage major investors to reappraise their approach to investments in fossil fuels, on the basis that such investments will see value destruction as global constraints are imposed on carbon emissions," she wrote in an April research note. And Prior points to plenty of examples of how campaigns have influenced public opinion, prompting regulators to react.

One such campaign by Market Forces and US-based campaign group 350.org calls for customers to put their bank on notice that either loans to coal and gas projects must stop, or the customers will be forced to take their money elsewhere. The organisations published an interactive map that allows people to view commercial bank loans to ports shipping coal and gas in specific locations as well as take action to communicate directly with the named banks.

ANZ topped the list of over 35 global commercial banks, having lent A$2.35bn to coal and gas ports between January 2008 and May 2013. Commonwealth Bank was second on the list having loaned A$1.5bn , followed by NAB (A$1.45bn) and Westpac (A$1.16bn).

Market Forces and 350.org allege the banks are playing a significant role in the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), a World Heritage Area, by building a series of export terminals. According to Julien Vincent of Market Forces the coal and gas industries are "jeopardising our chances of keeping a lid on climate change".

UNESCO shares Market Forces' concerns for the GBR, warning its declining health has reached the point where Australia must ban development that would impact on the reef's "outstanding universal value".

At its mid-June meeting in Cambodia, UNESCO deferred its decision to place the GBR on the "in danger list" until 2014. On 17 June, Market Forces said customers of the big four banks accounting for over A$31m million in deposits have told their bank that unless loans to coal and gas projects stop, they will take their money elsewhere.

Westpac and Commonwealth declined to comment, while NAB failed to respond to calls. ANZ said in a statement that it "assesses and actively manages" new energy and mining projects according to risk principles, "these commit us to actively working with our customers to help them transition to a lower carbon future over time".

The challenges of divestment

Although a majority of campaigners call for investors to divest their fossil fuel investments, analysts and industry representatives say this is difficult in the Australian market.

"In the practical context of the Australian market, it is not a practical approach for the majority of mainstream funds," Citigroup's Prior says. "

In Australia, the majority of coal exposure in the market is through a small part of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers, which also owns retail empire Coles. "If the intent was to divest in these companies, then they would be divesting in large proportions of iron ore, copper and aluminum and retail exposure," Prior says.

Australian Bankers Association CEO Steven Munchenberg takes a pragmatic view. "The suggestion from Market Forces that banks should turn off funding overnight for coal and gas projects that have received state and federal approval is totally unrealistic," he says. "The banks will be very mindful whether projects seeking finance are operating according to government requirements […] because of the potential for reputational harm and the [commercial] risk factor."

Noise before defeat?

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." Sun Tzu, Chinese philosopher

Campaigners are hoping recent outbursts by industry representatives and fossil fuel advocates, such as Queensland's ruling Liberal National Party, are the "noise before defeat".

Dr Nikki Williams, the chief executive of the Australian Coal Association, told an audience at the right-leaning Sydney Institute that "eco-warriors" were simply deceiving the public about their real agenda. "For them, development is the problem. They are really saying that energy consumption must be radically cut. But, that means accepting unfed mouths, uncured poverty and subsistence existence," she said.

At a gathering of oil and gas executives in Brisbane, deputy premier and minister for state development Jeff Seeney was equally confrontational, saying that he wants the companies to vigorously fight environmentalists, warning of a concerted effort by the radical green movement "to attack, delay and halt each and every project proposed in the resource sector".

"We see it daily in Queensland where every proposal for development is portrayed as a threat that will lead to total destruction of the Great Barrier Reef," Seeney said.

Campaigners appear unperturbed, with Market Forces' Julien Vincent simply saying: "Bring it on."

Oliver Wagg is a freelance writer, editor and communication specialist with an in-depth knowledge of the renewable and low-emission energy sectors, climate change science and policy and sustainable business and finance.

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