European business briefs: Global warming continues, Chemical issues, Substance is safe, Maathai defends title, Irish affordable housing

Global warming is on course to continue and is sure to bring an increase in extreme weather occurrences such as hurricanes and droughts, according to warnings from scientists at the UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) this week in Geneva. The year 2004 is predicted to have been the fourth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1861, fitting a pattern that has placed nine of the past ten years among the warmest ever, the WMO's annual global climate report concluded.

Judith Hackitt, Director General of the Chemical Industries Association, spelt out the key issues facing the UK chemical industry as British politics gears up for a debate on the new EU Treaty, against the backdrop of a Parliamentary Bill to enact the Treaty and prepare for a referendum, and the commencement of the UK’s Presidency of the EU, during a meeting of the CIA’s governing Council this week in London. This followed on from Ms Hackitt’s earlier meeting with the Foreign and Trade Secretaries to discuss the business implications of the EU Constitution and the planned UK referendum as part of its ratification process. Ms Hackitt highlighted that the chemical industry is international and that the CIA therefore had to retain the strongest possible voice in Brussels, where the bulk of our legislation comes from. She added that both the proposed Constitution and the UK’s particular role in the EU are likely to prove significant issues before, during and after the UK general election campaign expected in 2005.

Contaminated water spilled into the North Sea from offshore oil and gas drilling has now been pronounced less of a threat to fish than was previously thought, according to a Norwegian study that was published this week. The report concluded that alkylphenols, one of the chemicals that is released into the water along with oil and gas from subsea wells, did not affect fish populations despite earlier research indicating that small concentrations could damage their reproduction.

Winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Kenyan scientist Wangari Maathai has dismissed critics that have claimed ecology has little to do with peace and that her work therefore does not merit the prestigious award. Ms Maathai told them that most wars are started over natural resources, whether it was water, oil or timber. Some researchers have accused the Nobel committee of betraying a century-old focus on wider themes of war and conflict solving, by making Maathai, an environmentalist and the first African woman to be chosen, the prize winner. Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has seen around 30 million trees planted in Africa to neutralise carbon emissions and restore natural forests.

And finally, Noel Ahern TD, Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, has welcomed the announcement by the Taoiseach that the 10,000-unit target proposed by the parties to the pay agreement under the Sustaining Progress Affordable Housing Initiative had been met. “Reaching the 10,000-unit target represents a significant milestone under the Affordable Housing Initiative”, said the Minister, “and I welcome the release of Health Board lands by the Tanaiste and Minister for Health and Children, which has the potential to yield 1,400 affordable housing units to the Initiative.” Following extensive consultations with the Department of Health and Children, the portfolio of Health Board lands was examined to determine what lands would be deemed suitable for the Initiative. Lands in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry and Limerick were released to the Initiative which, together with an increase in Part V activity, is now projected to yield 2,500 affordable units to the end of 2006, and the more efficient utilisation of the land already provided, has resulted in the 10,000-unit target figure being exceeded.

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