International business briefs: Automakers must clean up act, EPA director, Everest litter climb, Coral symposium, EPA air pollution report, Mapping Madagascar

Global Exchange and Rainforest Action Network today denounced Ford Motor Company and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers for filing a Federal lawsuit to overturn California's widely popular new vehicle emissions standards. California's new regulations are the nation's first-ever rules to reduce emissions linked to global warming and the most advanced automotive greenhouse gas reduction targets in the world. The announcement came on the same day as the release of "Automaker Rankings 2004," a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists that ranks Ford as having "the absolute worst heat-trapping gas emissions performance of all the Big Six automakers." The US EPA has ranked Ford with the worst overall fuel efficiency of all major automakers for 20 or the last 30 years, including every year since 2000. "Instead of hiring lawyers and lobbyists to fight against reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Ford and other automakers should be hiring engineers to comply with this eminently reasonable law," said Jason Mark, clean car campaigner at the human rights group Global Exchange. "Rather than resist progress, Ford and other automakers need to start driving progress forward."

US EIP director Eric Schaeffer issued the following statement today on the departure of Environmental Protection Agency Director Michael Leavitt: “President Bush now has a golden opportunity – his third – to appoint an EPA director who is serious about protecting America’s air and water. Here are the three areas in which the new EPA director should focus his or her efforts: enforce the law – file a complaint or two against a power plant to show the public that the energy industry doesn’t have a get-out-of-jail-free card from the EPA; walk the beat – get out of the Washington office and visit those being affected by pollution incidents; and put science back in the driver’s seat at EPA – promise not to agree to any more regulatory exemptions.”

Tibetan volunteers have announced they are planning a trip to the top of the world’s tallest mountain – to pick up rubbish. The Tibetans will work with environmental protection experts over the next three years in an attempt to clear up the litter on Mount Everest at an altitude of between 6,500 and 8,000 metres. The famous has been strewn with debris ever since adventurers have flocked to try to tackle its slopes since the 1920s.

UK Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, this week opened the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) coral reef conservation symposium. The Minister also took the opportunity to launch the “2004 Status of Coral Reefs of the World” report in the UK. Mr Bradshaw said: “The purpose of this symposium is to map out a strategy for coral reef conservation around the world. One key element is mainstreaming coral reef conservation management approaches into national sustainable development and investment strategies and developing effective partnerships between governments, agencies and civil society. This has been a significant undertaking with Defra putting in some £200,000 to the running of the ICRI during our stewardship. Some of the messages in the status report are stark, but it is not all bad news. It is heartening to be able to point to cases where effective management has shown that coral reef degradation can be stopped and reversed.”

In the US, levels of fine particle pollution, also known as PM 2.5, were the lowest in 2003 since nationwide monitoring began in 1999, according to an EPA report released this week. The improved air quality can be largely attributed to EPA’s Acid Rain Programme, along with other programmes that reduced emissions that contribute to fine particle formation. The report, The Particle Pollution Report: Current Understanding of Air Quality and Emissions through 2003 looks at recent and long-term trends in air quality and emissions, explores the characteristics of particle pollution in the United States, and takes a close look at particle pollution in 2003 (the most recent year for which data are available). Since 1999, monitored concentrations of PM2.5 have decreased 10% and are about 30% lower than EPA estimates of levels 25 years ago. Concentrations of PM10 have declined 7% since 1999 and 31% since 1988. Monitored levels of both particles decreased most in areas having the highest concentrations.

And finally, led by the British Geological Survey (BGS), a UK/US consortium has won a US$ 6.9 million contract to prepare a geological map of northern and central Madagascar. The BGS is the world’s longest established national geological survey, providing expert services and advice in all areas of geoscience. The consortium also includes the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and local Madagascar partner GLW Conseil. The group fought off competition from the French, on technical expertise and competitive pricing, in a competitive tender. The three-year project, set to start in January, forms part of the US $ 30 million Madagascar Mining Reform Programme, funded by the World Bank.

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