Saturday, October 30, 2010

Planet Diversity Anti-GMO Protest In Nagoya: Photos

Over 1,000 people participated in the Planet Diversity parade on October 15, 2010 in Nagoya. More people attended this event than two years ago in Bonn, Germany.

Planet Diversity

2 years ago, during the COP9 MOP4 negotiations, the Planet Diversity Parade had some 700 participants.

Here in Japan, activists, farmers, consumers, kids, invited guests from Korea, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Sweden ... A wonderful march throught he busy streets of Nagoya, under intense police protection, with front-page newspaper coverage.

Seems to me that the push for healthy, organic foods, farming without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, by farmers who care about biological diversity, rejecting patents on seeds, is gaining some tremendous momentum around the world.

View as a Slide Show!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last Minutes From MOP5-COP10 In Nagoya

You can watch the livewebcast from the United Nations biodiversity conference on this website (this is as good as it gets):


3 documents are left late Friday night: One is clear (no square brackets) and two that still need discussion.

More later.

Update 7:

India notes that this has been the most successful of all COP meetings. India is eagerly looking forward to welcoming you all to India in 2011. Sayonara!

Update 6:

At 2:20AM, the representative of the indigenous people also mentions the struggle of the people in Okinawa against the construction of a military base in the sensitive Henoko area.

Update 5:

Malaysia is commenting that 2 protocols have been adopted in Nagoya, including the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on the Cartagena Protocol about liability and redress in case of damage caused by genetically modified organisms.

You lose some, you gain some, but Malaysia feels confident that the new treaty on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) will make sure that genetic resources will be shared fairly. Malaysia especially thanks Africa for the negotiations. It was joyful, it was fruitful. Offers profuse thanks to Japan, not for Swiss time, but for Japanese time. We leave Nagoya with two treaties in our pockets.

Namibia notes at 1:48AM (Saturday) that the Nagoya Protocol is a gift to his government as a birthday present, and thanks everyone, above all, thanks the sons and daughters of Africa who walked this road together with Namibia: We are truly grateful.

At 1:40AM, NHK has the news in Japanese (with a Twitter account): COP10 名古屋議定書採択

Update 4:

With Bolivia's concerns out of the way, all 3 documents, including the Access and Benefit Sharing document, were adopted at 1:30AM. Ryu Matsumoto, Japan's minister of the environment, the chair, says he is deeply moved. The next meeting, COP11, will be held in India.

Update 3:

Regarding "Innovative financial mechanisms," by 1:14AM Bolivia cannot accept that all the 3 documents are adopted, but the chair is noting that the majority would like to adopt it. Australia agrees. Bolivia wants their proposal to be included in the final document. Cuba supports Bolivia, and wants to include the proposal, which was also supported by Equador. After some clarifications, Bolivia's proposal was included.

Update 2:

Cuba and others are concerned about the adoption of 3 documents at the same time tonight. About the ABS: All of the years we have spent protecting the poor countries, Cuba does not agree but will not stand in the way of the consensus that is building.

Korea's intervention got a huge rounds of applauds for supporting the chairman's proposal to go ahead with all 3 documents.

Venezuela does not support, and wants that to be included in the report.

Africa says it is not the best document, but they are able to live with it as a starting point...

Bolivia: We want to protect Mother Earth, and the guardians of these resources are the indigenous people: "What we do or do not do will determine the future of Mother Earth." From this conference, we have an obligation to work together. We will not stand in the way of the adoption of the protocol. We will not stand in the way of a consensus.

Update 1:

From NHK World

Benefit-sharing protocol to be voted on

Japan is growing optimistic that its draft protocol on the sharing of benefits from genetic resources will be adopted at a UN conference on biodiversity.

The issue has been a key sticking point during 2 weeks of talks at the COP10 conference in Nagoya, central Japan.

The protocol is aimed at ensuring fair distribution of benefits from genetic resources that richer countries have obtained to develop medicine and other products.

Chair country Japan drew up a draft proposal after industrialized and developing nations failed to narrow their differences by the deadline of midnight Thursday.

Japan presented the draft at a plenary session on Friday -- the last scheduled day of the marathon talks.

NHK's correspondent says Japanese officials met individually with delegates of the participating countries on Friday morning, and learned that the draft proposal has broad support if some of the wording is changed.

Optimism is growing that the proposal will be adopted unanimously in a vote scheduled for Friday.
2010/10/29 17:53

Japan presents chair-country's draft

Japan presented the chair-country's proposal to the UN biodiversity conference after participating countries failed to agree on how to share the profits from biological resources.

A full session of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, will vote on the proposal on its last day on Friday. A unanimous vote is required to adopt the proposal.

By the deadline of midnight Thursday, industrialized and developing nations had failed to come up with an agreement on a protocol to define ways to share profits from products developed using biological resources.

In a last-ditch effort, the Japanese government presented its draft as the chair of the conference on Friday.

The chair country's draft says profits generated after 1993, when a biodiversity pact took effect, should be shared. Although the draft rejected demands from developing nations for compensation from as far back as colonial times, it calls for a new fund to help developing nations protect their ecosystems.

The Japanese proposal also allows a certain amount of profit-sharing for processed products, rather than just for biological resources that are used as ingredients.

A negotiator from Namibia said his country is assessing the chair-country's proposal, and that the issue is whether the proposed protocol would be functional.

(Photo: Reuters)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nagoya Updates: Biological Diversity Not For Sale

Mattias Ahren, representative of the Saami people from Northern Scandinavia, is in Nagoya to defend traditional knowledge in the ABS negotiations.

Photo: Winnifred Bird, who blogs for Earth Island Journal

ABS means Access and Benefit Sharing, and it may be the straw that broke the camel's back... As the Arab saying goes.

Winnifred Bird notes:

This Wednesday, while the pre-COP 10 biosafety conference was still mid-stride, a negotiating session began down the hall to finalize an Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Protocol deals with genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge that's collected in one country and used in another (for example, the DNA of a plant from Brazil used to develop medicine in Canada). The press corps immediately moved camp to the hallway outside the meetings, which were cordoned off on the grounds that they were "highly sensitive." I followed, because those negotiations could very well determine how talks over protected areas, overfishing, and sustainable forestry turn out.

"Developing countries – and some developed countries – have been saying again and again that ABS, the Strategic Plan, and financing are an indivisible package," said Christine von Weizsacker, an NGO representative at this week's ABS negotiations. Officially, Strategic Plan negotiations and those on ABS will proceed on parallel tracks. In reality, they are linked. Think of it this way: If one of your neighbors had been sneaking onto your property, digging up your tulip bulbs, and selling them at the corner store, would you be in the mood to work with that same neighbor on a project to turn part of your backyard into a nature park?

From what I can see here in Nagoya, there is yet some small chance that a deal can be made. But it won't be easy. As Winnifred Bird quoted:

One observer reported a delegate having said, after suffering through a lengthy negotiating session, "Give me back ten years of my life," then correcting himself and saying, "Give me back my soul."

Winnifred Bird continues:

Of course, as Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network reminded me in a recent interview, the outcome of the ABS talks will likely impact how people in resource-rich countries use the wild plants and animals around them. "A country can be rich in biodiversity but poor economically, and therefore have an incentive to degrade its resources in order to develop. We must capture as much benefit [from genetic resources] as possible for the provider country. This gives an incentive to conserve biodiversity," she said. That makes sense, but I hope over the next two weeks concrete commitments to protect oceans, forests, and their myriad inhabitants don't get lost in the shadow of ABS.

Unfortunately, if developed (industrialized) countries in the north do not give an inch, the resource-rich countries in the south will not agree on further access. The patent rules of WIPO and TRIPS in the WTO are all hinged on progress in the ABS negotiations in the CBD (and I do not think I could fit in more obscure terms in a sentence if I tried, but that is how I feel right now).

Asahi just filed this story, worth quoting in full as it tells the story that mainstream media in Europe (or North America) has not yet begun to cover:

COP10/ Firms get set for planned genetic resource rules

Anticipating growing international pressure, some Japanese companies are already taking steps to funnel part of the profits from genetic resources used to make products back to their countries of origin.

Providers of these resources--mostly developing countries--and industrialized nations are sharply divided over details of proposed rules on access and benefit sharing (ABS), a key issue at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) now under way in Nagoya.

ABS refers to the way that genetic resources from animals, plants and microorganisms are obtained and how part of the profits from their use by businesses and other organizations is distributed to the people or countries which provide them.

It remains unclear whether the COP10 meeting can clinch legally binding ABS rules known as the Nagoya Protocol, but companies say momentum demanding users to share appropriate benefits with providers will only grow.

At the COP6 meeting in 2002, the parties to the convention already adopted voluntary Bonn Guidelines on ABS, and many companies are moving in that direction.

One such firm is Sakata Seed Corp., the nation's leading seed and plant supplier.

The Yokohama-based company concluded a contract with Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria in Argentina in 2003 that obliges the company to pay for commercializing plants originating there for ornamental purposes.

"We have shared results of a survey on distribution of plants and provided technology to develop new varieties," said Tsutomu Kagami, executive officer at Sakata. "Our contract proved successful because it included a clause to share nonmonetary benefits that will spur the partner's prosperity."

Sakata is searching for new plant varieties under a program similar to one in Argentina in several other countries.

At an international symposium for the conservation and sustainable use for Asian microbial resources held Oct. 13-14 in Tokyo, the participants included more than those from the drug and cosmetics industries that have a big stake in genetic resources.

Employees with companies producing beer, natto made of fermented soy beans and tires were there to gather information because derivatives of genetic resources may come under ABS regulation.

The symposium was organized by the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE), an organization under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. NITE is conducting joint search on unknown microorganisms in Indonesia, China and five other countries by concluding agreements with national bodies in each country.

NITE stores discovered microorganisms in Japan and provides them to companies and research institutes for a price. Part of the generated profit is distributed to providers via NITE.

Nine Japanese companies are developing drugs and food products, taking advantage of this program.

"It is burdensome for an individual company to negotiate with a partner country on its own," said Katsuhiko Ando, an official with NITE's Biotechnology Development Center. "A company can feel it safe to use the resources obtained by cooperation between government-affiliated organizations."

Inquiries from businesses and research institutes have been surging, asking what precautions they should take when they use biological resources overseas, according to the Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA).

The JBA has received 60 inquiries during the six months from April, compared with 74 in all of fiscal 2009.

Yoshiyasu Yabusaki, director of the JBA's bioindustry development department, said that an increase in the number of inquiries reflects a risk-management step by businesses to avoid potential lawsuits by countries where the resources originate.

The Nord Institute for Society and Environment, a Tokyo think tank that began offering advice to businesses on matters concerning genetic resources, says companies should take caution on the use of such resources.

"Many developing countries harbor a feeling that they have been exploited since the Age of Exploration," said Miharu Sono, chief researcher at the institute. "Businesses could be dealt a serious blow if they take the wrong approach."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Webcast Service From COP10 In Nagoya

The webcasts from the conference about biological diversity in Nagoya are quite a good way to get a feeling for international negotiations, if that's your thing ;) They have both a live on air feed and an on demand library of videos from the main events.

For example, if you want to know more about the treaty about liability and redress for genetically modified crops (we now have a new agreement that will put pressure on the biotech industry in case they cause damage to the environment or human health) please watch this video from the plenary session on Oct 16:

COP-MOP5 Plenary session adopting the new liability and redress treaty (196 min, the good bit - the adoption of the treaty - starts around 118 min and there is a good speech at around 158 min)

Asahi Shinbun also had this story today: GM treaty requires compensation

New rules aimed at exacting compensation from businesses or organizations that allow internationally traded genetically modified crops to spread into the wild were adopted at a U.N. meeting in Nagoya on Friday.

The treaty, which will allow governments in importing countries to pursue those responsible if crops dropped during transportation damage local ecosystems, was adopted amid growing evidence that the existing system for regulating the global spread of genetically modified crops is failing.

Discussions at the Nagoya meeting last week revealed that only 89 of the 158 countries that signed the Cartagena Protocol of 2000 had reported on how they ensured the safety of imported crops. The Cartagena Protocol was a set of international rules intended to improve monitoring in importing nations of genetically modified organisms.

Most of the countries that have failed to report are developing nations, and many are in Africa. Forty-seven countries have not enacted laws based on the protocol.

Developing countries at the Nagoya meeting called for greater support from developed nations in writing legislation and training personnel to do monitoring.

The treaty agreed on Friday is called the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

It lays down rules and procedures on how to respond to damage caused to ecosystems by genetically modified organisms.

If seeds dropped during transportation grow in the wild and damage the local environment, that country's government can specify the party responsible and seek compensation and remedy. If the responsible party fails to take action, relevant administrative bodies will be obliged to do so themselves.

In Japan, a major importer of genetically altered crops, genetically modified organisms have already spread into the wild.

A farm ministry survey at importing ports in 10 prefectures between 2006 and 2008 found genetically modified rapeseed growing in the neighborhoods of eight ports.

The ministry said no evidence of crossbreeding with local plants had been found, but a citizens group in Aichi Prefecture reported that its research, conducted between 2005 and 2009, had found such cases.

Japan screens crossbreeding and other risks under domestic laws based on the Cartagena Protocol. The government has approved 145 genetically modified crops for use in the nation's food or feed supply as of July, including soybeans and varieties of corn.

While commercial production of genetically modified crops is not banned outright in Japan, cultivation is at present limited to research.

The farm ministry said it planned to increase research into crops' impact on ecosystems.

Meanwhile, scientists at the meeting in Nagoya said regulation of genetically modified fish and trees was now becoming an urgent issue. A Canadian company is currently aiming at commercial marketing of quick growing, genetically modified salmon.

NHK: "COP10 Members At Odds On Bioresources"

Just quoting this as the mighty NHK here in Japan does not provide a record of what they report, and I think bloggers [should][may][must] try to act as a memory of things that happen that we care about:

Member countries of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity remain at odds over how to share benefits derived from biological resources.

A 4-day preparatory meeting ended in the central Japanese city of Nagoya on Saturday without agreement on the contentious issues. The participating countries will continue talks at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or COP10, starting on Monday.

The signatory countries were expected to discuss the issue of biological resources, with the goal of setting up international rules and adopting a protocol. They agreed on the less divisive issues.

But they failed to reach a resolution on ways to prevent companies from industrialized nations from using biological resources without developing countries' permission.

They were also unable to agree on how to share the benefits of biological resources.

At Saturday's meeting, the participating countries proposed a draft protocol based on their discussions.

The Canadian chairperson, Tim Hodges, said he regrets that the members failed to reach an agreement on a draft proposal as a whole.

But he said he hopes they can have productive talks at the conference and adopt a protocol in the end.

From: 2010/10/17 NHK World

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Videos From Nagoya COP10/MOP5 About Biodiversity

Last weekend, there was a parade of some 1000-2000 people walking in central Nagoya, under severe police protection, with farmers, anti-GMO activists, housewifes and kids (many from co-ops and organic Teikei networks around Japan), as well as invited guests from South Korea, Malaysia and Canada (and Sweden).

I did a quick search and found a few videos on Youtube:

BBC Editor [Explains] [Provides Poor Excuse For] [Has No Idea] About COP10 In Nagoya

Just found this gem from the BBC Editors Blog, where they try to explain why the international media has been totally absent from the UN negotiations during the past week in Nagoya.

The [lack of] [lackluster] media coverage of a major international treaty having been finalized (about liability and redress issues regarding damage from genetically modified organisms) and lack of progress about the controversial topic of Access and Benefit Sharing of genetic resources (a deep divide between the resource-rich countries in the south and the north, where biotech industries want to patent and profit from said resources) is depressing.

The BBC editor [explains] [cops out saying] [makes some good points but fails to get to the core of the problem that media is no longer telling people what is really going on]:

The Convention on Biodiversity was established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 with the aim of preventing the creeping extinction of the various forms of life on earth which are under threat from the growing population of human beings and their industrial and agricultural development.

UN members committed themselves to protecting life on Earth from extinction and making this a central part of their economic development - what's called sustainable development - but since then, biodiversity loss has accelerated.

Many environmentalists and conservationists, such as Jonathan Baillie of the Zoological Society of London argue the loss of biodiversity is an immediate threat, and yet there is much less coverage in the mainstream media of the issue than, say, climate change.

This week on The World Tonight we have been previewing the conference with a series of reports and special edition of the programme tonight.

(Before I am accused of being holier-than-thou, I have to acknowledge that we on The World Tonight have not given this issue as much coverage as we have climate change and other environmental issues, so in a sense this week we've been playing catch up.)

The participants in our special told me they felt the issue has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and that they find it difficult to get journalists and editors who are not environment specialists to engage with the issue.

But why should this be, given the experts are saying the situation is very bad and deteriorating fast?

Working on the plans for our special programme, has made me think about the possible reasons for this

Journalism - especially perhaps broadcast journalism - prefers issues where there are clearly divergent views and a more binary debate, such as there is regarding climate change. But with biodiversity there isn't that divergence over the fundamentals - there seems to be little disputing that biodiversity is being lost, so the debate is over what to do about it and, even there, there seems a high degree of consensus between environmentalists, conservationists and business - as our special programme reflects.

Stories about the threat to tigers in a particular country or say polar bears in the Arctic are not uncommon. But wider biodiversity loss and its causes are a more complex issue which is quite difficult to present in short reports and articles, which may be deterring mainstream journalists and editors.

Also, it's been suggested that because natural history programming, be it from the BBC, National Geographic, or others, is very good and very popular with audiences, many journalists have seen that as providing adequate coverage of the issue.

I have to say I wouldn't agree that natural history programmes are enough given the role that governments, business and non-governmental organisations play in biodiversity policy.

Whatever the reasons for the relative lack of coverage, the conference next week, even if there's no conclusive outcome, gives us the opportunity to report on the issues around biodiversity loss.

BBC Editors Blog: Biodiversity: Lost or missing?

And I do hope they will try harder. NHK, meanwhile, has done a terrific job here locally for its 120 million viewers, with daily reports in the news, and also special features, including hour-long reports about biopiracy and how countries like Peru are implementing legislation to both protect their precious genetic resources in a sustainable way, and also give access to sincere people who want to do serious research, and, in the case where there are commercial applications, share the benefits. BBC, you can learn a lot from NHK.

(Square brackets are part of the way UN treaties are [[negotiated] [bullied through by the [industrial][developed] countries [that can bribe others]] [held hostage until the negotiators are too tired to resist any longer][kept sane by [other interested parties][people who care about the global environment and the health and safety of other people]] - and yes, you can have square brackets within square brackets, and yes, sometimes they get confused and have long and tedious discussions about which square bracket they are talking about, and which one they have just agreed to delete, in order to produce "clean text" that everyone can agree on...)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Biopiracy Revisited In Nagoya

Very briefly, as I am going from meeting to meeting, and the next session starts in 15 minutes: the negotiators of the Access and Benefit treaty has made some progress, they claim, having completed 19 articles with 23 remaining. They have until October 29 to finalize the important treaty, that they are referring to as "the heart of the Convention on Biological Diversity." Very difficult negotiations on issues like monitoring and compliance, and how to make sure that researchers actually have "prior informed consent" from the people in the region where he or she got a particular genetic resource...

I am mostly in the room with the compliance talks (Article 13) and it was interesting how the different groupings are very careful to not give in on any issue. For example, there is talk about creating check-points, and if they should be national authorities, or research institutions, or even the patent offices (many coutries in Europe use this as a way to control if genetic material comes from legitimate sources or not).

Check-points are very important for monitoring, as they can provide information on what happens to a sample after it is shipped to another country. There is concern that if a country approves use of a genetic resource as a medicine, perhaps the company will also start to do research and use it for cosmetics, which it was not supposed to do (at least not without sharing some of the profit with the provider country). Check-points are also said to be important for preserving precious resources, such as rare plants, that could be exploited or made extinct if there are no rules.

NHK showed an interesting documentary a few nights ago about several cases of biopiracy, and I met the producer of that film. I will add the link after the next session!

Meanwhile, we learn that about 75% of food biodiversity (seeds, fruit trees, even domesticated animals) was lost in the 20th century. Seriously, many of the 6 Billion plus people on this planet are still unable to feed themselves (or their children) and 80% of the world's dietary energy is supplied by just 12 different crops. And only 10 companies control more than 55% of the world's food seed market (and they want more).

We also rely on natural plants and their extracts for many, if not most, of our important drugs and medicines. The pharmaceutical industry and the biotech companies make it seem like they invent things in test tubes in laboratories, but that is rarely the case. They carefully craft such an image to steer our thinking away from nature, towards a world where they can claim extensive patent rights and make huge profits on substances and cures that were discovered and used by indigenous people since times immemorial. The biotech industry is of course here in Nagoya, freely talking to government delegates, giving them advice and encouragement.

Meanwhile, representatives from native peoples like the Same in northern Scandinavia or the Native Americans are equally if not better prepared to fight for their rights, but clearly under-funded and less able to influence the negotiations directly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Anti-GMO Parade For Biodiversity In Nagoya (Updated)

Some 1000 activists, farmers, and consumers held events in Nagoya on Sunday, with a big parade through the busy city. The Japan Citizens' Network for Planet Diversity, Co-ops including Seikatsu Club and many local NGOs, Organic farmers and members of the Shumei Network, and Consumers Union of Japan and the No! GMO Campaign made the front page news this sunny Monday morning, as the government delegates start negotiations today about biological diversity.

COP10 starts with MOP5 (including liability and redress issues), and there has been some progess.

The way these negotiations work is complicated and they used a style that is called "Friends of the Chair" to deal with gridlock, when opposing parties cannot agree. This means the negotiations take place with smaller groups of countries, and the results are then proposed to the others. Last night, this went on past midnight, until after 2AM, when a solution was found.

Thus, one important topic was solved rather cleverly early on in the MOP5 negotiations in Nagoya.

Many countries and NGOs wanted the text to refer to both the Living Modified Organisms that can damage the biological diversity, but also the "products thereof" - a way to include proteins and toxic substances that we would not want to spread in the environment. But, this term was controversial. Some countries, especially the food exporting countries, thought it can lead to trade barriers and go against the "obligations" that countries have under the World Trade Organization. The idea had been bitterly opposed even by Japan, a country that imports food...

The chair of course refers not to a piece of furniture but is UN-speech for the chairman... and he was able to come up with a text that says:

It emerged during the negotiations of the Supplementary Protocol that Parties to the Protocol hold different understandings of the application of Article 27 of the Protocol to processed materials that are of living modified organism-origin. One such understanding is that Parties may apply the Supplementary Protocol to damage caused by such processed materialss, provided that a causal link is established between the damage and the living modified organism in question.

By agreeing on this, countries that want to can have more strict legislation, to protect their biological diversity, the environment - and human health.

21 official documents so far, and this is just the first day!

The real difficulties over the next weeks will be how access and benefit sharing should be handled for genetic resources. NHK World notes:

In the preliminary talks, a rift became apparent between developing countries that possess most of the resources and the developed countries that use them.


Photo: Front page image from Mainichi Shinbun, Monday October 11, 2010!

COP10:開幕祝い800人パレード 名古屋

COP10開幕前にパレードする参加者ら=名古屋市中区で2010年10月10日午後4時、竹内幹撮影 国連生物多様性条約第10回締約国会議(COP10=名古屋会議)は、名古屋市熱田区の名古屋国際会議場で11日始まる。開幕を前に10日、農家の人や市民団体など約800人が、生物多様性の大切さを訴えて同市栄の繁華街をパレードした。



Friday, October 08, 2010

Nuclear Free World: Germany Blinks, Büchel To Drop 22 (Old) US Nuclear Bombs

Japan has its Three Non-Nuclear Principles. I have always wondered why Germany allows US missiles on its territory. Finally, Germany has moved a step closer to ridding its soil of the last remaining American atomic weapons:

The federal government plans to end the deal by 2013 and perhaps earlier, when it decommissions its ageing Tornado fighter jets, which are equipped to drop the nuclear bombs, the Rheinische Post reported. At present, the Tornado fighters, stationed at the Bundeswehr base at Büchel in the Mosel region, are ready to drop the estimated 22 American-owned nuclear bombs stored on German soil. Those bombs are housed at the the Büchel base, guarded by US soldiers.

But the Tornado jets are due to be decommissioned and the Rheinische Post reported that Germany would not continue the so-called NATO “nuclear sharing” agreement.

While the change is being driven primarily by budget cuts, it also takes Germany a step closer to getting rid of the remaining nuclear weapons on its soil – a fervent goal of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s. But Germany's move is likely to spark a row within NATO, which wants to continue with the policy of nuclear deterrence, the paper reported.

The bombs in Büchel are the last nuclear weapons on German soil, according to the report. While authorities will not confirm their number, it is believed to be 22.

The Tornado squadron was supposed to be replaced by the new Eurofighter. But the new jet would have needed to be redesigned to be capable of carrying the nuclear weapons. Because of the recent tough budget cuts in defence and other areas of government spending, it was decided that the “nuclear sharing” squadron be abandoned altogether.

The Local: Germany to end 'nuclear sharing' with US

Büchel, as important as it may have been, has no English page on Wikipedia. Try the German or French. The Tornadoes have been based there since 1985. The nuclear bombs stored, in case you wondered, are of the 340 kilotons TNT type (some 26 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945). German activists are strongly opposed to these American-owned weapons being stored on German soil...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Nagoya To Host United Nations Meeting On Biological Diversity

Nagoya is the host of a major UN meeting starting this weekend. The United Nations has worked hard to get member countries to protect plants and wildlife, including animals. This is all part of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol.

Nagoya will also host side events and the Planet Diversity Parade, as well as a large number of meetings where governments, NGOs and others will discuss progress - and setbacks.

Why is biological diversity so important?

Simply put, plants and living creatures co-exist beautifully. We survive together, in peacful co-existence. We need variety to survive; nature abhores incest. If we don't have diverse wildlife and satoyama and healthy rivers and oceans, we are in deep trouble. Climate change also adds to the mix, as the planet seems to go through huge, sudden changes. Meanwhile, multinational corporations like Monsanto and BASF managed to get patents on genetically modified (GM) seeds, but failed to provide the sustainable basis that farmers and consumers need for food security.

In Nagoya this month, negotiatiors will also deal with "access and benefit sharing" which is a huge issue especially for countries with rich and vibrant biological diversity. Pay attention to news about the ABS negotiations, as this may or may not be a success in Nagoya.

Updates: Consumers Union of Japan
English website:

1) MOP5 (Cartagena Protocol Issues):

On Sunday October 10, 2010, a number of organizations are holding an out-door pre-event from 10:00-16:00 at the Sakae Mochi no Ki Hiroba in Nagoya. There will be a Planet Diversity Parade from 15:00-16:30 on that day followed by a Forum on October 11 from 9:30-16:40. Finally, on October 16, will sum up the results of the MOP5 negotiations at an event from 13:00-17:00 at Wink Aichi Hall 1102.

For our foreign friends and supporters, the pre-event in the park on Sunday on October 10 and the Forum on October 11 (Monday) will perhaps be the most interesting. Among the speakers on October 11 will be Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, Australian anti-GMO activist Julie Newman, Norwegian expert on Mexican maize David Quist, and special guests from South Korea and The Philippines, who will talk about GMO-free zones and the Asian campaign against GM rice. Speakers from Japan include Amagasa Keisuke from the No! GMO Campaign and Kawata Masaharu, who has led the efforts to expose GM canola contamination around Japan.

We hope Nagoya will give real results both inside the negotiation hall and outside among citizens, who want to help protect our food and our farming by thinking locally and globally about genetic resources. The theme for our actions is “Food and agriculture that protect biological diversity: Aiming for a world without GMO.” Hope to see you in Nagoya!

2) ABS (Access and Benefit Sharing):

From IPS Watch:

At stake is a binding instrument aimed at protecting biological resources from the taking of these resources without proper access to or benefits from products arising from them.

Outstanding issues can be found in several provisions, such as Article 3 describing the scope of the protocol, in particular about genetic resources acquired before the entry into force of the protocol, and what genetic resources may be excluded from the text, such as human genetic resources, or human pathogens.

As an example of the small differences that can hold up progress, on Article 4 on fair and equitable benefit sharing, the draft text shows three very similar variations: “to ensure … sharing,” or “with the aim of ensuring … sharing,” or “with the aim of sharing.” The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported in a briefing note that delegates debated this topic last week. They said a group of Asian-Pacific countries sought the first option, but were opposed by the EU and Canada, who said the language would be “legally inappropriate.”

Article 5 on access to genetic resources and Article 6 on research and emergency situations – whose title itself is heavily bracketed – have been discussed at length, according to participating sources.

3) COP10 Some of the many Side Events that may be of interest:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Launching ceremony of the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative with partners including national governments, international organizations, and NGOs. The Minister of the environment of Japan is expected to participate in the side event.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The event will be held to launch a CBD Technical Report on the topic of Satoumi, and to elaborate how Satoumi is used in Japan to improve the management of marine and coastal biodiversity in an ecosystem approach context.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

This meeting gives an introduction to emerging multiple layers of partnerships at international as well as local levels from diverse sectors including international organizations, local governments, NGOs as well as the corporate sector for conservation and management of biodiversity of the Yellow Sea.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Presentations and panel discussion by multistakeholders for promoting the implementation of post-2010 target, including the discussion of "UN Decade on Biodiversity."

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

In October 2009, the UN agencies etc. (including UNEP) published a report, in which notes that “Out of all the biological carbon (or green carbon) captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine living organisms – not on land – hence it is called blue carbon.”. In CO2 absorption by marine organisms (referred to as “the Blue Carbon”), organisms in coastal waters are said to play a major role. The Blue Carbon approach, which is suitable for the Japanese land with the 6th longest shoreline, will become a focus of world attention. *Although restoration of seagrass/seaweed beds and tidal flats have been undertaken from the viewpoints of marine environmental restoration, fisheries promotion, recovery of interactive space between citizens and the sea in Japan, adding a new viewpoint of “contribution to the solution of the global environmental problem” will be expected to accelerate the existing approaches above. *In this session, we will introduce the concept of “the Blue Carbon” getting attention as a carbon sink against global warming first, and then present Japanese leading-edge techniques for marine restoration widely, such as sand capping utilizing dredged soil, effort to conserve and restore seagrass/seaweed beds and tidal flats, installation of organism-coexisting structures.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Oceans are the least protected areas of the planet and progress is lamentably slow, with less than 1% of the world’s oceans given comprehensive protection. The current rate of protection means that there is little chance of the world’s governments meeting the 2012 target to establish a global network of marine protected areas. Greenpeace will be presenting a new report that will frame this lack of progress with the deepening crisis in the world’s oceans, show where the governance gaps are, explain what needs to be done and use the 2012 target and the failure to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 to demand that urgent action is taken. The event will highlight Greenpeace’s active campaign work both on the high seas and in national waters to illustrate various aspects of the problem and outline the solutions.

Friday, 22 October 2010

This event will showcase two of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management’s latest flagship products: the recently-initiated process to develop categories and criteria for assessing the conservation status of ecosystems, and a new publication on ecosystems and climate adaptation – the latest in the CEM Ecosystem Management Series. The Ecosystem Red List aims to develop a globally applicable methodology to assess the status of ecosystems. The event will present an update of the proposed methodology of categories and criteria, building on experiences from the IUCN SSC Red List of Threatened Species, provide an opportunity for input, and invite testing of the proposed system. In addition, the event will also launch the latest CEM Ecosystem Management Series publication, which presents examples from around the world that demonstrate the role of ecosystems and the services they provide to support people to adapt to climate change.

If you use Twitter or Facebook, make sure to spread the word about this important meeting to others.

Thank you!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Spike Japan: Ikeshima Visit To Honour The Demise Of King Coal

From Ikeshima: Goodbye to old King Coal

“Goodbye King Coal, you venal tyrant,” I thought to myself, “and good riddance. It’s good you’re gone, gone at last from these lands at least, gone with your lives cut short by dust blast and black lung, gone with your weeping widows, gone with your fatherless children. And goodbye to you, too, Ikeshima: may your dreams of ruin come true, may you rust in peace.”

Bloggers like Spike Japan make blogging seem fun again... He has the insights into the way rural Japan (and the centres of many small towns) are faring these days, with the once so vibrant shopping archades of the late 1970s and their plastic roofs and signs not-so-bright-and-colourful anymore, neglected beyond hope.

Great photography, too.

It may come as a shock to almost all of you living outside of Japan, and to some of you living in the center of its big cities, that as we approach the summer of 2009, swathes of the country are in ruins. It came as a shock to me, too, I have to confess, having lived for almost all of the last decade in the bubble of central Tokyo and only venturing outside occasionally to get to the airport, nearby beaches, and old friends in the mountains.

There are many places where the local economy does rather splendidly, of course. I don't think Spike Japan is going to visit them, so keep that in mind.

Old coal mining towns and islands are not doing so terribly well anywhere, these days. What I am more concerned about is how we can learn lessons from this, as we go from Peak Coal to Peak Oil, and the economy that will follow after that. And, the fact that most of us don't know how to farm beyond the simplest Mickey Mouse F1 seed-company induced summer veggies that wouldn't sustain us for very long.

When the towns and islands in Spike Japan's long and carefully written posts died, the residents could move somewhere else. Much like the "immigrants and refugees" that now live in old coal towns with burnt brick buildings from the 19th Century in northern parts of England and the tax-supported concrete apartment towns with walls and ceilings made of plastic that boomed in the 1960s and early 1970s (before that Oil Crisis, that we all prefer not to think about) in Scandinavia - - where would I go, if it all just collapsed?

His posts from the deep north, Hokkaido are terrific, too.

I like how he starts with a quote from Alan Booth's classic The Road to Sata (1985):

“Well, just remember this”, he said, getting up off his stool for the conclusion of the lecture, so that he stood a good deal taller than I did: “A country’s like a sheet of paper; it’s got two sides. On one side there’s a lot of fancy lettering—that’s the side that gets flaunted about in public. But there’s always a reverse side to a piece of paper—a side that might have ugly doodlings on it, or bits of graffiti, or goodness knows what. If you’re going to write about a country, make good and sure you write about both sides”.

Seriously, this is a blogger who has even visited Sata. You get bonus points if you even know where Sata is. Sadly, I had no idea, as I read Alan Booth's book a long, long time ago. Japan Spike reminds me of that: I came to Japan a long, long time ago!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Japan Imperial Train E655

When the Emperor and his wife Michiyo-sama took the Imperial Train late September 2010, a large number of densha otaku (I suppose "trainspotters" is the best English term, but some are of course just parents that bring their kids) were delighted: They all take photos and post videos on Youtube and other Internet media.

The train is a E655 and it had not been used for 2 years. This black train is much like Air Force One in the United States, but more down to earth, so to speak. The first Imperial Train trip was on 12 November 2008, when the train was used for a trip that the Japanese Imperial couple took with the Spanish Royal couple. It is a VIP train that ordinary people can also ride, as part of JR's extensive promotional activities called Joyful Train.

お召し列車 Omeshi Ressha refers to a non-scheduled service solely operated for the Imperial Family. E655 is built by Tokyu Car Corporation and Hitachi Ltd. The E655 series unit can be hauled by a diesel locomotive on non-electrified lines, in which case power for air conditioning and lighting is supplied by the diesel generator in car 1.

Train makers like Tokyu are very much in symbiosis with other manufacturers around the world, and have a long history of working together. Tokyu first licenced technology from Budd Company from Philadelphia in the early 1960s.

Today, as Japan pitches its Shinkansen trains to the United States, perhaps there are links with rail fans in the US that could be nurtured and encouraged. Hitachi, meanwhile, has been exporting trains to UEA in the Middle East, to the UK and to South Korea. Hitachi is active in China, including Shanghai and Beijing, but appears to play down its role to not upset clients in the communist country.

The Emperor looked at rice fields in Chiba, and the Empress waved to the trainspotting crowds.

I also like the simple ceremony caught in this video, showing three JR train workers unwrapping the two Hinomaru flags and polishing the Imperial Seal, and how it shows a lot of attention to detail.

I'm usually no huge fan of royalty, but when they promote trains and public transportation, and appreciate the hard work of farmers (such as the Imperial Household's Organic Farms back in February 2008), I tend to think it is rather Kurashi-like stuff! Only thing is, did they have to paint it black? Why not a nice, dark red or a very deep purple, or a dignified royal marine blue...?

Rare Earths Explained

Most of our gadgets work in mysterious ways, that our high school science teachers didn't prepare us for (or we didn't pay attention). Remember the Periodic Table?

Periodic Table in Japanese

If you have been wondering what "rare earths" are, it may be useful to go back to Chemistry or Physics 101. Or even better, use google or yahoo for something useful, for a change!

Sorry if that sounds patronizing. I liked Mutant Frog's post called Breakin’ Supply: Electric Boogaloo but The Japan Times was unusually informative today, 1-0 to print media. In addition to the usual US perspective, Hiroko Nakata also has the details about Japan's dealings with Kazakhstan to secure a steady supply of these important metals:

Meanwhile, the industry ministers of Japan and Kazakhstan confirmed Wednesday that the two countries will cooperate on production of rare earth elements in central Asia. In March, Sumitomo Corp. signed a deal with Kazakhstan's national nuclear power company Kazatomprom to form a joint venture and produce rare earth metals in the country, including neodymium and dysprosium, which are crucial to building motors for electric vehicles. Toshiba Corp. said it signed up with the same Kazakhstan firm in June to establish a joint venture to produce rare earth metals coming out of uranium mines in which Toshiba has a financial interest. The electronics maker said it hopes to set up the venture by the end of the year and start producing rare earth elements used in motor magnets.

There are also deals with Vietnam, and others. Japan may bring the matter to the World Trade Organization, but Beijing has denied issuing any orders to stop exports to Japan. Clearly, Japan is preparing to be less dependent on China, and we can all continue buying mobile phones, iPods, Toyota Hybrids, Honda Insight, and whatever. Consumers could also reduce their spending on gadgets, and thus contribute to less international tension about these matters.

The Japan Times: Firms rethink rare earth sourcing
Makers look to diversify suppliers and end overreliance on Beijing

China has a lot of cheap labour, and while rare earths are not exactly "rare," they are difficult to make from ordinary dirt, where they may be present in very tiny quantities. Deng Xiaoping, apparently, made it a priority that China would master the development and production of these metals a generation ago, according to Bloomberg, with retired officials from the US Defense Department quoted on the record as saying that "The Pentagon has been incredibly negligent..."

Bloomberg: Pentagon Loses Control of Bombs to China Metal Monopoly

Great. Why don't the Chinese simply stop selling all these dangerous metals, so we can rid the planet of weapons of mass destruction...?

If you don't immediately remember what stuff like neodymium or dysprosium may be, I recommend the following blog, Economic Science Community.

Their post in June, 2010 has the title Rare Earth Crossroads:

Before turning to those questions about China, here’s a quick tutorial on rare earths and their uses:

Neodymium is used to make permanent magnets for hard disk drives, MRI machines, guitar pick-ups, loudspeakers and headphones, cordless tools, servo motors, compressors, and drive motors for hybrid cars. A Toyota Prius contains 2.2 pounds of neodymium.

Rhenium, the newest element on the periodic table (1925), is a vital component in super-alloys of steel that withstand very high temperatures, greatly extending the durability and fuel-economy of jet engines, rocket engines, and camera flashes. Paired with platinum, rhenium is a catalyst in the production of un-leaded gasoline.

Samarium, also used to make magnets, is a filament in carbon-arc lighting (used in movie production), and it appears in nuclear reactors, lasers, optical glass, as a catalyst in ethanol production, and in a bone-cancer drug called Quadramet.

Erbium is a doping agent in fiber optic lines -- it boosts signal strength, similar to the way a compressor to a gas or oil pipeline to boost flow speed. An erbium and ytterbium compound is used in welding torches, having largely replaced carbon dioxide-based cutting lasers.

Europium, one of the first rare earths to be used commercially, created “red” in early color television sets and does so still in flat screen monitors of all kinds. In fact, demand for colorization of television triggered much of the research and development of rare earths and indirectly to all the applications mentioned above. Thank you, television.

The other rare earths – cerium, dysprosium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, praseodymium, promethium, scandium, terbium, thulium, and yttrium -- are used in some of the applications above, to color or polish glass or ceramics, or in lighting applications (lasers, lamp filaments, etc.).

Japan has a Rare Earth Society but you would expect more on that website, considering how important these metals and elements are to Japan's economy.

The photo from Bloomberg is interesting, it comes from a factory that proudly displays a quote by Deng Xiaoping, stating, "The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths."

The Periodic Table is credited to Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, who intended the table to illustrate recurring ("periodic") trends in the properties of the elements.

Back to high school: What I do remember about these metals and elements is that many of them were discovered and named by Swedish researchers (from wikipedia):

Lanthanum was discovered in 1839 by Swedish chemist Carl Gustav Mosander, when he partially decomposed a sample of cerium nitrate by heating and treating the resulting salt with dilute nitric acid. From the resulting solution, he isolated a new rare earth he called lantana.

Lars Fredrik Nilson found a new element in the minerals euxenite and gadolinite from Scandinavia. He was able to prepare 2 gram of scandium oxide of high purity. He named it scandium, from the Latin Scandia meaning "Scandinavia".

In 1787, Carl Axel Arrhenius found a new mineral near Ytterby in Sweden and named it ytterbite, after the village. Johan Gadolin discovered yttrium's oxide in Arrhenius' sample in 1789, and Anders Gustaf Ekeberg named the new oxide yttria. (Europium oxide is widely used as a red phosphor in television sets and fluorescent lamps, and as an activator for yttrium-based phosphors.)

Thanks, wikipedia!

So, dear readers of Kurashi, who are more used to me and others going on and on about biological diversity, food and ag issues, peace, oil supply concerns, and other fun topics (including lithium for the batteries in hybrid cars), aren't you glad you asked, "What on earth are rare earths?"