Category Archives: Environment

Reuters correspondent, research scientist and environmental advisor: “There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic”

There are many references to the falls in levels of air pollution in the world’s cities; as Kate Abnett (left) European Climate and Energy Correspondent, writes in an article for Reuters:

“Air pollution has decreased in urban areas across Europe during lockdowns to combat the coronavirus, new satellite images showed on Monday. Air pollution can cause or exacerbate lung cancer, pulmonary disease and strokes. China also recorded a drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities during February, when the government imposed draconian lockdown measures to contain the raging epidemic”.

Dr David Wilson (right) – geologist and earth scientist – points out in the Financial Times the effect on economic output of the changes brought about by coronavirus. “Some of us will be travelling less. Some might seek a different trade-off between work and leisure. Carmakers might cut their excess production capacity”. He continues:

“I cannot be the only one to think that less air travel, more leisure, and not quite so many cars on the roads might all be rather good things”.

Stimulus there must surely be, but a stimulus programme which is aimed principally at the total level of gross domestic product risks worsening all the social ills of the world before the pandemic

The trouble comes from economists and financial journalists who, despite their best intentions, find it impossible to abandon the idea that GDP is good in itself (and that more must be better). Dr Wilson says that this ‘axiom of so much modern policymaking’ must be abandoned. ’The point of government is not to ensure economic output of so much per head of population, it is to give citizens the chance of good lives bailouts of businesses and households must learn from the mistakes of 2008 and protect the small and vulnerable.

In a recent paper, Alan Simpson (below left) – in a recent paper – also notes the dramatic improvements in air quality which have come with the Covid crisis.

He comments: “If we’re to learn anything it is that ‘recovery planning’ should not begin by re-filling the streets with a problem our children’s lungs didn’t need in the first place. Putting clean before dirty must be at the heart of post-crisis planning. It would mark the end of neoliberalism’s Armageddon economics”. He later focusses on strategic ‘food supply’ issues.

“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, has banned its export. The same ban applies to carrots, sugar and potatoes. Serbia has stopped exporting sunflower oil and other food goods. Russia is weighing up whether to follow suit. It won’t stop there. Wild weather across Europe and beyond is causing mayhem with global food supply. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . .

“We may grow only half our own food needs but, right now, Britain requires some 70,000 seasonal workers to pick the fruit and veg sitting in farms across the country. Besides cutting the UK’s ‘food imports’ bill (£50bn/p.a) this is an essential part of feeding the public. If the government is looking to deploy the Army in the midst of the crisis, at least let them begin as a Land Army . . .

“Food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive. Huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants. Huge numbers of vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries. This is the moment when Britain should give new powers to local authorities; to be the binding between local supply, local need and the networks of volunteers offering to bring the two together”.

Dr Wilson sums up: ‘There may be the seeds of some good things in this pandemic — a fairer society, with more time for family than for chasing money, a decline in environmental destruction — and any sweeping government intervention ought to try to nurture them”.

 

 

 

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The Great Unravelling: a system in meltdown, Part 1

Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds

Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.

Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.

The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.

Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.

Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene

But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.

  • Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
  • huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
  • accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
  • provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
  • The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
  • Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.

The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.

And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.

Food security

The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?

Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.

Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?

(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.

The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to

“Pandemic Bonds”

In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.

This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.

The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.

In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.

He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.

 

Alan Simpson

8 March 2020

 

 

 

 

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Wake up Britain! The EC sees inland waterway transport as a serious, sustainable alternative

Welcome news on ESO’s website

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The European Skippers Organisation (ESO) was set up to make the voices of the European Barge Union (EBU) and independent inland waterway transport (IWT) entrepreneurs clearly heard by the European Commission. Over the years, the organisation has occupied itself with various matters, including market regulation, fleet renewal, market observation, waterway bottlenecks, inland shipping promotion, crew regulation, training, accommodation, environmental problems and River Information Services.

2019: Brussels sees IWT as a serious and sustainable alternative 

ESO reports that in December, the European Commission presented its climate plans for the next decades. To reach the climate goals and reduce greenhouse gases the EC wants to give inland shipping a bigger role in transport in the EU, conveying more cargo, improving existing infrastructure and building new waterways. Never before has such a policy been made in favour of inland shipping which will move forward and do the utmost to fulfil the challenges ahead, for the benefit of people, planet and prosperity.

UK at Forefront of Transport Innovation (not)

Surprisingly there was no reference to the potential of water freight in a major report (UK at the Forefront of Transport Innovation) on how the UK can capitalise on opportunities offered by transport technologies and innovation to benefit the economy, society and the citizen. It was published on 31st January 2019 by the Government Office for Science.waterfreight

Waterborne Technology Platform, the European research and innovation platform for waterborne industries published their January 2019 report presenting vision, strategy, time-path and expected benefits of targeted research into inland waterway transport and ports.

The EU’s Green Transport Deal  

A Euractive Green Deal article reports that in October, climate chief Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament that he wants to establish ‘green ports’ around Europe, which offer clean refuelling infrastructure and reduced costs for less-polluting ships.

Boats, barges and ships will form a vital part of the new mobility plan in the EC proposal to shift a “substantial” part of the 75% of freight carried by road to inland waterways and rail.

 

 

 

 

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FFA(NI): climate-destructive food swaps only benefit profiteering corporates

Farmers For Action (Northern Ireland) earlier this month issued a statement about the recent “leaked” emails in the press from Treasury Advisor Dr Tim Leunig, arguing that the UK food sector is not critically important to the economy and that agriculture and fishery production certainly isn’t. This implies that UK farmers aren’t so important and UK agriculture can be the sacrificial lamb in US crunch post Brexit talks.

In their press release (click to read) they point out that the food that UK farmers produce translates into by far the biggest industry in the UK by tonnage and on top of this accounts for 60%+ of all transported goods throughout the UK

Leunig pointed to the example of Singapore, an island city-state that imports almost all of its food, as a model for Britain; he makes no reference to what happened in the Second World War when the UK almost starved as food importing ships were being sunk – and here we are again with unforeseen circumstances of the coronavirus COVID-19.

The UK produces safe quality food to EU high standards with the Minister for the Environment indicating these will continue and backing up the UK farmers as best his brief will allow him, bar the influence of people like Dominic Cummings and Dr Leunig.

The UK has declared a climate change emergency, therefore there is no justification for importing beef or importing dairy products or chicken or any produce in which we are self-sufficient or buy from our nearest neighbours.

William Taylor (FFA) added that this government must be held to account about the carbon footprint caused by importing food products we don’t need from the US and other countries around the world. Instead all the food produced by UK farmers should be used before importing any shortfall from the nearest neighbour. 

The key in all these climate change destructive food swaps is that they benefit profiteering corporate food retailers, corporate food wholesalers, corporate shipping companies and to a lesser extend corporate food processors and not the thousands of farming families or the environment in either food swap country.

In the case of lamb where the UK is self-sufficient, the nonsense of exporting 38% of lamb to France and North Africa only to meet ships coming from Australia and New Zealand loaded with lamb must end!

It is time for Boris Johnson and his government to wake up and realise that climate change is no respecter of majority governments and will only respect change of human activity on a global scale of which we are part = and so far this is not happening.

As climate change tightens its grip, we must not forget all those farming families and others flooded out of their homes and farms across the UK due to the increasing climate change extremes of weather.

FFA conclude by saying that they and all other like-minded farm organisations across these islands pledge from here onward to put an end to the UK government’s propaganda. Let battle commence!

Farmers For Action

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, N Ireland, BT51 4NU

Tel. 07909744624 Email : taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

PRESS RELEASE 4th March 2020

 

 

 

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Should government spend twice as much on the military as on the “unfolding climate catastrophe”?

A new report by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) calls for addressing the climate crisis to be treated as the ‘first duty of government.’

caat coverFighting the Wrong Battles: How Obsession with Military Power Diverts Resources from the Climate Crisis, is written by CAAT’s Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, the group’s research co-ordinator and former head of military expenditure at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He says:

“The climate crisis is not only an environmental crisis, it is also one of human security. It is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide.

Analysis in the report shows that the government spends more than twice as much on the military as it does on mitigating climate change. The report argues that “The balance of priorities for these two areas of spending should be clear. Climate change represents an existential threat to the UK and the world. Loss of the UK’s status as a global military power does not.”

While the programmes for Trident replacement and new large aircraft carriers go ahead, the same level of financial support is not provided to tackle the biggest threat to the security of people in the UK and worldwide – the unfolding climate catastrophe. As the report reflects:

“It is striking that the maximum spending estimate for achieving the UK’s climate change targets is around the same level as what the government considers to be the bare minimum requirement for military spending.”

“The climate crisis is not only an environmental crisis, it is also one of human security. It is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide. The recent floods have shown how ill-prepared UK infrastructure and government responses are today. As climate change worsens then so will the impact of floods and extreme weather events.

                                  Pictured in a thoughtful article in Carbon Brief

“If we are to make the changes that are needed, that means moving towards a vision of climate justice and sustainable security. We must focus on the real threats to human well-being, recognise the interdependence of security for people around the world, and ensure that our economic systems remain within the bounds set by nature.”

fabian hamilton mp peace labourShadow peace minister Fabian Hamilton hosted a lobby in parliament today from 11.30am where CAAT presented the report.

Speakers were the report’s author, Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman and Anna Vickerstaff, UK Team Leader at 350.org, which works to end the use of fossil fuels and build community-led renewable energy.

A wider discussion followed.

ENDNOTE

As many readers have a particular interest in defence we add a distinction between spending on true defence and on the nuclear weapon and the equipment used in Allied coalition operations in the Middle East.

The BBC reported the views of a former Head of Joint Forces Command, Gen Sir Richard Barrons, some time ago. He established the important Joint Force Command, which examines areas such as cyber warfare, medical, logistics, information and surveillance.

Sir Richard said that key capabilities such as radars, fire control systems and missile stocks had been stripped out. Neither the UK homeland nor a deployed force could be protected from a concerted air attack . . . Manpower in all three services is dangerously squeezed and Navy ships and RAF planes depend on US support.

Major General Tim Cross, who served in the British army for 40 years, responded to criticism of Sir Richard’s statements as “wrong and unfair”; adding that he was “simply highlighting a reality”.

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Read more here:

https://www.caat.org.uk/

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/29388

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/military-spending-diverting-much-needed-resources-tackling-unfolding-climate

https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-are-uk-floods-becoming-worse-due-to-climate-change

https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/publications/government/fighting-the-wrong-battles-feb2020.pdf

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37391804

 

 

 

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Public health emergency: move some freight from road to water and reduce air pollution

“There are an estimated 11,000 deaths per year at the moment, but this will rise as the population continues to age”. (The British Heart Foundation (BHF) 

Summarising an Environmental Law paragraph:

  • Transport is the biggest source of air pollution in the UK.
  • In town centres and alongside busy roads, motor vehicles are responsible for most local pollution.
  • Surface transport is responsible for around a quarter of UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major contributor to climate change.
  • Many areas still fail to meet national air quality objectives and European limit values for some pollutants – particularly particles and nitrogen dioxide.

As the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK has climbed to 59,000 and 64% of transport and storage businesses now face severe skills shortages, (according to a recent report by the Freight Transport Association) it is a good time to consider a shift from HGV to barge.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), has warned that more than 160,000 people could die over the next decade from strokes and heart attacks caused by air pollution. Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, which compiled the figures, said: “Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke”.

Bellona Europe (header below) comments that inland waterway transport has greater potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than road or rail, when discussing ways to make the mobility sector more clean and carbon-neutral.

“With air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year and four in 10 children at school in high-pollution communities, it’s clear that tackling air pollution needs to be everyone’s urgent business.”

 

 

 

 

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Flooding: Environment Agency, food security, wildlife and the PM’s advice

Camilla Hodgson reports that ten English authorities with the highest number of homes at serious flood risk plan to build homes in what the government considers “high-risk” areas. Almost 35,000 are planned – and more in lower-risk flood zones, according to local planning documents analysed by the FT.

Council planning officers at both Fenland and Hull councils said the risk of flooding must be balanced against the importance of economic growth.

Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at catastrophe risk modelling company Risk Management Solutions warns of several hazards, including:

  • the failure to consider insurance during the planning process, so that some homes end up being uninsurable or very expensive to protect;
  • councils’ inability to afford to monitor the installation of planned mitigation measures – such as raising the height of the electrics in new housing
  • and that currently developers bear no further responsibility for properties after they are sold.

in November The Lincolnite reported that more than 5,000 homes have been proposed in high-risk zones of Lincolnshire, where roads and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded with some farms being totally marooned.

Andrew Ward, one of the affected farmers, described the ‘horrendous’ damage: “Potatoes, sugar beet and maize have been ruined and the loss of wildlife will be colossal here, all of their habitats will be ruined.”

He complains that the Environment Agency are using farmland as flood plains to prevent flooding in Lincoln: “The rivers need to be dredged but we haven’t ever seen it happen here”. The Environment Agency has insisted that it does carry out regular and ongoing maintenance and blamed problems on the heavy rainfall. See video link

On the campaign trail in flood-hit Derbyshire, the prime minister said: “We’ve got to stop building on flood plains. We’ve got to stop building on areas which are vulnerable to flooding.”

In due course this statement should be fact-checked.

 

 

 

 

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Will turkeys vote for austerity, exploitation, climate disaster and profits for the few?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The revolving door between government & big business

Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEIR CHOICE

 

 

 

 

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Nationalise British Steel? A viable asset, essential to a decarbonised economy

 

Andrew Pendleton (New Economics Foundation) reminds us that since Margaret Thatcher first stood on the steps of Number 10 in 1979, successive UK governments have chosen to withdraw all but the barest bones of support from Britain’s foundational industries, of which steel is one. He questions whether any owner of steel manufacturers in the UK could thrive in the hostile environment UK governments have created.

Failed by the current government’s blind faith in markets, Pendleton writes,  the people of Scunthorpe and many other places have had no voice whatsoever in how the economy was run, until ‘the blunt instrument of the EU referendum’. The loss of this significant company will intensify the sense of loss that contributed to the Brexit vote

There are risks in selling to the Turkish Military Pension Fund or to the Chinese Jingye Group, about which very little is known, industrially, but the interest of foreign buyers suggests that British Steel is seen as a potentially viable asset.

Many tonnes of steel will be needed to build a cleaner economy – for wind turbines, electric vehicles and the rail lines made in Scunthorpe, critical to a decarbonised economy. As Pendleton points out, steel production is ‘problematic’ for climate change – but steel production in Scunthorpe can be ‘greened’ by investing to reduce its carbon emissions, eventually reaching zero as coal-free production (below) becomes the norm.

In Germany, Thyssenkrupp recently demonstrated running a steel blast furnace completely on hydrogen – opening up the prospect of zero-emissions steel production by using renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen will become cheaper as current methods, which rely on creating hydrogen fuel from purified water, are superseded by less expensive technologies such as one being developed by Stanford researchers, who have been separating hydrogen and oxygen gas from seawater via electricity.

And millions of tonnes of carbon used in shipping will be saved by using steel close to where it is manufactured

Pendleton sees the current economic model, ‘now the default preference of our policy-makers’, as absurd; in Fife, steel fabrication firm BiFab is in mothballs (right) while energy giant EDF imports the casings for the turbines on its new offshore wind farm from Indonesia.

He points out that Indonesia and some of our European neighbours’ governments habitually intervene to ensure that ‘foundational industries’ have guaranteed supply chains and amply-filled order books.

British Steel owners Greybull, a private investment company which owns many other industries, are unlikely to be seriously affected, but the company’s workforce, its suppliers, Scunthorpe and the wider economy will. It will be a disaster, politically and economically. Andrew Pendleton ends:

“Nothing short of immediate nationalisation is needed; anything less will be a betrayal of a whole town and will send shockwaves through the UK’s industrial heartlands . . .

“It is not too late for the government to step in and take the company over, which would have the immediate effect of keeping people in work and the economy of a town afloat. This is absolutely government’s proper role. But it shouldn’t stop there. After nationalisation should come a three-pronged approach:

  • focus on industrial strategy for British Steel in order to secure its supply chains
  • fill up its order book with a proactive procurement policy.
  • and create a worker owned company who could then benefit from an ownership dividend

“Given the UK’s need to invest and build green infrastructure, such as railways, steel is of national strategic importance”. 

 

Read Andrew Pendleton’s article here.

 

 

 

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City fund managers, responding to Gail Bradbrook, call for reform of our economic system

Patrick Jenkins (Financial Times) attended a debate held by the FT City Network, a panel of more than 50 senior figures from across the City of London, during which ‘two of the world’s biggest fund management bosses’ pleaded for reform.

He reported that these pleas were made in response to an address by Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, in which she called for wholesale reform of the current economic system to avert global disaster.

Recent protests have focussed in part on the City of London and the role that banks, asset managers and insurers play in financing and sustaining some of the world’s most environmentally damaging industries, from oil extraction to vehicle manufacture.

In October Extinction Rebellion activists dressed in red later demonstrated outside the Royal Exchange in the City of London in October

Several participants praised the part that UK-based climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion has played — alongside others, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and film-maker David Attenborough.

Anne Richards, chief executive of Fidelity International, said the world must end “our obsession with ever-increasing GDP” and the “primacy of shareholders” to foster the kind of long-term thinking that would help protect the environment and “pivot [away] from the Milton Friedman concept of capitalism and the primacy of shareholders, who may have a very short-term involvement with an individual company, towards a wider stakeholder approach”.

Andreas Utermann, CEO of Allianz Global Investors, said that the world’s growth mania — “nominal GDP growth, supported by population growth, [and profit] growth” — was clearly unsustainable, and suggested that capitalism in its current form is “borrowing from the future while destroying the environment . . . A more holistic approach to ‘growth’ needs to evolve, looking to capture societal and environmental benefits and costs . . . More sophisticated measures than GDP per capita are required to determine whether capitalism is delivering to all stakeholders without borrowing from the future while destroying the environment. It was self-evident that this is not sustainable”.

A number of City Network contributors said that, while it was impossible to blacklist climate unfriendly firms instantly, it was vital that companies set tough environmental targets, measure whether they were met and reward managers on their performance, rather than on short-term profit. Other interventions showed that a wider range of contributors to the debate believe that business and government must urgently improve their response to the growing evidence of environmental catastrophe.

 

 

 

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