Monthly Archives: June 2008

The ‘fat bomb’

Australians are not even near the top ranks of the world’s fatties, despite the alarmist claims in the press. Here is the latest data from the World Health Organization. There’s much more on Sandy Szwarc’s Junkfood Science blog

Obese Males (BMI >30): Latest Year %
1 Nauru 79.3
2 French Polynesia 36.4
3 United States of America 31.1
4 Kuwait 27.5
5 Saudi Arabia 26.4
6 Iraq 26.2
7 United Arab Emirates 25.6
8 Malta 25
9 Bahrain 23.3
10 United Kingdom 22.6
11 New Zealand 21.9
12 Croatia 21.6
13 Israel 19.8
14 Hungary 19.6
15 Chile 19
16 Mexico 18.6
17 Canada 17.9
18 Australia 17.8
19 Bosnia and Herzegovina 16.5
20 Slovenia 16.5
Source: WHO (

Global emission targets: here we go

We are likely to discover where this will lead only after a long process.

“Major carbon dioxide emitters failed to agree on a numerical target for reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050 even though the final session ofa two-day meeting here was extended into Monday morning, conference sources said…The [Major Emitters Group] comprises 16 nations, including China, India and South Korea, and the European Union plus the eight countries that form the G-8. Its first meeting was held at the initiative of the United States in September. The participating nations account for about 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.”  extract from: Daily Yomiuri

The history of targets in multilateral agreements (the Montreal Protocol notwithstanding) is far from encouraging. It would be foolish to anticipate the outcome by precipitate action on a futile, autonomous ‘cap and trade’ target. If a precautionary approach is what Australians want—because dread convinces them to accept Pascal’s wager—then we should begin cautiously, with small, low-cost steps. With luck, we may find out they’re not needed before we go very far.

McCain and Obama on ethanol subsidies and tariffs

Where is this going? I’m with McCain on this, so far. But it’s always worrying to see political candidates engaging on fuel subsidies. The moral danger alert swings to the farthest end of the spectrum.

“‘We made a series of mistakes by not adopting a sustainable energy policy, one of which is the subsidies for corn ethanol, which I warned in Iowa were going to destroy the market” and contribute to inflation, Mr. McCain said this month in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo. “Besides, it is wrong,” he added, to tax Brazilian-made sugar cane ethanol, “which is much more efficient than corn ethanol.”

Mr. Obama, in contrast, favors the subsidies, some of which end up in the hands of the same oil companies he says should be subjected to a windfall profits tax. In the name of helping the United States build “energy independence,” he also supports the tariff, which some economists say may well be illegal under the World Trade Organization’s rules but which his advisers say is not.” extract from NY Times

Here’s a brief, balanced primer from the NYT on U.S. taxes and subsidies on ethanol.

Six out of ten in UK doubt climate change is ‘settled science’

First it was the Irish rejecting an overblown and incomprehensible Lisbon treaty on the consolidation of the EU’s political machinery. Now it’s the British public who are failing to live up to their leaders’ expectations.

“Ipsos MORI polled 1,039 adults and found that six out of 10 agreed that ‘many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change’, and that four out of 10 ‘sometimes think climate change might not be as bad as people say’. In both cases, another 20 per cent were not convinced either way. Despite this, three quarters still professed to be concerned about climate change.”extract from The Guardian

Of course, they’re right that there are many serious scientists who question various aspects of the science in the IPCC reports and who reject many of its conclusions. But it’s surprising to see the strength of the British public’s skepticism—which seems to have strengthened since the same question was asked last year. It’s almost enough to make one believe in democracy.

More signs of Doha Round’s demise

Relentless determination (or mad optimism) from the Director-General notwithstanding, the vital signs of the WTO’s Doha round continue to deteriorate while even erstwhile friends are starting to mutter—sensibly—about pulling the tubes before the patient becomes an embarrassing stink. Disaffected connections, of course, have no hesitation in pronouncing the final sentence:

BRUSSELS (Thomson Financial) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy ruled out a free-trade deal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after Ireland’s rejection of the European Union (EU)’s Lisbon treaty in a referendum. ‘It would be highly unrealistic to keep wanting to negotiate a deal where we haven’t received anything on services, nothing on industry… and which would cut farm output by 20 percent while 800 million people are dying of hunger,’ he told journalists here in the early hours of Friday morning. ‘Frankly, there’s only one person who thinks like that and it’s (EU Trade Commissioner) Peter Mandelson and it’s not France’s position,’ Sarkozy added. ‘I say it in the clearest way, for us, on this basis, it’s No.‘ extract from: Forbes [emphasis added]

Obama re-designs his message on trade

If your theory is that Obama’s aggressive stance on trade agreements including NAFTA and MFN for China was a tactic designed to un-hinge the Clinton-Labor axis in the competition for the Democrat nomination, this partial recantation on NAFTA will probably leave you feeling you read him right. But it leaves many questions about his policies hanging in the air.

Poles of the trading system

click for larger image

Simon Evenett has observed that, on the numbers, at least two of the Gang of Four that has dominated the Doha round negotiations since 2006 are not really ‘poles’ of global trade although they may become more polar in future. What is also notable about the three developing countries in the ‘potential poles’ group (Brazil, China, India), says Evenett, is that they have relatively little experience of reciprocal trade liberalization in GATT/WTO or in regional agreements.