Letters: Save the rainforests

Developed world must seize this chance to save rainforests
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Sir: Unusually for Monday morning news, The Independent's front page story on the Rainforest Coalition's proposal to the Montreal summit manages to brighten the day. The willingness of ten developing countries to concern themselves with environmental issues which, until now, have largely been the province of economically developed countries is a vital opportunity for the developed nations to act on their much-repeated words.

Here is a unique chance for us to halt the destruction of the environment. It could indeed be the trendsetter for future collaboration, with a suggestion of light rather than darkness for the future. Is it, however, too overwhelmingly active, too positive a suggestion for the developed countries? I can only passionately hope they will rise to the challenge.



Sir: Offsetting carbon emissions through protecting rainforests is not a new idea, but the current Kyoto Protocol deal deems it too risky. Destruction of the rainforests continues and the world is not much better off from the half-hearted efforts of richer countries to reduce emissions.

Poorer countries are trying to take control of the problem with innovative solutions, and the new coalition led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica is exciting. Groundbreaking deals are taking place where local businesses pay for services they receive from the forests, such as cleaner water or landscape beauty. The money is used to reward farmers who protect their forests or improve the management of their land. But local money is not enough, and new sources are needed. In buying carbon-sinks from rainforests, richer countries and businesses must not be let off the hook in reducing their own emissions, but if we can get it right they can join conservation efforts that also benefit poor country economies.

Preserving the rainforest is more than just another money-in-the-bucket campaign. It's about taking responsibility for our own future.



Britain's fair share of the EU budget

Sir: Hamish McRae's article of 23 November, "Britain's rebate isn't such a big deal", distorts the facts and misrepresents the French positions. It is simply not true to claim that what is at stake is getting rid of the British rebate obtained by Mrs Thatcher 21 years ago. The issue is the fair financing of the EU enlargement. It is time to accept a few facts:

Fact number one: Britain pays less than her share of the EU budget. She pays 11 per cent when she should pay 17 per cent (France pays 18 per cent). This discrepancy is due to the British rebate.

Fact number two: This situation would continue under the proposal made by the Luxembourg EU presidency last June. As a result, Britain's net contribution to the EU (what the UK pays minus what she receives) would be similar to France's.

Fact number three: Britain, the "champion" of enlargement, is being asked only to pay her fair share of the enlargement costs, nothing else. Is this scandalous?

Fact number four: Under the Luxembourg proposal, the British rebate would continue to apply in full to all farm payments. So saying that the British rebate is an anomaly which corrects another anomaly (the CAP) is irrelevant.

Fact number five: To ask for a drastic additional reform of the CAP as a pre-condition for Britain paying her share of the enlargement also misrepresents the facts. The CAP has undergone two major reforms over the past three years. In 2002, all EU members agreed to put a ceiling on agriculture spending until 2013. Subsequently, the 2003 reform, described as "radical" by Prime Minister Tony Blair, decoupled subsidies from production, with the result that 90 per cent of the EU budget is now allocated to measures which do not distort international trade. The recent reform of its sugar market is further evidence of ongoing reform of the CAP.

The task of an EU presidency is to try to make proposals which are acceptable to everyone. It can succeed only if it respects the facts.



Sir: Settling the EU budget is not quite as urgent as your leader "A rebate that can no longer be justified" (22 November) suggests. It was always ambitious to hope to settle the EU's bugetary arrangements for 2007-13 by the end of this year and doubly so with the UK in the chair. Negotiations in the EU on financial issues usually go to the wire. And to ask the UK both to defend its entrenched position on the rebate and to act as independent arbiter in the Council is asking a lot. To press for a settlement now may, as you say, just end up with the UK keeping its rebate and France keeping its farm subsidies.

Taking a bit more time would make better sense. Pressure on the CAP will increase next year as the WTO struggles to settle the Doha round. Getting the best reform of the CAP is not just a question of money. Indeed in the short run it may mean buying off the farm lobby with more direct payments.

As to the rebate, Britain's position will always be weak while it is a case of 24 countries against one. The best solution would be a rebate mechanism which applied to all countries so that the richest paid the most and the poorest countries the least, irrespective of individual EU policies. Negotiating such an arrangement will take time. But the result would be much more defensible all round and avoid Britain being in a minority of one. It would be time well spent.



We have paid for our pensions

Sir: It seems strange that the CBI , representing the private sector, whose pensions schemes proved completely disastrous, should lecture the public sector, who have an imperfect, but reliable system ("Business anger at Blair", 25 November). Public sector workers include local government workers, teachers, civil servants, firefighters, police, army and even MPs. It goes without saying that the last group are well looked after.

What those who claim that there is a super-deal in the public sector fail to mention is that those involved pay anything from 5 to 10 per cent of their salary as a contributory scheme - no one gives it to us. To raise the pension age beyond 60 is a breach of faith for those who have contributed. Perhaps the CBI and others will not wait until they are rescued from a burning building upside down on the shoulders of a 64-year-old firefighter before they see sense.



Sir: Our children, now in their early 30s, finally entered the job market at the age of about 28, having done gap years, four-year degrees and post-graduate qualifications. This has become quite normal.

We went to university in the 1960s, straight from school, and were earning and paying taxes at the age of 21. My husband contributed to the economy for 44 years before his statutory retirement age of 65, and I contributed for 33 years, some part-time, plus six years as a stay-at-home mother, until the age of 60. We both continue to work flexi-hours, by choice, in our small manufacturing company, paying taxes and employer's NIC.

Given that our children's life-expectancy is likely to be over 80 years, I fail to see why they should not expect to contribute for a similar length of time before receiving state or other pensions.



Sir: I am 66 years old, and a pensioner of ICI and the Department of the Environment. We pensioners have many expenses that are rising in proportion to others' average earnings, rather than the Retail Price Index.

Changes in the RPI reflect Chinese imports, subsidised agricultural prices and the cost of electronic goods. Much of a pensioner's expenditure relates to others' average incomes - for example, domestic help, plumbers, nursing care. It is not "fair" that our pensions are tied to the RPI, and unrelated to average incomes.



Wrong message to sexual predators

Sir: Tariq Rashid would have it that "a drunken person is as responsible for giving consent for sex as for drink-driving or anti-social behaviour" (letter, 26 November). But this ignores the crucial distinction between what a person may be held responsible for doing when drunk, and what it can sensibly be claimed has been consented to while drunk.

Unlike drink-driving or anti-social behaviour - where the other party is the public, no defence of consent possible and the activity itself illicit - acting responsibly in sexual relationships requires both parties to proceed consensually. It is the very mutuality of consent that makes the behaviour licit.

Yet problems are bound to arise in determining where consent ends and exploitation begins. What is disturbing about the Swansea case is the presumption meaningful consent has been given even where a person is so inebriated as to have no clear recollection whether she did or not. What message does this convey to sexual predators?



A manly tear for the new sentimentality

Sir: It is indeed a sign of more enlightened times that men are becoming more open about their emotions, rather than repressing them out of a misguided sense of masculinity. But to conflate this welcome evolution with the outpourings of sentimentality and manufactured grief that are increasingly attached to the death of public figures, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown does (Comment, 28 November), is mistaken.

If people were truly prepared to "imagine themselves in similar situations and [thereby] share in collective grief", then surely we should be on the path towards a more caring, less selfish society, whereas the reverse is patently the case. All too often, a mass outpouring of mourning is simply a dressing-up of vanity and self-indulgence - a pathetic attempt to identify with a person, in the belief that it might lead somehow to a small share in their public status.

Where are the tears for the tens of thousands who died or are now injured and homeless in northern Pakistan? Where is the public grief for the starving children of Niger? One weeps for the way in which our common humanity - not to say our attention and our wealth - is swept up in the worship of celebrity over substance.



When actors rebuke play-goers

Sir: Terence Blacker must surely be playing devil's advocate in his article berating the actor Richard Griffiths for rebuking a woman whose mobile phone rang during a performance.("No wonder the West End is in crisis", 25 November).

If anti-social behaviour can be defined as behaving in a way that suits you but doesn't take into account those around you then perhaps this woman with the mobile phone should get an Asbo. When you purchase a ticket to the theatre you are not hiring office space or buying a couple of seats to catch up with some friends' gossip. If you wish to talk or conduct telephone conversations then don't go to the theatre. If the play is not to your taste, then leave.



Sir: Terence Blacker's suggestion that there is a new trend of actors stepping out of character to harangue the audience ignores at least one such incident in the early 19th century. James Agate in These Were Actors describes George Frederick Cooke's outburst in Liverpool when the audience demanded an apology for some affront: "Take it from this. There is not a brick in your infernal city which is not cemented with the blood of slaves."



Turn out that light

Sir: Your reader who comments on the amount of wasted light in Cornwall (letter, 28 November) stirs an idea. Would it not be possible for all street lights except in the most heavily used streets to be fitted with a movement detector so that as in some modern offices and gardens the light is only switched on when there is someone or something to make use of the illumination?



Dr Finlay's caseload

Sir: It is time to stop talking about "NHS rationing" (leading article, 24 November). Rationing means giving everybody an equal share of a service, whether they need it or not. What medicine has to manage is an allocation of available resources among claimants to them. There is nothing new about this: it has simply become more overt since the pre-war days of Drs Cameron and Finlay, who determined their patients' priorities for them.



Gay time-warp

Sir: Julie Bindel, iconoclast and curmudgeon, still trapped in her 1980s oppositional timewarp, is left wondering why the world has different aspirations now the rest of us are in the 21st century. Her column (Opinion, 28 November) could be boiled down to : "I don't want to get married, so nobody else should want it either." I fear that modern concepts which celebrate the diversity of human nature, even gay humans, will forever elude her my-way-or-the- highway simplicities.



Precedent for terrorism

Sir: The Government's decision to push through a bill which, in effect, absolves IRA and presumably other Irish terrorists who have murdered innocent people by shooting or bombing, from all legal consequences for their actions, does not sit particularly well with Tony Blair's much vaunted War on Terror. On present evidence, the Government would not totally rule out, in years to come, a similar "amnesty" for those who masterminded the 7 July bombings - or would they be the "wrong" kind of terrorist?



Grammatical gaffe

Sir: Humbled by the number of times I had to consult a dictionary when reading the extract from Will Self's Richard Price Memorial Lecture (Podium, 28 November), I was cheered up by the sentence "Us satirists and dissenters mistake the supine posture of our enemies for weakness". That "Us" should be "We". So there!