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Moscow plans snow offensive

MOSCOW: The city’s government, led by the long-reigning Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has indicated that clearing the capital’s streets of snow is too expensive. Instead, the city is considering seeding the clouds with liquid nitrogen or dry ice to keep heavy snow from falling inside its limits.Word of the proposal has sent a shudder through Moscow just as the first dark, snowy days have fallen on the capital. It also has piqued the surrounding region, which would receive the brunt of the displaced snowfall, and has raised concerns among ecologists.”I was very surprised, because [the mayor] never even asked us,” said Alexei Yablokov, who sits on the mayor’s ecological council. ”We never discussed it at all.”The city government says it has not reached a decision. But scientists at the Central Aerological Observatory said they were deep into negotiations with city authorities and expect the cloud-seeding plan to proceed.They already seed the clouds for political effect, clearing the skies over Moscow twice a year to ensure sunny celebrations of patriotic holidays.”Victory Day is the most sacred holiday for us,” said Bagrat Danilian, the deputy chief of cloud-seeding at the observatory. ”When veterans go out to celebrate in Moscow, we create good weather for them.”All it takes, he says, is sacks of cement. Drop the powder down into the clouds, and they vanish.Russian cloud-seeding is done in moderation, the scientists insist. ”You shouldn’t overstep the threshold over which the weather would change globally,” Mr Danilian said. ”We’re trying to look for that threshold in a very careful way.” Sometimes nature wins. And, in one instance last year, gravity.As the air force toiled to chase the clouds away for last year’s independence day celebrations, a clump of cement tumbled to earth instead of dissipating into the clouds. It crashed through the roof of a house on the city’s outskirts. Rather than accept the compensation offered by the military, the owner of the house said she would file suit for ”moral suffering”.It is unlikely Muscovites would agree to forgo snow altogether. During the long, dark months of winter, the flicker of clean flakes against the sky is one of the few recurrent graces, creating a vast playground for children and briefly coating the drab winter days in sparkling white. But Mr Luzhkov is prepared to choke off any particularly massive snowfalls, for an estimated saving in clean-up costs of $US13 million ($14.6 million).”In the movies, the snow looks very beautiful,” one of Mr Danilian’s colleagues said. ”But this snow costs a pretty penny to Moscow authorities.”Los Angeles Times
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Winter cold snap jolts Europe, worse to come

PARIS: Early winter snows forced French authorities to close the Eiffel Tower and disrupted transport as north-west Europe braced for a pre-Christmas cold snap.Paris and much of the north of the country awoke to find a seven-centimetre blanket of snow on Thursday, which delayed flights from the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport by up to two hours.Train and bus services were delayed in many areas, as daytime temperatures dropped below zero for the first time this year, and black ice coated northern roads.Snow also fell in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.A light dusting across south-east England was expected to be followed by a fall of up to 20 centimetres in the east and south-east by dawn yesterday.There were predictions temperatures in Britain could plunge as low as minus 9C yesterday in the Scottish Highlands.Forecasters predicted high winds could combine with the snowfall to bring blizzard conditions to Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, in the country’s east.The BBC said conditions were expected to be worst during peak hour and travellers were likely to face transport disruption.The Government issued safety warnings as preparations were made for the snowfall.The chance of a white Christmas continued to ”hang in the balance”, weather forecasters said, and bookmakers have recently slashed the odds on it happening. One British gambler stands to collect more than £14,000 ($25,500) if it snows on Christmas Day.As temperatures continue to plunge, Andrew Harrop, of Age Concern and Help the Aged, spoke of his concern for the elderly.”For older people, protection against the cold is vital,” Mr Harrop said. ”Last winter’s cold snap sent excess winter mortality to a 10-year high, with around three-quarters of excess winter deaths recorded among people aged 75 or over.”The rail operator Southeastern said it was “working hard” to ensure a normal service would run during the forecast snow, but advised conditions might cause some disruption to services.The Automobile Association warned of the travel chaos equal to that experienced when a storm hit Britain last winter because only half of the country’s local councils had enough road salt to de-ice surfaces during a freeze lasting six days.Transport networks were almost shut down on February 2, keeping about 20 per cent of workers from their jobs at a cost to the British economy of £1.2 billion , the Federation of Small Businesses estimated.Agence France-Presse; Telegraph, London; Bloomberg
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CIA ‘guides’ torture of Hamas activists in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Palestinian security agents who have been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank have been working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency, new evidence suggests.Less than a year after the US President, Barack Obama, signed an executive order that prohibited torture and provided for the lawful interrogation of detainees in US custody, evidence is emerging the CIA is co-operating with security agents whose continuing use of torture has been widely documented by human rights groups.There is a close relationship between the CIA and the two Palestinian agencies involved, the Preventive Security Organisation and General Intelligence Service – so close, say some Western diplomats and other officials in the region, that the American agency appears to be supervising the Palestinians’ work.A senior Western official said: ”The [CIA] consider them as their property, those two Palestinian services.” A diplomatic source added that US influence over the agencies was so great they could be considered ”an advanced arm of the war on terror”.The CIA and the Palestinian Authority deny the former controls its Palestinian counterparts but neither denies that they work closely in the West Bank. Details of that co-operation are emerging as some human rights organisations are beginning to question whether US intelligence agencies may be turning a blind eye to abusive interrogations conducted by other countries’ intelligence agencies with which they work.According to the Palestinian watchdog al-Haq, human rights in the West Bank and Gaza have ”gravely deteriorated due to the spreading violations committed by Palestinian actors” this year.Most of those held without trial and allegedly tortured in the West Bank have been supporters of Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been in control for more than two years, there have been reports of its forces detaining and torturing Fatah sympathisers in the same way.Among the human rights organisations that have documented or complained about the mistreatment of detainees held by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, al-Haq and the Israeli watchdog, B’Tselem. Even the Palestinian Authority’s human rights commission has expressed ”deep concern” over the mistreatment of detainees.The most common complaint is that detainees are severely beaten and subjected to a torture known as shabeh, during which they are shackled and forced to assume painful positions for long periods. There have been reports of sleep deprivation and of large numbers of detainees being crammed into small cells to prevent rest.Almost all the detainees enter a system of military justice under which they need not be brought before a court for six months.The Palestinian security organisations hold between 400 and 500 Hamas sympathisers, according to Palestinian Authority officials.Some mistreatment has been so severe that at least three detainees have died in custody this year. The most recent was Haitham Amr, a 33-year-old nurse and Hamas supporter from Hebron who died four days after he was detained by General Intelligence Service officials in June. Extensive bruising around his kidneys suggested he had been beaten to death.There is no evidence the CIA has been commissioning such mistreatment but human rights activists say it would end promptly if US pressure was brought to bear on the Palestinian authorities.Sa’id Abu-Ali, the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Minister, accepted detainees had been tortured and some had died but said such abuses had not been official policy and steps were being taken to prevent them. He said such abuses ”happen in every country in the world”.Mr Abu-Ali sought initially to deny the CIA was ”deeply involved” with the two Palestinian intelligence agencies, then conceded there were such links.”There is a connection, but there is no supervision by the Americans,” he said. ”It is solely a Palestinian affair. But the Americans help us.”The CIA does not deny working with the security agencies in the West Bank, although it will not say what use it has made of intelligence extracted during the interrogation of Hamas supporters. But it denies turning what one official described as ”a Nelson’s eye to abuse”.The CIA’s spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, denied it played a supervisory role. ”The notion that this agency somehow runs other intelligence services … is simply wrong,” he said. ”The CIA … only supports, and is interested in, lawful methods that produce sound intelligence.”Guardian News & Media
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Tide turns against bullfights in Spain

BARCELONA: Bullfighting looks likely to be banned in part of Spain as the Catalan Parliament prepares to vote to prohibit one of the country’s most emblematic, and bloodiest, traditions.In a move that campaigners hope will mark the beginning of the end for bullfighting in the country best known for it, a petition with 127,000 signatures was delivered to the Parliament this week. Under Catalan laws the Parliament must first vote on whether to accept the petition and then draw up a law, which would be subject to a second, definitive vote in several months.The law is likely to be passed. Minority separatist and far-left parties in the region are committed to supporting the ban, and the major parties allow their MPs to vote freely. Separatists claim bullfighting is not a Catalan tradition.Deputies have made it clear that, while they may ban bullfights, they will not prohibit Catalan fiestas in which bulls are chased through the streets and tormented, sometimes with balls of fire attached to their horns.The petition calls for a change in Catalonia’s animal cruelty law that would end the protection for fighting bulls.”If the deputies are going to behave like proper representatives of the people, then they must accept the ban,” Manuel Cases, of the Catalan Animals Rights Association, said. ”Seventy per cent of Catalans are against bullfighting.”The move has sparked an impassioned debate in a country where matadors are big stars. Bullfighting is referred to as ”the national fiesta” and reviews of bullfights are published in the arts pages of newspaper rather than the sports pages.Among those battling for bullfighting to continue are a group of artists and writers, including the painter Miquel Barcelo and the theatre director Calixto Bieito.”Banning the bullfight means banning part of our liberty,” they said in a manifesto published on Wednesday.They are backed by left-wing intellectuals who are unconditional supporters of the celebrity matador Jose Tomas. Tomas has done much to revive enthusiasm for bullfighting in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia.Anti-bullfight campaigners hope, however, that if the ban goes ahead other Spanish regions will follow suit.”Everywhere in Spain the majority of people say they do not like bullfights,” Mr Cases said. ”Over time this will have to be prohibited. Otherwise we will be back in the Stone Age.”Guardian News & Media
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Indonesia gets serious about nuclear energy

JAKARTA: Indonesia could formally embrace nuclear power as early as next year as senior Government members push to revive a proposal to build up to four reactors just 30 kilometres from a volcano in Central Java.Indonesia is beset by regular blackouts that are crimping industrial production and deterring investors, and nuclear energy is being resurrected as a means to meet the country’s growing electricity needs while also capping carbon emissions.But serious concerns remain about the viability of the plan, not least because Java is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that could cause catastrophic radioactive leaks.At the urging of the new Minister for Energy, Darwin Saleh Zahedi, the National Energy Council has begun assessing the construction of a nuclear reactor in the lead-up to a meeting to be chaired early next year by the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to approve a new energy blueprint.”There are pros and cons on the nuclear power issue but if you ask my personal opinion, of course I want to use it,” Agusman Effendi, a member of the council, said. ”The building should begin in 2010 because our fossil fuel resources are decreasing from time to time.”Mr Effendi suggested it could take 10 years to build the reactor.The Minister for Research and Technology, Suharna Surapranata, has identified 2016 as the possible start-up date.”The plan to build the nuclear power plant must go on,” he said this month, identifying the Muria peninsula as the most likely site.The peninsula has been favoured for as many as four 1000 megawatt reactors since 1983. Several attempts to build there have been thwarted due to public opposition, including in 2007, when Islamic clerics declared a fatwa against the proposal and locals staged a protest march.During this year’s presidential election campaign, Dr Yudhoyono appeared to back away from nuclear power when he addressed voters in Central Java. But, according to RMIT University’s expert on Indonesia’s nuclear program, Richard Tanter, the nuclear option has influential backers in the new Yudhoyono Administration.”It’s come alive with a ferocity that’s unexpected. It’s back, front and centre of the energy agenda,” said Professor Tanter. ”But it carries high-level risks for which Indonesia is not well prepared. There are very serious volcanic and seismic risks.”Gunung Muria, the volcano 30 kilometres from the proposed site, has been dormant for centuries, underpinning Indonesian confidence that the area is safe.But a 2003 study by International Atomic Energy Agency researchers obtained by Professor Tanter painted a far bleaker picture. It concluded that the 1600-metre-high Gunung Muria was capable of erupting during the lifespan of any nuclear plant, showering debris, hot gases and rocks on to the facility from vents as close as 4.5 kilometres away.Moreover, there was some evidence of a ”shallow source of magma capable of producing other types of volcanic phenomena” on the peninsula, while offshore faults could also lead to earthquakes that could rattle the plant.Such damage could lead to deadly radioactive leaks with catastrophic results, Professor Tanter said.Even so, Muria may still be the safest site on Java, which is riddled with volcanos and fault lines. The problem for Indonesian nuclear authorities is they need to build the plant on or very near Java, where the power is needed. Kalimantan is the only non-active area of Indonesia and has reserves of uranium but is too far away from population and industrial centres to make building a nuclear reactor there feasible.Indonesia has an abundance of coal, gas and geothermal energy reserves. But the coal is polluting, and Indonesia has chosen to sell its natural gas rather than deploy it in a significant way for its own energy needs.Geothermal energy – Indonesia has about 40 per cent of the world’s known reserves – has potential but is regarded as being incapable of being used on a large scale.
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On the run: juvenile delinquent becomes a folklore hero

THERE is something about Colton Harris-Moore that polarises opinion. To the 13,253 members of his Facebook fan club, he is a new Jesse James (without the murders). To those with a literary bent, he has a touch of the Sundance Kid or Huckleberry Finn. But to the many victims of his burglaries around the north-west coast of the US and into Canada, he is a no-good thieving scoundrel.His main claim to fame is that he’s brilliant at evading arrest. For the past 20 months he has been on the run, hiding out no one quite knows where, but many suspect deep in the woods that carpet this wild region. Wanted posters bearing his face have been scattered around the island where he grew up in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, where he has committed many of the more than 50 burglaries that are held against him.With each sighting, the scale of his criminal activity has grown, as has his fame. He has gone from a troubled kid into an internet idol and a folklore hero.On top of his accomplishments as a fugitive, two other features boom out about Harris-Moore. He is just 18. And as video footage and forensic evidence show, he carries out many of his escapades in bare feet.Our tale starts on April 29, 2008, when our misunderstood hero-cum-hoodlum disappears from a halfway house where people on juvenile detention orders are reintroduced to society.Harris-Moore was into the second of a three-year sentence for a previous rash of burglaries.First stop: Elger Bay Cafe on Camano Island. It is just after midnight on July 18, 2008. Harris-Moore has been on the run for six weeks and a police officer is following a Mercedes that has been driving oddly. As the police car closes in, the driver screeches into the restaurant car park and jumps out of the moving car. The driver, who is identified as our criminal wunderkind, is spotted running into the woods.A search of the car uncovers Harris-Moore’s prized possessions: stolen credit cards, a GPS unit, a mobile phone and a camera from which is downloaded the portrait of him that has become his definitive image.Next stop: the airport on Orcas Island, 60 kilometres north of Camano. It is November 12, 2008. Harris-Moore has now been on the lam, as they say in these parts, for more than six months. A burglar helps himself into a parked single-propeller plane and makes a getaway.The plane is found 480 kilometres to the east, having made a crash landing on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Police have not revealed how they identified Harris-Moore as a suspect, but a telltale sign was the footprints discovered inside the aircraft, suggesting that the burglar had been reclining with his bare feet up like a lord in his manor.Then on September 11 this year, another plane went missing, this time from Friday Harbour, an island further west. It, too, crash-landed, back on Orcas Island where the first plane had been swiped. After the crash, Harris-Moore was spotted walking away from the wreckage by a police officer, who, following well-established tradition, failed to apprehend the boy.As news of the aerial adventures spread, Harris-Moore’s celebrity mushroomed. The Facebook fan club burst into life, proclaiming: ”Let’s hope that he remains healthy, free and at large for a long time! Fly Colton, Fly!”T-shirt companies began offering ranges in his honour, bearing his image and the logo ”Free Colton”. A musician penned a Ballad Of Barefoot Harris. Film producers pounced and a book is in the works.After his crash landing in Orcas, the teenager appears to have stolen a boat to reach a peninsula near Canada. Police watched bemused as a series of burglaries erupted on the other side of the border, blazing a trail across British Columbia. The path led back over the border to an airport in northern Idaho.Investigators later discovered footprints – bare, of course – in the hangar where a Cessna was stolen and flown to Granite Falls, north of Seattle. For a third time there was a crash landing.Three dozen SWAT officers were sent to scour the woods, backed up by a US Customs Black Hawk helicopter. The youth was nowhere to be found.Told of this alleged third plane theft, Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, said: ”I’m proud of him. I was going to send him to flight school, but I guess I don’t have to.” And she had this deeply moralistic advice for her fugitive son: ”Next time, wear a parachute and practise your landing!”His criminal behaviour fits into a sorry saga of an absent, drug-using father and a mother with a history of alcoholism. He usually breaks into uninhabited holiday houses and squats for a while before moving on. Investigators have likened it to a sort of Goldilocks syndrome. Or as one of his friends put it to the Seattle Weekly: ”He started breaking into people’s homes because he wanted to see what it was like to live a normal life.”Whatever the motivations, things are not looking rosy for the barefoot bandit. Fugitives have a way of being caught. At best, having turned 18 in March, he now faces trial as an adult.Yet he may not get there. During the search at Granite Falls, police reported that a shot was fired in their direction. ”If he did shoot that gun, it was really stupid,” his mother said. ”That gives the cops a reason to shoot him. I don’t expect him to come out alive.”Guardian News & Media
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Pakistani elite barred from leaving country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency has barred the Defence Minister and about 250 other top officials from leaving the country, as political turmoil deepens following a Supreme Court ruling that scrubbed an amnesty shielding senior Government figures from prosecution.The anti-corruption agency said the officials were under investigation following this week’s court verdict, which meant that up to 8000 graft and other cases dating back to the 1990s have, or will soon be, reopened. The agency also said it was reviving arrest warrants in some cases and freezing assets, including bank accounts and property.The decision has outraged the country’s political elite just as the US is looking for a solid partner to help it fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the Afghan border.Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, and several of his key aides are among those who benefited from the amnesty deal. As president, Mr Zardari is protected by constitutional immunity from any criminal prosecution, but opponents say they plan to challenge his eligibility for office.Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency said 247 people who had cases withdrawn under the amnesty had been blocked from travel because cases against them were now under investigation. It did not say who was on the list, but Pakistani news channels reported that the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik – a key aide of Mr Zardari – was included, as well as the Defence Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar.Mr Mukhtar told a television station that immigration officials at the airport had barred him from boarding a Pakistan International Airlines plane to China along with the navy chief late on Thursday. He said he planned to take delivery of a new warship. It was not clear what he was being investigated for.The Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, voiced hope the amnesty ruling would not destabilise the country.”Everybody in Pakistan, including our top military leadership, has made it clear that the military should focus on defending the country’s frontiers and elected government should run the government in accordance with the constitution and courts should adjudicate criminal matters in accordance with the law,” he told CNN. ”I hope everybody will play their constitutional role and [the] country will not go down the road of coups that has been disastrous for our country in the past.”The amnesty – called the National Reconciliation Ordinance – was passed in 2007 by the then president, Pervez Musharraf, who was under pressure to hold elections and end about eight years of military rule.Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling has weakened Mr Zardari and raised questions about his future. It has been welcomed by many Pakistanis, who viewed the graft amnesty as an immoral piece of legislation that whitewashed the crimes of the elite.Mr Zardari’s aides said any corruption charges against him were politically motivated and noted that they have never been proved despite being aired since the 1990s. Critics countered he was morally obliged to resign, at least while the court heard any challenges to his rule.”It will be in his own interest, it will be in the interest of his party and it will be good for the system,” Khawaja Asif, a senior leader from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party, said.Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Guardian News and Media
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“Black box” to provide clues to cruise control drama

Police are expected to enlist the help of software engineers from Ford to unravel why the cruise control jammed on motorist Chase Weir’s 4WD.
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A “black box”-style data recorder could provide vital clues to a high-speed freeway drama where a Ford Explorer’s cruise control apparently refused to disengage.

Motorist Chase Weir said the cruise control on his 2002 Ford Explorer became jammed on 80km/h as he travelled along Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway on Wednesday. It took him more than 30 minutes to bring the car to a stop.

Victorian Police have indicated to Ford they may ask for assistance diagnosing the car’s motor vehicle data recorder, which can log driver inputs on the brakes, throttle position and other vital systems of the car.

“We will conduct our investigation once they have finished theirs, but we’ve also indicated we’ll provide them with all the technical assistance they need,” said Ford spokeswoman Sinead McAlary.

A “black box” may be able to give police more details about Chase Weir’s wild ride.

Data recorders are increasingly being used by crash investigators in the US to piece together the final moments before an accident in much the same way as aircraft black boxes.

Ford has fitted them to all US-made vehicles since 2002. Devices can record between 15 and 40 data elements. Some are on a continuous loop, recording data then erasing it every few seconds, while others are activated by the events preceding a crash, such as a sudden change of vehicle speed or a violent change in direction.

The devices attract their fair share of controversy, with debate about whether the information belongs to the driver or manufacturer. Police in the US are now regularly getting access to recorders via court order.

Less sophisticated recorders keep information on car speed, engine throttle position, whether the brakes were used and whether the airbags deployed.

More complex recorders include other parameters including steering inputs, lateral forces on the car, engine speed, seat position and even the size of occupants.

McAlary declined to comment on the possibility of a recall for the Explorer over yesterday’s incident.

“At this stage we don’t know what happened to the vehicle and until we know exactly what went on we can’t make any decisions. That is the responsible and methodical way to go about it,” she said.

A police spokeswoman said the car involved in Wednesday’s drama had not yet been examined, but an investigation was under way. She declined to give any further details.

“We don’t comment on the details of an investigation while it is continuing,” she said.

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Leaked document says world will warm three degrees

A document leaked from the UN secretariat says the world will warm by about three degrees this century if the greenhouse gas cuts being proposed at Copenhagen are followed through, exposing the huge gap between the rhetoric of world leaders at the conference and climate science.
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Scientists say the three degree rise would likely have severe consequences on human development for centuries, and may well trigger “tipping points” that cause uncontrollable climate change.

The document, marked “confidential very initial draft – do not distribute”, shows the pledges made to date would fall well short of the stated aim of world leaders, including that of the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to hold world temperature rises to the safer level of two degrees.

“Unless the remaining gap of around 1.9 to 4.2 Gt (billion tonnes of greenhouse gases) is closed and Parties commit themselves to strong action … global emissions will peak later than 2020 and remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal 550 ppm (parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) with the related temperature raise 3 (degrees celcius) or above 550 ppm,” the document reads.

Couched in the bureaucratic language of the UN, this is a stark warning that carbon emissions cuts are on the wrong track.

The analysis is, however, in keeping with the trajectories developed by the UN’s peak global warming body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The estimated impacts of a three degree temperature rise include half of the world’s animal species facing extinction and half a billion people threatened with starvation.

The average global temperature has not consistently been three degrees above pre-industrial levels since about three million years ago, well before modern humans existed.

The document, dated December 15, has the name “Bill McKibben” written in handwriting on it – a reference to the founder of the 350南京夜网 campaign which aims to limit the global temperature rise to a safer 1.5 degrees.

Mr McKibben told the Herald he had no part in the leak, and guessed a UN staffer may have released the material.

“What this shows, to me, is that the world leaders think political reality is more important than scientific reality,” Mr McKibben said from Copenhagen. “Somehow they think they are going to be able to outmanoeuvre physics.”

Australia currently proposes minimum emissions cuts of five per cent on its 2000 level by 2020, rising to 25 per cent if there is a binding global deal.

To keep the world within the two degree temperature rise, cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent on a baseline year of 1990 would be required, according to UN estimates.

Ben Cubby is the Herald’s Environment Reporter

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Bus drivers go on strike

Up to 600,000 commuters across Sydney and Newcastle are taking trains, ferries and cars to get to work and school
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because bus drivers have walked off the job.

The 24-hour stoppage began at 4am today, following demands from the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) for bus drivers to be given a pay rise without award conditions being taken away.

But disruption to afternoon peak-hour services may be avoided, with the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) calling a compulsory conference at noon to try to resolve the dispute.

Bus stand deserted

The bus stand on York Street next to the Queen Victoria Building, which is usually teeming with bus commuters during the morning peak, was mostly deserted.

Of the handful of people at the stand, most were waiting for private buses, which continued to operate this morning.

One exception was Patrick Gooley, who was waiting for a bus to take him to work at Balmain.

How has your journey been affected? Message 0424 SMS SMH (+61 424 767 764) or email us or direct message us on Twitter @smh_news with information or images.

Mr Gooley, who had travelled to the bus stand by train from Engadine in Sydney’s south, said he hoped a few bus drivers might break with their striking colleagues.

“A couple of years ago there was a bus strike and a few bus drivers still drove buses … in defiance,” he said.

“I’ve come in the hope there will be a few buses … I’d prefer not to lose a day of work.”

A few minutes later, with no sign of any buses, Mr Gooley and a colleague hailed a taxi.

Sarah Waterloo said she usually caught two buses from her home in Waterloo to work in Balmain.

Today she was at the bus stand at QVB only because it offered shelter from the rain while she tried to hail a cab, she said.

She had shared a taxi with three friends from Waterloo to the city, she said.

“I’m not overly happy but it’s my last day of work today.”

‘STA should be ashamed’

A Sydney commuter, Vinnie, told smh南京夜网.au her husband had to get up at 6am just to drive her to work.

“How inconsiderate of the bus drivers … STA should be ashamed [of themselves] to put up the bus fare on January 3.”

She said her colleague, who lives in the northern beaches suburb of Church Point, shared a taxi into the city with commuters at the bus stand.

“The total fare costs $83.25. As a reward to her for being a conscientious worker and not taking a day off like others do, our firm decided to reimburse her taxi fare.”

Another commuter, Eleanor, said she would walk to work in the city from Balmain.

“Hopefully the rain holds off. Maybe I will even try and hitch a ride.

“Regardless of the strike, the public transport here in Sydney – this so-called international city, who not so long ago held the Olympics – is one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Len Shenfield said he only found out about the strike from a passing motorist.

“There were no warnings at the bus stops. …

“This is totally unacceptable, the selfish behaviour, the total disregard for the commuters,” he said.

Other Sydneysiders said their employers arranged for them to work from home instead.

A spokeswoman for AMP, which has 1900 employees working in its Circular Quay offices, said employees who were “severely affected” could make alternative working arrangements with their managers, such as working from home.

Another firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has about 2000 employees working in the Sydney CBD, said it had “flexible working arrangements”.

“When situations such as these arise, our people know they have the option to work from home – where appropriate – as part of PwC’s flexible working arrangements,” PricewaterhouseCoopers’ director of human capital Sharon Bell said.

Worst affected

Northern beaches commuters were among the hardest hit, with no train servicing the peninsula.

Freshwater resident Emma Pearce said she and her fiance usually caught a bus to work in the city, but were forced to park at Queenscliff and walk to Manly wharf, where they caught a ferry.

Ms Pearce’s fiance would get to work at least 45 minutes later than usual.

Despite the inconvenience, she said she understood where bus drivers were coming from.

“It’s probably the only way they can get what they want,” she said.

“It’s inconvenient but … 3 per cent a year [increase in wages] is not a lot.”

Paul Brennan, from Fairlight, said he was lucky to find out about the strike this morning.

“I was in Brisbane working and I came home last night and then turned the radio on this morning and it’s the first I knew about it,” Mr Brennan, a B70 bus patron, said.

He took a call on the ferry from a less fortunate colleague who hadn’t heard the news and was stranded at his usual bus stop in Alexandria.

Carielyn Tunion said she had to skip college classes because of the strike.

“[I] was meant to be at college in North Sydney for my last assignment of the term, but can’t get there from the northern beaches without paying a ridiculous cab fee that I can’t afford.

“I can understand the reasoning behind the cause but, wow, what awesome timing.”

Laurence Archer said he supported the strike despite this morning’s inconveniences.

“My journey has been affected since, on the northern beaches where I live, there is no alternative to the bus.

“However, I am completely supportive of the action taken by the bus drivers and I am willing to put up with the relatively minor inconvenience, compared to the drivers having to put up with their livelihood being eroded.”

Taxi bonanza

The NSW Taxi Council called for patience.

“Taxis were never designed to be mass transport providers, but today we have been placed in that position as 600,000 commuters are forced to find an alternative means of getting to work,” council chief executive officer Howard Harrison said in a statement.

“We have every available car on the road and will work to get as many people as possible to work on time – but passengers should remember the bus strike is not our fault, the resulting traffic jams which slow us down are not our fault, and there are hundreds of thousands of people trying to get to the office by 9am.”

To help taxi drivers deliver the most efficient service, Mr Harrison has asked passengers to pre-book where possible and allow multiple hiring.

“This is a stressful time of the year for everyone. Patience and courtesy would be appreciated when booking or riding in a taxi, and we ask that expectations are kept realistic,” Mr Harrison said.

Taxi driver Nasser, who started driving at 5am, said today was so far his busiest day of the year.

“It’s been non-stop since 6am,” said Nasser, who did not want his surname published.

“Every time they took me it was [to] the [transport] terminals and I came back with someone else.

“Especially with the rain, even with short trips they need taxis.

“Everybody is in a panic mode right now.”

Roads quiet

An RTA spokeswoman said that peak hour traffic was normal and there was “nothing unusual to report”.

“The advice to people who would normally get a bus is to use a train wherever possible – don’t drive a car because it is going to put a lot of pressure on parking.

“If people do need to drive, just be patient if they come into any traffic problems.”

CityRail and Sydney Ferries

CityRail said it had the capacity to cope with added consumers

“We believe we have the capacity to handle the increase in patronage, so there are no extra trains. But all the regular services are running to timetable this morning,” a CityRail spokesman said.

Manly Fast Ferry did a bumper trade in peak period. Its 7.10am service did not sell out but was 25 per cent fuller than normal, a staff member said.

The 8.05am service did fill up; unlucky passengers had to wait for the 8.20am regular Manly ferry.

A Sydney Ferries spokesman said additional services were added to meet the demand.

“We ran an additional vessel Manly Freshwater Class vessel and we had a number of back-up boats working on the Parramatta River.”

Ferry wharf stabbing

Commuters who planned to travel by ferry from Cabarita Wharf faced additional problems when the wharf was closed after a fight.

A police spokesman said the wharf was closed just after 4am as police investigated after a person was stabbed.

He said police expected the wharf to reopen to commuters soon.

Six per cent pay increase

The RTBU said the strike would go ahead despite a pay offer from the NSW Government and a recommendation from the IRC to cancel the action.

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally confirmed the Government would honour an offer of wage increases of 3 per cent backdated from June 12 this year and a further 3 per cent from June 12 next year.

Ms Keneally yesterday called on the union to abandon strike action, saying it would be a great inconvenience to workers and Christmas shoppers.

“The fact is this is a major inconvenience, it is unwarranted and it is unnecessary,” she told reporters yesterday evening.

“The Government has made a fair and generous offer.

“The union asked us for an offer and we provided one – a fair and generous offer at 6 per cent.

“The union asked us to confirm that offer and I have done so.”

Today, she was criticised for not doing enough to stop the strike.

“This is a State Government that is focused on themselves. Where were they yesterday?” Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell told Macquarie Radio today.

“They were in a meeting with a white board trying to work out the future of NSW instead of actually working out today, which was hundreds of thousands of commuters inconvenienced by a snap bus strike.’’

Ms Keneally said she and the Government did everything possible to stop the strike from going ahead.

“The Government was working throughout yesterday and as late as 9pm last night to try to avert this strike,’’ she told Macquarie Radio.

“I was on the phone to the Transport Minister throughout the afternoon. My office was on the phone to the union and the State Transit Authority was making every effort with the union.”

‘Nowhere else to go’

RTBU spokesman Raul Baonza apologised to commuters for the timing of the strike but insisted the union had “nowhere else to go”.

He accused the Government of negotiating through the media.

“We have not been contacted by anyone about a formal offer. All we’ve heard is through media reports.

“We’ve had a three-and-three offer before but there was an unacceptable clause to that, which was opening up the buses to casual drivers. The Government is well aware that we rejected that so we don’t know whether they are flogging the same offer or not.”

Mr Baonza said State Transit and the NSW Government should shoulder some responsibility for the strike being called.

“This didn’t happen overnight. The State Transit and the Government have been aware … that there was the possibility of industrial action and they chose not to respond to the union.

“Yesterday we announced the strike at 10 o’clock, and the Premier and the minister did not comment the entire day. They came out at 8.30pm at night with an offer we know nothing about, which they have no put to us, which contains no details.”

State Transit bus tickets will be recognised on CityRail train services and Sydney Ferries throughout the strike. Drivers are being allowed to use bus lanes but T-Way restrictions still applied, the RTA spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Transport’s Transport Co-ordination Group said parking was available at Moore Park and free shuttle services would run from there to Central Station during the morning and afternoon peak periods.

Western Sydney bus services on the Liverpool Parramatta Transitway are not affected.

CBD Emergency Warning System

Today, the Sydney CBD Emergency Warning System will be tested.

There are 98 speakers in the CBD that will broadcast the alarms at 12.15pm. Thirteen variable messaging signs are positioned at the city’s transport hubs.

The test will focus on certain sites in the CBD, police said.

Glenda Kwek, Arjun Ramachandran, Georgina Robinson and AAP

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