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November 22nd, 2011:

Call for more transparency over donations to political parties in Northern Ireland

22 November 2011 Last updated at 11:32 GMT

By Mark Devenport

BBC NI Political Editor

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Parties divided over donations

Call for end to secret donations

A government appointed watchdog has called for more transparency over donations to political parties in Northern Ireland.

The report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life wants the executive to introduce a timetable for making political donations public.

At present the identity of party donors in NI remain secret.

Parties elsewhere in the UK must report the identity of all party donations over £7,500.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report covers all the UK – its main recommendation is for a cap on individual donations of £10,000.

In relation to Northern Ireland, it wants the government to commit to a timetable to introduce the same transparency as elsewhere.

It wants more details published by 2015, including the extent to which party donations come from Irish citizens living outside the UK.

It also recommends that policy development grants which are linked to a party’s representation at Westminster should be made available to parties with significant representation at Stormont.

At present, the DUP and the SDLP each get more than £150,000 of these grants.

Sinn Fein do not receive the cash because they do not take their seats in the House of Commons, whilst the Ulster Unionists lost their grant when they slipped below the threshold of having two MPs

Plans to change political party funding to be published

Sir Christopher Kelly

Sir Christopher Kelly’s report on funding politics depends on all-party agreement for success

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New proposals on controlling the funding of political parties are being published, after the government pledged to remove “big money from politics”.

It has been reported they could include a £10,000 cap on individual donations.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life proposals could also include giving state funding to parties worth £3 for every vote they receive.

But Deputy PM Nick Clegg has already stressed taxpayers will not be asked to pay more to fund political parties.

The report is the latest in a long line of attempts to curb party funding, which grew in urgency in the wake of the cash-for-honours affair.

The committee’s chairman, Sir Christopher Kelly, has said he hopes his body’s independence from any political party will make the report’s findings more acceptable to voters.

But any finding depends on agreement from all the main political parties – something which has always proved impossible to achieve in the past.

Labour, with its heavy dependence on the trade unions for funding, resists curbs on unions donating on behalf of individual members.

The Conservatives, who rely more on large individual donors, are against further restrictions on what they can give.

At present there are no limits on donations, but the name of anyone who gives more than £7,500 to a party is made public.

‘Hard-pressed taxpayers’

The deputy prime minister’s comments in the House of Commons earlier this month may limit the chances of success this time if – as some reports suggest – Sir Christopher proposes a huge increase in state funding of political parties, worth up to £100m over a five-year Parliament.

Under this proposal, cash would be shared out according to the number of votes each party receives in a general election to compensate them for a huge loss of income as a result of introducing new caps on individual donations.

But Mr Clegg said it was “immensely important for us to clear this up, because it has affected all political parties negatively, but it would not be right to ask our hard-pressed taxpayers to pay more to political parties at a time when they are having to deal with so many cuts and savings elsewhere”.

The last major attempt to reform party funding began in 2006, at the time of the cash-for-honours affairs.

Former Permanent Secretary Sir Hayden Phillips was asked to find as much of a consensus as possible on a future system for funding.

He recommended a £50,000 limit on cash donations to parties, but after five sessions of talks with Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the process broke down without agreement.

The Cabinet Office – which would introduce any change – has set a deadline of December 2014 for legislation.

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Hong Kong Advised On Light Pollution

22 Nov. 2011

Carl Gardner, Director of CSG Lighting Consultancy Ltd’, was recently invited by the city authorities in Hong Kong to advise them on ways that the city and its local businesses can reduce the problems of light nuisance and light pollution.

During visits in December 2010 and October 2011, Carl Gardner gave presentations to senior figures in the city’s engineering and environmental departments on UK planning laws and light nuisance legislation – as well as suggesting technical and design solutions the city could consider. He was also taken on a night-time tour of the worst ‘unwanted light’ hotspots on Hong Kong island and across the harbour in Kowloon, to gauge the extent of the problems first hand.

Hong Kong has some of the densest living conditions in the world – high-rise residential blocks are packed tightly together, to maximise land use, and upwards light spill from lighting at ground level is a constant problem. The main culprits in creating unwanted light are uncontrolled floodlights on commercial hoardings above shop frontages – and the new generation of dynamic LED and LCD advertising screens, which are taking over the facades and rooflines of Hong Kong’s buildings. The number of complaints about light nuisance has increased enormously in recent years, particularly from wealthy residents from Mainland China who have bought property in Hong Kong

Fresh round of hacked climate science emails leaked online

the Guardian

A file containing 5,000 emails has been made available in an apparent attempt to repeat the impact of 2009’s similar release

Description: Hacked climate science emails : December temperatures

A new round of hacked emails between climate scientists has been released online. Photograph: NOAA

A fresh tranche of private emails exchanged between leading climate scientists throughout the last decade was released online on Tuesday. The unauthorised publication is an apparent attempt to repeat the impact of a similar release of emails on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit in late 2009.

The initial email dump was apparently timed to disrupt the Copenhagen climate talks. It prompted three official inquiries in the UK and two in the US into the working practices of climate scientists. Although these were critical of the scientists’ handling of Freedom of Information Act requests and lack of openness they did not find fault with the climate change science they had produced.

Norfolk police have said the new set of emails is “of interest” to their investigation to find the perpetrator of the initial email release who has not yet been identified.

The emails appear to be genuine, but the University of East Anglia said the “sheer volume of material” meant it was not yet able to confirm that they were. One of the emailers, the climate scientist Prof Michael Mann, has confirmed that he believes they are his messages. The lack of any emails post-dating the 2009 release suggests that they were obtained at the same time, but held back. Their release now suggests they are intended to cause maximum impact before the upcoming climate summit in Durban which starts on Monday.

In the new release a 173MB zip file called “FOIA2011” containing more than 5,000 new emails, was made available to download on a Russian server called today. An anonymous entity calling themselves “FOIA” then posted a link to the file on at least four blogs popular with climate sceptics – Watts Up With ThatClimate AuditTallBloke andThe Air Vent. The same tactic was used in 2009 when the first 160MB batch of emails were released after being obtained – possibly illegally – from servers based at the University of East Anglia, where a number of the climate scientists involved were based.

One marked difference from the original 2009 release is that the person or persons responsible has included a message headed “background and context” which, for the first time, gives an insight into their motivations. Following some bullet-pointed quotes such as “Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day” and, “Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels,” the message states:

“Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on hiding the decline. This archive contains some 5.000 emails picked from keyword searches. A few remarks and redactions are marked with triple brackets. The rest, some 220.000, are encrypted for various reasons. We are not planning to publicly release the passphrase. We could not read every one, but tried to cover the most relevant topics.”

The use of points instead of commas to mark the thousands when writing a number – highly unusual in both the UK or US – is sure to lead to speculation about the nationality of those responsible.

The message then includes a sample of cherry-picked quotes selected from a small handful of the emails focusing on apparent disagreements between the scientists, the workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and attempts to block climate sceptics from securing documents from the scientists via freedom of information requests. Many of the same issues were highlighted in the 2009 release.

One of the most damaging claims in 2009 was that Prof Phil Jones, the head of the UEA’s Climatic Research Institute had deleted emails to avoid FOI request. One of the reviews into the content of the emails, conducted by Sir Muir Russell, concluded that “emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them” – something that Jones has denied. At the time CRU was coming under sustained pressure by an organised campaign to release information, which the scientists saw as distracting from their work.

The new emails include similar statements apparently made by the scientists about avoiding requests for information. In one email, which has not yet been specifically confirmed as genuine, Jones writes: “I’ve been told that IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 [the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report] would be to delete all emails at the end of the process”.

In a statement, the University of East Anglia said: “While we have had only a limited opportunity to look at this latest post of 5,000 emails, we have no evidence of a recent breach of our systems. If genuine, (the sheer volume of material makes it impossible to confirm at present that they are all genuine) these emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks.”

It continued: “As in 2009, extracts from emails have been taken completely out of context. Following the previous release of emails scientists highlighted by the controversy have been vindicated by independent review, and claims that their science cannot or should not be trusted are entirely unsupported. They, the university and the wider research community have stood by the science throughout, and continue to do so.”

Mann, director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State University, who is quoted in the batch of released emails described the release as “truly pathetic”.

When asked if they were genuine, he said: “Well, they look like mine but I hardly see anything that appears damning at all, despite them having been taken out of context. I guess they had very little left to work with, having culled in the first round the emails that could most easily be taken out of context to try to make me look bad.”

He said, the people behind the release were “agents doing the dirty bidding of the fossil fuel industry know they can’t contest the fundamental science of human-caused climate change. So they have instead turned to smear, innuendo, criminal hacking of websites, and leaking out-of-context snippets of personal emails in their effort to try to confuse the public about the science and thereby forestall any action to combat this critical threat. Its right out of the tried-and-true playbook of climate change denial.”

An ongoing investigation by Norfolk Police into the 2009 release of emails has so far failed to result in any charges or arrests. A spokesperson said: “We are aware of the release of the document cache. The contents will be of interest to our investigation which is ongoing.”