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Italy begins 2011 with a ban on plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, making it the first country to ban plastic bags in Europe. Italians are among the top consumers of plastic bags in Europe and use more than 300 per person a year, or around a quarter of the 100 billion plastic bags that are used annually across Europe.  Italian shoppers will now be offered alternatives such as biodegradable plastic, paper or fabric bags.

The Green Energy Training Centre (GETC) in Wirral , UK, opened its doors in November last year and has begun its training courses in renewable energy technologies. The centre offers training and qualifications in installing green energy microgeneration technologies such as solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar panels and heat pumps.  The UK housing minister, Grant Shapps, has confirmed that non-domestic new builds must be zero carbon by 2019.  The minister also said the government is working on an approach to finalise the definition of zero carbon homes. In Taiwan the country’s first energy-saving and zero-carbon building is about to open: The YS Sun Green Building Research Centre in the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in the city of Tainan, part of which is underground, features technologies including ‘natural buoyancy ventilation’ which lets the 300 capacity conference hall stay cool in summer and warm in winter without using the air conditioning. It was also constructed with 200 tons of serpentine jade cement, which have high levels of alkaline, magnetic field and hydroxyl radicals which, supposedly, naturally purify air. The centre will serve as NCKU’s international conference centre and exhibit other green building technologies.

The Irish government is co-funding a Euro 150,000 research project into CETO wave technology.  The project is being funded by Australian wave energy developer Carnegie Wave Energy Ltd and the Sustainable Energy Association (SEAI). The CETO system converts wave energy into zero-emission electricity and desalinated water. It is fully submerged and anchored in deep water and works through a system of submerged buoys which are tethered to seabed pump units and move with the motion of the passing waves.

The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, has called for a reform of EU farming subsidies. She will say that the Common Agricultural Policy needs to be fundamentally changed so that farmers who protect the environment should get rewards and there should be less reliance on direct payments.

In the USA, the Commission investigating the BP oil spill has found BP and other companies guilty of complacency and blames cost cutting and poor management and engineering decisions. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has released forward chapters in advance of the full report which will come out on January 11.

Environmental law organisation, ClientEarth, says major retailers in the UK are misleading customers over the labelling of fish. The organisation inspected the labelling by major supermarkets and in their subsequent report, they say that labels, such as ‘sustainably sourced’, ‘protects the marine environment’ and ‘responsibly farmed’ were misleading or unverified on 32 products out of 100 examined.  In a survey by Ethical Consumer magazine, UK shoppers are urged to cut the environmental cost of their shopping by choosing Marks and Spencer or the Co-op, who they name as the UK’s greenest supermarkets. Down at the other end of the scale were Tesco, ASDA and Netto. The environmental and ethical performance of 19 of the country’s leading supermarkets and convenience stores were scrutinised in the survey.

In Australia, Brisbane, the continent’s third largest city, has been partly evacuated as the death toll from rising flood waters continue. The city is home to about 2 million people. At least ten people have died in the past 24 hours and many more are missing and the Australian police fear the death could rise as floods sweep into the city. Floods in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,  caused by torrential rain, have now caused massive landslides resulting in the death of over 500 people with a growi8ng death toll – this really is a terrible tragedy. Sri Lanka is also experiencing flooding, at least 27 peole have died, 20,000 are homeless and more than 350,000 displaced: There is also severe flooding in The Phillipines and Malaysia.

See more on these stories at http://www.edie.net/news/index.asp?channel=0 and at  http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?src=nl&id=19225 and at http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?src=nl&id=19207  and at http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?src=nl&id=19211 and at http://www.edie.net/news/news_story.asp?src=nl&id=19224