’11 Bicycle Friendly Business Award

Boston University’s Charles River Campus is pleased to announce that it has received the Bronze Award from Mayor Menino’s Boston Bike Friendly Businesses program.  This is the first time that the Charles River Campus has received this honor. Now in its third year, Mayor Menino’s Bike Friendly Business awards recognize companies that incorporate bike-friendly practices […]

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Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Professor Cutler J. Cleveland explains BP Oil Spill: How it happened; magnitude of the spill; attempts to stop the leak; ecological and environmental impact, and government response.

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Boston University chosen for 2010 “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges.”

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IISD expert on climate change and security features work at high level debate at COP15

COPENHAGEN–December 14, 2009–The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s senior project manager on climate change and security, is in Copenhagen during COP15 and available to answer questions about his leading edge research on climate change and security issues in Africa and the Middle East, commissioned by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Oli Brown will be attending an event hosted by the Government of Denmark: World leaders debate the security implications of climate change* on December 15, 2009, at DR-Byen’s Concert House.

Please see more about IISD at COP15 and related commentaries


For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer Nona Pelletier
Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.
(For local calls during COP15 in Copenhagen, please phone 53 97 61 23 until December 18, 2009)

More information about the debate:
The Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs Per Stig Møller has invited a panel of world leaders for a debate on the impact of climate change on international security. In addition to the Danish Foreign Minister the panel will include:

  • NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
  • EU Presidency, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt
  • African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Jean Ping
  • The moderator will be Steffen Kretz, Senior International Editor and anchor with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR).

Practical information:
Time and date: December 15, 2009 1.30-3pm. Doors open at 12.30 and close at 1.15 P.M. CET, to ensure a prompt start to the debate. Venue: DR-Byen’s Concert House, Studie 2, Emil Holms Kanal 20, 0999 Copenhagen C.
Nearest metro: DR-Byen (two stops from the Bella Center).

Members of the press wishing to bring cameras and other equipment to the event must have COP15 accreditation and must arrive at the event no later than 12.30 P.M. CET. A specific press card will not be issued for this event, but COP15 accreditation card must be carried visually.

*All members of the press must register by sending an email to with name and media by December 14, 12 P.M. CET.

Contact persons for the Danish Government’s event:
For the press in general: Ms. Janina Graae / M:+45 4083 8937
For general information: Ms. Catherine Lorenzen / D:+45 3392 1855 / M:+45 5087 6545

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Minamata Disease

Minamata disease, sometimes referred to as Chisso-Minamata disease, is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetuses

Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata City in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater (point source pollution) from the Chisso Corporation's chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This highly toxic chemical bioaccumulated in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which when eaten by the local populace resulted in mercury poisoning. While cat, dog, pig and human deaths continued over more than 30 years, the government and company did little to prevent the pollution.

As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. Lawsuits and claims for compensation continue to this day.

A second outbreak of Minamata disease occurred in Niigata Prefecture in 1965. Both the original Minamata disease and Niigata Minamata disease are considered two of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan.



The Chisso Corporation first opened a chemical factory in Minamata in 1908. Initially producing fertilizers, the factory followed the nationwide expansion of Japan's chemical industry, branching out into production of acetylene, acetaldehyde, acetic acid, vinyl chloride and octanol, among others. The Minamata factory became the most advanced in all Japan, both before and after World War II. The waste products resulting from the manufacture of these chemicals were released into Minamata Bay in the factory wastewater. Inevitably, these pollutants had an environmental impact. Fisheries were damaged in terms of reduced catches and in response Chisso reached two separate compensation agreements with the fishery cooperative in 1926 and 1943. 

The rapid expansion of the Minamata factory spurred on the local economy and as Chisso prospered, so did Minamata. This fact, combined with the lack of other industry, meant that Chisso had great influence in Minamata. At one point, over half of the tax revenue of Minamata City authority came from Chisso and its employees, and the company and its subsidiaries were responsible for creating a quarter of all jobs in Minamata. Minamata was dubbed Chisso's "castle town", in reference to the capital cities of feudal lords who ruled Japan during the Edo period.

The Chisso Minamata factory first started acetaldehyde production in 1932, producing 210 tons that year. By 1951 production had jumped to 6,000 tons per year: over 50% of Japan's total output. The chemical reaction used to produce the acetaldehyde used mercury sulfate as a catalyst. A side reaction of the catalytic cycle led to the production of a small amount of an organic mercury compound, namely methyl mercury. This highly toxic compound was released into Minamata Bay from the start of production in 1932 until 1968 when this production method was discontinued.


On April 21, 1956, a five year-old girl was examined at the Chisso Corporation's factory hospital in Minamata, Japan, a town on the west coast of the southern island of Kyūshū. The physicians were puzzled by her symptoms: difficulty walking, difficulty speaking and convulsions. Two days later, her younger sister also began to exhibit the same symptoms and was hospitalized. The girls' mother informed doctors that her neighbor's daughter was also experiencing similar problems. After a house-to-house investigation, eight further patients were discovered and hospitalized. On May 1, the hospital director to the local public health office reported the discovery of an "epidemic of an unknown disease of the central nervous system", marking the official discovery of Minamata disease.

To investigate the epidemic, the city gover
nment and various medical practitioners formed the Strange Disease Countermeasures Committee at the end of May 1956. Owing to the localized nature of the disease, it was suspected to be contagious and as a precaution patients were isolated and their homes disinfected. Unfortunately, this contributed to the stigmatisation and discrimination experienced by Minamata victims from the local community. During its investigations, the committee uncovered surprising anecdotal evidence of the strange behavior of cats and other wildlife in the areas surrounding patients' homes. From around 1950 onwards, cats had been seen to have convulsions, go mad and die. Locals called it the "cat dancing disease", owing to their erratic movement. Crows had fallen from the sky, seaweed no longer grew on the sea bed and fish floated dead on the surface of the sea. As the extent of the outbreak was understood, the committee invited researchers from Kumamoto University to help in the research effort.

The Kumamoto University Research Group was formed on August 24, 1956. Researchers from the School of Medicine began visiting Minamata regularly and admitted patients to the university hospital for detailed examinations. Gradually, a more complete picture of the symptoms exhibited by patients was uncovered. The disease developed with patients complaining of a loss of sensation and numbness in their hands and feet. They became unable to grasp small objects or fasten buttons. They could not run or walk without stumbling, their voices changed in pitch and many patients complained of difficulties seeing, hearing and swallowing. In general, these symptoms deteriorated and were followed by severe convulsions, coma and eventual death. By October 1956, 40 patients had been discovered, 14 of whom had died: a mortality rate of 36.7%.

Finding the Cause

Researchers from Kumamoto University also began to focus on the cause of the strange disease. They found that the victims, often members of the same family, were clustered in fishing hamlets along the shore of Minamata Bay. The staple food of victims was invariably fish and shellfish from Minamata Bay. The cats in the local area, who tended to eat scraps from the family table, had died with symptoms similar to those now discovered in humans. This led the researchers to believe that the outbreak was caused by some kind of food poisoning, with contaminated fish and shellfish the prime suspects.

On November 4, 1956 the research group announced its initial findings: "Minamata disease is rather considered to be poisoning by a heavy metal… presumably it enters the human body mainly through fish and shellfish."

Identification of Mercury

As soon as the investigation identified a heavy metal as the causal substance, the wastewater from the Chisso plant was immediately suspected as the origin. The company's own tests revealed that its wastewater contained many heavy metals in concentrations sufficiently high to bring about serious environmental degradation; these metals included lead, mercury, manganese, arsenic, selenium, thallium and copper. Identifying which particular poison was responsible for the disease proved to be extremely difficult and time consuming. During 1957 and 1958, many different theories were proposed by different researchers. Initially, manganese was thought to be the causal substance due to the high concentrations found in fish and the organs of the deceased. Thallium, selenium and a multiple contaminant theory were also proposed but it was not until March 1958, when visiting British neurologist Douglas McAlpine suggested that Minamata symptoms resembled those of organic mercury poisoning, that the focus of the investigation centered on mercury.

In February 1959, the mercury distribution in Minamata Bay was investigated. The results shocked the researchers involved. Large quantities of mercury were detected in fish, shellfish and sludge from the bay. The highest concentrations centered around the Chisso factory wastewater canal in Hyakken Harbour and decreased going out to sea, clearly identifying the factory as the source of contamination. At the mouth of the wastewater canal a figure of 2 kg of mercury per ton of sediment was measured, a level high enough to be economically viable to mine. Ironically, Chisso did later set up a subsidiary to reclaim and sell the mercury recovered from the sludge.

Hair samples were taken from the victims of the disease and also from the Minamata population in general. In patients, the maximum mercury level recorded was 705 parts per million (ppm), indicating very heavy exposure.  In non-symptomatic Minamata residents, the level was 191 ppm compared to an average level of 4 ppm for people living outside the Minamata area.

On November 12, 1959 the Ministry of Health and Welfare's Minamata Food Poisoning Subcommittee published its results:

"Minamata disease is a poisoning disease that affects mainly the central nervous system and is caused by the consumption of large quantities of fish and shellfish living in Minamata Bay and its surroundings, the major causative agent being some sort of organic mercury compound."

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Moving to a Low Carbon Development Pathway


Media Advisory

IISD Side Event: Moving to a Low Carbon Development Pathway

Monday, December 14, 2009, 09:00-10:15 CET (GMT +1)
Koncerthuset (The Concert House), DR Byen (Two Metro stops from the Bella Centre)
UNFCCC COP15, Copenhagen

This session will assess the challenges and opportunities to support the transition of developing countries to a low carbon development pathway, by mobilizing private sector investment for emerging market-based mechanisms.

There is positive momentum towards the establishment of national appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) and sector-based approaches to greenhouse gas reductions, at the international level. While this creates new opportunities, the degree to which any international agreement will be able to meet its climate change and sustainable development objectives will depend on its translation to real action at the national and sub-national level.

Private sector investment will also play a critical role in this process.

(Please see more about IISD at COP15 and related commentaries

Moderated by John Drexhage, IISD

  • Kim Chan-Woo, Director General , Ministry of Environment, South Korea
  • Erik Haites, Margaree Consultants, Canada
  • Samuel Nnah, Centre for Environment and Development, Cameroon
  • Syamsidar Thamrin, Deputy Director Climate Change, Environment Directorate, National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), Indonesia
  • Suzanna Kahn Ribeiro, Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Each participant will be invited to give 10 minutes of remarks, followed by a facilitated discussion.  

For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer Nona Pelletier 
Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.
(For local calls during COP15 in Copenhagen, please phone 53 97 61 23 until December 18, 2009)

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IISD CEO says world cant wait for political agreement on climate: sees trade as catalyst for change

COPENHAGEN—December 13, 2009—“The world urgently needs an international framework to address climate change, but cannot wait for political agreement. Effective actions must be taken now,” said David Runnalls, president and CEO of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

IISD is kicking off the second week of the international climate change conference in Copenhagen with three separate side events, on Monday, to build momentum for low carbon development strategies, fossil-fuel subsidy reform and action on trade and climate change.

“Climate change is an urgent issue. It isn’t just an environmental issue anymore. It is also the economic and social issue of our time and the outside world is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress displayed in the conference centre,” Runnalls said.

“While governments talk about the need to expand trade to help emerge from the economic crisis, much of the action at the legislative level seems designed to protect domestic industry, thereby threatening the integrity of the trading system,” Runnalls said, adding that the world can’t afford to continue on this path.

“IISD has ideas for using trade to promote low carbon development and investment in renewable energy technologies. And while governments complain that their fiscal situations are too stretched to accommodate funding for clean energy research and for assisting developing countries with adaptation to climate change, they continue to pour subsidies into the fossil fuels, which are responsible for the climate problem in the first place.

“Our Global Subsidies Initiative is aimed at identifying the sources and extent of such subsidies so that they can be turned to more sensible solutions.”

IISD’s side events will feature its senior directors and advisors including John Drexhage, Mark Halle, Peter Wooders and Aaron Cosbey, as well as other members of IISD’s climate change and energy team, and other panelists attending the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP 15 and COP/MOP 5).

Tomorrow’s side events are designed to advance action on climate change through policy research, development and implementation on the following key issues:

For more information about the Institute’s work at the conference, please see IISD at COP15, as well as related commentaries and its Climate Change and Energy program.

For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer Nona Pelletier
Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.
(For local calls during COP15 in Copenhagen, please phone 53 97 61 23 until December 18, 2009)

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Trade and Investment: Fostering or Frustrating Climate Objectives?


Media Advisory

IISD Side Event: Trade and Investment: Fostering or Frustrating Climate Objectives?

Monday, December 14, 2009, 09:00-13:00 CET (GMT +1)
*Crowne Plaza Hotel, IETA room Mount Everest 3, Orestads Blvd 114-118
(One Metro stop from the Bella Centre at Orestad)
UNFCCC COP15, Copenhagen

IISD has been working intensively on trade and climate change issues since it helped organize the Trade Ministers’ meeting in Bali at COP13. A suite of research has led to our round-up event in Copenhagen: a mini-symposium focused on four key issue areas.

09:00 Liberalization of low-carbon goods: The promise and the pitfalls
Mahesh Sugathan (ICTSD): Liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services: The devil in the details
Peter Wooders (IISD): Estimating the GHG mitigation potential of liberalization

10:00 Border carbon adjustment: Trade measures in pursuit of climate objectives
Susanne Dröge (German Institute for International and Security Affairs): Tackling leakage in a world of unequal carbon prices
Jake Werksman (WRI): Challenges of fair and effective BCA
Aaron Cosbey (IISD): WTO legal issues; principles of good practice

11:00 Investment, technology transfer and climate change
Karsten Neuhoff (Climate Policy Initiative): International support for domestic policies in developing countries
Peter Wooders (IISD): Case study: wind power in Egypt
Smita Nakhooda (WRI): Investing in a sustainable future: MDB support for energy policy

12:00 Intellectual property rights and climate change
Bernice Lee (Chatham House): Who owns our low carbon future? IP and energy technology
Ahmet Abdul Latif (ICTSD): IPRs and dissemination of clean technology 

(Please see more about IISD at COP15 and related commentaries)

*Participants will need to have previously registered or have COP15 badges for entry.

For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer Nona Pelletier
Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.
(For local calls during COP15 in Copenhagen, please phone 53 97 61 23 until December 18, 2009)

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Phasing out Fossil-Fuel Subsidies: Moving from rhetoric to reform


Media Advisory

IISD Side Event: Phasing out Fossil-Fuel Subsidies: Moving from rhetoric to reform


Monday, December 14, 2009, 15:00-17:00 CET (GMT +1)
*Crowne Plaza Hotel, IETA room Mount Everest 3, Orestads Blvd 114-118
(One Metro stop from the Bella Centre at Orestad)
UNFCCC COP15, Copenhagen

Reforming fossil fuel subsidies would save governments billions of dollars while also significantly reducing greenhouse emissions and incentivizing cleaner forms of energy and energy efficiency. Though long overdue, this potentially transformative issue suddenly reached international consensus with the announcement by G-20 leaders, meeting in Pittsburgh on 24-25 September 2009, that they intended to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels over the medium term.

The challenge lies in implementation. The event will bring together speakers and observers from a range of G-20 governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as the private sector, to focus on how the political commitment to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies can be translated into effective reform. Moderated by IISD’s Mark Halle, the event will build upon analysis and insight gained through IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative’s work on fossil-fuel subsidies.

15:00     Opening remarks by Mark Halle (moderator), Executive Director, IISD-Europe: The building blocks of fossil-fuel subsidies reform

15:20     The perspective of Finance Ministries in fossil-fuel subsidies reform, Per Callesen Deputy Permanent Secretary, Danish Ministry of Finance

15:30     National approaches to developing and implementing strategies for reforming fossil-fuel subsidies, William A. Pizer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Energy, U.S. Department of the Treasury

15:40     National approaches to developing and implementing strategies for reforming fossil-fuel subsidies, Andrew Dobbie, Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom

15:50     Overcoming challenges: the political challenges of energy reform and protecting the poor, former President of Costa Rica, José Maria Figueres Olsen, Founder of the Global Observatory

16:00     The role of international organizations in supporting reform efforts, Helen Mountford, Acting Deputy Director, Environment Directorate, OECD

16:10     The role of international organizations in supporting reform efforts, Fatih Birol, Chief Economist, International Energy Agency

16:20-17:00         Questions and discussion

(Please see more about the Global Subsidies Initiative, IISD at COP15 and related commentaries)

*Participants will need to have previously registered or have COP15 badges for entry.

For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer Nona Pelletier
Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.
(For local calls during COP15 in Copenhagen, please phone 53 97 61 23 until December 18, 2009)

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What role does liquefied natural gas (LNG) play as an energy source for the United States?

On an annual basis over the past five years, the United States imported between 13% and 16% of its natural gas requirements. Most of these imports were in gaseous form delivered by pipeline from Canada. However, natural gas imports have also come in liquid form from overseas. Between 1% and 3% of U.S. demand for natural gas was met by LNG in the past five years.

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