Inter Press Service » Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:20:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 South Scores 11th-Hour Win on Climate Loss and Damage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 20:34:06 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129042 The U.N. climate talks in Warsaw ended in dramatic fashion Saturday evening in what looked like a schoolyard fight with a mob of dark-suited supporters packed around the weary combatants, Todd Stern of the United States and Sai Navoti of Fiji representing G77 nations. It took two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations to […]

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COP19 delegates huddle to resolve the issue of loss and damage. Credit: Courtesy of ENB

COP19 delegates huddle to resolve the issue of loss and damage. Credit: Courtesy of ENB

By Stephen Leahy
WARSAW, Nov 24 2013 (IPS)

The U.N. climate talks in Warsaw ended in dramatic fashion Saturday evening in what looked like a schoolyard fight with a mob of dark-suited supporters packed around the weary combatants, Todd Stern of the United States and Sai Navoti of Fiji representing G77 nations.

It took two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations to get to this point."We need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two-degree temperature rise.” -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

At issue in this classic North versus South battle was the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. Countries of the South, with 80 percent of the world’s people, finally won, creating a loss and damage pillar to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

Super-typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines just days before the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) amply illustrated the reality of loss and damages arising from climate change.  Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Saño made an emotional speech announcing “fast for the climate” at the COP19 opening that garnered worldwide attention, including nearly a million YouTube views

His fast would only end with agreement on a loss and damage mechanism – an official process now called the “Warsaw Mechanism” to determine how to implement this third pillar. Much still needs to be defined. Climate impacts result in both economic and non-economic losses, including the growing issue of climate refugees, people who are forced to move because their homelands can no longer support them.

“This Warsaw decision on loss and damage is a major breakthrough,” said Bangladesh’s Saleem Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK.

“There is a long way yet to go for an effective climate treaty,” Huq told IPS.

Overall, the results from COP19 are mixed, said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, who has attended all but one of these climate negotiations over the past 19 years.

“Loss and damages is big but we have the bare minimum in the rest to keep going,” he told IPS.

The U.N. talks known as COPs are part of a complex and acronym-laden process to create a new climate treaty to keep global warming to less than two degrees C, and to help poorer countries survive the mounting impacts.

In 2009 at the semi-infamous Copenhagen talks, the rich countries made a deal with developing countries, saying in effect: “We’ll give you billions of dollars for adaptation, ramping up to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in exchange for our mitigation amounting to small CO2 cuts instead of making the big cuts that we should do.”

The money to help poor countries adapt flowed for the first three years but has largely dried up. Warsaw was supposed to be the “Finance COP” to bring the promised money. That didn’t happen.

Countries like Germany, Switzerland and others in Europe only managed to scrape together promises of 110 million dollars into the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries wanted a guarantee of 70 billion a year by 2016 but were blocked by the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and others.

“Rich governments have refused to recognise their legal and moral responsibility to provide international climate finance,” said Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South, Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

The mitigation pillar in Warsaw is even shakier. Japan said they couldn’t make their promised emission reductions and gave themselves a new extremely weak target. Canada and Australia thumbed their noses at their reduction commitments and are increasing emissions.

Today’s reality is that slightly more than half of annual CO2 emissions are coming from the global south. In Warsaw, the big emitters like China and India refused to take on specific reduction targets. Instead they agreed to make “contributions”.  Specific details about reduction amounts and timing was deferred to a specially-convened leader’s climate summit in New York on Sep. 23, 2014.

“We need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two-degree temperature rise,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said here in Warsaw.

The one surprising success at COP 19 was an agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). This will provide compensation for countries that could lose revenue from not exploiting their forests. Deforestation and conversion of forests to farmland contributes about 10 percent of total human-caused CO2 emissions.

“We now have a system in place to do REDD and reduce emissions,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous representative from the Philippines.

It’s a strong package that includes verification, monitoring and safeguards for local communities. Countries have to put all of this in place before they can access finance either through the Green Climate Fund or through carbon markets, Tauli-Corpuz told IPS.

“Hopefully, it will pump a lot of money into local communities and reduce deforestation,” she said.

Honouring land tenure or land rights of local communities to care for the forests is the key to making REDD work as intended and benefit local people and not corporations or national governments, she said.

Emissions from deforestation have been slowly declining. However, the vast majority of CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and it continues to grow quickly. Those emissions will heat the planet for centuries and yet governments spend more than 500 billion dollars to subsidise these industries, said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace international executive director.

“Democracy has been stolen by corporations,” Naidoo told IPS. “While activists and protesters are arrested, the real hooligans are the CEOs of fossil fuel companies.”

The only avenue left to people is civil disobedience and 2014 will be the year of climate activism, he said.

“Now is the time to put our lives on the line and face jail time,” Naidoo said.

In what may be the first of many such actions, more than 800 members of civil society walked of the COP negotiations on the second to last day “in protest against rich industrialised countries jeopardising international climate action” they said.

While international negotiations inch along, climate scientists are growing increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence that climate change is happening faster and with larger impacts than projected.

To have a good chance at staying under two degrees C, industrialised countries need to crash their CO2 emissions 10 percent per year starting in 2014, said Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.

“We can still do two C but not the way we’re going,” Anderson said on the sidelines of COP 19 in Warsaw. He wondered why negotiators on the inside are not reacting to the reality that it is too late for incremental changes.

“I’m really stunned there is no sense of urgency here,” he told IPS.

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Carbon Emissions on Tragic Trajectory http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/carbon-emissions-on-tragic-trajectory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-emissions-on-tragic-trajectory http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/carbon-emissions-on-tragic-trajectory/#comments Tue, 19 Nov 2013 22:36:36 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128941 Burning of fossil fuels added a record 36 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2013, locking in even more heating of the planet. Global CO2 emissions are projected to rise 2.1 percent higher than 2012, the previous record high, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Global Carbon Project. This increase […]

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Brandon power plant, March 2006, Manitoba, Canada. Coal is the biggest source of climate-heating emissions in 2013. Credit: Bigstock

Brandon power plant, March 2006, Manitoba, Canada. Coal is the biggest source of climate-heating emissions in 2013. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
WARSAW, Nov 19 2013 (IPS)

Burning of fossil fuels added a record 36 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2013, locking in even more heating of the planet.

Global CO2 emissions are projected to rise 2.1 percent higher than 2012, the previous record high, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Global Carbon Project."Going beyond two degrees C is very risky, it's completely unknown territory." -- Corinne Le Quéré

This increase is slightly less than the 2000-2013 average of 3.1 percent, said lead author Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK.

“This is the second year in a row of below average emissions. Perhaps this represents cautious progress,” Le Quéré told IPS.

Still, these hard numbers demonstrate that the U.N. climate talks have failed to curb the growth in emissions. And there is little optimism that the latest talks known as COP19 here in Warsaw will change the situation even with the arrival of high-level ministers Wednesday.

Global emissions continue to be within the highest scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), she said.

“This is a five-degree C trajectory. It’s absolutely tragic for humanity to be on this pathway,” Le Quéré said.

This year’s 36 billion tonnes of CO2 will raise the planet’s temperature about 0.04 degrees C for thousands of years. Every tonne emitted adds more warming, she said. (If one tonne of CO2 was a second, 36 billion seconds equals about 1,200 years.)

CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen about 40 percent in the last century. The oceans have absorbed 97 percent of the additional heat from those emissions, which is the only reason global temperatures have not risen much faster. However, the oceans will not continue to soak up all the extra heat forever.

Who is most responsible for the 2013 emissions?

In total volume it’s China, with 27 percent of the total. But Australia’s emissions per person are nearly three times higher than China’s. The other big emitters are the United States at 14 percent, the European Union at 10 percent, and India at six percent, the Global Carbon Project report says. The Project is co-led by researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

While emissions grew year on year in China and India, U.S. emissions declined 3.7 percent. This reflects the switch from coal to gas as a result of the boom in natural gas production. Gas contains less CO2 than coal. However, U.S. coal exports soared.

“The shale gas boom in the U.S. is making more fossil fuels available, resulting in greater overall emissions,” said Le Quéré.

A new tool anyone can use to explore where emissions are coming is also being released Tuesday.  The Global Carbon Atlas is an online platform that allows anyone to see what their country’s emissions are and compare them with neighbouring countries – past, present, and future. It shows the biggest carbon emitters of 2012, what is driving the growth in China’s emissions, and where the UK is outsourcing its emissions.

The Atlas clearly shows that coal is the biggest source of emissions in 2013. It is the “dirtiest” fossil fuel by far for the climate. This is true even with the most modern, efficient coal power plant.

Poland generates 86 percent of its energy from coal and hopes to grow this industry even though it is hosting the U.N. climate talks. In a shock to many, it is also hosting the World Coal Summit this week.

“Our people are suffering because of climate change. I can’t believe the Polish government is ignoring this by hosting that summit,” said Robert Chimambo of the Zambia chapter of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

“Millions and millions of people are going to die in future just so coal companies can gain profits,” Chimambo told IPS.

“There is no such thing as clean coal. Energy companies should never get a social license to build another coal plant,” said Samantha Smith, head of the global climate and energy initiative at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Although the coal industry talks about carbon capture and storage (CCS), it is too expensive and there are not enough places to store the captured CO2, Smith told IPS.

For developing countries, renewable energy is faster, cheaper, more decentralised and has the benefit of not polluting the air, water or land, she said.

The narrowing carbon budget is another reason to pursue green energy. To have a reasonable chance of staying below two degrees C in coming decades, cumulative emissions must not exceed 2,900 billion tonnes of CO2, the IPCC says, and 69 percent of that is already in the atmosphere. It bears repeating that even two degrees C is not safe given the increases in extreme weather, ocean acidification, melting of Arctic sea ice and other impacts already seen with the 0.8C of current heating.

“We have exhausted about 70 percent of the cumulative emissions that keep global climate change likely below two degrees,” said Pierre Friedlingstein at the University of Exeter in UK.

This knowledge doesn’t seem to make a difference to most political leaders or delegates at the U.N. climate talks. Some like Canada and Japan either don’t care or fail to realise their responsibility, said Le Quéré.

“My message to delegates in Warsaw is for every country to make the most stringent cuts they can now. If we wait till after 2020 it will far more difficult and expensive,” she said. “We have the solutions. Going beyond two degrees C is very risky, it’s completely unknown territory.”

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Japan Bails Out on CO2 Emissions Target http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/japan-bails-out-on-co2-emissions-target/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-bails-out-on-co2-emissions-target http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/japan-bails-out-on-co2-emissions-target/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:17:46 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128854 Japan announced Friday that it will renege on its carbon emissions pledge, likely ending any hope global warming can be kept to 2.0 degrees C. The shocking announcement comes on the fifth day of the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw known as COP19, where more than 190 nations have agreed to a 2.0 C target […]

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The Japanese government blames the shutdown of its 50 nuclear reactors as the reason why it must revise its target. Credit: Bigstock

The Japanese government blames the shutdown of its 50 nuclear reactors as the reason why it must revise its target. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
WARSAW, Nov 15 2013 (IPS)

Japan announced Friday that it will renege on its carbon emissions pledge, likely ending any hope global warming can be kept to 2.0 degrees C.

The shocking announcement comes on the fifth day of the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw known as COP19, where more than 190 nations have agreed to a 2.0 C target and are trying to close the carbon emission gap to get there."It's like a slap in the face of those suffering from the impacts of climate change such as the Philippines." -- Wael Hmaidan

Japan will increase that gap three to four percent with its new 2020 reduction target, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). It amounts to a three-percent increase compared to a 1990 baseline. Japan’s 2009 Copenhagen Accord pledge was a 25 percent reduction by 2020.

“Japan is taking us in the opposite direction,” Marion Vieweg of Climate Analytics, a German climate research organisation, told IPS here in Warsaw.

“Their revision shows the bottom up approach is not working if countries can simply drop their pledges at any time,” Vieweg said.

Climate scientists have long maintained that the 2020 target for industrialised countries should be to reduce emissions 25-40 percent compared to a 1990 baseline. However, even if nations meet their current climate pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, CO2 emissions in 2020 are likely to be eight to 12 billion tonnes higher than what’s needed, according to the U.N. Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2013.

Japan, the fifth largest emitter of CO2, is just the latest to abandon its international commitments.

While Australia hasn’t officially torn up its reduction pledge, the newly elected Tony Abbott government has gutted nearly all the emission programmes it needs to fulfill its 2020 promise of reductions between five and 25 percent compared to 2000, said Vieweg.

Canada may be the worst offender. Itrecently said its carbon emissions will be 20 percent higher than its Copenhagen pledge. More importantly, Canada’s emissions in 2020 will be 66 -107 percent greater than what’s actually required to do its share to reach 2.0 C.

“We’re getting results,” claimed Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Agglukaq.

“Australia, Canada and now Japan are having a destructive impact on the climate negotiations,” said Kimiko Hirata, Japanese Climate Action Network spokesperson. Climate Action Network (CAN) is an international network of more than 800 NGOs.

“There has been no public discussion about this lower target. We are very embarrassed by our government’s decision,” Hirata said in a press conference here.

The Japanese government blames the shutdown of its 50 nuclear reactors as the reason why it must revise its target. However, analysis by Climate Action Tracker has found that even with Japan’s current fossil fuel mix it could still reduce emissions 17-18 percent.

Climate Action Tracker produces independent reports by Climate Analytics, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Dutch-based energy institute Ecofys.

“With more energy efficiency and renewables, Japan could still make its 25-percent target,” said Vieweg.

Three separate studies by Japanese civil society organisations also show Japan could meet its 25-percent target without nuclear power. One detailed economic study shows that investments in energy efficiency and green energy would create more than two million jobs without reducing Japan’s GDP.

“Last October has been the hottest October Australia has ever experienced. Australians want action on climate,” said Heather Brewer of Climate Action Network, Australia.

More than 200 events and actions will be held in Australia on Nov. 17 to protest the Abbott government’s climate policies, she said.

On Monday at the opening of COP19, Yeb Sano, lead negotiator of the Philippines delegation, spoke emotionally about the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan. An extraordinarily powerful storm, it was the 24th typhoon to hit the country this year. Many see this as an indicator of climate change and of what is to come.

“I will now fast for the climate. I will not eat during this COP until there is a meaningful outcome in sight with concrete pledges,” Sano said in the opening plenary.

Sano has now been joined by more than 100 people here in Warsaw and more outside.

And in an unprecedented action, Sano launched a public online petition today to call on U.N. countries to take urgent and bolder action to tackle climate change. Within hours, more than 100,000 people had signed on.

“Superstorm Haiyan is a climate nightmare — carbon pollution is driving more frequent and intense storms which are devastating vulnerable communities. New realities require new politics, I urge you to stop the sad tradition of feet-dragging on commitments to cut pollution, and breaking promises on finance,” it reads in part.

Japan’s announcement “is like a slap in the face of those suffering from the impacts of climate change such as the Philippines,” said Wael Hmaidan, director of CAN International.

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Brazil Headed Towards an Energy Revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/brazil-headed-towards-an-energy-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-headed-towards-an-energy-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/brazil-headed-towards-an-energy-revolution/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2013 15:15:35 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128845 Brazil will experience major shifts on the energy front in the next two decades, largely due to the exploitation of its vast deepwater oil reserves, says the latest International Energy Agency report.

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The mega hydropower dams under construction in Brazil, like the Santo Antônio dam, are just one aspect of the energy revolution that the country will undergo in the next few decades. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The mega hydropower dams under construction in Brazil, like the Santo Antônio dam, are just one aspect of the energy revolution that the country will undergo in the next few decades. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
WARSAW, Nov 15 2013 (IPS)

Energy consumption and production are undergoing fundamental shifts but the world is still on course to a 3.6 degree C hotter climate according a report released during the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw.

Brazil will play a major role in quenching the developing world’s growing thirst for oil, says the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2013 edition of the World Energy Outlook. This edition of the report looks to the year 2035 and projects that the biggest future consumers of oil and gas will be India and countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

While low-carbon energy sources – renewables and nuclear – will meet around 40 percent of the growth in global energy demand, carbon emissions will still be 20 percent higher in 2035 from the energy sector. And that’s assuming countries achieve all of their current 2020 reduction targets. Countries like Canada will not.

Emissions need to peak and decline by 2020 to have a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2.0 degrees C according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2013, released Nov 5.

“If we stay on the current path, we will not come close to the internationally agreed goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to two degrees C,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement published Nov. 12 at the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will run through Nov. 22 in Warsaw.

Fossil fuel subsidies, which amounted to 544 billion dollars globally in 2012 alone, are the biggest barrier to staying below two degrees. These government subsidies keep the cost of fossil fuels artificially low, undermining the benefits of improving efficiency and installing renewable energy sources, the IEA report notes.

“In Bolivia diesel, gasoline and natural gas are heavily subsidised, so it is almost impossible to work with renewable energy sources,” said Dirk Hoffmann, director of the Instituto Boliviano de la Montaña in La Paz, Bolivia.

“Transportation is also heavily oriented towards conventional cars, and numbers are rapidly rising,” Hoffman told Tierramérica*.

The IEA report has a special section devoted to Brazil saying it will become a global energy superpower. Offshore oil deposits will lead to a tripling of oil production by 2035, making Brazil the world’s sixth largest producer. Natural gas production will increase five-fold by 2030, more than enough to meet Brazil’s needs, it says.

Energy consumption in Brazil will skyrocket 80 percent with the average electricity consumption doubling with a vastly larger middle class. Investments of 90 billion dollars a year and improved energy efficiency will be needed to achieve all this, the report concludes.

Remarkably Brazil will still be a low-carbon country. It is currently the world leader, with 42 percent of its energy from renewable sources – mainly hydropower, biomass and biofuels. In future, due to environmental considerations Brazil will be less reliant on big hydro projects and will shift to onshore wind and electricity from biofuels, the report says.

Brazil’s Ten-Year Energy Expansion Plan that ends in 2020 prioritises hydropower, wind power and biomass. These measures are expected to reduce projected emissions by 234 million tons of CO2 by 2020, a spokesperson for the Brazilian government told Tierramérica.

“Wind, thermal biomass and small hydroelectric plants together will double from eight percent to 16 percent,” she said.

Latin America could be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, a number of studies have shown, including the 2012 Global Energy Assessment, the most exhaustive integrated energy assessment ever done. By 2050 at least 60 percent, and up to 100 percent, of Latin America’s energy needs could be met by renewables, it found.

However, if large hydro is excluded, less than 10 percent of energy in South America is from renewables.

While nearly every country has said it wants to have more clean sources, subsidies for fossil fuels distort the market, according to the report Renewable Electricity Generation in South America. Written by experts in Germany, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia, it says these subsidies are far larger than existing incentives or tax benefits designed to encourage renewables.

Another barrier is getting investments in renewables, especially from outside the country. Better regulations and incentives to respond to changing market conditions are needed, the report says.

Greening South America’s energy mix would accelerate with the expected 2015 climate treaty requiring developing nations to reduce emissions. However domestic considerations, including the rising costs and impacts of fossil fuels, ought to increase interest in expanding the green energy sector, the report concludes.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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World Headed for a High-Speed Carbon Crash http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 18:55:27 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128686 If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world war-like mobilisation, scientists warned this week. “It’s blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us,” said economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey in […]

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Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 7 2013 (IPS)

If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world war-like mobilisation, scientists warned this week.

“It’s blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us,” said economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey in the UK."Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff. Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet." -- economist Tim Jackson

Climate change, pollution, damaged ecosystems, record species extinctions, and unsustainable resource use are all clear symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system, Jackson, author of the report and book “Prosperity Without Growth”, told IPS.

“It is a travesty of what economy should be. It has absolutely failed to create social well being and has hurt people and communities around the world,” he said.

Emissions need to peak and decline by 2020 to have a chance at keeping global temperature rise to less than 2.0 degrees C, according to the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and coordinated by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels has raised the global average temperature only 0.85C so far, but even that has produced a wide range of impacts.

Despite years of negotiations, countries’ commitments to reducing emissions remain far short of what’s needed, said Merlyn van Voore, UNEP climate change coordinator.

Even if nations meet their current climate pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, CO2 emissions in 2020 are likely to be eight to 12 billion tonnes higher than what is needed to stay below 2C at a reasonable cost, the report concluded. Failure to close this “emissions gap” by 2020 will require an unprecedented global effort to crash carbon emissions.

“Waiting brings huge additional costs,” van Voore said in a press conference.

No country has offered to do anything beyond their 2009 Copenhagen commitments. Nor is anyone expecting new offers at next week’s UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw. Very few country leaders will attend COP 19, making this a technical negotiation on the shape of new climate treaty that will only come into force in 2020.

In the six years remaining before 2020, not only do countries need to increase their reduction commitments, some countries have to actually put policies in place to meet their Copenhagen commitments. China, India, Russia and the European Union are on track, but the U.S. and Canada are not, the report found.

In recent months, however, the U.S. has introduced some new policies and plans, including emissions caps on power plants. Canada is going in the opposite direction.

A government report recently acknowledged its emissions will be at least 20 percent higher than its Copenhagen reduction target. This was considered “good progress” given the skyrocketing emissions from its rapidly expanding tar sands oil operations, the Canadian government report said.

“Canada is a wealthy country. It could easily meet its target,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate & Energy Programme at the World Resources Institute.

“It’s very important for Canada to meet its target. That sends a very important message to the world,” Morgan, lead author of the UNEP report, told IPS.

However, economics is getting in the way of action. Canada has become very rich as the biggest supplier of foreign oil to the U.S. In less than 20 years, Canada’s GDP has tripled to 1.8 trillion dollars, with ambitious plans to grow even more. Politicians in Canada, and all over the world, reject anything they believe would hurt their countries’ economic growth.

Jackson and number of ecological economists say the current self-destructive economy must be transformed into one that delivers a shared and lasting prosperity. This kind of Green Economy is far beyond business as usual with some clean technology thrown in. It is what Jackson calls a “fit-for-purpose economy” that is stable, based on equity and provides decent, satisfying livelihoods while treading lightly on the earth.

The current growth-worshiping consumption economy is “perverse” and at odds with human nature and our real needs, he said.

“Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff,” he said. “Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet.”

With powerful vested interests in the current economy, making this transformation will be difficult but it is already starting to happen at the community level. Jackson and co-author Peter Victor of Canada’s York University lay all this out in a new report “Green Economy at Community Scale“.

They see the roots of a transformational Green Economy in community banks, credit unions and cooperative investment schemes that enhance local communities. The Transition Town movement, creating local currencies, community-owned energy projects, global Ecocity movement are all part a response to an economy that does not work for most people and has created an environmental crisis, said Victor in a press release.

“Using GDP as measure of success is like riding a bike while only paying attention to how fast you are pedaling,” Jackson said.  “It is wrong in so many ways.”

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The Sickest Places in the World http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/the-sickest-places-in-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-sickest-places-in-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/the-sickest-places-in-the-world/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:28:46 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128632 Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups. They are extraordinarily toxic places where lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work at these sites, often to provide […]

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The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

They are extraordinarily toxic places where lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work at these sites, often to provide the products used in richer countries.

“People would be shocked to see the conditions under which their lovely jewelry is sometimes made,” said Jack Caravanos, director of research at the New York-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group that released the list Monday in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

The Most Polluted Places in 2013 (unranked)

Agbobloshie, Ghana
Chernobyl*, Ukraine
Citarum River, Indonesia
Dzershinsk*, Russia
Hazaribagh, Bangladesh
Kabwe*, Zambia
Kalimantan, Indonesia
Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina
Niger River Delta, Nigeria
Norilsk*, Russia

*included in the original 2006 or 2007 lists

In Kalimantan, Indonesia, local people extract gold using mercury, which is both poisonous and a potent neurotoxin.

“They do this processing inside their homes, not realising the danger,” said Bret Ericson, senior project director of the Blacksmith Institute.

Blacksmith has gone into those homes and measured mercury levels 350 times higher than what is considered safe, Ericson told IPS.

This directly affects the health of 10 to 15 million people, Ericson said. “It is also a huge source of mercury pollution worldwide.”

Once released into the environment, mercury can end up in fish and other foods people eat anywhere on the planet. Low-cost, mercury-free methods for gold mining do exist but this knowledge is not widespread, he said.

The Top Ten Toxic Threats report is the latest in a series of annual reports documenting global pollution issues. The list is based on the severity of the health risk and the number of people exposed.

Previous reports have documented that the disease burden of pollution is comparable in scope to tuberculosis or malaria, posing a threat to 200 million people. Globally, one-fifth of cancers and 33 percent of disease in children can be blamed on environmental exposures, but this is far higher in low income countries, the report notes.

The Blacksmith Institute has conducted more than 3,000 initial risk assessments in 49 countries since the last list of polluted sites released by the two groups in 2007. Some sites listed in 2007, such as the lead battery recycling site in Haina, Dominican Republic, have been fully remediated.

“The good news is countries like India have come to grips with their pollution problems,” said Ericson. India has imposed a “Clean Energy Cess” or coal tax to help fund a clean energy fund of up to 400 million dollars which will inventory and clean up contaminated areas.

However, one of the emerging issues around toxic hotspots are clusters of poorly-regulated small-scale industries now found in many countries. There are more than 2,000 industries along the Citarum River in Indonesia, contaminating an area 13,000 sq km in size with lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxins, the report found.

“Clean-up is beginning thanks to a 500-million-dollar loan from the World Bank, but it will take a decade or more to complete,” said Ericson.

Near Buenos Aires, Argentina an estimated 50,000 small-scale industries dump a toxic mix of chemicals and metals into the air, soil and water. At least 20,000 people living along the Matanza Riachuelo river are exposed to dangerous levels of toxins, the report shows. The World Bank is also funding a major clean-up, with Blacksmith providing technical support.

Some toxic hotspots are so big and so badly polluted it will cost billions of dollars and take decades to clean up, said Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland.

“There are places that will be on our list for many years,” Robinson told IPS.

Russia has two of these. Russian authorities have finally acknowledged the issue and set aside three billion dollars to clean up Soviet-area legacy sites. One of these is Dzerzhinsk, a city of 300,000 people where chemical weapons like sarin, VX gas, mustard gas, and phosgene were manufactured for 50 years. At least 300,000 tonnes of waste from their manufacture were disposed of in the groundwater.

Birth defects are very common and the average lifespan of residents has fallen to the low forties. The situation is similar in Siberia’s Norilsk region, where the world’s biggest nickel smelter has killed all the trees within a 30-km radius.

“There has been lots of talk about improving pollution controls in Norilsk but not much action,” said Robinson.

A new site that will be on the list for years is the very polluted Niger Delta in Nigeria. Millions of barrels of oil have been spilled over the years and a U.N. study found two-thirds of the sites tested to be highly contaminated. Petroleum and its byproducts are very toxic, and when combined with poor nutrition, are a major unrecognised health threat for the 30 million people who live there, the report noted. The U.S. has been the major export destination for Nigerian oil.

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No Safe Havens in Increasingly Acid Oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/no-safe-havens-in-increasingly-acid-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-safe-havens-in-increasingly-acid-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/no-safe-havens-in-increasingly-acid-oceans/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 22:06:47 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128171 Oil, gas and coal are contaminating the world’s oceans from top to bottom, threatening the lives of more than 800 million people, a new study warns Tuesday. “It took a year to analyse and synthesise all of the studies on the impacts of climate change on ocean species,” Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of […]

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Because many deep-sea ecosystems are so stable, even small changes in temperature, oxygen, and pH may lower the resilience of deep-sea communities. Credit: Courtesy NOAA HURL Archives

Because many deep-sea ecosystems are so stable, even small changes in temperature, oxygen, and pH may lower the resilience of deep-sea communities. Credit: Courtesy NOAA HURL Archives

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 15 2013 (IPS)

Oil, gas and coal are contaminating the world’s oceans from top to bottom, threatening the lives of more than 800 million people, a new study warns Tuesday.

“It took a year to analyse and synthesise all of the studies on the impacts of climate change on ocean species,” Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author, told IPS."We are seeing greater changes, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated." -- Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford

Mora is also lead author of ground-breaking climate study published in Nature last week.

“It was very sad to see all the responses were negative. We were hoping there might be some safe havens,” he said.

The study found that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are overheating the oceans, turning them acidic and reducing the amount of oxygen in seawater. This is happening too fast for most marine species to adapt and ocean ecosystems around the world will collapse.

By 2100, no corner of the oceans that cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface will be untouched.

“The impacts of climate change will be felt from the ocean surface to the seafloor. It is truly scary to consider how vast these impacts will be,” said Andrew Sweetman of the International Research Institute of Stavanger, Norway, co-author of the PLOS Biology study published Oct. 15.

This ambitious study examined all the available research on how current and future carbon emissions are fundamentally altering the oceans. It then looked at how this will impact fish, corals, marine animals, plants and other organisms. Finally the 29 authors from 10 countries analysed how this will affect the 1.4 to 2.0 billion people who live near the oceans or depend on them for their food and income.

Some 500 million to 870 million of the world’s poorest people are likely to be unable to feed themselves or earn incomes from oceans too contaminated by fossil fuel emissions, the “Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century” study concludes.

“We are making a big mess of the oceans. Climate change is having a major impact illustrating the need for urgent action to reduce emissions,” said Mora.

The researchers used models of projected climate change developed for the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to build their analysis. These models are validated using measurements from past decades.

Additionally the findings of the PLOS Biology study were verified using actual observations. There were some differences but not significant enough to alter the conclusions, said Mora.

More shocking is that the oceans will be dramatically altered even with reduced growth in use of fossil fuel in coming decades and major declines starting in 2050, he said.

Only an abrupt decline in consumption of oil, gas, and coal within the next 10 years will minimise the impacts on the oceans.

This study only looked at how climate change is impacting the oceans and did not look at other impacts such as overfishing, chemical and nutrient pollution or plastic trash.

However, the 2013 update to the Ocean Health Index also released Tuesday did look at all current impacts on oceans. It ranked the current overall health of the oceans as a 65 out of possible 100. The index was launched in 2012 and is annual international collaboration to assess health of oceans based on 10 measures such as biodiversity, coastal livelihoods and protection, food provision.

The oceans’ ability to provide food only scored 33 out of 100, showing that food security is already at risk. It also means fish and other foods from the oceans are being harvested far faster than nature can replace them, the index reports.

China, Taiwan, Russia, India and Japan had the worst scores indicating that their regional wild-caught fisheries are nearly depleted.

“The Ocean Health Index measures how well we are sustainably producing seafood,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Centre for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Fish are a vital source of protein for many but the index shows food security is at risk in some parts of the world, said Rosenberg in a release.

In regions subject to damaging storms and cyclones, the health of their coastal zones including mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds and coral reefs are a poor 57 out of 100, the index found. Tropical cyclones cause an estimated 26 billion dollars a year in lost property.

“Coastal habitats mitigate the damage that storms cause…. We must try to restore naturally protective coastal habitats,” Elizabeth Selig, director of Marine Science at Conservation International, said in a statement.

The Index “reveals the areas that must be improved in order to provide our children and their children a healthy thriving ocean,” said well-known oceanographer Sylvia Earle who is explorer-in-residence at National Geographic.

“This must be done as if it’s a matter of life and death – because it is,” Earle said in a statement.

Yet another independent assessment of ocean health reached a similar conclusion.

The world’s oceans are changing faster than previously thought with potentially dire consequences for both human and marine life, said the State of the Oceans report released last week by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Climate change combined with other impacts like chemical pollution and overfishing have put the oceans into a downward spiral.

“We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated,” Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford and IPSO’s scientific director told IPS.

“What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses,” said Dan Laffoley of the IUCN in a release.

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The Coming Plague http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-coming-plague/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-coming-plague http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-coming-plague/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 00:37:28 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128053 A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions. By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study. “We don’t […]

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Rich benthic fauna and associated reef fish, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is expected to be one of the first places in the world to see prolonged, record-breaking heatwaves. Credit: Courtesy of Keoki Stender, Marinelifephotography.com

Rich benthic fauna and associated reef fish, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is expected to be one of the first places in the world to see prolonged, record-breaking heatwaves. Credit: Courtesy of Keoki Stender, Marinelifephotography.com

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 10 2013 (IPS)

A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions.

By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study."Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past." -- Nature study lead author Camilo Mora

“We don’t know what the impacts will be. If someone is about to fall off a three-storey building you can’t predict their exact injuries but you know there will be injuries,” said Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author.

“The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said Mora.

The “climate plague” is a shift to an entirely new climate where the lowest monthly temperatures will be hotter than those in the past 150 years. The shift is already underway due to massive emissions of heat-trapping carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

Extreme weather will soon be beyond anything ever experienced, and old record high temperatures will be the new low temperatures, Mora told IPS. This will affect billions of people and there is no going back to way things were.

“Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he said.

In less than 10 years, a country like Jamaica will look much like it always has but it will not be the same country. Jamaicans and every living thing on the island and in its coastal waters will be experiencing a new, hotter climate – hotter on average than the previous 150 years.

The story will be same around 2030 in southern Nigeria, much of West Africa, Mexico and Central America without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, the study reports.

“Some species will adapt, some will move, some will die,” said co-author Ryan Longman also at the University of Hawai‘i.

Tropical regions will shift first because their historical temperature ranges are narrow. Climate change may only shift temperatures by 1.0 degree C but that will be too much for some plants, amphibians, animals and birds that have evolved in a very stable climate, Longman said.

Tropical corals are already in sharp decline due to a combination of warmer ocean temperatures and  higher levels of ocean acidity as oceans absorb most the carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

The Nature study examined 150 years of historical temperature data, more than a million maps, and the combined projections of 39 climate models to create a global index of when and where a region shifts into novel climate. That is to say a local climate that is continuously outside the most extreme records the region has experienced in the past 150 years.

Canada’s climate won’t shift until 2050 under the business as usual emissions scenario the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls RCP8.5. The further a region is from the equator, the later the shift occurs. If the world sharply reduces its use of fossil fuels (RCP4.5), then these climate shifts are delayed 10 to 30 years depending on the location, the study shows. (City by city projection here)

Tropical regions are also those with greatest numbers of unique species. Costa Rica is home to nearly 800 species, while Canada, which is nearly 200 times larger in area, has only about 70 unique or endemic species.

Species matter because the abundance and variety of plants, animals, fish, insects and other living things are humanity’s life support system, providing our air, water, food and more.

“It’s an elegant study that shows timing of when climate shifts beyond anything in the recent past,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Donner, who wasn’t involved in the study, agrees that the new regional climates in the tropics will have big impacts on many species.

“A number of other studies show corals, birds, and amphibians in the tropics are very sensitive to temperature changes,” Donner told IPS.

The impacts on ecosystems, food production, water availability or cites and towns are not known. However, the results of the study confirm the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce those future impacts, he said.

Developed countries not only need to make larger reductions in their emissions, they need to increase their “funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries to minimize the impacts of climate change”, the study concludes.

Amongst the biggest impacts the coming ‘climate plague’ will have is on food production, said Mora.

“In a globalised world, what happens in tropics won’t stay in the tropics,” he said.

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Building a Better World, One Block at a Time http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 21:58:59 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128024 One evening in the small village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England, someone started a conversation about climate change and energy at the local pub. It was 2005. Two years later, residents had cut their carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs by 20 percent. Ashton Hayes now aims to be England’s first carbon-neutral community. “People […]

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The Bristol pound. Credit: Mark Simmons/IPS

The Bristol pound. Credit: Mark Simmons/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
NANTES, France, Oct 8 2013 (IPS)

One evening in the small village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England, someone started a conversation about climate change and energy at the local pub. It was 2005. Two years later, residents had cut their carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs by 20 percent.

Ashton Hayes now aims to be England’s first carbon-neutral community."What we're doing could apply to thousands of cities and towns. And we have lots of parties and fun doing it." -- Bristol's Mayor George Ferguson

“People know major changes have to be made in the face of climate change and resource depletion,” said Rob Hopkins, one of founders of the Transition Town movement in which local people get together to find ways to make their streets and neighbourhoods more sustainable.

“It started with friends and neighbours saying ‘what can we do as ordinary people knowing that our governments are not going to sort it out,’” Hopkins told IPS.

Plagued by a mounting trash problem, residents of the South African community of Greyton jammed trash into plastic bottles to make ‘ecobricks’. These make good building material with a high insulation value, and are now being used to construct things like toilet blocks in Greyton.

In Portugal, where unemployment is over 20 percent and wages are depressed, the transition movement is focused on reducing the need to use money. One small town banned money for three days. People shared or exchanged services instead.

“We can make things happen,” said Hopkins, who is author of the book “Power of Just Doing Stuff – How local action can change the world”.

There are now over 1,000 communities involved in Transition Towns, a volunteer, non-profit movement. These communities are inventing their own ways to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels while increasing local resilience and self-sufficiency in food, water, energy, culture and wellness.

According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2000+page report released Sep. 30, temperatures between 1983 and 2012 were the warmest they have been in the past 1,400 years in the Northern Hemisphere.

The cautiously-worded report details observed impacts such as increased temperatures, precipitation changes, weather extremes and more. It also confirms that these and other impacts will worsen as CO2 emissions increase.

“Cities have the biggest role to play in getting to zero carbon,” said George Ferguson, the mayor of Bristol, a city of half a million people in the UK.

“Bristol emphasises active transport, walking and cycling and we plan to double our tree canopy. We want to improve air quality and the health of residents,” Ferguson told IPS.

One of the first Transition Towns, the city is a living lab for ideas and experiments in creating an ecocity for everyone, he said. Cars are banned on many streets between 3:00 and 5:00 pm to allow children to reclaim them for play. That’s sparked a street-play movement in many other communities.

Bristol is also the recycling champion of Britain and plans to launch a city-owned sustainable energy company. Beginning next year school children will learn about ecology by determining where and what kinds of trees they will plant in their neighbourhoods as part of an annual city-funded greening effort.

“The children will teach their parents important eco-lessons, I believe,” Ferguson said.

He takes his entire salary in the local alternative currency called the Bristol pound. It can only be spent at local businesses.

“I bought my bike, my pants, my food and got my hair cut using the Bristol pound,” he said.

There are over 400 alternative currencies in use around the world and the number is growing quickly in response to globalisation and corporate domination of many businesses. While residents can pay their local taxes in Bristol pounds, the corporate-owned supermarkets won’t accept it, he said.

This summer Bristol was rewarded for its efforts, becoming the European Green Capital for 2015, the first British city to win.

“What we’re doing could apply to thousands of cities and towns. And we have lots of parties and fun doing it,” said Ferguson.

Saint-Gilles-Du-Mene is a rural French village in Brittany that was losing residents and failing economically. It decided to reinvent itself as a community-owned net energy producer. Today, using a combination of wind, solar, biomass and biodigesters and improved housing insulation, it produces 30 percent of its own energy. By 2025, residents hope to sell energy to other communities.

“Our energy transformation has created new jobs and synergies. We have a new video-conferencing facility and produce our own biodiesel for farm tractors,” said Celine Bilsson of the village’s renewable energy commission.

Bilsson said her village was inspired by the example of the Austrian town of Güssing, a once-poor town that was the first in Europe to operate completely on renewable energy in the late 1990s. It cut its energy use 50 percent through efficiency and now makes millions of euros selling renewable energy to others.

“We didn’t spend time doing studies. We just reacted. You just do it,” Bilsson said.

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Mayors Leading an Urban Revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/mayors-leading-an-urban-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mayors-leading-an-urban-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/mayors-leading-an-urban-revolution/#comments Sat, 05 Oct 2013 19:00:16 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127964 With presidents and prime ministers failing to take meaningful action to avert a planetary-scale climate crisis, the mayors of cities and towns are increasingly stepping up to enact changes at the local level. “Cities are on the front lines of climate change,” Richard Register, founder and president of Ecocity Builders, an organisation that pioneered ecological […]

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Part of the Sustainable Urban Masterplan for Shanghai, this image shows the channels with pedestrian and slow traffic lanes on the right, and urban food gardens on the left. The channel transports water from vertical farm to vertical farm, cooling the city and being filtered through various plants and organisms along the way. Credit: Except Integrated/cc by 2.0

Part of the Sustainable Urban Masterplan for Shanghai, this image shows the channels with pedestrian and slow traffic lanes on the right, and urban food gardens on the left. The channel transports water from vertical farm to vertical farm, cooling the city and being filtered through various plants and organisms along the way. Credit: Except Integrated/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
NANTES, France, Oct 5 2013 (IPS)

With presidents and prime ministers failing to take meaningful action to avert a planetary-scale climate crisis, the mayors of cities and towns are increasingly stepping up to enact changes at the local level.

“Cities are on the front lines of climate change,” Richard Register, founder and president of Ecocity Builders, an organisation that pioneered ecological city design and planning, told IPS.

With the backing of their residents, many cities and towns around the world are becoming cleaner, greener and better places to live by banning cars, improving mass transit, reducing energy use and growing their own food while adding public and green spaces.

“Getting cities right solves many problems,” Register said.

Cities are truly ground zero for action on climate change, protection of ecosystems, biodiversity, energy use, food production and more because that’s where most people live today, he said. Cities consume about 75 percent of the world’s energy and resources. They are directly or indirectly responsible for 75 percent of global carbon emissions.

By 2050, 75 percent of the world’s 9.5 billion people will live in cities. The urban areas to house this huge increase amounts to more than all the building humanity has ever done. Nearly all of this new building will be in the developing world.

“All of this new urban infrastructure must be done right,” said David Cadman, a city councillor from Vancouver, Canada and president of ICLEI, the only network of sustainable cities operating worldwide and which counts 1,200 local governments as members.

ICLEI members have committed to reduce their carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

“Cities are major players in issues like energy, climate, sustainable food production,” Cadman told IPS.

Climate change is a “five-alarm fire and hardly any national government is taking the needed actions”, he said. On top of that, national governments largely ignore the role of cities and only recently granted them 10 minutes of speaking time at the annual U.N. climate negotiations to create a new global treaty.

“We continue to have the political courage to act,” said Anna Tenje, deputy mayor of the small Swedish city of Växjö, which slashed its carbon emissions 40 percent and aims to be Europe’s greenest city.

Växjö was a very polluted region in the 1960s, but the public and business community backed efforts to re-invent it as a green city. People now fish and swim in the once polluted lakes that surround the city, she said at the 10th Ecocity, the World Summit on Sustainable Cities, a recent conference that drew more than 2,000 mayors, local officials and members of civil society to Nantes.

Växjö is doing also every well economically, Tenje said, proving that cutting emissions is not a burden.

All new apartment blocks are so well-insulated they don’t need furnaces for heat. Solar panels have been installed in schools and on the roof of City Hall. A biogas plant produces vehicle fuel from sewage and school food leftovers, while another larger plant using domestic waste as its feedstock is under construction.

The city aims to be fossil fuel-free by 2030 and has launched a major effort to get people out of their cars by making public transit, walking and cycling more enjoyable than driving, the deputy mayor said.

Last year’s landmark sustainability summit Rio+20 in Brazil chose “The Future We Want” as its motto. While little was accomplished in Rio, some cities and towns were already creating the future they want, said Andrew Simms, a climate economist at Global Witness and fellow of the New Economics Foundation in the UK.

Around the world, cites and towns are creating their version of what Simm’s nine-year-old daughter calls ‘Happyville’:  Green, sustainable places with thriving local economies and healthy, prosperous lifestyles for all residents, Simms told IPS.

Many Danish cities get their energy from wind, and the Belgian city of Ghent doubled the number of bikes on streets in less than 10 years with the dream of becoming car-free. Citizens in the Brazilian city of Puerto Alegre have weekly neighbourhood meetings to discuss how the city budget will be spent, resulting in a big improvement in services.

Cities can also grow much of their own food, Simms said, noting that Havana’s urban gardens grow half the city’s fresh fruit and vegetables. New York City estimates it has 4,000 acres on which it too could grow food. The city of Boulder, Colorado is working towards producing all of its own food.

Skyrocketing resource use fuelled by overconsumption remains a major challenge, but here too cities have a major role to play. The Brazilian mega-city of Sao Paulo banned billboards and transit advertising, while Europe’s premier city, Paris, has reduced such advertising by 30 percent to beautify the cityscape and de-emphasise material consumption.

Simms says that public spiritedness has become rarer in cultures bombarded by 180 ads a day telling people all they need to be happy is to buy stuff.

The only barriers to every village, town and city becoming ‘Happyville’ are a lack of political courage and self-interest dominating public interest, he said.

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CO2 Reshaping the Planet, Meta-Analysis Confirms http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/co2-reshaping-the-planet-meta-analysis-confirms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=co2-reshaping-the-planet-meta-analysis-confirms http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/co2-reshaping-the-planet-meta-analysis-confirms/#comments Fri, 27 Sep 2013 17:57:22 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127791 Greenland will eventually truly become green as most of its massive ice sheet is destined to melt, the authoritative U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported Friday. The IPCC’s new 36-page summary of the latest science includes a warning that there is a 20-percent chance the massive Greenland ice sheet will begin an irreversible […]

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The melting of Mexico’s Orizaba glacier is another consequence of global warming. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

The melting of Mexico’s Orizaba glacier is another consequence of global warming. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
NANTES, France, Sep 27 2013 (IPS)

Greenland will eventually truly become green as most of its massive ice sheet is destined to melt, the authoritative U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported Friday.

The IPCC’s new 36-page summary of the latest science includes a warning that there is a 20-percent chance the massive Greenland ice sheet will begin an irreversible meltdown with only 0.2 degrees C of additional warming. That amount of additional warming is now certain. However, it would take 1,000 years for all the ice to melt."Every word in the 36 pages has been debated. Some paragraphs were discussed for over an hour." -- Thomas Stocker, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I

“The new report is yet another wake-up call saying we are in deep trouble and heading for dangerous levels of climate change,” said David Cadman, president of ICLEI , the only network of sustainable cities operating worldwide and involving  1,200 local governments.

“The IPCC will be attacked by fossil fuel interests and their supporters….They will try and scare the public that taking action puts jobs and the economy at risk,” Cadman told IPS. “That’s simply not true. It’s the opposite.”

Overwhelming evidence

The IPCC’s summary of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) released in Stockholm clearly states that humans are warming the planet, confirming previous reports dating back to 1997. Since the 1950s, every decade following has been warmer than the previous one, it says.

“Temperatures between 1983 and 2012 are the warmest in the past 1,400 years [in the Northern Hemisphere],” said Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group I.

In response to media reports about a so-called “warming hiatus”, Stocker said the climate system is dynamic, with more heat likely going into oceans in recent years and slightly slowing the rate of surface temperature increases.

The science around climate change is well established. More than 100 years ago, researchers demonstrated that carbon dioxide (CO2) traps heat from the sun. Burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities put additional CO2 into the atmosphere, where it remains essentially forever. That additional CO2 is trapping additional heat, as it acts like another layer of insulation.

More than 90 percent of this additional heat energy is being absorbed by the oceans, according to the AR5, officially known as the Summary for Policy Makers. This explains why temperatures at the surface are not higher than today’s global average increase of 0.8 C.

The summary highlights the fact that the decrease in Arctic sea ice over the last three decades is “unprecedented” in the last 1,450 years. This year’s summer sea ice melt was less than last year’s record, but it still was the sixth lowest ever measured. The report says the Arctic is on track to be ice-free in summer before 2050, much sooner than previous reports projected.

A cautious consensus

The AR5 is a five-year effort by hundreds of scientists from 39 countries to assess, evaluate and synthesise the findings of 9,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies published since the last review in 2007, called the AR4. The IPCC does not do any research itself and is run by 110 governments who spent the last four days approving the final wording of the summary.

“Every word in the 36-pages has been debated. Some paragraphs were discussed for over an hour,” Stocker said at a press conference in Stockholm.  ”No other science report has ever undergone such critical scrutiny.”

The 2000-plus page full report of Working Group I on the physical science underlying climate change will be published Monday. That is the first of four IPCC reports to be released in the coming year.

The cautiously-worded Summary for Policy Makers details and confirms the observed impacts such as increased temperatures, precipitation changes, weather extremes and more. It also confirms these and other impacts will worsen as CO2 emissions increase. Current CO2 emissions levels are at the top of the worst-case scenario.

“Do not misunderstand the low end of the temperature and other ranges in the report,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation.

“Those are only possible if we completely stop emitting CO2,” Jarraud said.

The AR5 summary says the Greenland ice sheet lost an average of 215 billion tonnes of ice a year between 2002 and 2011. More recent studies show the ice lost has increased substantially since that time.

According to AR5, there is a one in five chance the Greenland ice sheet will melt entirely if global temperatures climb from 0.8C to more than 1.0C as is now inevitable. One of the reasons is that temperature increases in the Arctic are nearly three times higher than global average.

The 50-50 point for an unstoppable meltdown of Greenland leading to a seven-metre sea level rise is less than 4.0C.

Despite this, the AR5 says global sea level rise is not expected to be greater than one metre this century, higher than the 2007 estimate. Other scientists, including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, say the observed accelerated melting of the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctic and world’s glaciers is a sign that a multi-metre rise in sea levels is possible this century unless emissions decline.

“Climate denialists”

Even before the IPCC’s new report was made public, it was attacked and misrepresented by “climate change denialists” trying to paint its findings as radical or extreme, said Charles Greene, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University in New York State.

Greene is referring to a well-documented propaganda effort by some in the fossil fuel industry as well as extremist right-wing organisations attempting to confuse the public about the reality and urgency of global warming.

“In fact, the IPCC has a long track record of underestimating impacts” of climate change, Green said.

While global action remains gridlocked, some cities are already cutting their carbon emissions. ICLEI’s members are committed to a 20-percent reduction by 2020 and 80-percent reductions by 2050.

Most national governments are failing to lead which clearly reveals the power and influence of the fossil fuel sector, Cadman says. “Cities could do 10 times more but they simply don’t have the money.”

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Making Local People Stewards of the Earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/making-local-people-stewards-of-the-earth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-local-people-stewards-of-the-earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/making-local-people-stewards-of-the-earth/#comments Mon, 23 Sep 2013 18:05:26 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127690 The lack of land rights is a crisis not just for local people but for all of humanity, warned organisers at an international conference here. Evidence shows that without more land under local control, our ability to tackle climate change, fight poverty, increase food availability and preserve cultural and biological diversity will be seriously impaired, […]

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The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
INTERLAKEN, Switzerland, Sep 23 2013 (IPS)

The lack of land rights is a crisis not just for local people but for all of humanity, warned organisers at an international conference here.

Evidence shows that without more land under local control, our ability to tackle climate change, fight poverty, increase food availability and preserve cultural and biological diversity will be seriously impaired, said Andy White of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) at the opening of the Community Land and Resource Rights conference Sept. 19-20."We may be at a tipping point favouring community land rights." -- Andy White of RRI

Some 200 participants from 40 countries applauded a goal of doubling the amount of land recognised as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities by 2018.

There is a global rush to control land for logging, minerals and agricultural plantations, said Duncan Pruett, policy advisor on land rights for Oxfam, one of the conference organisers.

“We need to secure the rights of the people who live on the land. This is an age-old problem whose urgency only increases as the demand for resources skyrockets,” Pruett said.

In many developing countries, governments claim control over more than 90 percent of the land even though indigenous peoples and local communities have lived there for hundreds and thousands of years.

In fact, one in three hectares of lands governments have granted commercial concessions to is already used and occupied by indigenous communities, a new analysis released here shows.

The Munden Project used geographical information system (GIS) mapping technology to analyse over 153 million hectares of concessions in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It found that 31 percent of all commercial concessions (by area) are overlapped in some way by community-claimed lands.

Businesses and investors in these concessions often do not know the land is occupied because there are few formal land titles in much the developing world. This often leads to protests, confrontations and violence, the report noted.

From an investment perspective, “legal, civil and sometimes violent opposition to projects can impair profitability” by preventing and disrupting operations, said Lou Munden, head of the project.

Banks, investors, insurers and companies don’t factor in this reality when they assess or value the risk of a project, Munden told IPS.

If the 31 percent of concessions with overlaps are in agricultural production, some five billion dollars of investments are at risk, he calculated. Those numbers ought to grab the interest of the business community, Munden said.

If companies want to reduce their risk and avoid disruptions they would be wise to work directly with local communities first, said Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indonesian indigenous organisation Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN).

“We are not opposed to development but it has to be the right kind of development in the right place,” Sombolinggi told IPS.

There are places that are too sacred to local people to allow any development. To get certainty and stability over the long term, companies need to work with local people, she said.

Thanks to AMAN’s efforts, Indonesia was recently forced by its constitutional court to acknowledge that indigenous people had a legal right to their lands. The government had designated millions of hectare as “state forest lands”. Now at least four million ha, including those with commercial concessions, is supposed to be re-allocated back to local people.

That is a major victory for indigenous people around the world, said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, executive director of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).

The reality is that lands and forests in indigenous territories are in better hands with local people than governments, Tauli-Corpuz told IPS.

This is borne out in a recent study that revealed tropical forests under strict protection by governments have far higher rates of deforestation than those under the care of local communities. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) study compared peer-reviewed case studies in 16 countries and found that government-protected forests, including national parks, suffered six times greater rates of deforestation.

“When done properly, the benefits of community-based management can be seen over the long term, leading to greater conservation participation, reduced poverty, increased economic productivity and the protection of many forest species,” said study co-author Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR’s senior scientist.

Meanwhile, indigenous territories are under tremendous pressure either for new land to grow food or to extract minerals, oil and gas.

“National and state governments are often part of the problem,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “We are trying to push the international community to get states to recognise our right to our lands.”

That may be starting to happen, says Andy White, RRI’s co-ordinator and an Interlaken conference organiser. RRI is a global coalition more than 150 organisations working on forest tenure, policy and market reforms.

“People trying to protect their traditional lands are still being killed or forcibly removed. But we may be at a tipping point favouring community land rights,” White told IPS.

Peru, Belize and other countries are recognising those rights. Land disputes in India, Cambodia and elsewhere are driving political change. Some parts of the corporate sector are supporting land rights. Last July in Ireland, governments in the G8 group of wealthy nations made “unprecedented commitments” to secure land rights and improve land governance, he said.

“The conditions are right for a historic step and overcome a major obstacle to improving the well being of people and the planet,” White said.

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If You Want to Conserve Biodiversity, Protect Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/if-you-want-to-conserve-biodiversity-protect-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=if-you-want-to-conserve-biodiversity-protect-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/if-you-want-to-conserve-biodiversity-protect-latin-america/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 13:19:24 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127406 Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, northern Peru and the Caribbean islands are areas that need urgent protection in order to achieve the global biodiversity conservation targets set for 2020, a new study shows.

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A family travelling by boat along the San Juan River, a biodiversity-rich area on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

A family travelling by boat along the San Juan River, a biodiversity-rich area on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 10 2013 (IPS)

A team of scientists who analysed the richness of plant species around the world concluded that the ecosystems in need of immediate protection in order to meet the 2020 conservation goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity are largely concentrated in Latin America.

Humanity’s life support system, which provides our air, water and food, is powered by 8.7 million different kinds of plants, animals and other living species. But those species are going extinct at an accelerating rate, representing a major threat to future human survival.

Recognising this threat, nearly every country in the world has agreed under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to protect 17 percent of the planet’s land areas and conserve 60 percent of the world’s plant species by the year 2020.

These twin goals, included in the 20 Aichi Targets, can only be achieved if far more land in the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America is properly protected, according to a new study published Sep. 6 in the journal Science.

The study, “Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Goals for Plant Conservation”, analysed the distribution of 110,000 different plant species to discover that about 67 percent the world’s plants live in 17 percent of the planet’s land area – mainly in tropical and subtropical regions.

“Our paper sets out the priority areas for protection, based on their species richness,” said report co-author Stuart Pimm from Duke University, in the eastern U.S. state of North Carolina.

Those priority areas include Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, northern Peru and the Caribbean islands, Pimm told Tierramérica*.

Costa Rica is home to nearly 800 endemic species, found nowhere else in the world. Canada, which is nearly 200 times larger in area than the small Central American nation, has only about 70 unique or endemic species scattered across its nine million square kilometres of land area.

The reasons for this disparity are Canada’s cold climate and the last Ice Age, which buried the entire country in ice several kilometres deep 10,000 years ago.

Less than one sixth of these priority regions are protected, the report found. While Costa Rica has protected at least 20 percent of its land area, far more than nearly any other country, there is not enough data to know if that is enough, Pimm said.

“When it comes to plants, we don’t have the data to determine how much should be protected in any one country or where these protected areas should be inside a country,” he noted.

There is far more information on birds and animals, which has been used to identify so-called “biodiversity hot spots”.

This new study confirms most of these spots, but takes the analysis further with better methodology. There is a correlation between the diversity of plants and that of other species, but there are also plenty of exceptions. A tropical forest might have many amphibians, while a tropical island with similar numbers of plants may have none, Pimm explained.

Most existing national parks and protected areas are often in remote areas or in barren and inhospitable areas. With this new data, species-rich areas can be targeted for protection.

“The hard reality is that most of the priority areas in need of protection are in generally poor countries, like Madagascar or Ecuador,” said study co-author Clinton Jenkins, a tropical ecologist and conservation expert from North Carolina State University, who also works with a Brazilian conservation NGO.

“Costa Rica has to protect more of its area than Canada if we want to stem the rising tide of extinctions,” said Jenkins in an interview with Tierramérica.

Mobilising international support to protect biodiversity in other countries has been very difficult. Under the CBD Strategic Plan for reaching the 2020 goals, developed countries agreed to double biodiversity aid by 2014, and to maintain those levels until the final year of the plan.

“This is key to achieving any target,” CBD spokesperson David Ainsworth told Tierramérica.

Ecuador proposed to protect 10,000 square kilometres of its Amazon region as a national park, instead of allowing oil drilling, through the Yasuní-ITT initiative. It asked the international community to contribute 350 million dollars a year to offset the foregone oil revenues, Jenkins noted.

But after five years, the fund to leave the oil in Yasuní Park untapped had collected only 13.3 million dollars, and now Ecuador is preparing to allow drilling to proceed.

“A new road has already been blasted through the region,” Jenkins said.

Roads inevitably lead to deforestation, with negative impacts on local indigenous communities, he added. The Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous peoples live in voluntary isolation in the region.

Oil drilling using extended reach technology could minimise the damage, by eliminating the need for roads. It is not necessarily more costly, but not all companies have the expertise to do it, he said.

“If the oil is going to be drilled, then it’s up to the Ecuadorian government to make sure companies make the minimum impact,” said Jenkins.

There are parts of the world that are simply more important than others when it comes to biodiversity. Yasuní is one. “Either species are protected from extinction, or they are gone forever and no one will ever experience them again,” he stressed. “I personally think it is immoral to allow species to go extinct.”

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Dwindling Water Supplies Make Every Drop Count http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/dwindling-water-supplies-make-every-drop-count/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dwindling-water-supplies-make-every-drop-count http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/dwindling-water-supplies-make-every-drop-count/#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2013 22:25:49 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127391 Drought and chronic water shortages played a significant role in sparking Syria’s civil war and in unrest throughout much of the Middle East, water experts now believe. Around the world, water demand already exceeds supply in regions with more than 40 percent of the world’s population. That may climb to 60 percent in the coming […]

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Drought has left some parts of Sri Lanka's dry zone scorched and crops devastated. Credit: Photostock

Drought has left some parts of Sri Lanka's dry zone scorched and crops devastated. Credit: Photostock

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 9 2013 (IPS)

Drought and chronic water shortages played a significant role in sparking Syria’s civil war and in unrest throughout much of the Middle East, water experts now believe.

Around the world, water demand already exceeds supply in regions with more than 40 percent of the world’s population. That may climb to 60 percent in the coming decade, a new study has found."Disease outbreaks from using wastewater do happen but it is rarely cited as the cause." -- Manzoor Qadir of United Nations University

“Water-scarce regions can’t grow enough food to feed their own people,” said co-author Manzoor Qadir of United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

About 70 percent of the world’s freshwater – and up to 95 percent in some countries – is used for irrigation. There is intense competition for freshwater between municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses. Increasingly, agriculture has been losing out, particularly in water-stressed regions, Qadir told IPS.

Between 2006 and 2011, up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced its worst ever drought and a series of crop failures. In 2009, the U.N. reported that over 800,000 Syrians lost their livelihoods and fled to cities as result of the drought.

The entire Mediterranean region is undergoing a prolonged drought that has been linked to climate change, according to a recent U.S. study. If climate-altering carbon emissions continue at current rates, droughts in the region will worsen and lengthen.

As water supplies fall, many regions are using urban wastewater, a very valuable resource if it is treated properly, says the study “Global, regional, and country level need for data on wastewater generation, treatment, and use“, published Sep. 5 in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

This is the first study to look at how wastewater is used in 181 countries. One of the key findings is that only 55 countries have good data. Synthesising what data there are, researchers found that high-income countries treat 70 percent of their wastewater while middle-income countries treat 28 to 38 percent. Just eight percent of wastewater generated in low-income countries undergoes any kind of treatment.

“From the earliest of times, most wastewater has truly been wasted. However, it is a vast resource if we reclaim it properly, which includes the separation of municipal from industrial wastewater,” said UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel.

The volume of wastewater potentially available worldwide each year is equivalent to 14 months of outflow from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, Adeel told IPS.

In poor, water-scarce countries, wastewater is widely used to irrigate foodlands – some estimate as much as 300 million hectares producing 10 percent of the world’s food, the study says.

However, there is little data to confirm this. It is often a country’s ‘dirty little secret’ that much of the food consumed in urban areas is grown using untreated wastewater.

Wastewater is valuable because it has very high level of nutrients, including potash, nitrogen and phosphorus, eliminating the need and cost of fertilisers. However, untreated wastewater can transmit diseases such as cholera. Chile experienced cholera outbreaks and banned the use of untreated wastewater in 1992.

“Disease outbreaks from using wastewater do happen but it is rarely cited as the cause,” said Qadir.

One reason is that few studies have been done. A few years ago Qadir and colleagues discovered higher rates of waterborne diseases like gastroenteritis in children in the Mediterranean who were eating food grown using untreated wastewater.

In the 1990s, fruit and vegetable exports from Jordan were banned for similar reasons. Jordan has since implemented an aggressive campaign to rehabilitate and improve wastewater treatment plants and introduced enforceable standards.

“Israel uses nearly every drop of its wastewater with specific uses determined by the quality”, Qadir said.

Many homes in California have separate grey and black water collection systems. Grey water from showers and dishwashing is reused to water lawns and gardens, the report said.

People are generally reluctant to eat food grown using wastewater but it is perfectly safe if treated properly, Qadir stressed.

“Unfortunately, water treatment is not seen as a priority in many countries.”

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A Stark Choice: Extreme Heat or Dirty Fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/a-stark-choice-extreme-heat-or-dirty-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-stark-choice-extreme-heat-or-dirty-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/a-stark-choice-extreme-heat-or-dirty-fuels/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 21:25:29 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126550 Two reports released Wednesday reveal the dangerous gap between science and politics. New climate research shows that extreme events such as the severe heat wave in the U.S. last year will double in 2020, increase 400 percent by 2040, and then get far worse without significant carbon reductions. Meanwhile, an analysis shows Canada cannot meet […]

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Regional temperature increases predicted by 2100. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report 2004

Regional temperature increases predicted by 2100. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report 2004

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 15 2013 (IPS)

Two reports released Wednesday reveal the dangerous gap between science and politics. New climate research shows that extreme events such as the severe heat wave in the U.S. last year will double in 2020, increase 400 percent by 2040, and then get far worse without significant carbon reductions.

Meanwhile, an analysis shows Canada cannot meet its weak 2020 carbon emissions reduction target even as it plans to triple the size of its massive tar sands operations in coming decades.

Canada’s has no credible carbon reduction plan and has done virtually nothing on climate since Stephen Harper’s government came to power in 2006, said activists.

“It will be very difficult for the Canadian government to achieve its own emissions reduction target for 2020 even without tar sands expansion,” Danny Harvey, a climate scientist at the University of Toronto, said at a press conference Wednesday.

Canada, the United States and other countries pledged to reduce their total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2020 under what is known as the Copenhagen Accord. Scientists say that target is too weak and will result in global temperatures rising by at least 3.5C, a very dangerous level of climate change.

Those high temperatures will likely produce heat extremes that kill people, animals and crops, and blanket 85 percent of the planet’s land area in summer by 2100, German and Spanish scientists reported late Wednesday.

“That’s what our calculations show for a scenario of unabated climate change,” said co-author Dim Coumou of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Shockingly, it is already too late to prevent a doubling of heat waves by 2020 and four-fold increase by 2040, concludes the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The reason for this is that burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels over the past 50 years has added 40 percent more heat-trapping CO2 gas to the atmosphere. Even if all human sources of CO2 emissions ended today, temperatures will continue to rise from the present 0.8C of additional warming to as much as 1.1. to 1.5C due to a time lag in the climate system, scientists say.

And those temperatures would not decline for a very long time.

That is why all countries agreed to cut CO2 emissions at the 2009 U.N. climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen.

Canada matched the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent but then did little to reduce its emissions and instead dramatically expanded the world’s biggest energy project, the Alberta tar sands.

Each year, the tar sands burn nearly 40 billion cubic metres of natural gas, roughly two-thirds of what India uses annually. This gas is mainly used to heat water so the tarry bitumen can be boiled out of the ground and converted into heavy crude oil.

In 2011, 370 million cubic metres of freshwater was used. This is more than the city of Toronto’s 2.8 million people use. Oil companies pay nothing for the water even though the water becomes too toxic to be returned to rivers or to aquifers.

Most analyses show that oil from the tar sands is the most polluting and has the highest CO2 footprint compared to other sources of oil. Those CO2 emissions are increasing as bitumen becomes harder to extract and are expected to double by 2020.

“Canadian politicians are simply not telling the truth. You can’t keep expanding the tar sands and meet the reduction target,” said Mark Jaccard, an energy economist at Simon Frasier University and a Harper government appointee to the now-shuttered National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

There are no federal regulations on oil and gas emissions in Canada. Instead of acting, the Harper government launched a 16-million-dollar public relations campaign in the U.S. and Canada promoting the economic benefits of “responsible resource development” of the tar sands – a move mocked by activists as “greenwashing”.

Deep cuts in emissions after 2020 will be needed to avoid most of the world suffering under devastating heat waves before the end of the century, the Potsdam Institute’s research shows. Those reductions “will be impossible to achieve if we lock in 40 years of increased tar sands emissions by building more pipelines” like the Keystone XL, said the University of Toronto’s Danny Harvey in a press conference here in Toronto Wednesday.

The U.S. is on target to make its meet its Copenhagen reduction pledge. However, Canada’s abysmal environmental record has come to the attention of the Barack Obama administration. President Obama recently said that he would only approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”. The long-delayed Keystone XL would bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen (heavy oil) to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Keystone XL will increase Canada’s emissions by allowing the tar sands to expand in size, said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence Canada. And there is no technology nor any policies that will allow Canada to reduce those emissions before 2020, McEachern said.

Other proposed pipelines that are needed to support tar sands expansion have met strong opposition in Canada and it is far from certain if they will be completed, said Jaccard.

“We are now at a point where the only acceptable alternative is for the U.S. government to reject Keystone XL,” he said.

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Climate Change Promises Tough Times for Asia and Africa – Report http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/climate-change-promises-tough-times-for-asia-and-africa-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-promises-tough-times-for-asia-and-africa-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/climate-change-promises-tough-times-for-asia-and-africa-report/#comments Thu, 20 Jun 2013 21:08:36 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125077 Extreme heat, flooding and water and food shortages will rock South Asia and Africa by 2030 and render large sections of cities inhabitable, if the world continues to burn huge amounts of coal, oil and gas, the World Bank is warning. “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience“, a […]

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By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 20 2013 (IPS)

Extreme heat, flooding and water and food shortages will rock South Asia and Africa by 2030 and render large sections of cities inhabitable, if the world continues to burn huge amounts of coal, oil and gas, the World Bank is warning.

Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience“, a new report commissioned by the World Bank and released Wednesday, analysed the expected effects on South Asia and Africa if global temperatures increase by two and four degrees Celsius.

The report showed that a global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius will have a wide range of dangerous effects, including a loss of 40 to 80 percent of cropland in Africa and rising sea levels that will destroy significant parts of many coastal cities in South Asia.

“If the world warms by two degrees Celsius – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years – that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves, and more intense cyclones,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

He pointed out that such change could “greatly harm the lives and the hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the earth’s temperature”.

The burning of carbon-based fuels has increased the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 40 percent. CO2 and water vapour in the atmosphere are crucial in retaining some of the sun’s heat energy; without them, the earth’s atmosphere would be more like the moon’s: 100 degrees Celsius in the daytime and -150 degrees at night.

Adding 40 percent more CO2, however, has increased the amount of heat energy the Earth absorbs, with more than 93 percent of it warming the oceans.

Bleak findings

One of the shocking findings in the new study is the enormous impact a two-degree rise will have on the urban poor, said Rachel Kyte, the vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank.

Urbanisation is increasing rapidly, especially in the developing world, with many more people living in slums and informal settlements, Kyte told IPS from London.

The report painted a bleak picture for many cities.

As climate change disrupts rainfall patterns and generates more extreme weather in the coming decades, leading to poor crop yields, rural populations will flood cities. Escalating numbers of urban poor will suffer, with temperatures magnified by the “heat island effect” of the constructed urban environments.

Safe drinking water will also be harder to find, especially after floods, contributing to greater water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Coastal regions like Bangladesh and India’s two largest coastal cities, Kolkata and Mumbai, will face extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures.

“Huge numbers of urban poor will be exposed in many coastal cities,” Kyte said.

Meanwhile, a sea level rise of 30 centimetres, possible by 2040, will result in massive flooding in cities and inundate low-lying cropland with saltwater, which is corrosive to crops. Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, a global rice producer, is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, and a 30-centimetre rise there could result in the loss of about 11 percent of crop production, the report found.

“We face a huge challenge over the next 20 years to…redesign our cities to protect them from climate change,” Kyte predicted, even as cities already face a huge infrastructure investment gap.

One trillion dollars a year needed to be invested every year by 2020 by some estimates, Kyte said, adding that “to build climate resilience into cities will take another 300 to 500 million dollars a year”.

A lack of water will be a problem in other regions. The projected loss of snowmelt from the Himalayas will reduce the flow of water into the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, which altogether threaten to leave hundreds of millions of people without enough water, food or access to reliable energy, the report said.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, by the decades of 2030 or 2040, drought mixed with destructive flooding will contribute to farmers’ losing 40 to 80 percent of cropland used for growing maize, millet and sorghum.

And while carbon emissions have already increased oceans’ acidity by 30 percent, by 2040, oceans will be too acidic for many coral reefs to survive. The death of coral reefs results in major loss of fish habitats as well as protection against storms.

“That will have significant consequences for ocean fish catches, which are already in decline today,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics and who was the lead author of the study.

Policy recommendations

The report is a science-based guide for the World Bank and governments for what these regions will face over the next 20 to 30 years, said Hare.

“Much of this can be avoided, and it will cost far less with urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” Hare told IPS.

In a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called climate change the “global threat of our time” and promised the United States would do far more to reduce emissions. A detailed announcement is expected next week.

Last week, the United States and China agreed to reduce phase out HFCs, a greenhouse gas used in air conditioners. China has also created a series of carbon trading regions to cut emissions.

“These are small positive signs that need to pickup momentum,” Hare said.

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Developing Countries Lead Global Shift to Green Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/developing-countries-lead-global-shift-to-green-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-countries-lead-global-shift-to-green-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/developing-countries-lead-global-shift-to-green-energy/#comments Thu, 13 Jun 2013 19:39:38 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119823 Emerging economies such as Mexico and India are shifting energy investments into renewable resources while industrialised countries hesitate, noted two new United Nations reports released Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya. “There is a structural change in the global energy sector underway,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research of the Frankfurt School in Germany. “Costs are dropping […]

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A vegetable vendor in Bangalore using a solar lamp to light her stall. Credit: SELCO/IPS

A vegetable vendor in Bangalore using a solar lamp to light her stall. Credit: SELCO/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 13 2013 (IPS)

Emerging economies such as Mexico and India are shifting energy investments into renewable resources while industrialised countries hesitate, noted two new United Nations reports released Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya.

“There is a structural change in the global energy sector underway,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research of the Frankfurt School in Germany.

“Costs are dropping radically. Renewables represented 6.5 percent of all electricity generated and reduced carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes in 2012,” said Moslener, co-author of Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2013, a report sponsored by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Developing countries are finding installing green energy to be far less expensive than relying on fossil fuels, Moslener told IPS. Poorer countries want to reap the benefits of stable energy costs, new jobs, improved air quality and reduced health and climate damage.

While political debates about the future of green energy preoccupy countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, developing countries have embraced cleaner energy. The move is reflected by a narrowing investment gap. In 2012, developing countries invested 112 billion dollars in clean energy, compared to developed economies’ 132 billion dollars."Around the world, there is a shift to clean energy."
-- Michael Liebreich

In 2007, developed economies’ investments were two-and-a-half times greater (excluding large hydro) than those of developing economies.

Globally, despite a 12 percent decline in investment, more renewable energy went online in 2012 than in any previous year, the main reason being a 30 to 40 percent drop in the cost of solar energy.

“Around the world, there is a shift to clean energy,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Political complications

Investors understand that clean energy no longer costs more than fossil energy. As such, there is a lot of excitement about the potential of large-scale projects in wide range of countries.

Nevertheless, investments in clean energy in 2013 would have been higher had governments in Europe and North America not abruptly pulled back from green energy policies.

“No industry has been treated as badly as the clean energy sector, particularly in Europe,” Liebreich said in an interview.

Frequent and sometimes wholesale changes in renewable energy policies create market uncertainty, he said, so investors hold back, waiting for clarity and stability.

Such changes are being driven by polarised politics and a fact-free debate about future energy choices, particularly in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada. These countries are going to be five years behind the shift to low-cost, clean energy, he said.

Liebreich highlighted Canada’s obsession with its tar sands as good example of a government’s failure to comprehend that future economic success will be based on clean energy sources. “They are not serving the public interest,” he said.

New energy records

In 2012, China, the United States, Germany, Japan and Italy were the top five investors in renewables. Globally, solar photovoltaic installations reached a record 30.5 gigawatts (GW), while installed wind installations topped off at 48.4 GW – both new records, according the REN21 Renewables 2013 Global Status Report.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan is shifting from a nuclear-dependent energy policy and investing significantly in solar, geothermal and wind power.

In the Indian state of Gujarat, a 605 MW photovoltaic solar park, completed in April 2012, is expected to save about 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. An amount of nearly 1 billion dollars was announced to go towards a 396MW wind project in Oaxaca State, Mexico.

“More and more countries are set to take the renewable energy stage,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. “Only last week the global host of World Environment Day, Mongolia, invited me to tour its first 50-megawatt wind farm.”

Mongolia has ambitious plans to harness wind and sun to power its future and supply clean energy to China and the region, Steiner said in a press conference in Nairobi.

“Like many other nations, it has seen the logic and the rationale of embracing a green development path,” he added.

A growing industry

An estimated 5.7 million people worldwide worked directly or indirectly in the renewable energy sector in 2012. The bulk of these jobs were in Brazil, China, India, members of the European Union, and the United States, with employment rising in other countries.

Selling, installing and maintaining small solar panels in rural Bangladesh, for example, employs 150,000 people directly and indirectly.

The transition from brown to green energy is gaining momentum as more countries, regions and cities realise that the shift is in their best economic interests, offering energy security, among other benefits.

Even the currently stalled U.N. climate talks won’t slow this shift, said Steiner, and a strong global climate treaty in 2015 could spur an increase in investment.

“The financial sector has factored in the glacial pace of the U.N. climate talks. Nothing that happens in that forum will reduce investment now,” said Liebreich.

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“Carbon Farming” Makes Waves at Stalled Bonn Talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/carbon-farming-makes-waves-at-stalled-bonn-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-farming-makes-waves-at-stalled-bonn-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/carbon-farming-makes-waves-at-stalled-bonn-talks/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 18:06:53 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119763 U.N. climate talks have largely stalled with the suspension of one of three negotiating tracks at a key mid-year session in Bonn, Germany. Meanwhile, civil society organisations claim the controversial issue of “carbon farming” has been pushed back onto the agenda after African nations objected to the use of their lands to absorb carbon emissions. […]

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Civil society organisations warn that if agriculture becomes part of a carbon market, it will spur more land grabbing in Africa. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

Civil society organisations warn that if agriculture becomes part of a carbon market, it will spur more land grabbing in Africa. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 12 2013 (IPS)

U.N. climate talks have largely stalled with the suspension of one of three negotiating tracks at a key mid-year session in Bonn, Germany.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations claim the controversial issue of “carbon farming” has been pushed back onto the agenda after African nations objected to the use of their lands to absorb carbon emissions."There is a profound danger to agriculture here, with real potential for more land grabbing and expansion of monocultures in order to harvest credits." -- Helena Paul of EcoNexus

At the Bonn Climate Change Conference this week, Russia insisted on new procedural rules. That blocked all activity in one track of negotiations called the “Subsidiary Body for Implementation” (SBI). The SBI is a technical body that was supposed to discuss finance to help developing countries cope with climate change, as well as proposals for “loss and damage” to compensate countries for damages.

The SBI talks were suspended Wednesday.

“This development is unfortunate,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Figueres also said the two-week Bonn conference, which ends Friday, had made considerable progress in the two other tracks. A complex new global climate treaty is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015 with the goal of keeping global warming to less than two degrees C.

“Governments need to look up from their legal and procedural tricks and focus on the planetary emergency that is hitting Africa first and hardest,” said Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), an African-wide climate movement with over 300 organisations in 45 countries.

And where there is “progress” at the climate talks it is in the wrong direction, according to civil society.

“We’ve seen many governments in Bonn call for a review of the current failed carbon markets to see what went wrong, why they haven’t actually reduced emissions and why they haven’t raised finance on a significant scale,” said Kate Dooley, a consultant on market mechanisms to the Third World Network.

“If we don’t learn these lessons we’ll be doomed to repeat these environmentally and financially risky schemes, at the cost of real action to reduce emissions,” Dooley said in a statement.

In Bonn, two key African negotiators appear to be pushing the World Bank agenda rather than their national interests, civil society organisations claim. Those negotiators are also working for organisations receiving World Bank funding.

One appears to want African nations’ mitigation actions to be based on agriculture, they said.

The World Bank and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation and other organisations favour what they call “climate smart” agriculture. This is defined as forms of farming that are sustainable, increase productivity and with a focus on soaking up carbon from the atmosphere.

African environment ministers from 54 nations recently stated they were not obligated to use their lands to mitigate carbon emissions since Africa is not responsible for climate change. They also instructed African negotiators at the Bonn climate talks to focus on helping African agriculture adapt to a changing climate.

“Are these people serving two masters?” asked Mariam Mayet of the Africa Centre for Biosafety, which works to protect farmers’ rights and biodiversity across the continent.

“What is the World Bank’s level of influence over these individuals, and is there a risk that this is impacting on their actions and the outcome here?” Mayet told IPS.

In December 2011, more than 100 African and international civil society organisations sent a joint letter to African ministers asking for “no soil carbon markets in Africa”.

Globally, agriculture is a major source of global warming gases like carbon and methane – directly accounting for 15 percent to 30 percent of global emissions. Changes in agricultural practices such as reducing or eliminating plowing and fertiliser use can greatly reduce emissions.

Agriculture can also be used to absorb or trap carbon in the soil. When a plant grows, it takes CO2 out the atmosphere and releases oxygen. The more of a crop – maize, soy or vegetable – that remains after harvest, the more carbon is returned to the soil.

Civil society organisations warn that if agriculture becomes part of a carbon market, it will spur more land grabbing in Africa, with woodlands being used mainly for carbon sequestration instead of food production.

“There is a profound danger to agriculture here, with real potential for more land grabbing and expansion of monocultures in order to harvest credits,” Helena Paul of EcoNexus, an environmental NGO, previously told IPS.

Soils are extraordinarily variable and different climatic regimes affect how they function, said Ólafur Arnalds, a soil scientist at the Agricultural University of Iceland. While soils are a key part of the planet’s carbon cycle, we don’t know enough about soil carbon, Arnalds told IPS at a recent Soil Carbon Sequestration conference in Iceland.

That complexity does not suit carbon markets well and drives up costs of accounting and verification. However, Arnalds does believe that soils and agriculture have an important role in climate change and farmers should be compensated for their efforts.

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U.S., Malaysia Lead Worldwide “Land Grabs” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/u-s-malaysia-lead-worldwide-land-grabs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-malaysia-lead-worldwide-land-grabs http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/u-s-malaysia-lead-worldwide-land-grabs/#comments Mon, 10 Jun 2013 22:03:55 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119701 Africa is the main target for “land grabs” by foreign investors, according to a new report on large-scale land acquisitions around the world released Monday. “Africa is the place for cheap land deals and most investors are from Western countries like the U.S. and UK,” said Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition (ILC). Globally […]

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The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jun 10 2013 (IPS)

Africa is the main target for “land grabs” by foreign investors, according to a new report on large-scale land acquisitions around the world released Monday.

“Africa is the place for cheap land deals and most investors are from Western countries like the U.S. and UK,” said Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition (ILC).“Investors are looking for annual returns of 20 and 25 percent and many are getting it." -- ILC's Michael Taylor

Globally some 45 million hectares of land has been or is about to be signed over to foreign investors in Africa, Southern Asia and Latin America. That’s equivalent to 60 percent of Europe’s farmland.

About half of this land is for food production and half for biofuels, according to data compiled by the ILC, a global alliance of nearly 100 civil society and intergovernmental organisations, including the World Bank and United Nations Environment Program.

“Some investors aren’t actually farming and are only interested in land speculation,” Taylor told IPS.

Rural communities are being displaced from their agricultural, grazing, forests and traditional lands by international investors, Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation, the UK partner of the African Biodiversity Network, told IPS.

Most of the food-producing lands in Africa are held in common by local communities. In Asia and South America, hundreds of millions of small landholders, pastoralists and indigenous people do not hold formal land titles. And when it suits governments, they ignore this customary land holding and sell or lease the land to private companies.

Private capital from pension funds and investment firms are chasing food-producing land since they see it as the next big profitable commodity.

“Investors are looking for annual returns of 20 and 25 percent and many are getting it,” said Taylor.

Experts at the University of Georgia recently completed an assessment of 34 land acquisitions in Africa and concluded that in most cases local people lost “their land and livelihoods often in the absence of any real benefits”.

The U.S., Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and the UK are top foreign investors not only in Africa but in other countries, according to the ILC’s new Land Matrix Global Observatory. The Land Matrix is a website that provides the locations and details of nearly 1,000 land transactions all over the world.

The largest transnational land deals are in South Sudan and Papua New Guinea. The Land Matrix lists the individual land deals including the companies involved, the size of the acquisition and intended use. In Papua New Guinea, many of the land deals appear to be for palm oil production.

It is very difficult to track and detail land deals around the world and the ILC hopes that people will provide feedback and offer information, said Taylor.

“There is a huge number of land purchases going on that are not reflected in the Land Matrix,” he said.

Most of those are internal land purchases or leasing by elites within countries. Those are very difficult to document, he said.

“In the last three years, the government has sold more than 50,000 hectares of our land to companies,” said Lalji Desai, a Maldhari, a traditional shepherd in the state of Gujarat in India.

This is part of the state government’s plans for “development” but Maldhari and local farmers want to stay in agriculture. “The land is very fertile, we don’t want to give it up,” Desai told IPS from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Up to 70 villages with 125,000 people now find themselves living in “special investment regions” and their lands are being parcelled out to foreign companies like Suzuki and Hitachi, he said.

“These are not well-educated people. They won’t get jobs working for those companies,” he said.

Most companies are getting far more land than they need and are making money off reselling the land. “Land prices have increased 20 times in last 10 years. Everyone wants to buy land, including powerful politicians,” Desai said.

Local people want to stay on their land and are working to strengthen their movement and get more public attention. “We want people to know the best use of our land is for food production,” he said.

This is the kind of situation that the ILC hopes to make public through the Land Matrix website.

The hope is that the Land Matrix becomes an important tool to address the lack of transparency that still surrounds large-scale land transactions, said Ward Anseeuw of the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD).

“The Land Matrix has evolved from a database into a public tool promoting greater transparency in decision-making over land and investment at a global level,” Anseeuw said in a statement.

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Peak Water, Peak Oil…Now, Peak Soil? http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 15:46:27 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119424 Soil is becoming endangered.This reality needs to be part of our collective awareness in order to feed nine billion people by 2050, say experts meeting here in Reykjavík. And a big part of reversing soil decline is carbon, the same element that is overheating the planet. “Keeping and putting carbon in its rightful place” needs […]

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Healthy soil looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to worms and other organisms. It feels soft, moist, and friable, and allows plant roots to grow unimpeded. Credit: Colette Kessler, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Healthy soil looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to worms and other organisms. It feels soft, moist, and friable, and allows plant roots to grow unimpeded. Credit: Colette Kessler, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

By Stephen Leahy
REYKJAVÍK, Iceland, May 31 2013 (IPS)

Soil is becoming endangered.This reality needs to be part of our collective awareness in order to feed nine billion people by 2050, say experts meeting here in Reykjavík.

And a big part of reversing soil decline is carbon, the same element that is overheating the planet."Soils are like a bank account. You should only draw out what you put in." -- Rattan Lal of Ohio State University

“Keeping and putting carbon in its rightful place” needs to be the mantra for humanity if we want to continue to eat, drink and combat global warming, concluded 200 researchers from more than 30 countries.

“There is no life without soil,” said Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission.

“While soil is invisible to most people it provides an estimated 1.5 to 13 trillion dollars in ecosystem services annually,” Glover said at the Soil Carbon Sequestration conference that ended this week.

The dirt beneath our feet is a nearly magical world filled with tiny, wondrous creatures. A mere handful of soil might contain a half million different species including ants, earthworms, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. Soil provides nearly all of our food – only one percent of our calories come from the oceans, she said.

Soil also gives life to all of the world’s plants that supply us with much of our oxygen, another important ecosystem service. Soil cleans water, keeps contaminants out of streams and lakes, and prevents flooding. Soil can also absorb huge amounts of carbon, second only to the oceans.

“It takes half a millennia to build two centimetres of living soil and only seconds to destroy it,” Glover said.

Each year, 12 million hectares of land, where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown, are lost to land degradation. In the past 40 years, 30 percent of the planet’s arable (food-producing) land has become unproductive due to erosion. Unless this trend is reversed soon, feeding the world’s growing population will be impossible.

The world will likely need “60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006″, according to a new paper released May 30 by the World Resources Institute. Reaching this goal while maintaining economic growth and environmental sustainability is one of the most important global challenges of our time, it concludes.

Urban development is a growing factor in loss of arable lands. One million city dwellers occupy 40,000 hectares of land on average, said Rattan Lal of Ohio State University.

Plowing, removal of crop residues after harvest, and overgrazing all leave soil naked and vulnerable to wind and rain, resulting in gradual, often unnoticed erosion of soil. This is like tire wear on your car – unless given the attention and respect it deserves, catastrophe is only a matter of time.

Erosion also puts carbon into the air where it contributes to climate change. But with good agricultural practices like using seed drills instead of plows, planting cover crops and leaving crop residues, soils can go from a carbon source to a carbon solution, he said.

“Soil can be a safe place where huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere could be sequestered,” Lal told IPS.

When a plant grows it takes CO2 out the atmosphere and releases oxygen. The more of a crop – maize, soy or vegetable – that remains after harvest, the more carbon is returned to the soil. This carbon is mainly found in humus – the rich organic material from decay of plant material. Soil needs to contain just 1.5 percent carbon to be healthy and resilient – more capable of withstanding drought and other harsh conditions.

“Healthy soils equals healthy crops, healthy livestock and healthy people,” Lal said.

However, most soils suffer from 30 to 60 percent loss in soil carbon. “Soils are like a bank account. You should only draw out what you put in. Soils are badly overdrawn in most places.”

Farmers and pastoralists (ranchers) could do “miracles” in keeping carbon in the soil and helping to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and feed the world if they were properly supported, Lal said.

The world’s 3.4 billion ha of rangeland and pastures has the potential to sequester or absorb up to 10 percent of the annual carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production, estimates Ólafur Arnalds, a soil scientist at the Agricultural University of Iceland.

Eliminating overgrazing and using other pasture management techniques will reduce the number of animals on the land in the short term but it is better for the long term health of grazing lands. While these practises can help with climate change, there many other good reasons to adopt them, Arnalds told IPS.

That view is echoed by many here since determining exactly how much carbon a farm field or pasture can absorb from the atmosphere is highly variable and difficult to determine.

Proper land management can help with climate change but in no way does it reduce the need to make major reductions in fossil fuel use, said Guðmundur Halldórsson, a research co-ordinator at the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, co-host of the conference.

And using farmland or pastures as a ‘carbon sponges’ will lead to all sorts of problems, Halldórsson told IPS.

“The real key is adopt practices that enhance soil health to improve food productivity,” he said.

That approach is much more likely to help in improve local livelihoods, protect water resources, improve biodiversity,  reduce erosion and help put carbon back into the ground where it belongs, he said.

“Iceland overexploited its lands, trying to squeeze more out of the land than it could handle. We call it ‘killing the milk cow’. We can no longer live off the land as we once did.”

Situated in the North Atlantic, the windy island was once mostly covered by forests, lush meadows and wetlands when the first settlers arrived nearly 1,000 years ago. By the late 1800s, 96 percent of the forest was gone and half the grasslands destroyed by overgrazing. Iceland became one the world’s poorest countries, its people starved and its landscape remains Europe’s largest desert.

Of necessity, Iceland pioneered techniques to halt land degradation and in restoration. And for more than 100 years the Soil Conservation Service has struggled but the gains are small and very slow in coming. Today at least half of the former forests and grasslands are mostly bare and subject to severe erosion by the strong winds.

“We’re still fighting overgrazing here,” Halldórsson said.

Iceland relies far less on agriculture now and the harsh lessons of poor land management of the past are irrelevant to the 90 percent of Icelanders who now live in urban areas.

“The public isn’t supporting land restoration. We’ve forgotten that land is the foundation of life,” Halldórsson said.

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