Inter Press Service » Energy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 In India, an Indoor Health Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139529 Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For years, Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged woman from the village of Chachadeth in India’s northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, has prepared her family’s meals on a wood-burning stove.

She is one of millions of Indian women who cannot afford cooking gas and so relies heavily on firewood as a source of free fuel.

Gathering wood is a cumbersome exercise, but Devi has no choice. “It takes us five to six hours to gather what we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it,” she tells IPS. “But we don’t mind, since we don’t have to pay for it.”

“It takes us five to six hours to gather [the firewood] we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it." -- Kehmli Devi, a housewife in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, who has cooked for years on a wood-burning stove
Buying a cylinder of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), even at subsidized rates, is not an option for her – her entire family makes a collective monthly income of 57 dollars, which works out to less than two dollars a day. They cannot afford to spend a cent of their precious earnings on cleaner fuel.

Further north, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a similar story unfolds in thousands of households every single day.

“If my husband had enough money, we would use LPG for cooking,” says Zeba Begam, who resides in Rakh, a village in southern Kashmir. But since the family lives well below the poverty line, their only option is to use to firewood.

At first, they struggled to live with the smoke caused by burning large quantities of wood in their small, cramped home. Now, Begam says, they are used to it – but this does not make them immune to the range of health problems linked to indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and mud stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste), as well as coal.

Improper burning of such fuels in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous chemical substances including hazardous air pollutants (known as HAPs), fine particle pollution (more commonly called ash) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution, including from chronic respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, lung cancer and even strokes.

Other studies show that indoor air pollution – particularly in poorly ventilated dwellings – is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and negatively impacts children, who are more susceptible to respiratory diseases than adults.

In general, women and children are at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Millions of Indians at risk

Indoor air pollution is recognised as a pressing issue around the world, particularly in Asia, but India seems to be carrying the lion’s share of the burden.

Speaking at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) held here last month, Rajendra K Pachauri, director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), pointed out that far too many Indian households continue to rely on traditional fuels for cooking, lighting and heating.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows an estimated 75 million rural households (45 percent of total rural households) living without electricity, while 142 million rural households (85 percent of the total) depend entirely on biomass fuel, such as cow-dung and firewood, for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidisation by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, opting for more traditional, more harmful, substances.

Some estimates put Indian households’ use of traditional fuels at 135 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), larger than Australia’s total energy consumption in 2013.

Cleaner energy to meet the MDGs

Experts say that there is an urgent need to drastically reduce these numbers, both to improve the lives of millions who will benefit from cleaner energy, and also to meet international poverty-reduction and sustainability targets.

For instance, indoor air pollution is linked in numerous ways to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s largest development initiative set to expire at the end of the year.

According to the WHO, tackling the issue of dirty household fuels will automatically feed into MDG4, which pledges to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by the end of the year; since children bear a disproportionate rate of the disease burden of indoor pollution, helping families switch to cleaner energies could result in longer life spans for their children.

Similarly, women and children spend countless hours collecting firewood, a task that consumes much of their day and a great deal of energy. Reducing this burden on women and children would bring India closer to achieving the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Less time spent on fuel collection also leaves more hours in the day for education or employment, both of which could contribute to MDG1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

In 2005, the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) put the economic and health cost of collecting and using firewood at some six billion dollars in India alone, representing massive waste in a country nursing a stubborn poverty rate of 21.9 percent of a population of 1.2 billion people.

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Moving towards a sustainable future

As the United Nations moves towards a new era of sustainable development, scientists and policy-makers are pushing governments hard to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution in a bid to severely slash overall global carbon emissions.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, told IPS that the provision of clean energy, particularly for the poor, should be on the agenda at the upcoming climate talks in Paris, where world leaders are expected to agree on much-awaited binding carbon emissions targets for the coming decade.

Ramanathan argued that it was the responsibility of the rich – what he called the ‘top four billion’ or T4B – to help the ‘bottom three billion’ (B3B) climb the renewable energy ladder instead of the fossil fuel ladder.

“In order to avoid unsustainable climate changes in the coming decades, the decarbonisation of the T4B economy as well as the provision of modern energy access to B3B must begin now,” he said at last month’s sustainability summit.

His words reflect countless international initiatives to cut emissions from dirty household fuels, including the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which estimates that a transition to clean cook-stoves could reduce emissions from wood fuels by up to 17 percent.

Quoting findings from a recent study conducted by experts at Yale University and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Radha Mutthiah, executive director of the Global Alliance, said last month that her organisation planned to “target areas where clean cooking technology can have the greatest impact, not only improving the effects on climate, but also the health of millions of people living in hotspots.”

These ‘hotspots’ have been defined as regions where firewood is being harvested on an unsustainable scale, with over 50 percent non-renewability. In total some 275 million people live in hotspots, of which 60 percent reside in South Asia.

Overall, India and China were found to have the world’s highest wood-fuel emissions, which experts say should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and legislators that the time for taking action is now

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambiquehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/prominent-lawyer-defending-the-poor-gunned-down-in-mozambique/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:53:50 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139507 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tech-Savvy Women Farmers Find Success with SIM Cardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:46:06 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139489 Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAHABUBNAGAR, India, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Jawadi Vimalamma, 36, looks admiringly at her cell phone. It’s a simple device that can only be used to send or receive a call or a text message. Yet to the farmer from the village of Janampet, located 150 km away from Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana, it symbolises a wealth of knowledge that changed her life.

Her phone is fitted with what the farmers call a GreenSIM, which sends her daily updates on the weather, health tips or agricultural advice.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season.” -- Jawadi Vimalamma, a smallholder farmer participating in a mobile technology scheme to create awareness among rural women.
Three years ago, a single message on this mobile alerted Vimalamma to the benefits of crop rotation.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season,” says the smallholder farmer, who now grows rice, corn, millet and peanuts on her three-acre plot, instead of relying on a single crop for her livelihood.

Not far away, in the neighbouring village of Kommareddy Palli, a woman farmer named Kongala Chandrakala is using the same SIM card on a device nicknamed a ‘phablet’ – a low-cost combination mobile phone and tablet computer that dispenses vital information to small farmers.

The little machine has been a lifeline for this woman, who survived years of domestic violence before striking out on her own.

“Fifteen years ago, I was a school dropout, living in an abusive marriage. Today, I have my own farm, and am making money,” Chandrakala tells IPS.

Both women are members of Adarsh Mahila Samakhya (AMS), an all-women collective that helps empower smallholder women farmers through modern technologies.

The collective has 8,000 members, 2,000 of whom use the GreenSIM card, the result of a collaboration between the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) – an international research organisation headquartered in Hyderabad – together with the Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Cooperative and Bharti Airtel – one of India’s largest mobile service providers.

The scheme began in 2002, when the government asked ICRISAT to help train local farmers in drought-resilient agricultural practices. When the Institute started searching for local partners on the ground to help execute the project, AMS – then a fledgling group of just a handful of women – came forward.

Shortly after, the collective used its small office to host a Village Knowledge Centre, a kind of experimental technology hub where women could learn how to operate basic devices such as mobile phones and computers, and use them to get information on climate change, groundwater levels, and adapted farming techniques that would help them increase the yields on their small plots of land.

According to Dileep Kumar, senior scientist at ICRISAT, the most popular tool by far has been the GreenSIM, which disseminates a variety of bulletins daily, ranging from market prices, to weather forecasts, to tips on accessing farmers’ welfare schemes, as well as guides to crop planning and best-practices for fertiliser use.

A fight against suicide

A mobile phone may seem like a humble intervention into the vast and poverty-ridden arena of Indian agriculture, but it has proved to be a literal lifesaver for many.

Data from the 2011 census indicates that there are 144.3 million agricultural labourers in India, including 118.6 million cultivators, comprising over 30 percent of the country’s total workforce of roughly 448 million people.

A huge portion of this workforce survives on between one and two dollars a day, pushing many people heavily into debt as they struggle to make payments on farm equipment, and costly pesticides and fertilisers.

A changing climate, resulting in extreme weather events and prolonged periods of drought, does not help the situation, and scores of farmers are impacted by what experts are calling the country’s agrarian crisis.

With few options open to them, hundreds of thousands of farmers choose death over life: data from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicates that 270,940 farmers have committed suicide since 1995, rounding out to a total of 45 farmer deaths every single day.

Mahbubnagar, the district where the AMS is located, is well known for its recurring droughts and a wave of suicides. The district receives only 550 mm of rainfall each year, well below India’s national average of 1,000-1,250 mm per annum.

The district has seen about 150 suicides since 2013 alone.

Erkala Manamma, president of the AMS collective, claims that the introduction of the GreenSIM is changing this reality. Crop failure is less of a crisis here today than it was a decade ago, and thousands of farmers now feel empowered by the knowledge source that fits snugly in the palms of their hands.

Gopi Balachandriya, a 50-year-old farmer from Rachala village in Mahbubnagar District, is one such example.

In December 2013, he was waiting for an astrologically auspicious day to harvest peanuts on his three-acre farm until a message on his GreenSIM cell phone one morning warned him of a coming storm. “I quickly harvested my crop before the rains came. It saved me from losing my produce,” he recalls.

A similar message helped Mallagala Nirmala, a farmer from the village of Moosapet, understand the need for sustainable usage of fertilisers.

One day a voice message asked, ‘Have you had your farm soil tested?’ A curious Nirmala visited the Village Knowledge Centre where she learnt the basics of healthy soils, including when to add inputs of additional nutrients, which she receives free of cost from ICRISAT. The farmer is now the secretary of AMS.

One of the more tangible results of this experiment in knowledge sharing has been better profit for the farmers involved. Chandrakala, one of 20 female farmers using the ‘phablet’, has increased the rice yield on her one-acre farm from 55 to 75 kg at each harvest.

If she hears, via voice message, that groundwater levels are too low to support a healthy rice crop, she switches to growing grass, which she sells to a nearby community-managed dairy that produces 2,000 litres of milk a day.

Having these options allows her to make between 20 and 30,000 rupees each season, a princely sum compared to the average earnings of farming families in the region, which barely touch 10,000 rupees a month.

The GreenSIM initiative is certainly not the first time groups have partnered together to empower farmers using modern technology.

In the northern Indian state of Haryana, for instance – where 70 percent of the population of roughly 25 million people relies on agriculture for a living – widespread use of a handheld device known as the GreenSeeker, which calculates the health of a particular crop using infrared censors, had massive success among rural communities.

And in 2013, the World Bank reported on a scheme using a mobile phone app that allowed insurance agencies to collect reliable data on crop yields, thus enabling them to offer lower premiums to farmers who rely largely on rain-fed agriculture and were desperately in need of robust safety nets in the form of insurance policies.

In the first year alone, some 400,000 farmers in 50 districts across the northern and western states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan benefitted from the scheme.

The challenge for policy makers is how to replicate such initiatives on a wider scale, in order to ease the abject poverty facing millions of farmers across India – particularly the women, who are most vulnerable to the crushing impacts of poverty and hunger.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139452 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Water and the World We Wanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:42:58 +0000 Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139353 Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford
HAMILTON, Canada, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

We have entered a watershed year, a moment critical for humanity.

As we reflect on the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals, we look toward the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to redress imbalances perpetuated through unsustainable economic growth and to help achieve key universally-shared ambitions, including stable political systems, greater wealth and better health for all.Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

More than any other resource, freshwater underpins sustainable development. Not only is it necessary for life and human well-being, it’s a key element of all human industry.

And a U.N. report launched Feb. 24, “Water in the World We Want,” outlines what must be done within the world’s water system.

Effective management and universal provisioning of drinking water and sanitation coupled with good hygiene are the most critical elements of sustainability and development, preventing disease and death and facilitating education and economic productivity.

While 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water since 2000, it is estimated that just as many do not have access to potable quality water, let alone 24-7 service in their homes, schools and health facilities. Furthermore, 2.5 billion people without adequate access and 1 billion with no toilet at all.

If we don’t regain momentum in water sector improvements, population growth, economic instability, Earth system impacts and climate disruption may make it impossible to ever achieve a meaningful level of sustainability.

If this occurs we could face stalling or even reversal of development, meaning more people, not fewer, in poverty, and greater sub-national insecurity over water issues with the potential to create tension and conflict and destabilize countries.

Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

Moreover, changes in atmospheric composition and consequent changes in our climate have altered the envelope of certainty within which we have historically anticipated weather, producing deeper and more persistent droughts and more damaging floods. These changing water circumstances will cascade through the environment, every sector of every economy, and social and political systems around the world.

So what in the world do we do?

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, every country must commit funding, institutional resources and tools to the cause — including major realignment of national economic priorities where needed.

New mechanisms are required for transferring and sharing not only money but knowledge, data, technology and “soft” solutions proven in different contexts. Engagement of the private sector is critical in this transfer of technologies and know-how.

National governments must prioritize water, wastewater, and sanitation management, supported by a dedicated and independent arm’s length water agency.

The balance between environment, human security, and economic viability need to be articulated in a manner which holds all nations accountable for helping one another achieve the highest global standard for sustainable development, does not tolerate compromise, yet provides flexibility on the mechanisms by which to achieve those outcomes.

If we want to live in a sustainable world we have to provide clean and reliable sources of water to the billions of people who do not enjoy this basic right today and provide sanitation services to the more than two and a half billion people on Earth who lack even basic toilets.

Agriculture and energy sectors must be held accountable for water use and other system efficiencies while maintaining or increasing productivity. Companies that rely on, or have an interest in, water have a key role to play in financing and implementing sound water, sanitation and wastewater management strategies. Such companies must step up to the plate or risk significant losses. This is no longer simply corporate social responsibility but sound economic investment.

To ensure financial resources for implementation, new and emerging opportunities must be explored in parallel with more efficient expenditures, taking maximum advantage of economies of both scope and scale and accounting for trickle through benefits to many other sectors.

Additional funds can be freed up through phased redirection of the 1.9 trillion dollars currently granted as subsidies to petroleum, coal and gas industries. Corruption, a criminal act in its own right, siphons up to 30 percent of water sector investments which could be viewed as a crime against humanity within the context of sustainable development.

We can still have the sustainable future we want. But only if the world finds renewed determination and resumes the pace needed to reach our water-related development goals.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UN at 70: Mega-Cities, Mortality and Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:43:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139346 The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

As the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, one question worthy of some reflection is: Is world population better or worse off demographically since the establishment of the U.N.?

Some contend that the demography of today’s world population is markedly better than it was seven decades ago. Others argue that humanity is definitely worse off demographically and still others – often sceptics and cynics – feel it is neither better nor worse, but just different.This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

To consider the merits of those various perspectives and distinguish between personal opinions and measurable facts, it is useful and appropriate to dispassionately examine some fundamental demographic changes that have occurred to world population since the middle of the 20th century.

Perhaps the most visible demographic change is the increased size of world population, which now at 7.3 billion is five billion larger than at the time of the U.N.’s founding.

While world population has more than tripled in size, considerable variation has taken place across regions. Some populations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, have increased 500 percent or more over the past seven decades.

In contrast, other populations, such as those in Europe, increased by 40 percent or less over that time span.

The growth of world population, around 1.8 percent per year at mid 20th century, peaked at 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. The current annual rate of global population growth is 1.1 percent, the lowest since the U.N.’s founding.

In terms of absolute numbers, world population was adding approximately 47 million per year in 1950. The annual increase nearly doubled to a peak of 91 million in the late 1980s and then began declining to its current level of 81 million.

An important consequence of the differential rates of demographic growth globally has been the shift in the geographic distribution of world population. Whereas 70 years ago about one-third of world population resided in more developed regions, today that proportion is about half that level or 17 percent.

Also noteworthy are the regional demographic shifts that have occurred. For example, while Europe and Africa at mid 20th century accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent of world population, respectively, their current proportions are 10 percent for Europe and 16 percent for Africa.

Perhaps the most welcomed demographic change in world population that has taken place is the decline in mortality levels, including infant, child and maternal death rates.

During the past 70 years, the global infant mortality rate fell from approximately 140 to 40 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The improvements in mortality across all age groups have resulted in an average life expectancy at birth for the world of 70 years, a gain of some 25 years since 1950.

Another remarkable transformation in world population over the past seven decades is the decline in fertility.

As a result of men and women gaining unprecedented control over the number, spacing and timing of their children, global fertility has decreased significantly from an average of about 5 births per woman at mid-20th century to 2.5 births per woman today.

Due to the declines in fertility as well as mortality, the age structure of world population has aged markedly. Over the past seven decades, the median age of world population has increased by six years, i.e., from 24 to 30 years.

In addition, the elderly proportion aged 80 years or older has tripled during this time period, increasing from about 0.5 to 1.6 percent.

The sex composition of world population has been relatively balanced and stable over the recent past, with a global sex ratio of around 100 -102 males for every 100 females.

Although slightly more boys are born than girls, many countries, especially the more developed, have more females than males due to lower female mortality rates.

Notable exceptions to that general pattern are China and India, whose population sex ratios are approximately 107 males per 100 females due in part to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses.

Whereas the sex ratio at birth of most countries is around 105 males per 100 females, it is 117 in China and 111 in India, markedly higher than their ratios in the past.

Increased urbanisation is another significant demographic transformation in world population. A literal revolution in urban living has occurred across the planet during the past seven decades.

Whereas a minority of world population, 30 percent, lived in urban areas in 1950, today the majority of the world, 54 percent, consists of urban dwellers. The migration to urban places took place across all regions, with many historically rural, less developed countries, such as China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey, rapidly transformed to predominantly urban societies.

Another striking demographic change in world population is the emergence of mega-cities — agglomerations of 10 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, there was a single city in this category: New York, with 12.3 million inhabitants.

Today there are 28 mega-cities, with Tokyo being the largest at 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million and Mexico City, Mumbai and San Paulo each with approximately 21 million.

In addition to internal movements within nations, international migration across countries and regions has also increased markedly over the past decades. A half-century ago 77 million or nearly 3 percent of world population were immigrants, meaning they live in a place different from their place of birth. That figure has tripled to 232 million, representing slightly more than 3 percent of world population.

While most of the international migration is lawful, increasing numbers of men, women and children are choosing due to circumstance and desire to immigrate outside legal channels.

And while precise figures of migrants unlawfully resident are difficult to establish, the total number worldwide is estimated at least 50 million.

The numbers of refugees have also increased substantially during the recent past. At mid-20th century, an estimated one million people remained uprooted following the world war.

In the early 1990s the number of refugees peaked at around 18 million. Latest estimates put the global number of refugees at 16.7 million and growing.

Also, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict, which includes refugees, asylum seekers and internal displaced persons, has reached 51.2 million, the first time it has exceeded 50 million since the World War II.

From the above discussion, most would probably agree that while some aspects of world population are clearly better today than 70 years ago, others are not necessarily better and still others are decidedly worse.

Lower mortality rates and people living longer lives are certainly welcomed improvements. Men and women having the ability to decide more easily and freely the number, spacing and timing of births has also been an advance.

The logical consequence of lower mortality and fertility is population aging, a remarkable achievement that will, however, require major societal adjustments.

The scale of refugees and internally displaced person is plainly worse than a half century ago. The growing numbers and difficult circumstances of those fleeing their homes are unlikely to improve in the near future given the increasing political upheaval, ongoing civil conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions in many parts of the world.

Finally, the unprecedented growth of world population – the most rapid in human history –added about 5 billion more people since the mid 20th century.

This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

The recent declines in world population growth provide some indication of future demographic stabilisation or peaking, perhaps as early as the close of the 21st century.

At that time, would population is expected to be about 10 billion, 2.5 billion more than today or four times as many people as were living on the planet when the United Nations was founded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Falling Oil Prices Won’t Derail St. Lucia’s Push for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:01:45 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139341 Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

At Plas Kassav, a roadside outlet in Canaries, a rural community in western St. Lucia, a busload of visitors from other Caribbean countries, along with tourists from North America and Europe, sample the 12 flavours of freshly baked cassava bread on sale.

In the back of the shop, employees busily sift the grated cassava and prepare it for baking. Next to them, an electric motor powers a device that turns grated cassava as it bakes into farine — a cereal made from cassava tubers — in a wood-fired cauldron.Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don't want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.” -- Minister James Fletcher

This is one of the ways in which this eastern Caribbean nation of 180,000 people is marrying its tourism and agriculture sectors.

Tourism makes the largest contribution to St. Lucia’s 1.3-billion-dollar economy. And with oil prices expected to continue falling for some time, this 617-square-kilometre island is hoping for significant economic growth on the heels of the slim years since the global financial crisis struck in 2008.

The government says that the move toward renewable energy will see businesses and households paying less for energy and will also strengthen the nation’s argument at the international climate change negotiations.

A renewable energy expert with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) tells IPS that falling oil prices present an excellent opportunity for small island developing states such as St. Lucia and its 14 other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) allies to accelerate their renewable energy programme.

“I think you can look at it as a windfall that buys you time for the transition,” Dolf Gielen says.

He tells IPS that falling oil prices will slow down but will not end the push towards clean energy.

“Oil prices will somewhat slow the acceleration but you will see a continued transition towards renewables,” he says. “Now you have a little more time to plan it and to make sure that it functions well.”

James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, tells IPS that he agrees that the region needs to accelerate its transition toward renewable energy, but is not certain whether lower fuel prices is really reason to exhale.

“I’m not sure about the breathing space. I think what it does, however, show is that this fuel price game is not one we want to be playing,” Fletcher tells IPS.

He notes that while the price of oil has fallen to 50 dollars a barrel — less than half of what it was half year ago — the decrease did not result from any advances in technology.

“The price of oil right now is being determined by the geopolitics of oil,” he says, noting that Saudi Arabia has increased its production in an effort to make production of shale oil in the United States and Canada less attractive.

Fletcher says that Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don’t want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.”

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

If the Caribbean is really serious about sustainable development and wants its economies to develop with some level of certainty, “we can’t be at the mercy of a widely fluctuating oil market,” Fletcher stresses.

“So, for me, what is happening in the oil market is reason why, as much as possible, we should get either out of it or insulate ourselves from it – and that’s why renewable energy makes so much sense to us.”

As opposed to dependence on oil, Fletcher says, if Caribbean countries are depending on renewable energy then there is “much more certainty” of what the price of energy will be.

“… With prices fluctuating so much not because of any huge difference in technology and any difference in supply in the Middle East or any glut in the supply market, I think that’s why we should be getting pursuing our renewable energies programme with more haste and more energy,” Fletcher tells IPS.

In St. Lucia, consumers pay 38 cents for one kilowatt-hour of electricity. The government hopes that its investments in renewable energy could see that price reduced to 30 cents.

St. Lucia is home to Sulphur Sprints, the “world’s only drive in volcano” — a smoking caldera located near Soufrière on the southwestern side of the island, where the natural heat boils the water and geysers shoot into the air at high tide and full moon.

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

It stands to reason that geothermal energy will be the nation’s focus as it pivots to renewable energy.

Fletcher tells IPS wind and solar PV are intermittent sources of energy “and we really can’t complete a transition away from fossil fuel based on intermittent sources, unless we invest heavily in storage, which we really don’t have the capacity to do right now.”

St. Lucia has received financial and technical support from the government of New Zealand, SIDS-DOCK, and the Global Environmental Facility to conduct the initial stage of exploration, which will start soon, Fletcher says.

LUCILEC, the state-owned power company in St. Lucia, will purchase the electricity from the power plant developer, ORMAK of Isreal, and resell it to consumers.

Fletcher tells IPS that the government is pleased with the pace of the negotiations but notes that developing geothermal potential takes time.

“But at least it puts us on track to developing what we believe is as much as 30 megawatts of geothermal energy in Soufriere,” he says.

And while geothermal energy has been identified as the booster that St. Lucia’s tourism industry has been longing for, exploiting that same renewable energy potential could deal a devastating blow to the nation’s tourism product.

“There is one little wrinkle in that, because the drive-in volcano is also located within the Piton Management Area, and the Piton Management Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is located in one of the policy areas where we are restricted in the level of infrastructural development that can take place,” Fletcher explains.

“So what we will be doing is looking at drill sites outside of the immediate vicinity of the drive-in volcano, but we are quite confident that we will have quite productive wells outside of that immediate area.”

St. Lucia is also exploring the development of a 12-megawatt wind farm on the island’s east cost and has been having discussion with an entity in the United States in this regard.

The third element of the renewable energy push is solar PV, the first stage of which will be done by LUCILEC, which has invited responses to proposal for a 1.2-megawatt facility in the south of St. Lucia, the intention being that it will be scaled up to 3 megawatts in the near future.

In this regard, the government is working with the Carbon War Room and the Clinton Initiative, which have been supporting the renewable energy programme.

Fletcher tells IPS that the move toward renewable energy, coupled with energy saving initiatives — such reducing from 4.0 million dollars to 2.6 million annually the amount spent on street lighting by switching to LED bulbs — will have a “tremendous” impact on St. Lucia.

The government is moving to make its own buildings more energy efficient, and will take to Parliament legislation to provide home and land tax, income tax rebate for people who are retrofitting their homes with energy efficient devices or installing grid-tie solar PV.

“What that does is many-fold. First of all, it causes our economic sector to be much more competitive,” Fletcher says, adding that a large portion of spending in the tourism sector is on energy.

“When you now superimpose on that the work we are doing with renewables, that, hopefully, will cause a reduction in the price of electricity from what it is right now, which 38 US cents per hour, to something approaching 30 cents. Then the expenditure by our hotels, by our manufacturing sector, the expenditure by people who are interested in value-added in agriculture, that expenditure goes down and it makes those sectors more competitive,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“On the household side, any money that is not being spent on energy is money that can be spent on something else. And so our focus is not just on the commercial establishments but also to get our residential consumers to benefit from the reduction in the cost of electricity, but also by putting in energy saving measures in their homes and giving them concessions to do that, that they will realise significant savings where their energy expenditure is concerned.”

Fletcher is one of St. Lucia’s and CARICOM’s negotiator at the global climate change talks, where the nations of the worlds are slated to sign a binding deal for reducing global warming in Paris later this year.

He tells IPS that at the international climate change negotiations, St. Lucia has been saying to developed countries that they have to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to keep global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, as proposed by experts.

“Now, it strengthens our case. It strengthens our moral argument if we can say that a country like St. Lucia that contributes … something like 0.00078 per cent of all green house gases, we recognise the importance of this being a global effort and we are still committing to reducing our carbon footprint by 30, 40, 50 per cent.

“Then we believe that the big emitters, like the United States, like the European countries, like China, like Russia, that they also should be doing more to reduce their greenhouse emissions. So, I think it strengthens our hand in the international negotiations where climate change is concerned,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with Chinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139304 The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

The government of Argentina is building a marriage of convenience with China, which some see as uneven and others see as an indispensable alliance for a new level of insertion in the global economy.

The process forms part of a radical change with respect to Argentina’s diplomacy, which years back involved ties with the United States described as “carnal relations.”

President Cristina Fernández called the new relationship with China an “integral strategic alliance,” after signing a package of 22 agreements with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The accords include areas like space technology, mining, energy, financing, livestock and cultural matters. They cover the construction of two nuclear and two hydropower plants, considered key to this country’s goal of energy self-sufficiency.

“Although they are important, the new agreements and others that were signed earlier are insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment,” said Jorge Castro, the director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China.

“For Argentina, the relationship with China has elements that are essential for insertion into the international system of the 21st century, along with other countries of the South, headed by Brazil,” he told IPS.

“These ties are between the new fulcrum of the global economy, China-Asia, and Argentina as a nation and as a regional unit,” he said.

Castro pointed out that Asia’s giant is currently South America’s leading trade partner, due to the volume of its purchases of raw materials, which implies a level of interdependence given that “China has placed the food security of its population in the hands of South American countries.”

In the case of Argentina, China is its second-largest trading partner, after neighbouring Brazil – displacing long-time partners like the United States and European countries.

In 2014, exports to China totalled five billion dollars while imports stood at 10.8 billion dollars – a bilateral record which represented 11.5 percent of this country’s trade balance, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

Before Fernández’s visit to China, the two countries had already signed investment agreements in strategic sectors, such as the one between China’s Sinopec and Argentina’s YPF, two state-owned oil companies, for the exploitation of one of the Loma Campana deposits of unconventional oil and gas resources in Vaca Muerta in southern Argentina.

There was also an accord for China to provide some 2.5 billion dollars in financing for the reconstruction of the railway of the Belgrano Cargas y Logística company, which will transport Argentine and Brazilian agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

“The investment agreements with China are important to the extent that they facilitate the conditions to continue generating, for example, the infrastructure for development that Argentina needs, in a scenario” of a shortage of foreign currency, economist Fernanda Vallejos told IPS.

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

In July 2014, Argentina reached an 11 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, to shore up this country’s weakened foreign reserves, of which it received one billion dollars in December.

The swap “has been a very powerful instrument,” which is added to measures by the government and the Central Bank to promote exchange stability and help slow down inflation, said Vallejos, a member of a group that advises the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.

Critical voices

Sectors of the business community are critical of the alliance with Beijing, such as the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) or the Chamber of Exports, which sounded a warning about the asymmetrical nature of the relationship.

This country’s exports to China are only half of what it imports from the Asian giant, and they are basically raw materials or farm products. A full 75 percent is soy or by-products.

Imports, by contrast, are mainly machinery and electronics, computers, telephones, chemical products, motorcycles or parts for household appliances.

The UIA said the framework agreement on economic cooperation and investment, signed in July 2014 and pending final approval by the legislature, “contains clauses that pose an enormous risk to Argentina’s development.”

“Over the last decade, China’s strategy has pursued two central objectives: to consolidate its transnational companies in global value chains and to obtain commodities and inputs with little value-added, for its growing productive and employment needs,” the UIA said in a communiqué.

“In free trade agreements in this era of globalisation, the essential thing is not trade but investment,” said Castro, who questioned the concept of “asymmetry” and backed the agreement with China.

The China expert said the relationship should be analysed in a broader context. For example, by remembering that in the next 10 years, China’s foreign direct investment is estimated to climb to 1.1 trillion dollars.

“The question is how to manage to be part of China’s flow of investment in industry in the next 10 to 20 years,” Castro said.

The UIA agrees that it is important to be part of that current, but with allocations that would not harm local goods and services, which have no chance of receiving Chinese financing, the business chamber said.

The UIA and some trade unions also worry that Chinese labour power, which is included in several projects, will displace local workers.

“Don’t worry, we continue to defend Argentine workers and the business community’s participation,” said centre-left President Fernández, who urged those sectors to engage in technical discussions about the accords.

The new empire?

Some in Argentina see the China of the 21st century as the new England of the 19th century or the United States of the 20th century, in terms of economic and territorial hegemony and domination.

They also question the construction of a Chinese space tracking and control station in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, which according to the government will monitor, control and gather data as part of China’s programme of missions to explore the moon and outer space.

Raúl Dobrusin, an opposition legislator from Neuquén, told IPS that the agreement, which grants China the use of 200 hectares for 50 years and is opposed by left-wing groups and social organisations, did not go through the Neuquén provincial legislature, which was not informed of the details of the accord.

So far there is no Chinese military presence in the construction project, said Dobrusin, but in his view, the space station poses “major geopolitical risks.”

“If there is a confrontation between powerful nations, we will be a place to be taken into account by the enemies of China…In short, we are getting into an area where the possibility of deciding whether or not to participate in conflicts is no longer a sovereign decision, they won’t ask us,” he warned.

“The alliance transcends economic matters and forms part of the search for independence, on both the economic and political fronts, which makes it possible to reach economic and social development goals, by breaking the yoke of neoliberalism and the empire-dependence logic,” said Vallejos.

China, in her view, “is far from the voracity of the Western powers…It is part of a new global order that is struggling to be born, where the role of emerging countries is no longer one of colonialism but of assuming the position of builders of our own destiny,” said the economist.

“That does not mean that China isn’t obtaining benefits from its ties with our nations, but that it is possible to build a win-win relationship for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Biogas Eases Women’s Household Burden in Rural Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:34:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139281 Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

By Ivet González
LOS ARABOS, Cuba, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

On the blue flame of her biogas stove, it takes half as long for rural doctor Arianna Toledo to heat bath water and cook dinner as it did four years ago, when she still used electric power or firewood.

The installation of a biodigester, which uses pig manure to produce biogas for use in cooking food, cut the expenses and the time spent on food preparation for Toledo’s five-member family, who live in the town of Cuatro Esquinas, Los Arabos municipality in the western Cuban province of Matanzas.

“The main savings is in time, because the gas stove cooks faster,” Toledo told Tierramérica. She and the rest of the women in the family shoulder the burden of the household tasks, as in the great majority of Cuban homes.

Another 20 small biogas plants operate in homes in this town located 150 km from Havana, and over 300 more in the entire province of Matanzas, installed with support from a project run by the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD-C), based in Cárdenas, a city in the same province.“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden. That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.” -- Rita María García

The ecumenical institution seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas by fomenting ecological practices, which mitigate environmental damage, soil degradation and poor use of water.

Another key aim of the biodigester project is also to ease the work burden and household expenses of rural women.

“Our monthly power bill has been reduced, and we spend less on cooking gas cylinders, while at the same time we’re protecting the environment by using a renewable natural resource,” Toledo said.

In Cuba, 69 percent of families depend on electricity for cooking.

Toledo’s husband, Carlos Alberto Tamayo, explained to Tierramérica that using the biodigester, the four pigs they raise for family consumption guarantee the fuel needed for their home.

“And the organic material left over is used as natural fertiliser for our garden, where we grow fruit and vegetables,” said Tamayo, an Episcopal pastor in Cuatro Esquinas, which has a population of just over 2,300.

He said the biodigester prevents bad smells and the spread of disease vectors, while the gas is safer because it is non-toxic and there is a lower risk of accidents or explosions.

With the support of international development funds from several countries, for 15 years the CCRD-C has been promoting household use of these systems, reforestation and renewable energies, which are a priority for this Caribbean island nation, where only 4.3 percent of the energy consumed comes from clean sources.

The biodigesters, which are homemade in this case, will mushroom throughout Cuba over the next five years.

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The Swine Research Institute’s Biogas Promotion and Development Centre is designing a national plan to promote the use of biodigesters in state companies and agricultural cooperatives.

In 2014, the Centre reported that there were 1,000 biodigesters in these two sectors, which benefited 4,000 people, in the case of the companies, and 8,000 people, in the case of the farming cooperatives.

The plan projects the construction of some 1,000 biodigesters a year by 2020, through nine projects implemented by the Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers, which will receive financing from the United Nations Small Grants Programme.

According to Rita María García, director of the CCRD-C, monitoring of the project has shown that replacing the use of firewood, kerosene and petroleum-based products with biogas makes household work more humane.

Women gain in safety and time – important in a country where unpaid domestic work absorbs 71 percent of the working hours of women, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden,” said García. “That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.”

The methodology followed by the CCRD-C projects first involves training for the beneficiaries in construction and maintenance of the biodigesters, and in ecological farming techniques using organic fertiliser, said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the organisation’s general coordinator.

The CCRD-C also promotes reforestation by small farmers and the use of windmills, to reduce the use of electricity in a country that imports 53 percent of the fuel it consumes.

An additional benefit of the biodigesters is that they offer an alternative for the disposal of pig manure, which contaminates the environment.

In 2013 there were 16.7 million pigs in Cuba, 65 percent of which were in private hands in this highly-centralised, socialist economy.

Because pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, and many private farmers and families raise pigs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are fomenting the installation of biodigesters, to help boost production.

The authorities require those who raise pigs to guarantee adequate disposal of their waste.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used for cooking food, lighting, refrigeration and power generation.

Biodigesters help reduce soil and groundwater pollution, and curb the cutting of trees for firewood.

Cuba introduced their use in the 1980s, with U.N. support. But they began to take off a decade later, thanks to the National Biogas Movement.

Studies reported by the local press say the annual national potential for biogas production is over 400 million cubic metres, which would generate 700 gigawatt-hours per year.

That would reduce the release of carbon dioxide by more than three million tons, and would reduce oil imports by 190,000 tons a year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

 

 

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Getting Bang for the Buck on New Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/getting-bang-for-the-buck-on-new-development-goals/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 13:57:21 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139148 Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Worker on a farm in Felicity, Chaguanas, Trinidad, harvesting sweet potatoes. Climate change has brought drastic changes in the weather of this twin-island Caribbean nation. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Bjørn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Right now, the United Nations is negotiating one of the world’s potentially most powerful policy documents. It can influence trillions of dollars, pull hundreds of millions out of poverty and hunger, reduce violence and improve education — essentially make the world a better place. But much depends on this being done well.

In the year 2000, the U.N. laid the foundation for the Millennium Development Goals, which comprised 21 mostly sharp and achievable targets in eight areas, including poverty and hunger, gender equality, education, and child and maternal health.Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

These goals have been hugely successful, not only in driving more development funding but also in making the world better. For instance, the world promised to halve the proportion of people hungry counting from 1990. And the progress has been remarkable.

In 1990, almost 24 percent of all people in the developing world were starving. In 2012, ‘only’ 14.5 percent were starving, and if current trends continue, the world will reach 12.2 percent in 2015, just shy of the halving at 11.9 percent.

Likewise, we promised to cut by half the proportion of poor. In 1990, 43 percent of the developing world lived below a dollar a day. In 2010, the proportion had already been more than halved at 20.6 percent – on current trends the proportion will drop below 15 percent by 2015, showing spectacular progress.

With the MDGs ending this year, we have to ask what’s next. The U.N. has started an inclusive process from the 2012 Rio Earth summit to define so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030.

So, over the coming months, countries, missions, U.N. organisations and NGOs will perform a complex dance to determine – and hopefully whittle down – the next set of targets. But that’s easier said than done. Last summer, 70 U.N. ambassadors in the open working group proposed a vertiginous 169 targets. Clearly we need priorities.

The SDGs will determine a large part of the 2.5 trillion dollars in development aid the world will spend until 2030. In order to spend the money most effectively and help as many people as possible, negotiators now need to zero in on the targets that promise the biggest benefit for the investment.

My think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 60 teams of top economists, including several Nobel laureates, to identify which targets will do the most good for each dollar spent. Imagine sitting in a high-end restaurant with a menu lacking prices or sizes. You do not know whether the pizza costs two dollars or 2,000 dollars, or whether it will feed just you or your entire party.

This is where the U.N. is today – lots of well-intentioned targets with no prices or sizes. Our economists have taken the 169 targets and evaluated the social costs and benefits of each.

The best ones – the targets that have economic, social and environmental benefits 15 times or higher their costs – are painted bright green. Less good ones are light green, mediocre ones yellow and the poor targets – the ones that cost more than the good they do – red. Backed by thousands of pages of peer reviewed economic research, such a simple colour scheme will hopefully help the world’s busy decision makers focus on picking the most effective targets.

Reducing malaria and tuberculosis, for example, is a phenomenal target. Its costs are small because solutions are simple, cheap and well-documented. Its benefits are large, not only because it avoids death and prolonged, agonizing sickness, but also improves societal productivity and initiates a virtuous circle.

Similarly, we should focus on at least halving malnutrition, because there is robust evidence that proper nutrition for young children leads to a lifetime of large benefits – better brain development, improved academic performance, and ultimately higher productivity as adults. For every dollar spent, future generations will receive at least 45 dollars in benefits.

But at what point do goals simply become aspirations? While many ambitious goals are commendable, they may be unrealistic in practice – and could hinder instead of help progress.

For example, setting an absolute goal of ending global malnutrition, warn the economists, may sound alluring, but is implausibly optimistic and inefficient. We cannot achieve it, and even if we could, the resources to help the last hungry person would be better spent elsewhere.

At the other end of the scale, some proposed targets are ineffective. The doubling of the renewable energy share by 2030, for example, sounds great in theory but practically is an expensive way to cut just a little CO₂. Instead, the focus should be on providing more energy to poor people, a proven way of inclusive growth and poverty alleviation.

And in order to reduce carbon emissions, removing fossil fuel subsidies in third world countries promises much higher benefits. Reducing these subsidies in countries where gasoline is sometimes sold for a few cents per liter would stop wasting resources, send the right price signals, and reduce the strain on government budgets, while also cutting emissions.

Of course, the ultimate decision for the Sustainable Development Goals is a political one. No doubt, economics is not the only measure of what the global society should ultimately choose as its development priorities, but costs and benefits do play an important role.

But if well-documented economic arguments can help even just to swap a few poor targets for a few phenomenal ones, leveraging trillions of dollars in development aid and government budgets in the right direction, even small adjustments can make a world of difference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warming, Wildfires and Worrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warming-wildfires-and-worries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:22:24 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139127 A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

World leaders from government, finance, business, science and civil society are attempting to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change at the upcoming 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference being convened in Paris in December.

If achieved, which appears uncertain at present, the agreement aimed at addressing global warming would begin to take effect some time in the future. In the meantime, local communities are being forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as the increasing incidence of wildfires.The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia.

As a result of the world’s warming the frequency and duration of large wildfires and the area burned have been increasing. Longer fire seasons, warmer temperatures, which are conducive to widespread insect infestations killing more trees, and drier conditions, including more droughts, are contributing to more severe wildfire risks and growing worries for local communities.

Worldwide it is estimated that somewhere between 75 million and 820 million hectares of land burn each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “climate variability is often the dominant factor affecting large wildfires” despite widespread management practices aimed at reducing flammable materials in forests.

Various climate models are forecasting higher temperatures and longer droughts, which in turn are expected to increase wildfire frequency. While more rainfall in some areas might reduce fire frequency, it may also foster more forest vegetation that provides more fuel for wildfires. Lightning strikes, often an ignition source for wildfires, are also expected to increase with global warming.

The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia. The costs of wildfires in terms of risks to human life and property damage are enormous and are expected to increase substantially in the coming years.

Wildfires also have serious environmental and health consequences. In addition to threats to humans and wildlife, wildfires contribute to local air pollution, which exacerbate lung diseases, and cause breathing problems even in healthy individuals.

Most wealthy industrialised nations have developed mechanisms and organisations and allocated human and financial resources to combat wildfires and mitigate their devastating consequences. Less developed countries, in contrast, often lack the resources and governmental organisations to tackle wildfires and handle their effects.

As might be expected, people’s vulnerability to global warming varies greatly by region, wealth and access to alternatives. Some less developed nations, in particular small island nations and low-lying territories, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These nations are seeking mitigation monies from the wealthy, industrialised countries to help them adapt to the impending catastrophes from climate change.

Based on the available statistical evidence, the overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that climate change is due to greenhouse-gas emissions. Some powerful voices, however, are in denial, disputing the causes of global warming often because of self-interest, resistance to change and fear of governmental and outside interventions and regulations.

Local communities, however, do not have the luxury of debating the causes and consequences of climate change. Communities are forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as increasing wildfires, rising sea levels, droughts, etc.

With a possible global agreement on climate change now being debated and negotiated by major world powers, one small community in the Bahamas decided that they needed to do something about the increased threat of large wildfires to life and property due to global warming.

On a plot of land leased from the Bahamian government, the community of Bahama Palm Shores consisting of some 100 households located in the Abacos Island financed and built their own firehouse.

The homeowners -men and women and young and old- donated their time, labour and limited financial resources to build their local firehouse. They were also able to collect 12,000 dollars in donations to purchase a used 1985 fire truck from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

In addition to an occasional bingo night, the community has organised a 30-mile Bike-a-Thon on Valentine’s Weekend of about three dozen riders to raise funds to maintain the firehouse and fire truck as well as support volunteer fire services.

Many communities recognise the need to organise and work together to ensure that local climate change adaptation measures are effective. Non-governmental organisations, especially environmental groups, are also encouraging and supporting citizens at various levels to due their part to reduce the impact of climate change.

However, the only long-term solution to global warming is a legally binding and international agreement on climate among all nations of the world, which is the overall objective of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December.

As witnessed at the recent U.N. Summit on Climate Change held in New York City, heads of state and government officials often announce impressive actions and ambitious goals intended to avert the worst consequences of global warming as well as address the vocal concerns of activist environmental groups. When it comes to adopting coordinated action at the global level for nearly 200 countries, things become enormously more complex and difficult.

Some observers consider the chances of achieving an international, binding climate agreement by the year’s end to be slim. They see powerful factors, including the industrial complexes reliance on fossil fuels, economic and business interests, and short-term, parochial nation-state interests, undermining the chances for an agreement.

In addition, even if an international climate convention were to be reached, they contend that it would be almost impossible to enforce.

Others, however, believe that a global climate convention is not only possible, but that it may lead to payoffs that will have meaningful impacts on confronting climate change. Not only will an international agreement buttress the abilities of individual nations to address climate change, it will also send a clear message to businesses and guide investments toward low carbon emission outcomes.

While communities around the world wait hopefully for the outcome of the U.N. Climate Change Conference to kick in, they have little choice but to do the best they can to deal with the consequences of global warming, including more bike-a-thons, bingo games and other fund raising events.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Climate Talks Advance Link Between Gender and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 17:21:24 +0000 Denise M. Fontanilla http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139119 Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

By Denise M. Fontanilla
GENEVA, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A week of climate negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland Feb. 8-13 are setting the stage for what promises to be a busy year. In order to reach an agreement in Paris by December, negotiators will have to climb a mountain of contentious issues which continue to overshadow the talks.

One such issue is the relevance of gender in the climate change negotiations.“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions, especially at the community level." -- Verona Collantes

While gender mainstreaming has become a standard practice within development circles and was a critical aspect of the Millennium Development Goals, it still remains on the fringes of the U.N. climate discussions.

Recent developments have forced gender back into the spotlight thanks to concise action this week from the representatives of a number of countries, including the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Sudan, Mexico, Chile and the EU.

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs under the Dominican Republic’s vice presidency, has been one of the most vocal proponents of gender equality in the negotiations. According to the Germanwatch Long-Term Climate Risk Index, the Dominican Republic was the eighth most affected country in terms of the impacts of climate change over the past two decades.

However, as Cohn-Lois explained, her passion for Gender rights here in Geneva has been inspired by a particularly localised experience of marginalised women in Jimani, on the southern border with Haiti.

“The area that has been the most affected by climate change is actually the poorest. Of the people living there, the most heavily impacted by climate change are women, many of which are actually heads of their families,” she said.

Cohn-Lois added that many of the women in this area are single mothers, with some taking care of both elderly relatives and children. These women are some of the most vulnerable to climate change in the Dominican Republic and face several challenges, including gaining access to clean water.

“Since the southern side is such an arid part, access to water is still an issue. They can only afford to buy water weekly or even biweekly and find a way to [store] it,” she said.

She also noted that they have a wind farm in the area which provides electricity to most of the houses there.

Cohn-Lois is aware that women face similar challenges all over the world. Through her diplomatic post, she has markedly advanced the awareness of the importance of gender equality within the U.N. climate negotiations.

This week, she has called not only for gender equality in relation to climate change, but also gender-sensitivity, particularly and the value of community-based approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation programmes.

However, as Verona Collantes of UN Women argues, the task is not only to recognise that women are more affected by climate change, but to ensure they are a large part of the solution.

“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions especially at the community level,” the Filipina said.

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people the most, and according to U.N. figures, women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor.

Collantes also noted that women, especially indigenous women, make up the majority of those involved in agriculture and sustainable forest management, which is why it is critical they be represented in discussions on reducing forest-related emissions, here at the U.N. climate negotiations.

“When the man goes to earn a living, it’s the woman who becomes the chief of the household. It’s tied to the management of natural resources and livelihood, using fuel to warm their houses or cook their food, and fetching water – all of those have implications on climate change which, more and more, the parties to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] are increasingly recognizing,” she added.

A history of gender in the climate talks

While the U.N climate convention itself did not originally have a reference to gender, it began to be integrated into the talks at the 2001 conference in Marrakech, Morocco. There, negotiators agreed to improve women’s participation in all decision-making processes under the talks.

Following this milestone, the issue became dormant. For the next 12 years, gender was barely mentioned within the negotiations. Then, at the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar, it was finally revived, thanks largely to a new wave of gender-sensitive negotiators such as Anniete Cohn-Lois.

According to Collantes, the issue then became dormant for almost 10 years. It was not until 2010 in Cancun, Mexico that gender equality once again came under consideration. And it was in Doha that the agreement began to shift from merely a recognition of gender balance towards ensuring women’s capacities are enhanced and formally recognised within the U.N. climate negotiations.

In 2013, a further workshop was held on gender, climate change, and the negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. At that stage, countries and observer organisations submitted ideas on how to advance the gender balance goal.

Last December, a two-year work programme to further explore gender issues was established in Lima, Peru. UN Women is also continuing this work, and currently preparing for another workshop in June on gender-responsive mitigation, technology development and transfer.

“We look at it from the aspect of women’s participation in the development of technology, women’s access to those technologies. Are they part of the beneficiaries? Were they even thought of as beneficiaries in the beginning?” Collantes said.

However, in Warsaw, the U.N. reported that less than 30 per cent of negotiators representing their countries were women. Since then, there have been small representational improvements, but we are still very far from achieving gender equality within the U.N. representatives, let alone in their decisions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Denise Fontanilla is a Filipina climate activist currently tracking the U.N. climate negotiations in Geneva. This article was made possible through a collaboration with adoptanegotiator.org.

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Money Pipeline Flowing Between U.S. Congress and Big Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 00:02:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139107 Representatives from a coalition of over 30 environmental and progressive groups delivered more than 800,000 messages to Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in 2012 urging them to block attempts to resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Credit: 350.org/cc by 2.0

Representatives from a coalition of over 30 environmental and progressive groups delivered more than 800,000 messages to Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in 2012 urging them to block attempts to resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Credit: 350.org/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

With battle lines sharpening over the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, a new analysis details the intense industry lobbying of both houses of the U.S. Congress since 2013 – to the tune of 58.8 million dollars by five refinery companies alone.

According to MapLight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organisation that reveals money’s influence on politics, the oil and gas industry gave, on average, 13 times more money to members of the House of Representatives who voted “yes” (43,375 dollars) on the bill called H.R. 3 than those who voted against it (3,610 dollars)."Another climate denier-controlled House vote in favour of oil isn't a surprise, and the Democrats who voted with them of course are oil-funded politicians too." -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace

The bill would allow TransCanada to build the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline without a presidential permit or additional environmental review. It passed the House on Wednesday with a vote of 270-152.

The U.S. Senate approved a virtually identical measure last month.

“How can we truly trust legislators to vote in the public interest when they are dependent on industry campaign funding to get elected?” Pamela Behrsin of MapLight told IPS. “Our broken money and politics system forces lawmakers into a conflict of interest between lawmakers’ voters and their donors.”

She noted that Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota and the sponsor of the legislation, received 222,400 dollars from the oil and gas industry, the ninth most among members of the House voting on H.R. 3.

Figures for the Senate were comparable, with the oil and gas industry giving, on average, 10 times more money to senators who supported the measure (236,544 dollars). The Senate sponsor, John Hoeven – also a Republican from North Dakota – received 275,998 dollars.

“Big Oil thinks it can buy votes in DC, and unfortunately the Keystone vote shows that is still possible in the halls of Congress,” David Turnbull of Oil Change International, a nonprofit working to promote a shift away from fossil fuels, told IPS.

“But what’s more important is that Big Oil can’t buy the American people, who are standing up to the industry’s bullying in Washington and demanding the president reject the pipeline and take bold action to move us off fossil fuels and towards a safer climate future.”

President Barack Obama has 10 days to decide on a veto. Since the 1,179-mile pipeline crosses national borders, Obama needs to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the “national interest” in order for it to be approved. The new legislation would circumvent such approval.

The pipeline has united every prominent U.S. environmental group in opposition, and even prompted the venerable Sierra Club to suspend its 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, was arrested in front of the White House during a protest against Keystone in February 2013, and there have been massive rallies against it since then.

Studies have shown that burning the heavy oil the pipeline would carry would emit more than 181 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – equal to the emissions of nearly 38 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves need to be kept in the ground in order to have a 50 percent chance of staying below the two-degree threshold of warming that could avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Kyle Ash of Greenpeace told IPS that since the House had already passed the companion of the Senate bill, normally each chamber would reconcile their respective bills in conference, especially since both chambers are now controlled by the Republicans.

Instead, the full House went ahead and voted on the Senate version without making any changes, “apparently because GOP leaders fear that House Republican conferees will be too crazy”.

“As the Senate votes on climate amendments like Hoeven and Schatz also demonstrated, that the House voted on S.1 (the Senate version of the bill) ironically may be a sign that at least the crassest of congressional fossil fuel love is no longer in vogue,” he said.

“Another climate denier-controlled House vote in favour of oil isn’t a surprise, and the Democrats who voted with them of course are oil-funded politicians too.”

Indeed, MapLight found that the oil and gas industry gave, on average, 3.2 times more money to Democratic Senators voting for S.1 (73,279 dollars) compared to Democratic and Independent Senators voting against it (22,882 dollars).

The industry gave, on average, five times more money to Democratic Representatives voting “yes” (18,199 dollars) on H.R. 3 compared to Democratic and Independent Representatives voting “no” (3,610 dollars).

“We’ve done quite a bit of work on the massive amount of money members of Congress receive from the industry,” Turnbull said. “Indeed, it’s unfortunately not a surprise.”

The pipeline would carry petroleum from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and MapLight notes that some of Keystone XL’s strongest supporters are the Gulf Coast refinery companies that have expanded their facilities and would benefit from Canadian oil that will flow through the pipeline.

Valero, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Motiva Enterprises (a company owned by Shell and the Saudi Arabian state oil company Saudi Aramco) constitute the five companies with the most refinery capacity along the Gulf Coast, the group says.

Together, the five companies control 45 percent of the refining capacity in the U.S., and all have been reported as possible customers of the pipeline.

“The vote in Congress on Keystone XL is a desperate distraction by an oil-soaked Congress. The president has said numerous times that he will veto the bill, and he’s right to do so,” Turnbull said.

“As the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] recently laid out, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline clearly fails the president’s own climate test, and should be rejected. The president has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline and we hope he does so as soon as possible, so we can all move on to building the clean energy economy rather than catering to the whims of Big Oil.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month found 34 percent of respondents wanted the pipeline built now, while 61 percent said the environmental impact reviews – including by the State Department and the heads of eight other government agencies – should continue.

“The House is expediting this bill getting to the president so they can gloat about how Congress loves oil and he doesn’t – despite the Obama administration going out of its way to expand oil drilling on public lands,” Ash said.

“However, the KXL pipeline may have died when the president agreed with New York Times reporter Tom Friedman last June that growing fossil fuel supply is bad for the climate (‘we can’t burn it all’). I believe he will do as he said and veto this bill.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.N. Touts 2015 as Milestone Year for World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:25:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139103 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, in a sustained political hype, is touting 2015 as a likely breakthrough year for several key issues on its agenda – primarily development financing, climate change, sustainable development, disaster risk-reduction and nuclear non-proliferation.

At the same time, the world body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year while also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Conference on Women which strengthened gender empowerment worldwide."Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century." -- James Paul

In a report titled ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’ released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 2015 is “the time for global action.”

The upcoming events include the Third World Conference on Disaster-Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March; the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty in April-May in New York; and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa in July.

Speaking to reporters last week, the secretary-general singled out three priorities “I have been repeating all the time.”

“We have to do the utmost efforts to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (ending 2015). Then the Member States are working very hard to shape the post-2015 development agenda by September.”

The United Nations will host a special summit of world leaders, Sep. 25 to 27, and “we expect that most of the world leaders will be here and discuss and adopt and declare as their vision to the world, aiming by 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

And in December this year, he said, “we must have a universal, meaningful climate change agreement” in talks scheduled to take place in Paris.

At each of these “milestones,” he pointed out, “we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reduce inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompany the climate challenge.”

As for the 70th anniversary, he said, it will be “an important moment for serious reflection on our achievements and setbacks”.

But Jim Paul, who monitored the United Nations for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS he was sceptical of the political hype surrounding the upcoming conferences.

“The United Nations has been trumpeting the global meetings of 2015 as watershed events, but real world expectations are lagging behind the rhetoric of the secretary-general and his team,” he said.

Paul said there are several issues to bear in mind: while the U.N.’s summits address some of the world’s most pressing issues, powerful member states like the United States usually seek to weaken the events and prevent strong outcomes.

This trend was already visible in the 1990s, the golden decade of U.N. summits, when Washington began to insist that summits were too “expensive” and reached too far, said Paul, a onetime lecturer and assistant professor of political science at Empire State College in the State University of New York system.

“That policy reached its most extreme form in the run-up to the summit of 2005, when the U.S. insisted on a massive, last-minute re-working of the agreed text, but it can be found in many other cases before and since,” he said.

Paul pointed out that powerful states, the U.S. first and foremost, do not like to be limited by U.N.-based decisions.

Second, there is the problem of the lack of binding outcomes to these global events.

He said grand aspirations are often expressed in the outcome documents, and the word “binding” is sometimes used, but all participants know that the outcome will remain aspirational – not tough, compelling policy to be adhered to.

This gives rise to cynicism among the diplomats and especially among the public, urged by governments to blame “the U.N.” for its supposedly feckless behaviour (whilst they themselves are often at fault), he declared.

At a press conference last month, the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, said 70 years after the founding of the United Nations “we have a truly historic opportunity to agree on an inspiring agenda that can energize the international community, governments everywhere and the citizens of the world.”

“We must be ready to seize this challenge,” he added.

Speaking on the specifics of SDGs, Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Penang-based Third World Network, told IPS while the incorporation of the SDGs is an important part of the post-2015 development agenda, “We need to put the economic agenda as a priority for the Development Summit.”

She said financial instabilities “continue to loom before us, while increasingly anti-people and anti-development trade rules are being pushed by major developed countries in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The notoriety of transnational investors suing national governments for hundreds of millions of dollars under bilateral investment agreements has triggered protests in many countries, with some developing country governments reviewing and even terminating those grossly unfair treaties. “

She said the Addis Ababa conference is crucial for addressing several fundamental financial and economic issues – without structural reforms that respect national policy space and ensure stability, sustainable development will remain elusive.

Paul told IPS there are various alternative policy venues, such as the World Bank, the G-8, the G-20, the IMF, and so on.

The United Nations must confront the challenge of great powers who take decisions in venues they prefer and according to their own priorities and timetables.

Washington is certainly not the only U.N. member state to act this way, but as the biggest and richest, it has the strongest inclination to act according to its own perceived interests and not in a broadly consultative process, he said.

“Finally, we should remember the difficult policy context of 2015 – the deep crisis of climate change that requires decisions that go very far and necessarily upset the comfortable assumptions of the existing global order,” Paul noted.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 percent is so radical a goal that no one even wants to think about it, much less create policy around it, said Paul.

And creating a fair, stable and just global economic order under the Sustainable Development Goals appears also nearly impossible in a global economy that is stumbling seriously and creating ever-greater inequality. Will the world’s oligarchs concede power and revenues? he asked.

Does all this mean that the U.N.’s aspirational summit meetings in 2015 are useless or downright negative? Not necessarily.

“To know that we cannot expect a miracle is perhaps a valuable adjustment of our unreasonable expectations and a way to think more realistically about what can and cannot be accomplished,” Paul said.

“Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: People Power, the Solution to Climate Inactionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 11:15:55 +0000 Rob McCreath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139086 If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

By Rob McCreath
BRISBANE, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

Nothing is more important to farmers like me than the weather. It affects the growth and quality of our crops and livestock, and has a major impact on global food supply.

The world’s weather is being messed up by global warming, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

Every national science organisation in the developed world agrees that global warming is real and caused by human activities. That’s good enough for me.

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century – rendering large parts of it uninhabitable, including many currently densely populated areas, which will be under water due to melting glaciers and ice caps.

The impacts on farming in Australia (and everywhere else) of such a rise in temperature would be very severe indeed.

To avoid such a bleak future, we simply must stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If our politicians had any common sense, they would change quickly to renewable energy, but sadly they are captives of the fossil fuel industry that funds their re-election campaigns.

Just look at the Nationals, who in spite of claiming to represent farmers, this month declared donations of 30,000 dollars from oil & gas company Santos, 25,000 from coal miner Peabody, and 50,000 dollars from prominent climate change denier and coal & oil company director Ian Plimer.

So, for the sake of future generations, we have to make this change happen ourselves, and the best way to do this is to disrupt the business model of companies trying to make money from fossil fuels by pulling the financial rug out from underneath them.

It’s called divestment, which is simply the opposite of investment. Here’s how it works. If you’ve got shares in fossil fuel companies, then sell them and invest in something that won’t wreck the planet.

If your super fund invests in fossil fuels, then transfer your money to a fund that doesn’t. If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum, and the more people that take part, the better it works. Share prices (just like wheat and cattle prices) are set by supply and demand, so as more people sell, the price falls.

When a company’s share price falls far enough, it finds it more difficult to borrow money, with which to fund its next coal mine. Take oil and gas company Santos, for example. Due mainly to the recent plunge in oil prices, in the past six months its share price has dropped by almost 50 percent.

As a result, the company has announced plans to cut back on expenditure and reduce its operations.

On the flip side, the more money that flows into companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green technology, the faster they will grow and the sooner we can put a lid on runaway climate change.

A brave new world awaits. Let’s divest together and change the future!

Global Divestment Day will be taking place on Feb. 13-14. Hundreds of events spanning six continents will be taking place. Join an event near you. For more information visit: gofossilfree.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Zimbabwe’s Famed Forests Could Soon Be Deserthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/zimbabwes-famed-forests-could-soon-be-desert/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 18:46:55 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139046 Uncontrolled woodcutting in remote areas of Zimbabwe like Mwenezi district has left many treeless fields. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Uncontrolled woodcutting in remote areas of Zimbabwe like Mwenezi district has left many treeless fields. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

There’s a buzz in Zimbabwe’s lush forests, home to many animal species, but it’s not bees, bugs or other wildlife. It’s the sound of a high-speed saw, slicing through the heart of these ancient stands to clear land for tobacco growing, to log wood for commercial export and to supply local area charcoal sellers.

This, despite Zimbabwe being obliged under the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to ensure environmental sustainability by the end of this year.

“The rate at which deforestation is occurring here will convert Zimbabwe into an outright desert in just 35 years if pragmatic solutions are not proffered urgently and also if people keep razing down trees for firewood without regulation,” Marylin Smith, an independent conservationist based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, and former staffer in the government of President Robert Mugabe, told IPS.“The rate at which deforestation is occurring here will convert Zimbabwe into an outright desert in just 35 years if pragmatic solutions are not proffered urgently” – Marylin Smith, independent conservationist based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Zimbabwe lost an annual average of 327,000 hectares of forests between 1990 and 2010.

Smith blamed Zimbabwe’s deforestation on the growing numbers of tobacco farmers who were cutting “millions of tonnes of firewood each year to treat the cash crop.”

According to the country’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, Zimbabwe currently has 88,167 tobacco growers, whom environmental activists say are the catalysts of looming desertification here.

“Curing tobacco using huge quantities of firewood and even increased domestic use of firewood in both rural and urban areas will leave Zimbabwe without forests and one has to imagine how the country would look like after the demise of the forests,” Thabilise Mlotshwa, an ecologist from Save the Environment Association, an environmental lobby group here, told IPS.

“But really, it is difficult to object to firewood use when this is the only energy source most rural people have despite the environment being the worst casualty,” Mlotshwa added.

Zimbabwe’s deforestation crisis is linked to several factors.

“There are thousands of timber merchants who have no mercy with our trees as they see ready cash in almost every tree and therefore don’t spare the trees in order to earn money,” Raymond Siziba, an agricultural extension officer based in Mvurwi, a district approximately 100 kilometres north of the Zimbabwean capital Harare, told IPS.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), there were 66,250 timber merchants nationwide last year alone.

Deforestation is a complex issue. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that during the decade from 1980 to 1990, the world’s tropical forests were reduced by an average of 15.4 million hectares per year (an 0.8 percent annual rate of deforestation).

The area of land cleared during the decade is equivalent to nearly three times the size of France.

Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in sub-Saharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources.

Zimbabwe is not the only sub-Saharan country facing a crisis in its forests. A panel run by the United Nations and the African Union and led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki found that in Mozambique thousands more logs were exported to China than were legally reported.

Disappearing forest cover is a particular problem in Ghana, where non-timber forest products provide sustenance and income for 2.5 million people living in or near forest communities.

Between 1990 and 2005, Ghana lost over one-quarter of its total national forest cover. At the current rate of deforestation, the country’s forests could completely disappear in less than 25 years. Current attempts to address deforestation have stalled due to lack of collaboration between stakeholders and policy makers.

In west equatorial Africa, a study by Greenpeace has called logging the single biggest threat to the Congo Basin rainforest. At the moment, logging companies working mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are busy cutting down trees in over 50 million hectares of rainforest, or an area the size of France, according to its website.

An estimated 20 to 25 percent of annual deforestation is thought to be due to commercial logging. Another 15 to 20 percent is attributed to other activities such as cattle ranching, cash crop plantations and the construction of dams, roads, and mines.

However, deforestation is primarily caused by the activities of the general population. As the Zimbabwe economy plummets, indigenous timber merchants are on the rise, battling to eke a living, with environmentalists accusing them of fuelling deforestation.

For many rural dwellers, lack of electricity in most rural areas is creating unsustainable pressures on forests in Zimbabwe.

“Like several other remote parts of Zimbabwe, we have no electricity here and for years we have been depending on firewood, which is the main source of energy for rural dwellers even for the past generations, and you can just imagine the amount of deforestation remote areas continue to suffer,” 61-year-old Irene Chikono, a teacher from Mutoko, 143 kilometres east of Harare, told IPS.

Even Zimbabweans with access to electricity are at the mercy of erratic power supplies from the state-owned Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), which is failing to meet electricity demand owing to inadequate finances to import power.

“With increasing electricity outages here, I often resort to buying firewood from vendors at local market stalls, who get this from farms neighbouring the city,” 31-year-old Collina Hokonya, a single mother of three residing in Harare’s high density Mbare suburb, told IPS.

Government claims it is doing all it can to combat deforestation but, faced with this country’s faltering economy, indigenous timber merchants and villagers say it may be hard for them to refrain from tree-felling.

“We are into the timber business not by choice, but because of joblessness and we therefore want to make money in order to survive,” Mevion Javangwe, an indigenous timber merchant based in Harare, told IPS.

“A gradual return of people from cities to lead rural life as the economy worsens is adding pressure on rural forests as more and more people cut down trees for firewood,” Elson Moyo, a village head in Vesera village in Mwenezi, 144 kilometres south-west of Masvingo, told IPS.

“Politicians are plundering and looting the hardwood forest reserves since they own most sawmills, with their relatives fronting for them,” Owen Dliwayo, a civil society activist based in Chipinge, an eastern border town of Zimbabwe, told IPS.

“For all the forests that politicians plunder, they don’t pay a cent to council authorities and truly how do people get motivated to play a part in conserving hardwood forests?” Dliwayo asked.

“We will only manage to fight deforestation if government brings electricity to our doorsteps because without electricity we will keep cutting down trees for firewood,” said Chikono.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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