Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:13:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Fossil Fuels Won’t Benefit Africa in Absence of Sound Environmental Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:10:54 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137466 Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Recent discoveries of sizeable natural gas reserves and barrels of oil in a number of African countries — including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — have economists hopeful that the continent can boost and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. 

But environmentalists and climate change experts in favour of renewable energy say that the exploration of oil and gas must stop, as they are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment.

Economic policies are not driven by environmental concerns, Hadley Becha, director of local nongovernmental organisation Community Action for Nature Conservation, told IPS.

Becha said that despite the global shift away from fossil fuels, “exploration and production of oil and gas will continue” while Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are controlled by multinationals.

Like many experts in the oil and gas industry, Becha believes that multinationals will still be awarded permits by local governments as the extractive industry has shown a great potential for revenue generation.

According to KPMG Africa, a network of professional firms, as of 2012 there were 124 billion barrels of oil reserves discovered in Africa, with an additional 100 billion barrels still offshore waiting to be discovered.

And while only 16 African countries are exporters of oil as of 2010, at least five more countries, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, are expected to join the long list of oil-producing countries.

But Kenyan environmentalist and policy expert, Wilbur Otichillo, believes that in light of the global shift away from fossil fuels, “newly-found oil will remain underground. Most of the companies which have been given concessions for exploration in East Africa are from the West.”

He told IPS that these companies were likely to heed calls for clean energy, “especially since they are likely to be compensated for investments made to explore.”

But unlike Egypt, which has specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines for oil and gas exploration, many African countries, including Kenya, have only one classification of EIAs, Becha said.

For example, in Kenya, oil and gas exploration and production is controlled by the archaic Petroleum Act of 1984, which was briefly updated in 2012.

“The Petroleum Act of 1984 is a weak law, especially with regards to benefits sharing and is also silent on the management of gas,” Becha said, adding that the oil and gas sector was very specialised and required detailed and specific environmental impact guidelines.

Experts say fossil fuels will have a significant impact on weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last month, revealed that temperatures on the African continent are likely to rise significantly.

“There ought to be specific guidelines for upstream [exploration and production], midstream [transportation, storage and marketing of various oil and gas products] and downstream exploration [refining and processing of hydrocarbons into usable products such as gasoline],” Becha said.

Policy experts are pushing Kenya’s government to develop sound policies and comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that Kenya benefits from upstream activities and can also explore technology with fewer emissions.

Executive director of Green Africa Foundation John Kioli told IPS that Kenya was committed to adopting technology with fewer emissions “for example, coal [one of Kenya’s natural resources] will be mined underground as opposed to open mining.”

Kioli, the brains behind Kenya’s Climate Change Authority Bill 2012, emphasised the need to address the issue of governance and legislation in Africa.

He added that while Africa was committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, “the continent lacks the necessary resources. Africa cannot continue looking to the East or West indefinitely for these resources.”

Kenya’s government estimates that the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan for climate adaptation and mitigation would require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013-2014 national budget.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist and market researcher in East Africa, told IPS that to achieve growth and development, and hence reduce poverty, “Africa will need to exploit fossil fuels.”

He says that industrialised countries are responsible for a giant share of greenhouse gas emissions and Africa too “should be allowed their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, but within a certain period. Not indefinitely.”

Mwangangi said it is now common to find assistance to Africa simultaneously counted towards meeting climate change obligations and development commitments. “This means that measured against more pressing problems like combating various diseases, climate change projects will not be given a priority,” he added.

But even as Africa is adamant that oil and gas exploration will continue, Becha says the gains will be short term and unlikely to revive the economy.

“With oil and gas, it is not just about licensing, there are also issues of taxation…” Becha said.

He explained that in the absence of capital gains tax, as is the case in Kenya and many other African countries, “the government will lose a lot of revenue to briefcase exploration companies who act as middlemen, robbing national governments of significant revenue.”

He added that African countries will have to establish a solvent fund where revenue from oil and gas will be stored to stabilise the economy “oil can inflate the prices of certain commodities hence the need to control surges in inflation.”

Ghana is also among the few countries with a capital gains tax and a solvent fund.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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OPINION: Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Future for Industrial Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:07:26 +0000 Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137457 Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez
VIENNA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

As representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we are sometimes asked whether industrial development is still relevant to a world which many observers have claimed over the past decades to have entered the “post-industrial age”. Our answer is always an emphatic “yes”, shaped both by the evidence of history and current events.

In the wake of recession and sluggish growth, policymakers globally are increasingly recognising the merits of industrialisation, both in developing and in richer countries.

The European Union, Japan, the United States and a few other countries have given greater prominence to reindustrialisation in their respective economic policies in recent years, while both middle-income countries and least developed countries have cited industrialisation as vital for their future prosperity.An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.

UNIDO promotes industrial development as the primary vector through which poverty can be eradicated, by enhancing productivity, stimulating economic growth and generating associated increases in incomes and employment. We cooperate with governments and private sector actors to harness the investments necessary to strengthen the productive and trade capacities of our member states.

History has shown that industrialisation has an immense potential to propel upward social mobility; as a result of the Industrial Revolutions in England and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. Latterly, industrialisation has been central to the booming growth enjoyed by East Asian economies, and especially China, where GDP per capita has risen over 30-fold since 1978.

However, UNIDO recognises that while industrialisation has often been the motor for positive economic change, this has sometimes been achieved at the expense of social inequality and environmental degradation. Industrialisation must therefore be embedded in a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable policy framework if it is to achieve the desired developmental impact.

An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. At UNIDO’s 15th General Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2013, the organisation’s 172 member states unanimously adopted the Lima Declaration, giving UNIDO a mandate to promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) as the principal means of realising their industrial development policy objectives.

The achievement of ISID represents UNIDO’s vision for an approach that balances the imperatives of economic growth, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

The world is united in regarding poverty eradication as the overarching objective of development, and UNIDO’s member states have placed it at the core of ISID. Industrial development has been shown to be a key driver of processes which make a difference to the world’s poorest citizens.

Research from UNIDO demonstrates that countries with a larger share of industry in their economies perform better with regard to a wide range of indicators corresponding to social well-being, such as income inequality, educational opportunities, gender equality, health and nutrition. The contribution that ISID could make to youth empowerment through skills development and youth entrepreneurship is now widely recognised.

Similarly, environmental sustainability is also central to ISID. UNIDO promotes Green Industry and the use of clean technologies in industrial production; greater resource and energy efficiency; and improved water and waste management. Not only do these measures reduce harmful emissions and waste, but they also offer a significant potential for increased competitiveness and employment opportunities.

ISID also prioritises creating shared prosperity. This means that the benefits of growth must be inclusive if they are to improve the living standards of all women and men, young and old alike. Employment opportunities, particularly in the industrial and agro-industrial sectors, must be available to all members of the workforce, thus building greater prosperity and social cohesion.

As we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework in 2015, the international community has been reflecting on how best to address outstanding challenges. Although the MDGs achieved some remarkable successes, for example in terms of halving extreme poverty and increasing access to education and sanitation, much still remains to be done in order to achieve “the world we want”.

The post-2015 development agenda currently being discussed by the international community aims to address the many development issues that still need to be resolved. The Open Working Group, which was tasked with formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, has recognised the importance of inclusive and sustainable industrialisation by including it as one of the 17 Goals it has proposed, clustering it in Goal 9 with resilient infrastructure and innovation.

Given the ambitious scope of the post-2015 development agenda and experience gained over MDGs, the focus of international deliberations has now shifted from the determination of the SDGs to addressing the means of implementation.

Recognising the budgetary constraints imposed by the prolonged period of stagnant growth and recession experienced in many countries, the recent report of the International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing acknowledged the necessity of mobilising alternative resources for the implementation of the SDGs, including those of the private sector.

UNIDO has already worked extensively on securing greater engagement from private industry in international development, and over the past year was honoured to have been selected to co-lead the United Nations System’s consultations on engaging with the private sector. As the organisation mandated to promote industrial development, which is quintessentially a private-sector activity, we are well-placed to partner with and promote private enterprise, and look forward to achieving increased progress in this field in the future.

Industrialisation has consistently transformed living standards throughout modern history. ISID is the next phase in its evolution. The overarching goal of the post-2015 development agenda is to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest citizens.

This is a challenge which UNIDO is well-placed to meet in partnership with governments, the global development community, business and civil society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagreehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 05:10:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137464 Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Decline Before Fall of Berlin Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/decline-before-fall-of-berlin-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decline-before-fall-of-berlin-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/decline-before-fall-of-berlin-wall/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 18:22:21 +0000 Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137452

Joseph Chamie is former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the famous Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of the country and the end of the cold war, a little noted event occurred nearly two decades before the fall that ushered in a trend having profound consequences for the future of Germany as well as for Europe:  German births declined below deaths.

During the 20th century, except for a few years during the two world wars, the annual number of births exceeded deaths in Germany up until 1972. For every year since that fateful date, births have never exceeded deaths (Figure 1).

Source: Germany official statistics

Source: Germany official statistics

The historic demographic turnaround in Germany was not due to increasing deaths. On the contrary, the numbers of deaths during the 1970s and 1980s were decreasing and German life expectancies at birth increased by several years for both males and females over the period.

Actually, Germany’s demographic turnaround was the result of declining births as the country’s fertility rate fell below the replacement level.

For nearly 40 years Germany’s fertility has hovered around 1.4 births per women, or a third less than the replacement level of about two births per woman.

Despite the sustained negative rate of natural increase, Germany’s population remained close to 80 million largely due to international migration.

At the time of reunification in 1990, Germany’s population numbered slightly more than 80 million. However, with large influxes of immigrants in the early 1990s, Germany’s population continued to grow and peaked at almost 84 million about a decade ago. Since then, the country’s population has fallen slightly to about 83 million.

While admittedly the future remains uncertain, the likely paths for Germany’s key demographic components over the coming decades appear reasonably evident. First, mortality rates are expected to remain low as well as improve. Consequently, German life expectancies at birth are expected to increase by six years by mid-century, reaching 83 and 88 years for males and females, respectively.

Second, while fertility may increase somewhat from its current level of 1.4 births per woman, among the lowest in Europe, few expect that it will return to the replacement level any time soon. Approximately 20 percent of the women eventually remain childless and few couples are choosing to have more than two children. Recent population projections anticipate fertility likely increasing to 1.6 births by mid-century and 1.8 births by the century’s close.

Third, in contrast to fertility and mortality, future levels of international migration for Germany are considerably more volatile and therefore difficult to anticipate. The German government currently encourages immigration to address long-term demographic concerns as well as short-term labor force shortages.

Recently released figures for 2013 indicate the highest level of immigration to Germany in 20 years, yielding a net immigration of 437,000 or more than double the number of excess deaths over births.

While the future population size of Germany could follow a number of possible scenarios, the overall conclusion of most population projections is the same: a smaller German population in the future. For example, if fertility and life expectancies increased slightly and net migration levels were moderate, Germany’s current population of 83 million would decline to slightly below 73 million by mid-century.

However, if Germany’s current low fertility were to remain unchanged, its projected population in 2050 would be 69 million.

If some how German fertility rose steadily back to the replacement level by 2050, its population size at that time would still be a couple million less than today. Aside from large-scale immigration, Germany’s fertility would need to increase rapidly to avoid a smaller future population.

Even if fertility were to rise instantly and remain at the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman – an unlikely yet instructive scenario – Germany’s population would change little, hovering around 84 million at mid-century.

Germany’s future population is also being impacted by immigration, which is offsetting declines due to negative natural population change as well as the sizeable numbers leaving Germany. If immigration were to cease, the decline in Germany’s population would even be greater than noted above, falling to 67 million by 2050.

In addition to being less populous in the future, Germany’s population will be decidedly older. Germany’s current median age of 46 years – the world’s second highest after Japan – is expected to increase to 51 years by 2050. Also, the proportion of the German population aged 65 years and older is projected to increase from a fifth to more than a third.

Consequently, Germany’s potential support ratio is expected to fall to half its current level by mid-century, declining from about 3 to 1.5 persons aged 20 to 64 years per person 65 years or older.

An evident consequence of Germany’s ageing population is the raising of its retirement age incrementally from 65 to 67 years. Also, the proportion of the population aged 55 to 64 years who are in the work force has risen to 62 percent from 39 percent in 2002.

A further consequence of Germany’s demographics is its perception as a nation. Twenty-five years ago, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared that Germany “is not and can never be an immigration country”. Clearly, that is no longer the case.

Germany now hosts nearly 10 million immigrants or 12 percent of its population. Also, recently Germany has become the second most popular immigration destination after the United States, overtaking Canada and Australia.

Only two countries have more immigrants than Germany: Russia and the United States. Most immigrants to Germany come from other European countries, particularly from Italy, Poland, Russia and Turkey.

Despite those demographic changes, Chancellor Angela Merkel has concluded that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed.” Nevertheless, recognising Germany’s ageing and declining population, she has also made clear that immigrants are welcome in Germany and the nation needs immigrants, but mainly from other European countries.

The changing demographics also have consequences for the relative population standing of European countries. After the Russian Federation with a population of 144 million, Germany’s population of 83 million is the largest population in Europe, followed by France and the United Kingdom at 63 and 62 million, respectively.

By mid-century, however, differential rates of demographic growth are expected to result in Germany’s population falling to fourth place, below the populations of both France and the United Kingdom.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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St. Vincent Takes to Heart Hard Lessons on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:33:40 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137447 St. Vincent has been hit hard by flooding and landslides in recent years, blamed on climate change and deforestation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Vincent has been hit hard by flooding and landslides in recent years, blamed on climate change and deforestation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PASTURES, St. Vincent, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Glenda Williams has lived in the Pastures community in eastern St. Vincent all her life. She’s seen the area flooded by storms on multiple occasions.

But the last two times, it was more “severe and frightening” than anything she had witnessed before.

“The last time the river came down it reached on the ball ground [playing field] and you had people catching fish on the ball ground. So this time now (Dec. 24, 2013), it did more damage,” Williams, 48, told IPS.

Williams was giving a firsthand account of the landslides and flooding in April 2011 and the December 2013 floods which resulted from a slow-moving, low-level trough.

The latter of the two weather systems, which also affected Dominica and St. Lucia, dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island, destroying farms and other infrastructure, and left 13 people dead.

glenda 640

Gleanda Williams of St. Vincent recounts the storms of April 2011 and December 2013 that killed 13 people. Credit: Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told IPS that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a major problem with degradation of the forests and this has contributed to the recent floods.

The debris left behind by the cutting of timber, Dr. Gonsalves argued, “helps to cause the blockages by the rivers and when the rivers overflow their banks, we have these kinds of flooding and disasters.

“The trees are cut down by two sets of people: one set who cut timber for sale and another set who cut timber to clear land to plant marijuana,” he explained. “And when they cut them they would not chop them up so logs remain, and when the rains come again and there are landslides they come down into the river.”

The country’s ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS, Ellsworth John, said the clearing of the forests is a serious issue which must be dealt with swiftly.

“It’s something that the government is looking at very closely… the clearing of vegetation in our rainforests maybe is not done in a timely fashion and it is something that has to be part of the planning as we look at the issue of climate change,” he told IPS.“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge." -- Dr. Ulric Trotz

Gonsalves admitted that policing of the forests is a difficult task but added, “If we don’t deal with the forest, we are going to have a lot of problems.”

St. Vincent was the venue for a recent climate change conference. Gonsalves said the island forms the perfect backdrop for the two-day conference having experienced first-hand the impacts of climate change.

The seminar was held as part of the OECS/USAID RRACC Project – a five-year developmental project launched in 2011 to assist the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) governments with building resilience through the implementation of climate change adaptation measures.

Specifically, RRACC will build an enabling environment in support of policies and laws to reduce vulnerability; address information gaps that constrain issues related to climate vulnerabilities; make interventions in freshwater and coastal management to build resilience; increase awareness on issues related to climate change and improve capacities for climate change adaptation.

Speaking with IPS on the sidelines of the conference, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Ulric Trotz said with the advent of climate change, St. Vincent and the Grenadines could expect similar extreme weather events in the future.

“What happened there is that you had an unusual extreme event, and we are saying with climate change that is to be expected,” Trotz told IPS.

“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge. It’s heavy and you’re getting more rainfall in a short time than you ever experienced.

“Your drainage systems aren’t designed to deal with that flow of water. Your homes, for instance, on slopes that under normal conditions would be stable but with heavy rainfall these slopes now become unstable, you get landslides with loss of property and life, raging rivers with the heavy flow of water removing homes that are in vulnerable situations,” he added.

Gonsalves said that between 2011 and 2014, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has spent more than 600 million dollars to rebuild from the storms.

In September, the European Union said it would allocate approximately 45.5 million dollars in grants for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia after both countries were affected by the devastating weather system in December 2013.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which suffered the heaviest damage, is earmarked to receive EC 23.5 million and St. Lucia EC 22.4 million.

This long-term reconstruction support will be in addition to the EC 1.4 million of emergency humanitarian assistance provided by the European Union to the affected populations in the two countries immediately after the storm.

The funds will be dedicated to the reconstruction of key infrastructure damaged by the floods and to build resilience by improving river protection and slope stabilisation in major areas of the countries.

The Chateaubelair Jetty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Piaye Bridge in St. Lucia which were extensively damaged during the storm are infrastructure that could potentially benefit from the EU intervention.

“This support demonstrates the EU’s commitment to the reconstruction of both countries and further highlights Europe’s solidarity with the Caribbean, which we recognise as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world,” said Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Ambassador Mikael Barfod.

The European Union is also providing 20 million euro to support the regional disaster management programme of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency as it undertakes disaster risk reduction measures in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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The Invisible Reality of Spain’s Homelesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:33:47 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137423 Socially marginalised people waiting for lunch at a stand run by the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche association, whose volunteers serve three meals a day in the centre of Málaga, Spain. Cedit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Socially marginalised people waiting for lunch at a stand run by the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche association, whose volunteers serve three meals a day in the centre of Málaga, Spain. Cedit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

“It’s easy to end up on the street. It’s not because you led a bad life; you lose your job and you can’t afford to pay rent,” says David Cerezo while he waits for lunch to be served by a humanitarian organisation in this city in southern Spain.

Cerezo, 39, lives in a filthy wreck of a house in downtown Málaga with two other people. He used to work as a baker and confectioner but his drug abuse ruined his life, and separated him from his wife and his 36 and 39-year-old brothers.

Now he is determined to undergo rehabilitation, he tells IPS in front of the lunch counter of the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche (Málaga Angels of the Night) association.

“Most of those who ask for food here have ended up on the street because of drugs or alcohol, but there are also parents coming for food for their kids, and very young people,” he says, pointing towards the dozens of people lined up under the midday sun for a plate of rice, which is steaming in a huge pot.

Spain’s long, severe recession and high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 24.4 percent according to the national statistics institute, INE, have impoverished the population while government budgets for social services for the poor have been cut. “On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this.” -- Miguel Arregui

According to statistics from earlier this year, between 20.4 and 27.3 percent of the population of 47.2 million – depending on whether the measurement uses Spanish or European Union parameters – lives below the poverty line.

Nor does having a job guarantee a life free of poverty. The crisis drove up the proportion of working poor from 10.8 percent of the population in 2007 to 12.3 percent in 2010, according to the Dossier de Pobreza EAPN España 2014, a report on poverty in Spain by the European Anti Poverty Network.

Even worse is the fact that 27 percent of the country’s children – more than 2.3 million girls and boys – live in or on the verge of poverty, according to the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.

A study published Sept. 19 by the Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services reported that public spending on the neediest this year was 18.98 billion dollars – 2.78 billion less than in 2012.

“You find yourself in the street because you don’t have anyone to turn to,” said Miguel Arregui, 40. “And once you’re there it’s really hard to take flight again.”

The tall, black-haired Arregui, who is separated and has an 11-year-old son, told IPS that he spent 15 “endless” days sleeping rough, and that two bags holding his clothes and cell phone were stolen. For the past few weeks, he has been living in a shelter, where he is overcoming his addiction to drugs.

Cerrezo and Arregui are two of the thousands of homeless people in Spain – who total 23,000 according to the last INE census, from 2012, although the social organisations that help them put the number at 40,000.

But the 2014 study on exclusion and social development in Spain by the Foessa Foundation reports that there are five million people in this country affected by “severe exclusion” – 82.6 percent more than in 2007, the year before the lingering economic crisis broke out.

The report states that although homeless people are part of the landscape, most people have no idea what their lives are like. They sleep rough or in shelters, after ending up on the street as a result of numerous social, structural and personal factors.

In Málaga dozens of poor families, many of whom were evicted for failing to pay the rent or mortgage, are living together in squats known as “corralas”, in empty buildings owned by banks or construction companies that went bankrupt.

In the first half of 2014 there were 37,241 evictions in Spain, according to judicial sector statistics.

Since 2007 there have been 569,144 foreclosures, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) reports. At the same time, there are 3.5 million empty dwellings – 14 percent of the total, according to the INE.

A number of people wake up on the stone benches near the stand where breakfast is served at 9:00 AM. “The day I went to the shelter, they told me it was full and they gave me a blanket,” says José, 47, who spent 15 years in prison and admits that he has to steal to pay for a night in a pension.

“The system could use a turn of the screw, to provide permanent and unconditional housing, in first place,” the director of the RAIS Foundation, José Manuel Caballol, told IPS.

His organisation is promoting the Housing First model in Spain. This approach focuses on moving homeless people immediately from the streets or shelters into their own apartments, based on the concept that their first and primary need is stable housing.

The approach targets people who have spent at least three years living on the streets, or those suffering from mental illness, drug use, alcoholism or disabilities.

Caballol said people with severe problems have a hard time gaining access to homeless shelters, supportive housing or pensions, and that even if they do they fail to move forward with their rehabilitation or end up being expelled from the system once again.

“The results are spectacular,” he said. “The people are so happy, they take care of their house and of themselves because they don’t want to lose what they have.”

The activist is convinced that this approach, which emerged in the United States in the 1990s, “offers a definitive solution to the problem of homelessness and spells out significant savings in costs for the state, in hospital care for example.”

Since July, a total of 28 homeless people have been living in eight housing units in Málaga, 10 in Barcelona and 10 in Madrid, some given to RAIS and others rented by the NGO by means of agreements with city governments and foundations, and with economic support from the government.

“Changes are seen very quickly in the people involved,” said Caballol, who stressed the role played by social workers, psychologists and experts in social integration, who listen, support and assist the beneficiaries, depending on what they themselves decide, rather than the other way around.

“On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this,” says Miguel Arregui just before going into a shelter in downtown Málaga for the night.

Another local NGO, Ayuda en Acción (Help in Action), warns that one out of every five people are at risk of social exclusion in Spain.

Cerezo says the social network for the homeless falls short of meeting the current needs, and calls for other models like “casas de acogida” – halfway homes or residential-based homes for the most vulnerable, “with orientation by professionals.”

The number of people assisted in Spain by the Catholic charity Caritas rose 30 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a report it released Sept. 29.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people; less than one percent of people are connected to electricity; and life expectancy is 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Good Twins or Evil Twins? U.S., China Could Tip the Climate Balancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:16:47 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137409 Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

China and the United States are responsible for 35 percent of global carbon emissions but could do their part to keep climate change to less than two degrees C by adopting best energy efficiency standards, a new analysis shows.

Although China’s energy use has skyrocketed over the past two decades, the average American citizen consumes four times more electricity than a Chinese citizen.Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget.

However, when it comes to energy efficiency, China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S. The reverse is true when it comes to cement production, according a new Climate Action Tracker analysis of energy use and savings potential for electricity production, industry, buildings and transport in the two countries.

If China and the U.S. integrate the best efficiency policies, “they would both be on the right pathway to keep warming below two degrees C,”said Bill Hare a climate scientist at Climate Analytics in Berlin, Germany.

Both countries need to “dramatically reduce”their use of coal, Hare said.

Right now, neither country is a global leader in any sector, the analysis found. Climate Action Tracker is a collaboration between Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Pik Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We looked at how well both the U.S. and China would do if they each adopted a ‘best of the two’practice in electricity production, industry, buildings and transport. We found this, alone, would set them in a better direction,”Niklas Höhne of Ecofys told IPS.

One major reason U.S. energy use per person is 400 percent greater is that living space per person in the U.S. is twice that in China, while Chinese buildings generally consume much less energy.

“By no means are China’s buildings the most energy efficient. [But] they are generally newer and use less air conditioning and heating than in the U.S.,”said Höhne.

However, energy consumption in China’s residential sector is significantly increasing. If both were to move to European Union (EU) standards, this would produce massive reductions, the report found.

Another major reason for greater U.S. energy use is that car ownership is 10 times higher than China.  In addition, China has lower emissions per car due to somewhat stricter standards. Again, if both were to move to global best practice (e.g., emission standards for cars as in the EU, increase of share of electric cars as in Norway) there could be a major difference.

China and the U.S. are very different but could learn from each other, said Michiel Schaeffer, a scientist with Climate Analytics. Better yet, they could move to a true leadership position by adopting the best practices in the world.

“At the moment, neither are leading,” he noted.

Time is not on anyone’s side. Global carbon emissions continue to increase year after year and if they don’t peak and begin to decline in the next two or three years, it will be extremely difficult and costly to keep global temperatures from rising above two degrees C.

Temperatures have risen .085 degrees C so far and are linked to billions of dollars in damages, with extreme events affecting tens of millions people, as previously reported by IPS.

Should both the U.S. and China adopt the global best practices on energy use, U.S. emissions would decline 18 percent below 2005 by 2020 (roughly five percent below 1990 levels) and China’s would peak in the early 2020s.

That would close the crucial ‘emissions gap’by nearly 25 percent. The emissions gap is the amount of carbon reductions over and above current commitments that are needed before 2020 in order to have a good chance of staying below 2C.

The EU is by far the global leader on climate cutting emissions by more than 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990, and last week committed to slashing emissions at least 40 percent by 2030.  A June 2014 CAT analysis noted that the U.S. and other advanced economies which are known as Annex 1 countries in U.N. climate treaties have to trim their carbon budgets 35 to 55 percent by 2030 and be fossil fuel free around 2050.

While those dates may seem far in the future, the reality is that no new carbon-burning infrastructure— buildings, homes, vehicles, power stations, factories and so on  —can be built after 2018.

The only exceptions would be for replacing existing infrastructure, according to a recent study of what’s termed carbon commitments. Build a gas-heated home today and it will emit CO2 this year and be committed to more CO2 every year it is used.

Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget. That budget is the amount of CO2 or carbon that can be emitting and stay below 2C.

After 2018, the only choice will be to shut down power plants and other large carbon emitters before their normal lifespan.

Any plan or strategy to cut CO2 emissions has to give far greater prominence to infrastructure investments. Right now the data shows “we’re embracing fossil fuels more than ever,” Robert Socolow of Princeton University and co-author of the study told Vice Motherboard.

“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,” Socolow said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Jungle Shrine Awaits its Blessed Momenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:13:36 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137399 Devotees pray to the 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary as it is paraded around the Madhu Church during the annual festival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Devotees pray to the 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary as it is paraded around the Madhu Church during the annual festival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Rising out of a thick forest about 17 km from the nearest main road, the Madhu Church is a symbol of spiritual harmony and tranquility. When the wind blows you hear the leaves rustle. Other times a solemn silence hangs in the air. Old-timers say that once, almost an entire generation ago, the grass grew six feet high in the church compound, and elephants wandered through it.

Located some 300 km by road from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, this place is the most venerated Catholic shrine in the country, home to a 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary that millions of faithful people believe to be miraculous.

But the peaceful hush that surrounds this holy place is likely to be broken in the months to come.

“[Our Lady of Madhu] has survived so much for so long and is still with us, protecting us, keeping us safe." -- Benedict Fernando, a pilgrim from the coastal town of Negombo
Heavy construction work takes place round-the-clock here, as efforts to rebuild the side chapel of the Sacred Heart slowly bear fruit. It was severely damaged during a shelling incident in 2008 that, according to some priests, killed over three-dozen people who were seeking shelter, and left 60 injured.

New residential quarters are also underway and about four km from the church a new helipad is being planned. All this for the scheduled visit by Pope Francis set to take place during the second week of January 2015.

“It is a blessing from God, people not only here but all over the island are waiting to see him and hear him at this Church,” said Rev. S. Emilianuspillai, the administrator of the shrine.

The papal visit will be the crowning moment for the church and the relic enshrined within that survived some of the most turbulent and violent years of Sri Lanka’s modern history.

The administrator told IPS that despite some reports that the visit could be cancelled due to impending presidential elections, preparations were going ahead.

Located in the northwestern Mannar District, the church was within the war zone for much of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long conflict. When heavy fighting engulfed the church compound in April 2008, it had been under the control of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for over a decade. The war ended a year later with the defeat of the Tigers by government forces.

Emilianuspillai still recalls those harrowing days six-and-a-half years ago when he and 16 others were trapped within the church as shells exploded all around. By 6.30 pm on Apr. 3, 2008, a decision was made to move the statue to a safer place. It was a journey fraught with danger, Emilianuspillai, said. Just a mile into the trip a shell fell right in front of the vehicle containing the relic, which the priest had cradled to his own body for safekeeping. “Absolutely nothing happened to it, or us,” he said.

Worshippers gather near the damaged chapel of the Sacred Heart in August 2009, just three months after the war's end. Credit: Courtesy Amantha Perera

Worshippers gather near the damaged chapel of the Sacred Heart in August 2009, just three months after the war’s end. Credit: Courtesy Amantha Perera

Little less than a year-and-a-half later, in August 2009, the same church compound was filled with over half a million worshippers for the first annual post-conflict feast, all seeking the blessings of their beloved Mother of Madhu.

Devotees revere the statue as a symbol of unity and peace, bringing together Tamils and Sinhalese, as well as Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, all of whom would mingle during the massive annual feasts.

In the early days of Sri Lanka’s conflict, Madhu was also one of the largest refuges for those fleeing the fighting.

“[Our Lady of Madhu] has survived so much for so long and is still with us, protecting us, keeping us safe,” Benedict Fernando, a pilgrim from the coastal town of Negombo, about 250 km south of Madhu, told IPS.

Praying for reconciliation

Tamils living in the Northern Province also hope that the papal visit will shed light on burning post-war issues that have remained unresolved. The region is one of the poorest in the country with poverty levels sometimes thrice the national average of 6.7 percent. It has also been hit hard by an 11-month drought and losses to the vital agriculture sector. This despite the injection of over six billion dollars worth of government funds since 2009.

“There is a lot more work to be done,” Sellamuththu Sirinivasan, the additional government agent for the northern Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

Other lingering issues include the over 40,000 female-headed families in the Northern Province, struggling to make ends meet in a traditionally male-dominated society.

With assistance from the U.N. and other agencies slowing to a trickle, such vulnerable groups have been left to fend for themselves.

“The economic situation has stagnated despite the large investments in infrastructure. In such an environment, even able-bodied and qualified men and women find it hard to gain employment. These single women with families are really vulnerable [to] exploitation,” Saroja Sivachandran, who heads the Centre for Women and Development in northern Jaffna, told IPS.

Then there are those who went missing during the war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has just begun the first countrywide survey of the families of the war missing. The survey and its recommendations are to be handed over to the government sometime in mid-2015. But there is still confusion over the number of missing, which some have put as high as 40,000. The ICRC says that it has recorded over 16,000 cases of missing persons since the 1990s.

“The war has ended, but the battles continue for us,” said Dominic Stanislaus, a young man from the town of Mankulam, about 60 km north.

On first glance, the Vanni, the popular name for the northern provinces, seems generations removed from the war years. Glistening new highways have replaced barely navigable roads marked by crater-sized potholes left by shells. A new rail line linking northern Jaffna to the rest of the country after a lapse of a quarter of a century was inaugurated earlier this month.

But burning questions about when the missing will return home, or where the next meal will come from, remain unanswered.

Many, like Stanislaus and Fernando, pray that the papal visit will hasten the healing process. In the meantime, the Madhu Church will continue to bring hope to thousands who still live with the wounds of war.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Yeil” – The New Energy Buzzword in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:53:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137400 Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
NEUQUÉN, Argentina, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

In Argentina they call it “yeil”, the hispanicised version of “shale”. But while these unconventional gas and oil reserves are seen by many as offering a means to development and a route towards energy self-sufficiency, others believe the term should fall into disuse because the global trend is towards clean, renewable sources of energy.

Wearing an oil-soaked uniform, the drilling supervisor in the state oil company YPF, Claudio Rueda, feels like he is playing a part in an important story that is unfolding in southern Argentina.

“Availability of energy is key in our country,” he told IPS. “It’s an essential element in Argentina’s development and future, and we are part of that process.”

The first chapter of the story is being written in the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in Loma Campana in the province of Neuquén, which forms part of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, where rich unconventional reserves of gas and oil are hidden in rocky structures 2,500 to 3,000 metres below the surface.

According to YPF, reserves of 802 trillion cubic feet of reserves put Argentina second in the world in shale gas deposits, after China, with 1,115 trillion cubic feet.

And in shale oil reserves, Argentina is now in fourth place, with 27 billion barrels, after Russia, the United States and China.“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources.” -- Maristella Svampa

According to projections, Argentina’s conventional oil and gas reserves will run out in eight or 10 years and production is declining, so the government considers the development of Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological formation, strategic.

“Nearly 30 percent of the country’s energy is imported, in different ways – a huge drain on the country’s hard currency reserves,” Rubén Etcheverry, coauthor of the book “Yeil, las nuevas reservas” (Yeil, the new reserves) and former Neuquén provincial energy secretary, said in an interview with IPS.

“We have been in intensive therapy for the last five years, with respect to the trade balance and the energy balance,” he said in Neuquén, the provincial capital.

“We went from exporting nearly five billion dollars a year in fuel, 10 years ago, to spending 15 billion dollars on imports; in other words, the balance has shifted by 20 billion dollars a year – an enormous change for any economy of this size,” Etcheverry said.

Imports include electricity and liquefied gas, natural gas and other fuels.

Diego Pérez Santiesteban, president of Argentina’s Chamber of Importers, said that at the start of the year, energy purchases represented 15 percent of all imports, compared to just five percent a year earlier.

Since 2009, accumulated imported energy has surpassed the Central Bank’s foreign reserves of 28.4 billion dollars.

Etcheverry sees Vaca Muerta as key to turning that tendency around, because the reserves found deep under the surface would be “enough to make us self-sufficient, and would even allow us to export.”

According to the expert, Argentina could follow in the footsteps of the United States, which thanks to its shale deposits “could become the world’s leading producer of gas and oil in less than 10 years.”

Shale gas and oil are extracted by means of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, and opening and extending fractures deep under the surface in the shale rock to release the fossil fuels.

But there is a growing outcry around the world against the pollution caused by fracking in the water table and other environmental impacts in wide areas around the deposits.

And in Argentina many voices have also been raised against the energy mix that has been chosen.

“This is an environmental point of view that goes beyond Vaca Muerta. The option that they are trying to impose in Argentina, as a solution to the energy crisis…has no future prospects,” said ecologist Silvia Leanza of the Ecosur Foundation.

“We’re basing all of our economic expansion on one asset here – but how many years will it last?” she asked.

Fossil fuels make up nearly 90 percent of Argentina’s energy mix. The rest is based on nuclear and hydroelectric sources, and just one percent renewable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is the main cause of climate change.

“This situation, along with the greater availability of renewable sources, indicates the end of the era of dirty energy sources,” Mauro Fernández, head of Greenpeace Argentina’s energy campaign, said in a report.

This country’s dependence on fossil fuels has made carbon dioxide emissions per capita among the highest in the region: 4.4 tons in 2009, according to the World Bank.

Fernández said unconventional fossil fuels are not only risky because of fracking, but are also “a bad alternative from a climate and energy point of view.”

“Unconventional deposits look like a new frontier for doing more of the same, fueling the motor of climate change,” he complained.

Argentina has set a target for at least eight percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2016.

“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources,” said sociologist Maristella Svampa, an independent researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

“In the last decade, fracking has certainly transformed the energy outlook in the United States, making it less dependent on imports. But it has also made it the place where the real impacts can be seen: pollution of groundwater, damage to the health of people and animals, earthquakes, greater emissions of methane gas, among others,” she said.

Carolina García with the Multisectoral Group against Hydraulic Fracturing said that because of its rich natural resources, Argentina has other alternatives that should be tapped before exploiting fossil fuels “to the last drop.”

“We finish extracting everything in the Neuquén basin and what do we have left?” she commented to IPS.

Etcheverry mentioned the possibility of using solar energy in the north, wind energy in Patagonia and along the Atlantic shoreline, geothermic energy in the Andes, and tidal and wave energy along the coast.

But the author said that for now the costs were “much higher” than those of fossil fuels, because of technological reasons, transportation aspects and energy intensity.

He also said oil and gas are still necessary as energy sources and raw materials for everyday products.

For that reason, Etcheverry said, the transition from the fossil fuels era “is not simple.” First it is necessary to improve energy savings and efficiency, in order to later shift to less polluting fossil fuels, he added.

“In the first stage it would be a question of moving from the most polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil towards others that are less polluting, like natural gas. And from there, creating incentives for everything that has to do with clean or renewable energies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe’s Rich Fuel Inequality Through Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:29:24 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137393 A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Zimbabwe has lost 12 billion dollars in illicit financial flows over the last three decades and experts say this illegal practice is perpetuating social inequalities and poverty in this southern African nation.

A September report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimates that 63 percent of Zimbabweans are poor, with 16 percent of the country’s 12.5 million people deemed extremely poor.

While the number of extremely poor households in the country has reduced from 42.3 percent in 2001, Sydney Mhishi, a principal director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, told IPS that there is an overwhelming demand for cash transfers because of rising poverty and inequalities, mostly in rural areas.

  • Inequalities are more widespread in rural areas — occurring in 76 percent of rural households compared to 38 percent of households in the urban areas.
  • A majority of Zimbabwe’s people, some 7.7 million, live in rural areas.
  • Nearly 200,000 to 250,000 households in Zimbabwe are classified as ultra poor.

In 2013, about 55,000 households received up to 25 dollars in cash handouts every month from the government under the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme.

The government is supporting 20 percent of vulnerable and labour constrained households through the programme.

“The demand for the cash transfers is more in depth in urban areas. In urban areas we have also started a mix of cash [transfers] as well as electronic transfers in poor suburbs like Epworth,” Mhishi said.

A study conducted by the Institute of Development of Studies in 2013 and released last month, shows that poverty was increasingly taking on an urban face with levels higher than expected. Zimbabwe’s economy is in a fragile state subjugated by a liquidity crunch, funding constraints, and corruption, which has made the government struggle to raise revenue.

And even though Zimbabwe has vast natural resources, the blessings of its natural wealth has not benefitted its people.

The nation has of some of the largest diamond and platinum reserves in Africa and the world, and has over 40 exploitable minerals. All of this could potentially transform the lives of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

But the valuation of the country’s mineral deposits, experts say, remains unknown because of the shadowy arrangements under which most Zimbabwean mines are being exploited.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) points to a dearth of transparency and accountability in the management of the Marange diamond mines.

Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa said in December 2013, during his presentation of the 2014 national budget, that the government did not receive any diamond dividends in that year.

According to ZELA, of the seven companies operating in the Marange diamond fields, only one has shown some modicum of transparency and accountability by publicly disclosing its diamond revenue.

Janet Zhou, a programmes director with the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, told IPS that her organisation has been campaigning for a tax justice system, which exhorts big companies in the extractive sector to pay their dues to the government to enhance revenue collection.

“Illicit financial inflows cause inequalities because the government loses revenue that should in turn be redistributed to the poor through the trickle-down effect. The rich should pay taxes and subsidise the underprivileged so that they get access to social services,” Zhou said.

Zimbabwe has been affected by illicit financial flows, as money is illegally transferred or utilised elsewhere usually through criminal activities, corruption, tax evasion, bribes and cross-border smuggling.

Research conducted in August by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit approximates that between 2009 and 2013, cash-strapped Zimbabwe lost 2,85 billion dollars through illicit financial flows in mining, fisheries, forestry and illegal safari activities.

The illicit financial flows occurred mostly through under-invoicing by multinational companies and weak legal and institutional frameworks. Afrodad policy advisor Momodou Touray says illicit financial flows deprive governments of revenue that should be ploughed into public sector investment and poverty-reduction programmes.

Zhou added that when the government failed to tap revenue from the rich, usually ordinary people become soft targets. Tafadzwa Chikumbu, an economic governance policy officer with Afrodad, agreed.

“Illicit financial flows perpetuate inequality because they are fuelled by rich multinational corporations and rich individuals who have the capacity to do tax planning resulting in transfer mis-pricing and trade mis-invoicing.

“So if the government fails to harness resources from them, it transfers the burden to weaker economic agents, who are the ordinary citizens,” he told IPS.

Chikumbu said this was demonstrated in the country’s August mid-term fiscal statement, which introduced a raft of tax measures targeted at raising revenue principally from ordinary tax payers.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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OPINION: Where Governments Fail, It’s Up to the People to Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:46:29 +0000 Diana Maciaga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137389 Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

By Diana Maciaga
WARSAW, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Pomerania in northern Poland is famous for its unpolluted environment, fertile soils and historic heritage. So far, these valuable farmlands have been free from heavy industry but that situation might change as a shadow looms over the lives of Pomeranians.

Its name is Elektrownia Północ, also known as the North Power Plant and, ever since we learned about it, we have been determined to stop Elektrownia Pólnoc.

If built, this coal-fired power plant would contribute to the climate crisis with 3.7 million tons of coal burnt annually, and lock Poland into coal dependency for decades.

It threatens to pollute the Vistula River, Poland’s largest river, with a rich ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered species.“The [Polish] government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy”

The threat of soil degradation and inevitable drainage keeps local farmers awake at night, not to mention the air pollution from the plant that will be a major health hazard, making the situation in Poland – already the most polluted country in Europe with more people dying from air pollution than from car accidents – even worse.

But this is not just about stopping one of a dozen fossil fuel projects currently under development. This is part of a much broader struggle.

While unemployment soars, the Polish government fails to stimulate green jobs and dismisses renewable energy as too expensive. At the same time, it is pumping billions into the coal industry. Unprofitable and un-modern, it thrives thanks to hidden subsidies that in the past 22 years added up to a mammoth sum equal to the country’s annual GDP.

The government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy.

The current government continues to block European Union climate policy, without which we can forget about a meaningful climate treaty being achieved in Paris next year.

All this takes place while we face the greatest environmental crisis in history and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for everything it brings about.

But Poland’s infamous coal dependence is all but given and the policy that granted our country the infamous nickname “Coal-land” is strikingly incompatible with the will of the Polish people. All around the country people are fighting coal plants, new mines and opposing fracking. We want Poland to be a modern country that embraces climate justice.

I went to New York to be part of the People’s Climate March, observe the U.N. Climate Summit and bring this very message from hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens whose voices had been ignored on domestic grounds to the international stage. Yet what I had not expected was how powerful an experience it would be.

With 400,000 people in the streets and thousands more all over the world, New York witnessed not only the largest climate march in history on Sep. 21 but a true change of tide: a beautiful, unstoppable wave of half a million representing hundreds of millions more – the stories unfolding, forming an epic tale not of loss or despair but of resilience, strength, responsibility and readiness to do what it takes to save this world.

For decades world leaders have been failing us, justifying their inaction with the supposed lack of people’s support, their talks poisoned by a ‘you move first’ approach.

The voices of those who marched echoing in the street and in the media, impossible to be ignored, left their mark on the Summit and resounded in many speeches given by world leaders. The march showed it more clearly than ever how strong the mandate for taking action is and, even more importantly, where the leadership truly lies.

Opening the Summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to politicians to take action to ensure a low-carbon, climate resilient and better future. “There is only one thing in the way,” he said, “Us”.

The march proved that there is a counter-movement challenging this stagnation. From individuals to communities, from cities to neighbourhoods and families, millions are working to make a better world a reality. Against all adversities, people around the world embrace the urgency of action and lead where the supposed leaders have failed.

For me this is the single most important message and a source of hope to take back home. A new chapter of climate protection has opened written by the diverse, powerful stream which flooded the streets in New York and beyond – not to witness but to make history.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Diana Maciaga works with the Polish NGO Workshop for All Beings (Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot), which specialises in protection of the wildest treasures of Poland. She has participated in Global Power Shift and Power Shift Central & Eastern Europe and is sharing her experience through campaigns and coordinating a training for local Polish leaders – “Guardians of Climate”. She is currently one of the organisers of the Stop Elektrowni Północ (Stop the ‘North Power Plant’) campaign against a new coal-fired facility in Poland.

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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Put People Not ‘Empire of Capital’ at Heart of Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:23:11 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137387 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador does not mince words when it comes to development. ”Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour,” he told a crowded auditorium at the 15th Raul Prebitsch Lecture.

The Raul Prebitsch Lectures, which are named after the first Secretary-General of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) when it was set up in 1964, allow prominent personalities to speak to a wide audience on burning trade and development topics.

This year, President Correa took the floor on Oct. 24 with a lecture on ‘Ecuador: Development as a Political Process’, which covered efforts by his country to build a model of equitable and sustainable development, “Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour” – President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador

Development, he told his audience, “is a political process and not a technical equation that can be solved with capital” and he offered a developmental paradigm that seeks to build on “people-oriented” socio-economic and cultural policies to improve the welfare of millions of poor people instead of catering to the “elites of the empire of capital”.

Proposing a “new regional financial architecture”, he said that “the time has come to pool our resources for establishing a bank and a reserve fund for South American countries to pursue people-oriented developmental policies in our region” and reverse the “elite-based”, “capital-dominated”, “neoliberal” economic order that has wrought havoc over the past three decades.

“We need to reverse the dollarisation of our economies and stop the transfer of our wealth to finance Treasury bills in the United States,” Correa said. “South American economies have transferred over 800 billion dollars to the United States for sustaining U.S. Treasury bills and this is unacceptable.”

According to Correa, people-centric policies in the fields of education, health and employment in Ecuador have improved the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) since 2007. The HDI is published annually by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and income indices used to rank countries into tiers of human development.

Ecuador’s HDI value for 2012 is 0.724 – in the high human development tier – positioning the country at 89 out of 187 countries and territories, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) for 2013.

Explaining his country’s achievement, Correa said that public investments involving the creation of roads, bridges, power grids, telecommunications, water works, educational institutions, hospitals and judiciary have all helped the private sector to reap benefits from overall development.

“At a time when Hooverian depression policies based on austerity measures are continuing to impoverish people while the banks which created the world’s worst economic crisis in 2008 are reaping benefits because of the rule of capital,  Ecuador has successfully overcome many hurdles because of its people-oriented policies,”  he said.

Correa argued that by investing public funds in education, which is the “cornerstone of democracy”, particularly in higher education or the “Socrates of education”, including special education projects for indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian people, it has been shown that society can put an end to capital-dominated policies.

“We need to change international power relations to overcome neocolonial dependency,” Correa told the diplomats present at the lecture.  “Globalisation is the quest for global consumers and it does not serve global citizens.”

The Ecuadorian president argued that developing countries have secured a raw deal from the current international trading system which has helped the industrialised nations to pursue imbalanced policies while selectively maintaining barriers.

He urged developing countries to implement autonomous industrialisation strategies, just as the United States had done over two centuries ago.

Developing countries, he said, must pursue ”protectionist policies as the United States had implemented under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton [U.S Secretary of the Treasury under first president George Washington] when it closed its economy to imports from the United Kingdom.”

Citing the research findings of Cambridge-based economist Ha-Joon Chang in his book ‘Bad Samaritans:  The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’, Correa said that protectionist policies are essential for the development of developing countries.

He stressed that developing countries, which are at a comparable of stage of economic development as the United States was in Hamilton’s time, must devise policies that would push their economies into the global economic order.

The strategy of “import-substitution-industrialisation [ISI]” and nascent industry development is needed for developing countries, he said. “However, the developing countries must ensure proper implementation of ISI strategies because governments had committed mistakes in the past while implementing these policies.”

“Free trade and unfettered trade,” continued Correa, is a “fallacy” based on the Washington Consensus and neoliberal economic policies. In fact, while the United States and other countries preach free trade, they have continued to impose barriers on exports from developing countries.

Turning to the global intellectual property rights regime, which he said is not helpful for the development of all countries, Correa said that these rights must serve the greater public good, suggesting that the current rules do not allow equitable development in the sharing of genetic resources, for example.

In this context, he said that governments must not allow faceless international arbitrators to issue rulings that would severely undermine their “sovereignty” in disputes launched by transnational corporations.

President Correa also called for the free movement of labour on a par with capital. “While capital can move without any controls and cause huge volatility and damage to the international economy, movement of labour is criminalised. This is unacceptable and it is absurd that the movement of labour is met with punitive measures while governments have to welcome capital without any barriers.”

He was also severe in his criticism of the financialisation of the global economy which cannot be subjected to the Tobin tax. “Nobel Laureate James Tobin had proposed a tax on financial transactions in 1981 to curb the volatile movement of currencies but it was never implemented because of the power of the financial industry,” he argued.

Concluding with a hint that his government’s social and economic policies are paving the way for the creation of a healthy society, Correa quipped: “The Pope is an Argentinian, God may be a Brazilian, but ‘Paradise’ is in Ecuador.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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How Long Before Another Soma Mine Disaster?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/how-long-before-another-soma-mine-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-long-before-another-soma-mine-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/how-long-before-another-soma-mine-disaster/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 09:14:40 +0000 Tessa Love http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137380 Survivors of the May 2014 Soma mine disaster, the worst in Turkey's history which left more than 300 people dead. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Survivors of the May 2014 Soma mine disaster, the worst in Turkey's history which left more than 300 people dead. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Tessa Love
ISTANBUL, Oct 26 2014 (IPS)

Six days a week, Tahir Cetin spends seven and a half hours hundreds of feet underground on a narrow ledge, mining coal near Soma, Turkey. He breathes in dust that is destroying his lungs, and digs into walls that could collapse on top of him. With one false step, he could fall to his death.

After five years of these conditions, and the low quality of life he faces due to little pay and poor treatment, the father of three says with resignation that it does not matter if he is alive or dead.

“It is slavery,” says Cetin, who lost his nephew in May this year, when an explosion at the Soma coal mine in Manisa in western Turkeycaused an underground  fire, killing more than 300 people in the worst mine disaster in the country’s history. “As workers, we are valuable, but we are despised and mistreated by our country.”“The reason these people died [in the Soma mine disaster of May 2014] is because of the government’s neoliberal policies of subcontracting and making profits. The people really responsible are those in the government who allow privatisation” – Arzu Cerkezoglu, Secretary-General of DISK

According to Hurriyet Demirhan, a board member of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, nearly every miner in Turkey works under such conditions, which are chronic and widespread, and many wonder if or when another Soma disaster will repeat itself.

Both Demirhan and Arzu Cerkezoglu, Secretary-General of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), the union that now represents the Soma workers, believe that this will inevitably happen in one or more of the 450 mines facing exactly the same threat as Soma unless drastic changes are made.

DISK, as well as the Chamber of Mining Engineers, has filed reports about all of them, warning the government of their lack of safety. In 2010, Demirhan even filed a report on Soma, listing it as the most dangerous, but no changes were introduced.

While a fire that knocked out power at the mine and shut down ventilation shafts and elevators caused the Soma disaster, Cerkezoglu blames the government for the accident, and she points her finger at privatisation as the biggest problem with Turkey’s mining sector.

“The reason these people died is because of the government’s neoliberal policies of subcontracting and making profits,” she argues. “The people really responsible are those in the government who allow privatisation.”

Privatisation of Turkey’s mines began in the 1980s, when there was widespread agreement that the state was incapable of running mines efficiently. Now, private companies apply for permits through the Ministry of Energy and when they are approved, they hire auditors, engineers and safety personnel, all of whom are supposed to ensure the safety of the mines and fair treatment of the workers.

However, according to Demirhan, because it is the company that hires these personnel, they do little when they find something amiss. Add to this a mentality of high production at low cost, and the result is extremely poor conditions and abysmal pay.

It is through this process, says Demirhan, that workers lose their rights – and death is the consequence. “All of this is the responsibility of the state,” he adds, “and it is only through policies written by the state that workers can regain their rights.”

Immediately after the Soma disaster, DISK began working directly with mine workers and the families of the deceased to compile a file listing their demands for Soma and mining safety in general, which they presented to the Ministry of Energy in early July.

These demands include greater job security, higher pay, shorter and fewer shifts, an earlier retirement age, and compensation for the families of workers who died in the disaster, including new homes, double salaries, and forgiven debts, according to Tayfun Gorgun of DISK.

Gorgun is currently stationed in Soma and is working with the state to ensure that these demands are met for the 8000 workers still mining in the Soma area. But while the government has made promises to meet these demands, he says, progress has been slow.

The biggest promise the government has made so far has been to do away with subcontracting in the mining sector, which would stop many of the problems caused by privatisation. However, this issue, along with several others, has not even made it into the draft legislation phase.

According to Gorgun, “the government’s strategy is to decrease rights by letting time pass until people forget. The only way to make these changes happen is for the public to continue to care.”

Demirhan agrees, saying: “The state knows we will forget. We have forgotten before, and we will again.”

Cerkezoglu is confident that change will come, saying she believes that “the resistance of workers will lead to a change of living conditions and collective work agreements.”

For his part, Cetin wryly acknowledges that workers have been displaying this resistance. “We have asked for our rights, we’ve gone on strike and we’ve marched,” he says, but then he describes the violence that workers have faced for their efforts, including being beaten with batons and gassed by riot police.

“We have always known the taste of dynamite dust in our lungs, but we had never known the taste of pepper gas. Thanks to the state, we now know that as well.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Front Line of Climate Change is Here and Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 Kaio Tiira Taula http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137377 Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

By Kaio Tiira Taulu
TUVALU, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The fate of my country rests in your hands: that was the message which Ian Fry, representing Tuvalu gave at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen five years ago. This is also the message that the Pacific Climate Warriors have come to Australia to bring.

We have come here, representatives of 12 different Pacific island nations, which are home to 10 million people, to ask the people of Australia to reject plans to double Australia’s exports of coal and to become the biggest exporter of gas in the world.

We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home.“We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home”

My home, Tuvalu, is a series of three islands and six atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world and home to 11,000 people and most of us have been there for generations

Tuvalu, like many of our island neighbours, is living on borrowed time with climate change expected to displace over 300 million people worldwide before 2050. The displacement has already started to happen with thousands of my countrymen forced to leave by the rising King Tides and the long drought affecting our food supplies.

One family drew international attention when they became the first refugees to seek asylum in New Zealand based on grounds of climate change.

Aside from the humanitarian cost, there is also the loss to culture and diversity with several thousands of years of civilisation and history wiped from the face of the planet. And there is nothing that we can do about this except hope that you and your country will see the value of keeping our island above water and make the decision to turn away from fossil fuels.

This is the reason I have joined with the Pacific Climate Warriors to come to Australia and represent my country and our region.

For years our leaders have tried to convey our message in the halls of power to politicians, diplomats and whoever else would listen, but the arguments of economic growth have always taken precedence over the arguments for our survival.

I now come as an envoy to ask the people of Australia to please consider the plight of the 11,000 people in Tuvalu and the further millions in other Pacific islands and other low lying nations which may expect to be wiped out by climate change.

In my time in Australia I have heard plenty about the importance of the Australian coal industry and the jobs and economic growth that it generates, yet it is us in the islands who are paying the price with our land, our culture and our livelihoods. This hardly seems a fair price to pay when we gain nothing from this industry.

This is why it incenses me so much to hear that coal is good for humanity or coal will be the solution to poverty. Coal will benefit only the wealthy whereas it will be the poor, like us, who suffer.

This is why it is the ultimate insult to hear that wealthy corporations are acting in the interests of the world’s poor when they dig and burn coal.

The Australian people have the power to decide the fate of my country and others in the Pacific. You need to let your government know that you have considered the matter carefully that you choose human life over the digging and export of coal.

If you do not, you must be ready to open your borders for the flood of climate refugees who will end up on your doorstep.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Renewable Energies – a Double-Edged Swordhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 06:16:24 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137312 Over a dozen huge windmills line the roadside of the town of Jhimpir, close to Karachi, in the Sindh province. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Over a dozen huge windmills line the roadside of the town of Jhimpir, close to Karachi, in the Sindh province. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set a target of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. One way countries can meet their obligations is to switch energy production from the burning of fossil fuels to “renewables”, generally understood to include wind, wave, tidal, hydro, solar and geothermal power and biomass. 

They have a dual advantage: first, they do not create by-products responsible for global warming and climate change; and secondly, they are non-consumptive, drawing on primary energy sources that are to all intents and purposes inexhaustible.

Why then is the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which is holding its triennial policy conference next month in Quito, Ecuador, rocking the boat by publishing a review highlighting the serious environmental threats posed by the new technologies? Renewables provide many of the answers but they need to be deployed sensitively and not indiscriminately, so that our efforts to keep the atmosphere clean and planet cool do not come at a price that our wildlife cannot afford to pay.

First and foremost, CMS is not joining the climate sceptics’ camp. There is ample evidence of the effects climate change is having on migratory animals.

The Convention has long been grappling with this issue. The Convention and the vulnerable species it protects need climate change to be halted or at least slowed down so that adaptation measures can be developed.

Climate change just adds to the threats migratory species currently face. This includes threats posed by the fishing gear responsible for by-catch of seabirds, turtles and dolphins; and the demand for luxury products that result in the wasteful practice of shark finning and the fuelling of the massacre of elephants and rhinos for ivory and horn. And then there is marine debris, bird poisoning and illegal trapping – the list goes on.

Climate change is opening several new fronts in the conservation war by causing habitat change and loss; by affecting gender ratios in species such as marine turtles; and by altering species’ behaviour with some not migrating at all, others leaving their breeding grounds later and returning earlier, while some are extending their range displacing other species less capable of adapting.

So why is CMS not rejoicing at the news that wave energy installations, tidal barrages, solar panels and wind farms on land and at sea are being developed at unprecedented rates? CMS would give a hearty cheer if these new technologies reduce as promised the human-induced drivers of climate change.

However, the report commissioned by the Convention, together with the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, the International Renewable Energy Agency and BirdLife International, explains the prudent reaction from conservationists, as it illustrates how renewable energies are a double-edged sword – a cure for some ills afflicting the world but with potentially severe side-effects for wildlife.

Hydro-power relies on dams – technological wonders in many cases – but essentially barriers across rivers preventing migratory species such as salmon from reaching their spawning grounds. The changes to water flow and levels both up and downstream of the dams can drastically transform habitats. The human inhabitants displaced when their homes were flooded were given ample warning and compensation; not so the wildlife.

Wind power is harnessed through turbines, which take a huge toll of wildlife through collisions. The rotor blades of wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats and birds a year, to the detriment of the ecological services these useful insectivores provide by devouring as many as 1,000 mosquitoes a night, reducing the need to use chemical pesticides.

The construction, operation and maintenance of turbines are also negative factors, especially in marine wind farms – noise whirring of the rotors can all disturb whale and dolphin species which are particularly sensitive to sound.

Biomass production leads to habitat loss and degradation affecting birds and terrestrial mammals. Large plantations lead to monocultures and a loss of habitat diversity and thus reduce the number of species that a given area can support.

Solar, wave and tidal power similarly have their drawbacks, but the guidelines accompanying the report point the way to constructing renewable energy installations in ways that eliminate or at least reduce their impacts on migrating mammals such as birds, dolphins, porpoises and fish and their habitats.

There is no silver bullet to deliver a perfect solution to the problems of our growing demand for energy and of producing it in ways that do not damage the environment in one form or another. Renewables provide many of the answers but they need to be deployed sensitively and not indiscriminately, so that our efforts to keep the atmosphere clean and planet cool do not come at a price that our wildlife cannot afford to pay.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev Signals U-Turn on Alternative Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:08:38 +0000 Paolo Sorbello http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137363 A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Paolo Sorbello
ASTANA, Oct 24 2014 (EurasiaNet)

From small villages to big cities, wherever you go in Kazakhstan these days, billboards offer reminders that Astana is gearing up to host Expo 2017, the next World’s Fair. Kazakhstan helped secure the right to host the event with a pledge to emphasise green energy alternatives. But now it appears that Kazakhstan is red-lighting its own green transition.

Green energy has been the rage in Kazakhstan in recent years, but the country’s strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, seemed to shift gears out of the blue in late September.

“I personally do not believe in alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar,” the Interfax news agency quoted Nazarbayev as saying on Sep. 30 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Caspian city of Atyrau. And echoing a familiar Kremlin refrain, Nazarbayev added that “the shale euphoria does not make any sense.”Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.” -- Luca Anceschi

For a country where the decisions of one man set the political agenda, it was a stunning change of course. Only last year, Nazarbayev’s office pledged to spend one percent of GDP, or an estimated three to four billion dollars annually, to “transition to a green economy.”

“Kazakhstan is facing a situation where its natural resources and environment are seriously deteriorating across all crucial environmental standards,” stated a widely touted “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” concept paper. A “green economy is instrumental to [a] nation’s sustainable development.”

Moreover, a switch to renewables would free oil and gas for more lucrative exports, rather than subsidised domestic use.

While Kazakhstan generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal, state media has trumpeted the potential of green energy, showing Nazarbayev touring a solar-panel factory under construction or an official promising Kazakhstan will build the world’s first “energy-positive” city.

Officials often talk of weaning Kazakhstan’s economy off its hydrocarbon dependence. Ultimately, if Nazarbayev wants to fulfill a pledge to make Kazakhstan a middle-income nation by 2030, officials have acknowledged that Kazakhstan must diversify its energy sources.

So Nazarbayev’s comments have left analysts scratching their heads: Is Kazakhstan’s focus shifting, or was Nazarbayev just reminding trade partners – especially Russia – that oil and gas will remain a priority for Astana? Nazarbayev concluded by saying that “oil and gas is our main horse, and we should not be afraid that these are fossil fuels.”

Context is key, according to Marat Koshumbayev, deputy head of the Chokin Kazakh Research Institute of Energy in Almaty. “While sitting next to [Putin], it is normal that Nazarbayev would emphasise fossil fuels. It’s worth noting that during similar events in the West, the focus is still on renewable energy, efficiency, and reduction of carbon emissions,” Koshumbayev told EurasiaNet.org.

The energy networks of Kazakhstan and Russia are strongly interconnected. Most Kazakh oil exports to Europe go through the Russian hubs of Samara and Novorossiysk, while Russian oil flows through Kazakhstan’s pipeline network to China. In addition, Kazakhstan is a key cog in Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Economic Union.

Although the context of the meeting may have played a role in Nazarbayev’s declaration, the president has sown doubt about how serious Kazakhstan is about green energy, said Luca Anceschi, an expert on the country at the University of Glasgow. Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.”

Nazarbayev, Anceschi added, was warning Astana policymakers to keep the focus on the current economic course. “It’s a clear message that diversification efforts will slow down, with the hope that [the long-delayed, super-giant oil field] Kashagan will come in to solve all problems,” he said.

Koshumbayev agrees Nazarbayev is backtracking. “Unfortunately,” he said, “for the development of renewable energy, more is needed than just Strategy 2050 and the officials who promote it, and Nazarbayev knows this.”

In policy circles in Astana and Almaty, “alternative” energy refers broadly to non-hydrocarbon resources, including, for example, nuclear. Nazarbayev does appear to believe in the power of the atom. During the meeting with Putin in Atyrau, he inked terms for Russia and Kazakhstan to construct a nuclear power plant.

According to the plan, construction will start in 2018, although it is still unclear if the plant will be built near the old Soviet nuclear hub of Semipalatinsk, in the northeast, or in the industrial west, near the Caspian shore.

Even if Kazakhstan shifts away from green energy, some progress is likely to continue. Two wind farms, one in the north and one in the south, received a financial green light in the past months. In the Zhambyl Region, the local government, with some private Lithuanian financing, has agreed to build a 250MW wind farm for 550 million dollars. And in the Akmola Region, near the capital, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to fund a 50MW, 120-million-dollar wind farm.

But for one opposition leader, Nazarbayev’s comments prove these projects are mainly for show.

“Our regime has a feudal mentality. Showing off wealth is a fundamental indication of one’s status,” said Pyotr Svoik, a former deputy natural resources minister turned opposition activist. “That’s how we get an Expo branded ‘energy of the future’ while producing only marginal amounts of renewable energy.”

Editor’s note:  Paolo Sorbello is a freelance reporter who specializes in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Global South Brings United Front to Green Climate Fundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:29:03 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137357 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations’ key mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is now ready to receive funds, following a series of agreements between rich and poor economies.

The agreements covered administrative but potentially far-reaching policies that will govern the mechanism, known as the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This forward momentum comes just weeks ahead of a major “pledging session” in Berlin that is meant to finally get the GCF off the ground.“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles.” -- Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth

“The fund now has the capacity to absorb and programme resources that will be made available to it to achieve a significant climate response on the ground,” Hela Cheikhrouhou, the GCF’s executive director, said Saturday following a series of board meetings in Barbados.

The GCF constitutes the international community’s central attempt to help developing countries prepare for and mitigate climate change. The undertaking thus includes an implicit acknowledgment by rich countries that the developing world, although the least responsible for climate change, will be the most significantly impacted.

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilisation, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.

The GCF opened a secretariat last year, in South Korea, but pledges have since come in slowly. Currently, the aim is to get together 15 billion dollars as starter capital, much of which will have to be achieved at the November pledging session.

The fund’s capitalisation did get a fillip last month, when France and Germany pledged a billion dollars each and lesser amounts were promised by Norway, South Korea and Mexico. On Wednesday, Sweden pledged another half-billion dollars, aimed at setting “an example to … other donors.”

Still, that brings the total funding for the GCF to less than three billion dollars, under a fifth of the goal for this year alone.

“The good news is that this meeting finished laying a strong foundation for the fund,” Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance associate with the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “It’s now nearly ready to go – but it can’t get far without ambitious pledges in November.”

Significant attention is now shifting to the United States and European Union, which have yet to announce pledges. Anti-poverty campaigners have estimated that fair pledges would be around 4.8 billion dollars for the United States and six billion dollars for the European Union.

Country ownership

The GCF now has the institutional capacity to receive the funding around which its operations will revolve, but important decisions remain regarding how the fund will disburse that money.

“There’s now more clarity on how the fund will invest, but little guidance on exactly what it will invest in,” Doukas, who attended last week’s board meeting in Barbados, says. “The board has serious homework between now and its next meeting in February to ensure that it has rules in place to prioritise high-impact climate solutions that also deliver development benefits.”

Still, some important initial headway was made in Barbados around how these projects will be defined. Indeed, development advocates express cautious optimism the new agreements will put greater control over these decisions in the hands of national governments.

For instance, projects green-lighted by the GCF will now be required to have a “no objection” confirmation from the government of the country in which the project will be based.

“If you do not have the no-objection [requirement], the funding intermediaries will be able to impose their own conditionalities, even their own programmes, on a country,” Bernarditas Muller, the GCF representative from the Philippines, said during negotiations, according to a civil society summary.

Observers say this agreement came about because developing countries banded together and pushed against demands from rich governments. (The GCF board includes 24 members, half from poor and half from rich countries.)

“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy advisor with Friends of the Earth who attended the Barbados discussions, told IPS.

“The no-objection procedure in particular is something we’ve been fighting for, for a long time. If an active no-objection is not provided within 30 days, a project is suspended – that is quite important.”

Still, Orenstein, too, worries that significant decisions have against been pushed off to future meetings of the GCF board.

“The fund still leans too heavily towards multilateral development banks and the private sector,” she says.

“It’s not that the GCF shouldn’t be appealing to the private sector, but we want to sure that the priorities are being driven by developing countries. Even though we have these new agreements, there’s still not nearly enough emphasis on having priorities be set at the country level and below.”

New development discourse

At the same time, under this weekend’s agreements developing countries will now be able to access funding directly from the GCF, rather than having to go through an intermediary. In addition, monies pledges to the fund will not be able to be “earmarked” for particular uses by the donor government.

“Traditionally, a lot of funds for climate change have been delivered through multilateral organisations. They haven’t necessarily done a bad job, but in many cases there’s a trade-off between a country’s priorities versus that of the organisation’s,” Annaka Carvalho, a senior programme officer with Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Making sure that countries are in the driver’s seat in directing where these resources are going is really important. Ultimately, only national governments are accountable to their citizens for delivering on adaptation and investing in low-emissions development.”

Carvalho, who was also at the Barbados negotiations, says that the opportunity once the GCF gets off the ground isn’t only about reacting to climate change. She says the fund can also help to bring about a new development paradigm.

“We’ve been hoping the fund will act as a catalyst for shifting the development discourse away from the forces that have caused climate change and instead towards clean energy and resilient livelihoods,” she says.

“A core part of the fund is supposed to realise sustainable development, but there’s always this line between climate and development. In fact, disconnecting these two issues is impossible.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: The Group of 77 & IPS at 50http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:11:32 +0000 Mourad Ahmia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137354

Mourad Ahmia is the Executive Secretary of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations

By Mourad Ahmia
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

When the Group of 77 commemorated its 50th anniversary recently, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency was not far behind.

Established in 1964 as the largest news agency of the global South, IPS has been the voice of both developing nations and the Group of 77 for the past 50 years.

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Both are linked together by a single political commitment: to protect and represent the interests of the developing world.

The 50th anniversary celebration of the G-77 and IPS represents an opportunity to enhance and strengthen the joint partnership in projecting and promoting the concerns of the countries of the South.

For five decades the agency has, in its own way, provided technical help to delegations of the South in promoting the global development agenda of the South.

The integral role played by the Group of 77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the ongoing global development dialogue.

IPS’s priceless contribution in that endeavor translates into promoting a new platform for global governance through critical information and communication.

IPS supported the publication for many years of the first ever G-77 newsletter: “The Journal of the Group of 77,” as well as publishing special editions of Terra Viva on various occasions, particularly the celebration of anniversaries of the Group of 77 and the South Summits.

The initiative to establish a global network of news agencies of the South, launched in 2006 by the G-77 and IPS under the chairmanship of South Africa, is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the G-77 has its own 50-year history of accomplishments.

When it was established on Jun. 15, 1964, the signing nations of the well-known “Joint Declaration of Seventy-Seven Countries” formed the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations to articulate and promote their collective interests and common development agenda.

Since the First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the “Charter of Algiers”, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades.

Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues.The G-77 adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs... Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

The Group has a presence worldwide at U.N. centres in New York, Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Washington D.C., and is actively involved in ongoing negotiations on a wide range of global issues including climate change, poverty eradication, migration, trade, and the law of the sea.

Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N system. The growing membership is proof of its enduring strength.

From 77 founding member states in 1964 to 134 and counting in 2014, it is the largest intergovernmental organisation of the global South dealing with the Development Agenda.

The Group was created with the objective to collectively boost the role and influence of developing countries on the global stage when it became clear that political independence, to be meaningful, required changes in the economic relations between North and South.

Thus, political independence needed to be accompanied by economic diplomacy with the ultimate objective of the reform of the international economic order.

Today, the G-77 represents the greatest coalition of humanity and remains a vital negotiating instrument in economic multilateral diplomacy, and for ensuring international peace and justice through international cooperation for development within the framework of the United Nations.

This has been the thrust of the joint expression of South-South solidarity since the Group’s creation, and its collective voice has spread to every institution and international organisation representing the hopes and aspirations of the majority of humanity.

The integral role played by the G-77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the global development dialogue.

The Group has, through its compact Executive Secretariat limited resources, managed to work successfully with its development partners to analyse issues and propose alternative solutions to development challenges.

For 50 years the G-77 contributed to the formulation and adoption of numerous U.N. resolutions, programmes, and plans of action, most of which address the core issues of development. Its role in generating global consensus on the issues of development has been widely acknowledged by world leaders, diplomats, parliamentarians, academia, researchers, media and civil society.

It is a tribute to the historical validity of the conception, purposes, and endeavours of the Group, which have withstood the test of time.

The essential rationale for the Group was, and remains, to strive for a wider participation of developing countries in global economic decision-making and for inserting a development dimension in international institutions and policies within the framework of the United Nations system.

The Group presently consists of 134 countries, comprising over 80 per cent of the world’s population and approximately two-thirds of the United Nations membership.

The Group is the world’s second largest international organisation after the 193-member United Nations, and many countries, from emerging developing economies to least developed countries and small island developing states have chaired the Group, ranging in regions from Africa, Asia-Pacific to Latin America and the Caribbean.

2014 marks a milestone in the life of the Group with the celebration of the fiftieth year of its establishment, a period during which it has nearly doubled in membership and multiplied its south-south cooperation achievements while continuing to operate as a coalition of nations in promoting North-South dialogue for development.

It is remarkable that with such a diverse membership and without a formal constitution it has managed to endure the world’s political and economic turbulence for 50 years and remain true to its original mission in promoting the United Nations’ development agenda.

The G-77 has devoted five decades working to achieve development. It adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs.

Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

In its 50 years, the Group of 77 has solidified the global South as a coalition of nations, aspiring for a global partnership for peace and development.

Today, the Group of 77 is recognised for its work to promote international cooperation for development towards a prosperous and peaceful world.

The commitment and dedication of the Group in selflessly shaping world affairs has benefited billions of lives worldwide, and such recognition of its significant contribution during the Group’s fiftieth anniversary is most appropriate.

Happy 50th anniversary for both G-77 and IPS!

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137344 By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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