Inter Press Service » Green Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 02 Apr 2015 08:24:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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Opinion: A Major Push Forward for Gender and Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:23:00 +0000 Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139940 Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez
NEW YORK/NAIROBI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Experts from around the world gathered in New York recently to launch work on the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO), the first comprehensive, integrated and global assessment of gender issues in relation to the environment and sustainability.

Never before has there been an analysis at the scale of the GGEO or with the global visibility and audience. It will provide governments and other stakeholders with the evidence-based global and regional information, data, and tools they need for transformational, gender-responsive environmental policy-making – if they’re willing to do so.The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

The writing workshop happened in the context of the recent 59th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 20 years after 189 countries met in Beijing to adopt a global platform of action for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Beijing+20 offers a critical moment to assess how far we’ve come and put gender at the centre of global sustainability, environment and development agendas. Twenty years later, what have we accomplished?

In 2015, governments will be setting the development agenda for the next 15 years through the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as negotiating a new global climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be making a bold contribution to these global efforts by putting gender at the heart of environment and development analysis and action in the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO). The GGEO will be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly in May 2016.

A recent flagship publication by UN Women, The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2014), reveals that 748 million people globally (10 per cent of the world’s population) are without access to improved water sources.

Women and girls are the primary water carriers for these families, fetching water for over 70 per cent of these households. In many rural areas, they may walk up to two hours; in urban areas, it is common to have to wait for over an hour at a shared standpipe.

This unpaid “women’s work” significantly limits their potential to generate income and their opportunities to attend school. Women and girls suffer high levels of mental stress where water rights are insecure and, physically, the years of carrying water from an early stage takes its toll, resulting in cumulative wear and tear to the neck, spine, back and knees.

The bodies of women, the Survey concludes, in effect become part of the water-delivery infrastructure, doing the work of the pipes. Not only in water, but also in all environmental sectors – land, energy, natural resources – women are burdened by time poverty and lack of access to natural and productive assets.

Their work and capabilities systematically unrecognised and undervalued. This is a long call away from the Beijing commitment to “the full implementation of the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

On the one hand, our thinking about the inter-linkages between gender, sustainability, and development has progressed significantly since 1995. Innovative research and analysis have transformed our understanding so that gender is now seen as a major driver – and pre-requisite – for sustainability.

Gender approaches in U.N. climate negotiations are a good case in point. Thanks to persistent efforts on advocacy, activism, research, and strategic capacity building by many, it is more widely accepted that gender roles and norms influence climate change drivers such as energy use and consumption patterns, as well as policy positions and public perceptions of the problem.

These were acknowledged – albeit late – in negotiations, policies and strategies on the topic. One small indication is that references to “gender” in the draft climate change negotiating texts increased dramatically from zero in 2007 to more than 60 by 2010.

According to data by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) as of November 2014, 32 decisions under the climate change convention now include gender.

On the other hand, not much seems to have changed. In 1995, inequalities, foremost gender inequality, undermined economic prosperity and sustainable development. This is even more the case today.

Perpetuating gender inequality and disregarding the potential contribution of both men and women is short-sighted, has high opportunity cost and impacts negatively on all three the pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social and economic.

The course to achieving gender equality also remains plagued by a simplistic translation of gender as women and empowerment as ‘gender mainstreaming’ in projects and interventions that are not necessarily planned with an objective of longer-term, transformational equality.

Numerous studies point out the obvious links between social and political dimensions of gender inequality and the economic trade-offs, and that narrowing the gender gap benefits us all and on many fronts.

The World Bank, World Economic Forum and the OECD, for example, have all concluded that women who have access to education also have access to opportunities for decent employment and sustainable entrepreneurship – key components of an inclusive green economy. The education of girls is linked to its direct and noticeable positive impact on sustainability.

The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

And most global policies on environment and development remain dangerously uninformed by gendered analysis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Turkey Investing in Coal Despite Cheaper Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:09:02 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139900 By Sean Buchanan
GENEVA, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In response to rising demand for electricity, pressure to keep prices affordable and a need to maintain energy security, the Turkish government plans to increase electricity generation from coal.

According to a report on ‘Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey’ released on Mar. 24,

Turkey already spent more than 730 million dollars in subsidies to the coal industry in 2013.

This figure, says the report, does not even count subsidies under the Turkish government’s ‘New Investment Incentive Scheme’, which provides tax breaks and low-cost loans to coal projects, so the true figure is likely to be even higher.

The report, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), says that the Turkish government is planning to triple generation from coal by 2030 despite the fact that renewable energy is already cheaper than coal when external costs, such as health and environmental damage caused by burning coal, are taken into account.

According to the report, the country has developed a strategy “focusing on developing domestic coal resources, such that growth in coal-fired power generation is expected to be highest of all Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.”

Nevertheless, this strategy “also acknowledges the importance of environmental protection and emissions reduction, and foresees a much larger role for renewable energy in the energy future.”

The report comes at a time when public and private institutions are under mounting pressure to stop investing in coal mining companies.

“Subsidies for coal lock in coal power for another generation when renewable sources of energy are less costly for society in economic, social and environmental terms,” said Sevil Acar, Assistant Professor at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University and one of the report’s authors.

The report says that when the costs of coal are compared with the costs of wind and solar energy, taking into account environmental and health costs, electricity from wind power is half the cost of electricity from coal, and solar power is also marginally cheaper than coal.

“This study provides further evidence to support the case for eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies once and for all,” said Peter Wooders, director of IISD’s Energy Programme. “As a G20 country that has already committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies, this is a call to action for Turkey.”

According to the report, just over half of Turkey’s subsidies are used to provide coal to low-income households and while these serve the important goal of improving energy access, they come at a high health cost and are no replacement for social security programmes.

The report recommends a gradual phase-out of these subsidies in favour of more efficient measures to support access to energy and support social welfare.

Meanwhile, notes the report, coal also remains a significant employer in many areas, and any moves away from coal use would need detailed planning to ensure that affected communities can benefit from compensation measures and additional job creation from new technologies.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Q&A: “Protect Your Biodiversity”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-protect-your-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:24:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139884 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN, Antigua, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Richard Huber is chief of the Sustainable Communities, Hazard Risk, and Climate Change Section of the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Its objective? Foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.

On a recent visit to Antigua, IPS correspondent Desmond Brown sat down with Huber to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What is a sustainable country?

A: A sustainable country is a country that is significantly trying to limit its CO2 emissions. For example, Costa Rica is trying to become the first zero emissions country, and they are doing that by having a majority of their power from renewable sources, most notably hydroelectric but also wind and solar and biofuels.

So a sustainable country in the element of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be a country that is planting lots of trees to sequester carbon, looking after its coral reefs and its mangrove ecosystems, its critical ecosystems through a national parks and protected areas progamme and being very, very energy efficient with a view towards, let’s say by 2020, being a country that has zero carbon emissions.

Q: How can small island states in the Caribbean be sustainable environmentally?

A: The first thing you would want to do is to have a very strong national parks and protected areas programme, as we are working on right now through the Northeast Management Marine Area as well as Cades Bay in the south, two very large parks which would encompass almost 40 percent of the marine environment.

In fact, there is a Caribbean Challenge Initiative throughout many Caribbean countries that began through the prime minister of Grenada where many, many Caribbean countries are committing to having 20 percent of their marine areas well managed from a protection and conservation point of view by the year 2020.

So protect your biodiversity. It’s a very good defence against hurricanes and other storm surges that occur. Those countries that in fact looked after their mangrove ecosystems, their freshwater herbaceous swamps, their marshes in general, were countries that had much less impact from the tsunami in the South Pacific. So protect your ecosystems.

Second of all, be highly energy efficient. Try to encourage driving hybrid cars, fuel efficient cars and have a very good sustainable transport programme. Public transportation actually is a great poverty alleviation equaliser, helping the poor get to work in comfort and quickly. So be energy efficient, protect your biodiversity would be the two key things towards being a sustainable country.

Q: What examples of environmental sustainability have you observed during your visit to Antigua?

A: I’ve been travelling around with Ruth Spencer, who is the consultant who’s working on having up to 10 solar power photovoltaic electricity programmes in community centres, in churches and other outreach facilities. We went to the Precision Project the other day which not only has 19 kilowatts of photovoltaic, which I think is more electricity than they need, and they are further adding back to the grid. So that is less than zero carbon because they are actually producing more electricity than they use.

There is [also] tremendous opportunity for Antigua to grow all its crops [using hydroponics]. The problem with, for example, the tourism industry is that they depend on supply being there when they need it so that is the kind of thing that hydroponics and some of these new technologies in more efficient agriculture and sustainable agriculture could give. The idea would be to make Antigua and Barbuda food sufficient by the year 2020.

Q: Could you give me examples of OAS projects in the Caribbean on this topic?

A: This is the second phase of the sustainable communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project. So the first one we had 14 projects and this one we have 10 projects. So let me give you a couple of examples in the Caribbean. In Dominican Republic we are supporting hydroelectric power, mini hydro plants and also training and outreach on showing the people who live along river basins that they could have a mini hydro powering the community.

Another project which is very interesting is the Grenada project whereby 90 percent of the poultry in Grenada was imported. The reason it’s imported is because the cost of feed is so expensive. So there was a project where the local sanitary landfill gave the project land and the person is going by the fish market and picking up all the fish waste which was thrown into the bay earlier but he is now picking that up and taking it to the sanitary landfill where he has a plant where he cooks the fish waste and other waste and turns it into poultry feed.

So now instead of being 90 percent of the poultry being imported it’s now down to 70 percent and not only that, his energy source is used engine oil.

Q: What advice would you give to Caribbean countries on the subject of renewable energy and energy efficiency?

A: The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be an enabling environment created on order to introduce renewables, in this case mostly solar and wind. Right around this site here in Jabberwock Beach there are four historic windmills which are now in ruins, but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of wind that blew here traditionally and still blows and so these ridges along here and along the beach would be excellent sites for having wind power.

Also lots of land for example around the airport, a tremendous amount of sun and land which has high security where you could begin to have solar panels. We’re beginning to have solar panel projects in the United States which are 150 megawatts which I think is more than all of Antigua and Barbuda uses.

So these larger plants particularly in areas which have security already established, like around the airport you can introduce larger scale photovoltaic projects that would feed into the grid and over time you begin to phase out the diesel generation system that supplies 100 percent or almost 99 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s power today.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

You can watch the full interview below:

Q&A from IPS News on Vimeo.

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Hold the Rich Accountable in New U.N. Development Goals, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:55:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139844 A man lives in the makeshift house behind him, Slovak Republic. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

A man lives in the makeshift house behind him in the Slovak Republic, a member of the EU. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met last January in Switzerland, attended mostly by the rich and the super-rich, the London-based charity Oxfam unveiled a report with an alarming statistic: if current trends continue, the world’s richest one percent would own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

And just 80 of the world’s richest will control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people: half the world’s population.The post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes.

So, when the World Social Forum (WSF), created in response to WEF, holds its annual meeting in Tunis later this week, the primary focus will be on the growing inequalities in present day society.

The Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) on Global Development Perspectives will be releasing a new study which calls for both goals and commitments – this time particularly by the rich – if the U.N.’s 17 proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-2015 development agenda are to succeed.

Asked if the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will reach their targeted deadlines in December, had spelled out goals for the rich, Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum in Bonn, told IPS MDG 8 on global partnership for development was indeed a goal for the rich.

“But this goal remained vague and did not include any binding commitments for rich countries,” he pointed out.

This is the reason why the proposed SDG 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, he added.

In addition, Martens said, governments agreed to include targets on the means of implementation under each of the remaining 16 SDGs. However, many of these targets, again, are not “smart”, i.e. neither specific nor measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

“What we need are ‘smart’ targets to hold rich countries accountable,” he added.

Martens said goals without the means to achieve them are meaningless. And the post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes, he added.

Goals for the rich are indispensable for the post-2015 agenda, stressed Barbara Adams, senior policy advisor for Global Policy Forum and a member of the coordinating committee of Social Watch.

The eight MDGs, which will be replaced by the proposed new 17 SDGs, to be finalised before world leaders meet at a summit in September, were largely for developing nations with specific targets, including the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, reducing infant mortality and fighting environmental degradation.

Beginning Monday, a new round of inter-governmental negotiations will continue through Mar. 23 to finalise the SDGs.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities, perhaps by 2030.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator for Social Watch, said three specific “goals for the rich” are particularly important for sustainable development worldwide:

The goal to reduce inequality within and among countries; the goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and the goal to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development

He said the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) must be applied rigorously.

Coupled with the human rights principle of equal rights for all and the need to respect the planetary boundaries, this must necessarily translate into different obligations for different categories of countries, Bissio added.

Henning Melber, director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, said for Dag Hammarskjöld, the former U.N. Secretary-General, the United Nations was an organisation guided by solidarity. If solidarity is with the poor, the rich have to realise that less is more in terms of stability, sustainability, equality and the future of humanity, he said.

In its new study, the Civil Society Reflection Group said all of the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group are relevant for rich, poor and emerging economies, in North and South alike.

All governments that subscribe to the post-2015 agenda must deliver on all goals.

On the face of it, for rich countries, many of the goals and targets seem to be quite easy to fulfill or have already been achieved, especially those related to social accomplishments (e.g. targets related to absolute poverty, primary education or primary health care), the Group noted.

“Unfortunately, social achievements in reality are often fragile particularly for the socially excluded and can easily be rolled back as a result of conflict (as in the case of Ukraine), of capitalism in crisis (in many countries after 2008) or as a result of wrong-headed, economically foolish and socially destructive policies, as in the case of austerity policies in many regions, from Latin America to Asia to Southern Europe. “

In the name of debt reduction and improved competitiveness, these policies brought about large-scale unemployment and widespread impoverishment, often coupled with the loss of basic income support or access to basic primary health care. More often than not, this perversely increased sovereign debt instead of decreasing it (“Paradox of thrift”), the study said.

But also under ‘normal’ circumstances some of the “MDG-plus” targets relating to poverty eradication and other social development issues may prove to be a real challenge in many parts of the rich world, where poverty has been rising.

In the United States, the study said, poverty increased steadily in the last two decades and currently affects some 50 million people, measured by the official threshold of 23,850 dollars a year for a family of four.

In Germany, 20.3 percent of the population – a total of 16.2 million people – were affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013.

In the European Union as a whole, the proportion of poor or socially excluded people was 24.5 percent, the Group said.

To address this and similar situations, target 1.2 in the Open Working Group’s proposal requests countries to “by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”.

How one looks at ‘goals for the rich’ depends on whether one takes a narrow national or inward-looking view, or whether one takes into account the international responsibilities and extraterritorial obligations of countries for past, present and future actions and omissions affecting others beyond a country’s borders; whether one accepts and honors the CBDR principle for the future of humankind and planet earth, the study said.

In addition, this depends on whether one accepts home country responsibilities for actions and omissions of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations and their international supply chains. Contemporary international soft law (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) is based on this assumption, as are other accords such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Last, but not least, rich countries tend to be more powerful in terms of their influence on international and global policymaking and standard setting, the study declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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High-Tech to the Rescue of Southern Africa’s Smallholder Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139810 The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Agriculture is the major employer and a backbone of the economies of Southern Africa.

However, the rural areas that support an agriculture-based livelihood system for the majority of the nearly 270 million people living in the region are typically fragile and there is wide variability in the development challenges facing the countries of the region.

The agricultural sector is dominated by crop production, although the share of livestock production and other agriculture practices have been increasing.Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely small holder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world

Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely smallholder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world.

These and other challenges facing the sector were the focus of a three-day meeting (Mar. 10-12) in Durban of management and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which ended with a call to prioritise broad-based partnerships and build synergies to provide countries with effective and efficient support in the agriculture sector.

In an annual event designed to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of information on best practices and the general performance of FAO programmes in the region, David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, reiterated the importance of different sectors working together.

“Achieving food and nutrition security in Southern Africa is a challenge far too great for any government or FAO to overcome alone,” he said. “As well as the governments of developing and developed countries, the civil society, private sector and international development agencies must be involved. Above all, the people themselves need to be empowered to manage their own development.”

Building on what works

As one example of the best practices under the scrutiny of the meeting, participants took part in a field visit to the Dube AgriZone facility – a high-tech agricultural development initiative pioneered by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.

The facility aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s perishables sector and aims to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and improved management of disease and pests.

The facility – strategically located 30 km north of the important coastal city of Durban – currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa.

Its primary focus is on the production of short shelf-life vegetables and cut flowers which require immediate post-harvest airlifting and supply to both domestic and export markets.

In addition to its greenhouses, the facility offers dedicated post-harvest packing houses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and the Dube AgriLab, a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory.

Dube AgriZone is an eco-friendly facility, adopting a range of ‘green’ initiatives to offset its environmental impact, including rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy, on-site waste management, and the growth of indigenous plants for rehabilitation efforts.

Dube AgriZone provides growers with the potential to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistency of produce quality, close management of disease and pest infestation and year-round crop production with a view to improved sustainability and enhanced agricultural competitiveness.

“I could never have been able put up such a facility and produce at the current scale were it not for this innovative AgriZone,” said Derrick Baird, owner of Qutom Farms, which currently produces 150,000 cucumbers in the glass greenhouse leased from Dube AgriZone.

“This high-tech facility with all the necessary facilities – including transportation and freight – has allowed us to concentrate on producing cucumbers at much lower costs than in other locations where we had previously tried.”

The partnership between the provincial government and the private sector behind the facility was hailed as an example of a success story that could offer valuable lessons to others across Southern Africa.

“There is plenty we can learn from this facility and perhaps one of the more important ones is on forming partnerships and alliances,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative in South Africa.

“We need to build on what is working by adopting and adapting technologies to the local situation, and then scaling them upwards and outwards to achieve even better results,” he added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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‘Water Man of India’ Wins Stockholm Water Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/water-man-of-india-wins-stockholm-water-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-man-of-india-wins-stockholm-water-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/water-man-of-india-wins-stockholm-water-prize/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 16:04:28 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139793 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

A conservationist known as ‘The Water Man of India’ has been named Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for 2015.

Rajendra Singh, from the state of Rajasthan, has been a leading voice for water security, management and conservation in India for decades.

Singh is currently Chairman of environmental advocacy group Tarun Bharat Sangh, which helps local communities in India take back control of their natural resources, as well as pushing for sustainable development.

“Through the Indian wisdom of rainwater harvesting, we have made helpless, abandoned, destitute and impoverished villages prosperous and healthy again,” Singh said.

Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, called Singh “a beacon of hope,” warning that “we will face a severe water crisis within decades if we do not learn how to better take care of our water.”

“He has literally brought villages back to life. We need to take Mr Singh’s lessons and actions to heart if we are to achieve sustainable water use in our lifetime,” Holmgren said.

Singh studied medicine and surgery, but after relocating to Rajasthan in the 1980s with a plan to establish medical clinics, was told by villagers that their greatest need was water.

He began working to build traditional dams called johads; in awarding the prize, the Stockholm Water Prize Committee said Singh helped build almost 9,000 such water collection devices in 1,000 villages across the state, which restored water flow to several rivers and encouraged the return of forests and wildlife.

“When we started our work, we were only looking at the drinking water crisis and how to solve that. Today our aim is higher,” Singh said.

This is the century of exploitation, pollution and encroachment. To stop all this, to convert the war on water into peace, that is my life’s goal.”

Singh will receive US$150,000 as part of the prize. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Patron of the prize, will present Singh with the honour at a Royal Award Ceremony during World Water Week in Stockholm on August 26.

Singh joins other winners of the award, awarded annually since 1991, including dignitaries from Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the USA, Mexico, Germany, South Africa and Israel.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Sustainable Development Goals Could Be a Game-Changer for Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:55:44 +0000 Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139788 Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Suppose money was being deposited and withdrawn from your bank account, but you didn’t know how much. And suppose you knew you had bills coming due, but you didn’t know when or what amount would be required to cover them.

Worse, what if you discovered that money was being siphoned from your retirement account to cover the shortfall in your checking account? How confident would you feel about your financial stability?While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises.

This situation plays out every day when it comes to freshwater. We don’t know how much water we are withdrawing and consuming. In many places, we don’t even know how much groundwater and surface water we have.

But we do know this unequivocally: People, ecosystems, food, energy and cities can’t exist without water. Already, water resources are being strained to the breaking point – in Sao Paulo, northern China, the western United States, northwestern India and many other places. And the world’s water needs are rising inexorably.

Yet this World Water Day, we also find ourselves at a watershed moment. There is a powerful opportunity that may help countries move toward better water management: the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walking the Talk through Targets, Measurement

The SDGs will replace the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, and set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. For the first time ever, the goals could offer new transparency and accountability in how the world uses its water resources. Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs has specific targets related to sustainable and efficient water use, water and sanitation, water quality and protection of critical natural infrastructure.

Beyond a dedicated goal on water, the issue is also mainstreamed across the 17 goals – in goal 3 on health, goal 11 on cities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.  These targets will focus political attention, resources and stakeholders on water management more than ever before.

This fall, the international community will finalise the SDGs and the metrics to measure and track water use at a country level. These targets could help hold countries accountable for better water management. Importantly, the SDGs would apply to both developed and developing countries, forcing all countries to “walk the talk.”

Where companies lead, others follow

Many companies already understand that the world is on an unsustainable path. They’re experiencing it in their bottom lines, and investors are asking tough questions. The 2015 World Economic Forum listed “water supply crises” as the top global risks affecting businesses.

Industry leaders are taking steps to reduce their risk exposure and making investments to lessen watershed-level stress, devoting resources to urban water efficiency, aquifer recharge and reforestation and other strategies. For example, Heineken committed this year to create source water protection plans for all of its production units located in water-stressed areas, while MillerCoors has a five-part water stewardship strategy in place.

The private sector and civil society will be useful allies in raising awareness in countries facing particularly high competition for water resources. Hopefully this, combined with the SDGs, will motivate governments to take positive action to reduce water stress – from more rational water pricing, to regulating groundwater withdrawal rates to incentivizing efficient irrigation and reducing water intensity in energy extraction and production.

It starts with good data

This first-of-its-kind SDG system will depend on strong metrics and data. A first step will be establishing a baseline to track sustainable water use against the target.

This challenge will require the best efforts of experts on global water data systems. These discussions are already underway across the world’s professional water communities.

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool is a good place to start. The open-source platform provides the most up-to-date, globally consistent water supply and demand data publicly available today. Many companies, investors, governments and others are already using the Aqueduct tool Forthcoming water stress projection maps will also provide scenarios for future demand and supply for 2020, 2030 and 2040, helping the private sector and government create forward-looking water management policies.

An unprecedented opportunity

We can move from a picture of frightening scarcity, uncertainty and competition to one of abundance. Strategies to reduce water stress and use water more efficiently have been successfully applied by countries on virtually every continent. Awareness drives action, and transparency drives accountability.

The international consensus embedded in the new SDGs could be a game-changer. While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises. And done well, they will foster growth, reduce poverty and build resilient ecosystems – delivering a more sustainable future.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women in the Philippines at the Forefront of the Health Food Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:25:47 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139784 In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

When Tinay Alterado’s team from ARUGAAN, an organisation of women healthcare advocates, visited Eastern Visayas, a region of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, they noticed that the relief and rescue sites were flooded with donated milk formula, which nursing mothers were feeding to their babies in vast quantities.

Milk formula was one of the hundreds of relief items that streamed into the affected region in the aftermath of the strongest recorded storm to ever hit land.

“No one knows if GMOs are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health." -- Angelina Galang, head of Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF)
“We intervened because we knew from what we saw that we had to teach women how to breastfeed and how important it is for them, their babies and their families,” Alterado told IPS.

ARUGAAN, which in Filipino means to nurture or take care of someone, is a home centre organised by mostly poor, urban working mothers who care for babies up to three-and-a-half months old and advocate for healthy lifestyles, especially exclusive breastfeeding.

“We informed the women that they can and must breastfeed, and it should be for [up to] six months or even longer,” Alterado said.

Her group’s emergency response in the typhoon-affected areas took more time than planned, as they had to teach women how to induce milk from their breasts through a process called ‘lactation massage’ and how to store the milk for their babies’ next meal.

Alterado said her colleagues have doubled their efforts to spread awareness on this crucial aspect of motherhood, which is not ingrained in the country’s culture. Few people connect the act of breastfeeding with its associated economic and environmental benefits, such as reducing trash or easing a family’s financial woes.

In a country where 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted, women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition cannot be underestimated.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “An overreliance on rice, low levels of breastfeeding and […] recurring natural hazards, connected to and amplified by […] poverty, means that children do not eat enough” in this archipelago nation of just over 100 million people.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the Philippines is devastated by an average of 20 typhoons every year that severely damage crops and farmlands, adding another layer to the thorny question of how to solve the country’s food issues.

Last year, the Philippines joined a list of some 63 developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of hungry people ahead of the 2015 deadline. Still, the country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, contributing to Asia-Pacific’s dubious distinction of being home to 553 million malnourished people as of 2014.

As government officials and international development organisations struggle to come to terms with these numbers against the backdrop of impending natural disasters, women across the Philippines are already leading the way on efforts to combat hunger and ease the burden of malnutrition.

Ancient wisdom to tackle modern lifestyles

Alterado’s crusade is no different from that of Angelina Galang who heads Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF), a coalition of organisations pushing for consumers’ right to know, choose, and have access to safe and healthy food.

For Galang, the struggle starts at home. When her grandchildren visit every weekend, she doesn’t serve them the usual soda, junk food or take-out pizza favored by so many young people. Instead, she gives them fruits and healthy, home-cooked snacks like boiled bananas.

She said the children didn’t like it at first but after many months, they have become used to weekend visits with their grandma that do not feature Coke and hot dogs. “Hopefully, they will learn and adopt that kind of lifestyle as they grow up,” she told IPS.

Galang said teaching the ‘fast food generation’ about the right kinds and quantities of food is a challenge, especially since many young people are taken in by corporations’ attractive marketing tactics.

But the problems do not end there. CRSF is also challenging the Philippine government to conduct better research on genetically modified crops and to label food products that are known to have genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which alter the genetic makeup of crops to enhance their appearance, nutrient content and growth.

“No one knows if GMO foods are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health,” Galang asserted.

“Consumers are the guinea pigs of GMOs,” she said, adding that eight GMO crops have been approved by the Philippine government for propagation and 63 for importation.

The movement against genetically modified crops recently coalesced around the government’s attempts to plant the genetically engineered ‘golden rice’, a strand fortified with beta-carotene that the body converts to Vitamin A.

The government claimed its experiment was designed to address the country’s massive Vitamin A deficiency, which affects 1.7 million children under the age of five and roughly 500,000 pregnant and nursing mothers, according to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Activists and concerned citizens say that GMOs will worsen hunger, kill diversification and possibly contaminate other crops. Women like Galang also contend that until long-term, comprehensive studies are done, “It is better to eat and buy local, unprocessed and organic foods.”

Educating the youth

Experts say the first step in the health food movement is to educate children on the importance of eating local and organic.

Camille Genuino, a member of the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation based in Bacolod City, is witnessing this first hand. Her four-year-old child, who attends a daycare centre, is learning how to plant herbs and make pasta and pizza from the fresh produce harvested from their little plot.

“Educating children and exposing them to the benefits of farming is good parenting,” said Genuino, whose non-governmental advocacy group produces the nutritious Mingo powder – an instant formula that turns into a rich porridge when mixed with water – which is distributed in disaster-stricken areas.

Her child’s daycare centre is based in Quezon City, a poor, urban area located close to a waste disposal facility where residents have installed farms on their roofs so they can grow their own food. The centre conducts regular feeding programmes for 80 to 100 children in the area.

It is a humble effort in the greater scheme of things, but similar initiatives across the Philippines suggest a growing movement, led largely by women, is at the forefront of sparking changes in the food and nutrition sector.

Monina Geaga, who heads Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (SARILAYA), a group of grassroots women’s organisations, believes that independent efforts to ensure a family’s nutrition can go a long way.

“People should know how to plant vegetables – like tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and string beans – in pots, and recycle containers for planting,” she said. “This would at least ensure where your food comes from because you source your meals from your own garden.”

More than 200 farmer-members of SARILAYA – mostly across Luzon, one of the three major islands in the Philippines – practice organic agriculture, believing it to be the best guarantee of their families’ health in the era of processed foods, GMOs and synthetic products.

Geaga said Filipino women, including the ones staying at home and raising their children, are at the forefront of these consumer and environment advocacy efforts.

Citing studies by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute and the University of the Philippines, she pointed out that poor families spend 70 percent more on purchasing infant formulas than other needs in the household and that youth in the 16-20 age-group consume fast food products heavy in fat, cholesterol and sodium on a daily basis.

Such statistics are not just numbers on a page – they are the reason scores of women across the Philippines are doubling up as scientists, farmers and activists so that they and their families can be a little healthier, and perhaps live a little longer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139762 A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caribbean Community Climate-Smarting Fisheries, But Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 14:08:07 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139705 Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean nations have begun work on a plan to ‘climate smart’ the region’s fisheries as part of overall efforts to secure food supplies.

The concept is in keeping with plans by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to improve the “integration of agriculture and climate readiness” as the region prepares to deal with the impacts of climate change and the increasing demand for food.“With the projections, we're looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries." -- Dr. Orville Grey

Olu Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator, told IPS in an email that climate-smarting the region’s aquatic resources will “enable the sector to continue to contribute to sustainable development, while reducing the vulnerability associated with the negative impacts of climate change”.

“Climate-smart fisheries require improving efficiency in the use of natural resources to produce fish, maintaining the resilience of aquatic systems and the communities that rely on them,” he noted.

The fisheries sector of the Caribbean Community is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance for the estimated 182,000 people who directly depend on these resources. In recent years, fishermen across the region have reported fewer and smaller fish in their nets and scientists believe these are signs of the times, not just the result of over-exploitation and habitat degradation.

“We believe the signs of climate change are already affecting our vital fisheries sector in the increase in seaweed events causing the loss of access to fishing grounds and increased frequency of coral bleaching events,” Peter A. Murray, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Secretariat’s Programme Manager, Fisheries Management and Development, told IPS.

Listing some of the predicted changes, including climatic variations that promote the spread of invasive species, as well as increased salination, Murray noted that climate change is also expected to impact traditional species and contribute to coastal erosion due to more frequent and devastating hurricanes.

In fact, the secretariat’s Deputy Executive Director Susan Singh Renton told reporters at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture last November that warmer seas could also push larger species to the north, making them less available to regional fishers. CRFM is the Caricom organisation charged with the promotion of responsible use of regional fisheries.

Two weeks after launching its Climate Smart Agriculture project at the 13th celebration of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname in November 2014, the CTA began development of several initiatives. The programmes, they said would help the region to “tackle the impact of agriculture on small-scale producers” – among them small-scale fishers and fish farmers – in a way that will facilitate the construction of “resilient agricultural systems”.

The project came on the heels of the announcement of a Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFP) and the CRFM Climate Change Action Plan. These are two of several proposals by Community organisations to monitor and regulate capture fisheries as well as implement common goals and rules on the adaptation, management, and conservation of the resources.

Ajayi pointed out that since 2010, the CTA has been working closely with regional agencies including the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and the CRFM to implement the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change.

Timely, since some of the species most fished and traded by the region’s fishermen are already under pressure from over-exploitation, degraded habitats and pollution. The Queen Conch, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, the Nassau Grouper and the Parrotfish are among a growing list of species under closer scrutiny for tougher regulations on their capture and trade. Climate change is expected to make the problems worse.

“The support is aimed at developing common regional policy platforms and advocating regional policy initiatives in regional and global forums; strengthening national capacities through training and other supports and conducting comparative analyses of issues on a regional and sub-regional basis,” Ajayi said.

Scientists agree that there is need for immediate action. Technical officer in Jamaica’s Climate Change Division, Dr. Orville Grey, told reporters recently at the Jamaica Observer’s weekly exchange: “If you look at what is happening with sea surface temperatures, you’ll see that we are losing our corals through the warming of the oceans.”

He continued, “With the projections, we’re looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries”.

Murray pointed out that because the marine resources are shared, it is important that the Caribbean Community work together to implement supporting policies and agreements.

He noted, “The region has an action plan to address climate change in fisheries, but to be fully ready it has to be taken aboard by all stakeholders.”

There are also efforts to empower fisherfolk to access and share information that will enable them to participate in policy development at the local and regional levels. But fisherfolk are still not ready.

Mitchell Lay, coordinator of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO), said, however, climate smarting is on the group’s agenda for 2015

Both governments and NGOs have upped their activities to protect the resources. But while the former has been slow to act at the national and regional levels, environmentalists are upping the ante by seeking protection for several species that are seen to be in need of protection.

Two years ago, U.S.-based WildEarth Guardian petitioned to have the Queen Conch listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law. For Caribbean nations like the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize that depend on economically important species like conch and lobster, the ability to trade is critical to the local economies.

On Nov. 3, 2014 the NOAA denied the petition, but many believe regional trade of these species is on borrowed time, particularly as the effects of climate change grows.

“The CRFM Action Plan seeks to work towards a regional society and economy that is resilient to a changing climate and enhanced through comprehensive disaster management and sustainable use of aquatic resources,” Murray said.

He pointed to the five objectives of the plan, which among other things include actions to mainstream climate change adaptation into the sustainable development agendas of member states, and promoting actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and employing renewable and clean energy sources. Historically, however, the region has been slow to enact Community policies.

Key to successful climate smarting is the participation of the fisherfolk who have been the beneficiaries of several CTA-sponsored programmes to help them access information; assist them to become more efficient; and to enable them to engage in policy development at the local and regional levels.

The next steps are dependent on the implementation of relevant and necessary policies and the strengthening the legislation. Until then, fisherfolk and supporting institutions continue to wait.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry in Need of a Makeoverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:50:33 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139681 Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Over the past three decades, 50 percent of the 544,150 square kilometres that comprise Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, has been taken over by the palm oil industry.

“It will expand until it pushes us all into the ocean,” prophesies Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), who has fought for years to preserve an ancient way of life from being bulldozed to make way for mono-crop plantations.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life." -- Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)
For her, the business of producing the oil, a favourite of consumers around the world, needs to fall in line with the principles of sustainability. On its current growth spurt, the industry threatens to undermine local economies, indigenous communities and Indonesia’s delicate network of biodiversity.

Consumption of palm oil has risen steadily at seven percent per annum over the last 20 years, according to new data from a report published by the Dublin-based consultancy Research and Markets.

Globally, more people consume palm oil than soybean oil, and Indonesia is the largest producer of the stuff, churning out 31 million tonnes of palm oil in 2014. Malaysia and Indonesia together account for 85 percent of palm oil produced globally each year.

While output is predicted to be lower in 2015, the industry continues to expand rapidly, swallowing up millions of hectares of forestland to make space for palm plantations.

Indonesian government officials and industrialists insist that the sector boosts employment, and benefits local communities, but people like Setra disagree, arguing instead that the highly unsustainable business model is wreaking havoc on the environment and indigenous people, who number between 50 and 70 million in a country with a population of 249 million.

Busting the myth of equality and employment

A recent study by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found that the main benefactors of the palm oil industry are the big investors and companies that control 80 percent of the global palm oil trade.

The report found, “[The] palm oil sector has added little real value to the Indonesian economy. The average contribution of estate crops, including oil palm and rubber, to GDP [gross domestic product] was only 2.2 percent per year […].”

On the other hand, “food production is the main source of rural employment and income, engaging two-thirds of the rural workforce, or some 61 million people. Oil palm production only occupies the eighth rank in rural employment, engaging some 1.4 million people.”

About half of those engaged in palm oil production are smallholders, earning higher wages than their counterparts employed by palm oil companies (about 75 dollars a month compared to 57 dollars a month).

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The industry witnessed a 15-percent drop in profits last year, but this year profits are expected to rise, with prices settling between 500 and 600 dollars per tonne. Still, many producers in Indonesia and Malaysia openly advocate lower wages to keep profit levels high.

Experts also believe the sector does a poor job of redirecting profits into the communities because of a model that relies on eating up land and falling back on a system of patronage.

“This patronage system serves as the basic structure for the production, marketing, and distribution of palm oil. It connects significant actors in order to facilitate their businesses through legitimate mechanisms such as palm oil consortia, which usually consist of local strongmen, senior bureaucrats, and influential businessmen with close links to top national leaders,” the RRI report concluded.

Grassroots activists like Setra say that industrialists are also skilled at manipulating legal loopholes to continue expanding their plantations.

For instance, the Indonesian government has imposed a moratorium on land clearing for new plantations, a bid to appease scientists, Western nations and citizens concerned about the gobbling up of rainforests for monocultures.

However, the ban only applies to new licenses, not existing ones, allowing companies with longstanding licenses to violate the law without question.

Even when the central government cracks down, activists say, companies use local connections with powerful politicians to undercut regulations.

“It is a vicious system that feeds on itself,” the indigenous activist tells IPS.

Unjust, unsustainable

According to Bryson Ogden, RRI’s private sector analyst, “The structure of the industry is such that it leaves out local communities.”

“The biggest losers in this process were locals who lost their lands and livelihoods but have not been incorporated in the new economy on advantageous terms,” the RRI report said. “Indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, and women were the most vulnerable groups, as well as smallholders owning and managing their own oil palm plots.”

But when locals try to take a stand for their rights, such campaigns result in the alienation of whole communities or, worse, the criminalisation of their activities.

In July 2014, a protestor was shot dead by police in south Kalimantan while taking part in a protest against palm oil expansion. Another such killing was reported on Feb. 28 in Jambi, located on the east coast of the island of Sumatra.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life,” Setra laments.

She believes that as long as there is global demand for the oil without an accompanying international campaign to highlight the product’s impact on local people, companies are unlikely to change their mode of operation.

Others say the problem is a lack of data. Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust (TFT), an international environmental NGO, tells IPS that there is inadequate information on the socio-economic impacts of oil operations.

He says the focus on deforestation – in Indonesia and elsewhere – is a result of the tireless work of NGOs dedicated to the issue, combined with “easy-to-use tools like the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch”, a mapping system that allow people to quickly and cheaply identify deforestation.

He says similar resources must be made available to those like Setra – grassroots leaders on the ground, who are able to monitor and report on social degradation caused by the palm oil sector.

As the United Nations and its member states move closer to finalising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the international community’s blueprint for development and poverty-reduction in the coming decades – Indonesia and the palm oil sector will be forced to reckon with the unsustainable nature of the mono-crop corporate model, and move towards a practice of inclusivity.

One of the primary topics informing the knowledge platform on the SDGs is the promise of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources […] so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations.

Statistics like these suggest that nothing short of sweeping changes will be required to put indigenous people like Setra at the centre of the debate, and build a sustainable future for palm oil production.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Feeding a Warmer, Riskier Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:57:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139638

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Artificial meat. Indoor aquaculture. Vertical farms. Irrigation drones. Once the realm of science fiction, these things are now fact. Food production is going high tech – at least, in some places.

But the vast majority of the world’s farmers still face that old and fundamental fact: their crops, their very livelihoods, depend on how Mother Nature treats them. Over 80 percent of world agriculture today remains dependent on the rains, just as it did 10,000 years ago.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

At the Second International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome last November, Pope Francis said: “God forgives always; men, sometimes; the Earth, never. Mother Nature can be rough – and she’s getting rougher as our planet’s climate changes.”

When drought, floods, tsunamis or severe weather hit, the consequences for people’s food security and economic well-being can be profound. Beyond the disaster-provoked hunger crises that make newspapers headlines, the development trajectories of entire nations and regions can be seriously altered by extreme events.

Remember: In many developing countries farming remains a critical economic activity. The livelihoods of 2.5 billion family farmers depend on agriculture, and the sector accounts for as much 30 percent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Mozambique, among others.Losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

It is not only drought, floods, and storms the pose a threat to agriculture, by the way. Diseases and pests like Small Ruminants Plague (PPR), or desert locusts or wheat rusts do as well. Nor is harsh weather the only threat: wars, economic crises – the work of humans – frequently wreak havoc on agricultural communities and infrastructure.

Conflicts, natural hazards have always threatened food security. However today we are witnessing their aggravation. Economic losses due to natural disasters have tripled over the last decade – and continue to rise.

Initial results from a new FAO study show that losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

Small scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who generate more than half of global agricultural production, are particularly at risk. (By the way, these very same people make up 75 percent of the world’s poor, hungry and food insecure population.)

So how can we ensure food security in a world with ever more people, exposed to ever more intense and frequent hazards?

Agriculture itself can provide solutions. It is a main driver for land use changes and can therefore be instrumental in increasing vulnerabilities to natural hazards. At the same time, a more sustainable approach to food production would help us protect the environment and build the resilience of our communities in the face of disasters.

Over the past decade, good progress has been made in fleshing out the concept of disaster risk reduction and its vital contribution to inclusive and sustainable development. Yet more must be done to harness the potential of agriculture in reducing disaster-related risks and to factor agriculture, food security and nutrition into strategies for bolstering up the resilience of societies.

Next week, world leaders and the international development community will gather in Sendai, Japan, to chart a pathway for a broad-reaching and holistic global approach to disaster risk reduction.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will be taking the message to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Mar. 14-18) that risk-sensitive development in the agriculture-food-nutrition sector is an essential building block for enhancing overall global resilience to disasters.

Our vision for ensuring that agriculture both benefits from and contributes to disaster risk reduction rests on four mutually reinforcing pillars that are applicable at the local, national, regional and global levels.

First, we must manage risk. This includes developing legal and regulatory frameworks for risk reduction and crisis management and building capacities at all levels to implement them. Risk factors need to be systematically factored into agriculture, fisheries and forestry planning, from step one.

Second, we have to watch to safeguard, establishing better information-gathering and early warning systems to identify threats. Then we must be proactive and act before disaster hits. In the past, the global community received early warning of impeding crisis, but did not react. The 2011 famine in Somalia is a recent and sobering example.

Third, we need to reduce the underlying risk factors that make farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters vulnerable. This can be achieved by focusing on – and investing in – more sustainable models of food production and the use of improved agricultural technologies and practices which raise yields and boost resilience against shocks while protecting the natural resource base.

There is a rich tool kit of options already available, such as conservation agriculture and agroforestry, strengthening producer organisations, or establishing field schools to disseminate best practices, to name just a few.

Finally, maintaining a state of readiness to allow for rapid responses to the needs of the food production sector if disaster does hit is also key. Despite massive damage, agricultural livelihoods in the Philippines were rapidly restored after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan thanks to appropriate national-level preparedness and timely international community support.

Sendai – and July’s development financing conference in Addis Ababa and the Paris 2014 climate summit – give us a chance to hard-wire resilience into the post-2015 development agenda. Agriculture – and the many, diverse communities that make it up – can and should be the bedrock on which increased resilience for millions of people is built.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Coal: Burning Up Australia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/coal-burning-up-australias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-burning-up-australias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/coal-burning-up-australias-future/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 02:17:08 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139597 Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

With less than a year to go before the United Nation’s annual climate change meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in November 2015, citizens and civil society groups are pushing their elected leaders to take stock of national commitments to lower carbon emissions in a bid to cap runaway global warming.

Industrialised countries’ trade, investment and environment policies are under the microscope, with per capita emissions from the U.S., Canada and Australia each topping 20 tonnes of carbon annually, double the per capital carbon emissions from China.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change.” -- Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)
But despite fears that a rise in global temperatures of over two degrees Celsius could lead to catastrophic climate change, governments around the world continue to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach, pouring millions into dirty industries and unsustainable ventures that are heating the planet.

In Australia, coal mining and combustion for electricity, for instance, has become a highly divisive issue, with politicians hailing the industry as the answer to poverty and unemployment, while scientists and concerned citizens fight fiercely for less environmentally damaging energy alternatives.

Others decry the negative health impacts of mining and coal-fired power, as well as the cost of dirty energy to local and state economies.

Globally, coal production and coal power accounts for 44 percent of CO2 emissions annually, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Australia’s reliance on coal for both export and electricity generation explains its poor track record in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reporting last year that Australia’s 2010 carbon emission rate was 25 tonnes per person, higher than the per capita emissions of any other member of the organisation.

Counting the cost of coal: The case of Hunter Valley

Compromising Other Industries

Judith Leslie, who lives seven km from Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, also believes that house values in the village of Bulga - approximately five km from three of the largest open cut coal mines in the Hunter Valley – have fallen as a result of the mine’s presence.

She said that houses in the area had not sold for years and she believed it was a direct result of the presence of the mine.

Brushing aside the community’s concerns, the government appears to be moving full steam ahead with coal-based projects. On Mar. 5 the New South Wales Government’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) stated that Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley mine could be expanded if “stringent criteria” were met.

Reasons given for approving the expansion of the mine included the “adverse economic impacts” on the towns of Singleton and Cessnock if the Warkworth and Mount Thorley projects were not approved.

The PAC also argued that a further 29 million tonnes of coal could be mined from the area, providing an additional 120 jobs over 11 years, on top of continued employment for the existing 1,300 workers. It also spoke of a projected 617 million dollars in royalties to the state of New South Wales.

But this projected revenue will again come at a loss. Expanding mines means threatening existing industries, like the Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Breeding industry, which contributes over five billion Australian dollars (3.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the national economy and 2.4 billion Australian dollars (1.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the economy of New South Wales.

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, in 2010 Hunter Valley wine makers produced more than 25 million litres of wine valued at over 210 million Australian dollars (160 million U.S. dollars).

The total value of investment expenditure that is directly associated with the grape and wine industry exceeds 450 million Australian dollars (343 million U.S. dollars) each year.

According to the Department, combined vineyard and tourism industries provide 1.8 billion Australian dollars (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) to the New South Wales economy.

All this revenue could be lost of mines are expanded at the expense of other, more sustainable industries.
According to new studies out this year, the health costs associated with the five coal-fired power stations located in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, about 120 km north of Sydney, are estimated to be around 600 million Australian dollars (456 million U.S. dollars) per annum.

A report released in February by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a coalition of 28 organisations working to protect human health, concluded that the “estimated costs of health damages associated with coal combustion for electricity in the whole of Australia amounts to 2.6 billion Australian dollars [197 million U.S. dollars] per annum.”

CAHA’s convenor, Fiona Armstrong, told IPS that CAHA aims to draw attention to Australia’s health and energy policy in light of its heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change,” she contended.

She pointed out that the Hunter Region, one of the largest river valleys on the coast of New South Wales, is one of the most intensive mining areas in Australia.

“It’s responsible for two-thirds of our emissions,” she explained, “So it’s a good example […] to see what the impacts are for people on the ground, [and] also to see what the contribution of coal from that community has on a global level.”

Hunter Valley produced 145 million tonnes of coal in 2013. Keeping in mind a conversion rate of 2.4 tonnes (2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted for each tonne of coal produced), experts say that coal mined in the Hunter Valley in 2013 produced the equivalent of 348 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

According to the NSW Minerals Council, mining in the Hunter Region employs over 11,000 fulltime workers. It contributes 1.5 billion Australian dollars in wages and contributes 4.4 billion Australian dollars to the local community through direct spending on goods and services, as well as to local councils and community groups.

But these riches come at a high price.

The Hunter Valley is known for its vineyards, horse studs and farming areas, all of which are threatened by extensive mining in the region.

Addressing a community meeting in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe this past February, John Lamb, president of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, spoke about the cost of mines on local communities, and the uncertainty wrought by their inability to fight against the rampant growth of the industry.

Lamb’s Association previosly fought the expansion of the Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine by the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto.

Dust from coal mines, he said, coats the roofs of people’s homes and runs into their rainwater tanks, polluting the community’s water supply. Day and night, noise is a constant issue.

Lamb also noted the impact of mining on land values in the area. The village of Camberwell in the Hunter Valley, for instance, which is surrounded by mines on three sides, only has four privately owned homes – the rest are occupied by miners or are derelict.

Yancoal, the owner of the Ashton mine – 14 km northwest of the town of Singleton in Hunter Valley – owns 87 percent of homes in the area.

Health risks for communities, ecosystem

Wendy Bowman, one of the last remaining residents of Camberwell village who has farmed in the Valley since 1957, is extremely concerned about the extent of mining in the area.

She lives on a farm at Rosedale, between the towns of Muswellbrook and Singleton, and she is refusing to leave the area. She left her previous farm when the dust and water pollution caused by the Ravensworth South open cut mine became impossible to live with.

In a video on the CAHA website, she says that she has dust in her lungs and that she has lost 20 percent of her lung capacity. But she is far more concerned about the health of the children in the area than she is about her own medical condition, and the consequences for the Department of Health in 20 or 30 years time.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coal mining and coal combustion for electricity generation is associated with high emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which react to form secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Complex air pollutants such as these are known to increase the risk of chronic lung and respiratory disorders and disease, including lung cancer, and pose additional threats to children, and pregnant women.

CAHA states that most health and medical research on coal-related pollution focuses on fine particles measuring between 2.5 and 10 micrometres in diameter (PM 2.5-PM10), which are particularly damaging to human health.

According to the CAHA report, emissions of PM10 increased by 20 percent from 1992-2008 in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, an increase that is attributable to the increase in coal mining in the Hunter Valley.

The report states that while at one time the Hunter Valley was “renowned for its clean air”, in 2014 it was identified as an “air pollution hot spot”.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Renewable Energies in Latin America Weather Low Oil Priceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/renewable-energies-in-latin-america-weather-low-oil-prices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewable-energies-in-latin-america-weather-low-oil-prices http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/renewable-energies-in-latin-america-weather-low-oil-prices/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 17:34:03 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139557 One of Mexico’s 31 wind parks. By 2020, installed capacity for wind power in this country will be 15 gigawatts. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

One of Mexico’s 31 wind parks. By 2020, installed capacity for wind power in this country will be 15 gigawatts. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Mar 9 2015 (IPS)

Traditionally, falling oil prices have discouraged development of renewable energy sources, but clean energy is making steady progress in Latin America, according to regional experts.

Most Latin American countries have set medium and long-term targets for alternative energy supply and consumption and these projects are being maintained in spite of economic fluctuations and plummeting international crude oil prices.

According to Hugo Ventura, the head of the Energy and Natural Resources Unit of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), there are two factors that call into question the view that cheaper oil will act as a brake on the development of renewable energy sources.

“One of these factors is that countries are committed to increasing the contribution of renewables, in order to diversify their energy mix, decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions because of climate change. The other aspect is that players in the energy sector are taking the long-term view,” Ventura told IPS.

Studies provide evidence that renewable energy sources in the region are in robust health. The World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) said on Feb. 5 that preliminary figures for 2014 were “very bright,” in a report that confirmed that “wind power investment is still speeding up at an enormous pace.”“There is unstoppable inertia; many projects under construction will soon be operating , so growth is continuing. There are renewable energy tendering schemes in the pipeline that are not going to stop.” -- Hugo Ventura

“Especially the new markets in Latin America as well as in Africa are reflecting the importance which wind power is now playing in the electricity supply, as a cheap and reliable power source,” said Stefan Gsänger, the Secretary General of the WWEA, which is based in the German city of Bonn.

The collapse of fossil fuel prices is damaging the economies of producer countries in the region, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, where state oil companies are experiencing difficulties in planning and operations.

But it is benefiting net importers, like Central American countries and Chile, which are paying less for their oil. Consumers in both groups of countries may see the cost of their electricity bills fall.

In these circumstances, renewable energy sources are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels like natural gas, according to the report “Renewable power generation costs in 2014” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) based in Abu Dhabi, with 139 states as members.

If the health and environmental costs of fossil fuel-fired power are taken into account, renewable sources are even more cost-competitive.

The IRENA study indicates that the average cost of electricity produced by solar plants has fallen to within the range of fossil fuel power generation . Electricity from solar plants installed in 2013 and 2014 cost 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in South America, 12 cents in North America and over 31 cents in Central America and the Caribbean.

Model of the first solar energy plant in Latin America, due to begin operating in the Atacama desert in northern Chile in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

Model of the first solar energy plant in Latin America, due to begin operating in the Atacama desert in northern Chile in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

The average cost of power generated by hydroelectric plants in South America was four cents per kWh.

Hydropower is the biggest renewable source in the region, but it is vulnerable to droughts, like the one currently affecting the south of Brazil. Brazil has 86,000 megawatts (86 gigawatts) of installed hydropower capacity, Mexico has more than 11,000 MW (11 GW), Argentina 10,000 (10 GW) and Colombia almost as much, according to IRENA’s figures.

“Countries will continue to pursue renewable energy sources. For example, wind power is much more economical than natural gas combined cycle plants or hydroelectric power,” Eduardo Rincón, a professor at Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México (Autonomous University of Mexico City), told IPS.

Clean energy alternatives effectively contribute to lowering oil consumption and avoiding carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming. Moreover, they generate jobs and attract investment, he said.

Climatescope 2014’s report on “Mapping the global frontiers for clean energy investment” states that Brazil attracted as much as 96.3 billion dollars of investment between 2006 and 2013 for renewable energy development.

Renewables now represent 15 percent of Brazil’s total installed capacity of 126 gigawatts, according to the Climatescope document, which contains 55 country profiles compiled by the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank, in partnership with public and private entities from several countries.

Mexico’s renewable energy sector attracted investments of 11.3 billion dollars in the period 2006-2013. The country has a total installed electricity capacity of 64 gigawatts, of which five percent is contributed by renewable sources.

Clean energy investment in Chile amounted to 7.1 billion dollars in the same period. Total installed power capacity is 17.8 gigawatts with renewable energies having an eight percent share. Peru’s renewables sector received 3.4 billion dollars in investments; the country’s total installed power capacity is 10 gigawatts.

Ventura, of ECLAC, predicted that oil prices will stabilise in 2016 at between 70 and 80 dollars a barrel, a moderate level compared to the average price in 2013 of over 100 dollars a barrel.

“At these prices, there is a viable niche for renewable power. Investors could find stability in the field of electricity,” he said. In his view, the region should aim for a diversified energy matrix, with wind, solar and geothermal power.

“There is unstoppable inertia; many projects under construction will soon be operating , so growth is continuing. There are renewable energy tendering schemes in the pipeline that are not going to stop,” Ventura said.

Argentina wants eight percent of total demand to be provided by renewable sources by 2016.

Chile’s goal is for 20 percent of its electricity to be provided by renewable sources by 2025.

Mexico has set targets of 23 percent of consumption to be supplied by clean energy sources by 2018, 25 percent by 2024 and 26 percent by 2027.
In Ventura’s view, these goals underpin regional plans to reduce polluting emissions by cutting fossil fuel consumption in spite of the current situation of low oil and gas prices.

Rincón, the university professor, said people’s awareness should be raised so that citizens exert pressure for legal changes to be made “in accordance with their demands, not with the interests of small, powerful groups.

“We need a transition towards low-cost energy systems, and renewable resources are heaven-sent: they are free,” he said.

In his view, “It’s a matter of getting the sums right. How much does a wind park or solar installation cost, over its planned service life, compared with continuing to build combined cycle plants?” he asked.

Mexico adopted an energy reform in August 2014 that opened up the entire sector to private local and international capital, including electricity generation from renewable sources.

The package of laws governing the reform includes one on geothermal energy, a resource that the authorities particularly wish to promote.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Bolivia’s School Meals All About Good Habits and Eating Localhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/#comments Sat, 07 Mar 2015 01:24:30 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139545 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/bolivias-school-meals-all-about-good-habits-and-eating-local/feed/ 0 In India, an Indoor Health Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-india-an-indoor-health-crisis/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139529 Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

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

By Athar Parvaiz
NEW DELHI, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millions of Indians at risk

Indoor air pollution is recognised as a pressing issue around the world, particularly in Asia, but India seems to be carrying the lion’s share of the burden, with scores of Indian households relying on traditional fuels for cooking, lighting and heating.

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

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

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

Cleaner energy to meet the MDGs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving towards a sustainable future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* This story has been updated. An earlier version carried a quote from a former senior official at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), who has since resigned.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Bridging the Gap – How the SDG Fund is Paving the Way for a Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:56:55 +0000 Paloma Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139515

Paloma Duran is Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund).

By Paloma Duran
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

The countdown has begun to September’s Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with world leaders discussing the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group.

The post-2015 development agenda will focus primarily on strengthening opportunities to reduce poverty and marginalisation in ways that are sustainable from an economic, social and environmental standpoint.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

How shall the world set the measure for all subsequent work?

The SDG Fund, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with an initial contribution from the government of Spain, has been designed to smoothen the transition from the Millennium Development Goals phase into the future Sustainable Development Goals.

The rationale of the joint programme initiative is to enhance the development impact of technical assistance by combining inputs from various U.N. entities, each contributing according to its specific expertise and bringing their respective national partners on board.

To illustrate, we are currently implementing joint programmes in 18 countries addressing challenges of inclusive economic growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition as well as water and sanitation.

The majority of our budget is invested in sustainable development on the ground and is directly improving the lives of more than one million people in various regions of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Arab States and Africa.The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

National and international partners provide approximately 56 percent of these resources in the form of matching funds.

Each programme was originally chosen through a selection process including the review by thematic and development independent experts.

In addition, we ensure that local counterparts engage in the decision-making processes from programme design to implementation and evaluation. More than 1,500 people were directly involved in designing the various programmes.

The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

Drawing from extensive experience of development practice as well as the former Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, we are continually seeking better ways in which to deal with challenges that present themselves.

Gender equality, women’s empowerment, public-private partnerships and sustainability are cross-cutting priorities in all areas of our work.

It is noteworthy to point out that we are focusing our efforts on forging partnerships with the private sector as we recognise the importance of actively engaging with businesses and ensuring their full participation in the development process.

It is in this vein that a Private Sector Advisory Group will be established this spring, consisting of representatives from various industries worldwide with the aim to collaborate and discuss practical solutions pertaining to the common challenges of contemporary sustainable development.

Together we will work diligently to identify areas of common interest and promote sustainability of global public goods.

As an example of how we work on the ground, we are setting into motion programme activities that relate to alleviating child hunger and under-nutrition as well as projects that promote sustainable and resilient livelihoods for vulnerable households, especially in the context of adapting to climate change.

To illustrate, in Peru we are contributing towards establishing an inclusive value chain in the production of quinoa and other Andean grains, so that the increase of demand in the international market can convert into economic and social improvements on the ground.

In addition, we are supporting programme activities that promote the integration of women in the labour market as it is key to equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. We are conscious of the fact that gender equality and the full realisation of human rights for women and girls have a transformative effect on development and is a driver of economic growth.

To illustrate, the SDG Fund is currently financing five joint programmes in Africa that address some of the most pressing issues in the region, and seek to achieve sustainable development through inclusive economic growth.

In Ethiopia, rural women lag behind in access to land property, economic opportunities, justice system and financial assets. Female farmers perform up to 75 per cent of farm labour and yet hold only 18.7 per cent of agricultural land in the country.

We are taking a multifaceted approach to generate gender-sensitive agricultural extension services, support the creation of cooperatives, promote the expansion of women-owned agribusiness and increase rural women’s participation in rural producer associations, financial cooperatives and unions.

To conclude, we are looking forward to making a significant impact in the coming years with the hope to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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