Inter Press Service » Green Economy http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:58:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 SDGs: Making the Universal Agenda Truly Universalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/sdgs-making-the-universal-agenda-truly-universal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sdgs-making-the-universal-agenda-truly-universal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/sdgs-making-the-universal-agenda-truly-universal/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 09:22:34 +0000 Paloma Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147808

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

By Paloma Durán
NEW YORK, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

One of the key features of the 2030 Agenda which the United Nations and member states identified in the lead up to the SDG agreement was the principle of universality.

Courtesy of Paloma Durán/UNDP

Courtesy of Paloma Durán/UNDP

After managing to get the pivotal agreement on the global framework for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon last year, it is now critical to continue this momentum and understand the opportunities and challenges it creates for the private sector as partners in sustainable development efforts.

Building on our interest to tip the scales and generate greater private sector engagement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) in collaboration with its Private Sector Advisory Group and the Global Compact examined these questions through a new report, Universality and the SDGs: A Business Perspective. The report, launched last week highlights varied perspectives from both large and small companies working to understand the commonality of the new development agenda.

Universality in this context is defined by the UN as “applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development that respect national policies and principles.” Thus the notion of Universality also envisions that everyone has a role to play in development and poverty alleviation efforts framing the development agenda.

The business community has, and continues to be deemed an important partner for us, serving as a critical economic engine and multiplier to catalyze economic and social development programs in our 23 joint programs around the world. The task at hand is to now reinforce this commitment and ensure that companies of all sizes and sectors are properly aware of the new SDGs.

To this end, the outcomes of the report were based on a year-long series of workshops and dialogues and reflected input from over 100 firms across a variety of regions and industry sectors. These findings stemming from countless interviews and in-depth questions were not unexpected and mainly in-line with our experience at the SDG Fund. We found that companies were keen to address the new set of goals which they viewed as critical to their core business activities, but many firms still struggled to fully understand the depth of the goals.

The report also mirrored some of our unique experience working with the private sector. For example, while many firms are already working in areas linked to the SDGs, this work is not always associated with the same “UN” or development language. In fact, many companies articulate the “global goals” using other mechanisms, including using other metrics or reporting based on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) indicators or other industry standards.

The new report offers some other useful findings. First, companies both small and large are increasingly aware of the concept of the SDGs, but many firms did not fully grasp the intricacies of the SDGs in context of their work or internal operations.

In addition, although many companies find a clear and added value to framing sustainability initiatives through the SDGs which provide a unified set of globally accepted principles–many companies are still accustomed to working within the confines of their philanthropic and CSR programs.

Despite a strong willingness to embrace the SDGs, many companies are exploring how to best integrate the SDGs into their work. But perhaps the most compelling case for the SDG Fund’s continued efforts to engage companies in a “co-design, co-invest and co-implement policy” is that the private sector remains eager to work on global challenges.

Companies continue to express their desire to be brought into the process to build innovative and robust multi-stakeholder partnerships at the local level and very often with UN partners.

Undoubtedly, with the one-year anniversary of the 2030 agenda approaching in January, this new report reminds us that the UN can and should play a more active role in educating and informing companies on the “universal” dimensions of the SDGs.

It is also important to continue to translate the new agenda into language and simplified reporting metrics that are palatable for businesses of all sizes – all of which means greater education on how companies can integrate the SDGs in their value chains, disseminate accessible resources and tools to promote learning, and support implementation and alignment across sectors.

In the end, the universality principle embedded in the SDGs provides a clear invitation for action and alignment to advance the new development agenda.

We hope to continue to raise public awareness and foster the much needed dialogue and advocacy required to encourage business to support the SDGs. In addition, our report highlights additional information on the ongoing work of the SDG Fund, including Private Sector Advisory Group case studies that continue to build the case for greater engagement in development, especially across sectors and with welcome actors like the private sector.

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Convincing Investors to Unlock Africa’s Green Energy Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/convincing-investors-to-unlock-africas-green-energy-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=convincing-investors-to-unlock-africas-green-energy-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/convincing-investors-to-unlock-africas-green-energy-potential/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 11:07:15 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147785 Mustapha Bakkoury, President of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), speaking at the COP22 in Marrakesh. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Mustapha Bakkoury, President of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), speaking at the COP22 in Marrakesh. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MARRAKECH, Nov 16 2016 (IPS)

Lowering investment risks in African countries is key to achieving a climate-resilient development pathway on the continent, say experts here at the U.N.-sponsored Climate Conference.

Mustapha Bakkaoury, president of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), says his country’s renewable energy revolution would not have been possible if multilateral partners such as the African Development Bank had not come on board to act as guarantors for a massive solar energy project, tipped to be one of a kind in Africa.Renewable energy has been identified as a key driver for Africa’s economic growth prospects, but requires multi-million-dollar investments which cannot be done by public financing alone.

The multi-billion-dollar solar power complex, located in the Souss-Massa-Drâa area in Ouarzazate, is expected to produce 580 MW at peak when finished, and is hailed as a model for other African countries to follow.

“Africa has legitimate energy needs, and development of Africa will happen through mobilisation of energy resources,” Bakkaoury told IPS at COP 22 after a roundtable discussion on de-risking investment in realising groundbreaking renewable energy projects.

Bakkauory believes it is possible for Africa to develop its energy sector while respecting the environment. “What we say is that there is no fatality between having energy resources and respect towards the environment, and Africa has abundant resources to do this through its key partner—the African Development Bank,” he said, noting the instrumental role of Africa’s premier multilateral financier to renewable energy in Africa.

And in affirming its continued commitment to universal access to energy for Africa, Alex Rugamba, AfDB Director for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, told IPS that “the Bank’s commitment has shifted gear as it has now a fully-fledged vice presidency dedicated to Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth.”

Rugamba added that the Bank has learnt valuable lessons from various initiatives it is already supporting, and knows what is required to move forward with the initiatives without many challenges.

Renewable energy has been identified as a key driver for Africa’s economic growth prospects, but requires multi-million-dollar investments which cannot be done by public financing alone.

Private sector involvement is required to drive this agenda, a point underscored by World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, Laura Tuck.

“Private sector cannot be ignored because the money they have is more than what is available under public financing,” she says.

But the risk is believed to be too high for private investors to off-load their money into Africa’s renewables, a relatively new investment portfolio with a lot of uncertainties. German Parliament State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn says the highest risk in Africa is politically related.

“It’s not about economic risks alone, but also political risks,” said Silberhorn. “You don’t need to convince German investors about solar energy because they already know that it works, what they need is reliability on the political environment and sustainability of their investments.”

Silberhorn, who gave an example of a multi-million-dollar project in Kenya currently on hold due to political interference, added that ways to reduce political risks should be devised for Africa to benefit from private sector investments in renewables.

But even as risk factors abound, World Bank’s Tuck believes there is hope for Africa, citing Zambia, where record cheap solar energy has been recorded.

“Through a competitive bidding process, we have in Zambia under the Bank’s ‘Scaling Solar’ program, recorded the cheapest price at 6.02 cents per KWh,” she said, heralding it as a model to follow in de-risking climate investments for Africa’s growth.

And in keeping with the objective of universal energy for all, experts note the need to ensure that the end users are not exploited at the expense of investors.

“While the state should not interfere in this business model to work, modalities have to be put in place to ensure that the people for which energy is needed, afford it, otherwise, the project becomes useless,” said MASEN’s Bakkaoury.

Following up on this key aspect and responding to the political risk question, Simon Ngure of KenGen Kenya proposes a key principle to minimise political interference—involvement of the local communities.

“If you involve the local communities from the onset, regardless of whether governments change, the projects succeed because the people will have seen the benefits already,” said Ngure, who also noted policy restructuring as another key component to de-risk climate investments.

Agreed that de-risking investment is a crucial component, small grants are another issue that the African Union Commission’s implementing Agency, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), believes could unlock the continent’s challenge of access to climate financing.

NEPAD Director of Programmes Estherine Fotabong told IPS that it was for this reason that the agency established the NEPAD Climate Change Fund to strengthen the resilience of African countries by building national, sub-regional and continental capacity.

“One of the objectives of the fund is to support concrete action for communities on the ground, but most importantly, to help with capacity building of member states to be able to leverage financing from complicated climate financial regimes,” said Fotabong, citing ECOWAS which she said used the funding to leverage financing from the Green Climate Fund, one of the financing regimes under the UNFCCC.

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Adaptation Funding a Must for Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/adaptation-funding-a-must-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-funding-a-must-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/adaptation-funding-a-must-for-africa/#comments Sun, 13 Nov 2016 23:41:11 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147742 A panel discussion on means of implementation post-COP 21. Credit: Friday Phiri

A panel discussion on means of implementation post-COP 21. Credit: Friday Phiri

By Friday Phiri
MARRAKECH, Nov 13 2016 (IPS)

The Paris Agreement hammered out at the summit on climate change in the French capital last year committed all parties to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies. The big question at the follow-up meeting here in Marrakech is how that deal will be implemented, especially for the developing nations of Africa.

“We have three major objectives at this COP: [the first is] to set a foundation for a strong technical and legal framework of the Paris Agreement,” said Seni Nafo, chair of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN).Africa, currently the most exposed region, has only been able to access less than four percent of global climate financing—the reason being lack of bankable projects on the continent.

“The second key issue is to push for accelerating action after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and lastly but not the least, ensuring finance for Africa’s adaptation.”

Dubbed the ‘COP of Implementation,’ the summit dubbed COP 22 is seen by the African group as an opportunity to refine some of Paris’s unfinished business.

Despite adoption last year, a number of key decisions in the PA such as modalities for achieving the 2 degree C. threshold, mechanisms to enforce compliance and achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation, among others, were deferred to COP 22.

One key issue for Africa is removal of bottlenecks to accessing climate funds. Available statistics from the African Development Bank (AfDB) show that Africa, currently the most exposed region, has only been able to access less than four percent of global climate financing—the reason being lack of bankable projects on the continent.

With the deal based on Nationally Determined Contributions, it is feared the challenge of access to climate finance for Africa might get further complicated as it has been discovered that most countries’ NDCs are vague, according to the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

“ACPC is ready to support African countries in the revision of their Nationally Determined Contributions, most of which have been found to be defective,” James Murombedzi, Officer in Charge at ACPC told IPS, adding that his organisation wants to see an inclusive implementation of the PA.

Murombedzi said this would, however, not be possible if COP 22 does not lay a strong foundation.

The talk over the years has been capacity building to achieve the required levels of preparing bankable proposals in most African countries. Nevertheless, experts have urged caution even as the continent pushes for this need.

According to Balgis Osman Elasha, Principal Climate Change officer at the African Development Bank, Africa should avoid the ‘Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) trap’ by perpetually pushing capacity building and miss out on serious climate funding opportunities.

Elasha says “Africa could not benefit from the CDM because it was caught up in the capacity building mode while others were taking action.”

CDM of the Kyoto Protocol provided for emissions reduction projects aimed at assisting parties not included in Annex I in achieving sustainable development and compliance with their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments.

As highlighted, a balance between adaptation and mitigation features prominently in the negotiations. And for African economies, adaptation is not a question of the future but now.

Available data shows that most countries are already facing economic challenges which are likely to be worsened by climate change effects. For example, cereal production is expected to decrease by up to 49 percent in Africa by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change, exacerbating food insecurity.

And Zambia’s Minister of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, Lloyd Mulenga Kaziya underscored the need for urgent action especially the improvement of hydromet services.

“Zambia is deeply affected. In the past five years, our rivers have been drying up while the frequency of droughts has increased affecting our smallholder farmers in terms of production, and to make matters worse, information flow to the affected communities is not readily available,” said Kaziya, adding that the southern African country requires urgent support to upgrade hydromet systems and integrate them in all key sectors such as Mining, Energy and Agriculture

With these critical needs identified, the AGN is determined to ensure that Africa’s voice is heard at the negotiating table — especially now as the rules and modalities for implementation are being discussed.

“In line with our major objective of ensuring finance for adaptation, one key priority is to keep adaptation at par with mitigation,” said Nafo of the AGN, adding that adaptation for Africa is not an option but a must.

But on its part, the continent is not seating idle. At COP 21, the Africa Renewable Initiative (AREI) was launched to pave the way for Africa’s transition to inclusive green growth. AREI already has resulted in significant financial commitment of over 10 billion dollars for renewable energy projects in Africa, according to the African Development Bank, one of the partners of the initiative.

The tone for Africa’s demands at this year’s COP was clear on day one of the event as Salahedinne Mezouar, the COP 22 President, said: “Paris gave us a global commitment to climate change and COP22 in Marrakech will give us more ambitious climate action. We must all rise to the challenge in support of the most vulnerable countries in the fight against climate change,” underscored Mezouar, implicitly referring to Africa—the most exposed region whose contribution to global carbon emissions is just about 5 percent.

As negotiations enter the second week, the African group remains optimistic that most outstanding issues, especially means of implementation, would be resolved for smooth implementation of the Paris Agreement.

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President of UNGA Disillusioned by Unsustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/president-of-unga-disillusioned-by-unsustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=president-of-unga-disillusioned-by-unsustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/president-of-unga-disillusioned-by-unsustainable-development/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 16:06:32 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147589 Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly.

Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

Development should be about more than building roads or buying air conditioners, the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson told IPS in a recent interview.

Thomson, who started his career working as “a rural development man in Fiji” says he had become disillusioned with development before the Sustainable Development Goals came along.

After studying development studies at Cambridge Thomson returned to Fiji where he spent much of the 1970s working in villages for the Fiji government: “digging pit latrines and building sea walls.”

However he began to feel disillusioned by development when he saw that it ultimately led to communities breaking up. Young people would leave to sell produce at the markets on newly constructed roads, and then eventually would stop coming back.

“Now the goal is give them a sustainable future, do not accept that it’s ok to steal from future generations, make sure that every development is going to produce a better life for your grandchildren.”

“I got quite disillusioned with this whole idea of this is what humanity is set on: growth (where) every government had to produce growth and every government had to put in roads.”

“It just seemed we were covering all our best agricultural land with urban sprawl.”

However Thomson believes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which UN member states have agreed to implement between 2016 and 2030 – represent a different paradigm, as for example shown in goal 12 – which promotes responsible consumption and production.

He observes how Fiji has become reliant on air conditioners which didn’t even exist there 30 years ago.
“We were brought up to sleep in a room that had cross breeze.”

As President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly from September 2016 until September 2017, representing his home country of Fiji, Thomson is now tasked with leading the second year of implementation of the goals among UN member states.

He sees the sustainability aspect of the development goals as being about ensuring that his grandchildren’s generation will have a future on this planet.

“With that sustainability added to development you have a future for humanity, as opposed to what we’re on at the moment which is just this path towards (economic growth).”

“Now the goal is give them a sustainable future, do not accept that it’s ok to steal from future generations, make sure that every development is going to produce a better life for your grandchildren.”

However Thomson acknowledges that achieving all 17 of the goals will not be easy.

“I still think the stakes are very high in that there are elements of the SDGs which are not necessarily attainable, but we have to nevertheless fight for their attainment.”

Two targets he notes will be particularly difficult to achieve are Goal 13 on Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels, and Goal 14 on ocean acidification.

In order to achieve the goals Thomson now believes that it is important that they go beyond the four walls of the UN General Assembly.

“I see the SDGs as rights and responsibilities of people (but) you can’t fight for your rights unless you know what they are and at present the great majority of humanity does not know what the SDGs are.”

Realising the goals will also require a complete rethink of development funding.

“It’s not just throw some money at the SDGs it’s how do you transform the financial system to make it financially sustainable?” says Thomson, noting that the current financial system will collapse at a certain point if it continues on its current trajectory.

“At a point somewhere between three percent and four percent of CO2 levels over pre-industrial age the insurance industry stops functioning because they just can’t handle the risk,” he says.

Achieving the goals therefore requires transforming the global financial system so that the world’s capital – the majority of which is handled by about half a dozen firms – is invested in long term rather than short term projects, he said.

Thomson sees the role of Official Development Assistance – the official term for government aid – as being more effective when it is used to encourage private sector investment, an idea which he says is gaining traction at the UN.

However he also notes that addressing tax cooperation is also needed.

“I’ve seen the calculations on Africa. If they had proper taxation on their wealth Official Development Assistance isn’t even a toenail compared with what good taxation would produce for governments to build schools and roads.”

Tax cooperation has been an issue particularly of interest to the 133 developing countries at the UN which form the Group of 77 or G77.

Thomson a former Chair of the group in 2013, believes that tax cooperation will be a key issue for Ecuador which will chair the group from January 2017.

At the heart of the G77 he says is the objective of equity.

“The fact that we do come together eventually – after long discussions, in common positions, not always but most of the time, is because everybody believes in this principle of equity in this world.”

“The fact is that there’s still so much to do to bring developing countries into an equitable position in the community of nations so that’s the grand work of the G77.”

“I think there’s also a recognition within the UN system that the G77 is necessary because you always think about a house of parliament there’s got to be government and opposition to argue through to get progress.”

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Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147377 Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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$90tn Infrastructure Investment Could Combat Climate Change: Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/90tn-infrastructure-investment-could-combat-climate-change-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=90tn-infrastructure-investment-could-combat-climate-change-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/90tn-infrastructure-investment-could-combat-climate-change-report/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 02:50:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147315 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/90tn-infrastructure-investment-could-combat-climate-change-report/feed/ 0 Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Strawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147205 Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unsg-sab/

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Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Dire Warnings But Also Hope as IUCN Environmental Congress Openshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 10:26:21 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146754 Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 2 2016 (IPS)

A congress billed as the world’s largest ever to focus on the environment has opened to warnings that our planet is at a “tipping point” but also with expressions of hope that governments, civil society and big business are learning to work together.

The 10-day IUCN World Conservation Congress hosted by the United States in Hawaii has brought together 9,500 participants from 192 countries and communities, IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen told reporters.“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation." -- Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“Ambitions for this conference are very high…It is the largest environmental gathering ever,” she said after the Sep. 1 opening ceremony.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948 by British biologist Julian Huxley, and brings together its members – including governments, NGOs, scientists and the business community – in a congress every four years where motions and resolutions are put to a vote. Although they might not carry the weight of international law, the findings of the IUCN have gone on to form the basis of legislation in member states and international bodies.

Focused on the theme of “Planet at a crossroads”, speakers at the opening ceremony held in a Honolulu sports arena reminded participants that the main goal was to come up with concrete proposals and measures to help implement the two historic international agreements forged last year – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng, a senior Chinese politician and former senior UN official, set the tone of collaboration by praising U.S. President Barack Obama for establishing the world’s largest nature sanctuary – more than half a million square miles – in the waters and islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. “President Obama has set a high bar,” Zhang said. This congress, he added, was not just about “avoiding tragedy” but working together.

His comments followed remarks made by Obama at a meeting of Pacific leaders in Honolulu on Wednesday night, raising expectations that China and the US may soon announce they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement. China opens a meeting of the G20 industrialised nations on Friday.

With the IUCN venue being Hawaii – renowned for its rich biodiversity but also as the world’s “extinction capital” for the large numbers of its eradicated or dying species – there was also emphasis, reinforced by performances of traditional songs and dance, on the importance of the age-old practices and wisdom of indigenous peoples.

Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau was given rock star acclaim at the congress for his pioneering environmental policies proving that small nations can make a difference. Remengesau in turn praised Obama who on Thursday was meeting scientists at Midway Atoll in his newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary. Former president George W. Bush first set up the reserve 10 years ago but Obama quadrupled its size by executive order last week, although the US military will continue to hold exercises in the waters.

“This cements his legacy as an ocean leader,” Remengesau said and challenged the U.S. to follow the example of Palau in the western Pacific by turning 80 percent of its maritime economic exclusion zone into protected waters. Noting that despite the vast size of Papahanaumokuakea only 2 percent of the world’s waters are designated as marine sanctuaries, Remengesau said Palau would put forward a motion to the IUCN congress that this figure be raised to 30 percent.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, noted the warnings that mankind is destroying its only home but went on to dwell on the progress being made. Brazil, he said, had dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation while Costa Rica had doubled its tree cover.

He singled out French oil company Total for abandoning oil exploration plans in the Arctic and also praised Kellogg, Unilever and Nestle for “leading the politicians” on environmental policies. China, he added, was rapidly moving to “green” financing while Germany, on some days, was producing all its energy from renewables.

As for Obama and his marine reserve, Solheim simply said, “How much we will miss this president when he leaves office.”

Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, suggested that the Papahanaumokuakea example could be followed by similar initiatives for the territories of indigenous people’s on the U.S. mainland.

“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she added, noting research showing that a “football field” of natural areas disappears every two minutes in the U.S.

She and other speakers also stressed the need for the congress to come up with further measures to tackle what Jewell called the “scourge” of wildlife trafficking. “The U.S. is part of the problem and must be part of the solution,” she said.

Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz appealed to scientists working in IUCN’s special commissions to help tackle the devastation by a mysterious fungus of Hawaii’s most established canopy tree, the ‘ohi’a. More than 34,000 acres are affected, earning the disease the name “rapid ‘ohi’a death”. Experts in Hawaii were facing “the fight of their professional lives”, he said, adding, “Every community has its own battles.”

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sep. 5.

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Obama Stresses Climate Change Urgency Ahead of IUCN Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:41:33 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146737 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed the urgency of tackling climate change in a speech to Pacific leaders in his home state of Hawaii.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., is immune from a changing climate,” he told the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday evening.Debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries seek to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

Obama said the sea was already “swallowing villages” in Alaska and glaciers were melting at an unprecedented pace.

Highlighting his administration’s efforts to combat climate change in its energy policies, the president added: “There is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”

The unusual threat posed to Hawaii this week by two approaching hurricanes underscored the president’s message as the island state also prepared to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress from Sep. 1 to 10. Over 8,300 delegates are expected to attend from more than 180 countries, including heads of state and government, U.N. agencies, NGOs and business leaders.

“Today, the U.S. is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time,” Obama said on Wednesday night.

His repeated warnings on climate change were ignored by the national media, however, with the networks firmly fixed on the race to elect his successor, focusing on statements made on immigration by Republican candidate Donald Trump in Mexico. Storm warnings just made the weather report.

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – said Obama was not expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony in Honolulu.

Instead he was scheduled to visit Midway Atoll, making his first trip to the world’s largest marine sanctuary which he massively expanded by executive order last week. He then heads to China for G20 talks.

Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to more than 582,000 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The sanctuary was first established by former president George W. Bush, and IUCN organisers had hoped that their choice of Hawaii to host the World Conservation Congress, held every four years, would prompt Obama in his home state to seek to outdo his predecessor.

Their gamble paid off but the choice of remote Honolulu for the Congress has not been without controversy, with IUCN members expressing dismay at the message contained in the carbon footprint left by thousands of delegates jetting into the city over vast distances.

A small group of protesters also demanded that the U.S. remove its military bases from Hawaii.

The IUCN calls the Congress “the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum” which has the aim of defining the global path for nature conservation for years to come.

“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted by IUCN as saying.

“We’re all in this together. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take action. There’s no time to lose, so let’s make it count in Hawaii,” commented former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Held under the theme of ‘Planet at the crossroads’, the Congress sets out to emphasise that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game. “Credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while supporting and enhancing our planet’s natural assets,” according to the IUCN, which is made up of 1,300 member organisations.

It says key issues to be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sept 5.

Two European delegates, who asked not to be named, said debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries sought to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the Sustainable Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:05:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146686 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/feed/ 0 Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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Literature Professor Probes Novels of the Anthropocene Agehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 01:41:17 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146626 "The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit:  Arun Shrestha/IPS

"The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit: Arun Shrestha/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

A literature professor at Cornell University in upstate New York, Nick Admussen, has recently published an online literary essay about writing novels in the Anthropocene Age.

Titled “Six proposals for the reform of literature in the age of climate change,” the 1500-word essay will change the way you think about how modern novelists need to change they ways they try to tackle climate change themes.

Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell and has an MFA degree in poetry. In the essay, which has reached a larger audience of literary critics and writers worldwide via social media, Admussen uses the negative poetics of an an early 20th century Chinese writer to outline some habits he feels that fiction writers need to break in order to make culture more responsive to climate change. It might be one of the most important literary essays of the 21st century, and whether you agree with all his six proposals or not, Admussen’s piece deserves an international readership.

"Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow," -- Nick Admussen

One of Admussen’s themes is that global culture has not just failed to adapt to the climate change challenges we now face in this age of global warming, it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. That’s a tall order, but the author has his talking points and they’re all worth paying attention to.

Admussen says he wants to speak to those ”who feel an intense responsibility for our shared future on Earth, those casting around for means and methods by which that future might be improved.”

“Today, global cosmopolitan culture [is creating massive ] chaos,” Admussen, 45, opines. “Power is concentrated in the hands of a few independent corporations and states, each strong enough to escape environmental regulation, none with the will or mission to provoke change in themselves or others. Day after day, human activity fills
the atmosphere with carbon, transforming Earth’s climate, melting the polar ice caps, already destroying the homes and habitats of the planet’s many creatures — including ourselves. Yet we lack the ability to visualize these problems, to locate their source in our own actions and lives, to tell and transform the stories of the interactions between our behaviour and our biome.”

“This is not a failing of science, the science is quite clear: it is a failing of culture,” he adds, noting: ”The single most influential artwork of climate change remains former U.S. Vice President Al Gore standing in front of a Powerpoint presentation 10 years ago. Global culture has not just failed to adapt to the challenges we now face: it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. To change this, we need to break with our existing traditions of art and media, even if that means rejecting some of the works we love most.”

Admussen says that the current way that novelists worldwide try to tackle global warming themes is ”a destructive and atomizing act of imagination” that ”erases our radical dependence on each other and on the environment.”

And he doesn’t stop there, adding: ”Reducing literature to a procession of isolated actors (or authors) belies the responsibility readers have to see the disastrous paradigm in which a focus on individuals occludes acts that harm the broader community.”

Admussen goes from despair to hope. While he maintains that ”the humblest grammatical formulation all the way up to the way we conceptualize our most cherished ideals, the English language is choked by metaphors of possession and exchange, and sorely lacks metaphors of membership and interrelation,” he also champions what he calls perhaps the greatest hope for fiction today, that young people are participating now in fiction.

“They write a fanfic or attend a book club or play Quiddich on the college campus green,” he writes. “They dream themselves into capacious and novel systems. This gives them the power and vision to build futures.”

Building on his variou themes and proposals, Admussen notes that in the last 20 years, advanced economies in the North have taken pride in their modest decreases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while at the same time completely ignoring the way in which this is possible because of the exportation of manufacturing to the global South.

“Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow,” the Cornell professor writes. “These types of inequities are almost always accompanied by moralizing fictions. The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature.  Full partnership for everyone in a global ecosystem means redistributing the rewards that the developed world has already incurred by harming it.”

Like I said, this is all a tall order, and not everyone is keen to accept it.

“I’m circumspect about calls for systemic ‘reform’ of any art form,” a published novelist told me by email. “Calls for art or literature that portray or reflect an under appreciated truth are useful but I think that proposals like these are more likely to emerge as trends naturally, from the culture at and not likely to vault forward because
an academic or critic has articulated them.” Said another novelist, also via email: “Admussen’s essay is interesting, but ‘prescription’ for artists is not a good idea, and ‘reform’ in relation to the arts is always pretty sinister.”

The entire essay is published by The Critical Flame here.

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Native Plants Boost Local Diets in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:04:19 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146483 Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities.

“I cook something with ojushte almost every day – pupusas, tamales (seasoned meat packed in cornmeal dough and wrapped and steamed in corn husks) orlittle cakes; it’s an excellent food,” the 65-year-old Salvadoran woman told IPS, standing in her kitchen in San Isidro, a small town of 3,000 people in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

Pupusas are made with thick tortillas and filled with beans, cheese, vegetables or pork.“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing.” -- Ana Morales

Juana Morales has easy access to ojushte (Brosimum alicastrum) because her daughter Ana Morales is the leading local advocate of the nutritional properties of the seed in San Isidro, thanks to the work carried out by a local organisation.

Maná Ojushte is a women’s collective that emerged in San Isidro and began to promote the Maya nut tree and its seeds in 2010, an initiative that received a major boost in 2014 when it began to receive support from the Initiative Fund for the Americas El Salvador (FIAES), a U.S.-Salvadoran environmental conservation organisation.

The seeds of the Ojushte or Maya nut tree are beginning to be used in San Isidro and other communities in this Central American nation as an alternative source of nutrients for rural families, as part of projects designed to fight the impacts of climate change.

Still rare, the tree is found in the Salvadoran countryside, and in pre-Hispanic times it formed an important part of the diet of indigenous peoples throughout Central America and Mexico, said Ana Morales, the head of Maná Ojushte.

The seeds, she explained, contain high levels of protein, iron, zinc, vitamins, folic acid, calcium, fiber and tryptophan, an amino acid, which makes them an excellent addition to the family diet.

“It’s compared to soy, but it has the advantage of being gluten-free and low in fat,” Ana Morales told IPS.

Support from FIAES forms part of the conservation plans for the Apaneca Lamatepec Biosphere Reserve, which covers more than 132,000 hectares in 23 municipalities in the western Salvadoran departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana and Sonsonate.

“With the work in the reserve, we have tried to link cultural aspects with the health and nutrition of local communities, and revive consumption of this seed, which was part of our ancestral heritage,” FIAES territorial coordinator Silvia Flores told IPS.

Maná Ojushte, run by a core group of 10 women, sells Maya nuts, toasted, ground and packaged in quarter and half kilo bags.

The ground toasted seeds can be used to make beverages or can be added to any dish, like rice or soup, as a nutritional complement. They can also be used to make dough, for tamales, bread or tortillas. And the cooked nuts themselves can be added to raw dishes.

Some 20 families harvest the seeds from farms around the community where trees have been found. They sell them to the group for 20 to 50 cents of a dollar per half kilo, depending on whether the seed is brought in with or without the shell.

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family, Ana Morales explained, gathers some 150 kilos per season, between January and June. This represents an additional source of income at a time when work is scarce in the countryside and climate change is jeopardising staple food crops like corn and beans.

“The arrangement is that I buy the nuts from them, but they have to include them in their diet,” she said.

Maná Ojushte sells 70 percent of what it produces and the remaining 30 percent is distributed free to the community, for meals in the local school, to the elderly and to pregnant women.

The ultimate aim is to teach families about the benefits of the Maya nut, and help them understand that there is a highly nutritional, easily accessible food source in their community.

“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Morales.

In 2014, 14 percent of children five and under suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to that year’s National Health Survey, which provides the latest available statistics. That is higher than the Latin American average, which stood at 11.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

“My family and I love Maya nuts,” Iris Gutiérrez, a 49-year-old local resident, told IPS. “I learned to make little cakes and soup, or I just serve the nuts boiled, with salt and lemon, like a salad.”

Gutiérrez buys buns and sells them in the village. But her aim, she said, is to learn to make bread with ojushte flour and sell it.

“One day that dream will come true,” she said.

She added that she goes to farms around the village to harvest the nuts and adds them to her family’s diet, collecting firewood along the way to cook them.

“If we gather two pounds (nearly one kilo), we add them to corn and the tortillas are more nutritious and our food stretches farther,” said Gutiérrez, a mother of two and the head of her household of six people, which also includes other relatives.

Similar initiatives

Meanwhile, in the municipalities of Candelaria de la Frontera and Texistepeque, in the eastern department of Santa Ana, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is backing a similar effort, but involving a spice called chaya, rather than ojushte.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), a bush native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, was also used by the ancient Mayans in the pre-Columbian era.

As in the case of ojushte, the promotion of chaya emerged as part of environmental conservation plans aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

“Local communities had to look for a nutritional alternative that would improve the diet but would also be resistant to climate change, and we found that chaya is one of the most beneficial plants,” Rosemarie Rivas, a specialist in nutrition at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

Besides chaya bushes, FAO has distributed 26,000 fruit trees, as well as 8,000 moringa trees (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstrick or horseradish tree, whose leaves are also highly nutritious.

Another part of the project will be the creation of 250 family gardens to boost local food production capacity.

Efforts to encourage consumption of ojushte, chaya, moringa and other locally grown plants can make a difference when it comes to lowering malnutrition rates in rural areas, Rivas said.

She stressed, however, that boosting nutrition is not only about eating healthy foods, but involves other variables as well, such as the population’s overall health, which is influenced, for example, by factors such as the availability of sanitation and clean water.

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Lessons from Germany for Latin America’s Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:02:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146344 A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
DÜSSELDORF, Germany, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

Germany has been undergoing an energy transition for over 20 years, and it can offer valuable lessons to Latin America with regard to promoting renewable energy and moving towards a low-carbon economy.

Germany’s transformation formally began in 2011, based on six laws that foment alternative energies through a surcharge for suppliers, the expansion of the power grid to boost the incorporation of renewables, and cogeneration, to use energy that goes to waste in power plants that run on fossil fuels.

There are twice as many laws that bolster the generation and consumption of renewable sources worldwide as there were at the start of the century, and Latin America is no exception to this trend.

“Other countries, including those of Latin America, should probably look at Germany’s experiences and learn from both the good and the bad,” Sascha Samadi, an analyst with the German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, which carries out research on the energy transformation, told IPS.

The expert said that “at the start of the energy transition, everything was about how to rise up against the big energy companies that so many people hated,” while now the main driver of support for the transition is concern about climate change.

To move towards a low-carbon energy mix, “in the countries of Latin America, other aspects can be more important on the agenda, such as reducing dependence on imports or making supplies more stable,” he said.

In Germany, renewables accounted for 30 percent of the electricity produced in 2015 and this European nation is the third-largest producer of renewable energy – not including hydropower. It is third in wind energy and biodiesel and fifth in geothermal.

It is also a leader in per capita solar power, despite its relatively low amount of sunlight.

In the last decade, strides have been made in developing renewable energies in Latin America, a region highly dependent on fossil fuels, either because the countries are major producers of them, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, or because they depend on imports, like the nations of Central America or Chile.

Most countries in the region have included plans to foment the energy transition, policies to make production and consumption more efficient, and targets for the generation of renewable energy.

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For example, Mexico passed in December an energy transition law, Chile has its 2050 energy plan, and Uruguay has a 2005-2030 energy policy. This legislation includes medium to long-term goals for the generation of renewable energy, tax incentives, and other actions aimed at a cleaner energy mix.

In 2015, Brazil drew more than 7.1 billion dollars in investment in renewables – 10 percent less than the previous year; Mexico drew 4.0 billion – double the 2014 level; and Chile, 3.4 billion – an increase of 150 percent, according to the report “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016”.

Nations like Honduras and Uruguay also received over 500 million dollars in investment in renewables in 2015, according to the study produced by the United Nations Environment Programme Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

The study reports that investment in Brazil climbed from 800 million dollars in 2004 to 7.1 billion in 2015.

Without counting the region’s leading producer, Latin America captured 1.7 billion in investment in 2004, rising to 12.8 billion in 2015. But last year’s capital flows fell from 2014 levels, due to factors such as political instability in some countries and low oil prices.

The region generates 209,419 MW of renewable energy, of which hydropower represents 171,960.

To promote a low-carbon energy mix, there is an element in which Latin America should try to emulate Germany, Sophia Schönborn, an analyst with the German multisectoral organisation on energy KlimaDiskurs.NRW e.V, told IPS.

“Germany’s transition shows the importance of bottom-up decision-making and listening to the public’s concerns. It was not imposed; society pushed for changes in the energy model,” said the expert.

In the hands of the market

Germany has reached the point where it is producing excess renewable energy. As a result, parliament revoked fixed rates for renewables as of January 2017, and created auctions for all sources of clean energy.

The reform of the renewable energy law that will go into effect at that time rewards suppliers that have the lowest prices, sets caps on energy generation, and leaves fixed rates in place only for cooperatives and small-scale producers.

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Under the German model, citizens can generate their own electricity, and can even sell it to the grid, as part of the construction of what experts and organisations are referring to as the “energy citizenship”. But that is far from being the reality in Latin America.

The fixed rates, which included a surcharge to support suppliers of renewables, helped fuel the expansion of alternative sources in Germany.

In Latin America, countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Uruguay use surcharges or mix them with net metering, which allows consumers who produce their own electricity to use it at any time, rather than when it is generated. The consumers only pay the difference between what they consume and what they generate.

And countries like Chile, Mexico and Peru have put in place renewable energy auctions since 2015, which have led to a drop in prices per kilowatt-hour, partly due to their vast renewable sources, according to the Global Status Report 2016 released in June by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

According to experts, the recent swings are a signal to Latin America with respect to the handling of the renewable energy market, to avoid risks of over-production or excessive payments to suppliers.

Samadi stressed that “the costs of the expansion of renewables are paid by consumers in Germany.”

“This might not be a good mechanism for the countries of Latin America, where low energy prices could be important for social development and cohesion,” he said. With this in mind, he suggested taxes or special funds.

There is another lesson too. “If the huge growth in renewables was just starting now in Germany, with today’s low technological costs our overruns for generation would be lower than what we pay now.”

In his view, “the countries that start to invest heavily today in wind and solar energies will not face the same high costs as Germany, especially when the solar potential in most of Latin America is taken into account.”

Schönborn concurred, stressing the competitive costs of renewable sources. But she warned of the risk of “social division” for those who cannot generate their own energy and must buy it from the grid.

This inequality “requires intervention by the state to guarantee access,” she said.

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Forests and Crops Make Friendly Neighbors in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 18:55:58 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146239 Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

While Latin America keeps expanding its agricultural frontier by converting large areas of forest, one country, Costa Rica, has taken a different path and is now a role model for a peaceful coexistence between food production and sustainable forestry.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests revealed that commercial agriculture was responsible for 70 percent of forest conversion in Latin America between 2000 and 2010.

“What FAO mentions about the rest of Latin America, clearing forests for agriculture or livestock, happened in Costa Rica during the 1970s and 1980s,” Jorge Mario Rodríguez, the director of Costa Rica’s National Fund for Forestry Finance (Fonafifo), told IPS.“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness" -- Octavio Ramírez.

At its worst moment, during the 1980s, Costa Rica’s forest cover was limited to 21 to 25 percent of its land area. Now, forests account for 53 percent of the country’s 51,000 square kilometers, with almost five million inhabitants.

The country has managed to hold and even push back the advance of the agricultural frontier while strengthening its food security, according to FAO, which says that Costa Rica’s malnutrition rate is under 5 percent, something the organisation accounts as “zero hunger”.

“Here’s a learned lesson: there’s no need to chop down forests to produce more crops,” FAO Costa Rica director Octavio Ramírez told IPS.

Despite the increase in forest cover, FAO states the average value of food production per person increased by 26 percent in the period 1990–1992 to 2011–2013.

FAO attributes this change “to structural changes in the economy and the priority given to forest conservation and sustainable management” which were seized upon by Costa Rican authorities in a specific context.

“It has to do with the livestock crisis during the 1980s but also the priority given by Costa Rica to forest management,” said Ramírez, born in Nicaragua but Costa Rican by naturalisation.

In The State of the World’s Forests report, launched on July 18, FAO explains that Costa Rican forests were regarded as “land banks” that could be converted as necessary to meet agricultural needs.

“To keep the forest intact was looked upon as a synonym of laziness and unwillingness to work,” Ramírez explained.

But there were two key elements during the 1980s that led to better forest protection, the environmental economist Juan Robalino told IPS.

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Meat prices plummeted while eco-tourism became a leading economic activity in the country, explained the specialist from Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center.

“This paved the way for very interesting policy-making, like the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program,” said Robalino, one of the top experts in Costa Rican forest cover.

FAO states that a big part of Costa Rica’s success comes from PES, a financial incentive that acknowledges those ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation and management, reforestation, natural regeneration and agroforestry systems.

The program, established in 1997 and ran by Fonafifo, has a simple logic at its core: the Costa Rican state pays landowners who protect forest cover as they provide an ecosystem service.

From its launch until 2015, a total of 318 million dollars were invested in forest-related PES projects.  64 percent of the funding came from fossil fuel tax, 22 percent from World Bank credits and the remainder from other sources.

After studying PES impacts for years, Robalino explains the challenge for 2016 is to look for landowners with less incentives to protect their forests and bring them on board with the financial argument.

“The goal is to always look for those who’ll change their behavior because of the program,” Robalino stated.

Because of budget limitations, the program must decide which properties to work with, as applications exceed its capacity fivefold, according to Fonafifo director Rodríguez.

Priorities for PES funding include ecosystem services like watershed protection, carbon capture, scenic beauty and biodiversity conservation.

“Costa Rica learned that forests are worth more for their environmental services than because of their timber,” Rodríguez pointed out.

Fonafifo is now looking for new partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to launch a new program focused on small landowners who require more technical support, a road also favoured by FAO.

“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness,” said Ramírez, FAO’s local representative.

Both FAO and local experts interviewed by IPS agreed that PES seized upon a national and international crossroads to launch a program that despite its success, is not the only cause for Costa Rica’s recovery.

“Costa Rica’s success cannot be exclusively attributed to PES since other policies, like the creation of the National Protected Areas System and its education system, also played a major role,” Rodríguez explained.

Beyond this program, the country has a longstanding environmental tradition: close to a quarter of its territory is under some type of protection, the forestry law bans forest conversion, and sports hunting, open-air metallic mining and oil exploitation are all illegal.

The country’s Constitution declares citizens’ right to a healthy environment in its article 50.

“I remember my school teacher telling us students that we had to protect the forest,” Robalino recalled.

However, Costa Rica’s forest recovery didn’t reach all ecosystems in the country and left mangroves behind. Their area has diminished in the past decades.

According to the country’s 2014 report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, mangrove coverage fell from 64.452 hectares in 1979 to 37.420 hectares in 2013, a 42 percent loss.

This ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to large monoculture plantations on the Pacific coast, where the local Environmental Administrative Tribunal denounced the disappearance of 400 hectares between 2010 and 2014, due to human-induced fire, logging and invasion.

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San Juan City: The Smart City of the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/san-juan-city-the-smart-city-of-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=san-juan-city-the-smart-city-of-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/san-juan-city-the-smart-city-of-the-future/#comments Thu, 21 Jul 2016 17:47:11 +0000 Felino Palafox http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146173 By Felino A. Palafox, JR.
Jul 21 2016 (Manila Times)

The Philippines has so much to offer to the world, not only ecological treasures by way of tourism, but brilliant minds, visionaries, and craftsmen. Other nations find the uniqueness and diversity of our ecology unimaginable—such as having the third-longest coastline in the world as well as endemic species of plants and animals. Another unimaginable phenomenon, our economy remains strong despite the fact we are crossed by an average of 21 typhoons a year and is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire—prone to eruption of active volcanoes, and earthquakes.

FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

Despite all this, and insurmountable corruption through the years, the world is proudly calling us as one of the emerging tiger economies in the world. Not many people know, today, we are the 39th largest economy in the world. And I believe if we address corruption, criminality, climate change, and other national issues, we can become part of the top 20 economies in the world by March 16, 2021, when the Philippines celebrates its 500 years.

Smart cities
Two concepts are used interchangeably: Green Cities and Smart Cities. There are only slight differences between the concepts. Green Cities refer more to the passive integration of architecture and urban plan to the overall ecosystem. This concept is concerned in keeping carbon emissions sustainable, and manageable enough for the livability of the city. Smart Cities, on the other hand, are more focused in pro-active actions in becoming a green city—integrating technology, innovation, and citizenship in making the entire ecosystem and city livable. Though slightly different, both concepts are actions toward a more livable and sustainable quality of life.

In 2013, a project titled “Reshaping San Juan City: Planning Toward a Future of Green Consciousness” was awarded in Berlin, Germany. The event called “Smart City: The Next Generation” was organized by Aedes East-International Architecture Forum.

The formulation of the “Comprehensive Land Use and Zoning Plan for San Juan City,” done by our firm Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture, was applauded by the international community as a model city plan. San Juan City was called the “Smart City of the Future.” I was invited to present in a forum in Berlin, New York, and Shanghai the plans for San Juan and “Postcards From the Future.”

San Juan: Smart City
At the peak or at the highest point of Barangay Addition Hills, one can enjoy the scenery of a beautiful sunset. A kilometer down the hill lays access to one of Manila’s main river systems: San Juan River. Going to Ortigas Ave., one will pass by a barangay fondly named “Little Baguio,” used to be known for its towering pine trees and cool temperature. Apart from the special ecological terrain of San Juan City, Pinaglabanan Shrine heritage site known as the site for the start of the Filipino-American war.

There are five emphases in the plan for San Juan: land use, zoning, mobility, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster responsiveness. San Juan has a hilly terrain that is situated along one of the major river systems of Manila, citizens who work and live in San Juan always experience floods. During the wrath of Typhoon Ondoy, in 2009, many portions of the city were submerged.

The mobility plan focuses on being mass-transit-engaged and pedestrian-oriented. It gives priority to walking, biking, and commuting over private cars and vehicles. One of the major causes of systemic traffic congestion is prioritizing cars over public transit, walking and biking. The plan dedicates bike lanes and elevated walkways that connect the buildings and streets to the LRT stations. An elevated monorail was also proposed to connect various areas of San Juan with the LRT stations in Aurora and EDSA-MRT.

By creating elevated walkways for pedestrians, it prepared the entire city during flooding. Instead of people bracing the floods going to work, school, or home, the elevated walkways allow people to move in safety. It also puts people out of harm’s way because they do need to walk beside speeding cars or very narrow streets.

On the other hand, the plan also integrated a flood detection and awareness system. The citizens were asked to be involved in identifying areas that always get flooded, and electric posts were painted with flood-height measurements. Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture created flood overlay zones and Hazard overlay zones for the city of San Juan when it was still not a national requirement for the Comprehensive Land Use Plans and Zoning Ordinance. (Thankfully, it is now a requirement.)

Another recommendation is to bring down of high walls. The concept is known as “Eyes on the street” and “Security by Design.” Lessons I’ve learned elsewhere say that criminals are not afraid of walls and high gates because people wouldn’t know a crime is happening inside the house. Compared to a street where everyone has a view, criminals are more afraid with more eyes on the street. They should also be coupled with the installation of CCTV cameras and integrated police patrol.

One of the recommendations for the zoning ordinance is the transfer of air rights. Lot owners can sell the air right of the property if they do not plan to construct a much taller structure.

Future city plan for implementation
The plan is feasible and viable. It helps that the international community is keeping an eye on San Juan City’s transformation based on our plan. Often, plans for the future are not implemented due to bureaucratic red tape.

In my observation of thousands of cities and 67countries I’ve been to, what we need are: visionary leadership, strong political will, good design, good planning, and good governance. With the vision, mission, values, and goals of San Juan translated in a plan, the city has a bright future.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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