Inter Press Service » Green Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 08:24:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136217 People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Eco-Friendly Agriculture Puts Down Roots in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:26:17 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136081 An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

José María Gómez squats and pulls up a bunch of carrots from the soil as well as a few leeks. This farmer from southern Spain believes organic farming is more than just not using pesticides and other chemicals – it’s a way of life, he says, which requires creativity and respect for nature.

Gómez, 44, goes to organic food markets in Málaga to sell the vegetables and citrus fruits he grows on his three-hectare farm in the Valle del Guadalhorce, 40 km west of Málaga, a city in southern Spain,

And every week Gómez, whose parents and grandparents were farmers, does home deliveries of several dozen baskets of fresh produce, “thus closing the circle from the field to the table,” he told Tierramérica on his farm.

The economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent, hasn’t put a curb on ecological farming. In 2012, organic farming covered 1.7 million hectares of land, compared to 988,323 in 2007, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.

Organic farming generated 913,610 euros (1.22 million dollars) in 2012, 9.6 percent more than in 2011.

“Ecological farming is growing in Spain and Europe despite the crisis because those who consume organic produce are loyal,” agricultural technician Víctor Gonzálvez, coordinator of the non-governmental Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (SEAE), told Tierramérica.

Organic food markets have mushroomed in the streets and plazas of cities and towns around Spain, and some supermarket chains now sell ecological produce.

The southern community or region of Andalusía has the largest extension of land under organic farming: 949,025 officially registered hectares, equivalent to 54 percent of the national total, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Most production from Andalusía is exported to other European countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom – which seems contradictory to those in favour of organic farming that truly provides a local alternative to intensive, industrial agriculture, with a short food supply chain.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about exporting ecological foods because production should bring benefits to the local economy,” Pilar Carrillo told Tierramérica from her La Coruja farm in the municipality of Tacoronte on Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands.

She and her partner, Julio Quílez, have been living there for a year with their young son. They have less than half a hectare of land, where they practice permaculture – the use of ecology and local ecosystems to design self-sustaining productive landscapes that, once established, need a minimum of human intervention. They sell their produce every Saturday in the nearby farmer’s market.

“When you buy local ecological products you are eating healthy food, you’re interacting with people from the countryside, and you generate wealth in your local surroundings,” engineer Juan José Galván, who for five years has been buying food in organic markets in Málaga, told Tierramérica.

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Spain, with its mild climate, has the largest area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union, according to Eurostat 2012 figures, and the fifth largest area in the world, after Australia, Argentina, the United States and China, according to a report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

But the controls and certification of ecological agricultural production, which in Spain are carried out by both public and private bodies, are neither simple nor free of cost.

To be sold as organic food, products must carry a label with the code of the corresponding authority in each community, the Ministry of Agriculture explains on its website.

Certification of ecological farming takes at least two years to obtain, and the inspections are thorough, farmers told Tierramérica. The requisites and controls involved and the economic effort entailed drive up the prices of organic products, they argued.

Quílez, who grows aromatic and medicinal plants in Tenerife, said he has to pay for certification “as an ecological farmer and also as a seller of organic produce, which doubles the cost; a large part of the price of ecologically produced food goes into red tape.”

According to Gonzálvez, public funds in Spain go more towards conventional agricultural production and research in biotechnology than into supporting ecological farming.

He said farmers “are afraid to take the leap” into this kind of alternative production because there are no advisory services, unlike in intensive, industrial agriculture.

“Ecological agriculture is very empirical. If an aphid attacks my melons, I plant beans next to the melons because they draw the aphids away. Every year you get wiser,” Gómez said, standing among his tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm.

Gómez, who has tousled dark hair and skin tanned by the sun, argues that while “big industry produces market-oriented varieties, ecological agriculture, especially local farming based on geographical proximity, focuses on producing quality food,” as well as preserving the environment and soil fertility.

Critics argue that organic products are expensive and the production methods inefficient, “but it depends on what you buy, and where,” Esther Vivas, with the Centre for Studies on Social Movements at the Pompeu Fabra university in the northeast city of Barcelona, wrote in her article “Who’s afraid of ecological agriculture?”

Vivas told Tierramérica that although the level of consumption of organic products in Spain is still low compared to conventional farm products, the market for ecological produce is growing, as interest has been boosted by various scandals involving food products.

Galván said that while it is true that the higher cost of organic products can turn away consumers, “demand is steadily growing.”

“The real revolution has to come from below, from the consumer who goes to the markets to buy and who demands high-quality products,” Gómez said.

The ecological farmer – who worked for years as an environmental agent – stressed the social dimension of organic agriculture and short food supply chains, pointing to “the affection that your customers give you, as they are aware of the health benefits of the food and of the sustainability of the production.”

Quílez, who left a well-paid job in computers to dedicate himself to ecological farming, said “exploitative agriculture undermined food sovereignty,” and this is seen clearly in the Canary Islands “where 85 percent of the products consumed come from outside.”

On Gómez’s farm it’s time to plant beans, potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli to harvest in October and November. “I get up at 5:30 in the morning and farm for 15 or 16 hours,” he said.

But “it’s the best job I’ve had in my life,” he added, smiling.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Chile’s Patagonia Seeks Small-Scale Energy Autonomyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/chiles-patagonia-seeks-small-scale-energy-autonomy/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 00:53:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136066 The beauty of the snowy streets of Coyhaique, the capital of the Patagonia region of Aysén, hide the fact that it is Chile’s most polluted city, mainly due to the use of wet firewood to heat homes, in an area where temperatures are below zero for much of the year. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The beauty of the snowy streets of Coyhaique, the capital of the Patagonia region of Aysén, hide the fact that it is Chile’s most polluted city, mainly due to the use of wet firewood to heat homes, in an area where temperatures are below zero for much of the year. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

The southern region of Aysén in Chile’s Patagonian wilderness has the highest energy costs in the entire country. And the regional capital, Coyhaique, is the most polluted city in the nation, even though it has huge potential for hydroelectricity and wind power.

Most of the population opposed the construction of the HidroAysén hydropower dams, and the public pressure helped bring about the Jun. 10 cancellation of the project by the administration of socialist President Michelle Bachelet.

Now that the battle has been won, the region is looking for a way to reach energy autonomy.

“Aysén is Chile’s hydropower mecca. Nevertheless there is a monopoly over electricity here that continues to use diesel for 28 percent of power generation,” activist Peter Hartmann, a member of the Patagonia Defence Council and creator of the concept Aysén Reserve of Life, told IPS.

And fuel, Hartmann said, costs twice as much in Aysén as in the centre of Chile, which means the price of electricity is nearly double what it costs in Santiago.

The region of Aysén, whose capital is 1,629 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region. It consists of 108,494 sq km of glaciers, evergreen forests, fjords, islands, canals, lakes and swift-running rivers.

“Above and beyond structural questions that have to be worked out, this region only has good things to offer,” social activist Miriam Chible told IPS.

Mega does not mean good

The now-defunct HidroAysén project aimed to build five mega hydropower dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers, which would have generated 2,750 MW of electricity, with an annual capacity of 18,430 gigawatt-hours.

Environmentalists led the fight against the construction of the dams because of the impact they could have had on Chile’s Patagonia region, which has been proposed for humanity’s heritage status with UNESCO (the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) due to its vast biodiversity and enormous reserves of freshwater, among the planet’s largest.

But the Cuervo River project, which the Patagonia Defence Council sees as having a lesser impact, continues moving forward. The government has not yet taken a stance on it.

“Aysén has natural resources and enterprising people,” she said. “It has clearly marked seasons, which although it is a challenge makes it possible for us to plan. Besides, it’s next to Argentina, which gives it tremendous potential because it makes us part of a binational Patagonian area.”

Coyhaique, the region’s administrative and economic capital, is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. But paradoxically this is also Chile’s most polluted city.

The reason is that its 56,000 inhabitants mainly use firewood – much of which is green, wet or covered with moss – to heat their homes and cook in this extreme southern region, where temperatures are below zero for much of the year.

“In Aysén everyone heats and cooks with firewood, which causes Coyhaique’s high levels of pollution,” Hartmann said.

He added, however, that “If it occurred to you to put a small electric heater in your house in the wintertime, they would fine you for overconsumption. These are the things that no one understands.”

To this is added the poor insulation of homes in this region, where 9.9 percent of the population is poor – below the national average of 11.7 percent – but 4.2 percent is extremely poor – higher than the Chilean average of 3.7 percent.

Hartmann explained that half of the houses in this city have no insulation. He was referring to homes subsidised by the state, which he described as “anti-social” housing.

But firewood is part of the culture of Patagonians, who pay up to 7,000 dollars a year to heat their homes with green, wet or mossy wood, which costs 32 dollars per cubic metre, compared to 56 dollars per cubic metre for dry wood.

Social activist Miriam Chible has installed solar panels in her family restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, to achieve energy autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Social activist Miriam Chible has installed solar panels in her family restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, to achieve energy autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This Southern Cone country of 17.6 million people has 18,278 MW of gross installed capacity. It imports 97 percent of the fossil fuels it needs, and hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations, for the rest.

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 160 dollars, compared to 55 dollars in Peru, 40 in Colombia and 10 in Argentina.

And in Aysén the cost per MWh is double the national average.

Currently, Edelaysen, a subsidiary of the private company Saesa, controls the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power in the region.

In Aysén, 54.2 percent of electricity comes from thermal power, 41.7 percent from hydroelectricity, and 4.1 percent from wind power.

Those who fought the HidroAysén project are now pressing for an even more ambitious goal: regional energy sovereignty.

One of the leaders of this struggle is Miriam Chible.

This widow and mother of four who was born and raised in Coyhaique forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation, established in April to work towards energy sovereignty by focusing on unconventional renewable sources. Another goal of the commission is autonomy in the area of food supplies.

“We are trying to design a different model of economic development for Aysén,” Chible said.

The idea, she added, “is for Aysén to come up with its own energy project, in order to later push for its own kind of development.”

The activist said the environmental movement believes Aysén’s hydropower potential could be harnessed by means of mini-dams, which have a smaller impact, while developing wind, solar and geothermal energy as well.

Some progress in that direction has been made. Six months ago, 120 people created a Solar Cooperative, which on Aug. 2 held its first seminar on local experiences in unconventional renewable energy sources.

Chible has 24 solar panels on her restaurant Histórico Ricer, which has been serving meals in the centre of Coyhaique for 33 years. Like her, there are dozens of families making an effort to diversify their energy sources.

The next step will be the purchase of LED light bulbs in bulk, for each member of the cooperative to install in their homes. “We also have metres that show how much energy we consume every day, and we hold energy ecoliteracy workshops,” she said.

The Aysén regional secretary of energy, Juan Antonio Bijit, explained to IPS that the region has the capacity to generate a significant amount of energy, with hydropower and wind potential. We even, he said, “have incorporated photovoltaic solutions with very good results.”

He said the Energy Agenda launched by President Bachelet on Jun. 15 is looking at boosting the electricity supply in the region in order to bring down rates “and improve people’s standard of living.”

Bijit said that for now there are no plans to subsidise the cost of energy in Aysén. But he added that community input will be included in all future decisions.

“We cannot do things between four walls; it’s important to talk to the people before decisions are reached,” he said.

“The idea is for people to be participants in what needs to be done in the area of energy, and in Aysén the population has a high level of awareness about this issue,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Swamped by Rising Seas, Small Islands Seek a Lifelinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/swamped-by-rising-seas-small-islands-seek-a-lifeline/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 18:16:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136060 Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Raolo Island in the Solomon Islands is one of the many places threatened by sea level rise. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

The world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS), some in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth because of sea-level rise triggered by climate change, will be the focus of an international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month.

Scheduled to take place Sep. 1-2, the conference will provide world leaders with “a first-hand opportunity to experience climate change and poverty challenges of small islands.”For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

According to the United Nations, the political leaders are expected to announce “over 200 concrete partnerships” to lift small islanders out of poverty – all of whom are facing rising sea levels, overfishing, and destructive natural events like typhoons and tsunamis.

“We are working with our partners – bilaterally and multilaterally – to help resolve our problems,” said Ambassador Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, permanent representative of Samoa to the United Nations.

“You don’t have to bring the cheque book to the [negotiating] table,” he added. “It’s partnerships that matter.”

The issues on the conference agenda include sustainable economic development, oceans, food security and waste management, sustainable tourism, disaster risk reduction, health and non-communicable diseases, youth and women.

The list of 52 SIDS covers a wide geographical area and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Nauru, Palau, Maldives, Cuba, Marshall Islands, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The conference is expected to adopt a plan of action, also called an outcome document, ensuring some of the priorities for SIDS. A preparatory committee, co-chaired by New Zealand and Singapore, has finalised the outcome document which will go before the conference for approval.

Responding to a series of questions, Ambassador Karen Tan, permanent representative of Singapore to the United Nations, and Phillip Taula, deputy permanent representative of New Zealand, told IPS SIDS have “specific vulnerabilities, and the difficulties they face are severe and complex. The small size of SIDS creates disadvantages.”

These can include limited resources and high population density, which can contribute to overuse and depletion of resources; high dependence on international trade; threatened supply of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure; limited institutional capacities; and limited export volumes, which are too small to achieve economies of scale.

They noted that geographic dispersion and isolation from markets can also lead to high freight costs and reduced competitiveness. SIDS have limited land areas and populations concentrated in coastal zones. Climate change and sea-level rise present significant risks.

The long-term effects of climate change may threaten the very existence and viability of some SIDS, Tan and Taula said in the joint interview. “SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact. And they face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.”

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general, such as challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Asked how many SIDS have been identified by the U.N. as in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth, they said no such assessment has yet been undertaken.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its fifth assessment report (AR5), and its Working Group II has recently issued its contribution to that, on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’.

The report warned that small islands in general are at risk of loss of livelihoods, coastal settlements, infrastructure, ecosystem services, and economic stability.

For low-lying atoll nations particularly, the high ratio of coastal area to land mass will make adaptation to climate change a significant challenge.

Some small island states are expected to face severe impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion, the report added. These could have damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP).

The report notes the risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones in small islands.

However, the WGII report also notes that significant potential exists for adaptation in islands, but additional external resources and technologies will enhance response.

Asked if there will be a plan of action adopted in Samoa, they said the outcome document will highlight the challenges that SIDS face and actions that SIDS and their partners will take to address these challenges.

“The theme of the conference, sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships, recognises that international cooperation and a wide range of partnerships involving all stakeholders are critical for the sustainable development of SIDS.”

As host, Samoa has made it clear that “no partnership is too small to count but what is essential is that they have clear targets, outputs, planned outcomes and timelines.”

Meanwhile, Afu Billy, capacity building volunteer at Development Services Exchange in Solomon Islands, told IPS the experiences that would be shared during the conference will be invaluable for small island states as they learn from each other how they are dealing with these issues and also learn from the international community on how they too are addressing these priorities of SIDS.

The fact that the conference will be bringing together governments and non-government stakeholders, including the private sector, provides a learning opportunity and one that will pose collaborative efforts on how everyone can work together in partnership to assist SIDS.

The conference will also create a space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have an independent voice and also for governments to hear their views, she noted.

This may create further collaborative initiatives between governments and CSOs for sustainable developments in the SIDS.

Asked whether she expects any concrete outcome, Billy said the idea to form partnerships among all stakeholders including the governments to assist SIDS to do things for themselves “is one outcome that we anticipate the conference delivering.”

Any plan of action that the conference adopts should be inclusive of all stakeholders, she added.

“There should be emphasis on SIDS doing things for themselves to ensure sustainable development and that stakeholders and partners are seen as ‘friends’ who come to their rescue when they get bogged in a ‘rut’ but then let’s them carry on with what they are doing after being ‘rescued’”.

This is to alleviate or minimise donor dependency but also promote sustainable development.

“We expect better and stronger official development assistance (ODA) to be directed on development effectiveness rather than on a dominant aid effectiveness approach,” she said.

“Finally, we expect that the issue of reducing corruption and increase transparency at all levels will be an overarching subject at the Conference and sound recommendations to alleviate corruption will be adopted and incorporated into the Plan of Action,.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Bringing “Smart” Building Technology to Jamaica’s Shantytownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bringing-smart-building-technology-to-jamaicas-shantytowns/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 18:31:11 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135947 As natural disasters become more prevalent, squatter's homes, such as this one in Trinidad, are a cause for concern in Jamaica, where 20 percent of the population is said to inhabit such precarious structures. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

As natural disasters become more prevalent, squatter's homes, such as this one in Trinidad, are a cause for concern in Jamaica, where 20 percent of the population is said to inhabit such precarious structures. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

Buildings are among the largest consumers of earth’s natural resources. According to the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, they use about 40 percent of global energy and 25 percent of global water, while emitting about a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Anthony Clayton, a professor of sustainable development at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, says those statistics make buildings vital to developing resilience to climate change and to reducing pockets of entrenched poverty in the Caribbean region."There is a disconnect between political agendas and climate change timelines." -- Dr. Kwame Emmanuel

“At the moment, most of the buildings in Jamaica are very energy inefficient with very expensive electricity that reduces the level of disposable incomes, which is one of the factors acting as a break on the economy.”

“If we build to a higher standard of energy efficiency,” the country will also be more resilient to climate change, he added.

Clayton and his colleague, Professor Tara Dasgupta, are currently working on the prototype of a smart building whose key features would be “optimal sustainability and efficiency” with particular attention given to water efficiency, renewable energies, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

The proposed “net zero energy” building, which is the first of its kind in the region, is now in the design phase. The University of the West Indies’ Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), where Clayton holds the Alcan chair, is working in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the seven-million-dollar research and building project.

Clayton, who is also a member of several advisory groups serving the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told IPS that a major hazard of the current housing stock in Jamaica, in light of climate change, is its proliferation of informal settlements.

He was referring to unregularised settling of vacant lands by squatters who throw up substandard housing for shelter.

He said 20 percent of the population in Jamaica is said to be living in these settlements. “We have got buildings built on unsuitable terrain and unstable slopes. If you get the kind of torrential rain associated with climate change, there is liable to be flooding or landslips.”

Many of these houses built by squatters are not particularly sturdy. “A lot of the houses are just basically built of block, some concrete, tin, timber, just patched together. Some are just wood and a corrugated tin roof,” he said.

A lot of work still needs to be done in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean with regard to establishing and enforcing building codes that provide some protection against natural disasters.

Hence, the ISD at UWI, Mona, undertook an Inter-American Development Bank-funded project “to assess climate-change related risks and help increase resilience in the building stock of Jamaica.”

The first phase of that project was “a risk assessment of the housing stock and areas of urban development in Jamaica and… the draft[ing] of a parliamentary paper on environmental regulation.”

Among the findings of the risk assessment phase, said Dr. Kwame Emmanuel, technical consultant on the project, was that the government of Jamaica was partly to blame for Jamaica’s unsafe housing environment.

He told IPS, “The development control regime is encouraging illegal developments by enforcing a cumbersome and time-consuming process for formal developments.”

Further, “The government of Jamaica is currently pursuing a housing policy which seeks to increase the number of houses for low-income earners. One possible policy conflict is related to the location of these high-density housing developments.

“They may either be placed in vulnerable or environmentally sensitive areas because of the low cost of land; or the development may enhance the vulnerability of adjoining areas. In addition, climate resilience may not be considered in the design of the housing developments and units,” Emmanuel added.

Offering a possible explanation for the scenario, Emmanuel said, “There is a disconnect between political agendas and climate change timelines. Politicians are primarily concerned with current problems faced by the electorate such as poverty, cost of living, unemployment, water lock offs, poor road conditions and so on. Therefore, it is difficult for them to consider issues which have not fully manifested as yet, for example, sea level rise.”

He added that, in Jamaica, another major issue “is the autonomy of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and the Ministry of Housing, facilitated by their respective Acts. These Acts have influenced the inconsistency of development standards and the exploitation of loopholes in the regulatory framework.”

Subsequent to the risk assessment, proposals were developed for modifying current building codes in the region to ensure energy efficient and climate resilient buildings. These proposals are currently being shared with professionals in the construction industry, said Clayton, and the response has generally been positive.

The multidisciplinary group MODE is leading the review of the building codes on behalf of the ISD.

Project manager of the MODE-led review, architect Brian Bernal, told IPS the project “examines how building codes can be used as an avenue to promote, encourage, and enforce climate change resilient buildings on a national and regional scale.”

In an e-mail interview, he told IPS, “Robust and enforced building codes are highly effective in ensuring a better quality of building and, when employed in conjunction with ‘green’ building standards and/or practices, will significantly increase the functional resilience of our buildings.”

The group made the following proposals for improving the current building codes:

• Jamaica’s current 2009 National Building Code be adopted, enforced and updated;
• the International Green Construction Code be adopted since it “would [be] the least difficult to implement in the local code environment”;
• a local green building rating system be implemented, which involves “voluntary tools for rating the environmental performance of buildings that are typically verified by a third party, in order to achieve recognition for exemplary design and levels of conservation”;
• and incentives for green building be given.

Bernal said, “The main objective of building codes is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the building’s occupants.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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Gas and Sun Light the Way for Energy Industry in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:17:12 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135810 Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater.  Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

El Salvador is making steady progress towards diversifying its energy sources, with a plan to bolster the use of cleaner sources and achieve a substantial change in its energy mix by 2018.

Projects involving clean energy, such as solar, are just getting underway in this Central American country. But they are gaining momentum and the first changes in the industry, until now heavily dependent on fossil fuels, are beginning to be seen.

El Salvador has traditionally depended on fuel oil and diesel, which account for 41 percent of power generation. But fluctuations in the cost of oil on the international market cause instability in prices.

Thermal energy produced by diesel and fuel oil is followed by hydroelectricity (31 percent of the total), geothermal energy (25 percent) and biomass (three percent), which is being developed by sugar mills that use bagasse or sugarcane residue that is burned for fuel in the mills’ steam boilers.

“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise,” said Carlos Nájera, director of development of renewable resources at the National Energy Council (CNE) – the government energy authority – in an interview with Tierramérica.

In 2011, the CNE established a new model for energy sales and purchases, which requires power companies to acquire 75 percent of the energy they distribute by means of long-term contracts, in order to reduce large swings in electricity rates.“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise.” -- Carlos Nájera

That has brought down the cost for consumers by three cents of a dollar, to an average of 17 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In this small Central American country of 6.2 million people, electricity production was 5,544 gigawatt hours in 2009, and is projected to reach 6,787 gigawatt hours in 2015.

Currently, 97.8 percent of the urban population and 85.6 percent of the rural population have electricity, according to figures from the Economy Ministry.

Since 2009, when the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebel group-turned-political party began to govern the country, the CNE has been leading the government effort to modify the energy mix, incorporating new technologies that are more efficient and cleaner.

The administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who took office in June, will keep in place a plan launched by his predecessor that set a target for just 15 percent of all power generation to come from fossil fuels by 2018, 26 percent less than today.

According to the plan, hydropower will make up 26 percent of the total, geothermal power 20 percent, and biomass two percent.

But the most novel aspect is that 35 percent of power generation is to come from natural gas, two percent from solar energy, and one percent from wind power.

“We are moving in the right direction to meet those targets,” Nájera said.

The most recent advance came in June, when an international consortium made up of the companies UDP Neoen-Almaval, UDP Proyecto La Trinidad and Solar Reserve Development were awarded contracts to supply 94 MW of solar energy.

With an investment of around 300 million dollars, the companies are to install solar plants to begin operating in October 2016, and run them for 20 years.

The tender was sponsored by the private power company Distribuidora de Electricidad DelSur and was audited by the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones (Siget).

A total of 26 companies from France, Germany, Mexico, Spain and other countries took part in the public tender.

“We had a very good response from the companies that made bids, which means there is trust and confidence, as well as a capacity for supply,” Ingrid Chávez, manager of commercial planning in DelSur, told Tierramérica.

Small-scale solar power projects already underway in El Salvador provide electricity to rural schools or small farming families. But the contract granted last month is the first large-scale solar energy initiative in El Salvador.

New smaller-scale projects are also in the pipeline.

One is the installation of the Planta Fotovoltaica 15 de Septiembre, a 14.2 MW solar power plant – the first of its kind, which is now being put up for tender. A similar 12 MW plant is also in the planning stage.

The aim is for 200 MW of solar energy to be produced by 2018, in order to meet the goal of two percent of the country’s electricity to come from solar power.

The June tender also included 40 MW of wind energy, but the two companies that offered bids charged more per MW than the price – 123 dollars – set by Siget, so no contract was granted.

In November 2013 a contract was awarded to a consortium formed by the local companies Quantum-Glu, to generate 355 MW using natural gas. The investment will amount to 900 million dollars.

The natural gas, which the companies will import, will alter the energy mix dominated by oil, and according to Siget will put this country at the forefront of cleaner energy generation in Central America.

And since it is less expensive to generate electricity using natural gas, the cost for consumers will be lower.

The change in the country’s energy mix is just one of several aspects outlined in the National Energy Policy designed by the CNE and aimed at coming up with more sustainable forms of electricity production in order to ease the country’s energy problems.

Another important element is the promotion of a culture of energy efficiency and savings.

In April, the CNE awarded prizes to several companies, large and small, and to government institutions that offered the best initiatives in energy efficiency, with a focus on environmental sustainability.

The Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego was one of the winners.

The 19-room hotel, a family business, was paying a 1,300-dollar a month electric bill when it opened in 2001. But it later became involved in a project for saving electricity, water and gas, and began to work towards becoming more efficient and sustainable.

A solar water heater was installed, and the transformer and air conditioning systems were modified.

The hotel’s power bill has gone down 60 percent and the owners are making an effort to increase their savings, until reaching the recommended minimum usage, when they plan to install solar panels.

“We can’t go on to the photovoltaic energy stage until we’ve reached the maximum savings, but we’re moving in that direction,” the coordinator of the hotel’s environmental projects, Carolina Baiza, told Tierramérica.

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

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Antigua Weighs High Cost of Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:47:47 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135794 The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Caught between its quest to grow the economy, create jobs and cut electricity costs, and the negative impacts associated with building an oil refinery, the Antigua and Barbuda government is looking to a mix of clean energy and fossil fuels to address its energy needs.

Venezuela’s ambassador to Antigua, Carlos Perez, announced last week that Caracas was at an advanced stage of negotiations with the government in St. John’s to build an oil refinery on the tiny 108-square-mile island.“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many." -- Chante Codrington

“The pending negotiations for the oil refinery I believe are well advanced and we’re hoping with this new administration of Prime Minister [Gaston] Browne we will advance to conclude that project that will be beneficial for Antigua and for Venezuela too,” Perez said.

Browne’s Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won General Elections on Jun. 12 after 10 years in opposition.

Environmentalists, including Dominican Arthurton Martin, oppose the move and say it’s the worst possible time to make an announcement like this.

“The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its 2014 report presenting evidence that not only can we expect a two degree centigrade rise in global temperatures but [possibly] a four degree centigrade rise, which will result in significant increases in coastal damage from sea level rise for countries like Antigua that are relatively flat,” Martin told IPS.

“This will in fact result in significant extension of periods of drought as a result of fluctuations in temperature. This is also happening at a time when there are so many options that could deal with part of the energy challenge,” he added.

Martin said the refinery was a bad choice not only because of the global movement to avert catastrophic climate change, but because cleaner alternatives are readily available.

He suggested instead that government look into sources like biofuel, solar and wind energy to reduce reliance on crude oil. These sources of energy have already been developed and financing exists to explore these options.

“These technologies are off the shelf. You can purchase them right now. You don’t even have to do R&D to develop them,” he said.

“This is the first time in the history of the international financial community that they have in fact made grants and concessionary loan financing available to actually reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for energy.”

Environmentalists stress that oil refineries are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Oil refineries also emit methane and nitrous oxide, which are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, as well as several other air contaminants that pose risks to human health and the environment such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

Chante Codrington, director of Wadadli Industrial Renewable Energy Ltd, who is in negotiations with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to build a wind farm here, is of the view that wind energy is the most efficient and affordable energy source for the island.

“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many,” he told IPS.

“There is an odor that comes from the oil refinery, air pollution, water contamination concerns, fire, explosions, noise pollution, health effects – these are all the disadvantages.”

Clean energy advocate John Burke agrees with Codrington, telling IPS it would benefit the island’s poor more if the country goes green.

“The price of oil is going to go up. The last time I heard the price of sun and wind had not gone up. Currently, every kilowatt hour we’re generating we’re spending about 80 or 90 cents EC on fuel. If they put together a programme to finance and install solar systems for the poor and the middle class that would in effect be financed by the amount of money we save from importing oil.”

According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), energy demand in the region is expected to double in the next 20 years, at a 3.7 per cent average annual rate of increase.

Currently, most Caribbean countries are heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels, their energy consumption being based almost solely on oil products, which account for more than 97 per cent of the energy mix.

Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Barbados cover part of their fuel requirements from their own reserves of oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, only Trinidad and Tobago has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves.

Several Caribbean countries spend 15 to 30 percent of their export earnings, inclusive of revenues from tourism, on oil products. This results in electricity prices of between 20 and 35 cents per kWh, much higher than in the United States or Europe.

Peter Lewis, managing director of the Bermuda-based Carib Energy Solutions, said the government should consider the environmental factors associated with an oil refinery.

“If the global trend of a mixed-bag approach is the best option for the pursuit of an energy agenda…you would be able to attract more entrepreneurs to the business sector and get the economy going,” he told IPS.

Martin also agrees with the mixed-bag approach.

“No single source of power should be allowed to deal with your entire energy bill. That is a bad thing to do,” he said.

“We had our banana experience in Dominica when we placed all our bets on one crop. My advice is no country should place all its bets on any one source of power. Even Venezuela is understanding that right now.

“So if solar can contribute three per cent, if wind can give you 15 per cent, if biomass conversion can give you 20 per cent, what you are doing is effectively reducing your dependence on the dirtiest form of energy which is fossil fuel driven energy,” Martin added.

In early 2007, the government of Dominica announced plans for Venezuela to construct an oil refinery on the island but after a barrage of objections was raised by environmentalists, plans for the plant were placed on hold in 2008.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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A Carrot Is a Carrot – or Is It?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:09:54 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135770 Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell/IPS

Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell/IPS

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Food security is often thought of as a question of diversifying supply and being able to move food through areas plagued by local scarcity, relying on the global economic system – including trade and transport – as the basis for operations.

But there is a growing current of opinion that the answer lies much closer to home, by creating locally resilient food supplies which are less dependent on global systems and therefore on the political and economic crises that afflict these systems.

While both approaches have their place, one issue that they have in common is the goal of improving diets and raising levels of nutrition.

At the global level, this goal will take centre stage at the international conference on nutrition that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are jointly organising in Rome from November 19 to 21 this year.“Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal” – Bruce Darrel, food security expert

The organisers will be seeking political commitment for funding improved nutrition programmes as well as including nutrition-enhancing food systems in national development policies. They are also likely to attempt to give the Zero Hunger Challenge in the post-2015 United Nations development agenda fresh momentum.

In the meantime, one task that many say still remains is how to address nutrition in a holistic way, ranging from soil health to plant and animal health as well as to education about food storage and preparation methods that maximise nutrition.

Canadian food security expert Bruce Darrell believes that there are currently few examples of holistic approaches to nutrient management that incorporate strategies for nutrient levels and develop efficient nutrient cycling. “Perhaps this is not surprising when dealing with something that is essentially invisible and which has no generally recognised name as a concept,” he argues.

In his daily work, Darrell examines the role of mineral nutrients in soil, how they are depleted by farming practices, and their implications for healthy food.

According to Darrell’s accumulated knowledge, a single carrot can be more than twice as high in nutrients as that of another carrot grown in poor quality soil, which contains less than half the amount of sugars, vitamins and minerals.

A lack of knowledge about these things needs to be overcome, says Darrell: “Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal.”

While the carrot is only one example of a whole range of food and nutrition issues, it is becoming clearer that the knowledge gap can be and is gradually being overcome.

Increasingly, individuals and small grassroots organisations are getting together to develop whole-systems approaches to nutrition. There are also more and more networks emerging globally to understand food.

“Not all of us have the luxury to decide exactly how we feed ourselves,” Ágnes Repka, a raw food expert from Hungary and one of the coordinators of the Future of Food European Learning Partnership, told IPS. “But many of us can make a choice on how to prepare the ingredients we have. Keeping as much of our food in their natural, raw form is one of the best ways to maintain its nutrients.”

The Partnership aims to bring sustainable food initiatives from different parts of Europe to one place and learn from each other, bringing the insights regarding sustainable agriculture and healthy food to a new level of understanding.

Repka stressed that when the members of the Partnership think about the healthiest possible food, “we mean what is healthy for our body, for our mind, for our communities and our planet.”

In order to communicate the new-found gains in the world of nutrition and to promote awareness in food education, Ireland’s Truefood Academy comes just at the right time.

Colette McMahon and Casandra Cosgrove of the Academy explain their reasons for putting an educational component in their nutrition-related work: “As nutritional therapists we have found that the practical skills and understanding of basic nutrition is poor and so began to develop and implement an outreach programme in a workshop format.”

The approach has proved successful and beneficial, deepening the understanding of the nutritional impact of traditional food preparation skills, which has demonstrated positive measurable results in the quality of life of the participants.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea in southern Scotland, Graham Bell grows over a metric ton of food on less than a 0.1 hectare garden and envisions permaculture as an apt and wise approach to sustainable and nutritious food harvesting.

“The great opportunity is for people to grow as much of their own food as possible,” says Bell. “The first need is to ensure access to land but a lot can be done on very little as we are proving. The next step is to ensure people have the skills to grow what they need.”

“Good change takes time,” adds Bell. “It is incremental. Permaculture is not a missionary activity. It is about modelling better ways of behaving. Better for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbours – and better for people we don’t know.”

Building durable, sustainable systems is a “one day at a time” approach, according to Bell – not an overnight solution. It involves a lot of sweat, toil and trial, but it is worthwhile, he and other practitioners say.

This summer, a permaculture gathering is taking place in Bulgaria, with the next gathering already scheduled at the Sieben Linden eco-village in Germany. Repka is an avid fan of such meetings and enjoys visiting and learning new things as well as sharing her knowledge.

“Learning how to get the most out of our food is a simple way that we can improve our health,” explained Repka. Uncooked plant based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their raw form give our body more vitality, energy and health is Repka’s message.

“These are the simple choices we can make every day,” she added.

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135713 Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year."This model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.” -- Caleb Stevens

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower.

Meanwhile, the climate implications of these forests are significant. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon, but they also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“We know that at least 500 million hectares of forest in developing countries are already in the hands of local communities, translating to a bit less than 40 billion tonnes of carbon,” Andy White, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)’s coordinator, told IPS.

“That’s a huge amount – 30 times the amount of total emissions from all passenger vehicles around the world. But much of the rights to protect those forests are weak, so there’s a real risk that we could lose those forests and that carbon.”

White notes that there’s been a “massive slowdown” in the recognition of indigenous and other community rights over the past half-decade, despite earlier global headway on the issue. But he now sees significant potential to link land rights with momentum on climate change in the minds of policymakers and the donor community.

“In developing country forests, you have this history of governments promoting deforestation for agriculture but also opening up forests through roads and the promotion of colonisation and mining,” White says.

“At the same time, these same governments are now trying to talk about climate change, saying they’re concerned about reducing emission. To date, these two hands haven’t been talking to each other.”

Lima link

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. In September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts, but few have directly connected this potential with local tenure.

“The international community hasn’t taken this link nearly as far as it can go, and it’s important that policymakers are made aware of this connection,” Caleb Stevens, a proper rights specialist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the new report’s principle author, told IPS.

“Developed country governments can commit to development assistance agencies to strengthen forest tenure as part of bilateral agreements. They can also commit to strengthen these rights through finance mechanisms like the new Green Climate Fund.”

Currently the most well-known, if contentious, international mechanism aimed at reducing deforestation is the U.N.’s REDD+ initiative, which since 2008 has dispersed nearly 200 million dollars to safeguard forest in developing countries. Yet critics say the programme has never fully embraced the potential of community forest management.

“REDD+ was established because it is well known that deforestation is a significant part of the climate change problem,” Tony LaVina, the lead forest and climate negotiator for the Philippines, said in a statement.

“What is not as widely understood is how effective forest communities are at protecting their forest from deforestation and increasing forest health. This is why REDD+ must be accompanied by community safeguards.”

Two-thirds remaining

Meanwhile, WRI’s Stevens says that current national-level prioritisation of local tenure is a “mixed bag”, varying significantly from country to country.

He points to progressive progress being made in Liberia and Kenya, where laws have started to be reformed to recognise community rights, as well as in Bolivia and Nepal, where some 40 percent of forests are legally under community control. Following a 2013 court ruling, Indonesia could now be on a similar path.

“Many governments are still quite reluctant to stop their attempts access minerals and other resources,” Stevens says. “But some governments realise the limitations of their capacity – that this model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.”

Not only are local communities often more effective at managing such resources than governments or private entities, but they can also become significant economic beneficiaries of those forests, eventually even contributing to national coffers through tax revenues.

Certainly there is scope for such an expansion. RRI estimates that the 500 million hectares currently under community control constitute just a third of what communities around the world are actively – and, the group says, legitimately – claiming.

“The world should rapidly scale up recognition of local forest rights even if they only care about the climate – even if they don’t care about the people, about water, women, biodiversity,” RRI’s White says.

“Actually, of course, people do care about all of these other issues. That’s why a strategy of strengthening local forest rights is so important and a no-brainer – it will deliver for the climate as well as reduce poverty.”

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U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135654 Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Pressure is building here for lawmakers to pass a bill that would funnel billions of dollars of U.S. investment into strengthening Africa’s electricity production and distribution capabilities, and could offer broad new support for off-grid opportunities.

With half of the U.S. Congress having already acted on the issue, supporters are now hoping that the Senate will follow suit before a major summit takes place here during the first week of August. That event is expected to include heads of state or representatives from as many as 50 African countries."We could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.” -- Justin Guay

The summit, the first time that such an event has been organised in Washington, will focus in particular on investment opportunities. As such, many are hoping that the three-day event’s centrepiece will be President Barack Obama’s signing of a broad investment deal aimed at Africa’s power sector.

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee did pass a bill, called the Energize Africa Act, late last month, but much remains to be done. The legislation now needs to be voted on by the full Senate, after which the final proposal would have to be brought into alignment with a similar bill voted through by the House of Representatives in May.

Meanwhile, the entire Congress is scheduled to go into recess for a month at the end of July. Still, backroom talks are reportedly well underway.

“There’s growing pressure and momentum in the Senate, as well as a growing appreciation of how doing this is both strategic and important,” Leo says. “Not having a bill to sign would certainly be a missed opportunity in terms of the optics and concreteness of action, either before or when everyone’s in Washington.”

Some 68 percent of the sub-Saharan population lacks access to electricity. Both the House and Senate bills would seek to assist African countries in expanding basic electricity access to some 50 million people.

“Our support for this bill is a direct response to what we hear from African leaders, citizens and global development experts,” Tom Hart, U.S. executive director of ONE, an advocacy group that focuses on eliminating poverty in Africa and has mounted a major campaign in favour of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“[O]ne of the biggest challenges for overcoming extreme poverty is the inability for millions of people to access the basic electricity necessary to power health clinics, farms, schools, factories and businesses.”

Beyond the grid

The current legislative push comes a year after President Obama unveiled a new initiative called Power Africa, proposed during his June 2013 trip to the continent. Seen as the president’s signature development plan for the region, Power Africa aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan countries through a mix of public and private investment.

While Power Africa is ambitious, its long-term impact greatly depends on the legislation currently under debate.

For instance, while Power Africa directly affects just six countries, the bills before Congress take a continental approach. Likewise, as an executive-level project, the initiative’s policy priorities can only be cemented through full legislation.

Power Africa initially came under significant fire from environmental and some development groups for its reliance on fossil fuel (particularly natural gas) and centralised power projects. Many groups say that such a focus is ultimately counterproductive for poor and marginalised communities.

Yet last month, the United States announced a billion-dollar initiative to focus on off-grid energy projects across the continent. This approach could now be codified through the legislative discussions currently taking place in Congress.

“Congress is now looking to pass a bill that would be relatively historic in terms of its support for beyond-the-grid markets,” Justin Guay, Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS. “The [Senate] bill is the first legislation we’ve seen starting to drive investment to unlock that potential.”

To date, Guay says, most investment from the U.S. government and multilateral agencies has skewed in favour of fossil fuels and centralised power generation. For the first time, the new legislation could start to balance out this mix – a potential boon for the environment and local communities alike.

“If you look at the energy access problem in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s largely a rural issue. So this bill could stimulate distributed, clean-energy solutions that can get into the hands of poor populations today, rather than forcing them to wait decades in the dark for power,” Guay says.

“In this way, we could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.”

The House’s companion bill includes fewer progressive provisions than the Senate version, but it also doesn’t include amendments that could deliberately doom the legislation. Still, it remains to be seen how conservatives in the House react to the Senate’s proposals.

Strengthened support

These new opportunities have broadened support for the Senate’s legislation. On Friday, for instance, the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, a Germany-based trade group, expressed its “strong support” for the Energize Africa Act.

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

“We believe this bill has emerged as a strong source of support for our efforts to address energy poverty,” Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers from earlier this month.

“We are particularly supportive of new efforts to expand loan guarantee authority at USAID” – the main U.S. foreign aid agency – “as well as the goal of ending kerosene based lighting. Both of these aspects are critical to ending energy poverty in poor rural areas.”

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate bills have enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support. Still, it’s not clear whether that will translate into the passage of a new law – particularly by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, slated for Aug. 4-6.

“There’s not a lot of time left, so it’s is very difficult,” the Center for Global Development’s Leo says. “However, if it doesn’t pass by the summit, the summit will invariably create a lot of action shortly thereafter.”

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U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Globally in Energy Efficiencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-ranks-near-bottom-globally-in-energy-efficiency/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:26:46 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135640 Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

Energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Credit: Anton Fomkin/cc by 2.0

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

A new ranking has lauded Germany for its energy efficiency, while condemning the United States for lagging near the bottom.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit here, called the U.S. economy’s inefficiency “a tremendous waste” of both resources and money, in a scorecard released Thursday. Looking at 16 of the world’s largest economies, the rankings use 31 metrics to measure efficiency-related measures within each nation’s legislative efforts as well as the industrial, transportation and building sectors.“The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.” -- Mark Konold

“A country that uses less energy to achieve the same or better results reduces its costs and pollution, creating a stronger, more competitive economy,” the ACEEE’s report begins. “While energy efficiency has played a role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource.”

Though Germany produced the highest overall score- with 65 out of 100 possible points- and came in first in the “industry” sector, China had the top-scoring assessment in the “buildings” category, Italy had the most efficient “transportation” sector, and France, Italy and the European Union tied three-ways in the “national efforts” division.

Rachel Young, an ACEEE research analyst, told IPS that the U.S government has taken important recent steps to limit carbon emissions, particularly from existing power plants. But she recommends much broader actions.

The U.S. needs to “implement a national ‘energy savings’ target, strengthen national model building codes, support education and training in the industrial sector, and prioritise energy efficiency in transportation,” she says. Doing so, Young suggests, would not only reduce emissions but also save money and create jobs.

ACEEE’s focus has traditionally been on improving energy efficiency in the United States. But the new scorecard’s broad emphasis – on how energy efficiency makes for both an environmentally and financially wide investment – can be applied to international economies as well.

The Worldwatch Institute, a think tank here, is one of the many international development-focused organisations that have adopted this approach.

“We think that energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways that countries can get more mileage out of their energy usage,” Mark Konold, the Caribbean project manager at the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS. “The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.”

Citing the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America and South America as prime examples, Konold says energy efficiency can be a wise economic investment for governments and individuals alike.

“Especially in island countries, which face disproportionately large energy bills, energy efficiency can go a long way in terms of reducing [an individual’s] financial burden,” he says. “Something as simple as window installations can make buildings in these island countries more efficient.”

Paradigm shift?

Worldwatch and others increasingly consider energy efficiency a key element in the sustainability agenda.

Konold, who recently co-authored a study on sustainable energy in Jamaica, believes it is critical to examine the return on investment of energy-efficient practices. Doing so, he says, can help determine which cost-effective energy models should be implemented in developing nations.

Such recommendations are particularly relevant given the international community’s growing focus on efficiency issues.

The United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, recently established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to help “promote [a] paradigm shift” towards sustainability in developing countries. As one its three objectives, SE4ALL mandates “doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”.

“There is a growing realisation that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy and greenhouse gas emission option,” Nate Aden, a research fellow the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “This is especially important for developing countries that are trying to address energy access while also addressing climate change.”

Part of this new focus is specifically due to the SE4ALL initiative, Aden says. Further,  he believes that the programme’s other two goals – doubling the share of renewable energy and providing universal energy access – are “consistent and complimentary” with energy efficiency.

“For example, in India, there’s a lot of discussion about the appropriate choices going forward, given that you have hundreds of millions who still lack access to energy,” Aden says. “You have to ask what the right choice is in terms of not only producing low-carbon emissions, but also in bringing energy to people.”

Aden also spoke enthusiastically about the “unique perspective” that private companies may take on energy efficiency, pointing to the efficiency efforts of Phillips, a U.S.-based lighting company. Aden believes that the ACEEE’s call for more energy-efficient practices will help make companies “able to plan effectively and be well-positioned from the supplier side” of energy.

Cultural change

While actions by the international community will clearly be important in implementing energy-efficient strategies from the top down, some are also emphasising the need for cultural change at the individual level.

“A huge chunk of this issue is education and awareness-building,” Worldwatch’s Konold says. “And once we start to spread the message that individuals can better their own situation, that’s when we start seeing a change,”

He says there is a profound lack of awareness around energy in many countries, pointing to a phenomenon he refers to as “leaving the air-conditioning on with the windows open”. But Konold emphasises that individuals can indeed make broad, substantive impact if they adopt more energy-saving behaviours in their homes.

This sentiment was echoed by the ACEEE’s Young, whose report pointed out that Americans are particularly guilty of energy-wasting behaviours, consuming roughly 6.8 tonnes of oil equivalent per person. This put the U.S. in second to last place in terms of individual energy consumption, only beating out Canada, where estimated oil consumption was 7.2 tonnes.

Based on this phenomenon, Young believes that individuals should “take advantage of incentives offered by their local utilities and governments to learn more about what they can do to reduce energy waste”, and to check out the ACEEE website, which “has dozens of consumer tips on improving energy efficiency.”

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Do Not GM My Food!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/do-not-gm-my-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=do-not-gm-my-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/do-not-gm-my-food/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:19:50 +0000 Julio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135627 By Julio Godoy
BERLIN, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Attempts to genetically modify food staples, such as crops and cattle, to increase their nutritional value and overall performance have prompted world-wide criticism by environmental, nutritionists and agriculture experts, who say that protecting and fomenting biodiversity is a far better solution to hunger and malnutrition.

Two cases have received world-wide attention: one is a project to genetically modify bananas, the other is an international bull genome project.

In June, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it has allocated some 10 million dollars to finance an Australian research team at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), working on vitamin A-enriched bananas in Uganda, by genetically modifying the fruit.

On the other hand,  according to its project team, the “1000 bull genomes project” aims “to provide, for the bovine research community, a large database for imputation of genetic variants for genomic prediction and genome wide association studies in all cattle breeds.”“It makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of (traditional, organic) technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries” – ‘Failure to Yield’, a study by the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists

In both cases, the genetic modification (GM) of bananas and of bovines is an instrument to allegedly increase the nutritional value and improve the overall quality of the food staples, be it the fruit itself, or, in the case of cattle, of meat and milk.

James Dale, professor at QUT, and leader of the GM banana project, claims that “good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food.”

In the ‘1000 bull genomes project’, the scientists involved (from Australia, France, Germany, and other countries) have sequenced – that is, established the order of – the whole genomes of hundreds of cows and bulls. “This sequencing includes data for 129 individuals from the global Holstein-Friesian population, 43 individuals from the Fleckvieh breed and 15 individuals from the Jersey breed,” write the scientists in an article published in Nature Genetics of July 13.

The reactions from environmental activists, nutritionists, and scientists could not be more critical. The banana case has even prompted a specific campaign launched in India – the “No to GMO Bananas Campaign”.

The campaign, launched by Navdanya, a non-governmental organisation founded by the international environmental icon Vandana Shiva, insists that “GMO bananas are … not a solution to” malnutrition and hunger.

The group argues that so-called bio-fortification of bananas – “the genetic manipulation of the fruit, to cut and paste a gene, seeking to make a new or lost micronutrient,” as genetic expert Bob Phelps has put it – is a waste of time and money, and constitutes a risk to biodiversity.

“Bananas are highly nutritional but have only 0.44 mg of iron per 100 grams of edible portion,” a Navdanya spokesperson said. “All the effort to increase iron content of bananas will fall short the (natural) iron content of indigenous biodiversity.”

The rationale supporting bio-fortication suggests that the genetic manipulation can multiply the iron content of bananas by six. This increase would lead to an iron content of 2.6 mg per 100 grams of edible fruit.

“That would be 3,000 percent less than iron content in turmeric, or lotus stem, 2,000 percent less than mango powder,” the spokesperson at Navdanya said. “The safe, biodiverse alternatives to GM bananas are multifold.”

Scientists have indeed demonstrated that the GM agriculture has so far failed to deliver higher yields than organic processes.

In a study carried out in 2009, the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated that the yields of GM soybeans and corn have increased only marginally, if at all. The report, “Failure to Yield“, found out that increases in yields for both crops between 1995 and 2008 were largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

“Failure to Yield” also analyses the potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades, and concludes that “it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of (traditional, organic) technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries.”

Additionally, the authors say, “recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Yet another ground for criticism is the fact that Bill Gates has repeated an often refuted legend about the risk of extinction of the banana variety Cavendish, grown all over the world for the North American market.

In his blog, Gates claims that “a blight has spread among plantations in Asia and Australia in recent years, badly damaging production of … Cavendish. This disease, a fungus, hasn’t spread to Latin America yet, but if it does, bananas could get a lot scarcer and more expensive in North America and elsewhere.”

The risk of extinction, however, is practically inexistent, as the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), among other institutions, had already shown in 2003.

“What is happening is the inevitable consequence of growing one genotype on a large scale,” said Eric Kueneman, at the time head of FAO’s Crop and Grassland Service. That is, monoculture is the main cause of the fungus.

“The Cavendish banana is a “dessert type” banana that is cultivated mostly by the large-scale banana companies for international trade,” recalled Kueneman, today an independent consultant on agriculture.

On the other hand, as FAO numbers show, the Cavendish banana is important in world trade, but accounts for only 10 percent of bananas produced and consumed globally. Virtually all commercially important plantations grow this single genotype, and by so doing, make the fruit vulnerable to diseases. As FAO said in 2003, “fortunately, small-scale farmers around the world have maintained a broad genetic pool which can be used for future banana crop improvement.”

Actually, the most frequent reasons for malnutrition and starvation can be found in food access, itself a consequence of poverty, inequity and social injustice. Thus, as Bob Phelps, founder of Gene Ethics, says, “the challenge to feed everyone well is much more than adding one or two key nutrients to an impoverished diet dominated by a staple food or two.”

The same goes for the genome sequencing of bulls and cows, says Ottmar Distl, professor at the Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics at the University of Hannover. “Some years ago, we thought that it would impossible to obtain more than 1,000 kilograms of milk per year per cow,” Distl said. “Today, it is normal to milk 7,000 kilograms, and even as much as 10,000 kilograms per year.”

But such performance has a price – most such “optimised” cows calve only twice in their lives and die quite young.

And yet, the leading researchers of the “1000 bull genomes project” look at further optimising the cows’ and bulls’ performance by genetic manipulation of the cattle in order to, as they say in their report, meet the world-wide forecasted, rising demand for milk and meat.

Distl disagrees. “Whoever increases the milk output hasn’t yet done anything against worldwide malnutrition and hunger.” In addition, he warned, the constant optimisation of some races can lead to the extinction of other lines, thus affecting the populations depending precisely on those seldom older races.

It goes without saying that such an extinction would hardly serve the interests of the world’s consumers.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Major Companies Push for More, Easier Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/major-companies-push-for-more-easier-renewable-energy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:08:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135556 According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Some of the largest companies in the United States have banded together to call for a substantial increase in the production of renewable electricity, as well as for more simplicity in purchasing large blocs of green energy.

A dozen U.S-based companies, most of which operate globally, say they want to significantly step up the amount of renewable energy they use, but warn that production levels remain too low and procurement remains too complex. The 12 companies have now put forward a set of principles aimed at helping to “facilitate progress on these challenges” and lead to a broader shift in the market.“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available." -- Marty Spitzer

“We would like our efforts to result in new renewable power generation,” the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, released Friday, state. The companies note “our desire to promote new projects, ensure our purchases add new capacity to the system, and that we buy the most cost-competitive renewable energy products.”

The principles consist of six broad reforms, aimed at broadening and strengthening the renewable energy marketplace. Companies want more choice in their procurement options, greater cost competitiveness between renewable and traditional power sources, and “simplified processes, contracts and financing” around the long-term purchase of renewables.

Founding signatories to the principles, which were shepherded by civil society, include manufacturers and consumer goods companies (General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Proctor & Gamble), tech giants (Facebook, HP, Intel, Sprint) and major retailers (Walmart, the outdoor-goods store REI).

These 12 companies combined have renewable energy consumption targets of more than eight million megawatt hours of energy through the end of this decade, according to organisers. Yet the new principles, meant to guide policy discussions, have come about due to frustration over the inability of the U.S. renewables market to keep up with spiking demand.

“The problem these companies are seeing is that they’re paying too much, even though they know that cost-effective renewable energy is available. These companies are used to having choices,” Marty Spitzer, director of U.S. climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a conservation and advocacy group that helped to spearhead the principles, told IPS.

WWF was joined in the initiative by the World Resources Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute, both think tanks that focus on issues of energy and sustainability.

“The companies have also recognised that it’s often very difficult to procure renewables and bring them to their facilities,” Spitzer continues. “While most of them didn’t think of it this way at first, they’ve now realised that they have been experiencing a lot of the same problems.”

‘Too difficult’

In recent years, nearly two-thirds of big U.S. businesses have created explicit policies around climate goals and renewable energy usage, according to WWF. While there is increasing political and public compunction behind these new policies, a primary goal remains simple cost-cutting and long-term efficiencies.

“A significant part of the value to us from renewable energy is the ability to lock in energy price certainty and avoid fuel price volatility,” the principles note.

In part due to political deadlock in Washington, particularly around issues of climate and energy, renewable production in the United States remains too low to keep up with this corporate demand. According to the U.S. government, only around 13 percent of domestic energy production last year was from renewable sources.

Accessing even that small portion of the market remains unwieldy.

“We know cost-competitive renewable energy exists but the problem is that it is way too difficult for most companies to buy,” Amy Hargroves, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Sprint, a telecommunications company, said in a statement.

“Very few companies have the knowledge and resources to purchase renewable energy given today’s very limited and complex options. Our hope is that by identifying the commonalities among large buyers, the principles will catalyse market changes that will help make renewables more affordable and accessible for all companies.”

One of the most far-reaching sustainability commitments has come from the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. A decade ago, the company set an “aspirational” goal for itself, to be supplied completely by renewable energy.

Last year, it created a more specific goal aimed at helping to grow the global market for renewables, pledging to drive the production or procurement of seven billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy globally by the end of 2020, a sixfold increase over 2010. (The company is also working to increase the energy efficiency of its stores by 20 percent over this timeframe.)

While the company has since become a leader in terms of installing solar and wind projects at its stores and properties, it has experienced frustrations in trying to make long-term bulk purchases of renewable electricity from U.S. utilities.

“The way we finance is important … cost-competitiveness is very important, as is access to longer-term contracts,” David Ozment, senior director of energy at Walmart, told IPS. “We like to use power-purchase agreements to finance our renewable energy projects, but currently only around half of the states in the U.S. allow for these arrangements.”

Given Walmart’s size and scale, Ozment says the company is regularly asked by suppliers, regulators and utilities about what it is looking for in power procurement. The new principles, he says, offer a strong answer, providing direction as well as flexibility for whatever compulsion is driving a particular company’s energy choices, whether “efficiency, conservation or greenhouse gas impact”.

“We’ve seen the price of solar drop dramatically over the past five years, and we hope our participation helped in that,” he says. “Now, these new principles will hopefully create the scale to continue to drop the cost of renewables and make them more affordable for everyone.”

Internationally applicable

Ozment is also clear that the new principles need not apply only to U.S. operations, noting that the principles “dovetail” with what Walmart is already doing internationally.

In an e-mail, a representative for Intel, the computer chip manufacturer, likewise told IPS that the company is “interested in promoting renewables markets in countries where we have significant operations … at a high level, the need to make renewables both more abundant and easier to access applies outside the U.S.”

For his part, WWF’s Spitzer says that just one of the principles is specific to the U.S. regulatory context.

“Many other countries have their own instruments on renewable production,” he says, “but five out of these six principles are relevant and perfectly appropriate internationally.”

Meanwhile, both the principles and their signatories remain open-ended. Spitzer says that just since Friday he’s heard from additional companies interested in adding their support.

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OPINION: The Caribbean: A Clean Energy Revolution on the Front Lines of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-caribbean-a-clean-energy-revolution-on-the-front-lines-of-climate-change/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 19:03:55 +0000 Richard Schiffman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135553 Children in Georgetown, Guyana learn about solar energy during an exhibition. Credit: CREDP

Children in Georgetown, Guyana learn about solar energy during an exhibition. Credit: CREDP

By Richard Schiffman
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Lefties Food Stall, a pint-sized eatery serving Barbados’ signature flying-fish sandwiches, recently became the first snack shack on the Caribbean island to be fitted with a solar panel.

The nearby public shower facility sports a panel as well. So does the bus shelter across the street, the local police station, and scores of gaily coloured houses on the coastal road leading into the capital, Bridgetown.It is time to have a Marshall Plan for clean energy— not to rebuild war-torn nations, but to help protect our abused climate system from further damage.

Like many other small island nations, Barbados has to ship in all of the oil that it uses to produce electricity—making power over four times more costly than it is in the fuel-rich United States.

That high price has proven to be a boon for Barbados’ fledgling solar industry. Nearly half of all homes boast solar water heaters on their roofs, which pay for themselves in lower electric bills in less than two years. Increasingly, industries like the island’s small desalination plant are installing solar arrays to meet a portion of their power needs.

This move to solar is being driven by tax incentives for green businesses and consumers. In an address marking the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) “World Environment Day” in Bridgetown’s Independence Square, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart recently pledged that the island nation would produce 29 percent of its energy from renewables by the end of the next decade.

That rather conservative goal is still over twice what the United States currently produces with renewables. It won’t be hard to reach. Not only is the island blessed with abundant sunshine, it also has year-round trade winds to run wind turbines, and sugar cane waste—or bagasse—that can be used as a biofuel.

The Barbados government is furthermore looking into harnessing the energy of the tides, as well as introducing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a technology that employs the temperature difference between cooler deep and warmer shallow sea waters to generate electricity.

Clean energy technologies are slowly making headway throughout the Caribbean. And the nearby United States, the world’s number-one historical emitter of carbon emissions, should pay attention.

A frontline region

Barbados is not alone in the Caribbean in its enthusiasm for green technology.

Aruba is planning a 3.5-MW solar airport, perhaps the largest such project in the world. The Dutch-speaking island has combined wind and solar power with energy efficiency measures to cut its imports of heavy fuel oil in half, saving some 50 million dollars a year.

The volcanic islands of Nevis, Montserrat, and St. Vincent have contracted with Icelandic geothermal companies to conduct exploratory projects to determine how to tap their vast geothermal potential. Meanwhile, mountainous Dominica already meets about half of its energy demand with hydropower.

Caribbean islands don’t just have abundant resources for developing clean energy. They also have compelling reasons to do so. The region is burdened by some of the highest energy costs in the world, which have stunted its industrial development and drained its reserves of foreign exchange.

The islands also have fragile ecosystems like mangrove forests and coral reefs, which are highly vulnerable to oil spills and pollution. And many countries like Barbados depend on tourists, who will flock there only so long as the places remain attractively clean and green.

But the best reason to cut carbon emissions is the danger that these island nations face if climate change proceeds unchecked. And indeed, climate change is already having a big impact. In recent years, lower rainfall in the Eastern Caribbean has posed a threat to agriculture and scarce groundwater supplies.

Sea level rise as well as ocean acidification and warming have killed many protective coral reefs, leading to severe beach erosion. And the hurricane-prone region is being battered by increasingly frequent and powerful storms.

At the World Environment Day event in Bridgetown, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, called climate change “the most serious existential threat in the world today.”

That is certainly true for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Successive storms ripped through the islands in 2010, 2011, and 2012, leading to a yearly loss of up to 17 percent of the developing country’s GDP, as well as destroying hundreds of homes and killing dozens of islanders.

“If my people don’t get flooded out on the coast,” the prime minister observed ruefully, “they will be washed away in landslides.”

Barbados’ prime minister, Freundel Stuart, echoed his counterpart’s sense of urgency. “Since the issue involves our very survival,” Stuart told the crowd, “capitulation is not an option.” Stuart said he believes that the Caribbean should set “a shining example” for the world to follow.

His government recently commissioned a Green Economy Scoping Study, prepared in partnership with UNEP and released in Bridgetown in June, which includes recommendations on how to make the island’s agriculture, fisheries, transportation, and energy systems more sustainable.

It makes sense: these islands are on the front line for climate change’s destructive forces, so they should also be on the front line in cutting their own carbon emissions. They need to demonstrate how seriously they take the threat, as an example to the rest of us.

A Marshall Plan for the Caribbean

Right now, energy production in the Caribbean is anything but sustainable. Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez offered many islands long-term loans and concessionary rates for cheaper oil. His successor has done his best to maintain the modest subsidies.

But nobody can say how long this largesse will last, given Venezuela’s current financial crisis, and still less what will happen to already stressed island economies when they are forced to pay full price for crude.

The Caribbean needs to become energy-independent in order to thrive. But overhauling energy infrastructure does not come cheaply. There are knotty technical challenges related to the stability of the grid that few small nations are currently equipped to meet. And the small scale of the demand for electricity on many of the islands makes it hard to attract international investors.

Moreover, countries like Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, Grenada, Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda are saddled with public debts that often exceed their annual GDP. So unlike an industrial powerhouse like Germany, for example, few Caribbean nations are in a position to fully exploit their renewable energy potential.

The big industrial powers that are responsible for the problems of island nations should be lending a helping hand to the folks suffering the most from climate change. Loans from international development banks, as well as technology transfers and training from wealthier countries, would go a long way.

International development banks also need to prime the pump with programmes to encourage prudent investment.

This isn’t charity. By helping islands that are geographically close to the United States go green, Washington won’t just be cutting harmful greenhouse gases for everyone.

It will also create opportunities to learn valuable lessons in overcoming technical challenges—about how, for example, to successfully integrate intermittent inputs from wind and solar into the power grid, a problem that has limited the United States’ own adoption of renewables.

The vulnerable islands of the Caribbean are a perfect laboratory to test solutions on a small scale that can eventually be applied to the far more complex U.S. energy infrastructure.

After World War II, America lent its economic muscle to help rebuild Europe’s shattered economies through the Marshall Plan. It is time to have a Marshall Plan for clean energy— not to rebuild war-torn nations, but to help protect our abused climate system from further damage. The Caribbean, blessed with a wealth of sun, wind, and geothermal energy, is a great place to start.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental writer. He recently traveled to Barbados to attend the World Environment Day celebrations. This story was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Scepticism as “Green Goods” Trade Talks Beginhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/scepticism-as-green-goods-trade-talks-begin/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scepticism-as-green-goods-trade-talks-begin http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/scepticism-as-green-goods-trade-talks-begin/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 00:23:44 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135493 LM Glasfiber workers hoist a wind turbine blade in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Credit: Tu/cc by 2.0

LM Glasfiber workers hoist a wind turbine blade in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Credit: Tu/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

Formal negotiations began this week around the increasingly significant global trade in “environmental goods”, those technologies seen as environmentally beneficial, including in combating climate change.

Attempts have been made to liberalise this market for years. But on Tuesday, 13 countries, constituting nearly 90 percent of the current trade in green goods such as solar panels, wind turbines and wastewater treatment filters, came together in Geneva to try again to reach agreement."There is no definition yet of what actually constitutes an ‘environmental good’, and many of the goods being considered are actually harmful to the environment.” -- Ilana Solomon

Yet there remains significant confusion around the actual potential – or even broader aim – of the talks, towards what’s being called the Environmental Goods Agreement. Green groups are expressing open scepticism of the process, taking place under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“From our perspective, we think increasing trade in and use of environmentally beneficial products is incredibly important. But we have really serious concerns about the approach the WTO is taking,” Ilana Solomon, the director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“This approach is about removing tariffs on a list of products that are supposedly beneficial to the environment. But there is no definition yet of what actually constitutes an ‘environmental good’, and many of the goods being considered are actually harmful to the environment.”

The WTO talks are taking place between the United States, the European Union, China, Australia, Japan and others. Representatives are starting from a list of 54 product categories, agreed upon in 2012 among the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.

The APEC countries are now working to reduce tariffs on these products to below five percent by 2015.

Yet the list includes many items that can be used in ways that could be either environmentally positive or negative. This includes, for instance, waste incinerators, centrifuges, gas turbines, sludge compactors and a variety of technical machinery.

The list would also seem to largely exclude poor countries. Currently, only Costa Rica has joined what are otherwise industrialised and middle-income economies in the talks.

“Poor countries are probably not producing these items,” Kim Elliott, a senior researcher on trade at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS. “If they don’t participate in these talks they’ll likely lose out around high tariffs, but they’re probably not going to be doing much exporting.”

While proponents tend to characterise the negotiations in terms of lowering overall prices for green goods, little is said of the potential impact on nascent domestic industries.

“There might well be reasons a developing country would want to develop its own industry in, say, solar panels or wind turbines,” the Sierra Club’s Solomon says. “But having low or no tariffs could impede the ability of these countries to develop their own domestic renewable energy industries.”

Knock-on effects?

The World Trade Organisation does not include climate change in its purview. Yet since the mid-1990s the multilateral organisation says it has worked to establish “a clear link between sustainable development and disciplined trade liberalization – in order to ensure that market opening goes hand in hand with environmental and social objectives.”

Momentum behind the new talks is in part due to a push from President Barack Obama. Last year, as part of a major new focus on climate, the president announced that U.S. officials would engage in the negotiations in order “to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.”

The administration’s interest in the issue will also be shared by other proponents of expanded free trade. Multilateral trade talks have seen little to no progress over the past two decades, after all, so proponents hope that linking these issues could give a fillip to the multilateral system.

“Everybody, at least on paper, wants to do something on climate change, so this is seen as an issue that might be able to move,” the Center for Global Development’s Elliott says. “The idea is regarded as something of a win-win, as useful for the trading system and also for the planet.”

Of course, the U.S. government’s interest is also around strengthening U.S. exports, and as political pressures have risen around the world around climate change, the trade in green goods has quickly become a major force. According to official estimates, this market’s value doubled between 2011 and 2007, and stood at around a trillion dollars last year.

The U.S. share has been growing by eight percent per year since 2009, amounting to some 106 billion dollars last year.

Certainly business interests, in the United States and industrialised countries around the world, are showing significant interest in the new talks. On Tuesday, nearly 50 major business groups and trade associations wrote to the WTO negotiators to “strongly endorse” their efforts.

The industry groups also expressed hope that an accord around environmental goods could act as a catalyst for broader liberalisation.

“An ambitious [agreement] will further increase global trade in environmental goods, lowering the cost of addressing environmental and climate challenges by removing tariffs that can be as high as 35 percent,” the groups stated.

“In addition to its intrinsic commercial importance and desirability, a well-designed [agreement] can act as a stepping stone to lowering tariffs and other trade barriers in other sectors and associated value chains.”

Backdoor liberalisation

The U.S. administration may share this view. The Sierra Club’s Solomon points to a recent letter from Michael Froman, the United States’ top trade official, requesting the U.S. International Trade Commission to research the potential impact of trade liberalisation around environmental goods.

“In the absence of a universally accepted definition of an ‘environmental good,’” Froman wrote, “I request that, for the purpose of its analysis, the Commission refer to the items contained in the list attached to this letter.”

That list, which extends to 34 pages, contains hundreds of items not currently on the APEC list. These range from natural products (honey, palm oil, urea, coconut fibres, bamboo) to the technical (pipes and casings “of a kind used in drilling for oil and gas”) to the seemingly random (vacuum cleaners, cameras).

“This appears to suggest that this exercise isn’t about protecting the environment but rather about expanding the current model of free trade – a backdoor attempt to achieve liberalisation on a broad range of goods,” Solomon says.

“As this process moves forward, we’ll need a full environmental impact assessment of everything on the list under consideration. And it can’t just be the end uses that are examined, but rather the whole lifecycle of a product’s impact that is taken into account.”

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