Inter Press Service » Green Economy Journalism and Communication for Global Change Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:28:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africa Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron 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 Efficiency Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:26:46 +0000 Julia Hotz 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! Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:19:50 +0000 Julio Godoy 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 Century Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam 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 Energy Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:08:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron 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 Change Mon, 14 Jul 2014 19:03:55 +0000 Richard Schiffman 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 Begin Fri, 11 Jul 2014 00:23:44 +0000 Carey L. Biron 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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At the Crucial Nexus of Water and Energy Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jewel Fraser Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Global institutions are still in the learning phase when it comes to successfully managing water and energy in an integrated manner as part of the quest for sustainable development.

According to World Bank official Daryl Fields, understanding the water-energy nexus is critical for addressing growth and human development, urbanisation and climate change, but many policy-makers are finding it challenging to transform this concept into a reality."There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it." -- Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi

Fields, who is also a Technical Committee member of the Global Water Partnership, was speaking at a recent meeting of the GWP Consulting Partners, held in Trinidad for the first time.

“We are left with a lot of opportunities and many questions and a fair amount of work to do,” she said.

According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, “Climate change is also likely to aggravate pressure on resources and so add to the vulnerability of people and ecosystems, particularly in water scarce and [water] marginal regions.”

Fields said “network” was a more appropriate term than “nexus” because of the many linkages involved and the mutual dependence of energy and water. Energy affects water quality through discharges and effluence, as well as through its impact on the reliability of water supply and the cost of maintaining that supply, because energy is needed to pump water to consumers.

On the other hand, she said, water quality affects the ability to provide energy. As an example, she cited a hydropower plant in India whose equipment suffered erosion because of sediment in the water used by its turbines. As well, there was the issue of salinisation.

Hence, she said, there is “a virtuous cycle. You reduce the need for water and you reduce the need for energy.”

She said that the challenge of managing water and energy in an integrated fashion was compounded by the extreme differences between the two. Those working in the two industries often spoke different “languages”, had different perspectives and a different way of looking at things.

Stressing the urgent water challenges facing nations, Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi, chair of the GWP Technical Committee, pointed out that water-scarce regions now account for about 36 percent of the global population and 22 percent of global GDP. He said demand for water had grown 600 times during the 21st century.

“Good water management is important to [sustainable] growth and for building resilience to climate change,” he said. “There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it.”

Nevertheless, GWP’s experience in Africa shows that water managers are finding practical, yet simple solutions to the water crisis, while taking into account the energy needs of communities.

Andrew Takawira, senior programme officer, GWP-Africa, Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP) Coordination Unit, was in Trinidad for the conference and shared with IPS the work GWP-Africa is doing to successfully integrate water management with energy needs.

The WACDEP programme in Africa comprises Tunisia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It seeks to ensure that water issues and the capacity to deal with climate change issues that affect water within those countries are strengthened.

Takawira told IPS that in the Lake Cyhoha catchment, a basin shared by Burundi and Rwanda, people were cutting down trees for fuel, leading to deforestation that adversely affected the watershed.

WACDEP created a buffer zone around the watershed by planting trees, and with the help of partners in the two countries provided alternative sources of energy for the people in the area, namely, more fuel-efficient stoves and biogas digesters.

He said his organisation realised that water management requires a broad-based approach to meet the vital needs a community may have.

“They still need the energy. We are learning that you have to go broader. That is why it is important to tackle water, food and energy issues together. What you want to do as water managers is ensure the watersheds are managed properly. [But] if you tell them to stop cutting trees, what are they going to cook with?”

He cited a second example showing the interconnection of water and energy. In Cameroon, people wanted to be close to the river to easily access water, which created problems like siltation and reduction of plant coverage. Those problems could become disastrous in times of flood or drought.

Takawira explained that intensive activity near the riverbank loosens the soil and causes siltation. Siltation in turn reduces the amount of water stored in river dams, which would prove detrimental during times of drought.

Moving people away from the river is important for dealing with floods also, he explained, since occupation of river banks tends to reduce the vegetation that slows down and absorbs flood waters.

To deal with the problem, WACDEP in Africa encouraged the Cameroonians to move farther inland by providing them with pipes so that they could easily get water. However, energy was needed to move the water through the pipes and so the organization also provided solar energy to pump the water to people’s properties.

Takawira said WACDEP in Africa was “delivering on the ground” as far as working with communities and government institutions to ensure water security and reduce vulnerabilities to climate variability and change.

GWP-C’s Dr. Natalie Boodram said GWP in the Caribbean had learnt much from the experiences of their partners in Africa, since there were many similarities in the two regions’ situation. She said GWP-C had particularly benefited from learning about the capacity-building strategy of GWP-Africa.

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Problems Inspire Ingenious Solutions in Peruvian Amazon Town Wed, 02 Jul 2014 23:49:25 +0000 Milagros Salazar A Jepelacio resident carries a blue jerrycan with 20 litres of “Jepe water” along one of the dusty but clean streets of this town in the Peruvian Amazon, a healthful routine many families carry out daily. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

A Jepelacio resident carries a blue jerrycan with 20 litres of “Jepe water” along one of the dusty but clean streets of this town in the Peruvian Amazon, a healthful routine many families carry out daily. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
JEPELACIO, Peru, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

He may look like a rapper, but 33-year-old José Antonio Bardález is the mayor of Jepelacio, in the Peruvian Amazon. His ingenious innovations in the municipality include transforming waste management into a source of income and making spring water a source of drinking water.

“I’m a civil engineer, but people think I’m an environmental engineer,” the mayor told IPS, driving his pickup truck and stopping frequently to greet and joke with local people in the district, located in the department of San Martín, in the country’s northern Amazon region.The eye-catching blue jerrycans of “Jepe water” are delivered free to schools and to 100 “healthy families” who have kept their houses and surroundings clean and have processed their waste appropriately.

Bardález wears torn denim jeans and dark glasses, and styles his hair with gel. His black pickup, with polarised windows, is part of his image, and he has changed the letters of its brand name around to “Jepe”, the brand of the town’s sustainable products.

Jepelacio, one of the principal districts in Mayobomba province, has over 20,000 people distributed in 70 villages. Most local people make their living from agriculture, mainly coffee growing. The district has lush biodiversity, but also suffers from serious deforestation.

Between 2006 and 2011, deforested areas in San Martín fell to an average of 36 percent, but the level of deforestation in the Gera valley, one of the main basins in Jepelacio, is still 65 percent, according to the Asociación Amazónicos por la Amazonia (AMPA – Amazonians for the Amazon), an NGO.

Half the population lives in poverty, and 26 percent of children under five were chronically malnourished in 2009, according to official figures.

When Bardález became mayor in late 2010, he decided to turn the disadvantages into an opportunity for change. His monthly budget was 93,000 dollars, or about four dollars a head.

He began to mobilise local people to collect garbage to be turned into cheap agricultural fertiliser. Local families keep the streets clean and separate organic from inorganic materials, putting them in plastic buckets, sacks, bags or any other suitable containers.

Small containers of classified rubbish can be seen outside the houses that line the dusty unpaved streets of Jepelacio. These are emptied by municipal personnel and the garbage is processed with the aid of efficient microorganisms, found in yeast mixture, molasses, milk whey or cow rumen.

One litre of this fermentation culture can decompose 100 tonnes of organic material, said the mayor. In five days, the waste material can reach a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius, and the residue is passed through a sieve until the final product is “Jepe fertiliser.” The process lasts a little over two weeks.

Every month the municipal district decomposes 30 tonnes of organic waste, at a cost of 3,500 dollars, which is covered by sales of the fertiliser at 143 dollars a tonne.

In Bardález’s view it is a win-win formula, because building a sanitary infill to dump rubbish would cost nearly one million dollars, equivalent to the municipality’s budget for a whole year and preventing it from undertaking any other works.

“The best thing of all is that the microorganisms do not generate bad odours, there is zero pollution, and people are learning to process waste in order to make an income from fertiliser sales,” he said.

Mayor José Antonio Bardález at the treatment plant producing “Jepe fertiliser”, an initiative that is generating sustainable changes in his district in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Mayor José Antonio Bardález at the treatment plant producing “Jepe fertiliser”, an initiative that is generating sustainable changes in his district in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

To replicate the project, the municipality is organising a fertiliser mini-plant contest among 10 of its outlying villages. “This means I have gained 10 clean townships,” the mayor said.

In the upper years of the district’s secondary schools, students are being taught how to make the fertiliser as well as the basics of how to run a family business, in order to help improve the management of their family farms.

“This fertiliser has a value. It’s no good giving it away for free, if it costs people nothing they don’t value it,” Bardález said, explaining that some government programmes give sacks of fertiliser to farmers, and instead of using them they sell them on at half price in order to get cash in hand.

“It’s good that they’re making that fertiliser to sell to people more cheaply,” said Martina Díaz Vásquez, a 39-year-old mother of seven. She told IPS that she had come to Jepelacio from Cajamarca at the age of 11.

More than 80 percent of the district’s residents come from other departments, mainly in the Andean region, like Cajamarca and Piura. The challenge is to involve them in a project in an area other than their birthplace, AMPA director Karina Pinasco told IPS.

“It is highly innovative for an authority to transform a problem (like waste) into an opportunity. I have not seen anything like it elsewhere in San Martín,” Pinasco said.

Bardález’s ingenuity has been applied to other municipal projects related to the district’s natural resources.

The mayor saw the potential for making the clear water of a natural spring fit for human consumption, and so solve the problem of diarrhoeal diseases in the district. Now the water is filtered and processed with fine silver rods, which have a powerful bactericidal effect.

For the past two years, residents have been able to buy 20-litre containers of drinking water for less than 50 cents. “It’s good to drink, we don’t have to boil our water any more. We save time and money,” Margarita Delbado, who has three children, told IPS.

At present the eye-catching blue jerrycans of “Jepe water” are delivered free to schools and to 100 “healthy families” who have kept their houses and surroundings clean and have processed their waste appropriately.

In April 2013 the municipality of Jepelacio was recognised by the San Martín departmental government as a key ally in the implementation of a special programme for improving child nutrition.

In December, the Health ministry recognised it as one of the municipalities that has contributed to overcoming social problems that affect people’s health.

In addition to waste management and water treatment, a natural swimming pool has been created under a waterfall on the Rumi Yacu stream. A pool of water was simply dammed up and surrounded with rocks, creating a recreational space for children and their families.

“Innovation can happen in small stages. The next step is to provide more ‘Jepe water’ for the whole district, to improve waste treatment and to keep making progress,” said Bardález, who went into politics because in his technical job he was unable to realise the changes he wanted.

Early in his term of office he asked for a loan to buy heavy machinery. Criticism rained down on him: Why purchase an excavator, a tractor, a bulldozer or a dumpster? people asked.

But these voices faded away when people saw roads being built and stones being moved. Bardález is convinced that it is well worth taking risks. As indeed he has.

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

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Indonesia’s Presidential Hopefuls Face Up to Deforestation Wed, 02 Jul 2014 05:18:25 +0000 Sandra Siagian Trucks transport logs out of Riau, Sumatra, which has the highest deforestation rate in Indonesia. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Trucks transport logs out of Riau, Sumatra, which has the highest deforestation rate in Indonesia. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

As the world’s third-largest democracy heads to the polls next week to elect a new president, environmental activists remain sceptical of the candidates’ commitment to tackle climate change.

Over four televised debates, Indonesia’s presidential contenders – Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, Jakarta’s current governor, and Prabowo Subianto, a former general – have so far discussed their plans to shape the economy, boost international affairs, manage human capital and ensure clean governance.

“We must remember that decreasing emissions was a promise [made by] the current government, so whoever becomes president must respect the policy and follow through with it." -- Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesian forest campaign at Greenpeace International
The environment is one of the last topics to be addressed in the final debate this Saturday ahead of the crucial Jul. 9 presidential election.

“I think because they [the candidates] don’t see Indonesia as a developed country, reducing emissions [is] not a priority for them,” explained Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Indonesia, adding that a strong statement addressing environmental issues from either candidate could possibly convince swing voters.

He believes the issue of emissions reductions contradicts both candidates’ stated focus on economic growth as a priority for the next government.

But Farhan Helmy, manager of the Indonesia Climate Change Center (ICCC), does not see the issues as mutually exclusive. In an interview with IPS, he asserted that a green economy should be a platform for any party wishing to promote quality economic growth.

“So of course I would like to see the candidates make their environment policies the bigger picture,” he said. “My hope is that whoever leads the country will understand that we are not alone in terms of global efforts and we cannot work alone.”

In 2009, Indonesia’s outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions in the archipelago by 26 percent by 2020 – the equivalent of up to 767 million tons of carbon dioxide.

And last year, Yudhoyono extended a 2011 moratorium, which barred new logging and palm-oil plantation permits under a one-billion-dollar deal with Norway.

This moratorium, according to Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesian forest campaign at Greenpeace International, will be the incoming government’s first real test.

It remains to be seen whether the new government will proceed with “business as usual, or move forward to give total protection to the forests,” he told IPS, insisting that protecting Indonesia’s forests is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We must remember that decreasing emissions was a promise [made by] the current government, so whoever becomes president must respect the policy and follow through with it,” he added.

Designed to address Indonesia’s dubious title as the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the United States and China, the Norwegian deal made its funding conditional on Indonesia adopting the United nations-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme.

So far, the country’s track record is poor. According to a study published this past Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, Indonesia has outstripped Brazil to become the country with the world’s highest rate of deforestation, even though its rainforests amount to only a quarter of Brazil’s Amazon.

Conflicting data for the past decade suggests that Indonesia lost roughly 310,00 hectares of forest a year between 2000 and 2005, a number that increased to 690,000 hectares per annum between 2006 and 2010.

But researchers say that a million more hectares may have been cleared in the last 12 years than official statistics imply. According to Belinda Arunarwati Margono, one of the paper’s lead authors, Indonesia likely lost 840,000 hectares of its primary forest in 2012, putting it far ahead of Brazil, which felled about 460,000 hectares that same year.

In light of this, the new government has its work cut out for it. According to Norway’s ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Traavik, 95 percent of the three-phase billion-dollar deal will be available to the incoming government, should it choose to prioritise the issue.

“I have talked to both candidates about it,” Traavik told IPS. “Both clearly understand the issue. Both want to protect the remaining forest and both are interested in replanting.”

Currently, Indonesia is home to the world’s third largest stretch of tropical rainforest, after Brazil’s Amazon and the Congo.

Traavik said that while he has been happy with Indonesia’s progress to date, he would have “loved to see things move faster”.

“We changed our government last October and one of the first things that was said was that our commitment to cooperate with Indonesia stands. And we hope and expect that the incoming government here will do the same thing,” he concluded.

Taking the necessary steps to curb deforestation, however, will not be easy. Zenzi Suhadi, a campaigner with the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), told IPS that the incoming government will need to do two things: stop the expansion of palm-oil plantations and mining, and conduct ecological restoration of forest areas as a crucial step in reviewing and changing permits for palm oil plantations.

WALHI data through 2012 showed that a full 56 million hectares of forest had been damaged by just four sectors – logging, tree plantation, mining and palm oil.

“An environment policy is important to address as it will affect many voters, especially those who have been victims of ecological disasters,” Suhadi told IPS.

Suhadi said that the “fundamental issues would be resolved” when the next government addresses five points: managing people’s lands rights, enforcing environment and forestry laws, the resulting loss of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the loss of valuable biodiversity at multiple levels and the risk of environmental degradation.

This week, a green campaign aimed at boosting conversation among the key stakeholders across four issues – climate change, forestry, energy and cities – was launched by ICCC, Matsushita Gobel Foundation and Indonesia’s Council on Climate Change (DNPI).

Helmy, ICCC’s manager, told IPS that the initiative, “Presiden4Green”, will include public surveys across 10 cities to find out what kind of commitment the public wants from the candidates regarding environmental issues.

“We would like this campaign to go even beyond the presidential election,” explained Helmy, adding that it could run until January 2015.

“There will be continuous efforts to engage the major stakeholders in three stages – before the election, after the election and after the new government’s first 100 days in office.”


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Tiny Barbuda Grapples with Rising Seas Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:49:46 +0000 Desmond Brown Marine biologist and environmentalist John Mussington (left) and New York-based archaeologist Dr. Sophia Perdikaris. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Marine biologist and environmentalist John Mussington (left) and New York-based archaeologist Dr. Sophia Perdikaris. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

The 1,800 residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda are learning to adapt as climate change proves to be a force to reckon with, disrupting not just the lives of the living but also the resting places of those who died centuries ago. 

United States-based archaeologist Dr. Sophia Perdikaris said when Hurricane Georges hit in 1998, it did a lot more than turn the spotlight on the island’s shrinking coastline."One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land." -- John Mussington

“In the early years when I first started coming to Barbuda, it was because hurricane activity had exposed a lot of archaeology and it was an effort to do rescue. A human skeleton from 450 AD was exposed in the area called Seaview,” Perdikaris told IPS.

“In fact, some of the archaeology [including the human skeleton] that we are now housing in the newly formed museum was excavated by Hurricane Georges.”

Perdikaris, a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, said some of the findings coming out of Barbuda point to climatic shifts in weather conditions at the same time that the northern part of Europe was experiencing the little Ice Age.

“Similar signatures are coming out of Barbuda that actually have the same stories in Greenland, Iceland and the North Coast of Africa,” she said. “Hence, Barbuda is not just a small island in the Caribbean but actually a major part of bigger weather events in the circum Atlantic.”

Perdikaris said one of the things that Barbudans are faced with today is “a big word, climate change – what does it really mean and how is it affecting people’s lives and what can they do to change it?”

But she noted that the residents are very adaptive.

“We do find solutions with the help of the amazing expertise of the local people because they are the best experts for their local environment,” she said.

“We are trying to gather enough information to see what our challenges are and how we move forward; and then find the funding resources and technology to make that happen.

“We are monitoring erosion in many parts of the island and we also have been testing the wells to see whether the water is safe to drink or whether the salinity has been changing; all of these efforts in order to assess the three aquifers that are under Barbuda,” she added.

Another project being developed on the island is aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics (growing plants without soil), amid a growing realisation that climate change will likely seriously threaten food security in Barbuda.

“There are diminishing resources in the sea. It is problematic to grow crops if you have a drought or if you only have salty water to water them so we have developed an aquaponics facility,” said Perdikaris.

Dr. Perdikaris said climate change has forced the residents of the island with a single village to make changes to their way of life and also to put measures in place to secure their future.

“As glaciers melt because of high temperatures what it’s doing to the rest of us is actually increase the sea level, and by increasing the sea level a number of things are taking place,” she said. “With a low-lying island like Barbuda, one of our main concerns is how much of the island, how fast, will actually be under water.

“As the sea waters are rising, they are not only claiming land but they are actually claiming the coral reefs,” Perdikaris added.

Marine biologist and environmentalist John Mussington said the warning by scientists that the 62-square-mile [161-square-kilometre] island is becoming one of the most vulnerable spots due to the consequences of climate change is not being taken lightly.

“Barbuda is flat; the highest point is just over 100 feet. Now with climate change predictions they are talking about several metres in terms of sea level rise. When you look at the present topography of Barbuda, it is 62 square miles. A third of Barbuda is taken up by lagoons and wetland systems.

“Another third is what we call the lowlands. One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third lowland to become two-thirds wetlands,” Mussington told IPS.

“So that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land for sustaining communities. That is the reality we are facing.”

Barbuda’s culture is firmly based in a “living off the land concept” that Mussington said is fast becoming a thing of the past with the advent of climate change.

“We want to sustain the fact that Barbuda has a tradition of its people living off the land and one of the things we are going to face in terms of challenges from climate change is we are not going to be able to do that,” he said.

“If we are going to survive we have to overcome those challenges, hence the direction we are taking in terms of being able to continue to feed ourselves protein wise and vegetable wise.”

The entire population is being educated in aquaponics technology, a method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system.

“We had a dream in 2012 of actually helping the situation in Barbuda by being able to guarantee that we can continue to get our protein source in the form of fish as well as to produce vegetables in spite of what was going to happen and what is happening from climate change,” Mussington said.

“In the aquaponics technology that we are pioneering we now house in our tanks 4500 tilapia.

“We have to find solutions in order to continue living on the island. That is why aquaponics turned out to be one of those things that we are pushing because the end result of the climate change consequences is that our coral reefs are going to suffer, our beaches are going to be shifting and changing,” Mussington added.

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Adapting to a Dry Season That Never Seems to End Thu, 26 Jun 2014 15:01:46 +0000 Desmond Brown Caribbean scientists are developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops which are then distributed to farmers in countries most severely affected by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Caribbean scientists are developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops which are then distributed to farmers in countries most severely affected by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change.

But scientists are fighting back, developing drought-tolerant varieties which are then distributed to farmers in those countries most severely affected.

“We are mainly affected by issues of drought and…CARDI has been looking at methods of sustainable management of production using drought tolerant varieties. We are working with certain commodities and doing applied research aimed at producing them in the dry season,” Dr. Gregory Robin, CARDI representative and technical coordinator for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told IPS.

“We’re starting first with the crops that are more significantly affected by drought. We take, for example, dasheen, which is a crop that requires a lot of moisture and I’m working with that crop in St. Vincent and St. Lucia,” he said.

“Validation will serve Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic – all the islands that produce dasheen. Sometimes it’s not cost-effective to do activities in all the islands so some of the sweet potato work done here can be used in St. Kitts, Barbados and islands with similar agro-ecological zones and rainfall patterns,” he added.

The Trinidad-based CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute), which has worked to strengthen the agricultural sector of member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the research.

“CARDI has a body of professionals around the region so if we have any issues of climate change and drought, CARDI is a body of scientists that is available to all the islands of the CARICOM region,” Robin said.

Another crop being given special attention is sweet potato. Robin explained that for the Caribbean region, sweet potato is very important as a food security staple and foreign exchange earner.

“We’re working with the crops that we think are going to be affected most. Sweet potato can take a certain amount of moisture stress but dasheen and crops that require a high level of moisture are not going to be standing up so well to moisture stress, so we are starting with those with a high requirement of moisture first,” he said.

Noting that irrigation is key to productivity, the CARDI official explained that, “I have been working here for the past seven years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it so dry and it’s highlighting the point that we need to look at our rainwater harvesting systems.”

Climate change has also forced Guyana, considered the bread-basket of the Caribbean, to develop new varieties.

“We have also been growing different varieties of crops that are resistant to salt water because one of the impacts of climate change is that the salt water will creep more into the inland areas and so we are looking at salt-resistant rice for example; looking at crops that are much more resilient to dry weather and that can withstand periods of flooding,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told IPS.

“We’ve been doing things like shade technology, drip irrigation, using technology and methods and utilising animals and crops that are far more resilient to extreme weather conditions.”

In addition to developing drought-tolerant varieties, CARDI is also actively developing new technologies to assist farmers with irrigation.

“I remember when I started in agriculture probably 20 years ago farmers used to irrigate using a drum and a bucket,” Bradbury Browne told IPS.

But he said over the years CARDI has introduced drip irrigation technology and other types of irrigation technology.

“For example if I want to apply 3,000 gallons of water to an acre of sweet potato I can programme [the irrigation system] so that I don’t have to be there physically to be turning on a hose or a pipe and there would be no issue of flooding if I am called away on an emergency,” said Browne, who now serves as a field technician at CARDI.

Meanwhile, longtime legislator in Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer noted that more frequent and extreme droughts are expected to become a feature of Caribbean weather.

And he said the impact of such drought conditions will increase heat stress, particularly for the more vulnerable, such as the elderly.

“Despite the decline in the production and export of major agricultural commodities from the OECS, agriculture remains an important sector in the economic and social development of the region from the stand-point of food security, rural stability and the provision of input to other productive sectors,” said Spencer, who served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from March 2004 until Jun. 12 this year.

“These benefits are at risk from climatic events and this risk only increases as the climate continues to change,” he said.

Experts project that decreased production levels of major crops combined with increasing food demand will pose large risks to all aspects of food security globally and regionally including food access, utilisation and price stability.

The World Bank said food security is consistently seen as one of the key challenges for the coming decades and by the year 2050, the world will need to produce enough food to feed more than 2.0 billion additional people, compared to the current 7.2 billion.

It said most of the population growth will be concentrated in developing countries, adding pressure to their development needs.

The World Bank added that to meet future food demand, agricultural production will need to increase by 50-70 percent, according to different estimates. And this will happen as the impacts of climate change are projected to intensify overall, particularly hitting the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

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Companies Urged to Disclose “Plastic Footprint” Mon, 23 Jun 2014 23:24:20 +0000 Carey L. Biron Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled. Credit: Lucyin/cc by 2.0

Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled. Credit: Lucyin/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jun 23 2014 (IPS)

The environmental cost of the plastics used by corporations producing consumer goods likely mounts to more than 75 billion dollars a year, according to a first-time valuation released Monday by the United Nations and others.

This estimate is based on the cost of everything from greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of plastics to the eventual impact on wildlife and ecosystems – particularly in the oceans – of the resulting trash. The environmental ramifications are also influenced by the cost of lost resources when plastic products are thrown away rather than recycled.“Innovation can come from individual entrepreneurs, but also from the companies themselves – if they come under pressure to do so." -- Daniella Russo

Researchers say these estimates, broken down among 16 sectors, stand as a warning to corporate executives and their shareholders. Several industries are shown to be particularly vulnerable to potential new regulation, consumer demand or resource crunches regarding the future use or availability of plastic.

In order to insulate themselves from such shocks, companies are being urged to engage in a new era of disclosure around their use of plastics. In order to do so, corporate executives will first need to have an accurate understanding of the amount of plastics their companies are using in the first place – for some, a potentially new set of considerations.

“The research unveils the need for companies to consider their plastic footprint just as they do for carbon, water and forestry,” Andrew Russell, director of the Plastic Disclosure Project, an advocacy group that co-sponsored a new study on the issue, said Monday.

“By measuring, managing and reporting plastic use and disposal … companies can mitigate the risks, maximise the opportunities, and become more successful and sustainable businesses.”

The release of the findings coincided with the inaugural session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, in Nairobi. The assembly, comprising some 1300 government and industry leaders, constitutes the highest-level body the U.N. has ever brought together to discuss green issues.

“Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored,” Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said in a statement.

“[R]educing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits – from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries, vital for many developing countries, to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks.”

Efficiency competition

For the study, UNEP and the Plastic Disclosure Project collaborated with Trucost, a British consultancy that works to price natural resource use and did the related number-crunching. They say that transparency around plastics use – and, subsequently, greater efficiency in its use – could become a point of competition between corporations.

“As the impacts of plastic gain more prominence, companies may be expected by their stakeholders to improve rates of disclosure,” the report, released Monday, states.

“For example, this information is useful to inform institutional investors interested in protecting the value of their investments. Asset managers could engage with these companies to find out how they plan to manage the risks and opportunities of plastic.”

The food and soft drinks industries have the largest “natural capital” costs in terms of their plastics use, the research finds, constituting more than a third of the total. As such, these companies could be most vulnerable to risks to their reputation or sourcing.

On the other hand, toy companies, followed by manufacturers of athletic goods and footwear, have the highest proportion of their business based around plastic. Thus, they stand to experience the greatest potential economic impact from plastics-related problems.

Yet public disclosure on corporate plastics use remains poor, with only half of the 100 companies studied reporting on even a single related metric. Further, there is little pattern in terms of which corporations have made the decision to go public with this information.

“Currently, there is no correlation between a sector’s disclosure rate and its plastic intensity or absolute natural capital cost due to plastic,” the report notes.

“This means that sectors which face the most significant risks to their revenues … need to consider being more transparent about how they are managing the potentially material issue. It also suggests that disclosure may be more driven by external factors, such as legislation and reputation, rather than an internal understanding of risks and opportunities.”

Innovation opportunities

Around 280 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured globally each year, yet just 10 percent of this is thought to be recycled.

A huge amount of the resulting trash is ending up in the oceans, causing some 13 billion dollars’ worth of damage, according to new estimates from the United Nations. Just last week, President Barack Obama’s administration hosted a first-ever summit on ocean sustainability, with a key focus on plastics pollution.

For its part, the new report does not attempt to weigh out the use of plastics versus other materials, in terms of transport weight or ancillary impact on important goods such as food. Nor does it propose any great trend away from the use of plastic, urging rather that the material be used simply in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible.

Such a view is being applauded by the plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, a leading lobby group here, “endorsed” the conclusion Monday, noting that the report overall “provides one data point that companies that manufacture and deliver a range of valuable consumer goods can use when assessing their products and processes.”

Yet some worry that the plastics industry is too fixed and insular to lead any process of innovation.

“The industry is represented by a very small set of companies that are heavily entrenched. They make most of the packaging we use, and they’re not very open to innovation and entrepreneurship,” Daniella Russo, the head of Think Beyond Plastic, a forum that pushes researchers and start-up companies to come up with new ways to address plastic pollution, told IPS.

Russo says it’s important to remember that some plastics present significant environmental challenges while others do not.

For instance, she notes, single-use packaging represents some 50 percent of plastics production and yet is destined purely for the landfill. Indeed, the UNEP report identifies such disposable packaging, along with Styrofoam, as the most significant problem plastics.

Yet Russo says that these also offer the most important innovation opportunities.

“This is a huge market, ripe for the taking,” she says. “Innovation can come from individual entrepreneurs, but also from the companies themselves – if they come under pressure to do so.”

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Senegal Walks a Fine Line Between Development and Environmental Protection Sun, 22 Jun 2014 11:27:41 +0000 Doreen Akiyo Yomoah The Dangote cement factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is now in Galene, Poute and Dangane, villages close to Thies, Senegal’s third-biggest city. Credit: Doreen Akiyo Yomoah/IPS

The Dangote cement factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is now in Galene, Poute and Dangane, villages close to Thies, Senegal’s third-biggest city. Credit: Doreen Akiyo Yomoah/IPS

By Doreen Akiyo Yomoah
DAKAR, Jun 22 2014 (IPS)

While the cement factories in Senegal are at war, ostensibly over the environmental impact one company will have on this West African nation, experts have cautioned that as the government plans to radically develop and industrialise the country, striking a balance between environmental protection and development will be key.

“I don’t think we can want one thing, and also want its opposite. We need cement to help industry in Senegal. At the same token, it will have adverse effects on the environment and we have to try and minimise them,” Dr. Thomas Ibrahima, a researcher at the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA), told IPS.

Sococim, the Senegalese subsidiary of Vicat, a French cement manufacturing company, is at loggerheads with the government of Senegal."Even ministers admit to not being able to follow all [the recommendations] in the environmental impact studies." -- Djim Nanasta, Environmental Development Action in the Third World

The French company began suing the state in November 2013, at Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA), a regional arbitration court in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for allowing Dangote Cement, a Nigerian cement conglomerate, to set up shop in Senegal.

Dangote reportedly paid the descendants of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a renowned Senegalese religious leader, a 12.6-million-dollar settlement to develop the factory on forest lands they inhabit. The factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is close to Thies, the country’s third-biggest city. The villages of Galene, Poute and Dangane are in close proximity to the site.

IPS was not allowed entry near the site, and was banned from entering the village of Galene. However, some villagers in Poute have expressed relief that the factory has come to the area.

Aboulaye Fall, a Dangote employee and Poute resident, told IPS: “Dangote is ready to help Poute. The company is going to provide electricity and roads for easier travel. The company is decreasing youth unemployment, and most of us are very happy to have the factory here in Poute.”

But Djim Nanasta, programme officer at Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA), an international environmental and energy NGO based in Dakar, told IPS that due to cultural pressures, “people may have objections about the setting up of the factory, but they may not feel that they can openly express their complaints.”

According to Nanasta, when conflict arose between Sococim and Dangote, the youth in Poute formed a coalition in support of Dangote. However, he pointed out that one of the concerns of a cement factory, is that “they emit a lot of dust. This affects the population by causing respiratory problems.”

Boubacar Camara, the CEO of Sococim, said in an earlier interview: “This is the first time in the history of Senegal that we have seen a plant built in violation of all the rules.” Camara claimed that the requirements — acquiring permits, and conducting environmental impact studies, which are necessary steps for opening a cement factory in this West African nation — had been flouted by Dangote.

Abdoulaye Ndaw, a senior legal officer and the chief of knowledge and information management at CCJA, told IPS that the case was still pending with the court, and no ruling has been made on whether Dangote has violated any laws.

According to Ndaw: “Vicat, which made heavy investments to control the entire national cement [industry], does not want to see their business plunge into instability with the entry of a new cement [competitor].”

Cement manufacturing is not the only industrialisation taking place here. President Macky Sall went to Paris in February to solicit donations to fund Emerging Plan Senegal (PSE), the government’s plan to radically develop and industrialise the country.

PSE focuses heavily on industrialisation, and while cement manufacturing is hard on the environment, this type of activity will increase. Senegal already exports phosphate. Chemical Industries of Senegal, the country’s largest phosphate developer, is expected to begin providing two million tonnes of phosphate per annum, which will place a significant toll on the environment.

The president has also expressed a desire to make mining, which is notoriously destructive to the environment, one of the pillars of Senegal’s development, saying: “We’re committed to putting all the conditions in place to attract companies.”

However, Francis James, country director of the United Nations Development Programme, has said that two-thirds of Senegal’s soil, or 34 percent of the country’s surface, is affected by environmental degradation, and the country is losing 50,000 hectares of land per year.

Moustapha Ndiaye, an environmentalist at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, told IPS that in the face of industrialisation: “There are many laws that exist to protect the environment. It’s absolutely necessary for companies to respect them.”

But Nanasta cautioned that although cement companies may comply with environmental regulations in order to be given the go-ahead to commence operations, there is hardly any follow-up. “Even ministers admit to not being able to  follow all [the recommendations] in the environmental impact studies,” Nanasta said.

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U.S. Turns Attention to Ocean Conservation, Food Security Thu, 19 Jun 2014 01:28:33 +0000 Michelle Tullo The administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Jun 19 2014 (IPS)

A first-time U.S.-hosted summit on protecting the oceans has resulted in pledges worth some 800 million dollars to be used for conservation efforts.

During the summit, held here in Washington, the administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. In an effort to strengthen global food security, the president has also announced a major push against illegal fishing and to create a national strategic plan for aquaculture.

“If we drain our resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures, we’ll be cutting off one of the world’s leading sources of food and economic growth, including for the United States,” President Obama said via video Tuesday morning.

The “Our Ocean” conference, held Monday and Tuesday at the U.S. State Department, brought together ministers, heads of state, as well as civil society and private sector representatives from almost 90 countries. The summit, hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, focused on overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification, all of which threaten global food security.

In his opening remarks, Kerry noted that ocean conservation constitutes a “great necessity” for food security. “More than three billion people, 50 percent of the people on this planet, in every corner of the world depend on fish as a significant source of protein,” he said.

Proponents hope that many of the solutions being used by U.S. scientists, policymakers and fishermen could serve to help international communities.

“There is increasing demand for seafood with diminished supply … We need to find ways to make seafood sustainable to rich and poor countries alike,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of FoodTank, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“For instance, oyster harvesters in the Gambia have really depleted the oyster population, but a U.S.-sponsored project has been able to re-establish the oyster beds – by leaving them alone for a while. The same strategy – to step back a bit – worked with lobster fishers in New England.”

Nierenberg predicted that with diminishing wild fish, the future of seafood will be in aquaculture.

“What aquaculture projects need to do now is learn from the mistakes made from crop and livestock agriculture,” she said. “It doesn’t always work – for instance, maize and soybeans create opportunities for pest and disease. Overcrowding animals creates manure.”

*Seafood fraud*

The Obama administration also hopes to jumpstart the United States’ own seafood production capabilities. According to a White House fact sheet, the United States today imports most of its seafood, though highly regulated U.S. aquaculture is widely seen as particularly safe.

Early on in his first administration, President Obama created a new national ocean stewardship policy which also sought to streamline more than 100 U.S. laws governing the oceans and coordinating the country’s approach to these resources.

This week’s actions will further simplify aquaculture production, while aiming to ensure that U.S. aquaculture does not exceed the population size an environment can naturally support.

“The U.S. is really good at innovating, but not at producing, largely because of the amount of regulatory hurdles,” Michael Tlusty, director of research at the New England Aquarium, told IPS. “Roughly 17 different agencies have roles in aquaculture regulation, so streamlining the process will put all of them together at the same table to efficiently provide permits.”

Tlusty also applauded the administration’s announcement to create a comprehensive programme to deter illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

“We can’t turn a switch and fix the ocean – we need lots of different strategies,” Tlusty said. “Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is very important … as is cutting illegal, underreported and underegistered fishing.”

Advocacy groups have likewise applauded the initiatives.

“President Obama’s announcement is a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide. This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood,” Beth Lowell, campaign director for Oceana, a watchdog group, said Tuesday.

“Because our seafood travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the U.S. market.”

Oceana points to recent research noting that nearly a third of wild-caught seafood coming into the United States comes from pirate fishing.

The World Wildlife Fund, a major conservation group, called Obama’s announcements “a turning point” for the world’s oceans.

*Breakneck acidification*

Ocean acidification constitutes a particularly broad and worrisome danger to marine life, shellfish production and ocean-based food security, and received prominent attention at this week’s summit. This process has come about particularly from carbon dioxide emissions resulting from air pollution, which changes the delicate acidity level of the oceans.

“The entire ocean is acidifying, and at an incredibly rapid pace … more in the last 15 years than it has in the whole last 50,000 years,” Catherine Novelli, under-secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment at the U.S State Department, told IPS.

“If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you’ll know that it is an incredibly delicate balance. And once it gets out of balance, things can’t survive.”

Novelli pointed to innovate projects such as one undertaken by the Prince of Monaco, which aims to determine where acidification is taking place and to offer early warning systems for fish farmers.

“It absolutely affects shellfish farmers, as shellfish are very sensitive to these acidity levels,” said Novelli.

“There’s been some pioneering work done off the coast of Oregon, where shellfish farmers have worked with the state government to monitor the acidification. If the acidity level is changing, they can shut off their water intake from the ocean and preserve their shellfish until waves pass and go in a different direction.”

While the conference looked at a variety of short- and medium-term possibilities for monitoring and adapting to such problems, the discussions also recognised that the issue will likely be subsumed under broader climate change negotiations.

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Picture the World as a Desert Tue, 17 Jun 2014 23:30:44 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Try to imagine an expanse of barren land, stretching for miles, with no trace of greenery, not a single bough to cast a sliver of shade, or a trickle of water to moisten the parched earth. Now imagine that desert expanding by 12 million hectares a year. Why? Because it’s already happening.

Studies show that 24 billion tons of fertile soils are being eroded each year, while two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Dry lands in sub-Saharan Africa alone are set to increase by 15 percent in the next decade.

Globally, some 1.5 billion people stand on the edge of an arid precipice, their lands, lives and livelihoods threatened by an encroaching dust bowl.

It is against this backdrop that the United Nations marks the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), complete with sombre warnings from some of its highest-level officials.

“With the world population rising, it is urgent we work to build the resilience of all productive land resources and the communities that depend on them,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon stressed in a message delivered from Bonn, Germany, Tuesday.

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land." -- Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is predicting a 50-percent increase in demand for food by 2050, even while scientists warn that yields of major crops like wheat, rice and maize could decline by 20 percent in the coming decade due to hotter temperatures.

Scarcities of staple products could lead to the absorption of more land for industrialised agriculture, which has proven itself to be a major driver of global warming, directly accounting for 15 to 30 percent of carbon and methane emissions worldwide, which in turn feed desertification.

Red-flagging these many converging and interconnected crises, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) assigned WDCD 2014 the theme ‘Land Belongs to the Future – Let’s Climate Proof it.’

Ecosystem-based adaptation

Thirty-five percent of the earth’s surface is comprised of drylands, including savannahs, scrublands and dry forests, which collectively sequester 36 percent of the world’s carbon stocks and support 50 percent of all livestock.

These naturally occurring drylands provide excellent examples for regenerating or remediating degraded soil and have inspired a solution to desertification known as ecosystem-based adaptation, which aims to “strengthen natural systems to cushion the worst impacts of climate change.”

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land,” Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD, told IPS.

“Small changes in land use techniques – such as terracing, or the installation of water harvesting tanks – can make a big difference to the land a person owns and works,” she added.

Investment Versus Innovation

While the Bank’s officials have called repeatedly for increased investment and financing to tackle climate change and build resilience to future shocks, UNCCD’s Baker believes that simple realignment of existing funds and land management techniques could play an even bigger role.

“Soil alone could help sequester up to three billion tons of carbon a year, representing up to a third of potential mitigation capacity that can be achieved by simply changing how we manage the land and soil,” she told IPS.

“There are approximately two billion hectares of degraded land around the world with the capacity to be brought back, and about 480 million hectares of abandoned agricultural land that could be returned to production – not through additional investment but a realignment of priorities.

“For instance, investment in fertiliser use may be important; but if we invested instead in incentives to improve sustainable land management we would be able to get carbon back into the soil and help populations become more resilient to climate change rather than rely on fertilised production.

“It’s a matter of realigning funding flows so that you power adaptation by nature, rather than try and buy it,” she concluded.
“After that it’s up to governments and larger land owners to connect those dots and create a mosaic of land uses that, together, constitute quite a resilient package.”

At a ceremony held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC Tuesday, the UNCCD awarded its prestigious Land for Life Award to two organisations working to combat desertification through ecosystem adaptation in local communities.

Hailing from central Afghanistan’s arid Bamyan province, the Conservation Organisation for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM) has eased pressure on the region’s vulnerable rangelands by 50 percent through tireless efforts to plant trees, provide green technology solutions to over 300 villages and create gravity-fed irrigation systems.

And in Mongolia – 78 percent of which is affected by desertification – the Green Asia Network (GAN) has mobilised its 25,000-strong volunteer army to plant trees all across the arid landscape. Climate refugees who once left Mongolia’s desertified regions have returned as GAN volunteers to a place they scarcely recognise beneath its newfound greenery.

Scores of people gathered at the World Bank to recognise the achievements of these dedicated individuals and press for similar action at the international level.

Preaching conservation, practicing investment

But some activists say the World Bank itself is partly to blame for the conjoined problems of climate change, food insecurity and desertification, by pushing its agenda of large-scale agriculture and mono-crop plantations on the developing world.

A campaign called ‘Our Land, Our Business’, launched jointly by the Oakland Institute (OI) together with a host of NGOs and farmer organisations from around the world, seeks to “hold the World Bank accountable for its role in the rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world’s poorest people – farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, who are currently feeding 80 percent of the developing world,” according to a Mar. 31 press release.

The advocacy groups blame the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings – scored according to Washington officials’ opinions on how “easy” it is to work in a certain country – for forcing heads of developing states to relax environmental regulations, violate labour laws and deregulate their economies in the hope of attracting foreign investment.

And investment in the global South, according to OI’s policy director Frederic Mousseau, “is mostly about agriculture and the extraction of natural resources.”

“Thanks to reforms and policies guided by the Bank,” charged OI, “Sierra Leone has taken 20 percent of its arable land from rural populations and leased it to foreign sugar cane and palm oil producers.

“And in Liberia, British, Malaysian, and Indonesian palm-oil giants have secured long-term leases for over 1.5 million acres of land formerly held by local communities,” the organisation added.

“These policies are the exact opposite of what we need to combat desertification,” Mousseau told IPS, “which can only be achieved through diversification of agriculture, afro-forestry, inter-cropping, and other techniques practiced by small farmers.”

“In Mali, for instance, small farmers living around the Niger River are seeking government support to practice traditional agriculture on the riverbank. Instead the government has given 500,000 hectares of the most fertile land to 22 foreign and domestic investors for the production of agro-fuels and mono-crops,” he added.

“This is a country where the World Bank has been very active, implementing policies that benefit foreign investors while eating up Mali’s resources.”

Until these policies are dealt with on a macro-level, local efforts at adaptation and mitigation do not stand much of a chance at success.


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Germany’s New Energy Revolution Still Moving Ahead Mon, 16 Jun 2014 07:55:27 +0000 Risto Isomaki

In this column, Risto Isomäki, Finnish environmental activist and award-winnning writer whose novels have been translated into several languages, looks at what lies behind Germany’s moves towards a renewable energy economy and the possible spin-offs for other areas of the world.

By Risto Isomaki
HELSINKI, Jun 16 2014 (IPS)

Germany has now become the world’s first modern renewable energy economy, according to the experts. The Federal Republic of Germany already obtains 29 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, meaning photovoltaic, hydro and wind power, and power produced by burning wood or other biomass.

Perhaps even more importantly, the national average hides significant regional differences. German states have strong identities and quite a lot of independent decision-making power.

Risto Isomäki

Risto Isomäki

The state of Saarland only produces 15 percent of its electricity from renewables and Rheinland-Pfalz only 21 percent, while the figures for Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are 54 and 56 percent respectively.

The most impressive case is the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, the capital of the Federal State. In Brandenburg, 78 percent of all electricity now comes from wind turbines, photovoltaic panels or from burning biomass.

What makes the case of Brandenburg especially important is the fact that it is an inland state and a part of the vast North European Plain. In other words, it has very little hydropower to supplement the other renewables and it cannot construct any off-shore wind parks. In spite of these deficiencies, Brandenburg will most probably soon be producing more renewable electricity than it consumes and will be exporting a growing share of its production.“A key element in Germany’s energy revolution or Die Energiewende, the energy turn-around, has been a system of feed-in-tariffs that was introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act in 2000.” – Risto Isomäki

It has often been said that it is next to impossible to have an energy system in which 100 percent of the power production –­ or even 50 percent – could be based on renewables. According to conventional wisdom, renewables will always need a large amount of wasteful and expensive spare power based on fossil fuels.

Because wind turbines only produce electricity when the wind blows and photovoltaic panels only when the sun is shining, wind and solar power need so much supporting power that this power cannot come from ordinary or pumped storage hydropower alone.

In the light of the above statistics, it seems that these worries have been exaggerated. In Brandenburg and in the other German states wind, solar and biomass energy have actually complemented each other better than most experts predicted.

The northern parts of Germany can produce very little photovoltaic power during the winter. However, most of the wind power is produced during the winter months, because in Germany winters are windier than summers. Winter air is also colder and denser than summer air, which means that a stream of air contains more energy. The burning of wood and other biomass in the heat and power co-generation plants also concentrates in the winter months.

A key element in Germany’s energy revolution or Die Energiewende, the energy turn-around, has been a system of feed-in-tariffs that was introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act in 2000. Feed-in tariffs guarantee a relatively high, fixed price for the producers of wind and solar power.

After the adoption of the Renewable Energy Act, the installed solar power capacity in Germany increased from 114 megawatts to 36,000 megawatts and wind power capacity from 6,000 to 35,000 megawatts, by the end of 2013.

The final targets are even higher. According to the official plan, the share of renewables in power production should increase to 35 percent by 2020 and to 80 percent by 2050.

The success of the solar energy programme has also created a number of new political problems. An estimated 1.4 million residential buildings have already installed their own, grid-connected solar power stations on their roofs. This has expanded the cost of the feed-in-tariff system to 18 billion euros per year. Because the costs are covered by energy surcharges and not by public subsidies, the electricity bills paid by private households have increased.

German export companies, on the contrary, have benefitted because they have been freed from the surcharge and due to the new energy system they now obtain part of their electricity almost for free. The market price for power in Germany has already become very low during very sunny or very windy days.

Germany has not really decided, yet, what is the best way to increase the production of solar and wind power further without treating its citizens too unequally. The low capacity of Germany’s main power transmission lines is also slowing things down.

Still, it would be wrong to assume that Germany’s energy revolution has begun to stagnate, as many commentators have remarked. According to a recent opinion survey, an astonishing two-thirds of Germany’s commercial enterprises are planning to produce at least part of their own power using photovoltaics.

The world has not really acknowledged the most important aspect of Die Energiewende. Germany has almost single-handedly made photovoltaic panels economically attractive for most of the world’s people. Orders from Germany – and from Italy and Spain – have increased the production series of photovoltaic panels to such an extent that their average price dropped from about 5 euros in 2003 to approximately 0.7 euros in 2013.

Even though solar power is now becoming economical even in North Europe, the sunniest parts of the Earth receive two times more solar radiation and have significantly lower salary levels and installation costs than Europe.

In the South, photovoltaic panels could be used almost as much as the covering materials of patios and terraces attached to houses. When photovoltaic panels are installed on roofs in the South, the cooling effect, ­ due to their shading the part of the roof that receives the largest amount of sunlight, should be more valuable than in Europe.

In the South, photovoltaic electricity will be even bigger and better than in northern Europe, and the sector is likely to explode soon in a large number of countries. (END/ IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Mauritian Sugar Farmers Squeezed by Low Prices as Bagasse and Ethanol Become Popular By-products Tue, 10 Jun 2014 08:38:39 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Jun 10 2014 (IPS)

While Mauritius has been forced to transform its sugar industry because of low prices for the commodity, the country’s small-scale sugarcane farmers who contribute to it say they are barely earning a living.

Previously, Mauritius produced only raw sugar from the cane plant. Now it produces value-added refined and special sugar, electricity from bagasse, ethanol and will soon produce bio-plastics.

“We are paid for the amount of sugar produced from our canes and some peanuts for the bagasse they use to produce electricity and nothing for the electricity which they sell to the national grid, or for our molasses or for the ethanol,” Jugessur Guirdharry, a farmer for the Union Park Cooperative Society, in the south of the island, told IPS. Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

With the end of the Sugar Protocol in 2009, an agreement between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific states since 1970 wherein the latter supplied sugar to the EU at a much higher price than was available on the world market, meant that this Indian island nation stopped receiving high prices for its sugar. Instead, Mauritius was producing sugar at 500 dollars a tonne but selling it at 433 dollars a tonne.

To keep the industry alive, the government implemented drastic reforms. It centralised private sugar production factories and from the original 17 there are now four flexi-factories that crush cane, produce special and refined sugars, molasses, ethanol and renewable energy from bagasse — the fibrous pulp left over after cane is squeezed for its juice. Soon they will also produce bio-plastic.

This island nation now produces 400,000 tonnes of special and refined sugars that are sold on markets in Europe from where they are sold directly to big EU firms.

About 75 percent of the sugar produced in Mauritius is value-added refined and special sugar that is sold mainly in Italy, Spain, Greece, United Kingdom and Belgium while the rest is sold to a hundred clients in niche-markets in the United States and China.

However, the 17,000 small-scale farmers contribute to about 28 percent of the national sugar production are not happy. They say it is very difficult to make a living out of cane cultivation only.

Farmers complain of high production costs and costs of inputs like fertilisers, herbicides and manpower and transport.

“If a farmer does not do part of the work in the fields himself, he’ll not be able to make his ends meet,” Guirdharry added.

Without the contribution of farmers like him, this industry would not have survived, Issah Korreembux, a small-scale sugarcane farmer, told IPS. Indeed, the Mauritius Cane Industry Authority (MCIA) says that many smallholder farmers have abandoned between 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of land that had previously been sugar plantations.

“If they are not given their due, more will do so because of lack of manpower, high costs of inputs and an ageing population among the farmers with the youth staying away from agriculture,” Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, in eastern Mauritius, told IPS.

Guirdharry pointed out that by producing bagasse, small farmers contribute to the production of clean energy.

“If we use coal only, the impact on the environment would be devastating. We are thus preventing the import of about 250,000 tonnes of coal annually,” he explained.

Small-scale farmers like Dabydoyal are looking for other means to increase their income. About 5,000 of them have joined the fair-trade movement. They produced 21,000 tonnes of sugar under this label in 2013, which brought them an additional income of 60 dollars per tonne above the normal price of 530 dollars.

Under this certification by an international firm FLO-CERT, the small-scale producers develop good agricultural practices, make good use of the soil, use less chemical products and follow an integrated management plan for pests and diseases to improve the crop.

“This is a very good thing for small-scale farmers and we are encouraging all of them to join the movement,” Sooradehoo Punchu, president of the Mauritius Fair-trade Federation Cooperative Ltd, told IPS.

Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

“Today, these children have grown up and become professionals but have turned their back to the plantations,” Roy told IPS. Small and medium farmers have launched an Alliance of Sugar Cane Planters Association (ASPA) to defend their rights.

Its leader Trilock Ujoodha says a revision of the distribution of cane revenue will solve many problems faced by small and medium producers, which includes among them the issue of abandoned land.

Other farmers recalled that their income from sugar that represented 95 percent of their total revenue in the past stands today at 94 percent, despite the slump in local sugar prices.

“It should have decreased more,” observed farmer Jugdish Rampertab. However, Roy believes small farmers are faring well but “they could do much better with a fair distribution of sugar revenue.”

Mauritius has transformed its main product that is sugar cane into several valued added products. It’s not the end of the road yet, as this industry prepares to face another big challenge in two years’ time with the end of the sugar quota system in the EU scheduled for 2017.

This will again lead to volatile prices of this commodity. “How far can we diversify our cane industry?” Dabydoyal asks.

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Latin America’s Forests Need Laws – and Much More Mon, 09 Jun 2014 16:29:26 +0000 Emilio Godoy A Jun. 7 session of the second GLOBE Summit of World Legislators in the Mexican Congress. Nearly 500 legislators from some 90 countries took part in the gathering in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A Jun. 7 session of the second GLOBE Summit of World Legislators in the Mexican Congress. Nearly 500 legislators from some 90 countries took part in the gathering in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

Latin America’s parliaments have failed to protect the forests and to guarantee their sustainable use, despite the fact that a number of countries have laws on forests, legislators from the region said at a global summit in the Mexican capital.

There are problems in areas such as respect for the rights of local communities, budget allocations for the protection of forests, land tenure guarantees, forest floor carbon ownership, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from sustainable use of forests.

“We aren’t working with the communities, and we don’t have the technical capacity to include international standards; the government is fearful and more worried about bringing in forest investment in activities like mining, without any responsibility for the environment,” Colombian Senator Mauricio Ospina of the left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole told IPS.

Ospina was one of the nearly 500 legislators from more than 90 countries who took part in the Jun. 6-8 second GLOBE Summit of World Legislators in Mexico City, organised by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International).

The summit agenda focused on the struggle against climate change and efforts to protect forests and natural capital.

Colombia, which has 60 million hectares of forest, is one of the 18 nations of the developing South taking part in the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (U.N. REDD), which was launched in 2007.

U.N. REDD is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. It finances national programmes to fight deforestation, reduce carbon emissions and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to combat climate change.

U.N. REDD was launched as a collaborative programme of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

The aim goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Preventing deforestation is essential because trees capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into carbon in their trunks and branches and in the soil. When forests are cut down, not only do they stop absorbing carbon, but also the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2. Moreover, forests are critical to rainfall and play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

In June 2013, U.N. REDD approved an allocation to Colombia of four million dollars for activities such as the creation of a forest inventory, the development of social and environmental safeguards, and the identification of benefits.

Colombia is carrying out 10 U.N. REDD projects and another 23 forest initiatives. Since 2008, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) has approved an additional 3.6 million dollars in funds for the country.

The REDD+ action plan for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a platform of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that incorporates elements like conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and the sustainable management of forests.

Peru is also moving forward in the design of a REDD+ strategy, facing challenges similar to those of the rest of the region.

“We have to work in the communities, providing them with tools,” Congresswoman Marisol Espinoza, of the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party, told IPS. “Those who take care of the forests are their guardians and should be paid for what they do. We hope the new laws will strengthen this new approach to preserving forests.”

Peru is developing a national REDD+ strategy that has a handicap: it has no mechanism to resolve disputes over land property rights, according to the article “REDD+ Readiness progress across countries: time for reconsideration” published in May in the British journal Climate Policy.

There are currently 19 REDD+ projects and another 18 forest initiatives in that Andean nation, which is set to receive 3.8 million dollars from the FCPF.

The 20 authors of the study published in the Climate Policy journal, who assessed the cases of Peru, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cameroon, found that progress had been made in planning, coordination, demonstration and pilots.

But they said measurement, reporting and verification of forest carbon, audits, financing, benefit sharing, and policies, laws and institutions faced major challenges.

They suggested a “rethink of the current REDD+ Readiness infrastructure given the serious gaps observed in addressing drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, linking REDD+ to broader national strategies and systematic capacity building.”

Mexico, which is moving forward in fits and starts in its national REDD+ strategy, has some 65 million hectares covered by trees in the territories of around 2,300 communities, according to the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry (CCMSS).

“There are still important steps to take to create a legal framework that would provide a sound coherent foundation for the successful application of REDD+,” Mexican lawmaker Lourdes López, cochair of the Globe International forestry initiative, told IPS. “The priority is to support sustainable forest producers and grant facilities to small producers.”

López, of Mexico’s Ecological Green Party, is promoting the reform of the 2003 General Law on Sustainable Forestry Development, to cut red tape surrounding forestry initiatives, foment commercial forest plantations, and step up certification of good management practices.

She also wants to regulate businesses like carpentries and furniture stores, to ensure that the lumber they use was legally obtained.

There are 11 REDD+ projects and another 38 forest initiatives in Mexico. In March, the FCPF and the government signed an agreement for 3.8 million dollars to complete the process of consultation and preparation of the REDD+ national strategy.

The government is about to open up the consultation process in order for the strategy to begin to be implemented next year.

The declaration of the second GLOBE Summit of World Legislators, to which IPS had access before it was released, only alludes indirectly to the forestry issue, by emphasising the approval of robust laws that support sustainable development, including forests and REDD+.

The parliamentarians urged governments and the U.N. to press international financial institutions for environmental programmes like REDD+ to involve national legislators, in order to “develop capacities and share best legislative practices.”

In response to a question from IPS, Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group vice president and special envoy for climate change, predicted significant changes in international financial institutions and the nations with the greatest forest capital with respect to the increase in REDD+, at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Kyte said that since December “we have more than 300 million dollars” to support forest projects.

In Espinoza’s view, it is essential that forest protection schemes do not reproduce poverty.

One country that the rest of the region looks to is Costa Rica, a world pioneer in setting the goal of reaching carbon neutrality in 2021. According to official estimates, the Central American nation will emit close to 21 million tonnes of carbon in 2021, and it hopes to compensate for 75 percent of this total by carbon capture in its forests, which cover 52 percent of the national territory.

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When Nature Gets a Price Tag Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:50:42 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida A carpenter organises a load of mahogany seized by authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A carpenter organises a load of mahogany seized by authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

How much does a forest cost? What’s the true economic value of an ocean? Can you pay for an alpine forest or a glacial meadow? And – more importantly – will such calculus save the planet, or subordinate a rapidly collapsing natural world to market forces?

On the last day of its World Summit of Legislators in Mexico City, the Global Legislators Organisation (or GLOBE International) released a landmark study Sunday on natural capital accounting, the first comprehensive report that compiles legal and policy efforts in 21 countries to calculate the monetary value of natural resources.

Defining ‘natural capital’ as encompassing everything from ecosystems and solar energy to mineral deposits and fossil fuels, the study recognises the highly degrading impact of human activity on the environment and underscores the “urgent need to develop effective methods and measures for natural capital accounting and to embed these within relevant legal and policy frameworks.”

“[T]he currency of life is life, not money.” – Vandana Shiva, director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology
“The report was conceived very much as a North-South learning partnership,” said lead science author Ben Milligan, a research fellow at the Centre for Law and Environment at the University College London (UCL).

“Equal voice was given to all inputs,” he told IPS, whether they came from the GLOBE International Secretariat or any of the 21 national stakeholders of the featured countries, which include five Asian nations, three European countries, seven African states and six case studies from the Americas.

What the authors found, according to Milligan, was a groundswell of political support for attempts to “recognise the fact that, in addition to nature’s important cultural, spiritual and aesthetic values, it also provides essential goods and services for our well-being and economic existence.”

The purpose of the study, he added, was to “provide a document that supported efforts in these countries to effect positive change.”

Indeed, some of the findings from the report are staggering. In Peru, for instance, where the focus of natural capital accounts is linked to economic valuation, the Ministry of Environment (MINAM) found that “the total value of selected ecosystem services in 2009 amount to 15.3 billion dollars.”

Broken down, this worked out to some 2.5 billion dollars from water and energy, eight billion from agriculture, forestry and livestock and 864 million from fisheries, while natural capital-based exports brought in nine million dollars in 2009.

“The vulnerability of ecosystems is of particular concern as ecosystem services are the productive base for industries such as fisheries, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and pharmaceuticals,” the report noted, adding that the government already utilises various tools to measure the health of the natural environment, including an annual State of the Environment report produced by the National System for Environmental Information.

Earth Democracy

According to the GLOBE study, India comprises just 2.4 percent of the planet’s land area but supports seven or eight percent of its animal and plant species. Additionally, it counts itself among the world’s 17 ‘mega-diverse’ countries, boasting three global biodiversity hotspots and a high rate of species endemism.

Referring to the work of Navdanya, an organisation meaning ‘nine seeds’ that grew out of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology, Shiva pointed to the many efforts underway in India to conserve the natural world without resorting to the language of money.

Made up of seed savers and organic produces in over 17 states, Navdanya has established 111 community seed banks, trained some 500,000 Indian farmers in sustainable agriculture and created the country’s largest fair trade organic network.

“If the globalised system based on commodities and financialisation shrinks a community’s social and ecological base, Navdanya’s work increases and enhances it,” she told IPS.

Operating around the concept of Earth Democracy, Navdanya offers farmers an alternative to the cash crop system that has led to a wave of suicides unparalleled in human history.

“Earth Democracy means no system can be reduced to a simple function or a ‘good’ to be traded on the global market,” Shiva said.

“It’s like the people who are waking up to the fact that soils absorb carbon, and want to reduce that function to a carbon-trade equation, without realising that soil is not just carbon, it is phosphorous, it is magnesium, it is many other things that cannot be assigned a simple monetary value.”
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the government is struggling to access standardised data on the economic value of natural capital, this much is known: that an extensive network of lakes and rivers covers 3.5 percent of the country’s total area; that forests cover 60 percent of DRC’s total land area (including over 700 identified species of trees); and that the forestry sector accounts for two percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The Central Bank estimates that extractive industries contributed 45 percent of GDP in 2010, with the mining sector alone accounting for nearly 34 percent.

Keeping these statistics in mind, the government is now in the process of strengthening the sector’s legal and regulatory framework, conducting geological and mining research to expand its knowledge repository of the soil and subsoil, and performing environmental assessments of the impact of mining.

“We can’t sell life”

While proponents of natural capital accounting argue that the system will inform government behaviour and encourage the sustainable use of resources, some say that calculating ‘natural wealth’ is one step away from the complete commodification of the planet’s bounty.

“Evaluation of nature’s ecological services and functions can cut both ways,” Vandana Shiva, author, environmentalists and founder of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology in India, told IPS.

Understanding the value of stable and healthy ecosystems for local communities is “necessary and good,” she said. “But the minute you take a complex system with multiple functions and reduce it to a single function that can be appropriated and traded, you are already doing it wrong. After all, the currency of life is life, not money.”

Shiva pointed to the People’s Summit that took place alongside high-level negotiations at the 2012 environmental conference in Brazil (dubbed ‘Rio+20’), during which activists, indigenous groups and scientists rejected the idea of a green economy based on the financialisation of ecological services, fearing that such a scheme would ignore the root causes of environmental destruction.

The northern Indian state of Uttarakhand provides a stark example of this debate, since it recently became the first state in India to begin calculating its gross environmental product (GNP).

With its lush valleys and alpine meadows, this Himalayan state is one of the greenest in the country, retaining nearly 60 percent forest cover despite determined efforts to clear the land for development.

According to the GLOBE study, various reports have valued the land here at roughly five to seven billion dollars per annum. In a bid to ease restrictions on development, the Central Government now offers Uttarakhand a ‘green bonus’ of 0.3 billion dollars a year in exchange for its rich land.

Shiva says such a ‘bonus’ simply serves to distract from the more pressing issues of deforestation and glacial melting in Uttarakhand, which led to deadly floods last year. Even the Supreme Court of India has admitted that dams and hydroelectric projects in the state, which is infamous for its destructive development, aggravated the tragic disaster.

What this clearly shows, according to Shiva, is that “valuation is good if it’s giving you a red light to destruction. When valuation turns into a price, however, it [simply] gives the green light to destroy in smarter and cleverer ways.”

Others fear that natural capital accounting will trample upon the rights of indigenous people, many of whom see themselves as the last remaining custodians of the land.

According to Hugo Blanco, leader of the Campesino Confederation of Peru (CCP), tabulating a country’s ‘natural wealth’ will do little to correct the lopsided pyramid of power that places transnational corporations at the top and indigenous people and the environment on the bottom.

“Take, as one example, the Conga Project,” Blanco told IPS, referring to the massive gold and copper mining initiative in the Cajamarca Region of northern Peru that threatens to poison the waters of 40 high-altitude lagoons, which feed some 600 aquifers and provide drinking and irrigation water to thousands of campesinos before passing into five major rivers that eventually empty into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Even worse, Blanco says, is the impending threat of a dam that, if constructed, will flood the territories of hundreds of campesinos in order to provide electricity for the mine.

“This is an insane system,” he asserted, adding that such development projects highlight the Peruvian government’s true allegiance: not to the national laws protecting the rights of indigenous people or the environment, but to multinational corporations.

He believes Peru stands as a perfect example of the flaws inherent in a valuation system that attaches a price tag to nature.

It is one of the planet’s 10 ‘megadiverse‘ countries, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and hosts the world’s highest number of fish species (over 2,000), the second highest number of bird fauna species (1,736) and  the third highest number of amphibians (322).

“It would be a great stupidity to sell this richness, no matter how many billions of dollars you get,” Blanco insisted “We can’t sell life.”


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