Inter Press Service » Green Economy News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 Nov 2015 22:41:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “París Is Not the End of a Climate Change Process but a Beginning” Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Nov 27 2015 (IPS)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says the climate summit in Paris “is not the end of a process but a beginning,” and that it will produce “an agreement that, although insufficient with respect to the original goal, shows that people believe it is better to move ahead than to stand still.”

In this exclusive interview with IPS, held shortly before Bachelet headed to the capital of France, the president reflected on the global impacts of climate change and stressed several times that the accords reached at the summit “must be binding,” as well as universal.

On Monday Nov. 30 Bachelet will take part in the inauguration of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will run through Dec. 11. At the summit, the 196 countries that are parties to the treaty are to agree on a new climate accord aimed at curbing global warming.

The president also said the Paris summit will have a different kind of symbolism in the wake of the terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives: “It sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated,” she said.

Q: Latin America is a region where the countries face similar impacts from climate change. But it is negotiating with a fragmented voice. Has the region missed a chance for a leadership role and for a better defence of its joint interests?

A: Sometimes it is very difficult to achieve a unified position, because even though there are situations that are similar, decisions must be taken that governments are not always able to adopt, or because they find themselves in very different circumstances.

We belong to the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) in the negotiations on climate change, along with Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. All of these countries did manage to work together, and we have a similar outlook on the question of climate change.

The countries in this region are not the ones that generate the most emissions at a global level. And above and beyond the differences we may have, the important thing is that we will all make significant efforts to reduce emissions and boost clean energies and other mechanisms and initiatives.

Q: Will the COP21 manage to approve a new universal climate treaty?

A: COP21 is not the end but a beginning of a process where the countries will turn in their national commitments [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS)]. After that will come the mechanisms to assess the implementation of these contributions, and, from time to time, propose other targets, which would be more ambitious in some cases.

This will be the first climate change summit, after the Copenhagen conference [in 2009] where no accord was reached even though the Kyoto Protocol was coming to an end, where we will be able to reach some level of agreement.

It might not be the optimal level; apparently the contributions so far publicly submitted by the states parties would not achieve the objective of keeping global warming down to two degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, it is a major advance, when you look at what has happened in the past.

That said, what Chile maintains is that the contributions should be binding, and we are going to back that position which is clearly not supported by everyone.

Q: So you include yourself among those who believe Paris will mark a positive turning point in the fight against climate change?

Chile’s contribution

Q: Chile carried out a much-praised citizen input process for the design of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS), to be included in the new treaty. But media and business sectors were not pleased with some of the voluntary targets that were set. Will this hinder implementation?

A: Not everyone always agrees, we’ve seen that in different processes. I hope that awareness grows, and that is a task that we also have, as government. Climate change is a reality, not an invention, which will have disastrous consequences for everyone, but also for the economy.

For us it is indispensable, on one hand, to reduce emissions by 30 percent, by 2030. There are some who believe our commitment falls short, but it is what we can commit to today, understanding the economic situation that the country and the world find themselves in. It is a serious, responsible commitment. And obviously, if the economic situation improves, we will set more ambitious goals later.

On the other hand, Chile has an adaptation plan that includes, among other things, the reforestation of more than 100,000 hectares of native forest and an energy efficiency programme.

A: Yes, in the sense that a concrete, definitive agreement will be reached.

But it is, I insist, the start of a path. Later other, more ambitious, measures will have to be adopted, to further reduce global temperatures.

Q: Will the treaty currently being debated include the financing that the Global South and Latin America in particular will need in order to help prevent the planet from reaching a situation that is irreversible for human life?

A: I have a hope that the Green Climate Fund will grow and give more countries access to technology and resources. In this region we will always have the contradiction that we are considered middle-income countries, and thus we are not given priority when it comes to funding, while at the same time our economies are often unable to foot greater costs. And on the other hand, we are the smallest emitters [of greenhouse gases].

This is why in Chile we have set two targets, one without external support and the other with external financing, to reduce emissions by 45 percent. But there is also a possibility of financing through cooperation programmes for the introduction and transfer of new technologies to our countries, which will allow us to live up to the commitments.

Q: As the first executive director of U.N.-Women [2010-2013], you helped establish the idea that women must be taken into account in climate negotiations and actions, because they bear the impacts on a day-to-day basis and are decisive in adapting to and mitigating global warming. What is the central role that women should have in the new treaty?

A: There are a number of day-to-day decisions made by women, which have an influence. For example, energy efficiency is essential when it comes to reducing emissions, and it is often a domestic issue, in questions such as turning off lights, for example.

But in many parts of the world women are also the ones hauling water or cooking with firewood, especially in the most vulnerable areas.

So the importance of women ranges from these aspects to their contribution as citizens committed to the fight against climate change, with the conviction that a green, inclusive and sustainable economy is possible, and to the political role of women at the parliamentary and municipal level, where they are working hard for the adoption of measures and to ensure a livable planet.

Q: As president, and as a Chilean, what worries you most about the current climate situation? What would you see as the highest priority?

A: There are many things that worry me about climate change, ranging from severe drought and flooding to islands that could disappear under water – in other words, how natural events linked to climate change affect the lives of people.

I’m also concerned about two things that are essential for people: clean drinking water and food, two elements that can be profoundly affected by climate change. We have seen that there are areas of the country where people depend on rationed water from tanker trucks.

This not only affects the daily lives of people but also, in agricultural areas, it affects production and incomes. And think about the marvelous variety of fish and seafood that we have in our country, which depends on the temperatures in our oceans.

All of this could be modified. It is all very important, and ends up affecting people’s lives.

Q: Paris was the victim of a Jihadist terrorist attack on Nov. 13, which left 130 people dead. Did these attacks affect the climate surrounding the summit? Will the participation by the heads of state and government also serve as a response to the terrorism?

A: More than 160 heads of state and government have confirmed their attendance at the Paris conference, which sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated.

We are going to Paris first, because the issue to be addressed and discussed is important, but also because we are sending a message that we will not tolerate this kind of action and that we will continue moving forward in the defence of the values that we believe are essential. And we will give a hug of solidarity to our sister republic, France, to President François Hollande and to the French people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Hunger Heralds Climate Change’s Arrival in Botswana Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:38:23 +0000 Baboki Kayawe Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

By Baboki Kayawe

A perfect storm of lower rainfall and a growing population beckons for Botswana. But others find climate change is already in the fields and paddocks. “As climate change ushers in more stress on the water sector, it is increasingly a concern that losses in rangeland productivity will result in food insecurity, especially in rural areas,” a country analysis report unveiled recently on Botswana states.

Far from the airy conference rooms where such reports are typically shared, are thousands of subsistence farmers – growing crops mainly to feed their families – for whom these words come to life in the fields and the paddocks of Botswana every harvest season.

For these farmers, the national ideals of poverty eradication and sustainable development are slipping ever further out of reach. Bathalefhi Seoroka, 65, is a subsistence farmer in Boteti, one of Botswana’s drier areas located in the central region. She mostly grows maize, sorghum, beans and melons on her six-hectare field.

Seoroka has noticed her crops have been failing because of declining rainfall since 2010. “Weather patterns have drastically changed,” she says. “I don’t know how we will be able to survive under such dry conditions.”

Another farmer, Kgasane Tsele accuses the government of responding too slowly to the 2014-2015 drought, which was declared early in June. “This is really scary for us as farmers and we eagerly wait to see how government will respond,” he says. “By now government should have announced how it is going to help farmers in alleviating the impact of this drought. The response team must always be on alert and respond early.”

The Department of Meteorological Services predicts the southeastern part of Botswana – which is already suffering from drought and water shortages – is poised to experience its driest season in 34 years.

To cope with food shortage risks, the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) ordered 1,000 tons of yellow maize from South Africa, and an additional 10,000 tons of white maize is due to arrive soon.

BAMB spokesperson, Kushata Modiakgotla says strategic grain reserves currently stand at 30,000 tons of sorghum and 3,000 tons of cowpeas left, but there is no maize. “BAMB has started the process of buying 5,000 tons of white maize from Zambia and it is exploring other avenues to import an additional 5,000 tons if necessary,” she states.

Imports from both nations would help meet supply as local reserves are under threat, while yellow maize is used to produce animal feed. The government insists consumers are not in any danger of going hungry as more than 90 percent of the maize consumed in Botswana is sourced by local millers from South Africa. But despite the supply contracts, consumers will have to pay more for maize meal the longer drought persists.

Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) chief executive Akolang Tombale says climate risks also present challenges to beef production and exports. “We are just emerging from a very dry season and if another drought is forecast it is a problematic state as production will be reduced,” he explains. Grasslands and pasture are an important resource for Batswana who derive most of their livelihood from livestock.

The majority of the BMC’s throughput starts at natural pastures, before being prepared with feedstock. Tombale is holding out hope for showers to replenish pastures around the country, but he acknowledges this may not be a long-term solution.

BMC has been receiving higher rates of deliveries than usual this year, since the Ministry of Agriculture advised farmers to destock as means of cutting their losses. However, this is a short-lived gain because if the situation persists in the next raining cycle, beef revenues would be badly affected. The BMC is now urging farmers to change their approach from quantity to quality-based cattle production.

President Ian Khama recently urged farmers to adopt more innovative approaches to their work in order to cope with the impacts of climate change. Speaking at the 2015 National Agricultural Show ‘Practicing Smart Agriculture to Combat the Effect of Climate Change’, he pointed to Israel, where farmers have harnessed new technologies in order to maintain production in highly water stressed environments.

“This ravaging drought we are currently experiencing is an opportunity to be innovative and resort to new methods and technologies to produce under such conditions. It is for this reason that farming methods such as conservation agriculture are promoted,” he said.

Recommendations include using improved crop varieties that are drought tolerant and high yielding, investing in breeds that can withstand the current climate, as well as adoption of proper crop husbandry practices though agricultural infrastructure. Lare Sisay, United Nations Development Programme’s deputy resident representative, predicts water shortages will lead to an increase in undesirable types of grass species.

“This has a far-reaching impact on social and economic sectors, and this has not yet been quantified and factored into the country’s economic projections,” he says. He predicts this could derail Botswana’s efforts to break through its middle-income country status.

Parliamentarians – many of whose constituents are rural and peri-urban populations involved in communal farming – are expected to tackle the climate change policy, once it appears in the National Assembly. The policy is due in the November sitting and already momentum is gathering from activists to ensure robust debate and urgent approval.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Jessica Shankleman from @BusinessGreen.

]]> 0
Analysis: Are Young People the Answer to Africa’s Food Security? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 07:41:28 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Private Nature Reserves in Latin America Seek a Bigger Role Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:27:09 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
PUNTA LEONA, Costa Rica , Nov 20 2015 (IPS)

Private voluntary nature reserves in Latin America should be seen as allies in policies on the environment, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biological diversity in rainforests, say experts.

“Private reserves in Latin America are not included in conservation policies; they should be integrated in our national strategies,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, vice-president of conservation policies in Conservation International (CI) in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez, a former Costa Rican minister of environment, energy and mines (2002–2006), was addressing 150 environmentalists, promoters of voluntary conservation agreements, and ecotourism business owners, during the 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves, held Nov. 9-13 in the Punta Leona private nature reserve and tourism destination.

In his view, the private sector should play a more central role and governments and the owners of private nature reserves should work together to achieve compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, 193 United Nations members established 20 targets to fight the loss of biodiversity, with a 2020 deadline.

“We are losing our natural capital due to climate change and the big gap between private and public conservation,” said Rodríguez. “The owners of private reserves should become political actors, to help meet the Aichi Targets.”

The global cost of financing efforts towards the targets is estimated at 150 to 440 billion dollars a year, according to figures from the Convention itself. But currently, CI says, the world is only channeling 45 billion dollars towards that end.

Rodríguez says private conservation efforts could help mitigate the shortfall in funds.

With that aim, the Latin American Alliance of Private Reserves was formally created Nov. 6 – the first of its kind in the world. It groups 4,345 private reserves in 15 countries, with a combined total of 5,648,000 hectares of green areas.

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“The idea is to form a conservation chain,” Martin Keller of Guatemala, the president of the new alliance, told IPS. “Private areas can form a chain with national parks and expand national conservation systems. They are also a mechanism to absorb drastic climate changes.”

He argues that there should be no borders for private reserves in the region. “We are joining together in something magnificent, and formalising associations with international institutions so that they include us in environmental projects,” he said.

During the congress in Costa Rica, a pilot programme to encourage the sale of carbon credits was announced, with the donation of 200 hectares of land by a member of the Alliance. The programme will have an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon.

Keller hopes Latin America will begin to sell carbon as a bloc, starting in 2017.

“We have dreams and a passion for conserving nature,” the president of the Costa Rican Network of Nature Reserves, Rafael Gallo, who is donating the 200 hectares for the pilot plan, told IPS. “We want the sale of carbon to be a mechanism for private conservation at a global level.”

Gallo has an 800-hectare property on the Banks of the Pacuare River along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Of that total, 700 hectares are a forest reserve. It is located in Siquirres, 85 km east of San José, near the Barbilla National Park, which forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

“The market is still just getting off the ground, a ton of carbon is worth three dollars,” said Gallo, who believes the mechanism will become viable when the price of a ton reaches 10 dollars.

The countries in the Alliance are Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay and Venezuela also have private reserves, but they have not yet set up local networks – a necessary step before they can join.

Keller said he hopes the initiative will expand to the entire hemisphere, including the Caribbean island nations, Canada and the United States.

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves would like to benefit from multilateral institution programmes, and with that in mind they have made contact with U.N. partners involved in one way or another with conservation issues, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We want to be a regional bloc, we want to be heard at an international level, and we want incentives for property owners to continue joining forces to support conservation – because we would have a massive impact as a bloc,” Claudia García de Bonilla, executive director of the Association of Private Natural Reserves of Guatemala, told IPS.

Voluntary conservation areas are set up by ecotourism businesses, academic institutions, research bodies, or organic agricultural producers, and their advocates see them as green shields against climate extremes and the loss of biodiversity.

“Forests are a sponge, absorbing storms and hurricanes. We have to keep expanding our ecological corridors,” Bonilla said.

The representative of private green areas in Chile, Mauricio Moreno, underscored benefits that nature reserves belonging to individuals or private bodies can offer a global vision of conservation.

“These areas are refuges protected with a great deal of goodwill and effort,” he told IPS. “They complement the public networks. There are reserves that border natural parks and thus create much bigger areas that make it possible to conserve species of animals. With a public and private effort, integral conservation is possible.”

According to Ariane Claussen, an engineer in renewable natural resources at the University of Chile, the budget assigned to public protected areas in the region is insufficient, which makes it difficult for countries to have the capacity to act on their own in the preservation of biodiversity.

“Rather than seeing private reserves as independent, they should be seen in an integrated manner,” she told IPS. “If these people didn’t decide to practice conservation, they would be using that land in different ways, for unsustainable monoculture or stockbreeding.”

She said “the property owners dedicate a small portion of this land to (economic) development like tourism, because they need an income.”

Claussen, along with another Chilean colleague, Tomás González, stressed the Latin American initiative Huella, aimed at voluntary cooperation in technical planning for conservation, environmental education and ecological activism in the region.

Private reserves cover gaps left by the state, she said. “The idea is that they take part in conservation as buffer zones and link up the ecosystems of public protected areas that are isolated and fragmented,” she explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Solar Power Keeps the Midnight Oil Burning at the University of Dodoma Thu, 19 Nov 2015 13:14:34 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Opinion: Risks? What Risks? Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:30:37 +0000 Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) is economist and author of Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age and other books.

By Hazel Henderson
MIAMI, Florida, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

We humans are acutely aware of risks. From our earliest times, the risks we faced were from hunger, predatory animals, extreme environmental conditions and, as our numbers grew, from other human tribes.

Hazel Henderson Credit:

Hazel Henderson

Fast forward to our growing mastery of nature, technological prowess and the Industrial Revolution. The risks humans faced changed beyond those always present in extreme environmental conditions. The technologies we developed against such risks – advancing our energy, shelter, food and health systems – also created new risks, often unforeseen for decades. Conflicts with other humans grew as the human family colonized every part of our planet, stressing ecosystems and driving other species to extinction.

Today, in the 21st century, new risks dominate our political and social issues from terrorism, barbarous attacks on civilians as in Paris, nuclear meltdowns and weapons, financial crises, desertification and famines, disappearing glaciers in the Himalayas, Greenland and Antarctica, water shortages, polluted air, rising sea levels, new pandemics and drug-resistant diseases.

Yet views about these risks and priorities in addressing them are all over the map. This disparity is largely due to different views on how these new risks arose, who is to blame (since they are mostly humanly self-inflicted). This underlying debate about causes of today’s risks still hampers agreement on how to address let alone solve them or mitigate their effects.

Take the view of risk prevalent in the global financial system and its millions of traders in London, Wall Street, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Shanghai. They focus on risks to corporate earnings and profitability, interest rate risk, weak GDP growth, volatile gasoline prices, grassroots opposition, government regulation, political demands for rising wages, democratic demands to reduce inequality.

I attended a conference on “Playing for the Long-term” in New York, November, 3, 2015, hosted by the New York Times convening some 500 Wall Streeters. Their views focused on these risks, as well as those disrupting finance posed by the incursions of Silicon Valley startups threatening to bypass Wall Street: crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, cellphone banking, social media and electronic startups based on Internet platforms. Risks from cyber attacks also focused much attention. Risks from the wider world received little attention – even those now impinging on coal and oil stocks from activists divesting from fossil fuels. I asked Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman if he agreed with Bank of England head Mark Carney that many fossil fuel reserves could never be lifted or burned without further damage to the global climate and that these assets would be devalued. Mr. Gorman allowed that climate change was a problem, but that it was “not our business.”

Climate risk was hardly raised until one of the last speakers, former US Vice President Al Gore, explained how his London-based investment firm Generation Investment Management had produced healthy financial returns on $10 billion dollars of client assets by investing beyond fossil fuels in the more efficient, knowledge-rich technologies of renewable energy companies and the growing next economy: the Solar Age. Unfortunately for the rest of us, financial players like economists see risk in terms of money – forgetting that currencies are simply units of account which track and keep score of human transactions and interactions with nature’s resources.

So it still seems a question of “What risks?” – where and how they arise. How can we come together to share responsibility for our common future on this planet, powered daily by free energy from the Sun? As the beleaguered beautiful city of Paris prepares to host the UN Climate Summit from November 30 to December 11, 2015, even the world’s scientists of the Convention on Climate Change find their assessments of climate risk challenged not only by those denying that humans caused it, but that their models under-estimated these risks.

A UNEP Emissions Gap Report assessed the 119 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) October 2015, covering 88 per cent of global GHG emissions in 2012. This indicates these efforts could cut up to 11 gigatons of CO2 equivalents from projected emissions by 2030. But, this is only half of the total required if there is a chance of staying below the target of below 2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said that these INDC levels are an increase in ambition levels but not sufficient to reach this 2C target.

Several scientists warn that sea level rises are now inevitable due to long feedback processes measured by Earth-observing satellites. These risks focus on melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, reported by scientists James Hanson, Erick Riguot, Richard Alley, Andrea Dutton, John Englander and others. David Wasdell, director of the London-based Meridian Programme, critiques the official IPCC report’s Summary for Policy Makers for downplaying the risks for political and economic expediency. Wasdell’s Climate Dynamics: Facing the Harsh Realities of Now (September 2015) concludes that human greenhouse gases already emitted, moving heat through Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, have already exceeded the 2C target and notional “available carbon budget.” Wasdell’s report concludes that any notional carbon budget allowing further emissions has already collapsed and we face a carbon debt instead.

Are these new climate risks insurmountable? Most experts say that there is time, but it is fast running out.

The good news is that more decision-makers and citizens in all sectors have ended their focus on fossil fuels and now recognize that our planet has always been amply powered by the Sun’s daily shower of free photons. Atmospheric CO2 can be returned to soils, deserts can be greened and ecosystems regenerated as finance is redirected by the 2° Investing Initiative. We humans have all the technology we need to scale up the next economy of efficient renewable resource technologies, as we track in our Green Transition Scoreboard® currently showing 6.22 trillion dollars of private investments in these Solar Age companies and technologies.

Risks also offer opportunities, and stress is evolution’s tool. Breakdowns drive breakthroughs!


]]> 0
Uruguay Puts High Priority on Renewable Energies Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:10:46 +0000 Veronica Firme Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

By Veronica Firme
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Uruguay is modifying its energy mix with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, by means of a strategy that bolsters non-conventional clean energy sources through public-private partnerships and new investment. A majority of this South American country’s energy already comes from renewable sources.

“By the end of 2014, this country’s energy mix was made up of 55 percent renewable sources, compared to a global average of just 12 percent,” said Ramón Méndez, the president of the National Climate Change Response System, during a meeting on renewable energy.

Furthermore, 94 percent of electric power comes from renewables, he said, in a country which is only responsible for 0.06 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.

The transformation of Uruguay’s energy mix began during the first term (2005-2010) of the current president, Tabaré Vázquez, although the country was not starting from zero in terms of renewable sources, Gonzalo Abal a physicist with the Solar Energy Laboratory of the University of the Republic of Uruguay, said in an interview with IPS.

Thanks to hydropower, a significant proportion of Uruguay’s energy already came from renewables. But hydroelectricity is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Traditionally, the country depended on four old hydroelectric dams, three of which were built on the Negro River between the 1930s and the 1970s. The fourth is on the Uruguay River, shared with neighbouring Argentina, and was built in the 1970s.

In addition, two ancient thermal plants powered by fuel oil have served as a back-up when the hydropower supply drops or collapses due to water shortages. The last time this happened was in 2004.

This Southern Cone country of 3.3 million people has fully exploited its large hydropower sources, and began to turn towards wind power and later biomass, the two clean energies around which the greatest progress has been made, according to data provided by the experts and documents consulted by IPS.

The transformation of the energy mix required a legal framework, which included authorisation for clients connected to the low voltage grid to generate electric power from renewable sources – wind, solar, biomass or mini-dams – with a potential of no more than 150 kilowatts.

Also approved were several initiatives like the 2005-2030 Energy Policy, or the 2015-2024 National Energy Efficiency Plan, adopted on Aug. 3.

The Energy Efficiency Plan is aimed at reducing energy consumption in all industries and sectors of the economy, but especially in residential areas and transportation, which will be responsible for 75 percent of the total accumulated reduction by 2024.

In addition, the Investment Promotion Law was modified to offer tax breaks so that at least five percent of the investment in any given project goes towards renewable energy, for the goal of cleaner production.

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

The state power utility, UTE, is responsible for the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity to the 1.2 million clients distributed throughout Uruguay’s 176,215 square kilometres of territory.

UTE has a monopoly over energy distribution but not generation, which the private sector is also involved in, which made it difficult to include power generation in the government’s energy strategy goals.

As of late 2014, Uruguay had a total installed capacity of 3,719 MW, including generators connected to the national power grid as well as stand-alone power systems, according to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining.

The supply consisted of 1,696 MW of thermal energy (from fossil fuels and biomass), 1,538 MW of hydropower, 481 MW of wind power and four MW of solar power, says the National Energy Balance 2014 report.

Breaking down the installed power capacity by source, 66 percent came from renewable sources (hydroelectricity, biomass, wind and solar), while the remaining 34 percent came from non-renewable sources (gasoil, fuel oil and natural gas).

In the economy, there was a structural shift in the energy consumption mix since 2008, which has remained unchanged for the past seven years. Industry is the biggest consumer (39 percent), followed by transportation (29 percent), residential (19 percent), commerce and services (eight percent), and lastly agriculture, fishing and mining (five percent).

From 2007 to 2014, industry overcame transportation, which was pushed to second place, driving up biomass consumption. Pulp mills played a decisive role in that, because thanks to biomass they became 90 percent self-sufficient in energy, as part of the transformation that began in 2005.

In this country, “the important change came in regard to wind power – that is where changes became necessary and challenges were addressed,” Gerardo Honty, an expert with the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology, told IPS.

Wind energy is in full expansion, “and we are nearing one gigawatt (1,000 MW) of installed capacity,” said Abal.

With respect to solar energy, “we have a 50-watt plant already in operation – that’s 100 hectares of solar panels – and a second 50-MW plant has begun to be built, with investment from Europe,” said the academic.

“The rest of the plants, around 15, are smaller, between one and five MW, and are distributed throughout the north of the country,” Abal added.

Connecting with the neighbours

Uruguay is diversifying its energy sources, but it can also “expand the grid in geographic terms; if you interconnect with Argentina and southern Brazil, the probability of having an atmospheric event that leaves you without wind power in the entire area of the pampas is very low,” said the physicist.

The national power grid has interconnections with Argentina (2,000 MW) and with Brazil (70 MW, currently being expanded to 500 MW). The latter has been delayed because the two countries’ power grids operate on different frequencies, and conversion capacity must be added to overcome the problem.

In Uruguay, “the problem isn’t the electric power industry but combustion engines that cannot run on the renewable sources mentioned,” said Honty.

Transportation, especially public transit, poses the big future challenges.

The Montevideo city government is studying the possibility of purchasing autonomous electric vehicles for the sake of energy efficiency and because they do not emit greenhouse gases while at the same time they reduce noise pollution, economist Gonzalo Márquez with the department of mobility said in a forum on energy.

But no timetable has been outlined yet, he told IPS, because there are difficulties to work out like the cost and maintenance of the vehicles, the driving range of the batteries, and the subsidy for public transport, “a hidden cost that society assumes.”

Uruguay projects that when the transformation of its energy industry is complete, greenhouse gas emissions will be 20 to 40 times lower than the global average, said Méndez, the top official in the government’s climate change response office.

This country also aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. That means “our target for that year is for the CO2 (carbon dioxide) that we absorb to be greater than what our entire economy emits,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030 Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 3
Climate Change Threatens Flavour of Argentine Wine Thu, 05 Nov 2015 04:11:53 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Storage tanks in a winery in the western Argentine province of Mendoza. The distinctive colour of the wine made from malbec grapes, the main kind produced by local winemakers, is starting to change due to the impact of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Storage tanks in a winery in the western Argentine province of Mendoza. The distinctive colour of the wine made from malbec grapes, the main kind produced by local winemakers, is starting to change due to the impact of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MENDOZA, Argentina, Nov 5 2015 (IPS)

Purple garlic that is losing its color? More translucent wine? Climate change will also affect the flavours of our food in the absence of measures to mitigate the impacts of global warming, which are already being felt in crops that are basic to local economies, such as in the Argentine province of Mendoza.

An exposition by the National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), during the Climate Change Forum held in October in Mendoza, the capital of the province of the same name, organised jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNCP), raised the subject.

“Will climate change affect the quality of malbec?” read one sign at the exposition, referring to Argentina’s most characteristic wine.

“The rise in temperature dulls the color of purple garlic,” says a study by horticulture expert Mónica Guiñazú at UNCuyo’s department of agrarian sciences.

Gastronomic considerations aside, a large part of the economy of this Andean province in west-central Argentina depends on crops like malbec grapes. Winemaking alone represents six percent of the province’s GDP.

“In our regional economy, malbec is the most important variety. That’s why we chose it as an object of study,” said Emiliano Malovini, one of the researchers who carried out a study on “the effect of rising temperatures on the physiology and quality of malbec grapes” by the university’s vegetable physiology section and the National Council on Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).

In Argentina, “nearly 90 percent of the garlic is produced in Mendoza,” said Guiñazú.

It’s not a question of alarming wine tasters or lovers of garlic, which has proven nutritional and therapeutic properties.

But in the case of malbec, Malovini explained to IPS, “we expect the quality of grapes will decline as a result of the climate change that is projected, as well as what is already happening, the very warm years we have had.”

Malovini cited forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of a temperature rise of two to four degrees Celsius in this part of South America by the end of the century.

Climate Change Forum held in October in the city of Mendoza, the capital of the western Argentine province of that name, where rising temperatures threaten the flavours of the crops that are a pillar of the regional economy. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Climate Change Forum held in October in the city of Mendoza, the capital of the western Argentine province of that name, where rising temperatures threaten the flavours of the crops that are a pillar of the regional economy. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“What has been observed in the preliminary results is a small decline (in quality), mainly in the colour,” he explained, referring to anthocyanins, phytochemicals that play a crucial role in the colour of red wine.

“This is very important because a high-quality, high-end wine for export requires a certain minimal level of colour in the grapes,” he said.

At the same time, “there is another component, the polyphenol content in wine, which gives it ageing potential, to produce wines laid down for two or three years,” he added.

Other changes seen were an increase in alcohol content and a reduction in acidity.

Malovini is studying techniques to counteract the effects of climate change, such as hormone therapy and agricultural practices like restricting irrigation water in vineyards.

Also worried are garlic growers in Mendoza, who make Argentina the world’s third-largest garlic exporter, after China and Spain, in a country where more than half of all exports are agricultural products.

The researchers found that the growing period was up to 10 days shorter, which would in principle be a positive thing, said Guiñazú, because it would make it possible to produce garlic earlier, to supply other markets.

The bad news was that a five degree Celsius rise in temperature – and a 1.5 degree increase in the soil – would spell significant decoloration in purple garlic.

“In Argentina, it doesn’t matter if the colour pales…but in the European Union they put a lot of importance on that. It is penalised,” he said.

According to industry estimates, garlic production generates 10,000 direct and 7,500 indirect jobs, and is a driver of the economy in the wine-producing, mountainous geographical region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina, especially Mendoza and the neighbouring province of San Juan.

Participants in the Climate Change Forum noted that global warming would reduce the water coming from mountain snow melt, fuelling the process of desertification in Mendoza, besides causing more frequent and severe climate events like hail or drought.

“In the last four years a significant water shortage has been seen,” said Daniel Tomasini, UNDP’s coordinator of environment and sustainable development. “Which could form part of the normal variations that have always been seen, or could be the result of climate change.”

“Rivers in Mendoza are expected to see water flows shrink by 15 to 20 percent in the next few years,” he told IPS.

A UNDP report points out that this would affect crop yields and the quality of life of small-scale rural producers.

“Not only regional food security faces a threat, but also the production of food that is distributed to the rest of the country, and is exported,” he said.

That prospect, said Elena Abraham of the Argentine Dryland Research Institute (IADIZA), would increase the social inequality between arid and productive parts of the country.

In Mendoza, 95 percent of the territory is desert and only 4.8 percent is made up of irrigated oases, where 95 percent of the province’s 1.8 million inhabitants are concentrated. Agriculture consumes 90 percent of the province’s water supply.

Outside of the productive areas people mainly depend on subsistence sheep herding and small-scale agriculture, and have historically been neglected by the state.

“We are going to have a desert in the strictest sense of the word,” Abraham told IPS. “The word desert comes, precisely, from ‘to desert’. And people will leave because they won’t have any other option for development – as they are already doing.”

It is the paradox of a region of the developing South that is preparing to mitigate the effects of climate change for which it has virtually no responsibility, but is a direct victim, since experts predict that Mendoza will be one of the provinces hit hardest by the rise in temperatures.

“Climate change is no longer an abstraction,” José Octavio Bordón, president of the UNCuyo Global Affairs Centre, which works on climate change adaptation, said during the forum. “It is the world that my children and their children will live in.”

Argentina is the third biggest Latin American emitter of greenhouse gases and ranks 22nd in the world, accounting for 0.88 percent of the global total, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

In its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), Argentina pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030, and said it could increase that goal to 30 percent with international support.

That commitment, considered insufficient by local and international environmentalists, forms part of the INDCs that will be included in the new treaty climate to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Paris in December.

Argentina’s position is that “we are not going to reduce emissions if that generates problems for our people, or for national development, but the goals we have set take this into consideration,” the government’s undersecretary of promotion of sustainable development, Juan Pablo Vismara, told IPS.

“We are worried that absolute obligations will be established (in Paris), such as a quota or an emissions ceiling for us. We must consider that we will have to continue to emit gases, to develop and to fight poverty, but also because we produce food for the rest of the world,” said the high-level official of the secretariat of the environment and sustainable development.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 2
Zimbabwe’s Mega Dam Project Could Flounder in the Face of Climate Change Tue, 03 Nov 2015 11:00:16 +0000 Ignatius Banda By Ignatius Banda

Zimbabwe’s planned Batoka Gorge power project on the Zambezi River is expected to generate 2,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity, upward from an initial 1,600 MW, but the worsening power cuts that are being blamed on low water levels have renewed concerns about the effects of climate change on mega dams.

Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Power plant. Credit: Construction Review Online

Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Power plant. Credit: Construction Review Online

In the past two months, the country’s energy utility has increased power rationing, with rolling power blackouts being experienced for up to 20 hours across the country per day.

Zimbabwe has for years relied on hydroelectricity, and is one of a number of African countries that are banking on hydropower to spur economic growth, with multibillion dollar dams expected to generate thousands of megawatts.

While there is no timetable of when construction of the 3 billion dollar Batoka Gorge Dam will commence and whose eventual economic dividend will only be realised after a decade of construction, it will add much needed energy in Zimbabwe where power generation stands at around 1,600 MW against a national demand of 2,200 MW.

Officials say on completion of the Batoka hydropower plant, the country will be a power exporter.

However, the long running power crisis has stalled economic expansion and has in fact forced the closure of major companies, the latest being Sable Chemicals, which was this month switched off the national grid in what energy minister Samuel Udenge said was part of short-term strategy to avail energy to other sectors.

But the switch-off forced the country’s sole fertiliser plant to shut down operation and left more than 500 employees jobless, company officials say.

The company owes the power utility 150 million dollars.

According to Minister Undenge, 80 per cent of Zimbabwe does not have access to electricity, and the Batoka Gorge hydropower plant, a joint project with Zambia that will draw water from the Zambezi, a transboundary water body shared by eight countries, is expected to boost power production and bring electricity to remote rural areas.

Early this month, Minister Undenge told parliament that the Zambezi River catchment area was affected by rainfall the patterns of other countries.

“Water is still flowing into the Zambezi River from the north, but we are drawing more water than what is flowing in, hence the continued decline in the water level,” Undende said, explaining the reduced power production.

It is these concerns about low water levels that have experts worried, with questions being raised about whether mega dams are viable investments in the long term, citing climate uncertainty and concerns about reduced run-off that would affect dam water levels and ultimately reduce power generation.

In fact, the worsening power crisis in both Zimbabwe and Zambia is being blamed on low water levels at the Zambezi river.

Researchers at International Rivers, an organisation that looks at the state of the world’s rivers and how local communities can benefit from them, warn that the big dam projects could be rendered useless in the long term because of climate change and reduced run-off.

They favour smaller dams for localised power generation, but smaller dams also cost money which Zimbabwe does not have.

Last year, the climate ministry announced that the country will be constructing more dams to cushion the county against climate uncertainty, at the same time advising heavy industrial electricity consumers to construct their own power generating plants.

In the absence of these private power generators, the Batoka Gorge Dam is being touted as the ultimate solution to the longstanding energy deficit despite warnings that the project could present its own problems as it does not address climate-related future realities.

Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, says the Zambezi river basin, the location of the Batoka Gorge Dam, has one of the most variable climates in the world which will increase the dam’s hydrological risks.

“The (UN’s) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the river (Zambezi) may suffer the worst potential climate impact among eleven major African river basins,” Bosshard told IPS.

“Multiple studies have estimated that streamflow in the Zambezi will decrease by 26 to 40 per cent by 2050,” he said, adding that “in spite of these serious predictions, the proposed Batoka Gorge Dam has not been evaluated for the risks of climate change.”

But Hodson Makurira, a senior hydrologist at the University of Zimbabwe does not agree.

“That would be an oversimplification of a complicated and highly uncertain projection of future events,” he told IPS.

“The same climate change predictions are forecasting an increase in extreme events, droughts and floods. You would (then) want to capture as much flood water as possible through increased storage. That would cushion you against periods of low flows,” Makurira said.

“Nobody knows the exact magnitude of reduction in flows due to climate change so it may still make economic sense to build dams,” he told IPS.

Bosshard said the dam project’s feasibility study dates from 1993, “and climate change considerations have not been integrated.”

“The project is based on historical streamflow data, which do reflect future realities. Investors, financiers and tax payers should be aware that the studies for this multi-billion dollar project seriously over-estimate its economic viability,” Bosshard said.

But for Minister Undenge, who is increasingly under pressure to solve Zimbabwe’s energy crisis, neither financing nor climate change will stop this ambitious mega dam.


]]> 1
Central America Seeks Recognition of Its Vulnerability to Climate Change Fri, 30 Oct 2015 23:21:17 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the countries of Central America have borne the heavy impact of extreme climate phenomena like hurricanes and severe drought. Now, six of them are demanding that the entire planet recognise their climate vulnerability.

An initiative that has emerged from civil society in Central America wants the new binding universal climate treaty to acknowledge that the region is especially vulnerable to climate change – a distinction currently given to small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

In the climate Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Germany, the proposal found its way into the draft of the future Paris agreement. If it is approved, Central America could be given priority when it comes to the distribution of climate financing for adaptation measures – which would be crucial for the region.

“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening,” said Tania Guillén, climate change officer at Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre.“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening.” -- Tania Guillén

These contributions, the expert told IPS, “should go towards the benefit of vulnerable communities” in this region. But for now, only SIDS and LDCs have a priority.

Semantic disputes have taken on great importance, a month before the start of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, where the new climate treaty is to be approved.

That is because the language used will form part of the foundations on which the legal bases of the agreement will be set.

Central America’s 48 million people live on the isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea, along whose length stretches a mountain chain and an arid dry corridor.

Nearly half of the region’s inhabitants – 23 million, or 48 percent – live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The issue of climate vulnerability – the set of conditions that make a society or ecosystem more likely to be affected by extreme climate events – has been on Central America’s agenda for years, since Hurricane Mitch’s devastating passage through the region in 1998 forced a rethinking of risk management.

As part of this process, the Vulnerable Central America, United for Life Forum was born in 2009 – a civil society collective that has pushed for the region to be declared particularly subject to the consequences of climate change.

Over the last year, climate impacts have caused human and material losses throughout Central America, from the catastrophic mudslide in Cambray on the outskirts of Guatemala City to the sea level rise threatening Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.

The most widely extended of these impacts has been the drought associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate phenomenon which complicated agricultural conditions in Central America’s so-called dry corridor.

The corridor is an arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is the norm and where rainfall was 40 to 60 percent below normal in the 2014-2015 dry season.

Central America accounts for just 0.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means it sees reducing its vulnerability to climate change as more urgent than mitigation measures.

If successful, the call for the region to be recognised as especially vulnerable would make it a priority for climate change adaptation financing and technology.

But it will not be easy to reach this goal in the negotiations, as it is hindered by other countries of the developing South and even by some in this region itself.

The tension first arose within the Central American Economic Integration System (SICA), which held three meetings during the October climate change talks in Bonn, but failed to reach a consensus on the initiative, due to internal opposition from Belize.

“It must be pointed out that (SICA members) Belize and the Dominican Republic are SIDS, which means that to avoid problems with that negotiating bloc they did not back the proposal,” Guillén said.

In his view, “the painful thing is what Belize is doing, because the Dominican Republic is in a different situation,” since it is not actually part of the Central American isthmus, but is a Caribbean island nation.

Although Belize is on the mainland, it joined the SIDS in the climate talks.

The head of the Guatemalan government’s delegation to the climate talks, Edwin Castellanos, confirmed to IPS that no consensus was reached within SICA.

For that reason, “the proposal was made by El Salvador, as current president of SICA, but it was not made in the name of SICA because member countries did not back the motion.” It was also signed by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Castellanos also noted that there are other countries seeking to be included on the list of the most vulnerable countries, an issue that was addressed within the powerful Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, which represents the countries of the developing South.

“When Central America presented this initiative, Nepal followed it with a similar proposal for mountainous countries. The problem is that this starts off a list that could be interminable, and which already includes the LDCs, islands, and most recently, Africa,” the negotiator said.

He acknowledged that the initiative came from Central American civil society, and mentioned in particular the Mexico and Central America Civil Society Forum held Oct. 7-9 in Mexico City, ahead of COP21.

Alejandra Granados, a Costa Rican activist who took part in the civil society forum, told IPS that the proposal was set forth by Alejandra Sobenes of the Guatemalan Institute for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (IDEADS), and that “each organisation sent it to the negotiators for their respective countries” prior to the meeting in Bonn.

The Central American countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreed on including adaptation components to which governments have committed themselves.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have not yet presented their INDCs, the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

Granados said that, if Central America is recognised as especially vulnerable, the countries of the region will have to work hard together with local communities to improve their adaptation plans prior to 2020, when the new treaty will go into effect.

“This recognition is not an end in itself; it is a major responsibility that the region is assuming, because it is as if at an international level all eyes turned towards the region and said: ‘Ok, what are you waiting for, to do something? You wanted this recognition, now assume your responsibility to take action’,” said the Costa Rican activist, who heads the organisation

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Opinion: It’s Time to Put Local Communities in Charge of Liberia’s Forests Thu, 22 Oct 2015 21:32:27 +0000 Matthias Yeanay

Matthias Yeanay is the Facilitator of the NGO Coalition of Liberia. He holds a BA in sociology and demography and holds a certificate in Improving Forest Governance. Roland P. Harris is a Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor and a member of the NGO Coalition of Liberia.

By Matthias Yeanay and Roland Harris
MONROVIA, Oct 22 2015 (IPS)

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently affirmed her commitment to the land rights of Liberia’s local communities, who rely on the forests for their livelihoods and have cared for them for generations.

“Any successful paradigm shift for forest management in Liberia must have local communities at its centre,” Edward McClain, Minster of State for Presidential Affairs, said in a speech delivered on the President’s behalf. A draft Land Rights Act would make this possible, but the current session of Parliament ended without the Act’s adoption.

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

We are eager to see the President’s vision implemented, and hopeful that the Land Rights Act will be adopted in the next Parliamentary session, as Liberia’s local communities are still contending with violent conflicts caused by palm oil plantations and illegal logging on their lands.

Such developments benefit large corporations but fail to deliver on the promise of shared economic development. Over half of Liberia’s territory has been sold to logging companies by the government, threatening the life-line of the communities that rightfully own Liberia’s forests.

These conflicts are not unique to Liberia. Around the world, contested lands fuel violence and threaten the commitments made by governments and companies. New research shows that out of eight fragile states in Africa, the governments of six claim ownership of nearly 100 per cent of the land in each country. Weak community rights also contribute to mass deforestation, as communities are generally better equipped than governments to care for their forests.

Despite growing attention around the world to these issues, the gap between how much land governments recognize as belonging to communities and the amount of land that communities govern in practice remains substantial.

As Ebola recedes, unsustainable demand for timber has returned to Liberia’s forests, but President Sirleaf’s comments give us hope that the government will side with local communities moving forward.

The President signed an agreement with Norway, which has promised up to $150 million over six years to help Liberia keep its forests standing. This agreement could provide much-needed funds for Liberia to provide basic services to its people, and stem the tide of mass deforestation.

Liberia’s leaders are turning towards conserving the forests rather than selling them off, and they recognize that the key to successful forest management is putting local communities in charge of their own forests. It only makes sense that the people who have managed the lands and forests all their lives, and whose communities have managed them for generations, are best-equipped to care for them. Research shows that when Indigenous Peoples and local communities have secure land rights, forest are more likely to stay standing.

The draft Land Rights Act would operationalise many of the commitments Liberia’s government has made. It would recognize Liberia’s local communities as the rightful owners of the country’s forests without requiring them to present an official deed, a significant development given that these communities inhabit a large percentage of Liberia’s land.

By extension, the legislation would protect the forests that communities have been the guardians of for generations. President Sirleaf has expressed her strong support for it, and it is now up to Parliament to take action. We expect them to take this important step towards securing Liberia a future of peace and prosperity.

But recognizing land rights is not enough. Communities already have legal title to over 30 per cent of Liberia’s land area, one of the highest percentages of community ownership in West and Central Africa, but a lack of technical capacity, government coordination and due process has led to legally titled communities losing their land to make way for concessions or conservation areas. Most were never compensated for their losses.

The reality is that local communities want to be the architects of their own development and manage their own forests, but they need more logistical and technical support to ensure that they will not be trampled by big business.

Negotiation of community forest management agreements should be done by the communities themselves with technical support from Liberia’s Forest Development Authority, civil society and other institutions with interest in the forestry sector. This will enable the communities to adequately harness benefits, including sustainable management of the forest as well as economic, social and infrastructure development at the local level.

We hope the new law will make it easier for communities to make fair agreements with corporations. They want the power to require companies operating on their lands to employ community members in key decision-making roles, and to ask companies that violate their wishes for them to leave. But faced with the prospect of negotiating commercial contracts on their land, many communities find themselves on the losing end.

Liberia is poised to clarify land rights at the local level, a move that could make history and make the country a leader in land reform in Africa. For this move to be successful, the government’s policies must not forget the vital role played by the local communities. It is the rightful owners who have kept Liberia’s forests standing.

This new vision for Liberia’s forests may be threatened from many sides, but with the power of the people and the power of President Ellen Sirleaf, how can it fail?


]]> 0
Pakistan: Looking to Hydropower to Assure More Reliable Electricity Thu, 22 Oct 2015 13:05:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Toasting to a More Sustainable Planet with Argentine Wine Tue, 20 Oct 2015 21:37:50 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LUJÁN DE CUYO, Argentina , Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina is famous for its vineyards. But it is one of the areas in the country hit hardest by the effects of climate change, such as desertification and the melting of mountain top snow. And local winegrowers have come up with their own way to fight global warming.

In the cup, malbec, Argentina’s flagship red wine, still has the same intense flavour and colour.

But behind the production process is a new environmental reconversion, which began four years ago in the arid province of Mendoza, where vineyards bloom in the midst of oases created by human hands.

Only 4.8 percent of the desert province of Mendoza is green; 3.5 percent is dedicated to agricultural production, which uses 90 percent of the water consumed, and the rest is urban areas.“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“We are trying to maintain the same production levels, using less water and less energy, reducing waste, reusing waste products, and creating less pollution,” the provincial coordinator of the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, Germán Micic, told Tierramérica.

The initiative, launched by the national Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, benefits some 1,250 small and medium-sized companies in Argentina.

It is carried out with technical and administrative support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funds from the Interamerican Development Bank. In Mendoza, 210 companies – 60 percent of them wineries – are participating. They receive advice and up to 28,000 dollars in funds.

“We’re producing the same wine, but in a sustainable manner,” said Luis Romito, the head of the Sustainability Commission of the Bodegas de Argentina wineries association, while participating in the Climate Change Forum organised this month in Mendoza by the National University of Cuyo and the UNDP.

Some of these practices have begun to be implemented by Dominio del Plata, a family winery at the foot of the Andes mountains, in Agrelo, a town in the department of Luján de Cuyo.

By changing equipment and modifying processes, the family business has managed to use less water in the production of its wine.

In the wine production process, water is mainly used for washing, rinsing, heating and cooling.

One example of the changes introduced was the replacement of manual washing of the grape picking lugs, which took some 20 minutes per unit, by automated industrial washers.

“The lug is washed in five minutes with this machine,” Marcelo del Popolo, the winery’s adviser on quality and environmental responsability, told Tierramérica. “We have reduced water consuption by some 60,000 litres a month. In three months of harvest, that’s 180,000 litres of water saved.

“And the water used in the washing process goes down a drain and is carried to a treatment plant, and is then used to irrígate the vineyards,” he said.

And irrigation systems are being improved in Mendoza, where 90 percent of water is used in agricultural activities, and where water shortages are increasingly severe as a result of global warming.

“Water is vital to our province, and we are being seriously affected by this problem,” Ricardo Villalba, an expert in geosciences and former director of the Mendoza-based Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences, told Tierramérica. “Water is the element that controls regional development.”

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Our province basically depends on the water that comes from the snow up in the mountains, and all of the global forecasts and models indicate that there will gradually be less and less snow,” said Villalba, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The wine-growing industry, which represents six percent of GDP in Mendoza and 1.3 percent of GDP nationwide, also aims to reduce energy consumption, which in Argentina is responsible for 43 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the wineries, energy is used for heating, cooling, pumping of liquids and lighting.

“In each one of these stages we can incorporate modifications of equipment or processes, which make significant energy savings possible,” Micic said. “From jackets on the tanks to maintain temperatures more efficiently to the installation of advanced new pumps for a stronger water flow and lower energy consumption, through the change of compressors and lighting.”

Del Popolo said: “We keep track here of the water that comes in and the temperature we manage to achieve. By doing this we have reduced the energy used for heating by 15 percent.”

The company also uses green-friendly materials like lightweight wine bottles and lighter boxes that use less cardboard. Plastic and other waste products like broken bottles are classified, recycled and reused.

“We’re using boxes that we have already recycled many times over,” he said.

The benefits to the environment also bring considerable cost savings.

“We have addressed two fundamental questions: savings in energy and in water. And in both of them, we’re also seeing significant economic savings,” said the head of the winery, which plans in the future to invest in a solar thermal system for heating and fermentation.

This, according to UNDP representative in Argentina René Mauricio Valdés, is what makes the project self-sustainable.

“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case,” said Valdés during a visit to the winery.

Fincas Patagónicas Tapiz, an olive oil producer in the neighbouring department of Maipú, is another company taking part in the programme in Mendoza.

Among other measures, it implemented a system to circulate water heated by solar energy around the tanks of oil to eliminate that energy expense.

It also insulated the room holding the tanks of oil, to keep the temperature steady. This made it possible to avoid the need to use air conditioning in the entire plant, which consumed an enormous amount of energy.

“If the temperature of the oil drops below 14 or 15 degrees Celsius, it solidifies and I can’t filter it,” plant manager Sebastián Correas explained to Tierramérica. “Which means that in the (southern hemisphere) winter I have to keep heating the entire plant until the warmer temperatures of September and October make it possible to bottle the oil.”

Argentina is not one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases. Producing 0.66 percent of all greenhouse gases released globally, it is 22nd in a ranking that counts the 28 European Union countries as a single bloc.

But Villalba, the scientific researcher, believes that Argentina, like Mendoza, has a role to play.

“We are going to have to prepare ourselves for this, for example to continue to be leaders in the production of malbec at a global level,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Before Renewable Power Plant is Completed, Geothermal Overtakes Hydro in Kenya Tue, 20 Oct 2015 16:41:54 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu 0 OPINION: Time to Reform the Global Casino Tue, 20 Oct 2015 10:12:18 +0000 Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Market Media (U.S. and Brazil) is a futurist, science policy advisor and author of Mapping he Global Transition to the Solar Age and other books.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 highlights the global shift from traditional money-based, gross domestic product (GDP)-measured economic growth to the new models of sustainable, inclusive human development embodied in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ratified by its 193 member nations.

Hazel Henderson Credit:

Hazel Henderson

This historic shift still involves ideological and political struggles between incumbent industries of the earlier Industrial Revolution and the disruptive forces and technologies of our succeeding Information Age. The battles continue between the fossilized economic and financial sectors and those rising in the knowledge-richer technologies and cleaner, greener companies based on efficiency, renewable energy and “shareconomies.”

This multi-generational shift also involves deeper processes of changing world views, social organisations and evolving cultures in our global human family of some 7.5 billion people.

These historic changes in 2015, now visible in the SDG 17’s intertwined goals, go far beyond the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They embrace the major problems and opportunities for continuing the successful evolution of human societies on planet Earth. The SDGs close the obsolete textbooks on money-based, GDP-measured economic growth. Today, the social and environmental costs of this earlier GDP model are evident to all in pollution, ecological and social disruption, widespread effects of climate change, global warming and rising sea levels – all measured daily by 120 Earth-observing satellites.

All this physical evidence of humans stressing ecological limits and planetary boundaries also led to the focus on finance as driver of these failed models of GDP-growth and short-term profits. The “free market” models of Britain’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s drove “financialisation” and globalization which privatized and deregulated economic activities – divorcing them from their social context and consequences.

Finance became a global casino, the servant of fossilized industrialization and its overemphasis on investing in coal, oil and gas. This is highlighted in the research of the British NGO Carbon Tracker: trillions of “assets” in fossil fuel companies balance sheets became potential liabilities because they could not be burned without further damage to the climate. Client Earth, a public interest law firm, announced it is monitoring 250 corporations and their directors for possible legal action pursuant to the Companies Act of 2006.

Many science policy analysts, including this writer, and millions of citizens have been pointing out the failures of economics and its GDP-growth fetish which still drives financial markets. Yet, it took decades before today’s physical evidence, growing crises and millions of ethical investors produced the global transitions now recognized in the UN’s SDGs. This fossilized global finance is addressed in the two-year, ground-breaking United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Inquiry: Design of a Sustainable Financial System, whose report The Financial System We Need was released October 8, 2015.

This two-year Inquiry was steered by a global advisory board of central bankers, stock exchange and pension fund executives, regulators led by UNEP administrator Achim Steiner, and was co-directed by Nick Robins and Simon Zadek. It explores how to reshape and align crisis-prone global financial markets with the new SDGs – beyond short term speculative high speed trading toward serving needs of the real world economies. The UN Inquiry report contains many innovative studies including Greening China’s Financial System; Exploring Financial Policy and Regulatory Barriers to Private Climate Finance in South-East Asia; Scaling Green Bond Markets for Sustainable Development; Financial Reform, Institutional Investors and Sustainable Development; Fiduciary Duty in the 21st Century; Values BasedBanking; Insurance 2030 – Harnessing Insurance for Sustainable Development; and reports on these issues from India, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Africa and Colombia.

Many innovative critiques are also referenced, including Ethical Markets’ Reforming Electronic Markets and Trading; Britain’s New Economics Foundation’s Financial System Impact of Disruptive Innovation, on the electronic shareconomy, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending – all bypassing conventional finance. Canada contributed research from CIGI (Center for International Governance Innovation) on environmental risk disclosure, its new FALSTAFF model and Central Banks Can and Should Do Their Part in Funding Sustainability, which boldly calls for central banks to use their quantitative easing (i.e., money printing) to buy new green bonds to grow the next economy for real people rather than bailing out past mistakes of big banks.

The Inquiry’s 4th progress report: The Coming Financial Climate reviewed all the findings on how governments, regulators, standard-setters and market actors are starting to incorporate sustainability factors into the rules that govern the financial system. Although there is much still to be done to de-risk and transform conventional finance, this Inquiry has broken down major barriers and brought together many of the progressive forces taming speculative markets and reforming practices that led to the 2008 crises and resulting human misery. The battle lines are drawn. Ending tax breaks and subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power will accelerate the new cost advantages of the more efficient renewable sectors worldwide.


]]> 0
Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Families Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
SUCRE, Bolivia, Oct 17 2015 (IPS)

The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes.

“The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of the women didn’t have work – they had no skills, they washed clothes for others or sold things at the market,” Lucrecia Toloba, secretary of “productive development and plural economy” in the government of the southeastern department of Chuquisaca, told IPS.

Her hair in two thin braids and wearing traditional native dress – a bowler hat, a short, pleated skirt called a pollera, and light clothing for the mild climate of the Andean valleys – Toloba, a Quechua Indian, is an educator who now runs the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme in the region.“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals." -- Alberta Limachi

In her modest office, she explains that women are at the centre of the programme, which brings them recognition from their families and communities, diversifies their families’ diets, and offers them economic independence through the sale of the vegetables they grow ecologically in the city, which at the same time benefits from healthy, diversified fresh produce.

Five km away, on the outskirts of the city, women in the neighbourhoods of 25 de Mayo and Litoral, who belong to the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, met IPS with a basket of fresh produce from their gardens, including shiny red tomatoes, colourful radishes and bright-green lettuce.

A total of 83 poor suburban neighborhoods in Sucre are taking part in the project, which has the support of the national and departmental governments and of the .

The initiative has 680 members so far, said Guido Zambrana, a young agronomist who runs the Urban Garden Project.

The lunch we are served is soup made with vegetables grown in their backyard gardens, accompanied by tortillas made with cornmeal mixed with flour from different vegetables. Fresh produce is also grown in greenhouses built throughout the hills of Sucre, 2,760 metres above sea level and 420 km south of La Paz, the country’s political centre.

The women have learned how to grow vegetables and how to improve their family’s food security, Tolaba explained.“We want to reach zero malnutrition,” she said.

In Sucre temperatures range between 12 and 25 degrees Celcius. But in the greenhouses, built by the families with support from the government, temperatures climb above 30 degrees.

Sometimes, the temperatures marked by the thermometers in the greenhouses spike and the windows have to be opened. The greenhouses have roofs made of transparent Agrofil plastic sheeting and walls of adobe. They are built under the guidance of technical agronomist Mery Fernández.

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The luscious leafy chard and lettuce in the greenhouse of Celia Padilla, who came to Sucre from an indigenous village in the neighbouring department of Potosí with her husband in 2000 and settled in Bicentenario, a neighbourhood in a flat area among the hills surrounding the city.

Padilla, who also belongs to the Quechua indigenous community like most of the women in the association, joined the project with a garden of just eight square metres last year, and is now thinking about building a 500-square-metre greenhouse.

Greenhouse figures

On average, according to FAO statistics, each greenhouse run by the Sucre association produces some 500 kg of fresh produce a year, in three harvests. And an average of 60 percent of the food grown goes to consumption by the families, while the rest is sold, either by the individual farmers, collectively, or through the association.

A total of 17 different kinds of vegetables are grown, nine in each garden on average. The women and their families provide the land and the labour power in building the greenhouses. Besides planting and harvesting they select the seeds and make organic compost, in this sustainable community project.

The Bolivian organisers of the programme say each greenhouse can produce an average income of at least 660 dollars a year.

Her husband, a construction worker who does casual work in the city, is pleased with the idea of expanding the garden by building a greenhouse. Their home garden provides the family with nutritional food and brings in a not insignificant income through the sale of fresh produce to neighbours or at market.

With the earnings, “I buy milk and meat for the kids,” Padilla told Tierramérica, holding bunches of shiny green chard in her hands.

Water for irrigation is scarce, but a local government programme has donated 2,000-litre tanks to capture water during the rainy season and store it up for using in drip irrigation.

The chance to improve the family diet generated a good-natured dispute between Alberta Limachi and her husband, who came to this city from the village of Puca Puca, 64 km away.

The couple, who own a 150-square-metre plot of land on the outskirts of the city, had to decide between a family garden or using the space to build a garage. Limachi, one of the leaders of the urban producers, won the argument.

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals,” she told Tierramérica, after proudly serving a snack of green beans and fresh salad.

“I don’t ask my husband for money anymore, and we don’t spend anything on vegetables,” Padilla said, pleased to help support her family. Her garden is well-known in the neighbourhood because she grows lettuce, chard, celery, coriander and tomatoes, and her neighbours come knocking every day to buy fresh vegetables.

A committee made up of associations of farmers and consumers monitors and certifies that the fresh produce is organic and of high quality, José Zuleta, the national coordinator of the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme, told Tierramérica.

“The women grow their food without (chemical) fertiliser, using organic compost that can return to the soil, which means their production is sustainable,” Yusuke Kanae, an agronomist with the FAO office in Sucre, commented to Tierramérica.

Kanae, originally from Japan, offers the women technical know-how and simple practices such as converting a creative variety of containers – ranging from a broken old football to plastic television set packaging – into improvised pots for growing vegetables.

“Even if it’s just 20 bolivianos (slightly less than three dollars), the women can help buy notebooks and shoes,” said Kanae, to illustrate the importance of the women’s contribution to the household, which chips away at what he described as “sexist” dependence, while putting them in touch with their indigenous cultural roots.

Kanae also supports the introduction of organic vegetables in the city, and has encouraged the owners of the Cóndor Café, a vegetarian restaurant, to buy products certified by the women as organic.

Visitors to the restaurant enjoy substantial dishes prepared with the vegetables from the women’s peri-urban gardens, which combine Japanese and Bolivian cooking, and cost only three dollars a meal.

The manager of the restaurant, Roger Sotomayor, told Tierramérica that he enjoys supporting the family garden initiative. “We want to encourage environmentally-friendly production of vegetables,” he said, stressing the high quality of the women’s produce and the fact that the cost is 20 percent lower than that of conventional crops.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
In Hawaii, Concern Rises about Use of Farm Pesticides Fri, 16 Oct 2015 21:32:24 +0000 Christopher Pala Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house.  The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala.  Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house. The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala. Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

By Christopher Pala
KIHEI, Hawaii, Oct 16 2015 (IPS)

Tammy Brehio stood on the back balcony of her home in Kihei on the island of Maui and pointed to a brown field a few hundred yards away.

“That’s where they spray the pesticides, even when the wind is blowing directly at us,” said the 40-year-old year mother of three small children. “Ever since we moved here, we all have sore throats and we cough all the time.”

She and a neighbour, who declined to be identified because he works for an agricultural company and feared losing his job, said the spraying often takes place at night. “It wakes me up, it smells really strong and it’s hard to breathe,” Brehio said.

“We do not apply pesticides at night,” said Monica Ivey, the spokeswoman for Monsanto, which grows genetically modified corn on the field. “Monsanto complies with all federal and state laws that govern responsible pesticide use.”

Whether or not the companies respect these laws, which forbid allowing pesticides sprayed on a field to drift beyond it, has become one of the biggest controversies in Hawaii in the past few years.

Over the past decade or so, Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical of the United States, Bayer and BASF of Germany and Syngenta of Switzerland have more than doubled their acreage in Hawaii. Attracted by a year-round growing season that cuts in half the time it takes to bring a new variety to market, they have turned the Aloha State into the epicentre of corn grown with genes modified in laboratories – designed mostly to tolerate the pesticides the companies produce and sell to farmers with the corn.

The kernels grown in Hawaii are sent the mainland United States, where they are planted and harvested. Those kernels are then sold to farmers, whose production ends up mostly as cattle feed and ethanol. The corn sold as food is known as sweet corn and constitutes perhaps one percent of the industrial variety, which is known as field corn.

The agro-chemical companies now own or lease about some 25,000 acres on the islands of Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Oahu – about 2 per cent of the land area. Because the islands are mountainous and farmland is scarce, the fields often abut homes, businesses and schools. Most of these fields were previously used to grow sugar cane and pineapple, and the towns grew around them in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At any given time, about 80 per cent of the fields are bare and brown. The crops are grown in small patches of a few acres and sprayed often with pesticides, which residents complain that they often are forced to inhale.

Even a mile from the nearest cornfield in downtown Waimea, on the island of Kauai, Lois Catala, 75, reports that the pesticide clouds percolate into her home with no warming. “All of a sudden, your eyes are burning and you’re itching all over, and you hear everybody complaining,” she said. A local doctor says she stopped biking to work on a road that bisects cornfields because she went through clouds of pesticides too many times. Other residents interviewed told of similar experiences.

Testing new varieties of pesticide-resistant field corn and growing seed corn from them requires 17 times more restricted-use insecticides and more frequent applications than farmers in the US use for their crops, a study by the Center for Food Safety has concluded. Court documents filed by attorneys for Waimea homeowners who successfully sued DuPont for pesticide and dust impacts to their homes show the company sprayed 10 times the mainland average, based on internal pesticide records obtained from DuPont.

The frequent, sometimes daily, sprayings have led to a spate of complaints that the companies violate with impunity federal and state laws.

The laws say that commercial applicators who spray pesticides that winds carry out of their property is liable for a $25,000 fine and/or six months in jail. The pesticides receive approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency only after being tested for their legal use, which does not include human inhalations.

In 2006 and 2008, Howard Hurst was teaching special-education classes at Waimea Middle School, on Kauai, when clouds of what he believes were concentrated pesticides blew into the school from an adjoining field operated by Syngenta. “It feels like you have salt in your eyes, your tongue swells, your muscles ache, it’s awful,” he said in an interview at the school. Both times, the school was evacuated and several students were treated at the nearest emergency room.

But the state authorities, instead of prosecuting the Swiss company, which denied that it was spraying on those days, insisted that the evacuations were caused by mass hysteria triggered by an onion-like plant called stinkweed.
Without ever accepting responsibility, Syngenta stopped using the field adjacent to the school. The closest is now a half-kilometer away. Hurst said pesticide odors have become much less frequent.

In 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when. A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, a pediatrician said in an interview that he’d noticed a statewide spike in another birth defect called gastroschisis, in which the baby is born with the abdominal organs outside.

“Data suggest that there may also be an association between parental pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes including physical birth defects,” the American Academy of Pediatrics reported this year.

“I think it’s serious,” says Bernard Riola, a pediatrician in Waimea. “We need an in-depth epidemiological study. Right now, we just don’t know” if the pesticides are causing the birth defects. Another doctor at the hospital said he tried to get the state to do just such a study, to no avail.

Bennette Misalucha, the head of the agro-chemical companies trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, dismissed the doctors’ concerns. “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” she wrote in an e-mail after declining to be interviewed.

The companies she represents strongly opposed the buffer-zones and disclosure law, which resembled others passed in 11 other states. They argued that it would drive away the companies and cause job losses, and that critics of the pesticide-drift problem were simply victims of scare-mongering by opponents of genetically modified food.

They sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, reported here that it effectively does not.

In Maui and Molokai, which form one county, a bitterly fought ballot initiative was approved by the voters in November 2014 banning genetically modified agriculture until an Environment Impact Statement is performed and proves the industry is safe.

The companies spent $8 million to fight it, reportedly the most spent on any political campaign in Hawaii history. Another federal judge struck it down on the same grounds as the Kauai ordinance: that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Both rulings are being appealed.

Back in Maui, Brehio, the mother of three who says she is dispirited by the lack of progress in curbing illegal pesticide drift, was remodeling her kitchen with her husband and preparing to sell their house. “This is a not a safe place for me and my family,” she said.

Meanwhile, construction has started on a strip of land between her house and the Monsanto field for a 660-unit affordable-housing development where the cheapest units will be right against the Monsanto fields.

“This report was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.”

]]> 5
Opinion: Africa’s Agricultural Potential Begins on the Ground Fri, 16 Oct 2015 12:31:57 +0000 Howard G Buffett

Howard G. Buffett is a farmer and Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. He has farmed for over 35 years, and the Foundation has invested over $150 million in research to improve agriculture and an additional $350 million in agriculture-related programs globally.

By Howard G. Buffett
LONDON, Oct 16 2015 (IPS)

My friend Kofi Boa is a Ghanaian agronomist who is probably the biggest advocate for conservation farming in Africa. For decades, Kofi has taught farmers how to increase their yields using no-till, cover crops and other techniques.

He once showed me a demonstration plot I’ve never forgotten: it was a sloped field planted with corn, divided into three equal areas. On the first section, he used traditional plowing and at the bottom were five barrels full of soil – the run-off from a single rainy season. The second plot he strip-tilled, and there was one barrel of soil that had washed down. On the third section he never tilled the soil at all. That field had a strong harvest – its soil run-off barrel was almost empty.

Kofi’s demonstration is one that every farmer and everyone working in agricultural development needs to see, understand and appreciate. I have heard philanthropists and others say things like “Africa can feed the world,” but it’s vital that we first focus on Africa feeding itself. Growing sufficient food for Africa’s fast-rising population demands preserving and enriching its fragile soils.

The continent is home to dramatically diverse landscapes from the vast Tanzanian Serengeti savannahs; to the hilly, volcanic, jungle landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo; to the Afromontagne and coastal forests that span the entire continent. But what’s often overlooked is that less than 10 percent of Africa has what are considered high-quality soils for agriculture.

When you see photographs of dense jungle or animal migrations, it can be hard to imagine that Africa has such poor soils. The fact is that during early periods of soil formation while glaciers deposited valuable minerals and rich sediments in regions such as the American Midwest, the Ukraine, and Argentina, Africa was shortchanged. It is home to some of the oldest and most weathered stretches of land anywhere. While there are some regions with good soils in lower West Africa, and within several countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, most of Africa’s 54 countries did not receive equivalent soil resources.

And unfortunately, the picture for soil never improved: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 65 percent of agricultural land throughout Africa has been degraded by human activity, including farming and overgrazing. Recently the Montpellier Panel, a prominent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe, estimated that these degraded soils are too damaged to sustain viable food production.

There is no quick fix. Reversing this picture means overcoming physical, cultural, and political impediments. The history of Africa’s soils and land use also complicates the picture. For example, while visiting Eastern Congo last month, I stood on a high ridge overlooking the Virunga National Park. The air was hazy and the landscape was dotted with several dozen or more small, smoky fires that signal the practice of “slash and burn” agriculture, which is widespread in Africa. For centuries people have used fire to convert jungle and forests to farmland and to burn crop residues. Unfortunately, this destroys important ecosystems, offering only a few seasons of fertility before farmers must keep slashing into surrounding forests to find land with enough nutrients to support a crop.

Understanding these complex dynamics is essential to making a real, practical difference. Many one-size-fits-all plans are designed by academics, bureaucrats and others with little or no input from farmers themselves. Above all, we must beware of solutions that involve simply transplanting Western farming techniques. Generally speaking, approaches that reduce diversity and rely heavily on synthetic fertilizer, hybrid seeds, and expensive equipment are not practical for millions of Africa’s smallholder farmers, at least not today.

Western farming is also focused on a small number of staple crops such as corn and soybeans. Pushing African farmers toward mono-cropping systems can actually increase hunger. More research aimed at improving African seed types is important, but many crops Africans rely on are not on the list of the 20 crops with historical importance in the world. Therefore they are largely ignored by researchers and seed companies.

As Kofi proves every day, however, there are immediate tools available to help solve Africa’s challenges. At our foundation, we look at Africa’s potential for agriculture through a different lens than some in development. We are focused on what we call a “Brown Revolution.” That means a heavy emphasis on protecting and remediating soils. Regardless of terrain, crops, wildlife, culture, or history, every farmer in the world needs productive soil to grow food. The critical element is to appreciate the unique conditions on the ground in each region. In the Eastern Congo I reviewed soil maps of a relatively small region where the soil quality ranged from nearly “dead”—lacking organic matter and key nutrients—to very rich. Each of those different soil profiles requires a different recipe of ideal crop rotations and farming techniques to achieve maximum production from the land.

This work demands good information about where we are today and the communication of practical ideas for improvement. Our foundation has produced an in-depth analysis that we hope achieves both goals, called Africa’s Potential for Agriculture, now available for download at We shared this publication at the 2015 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue where Kofi and I joined Imperial College’s Sir Gordon Conway and Argentinian agronomist Alejandro Lopez to talk about the importance of soil health and the role of conservation agriculture. Food security is one of the most fundamental challenges the world faces and these are critical conversations.

When I travel to Africa I always visit with smallholder farmers who, despite backbreaking work every day, frequently experience hunger. There is something terribly ironic about farmers who are hungry. In many parts of the world, farmers farm to survive, not for profit. We must realize these different dynamics and risk profiles when proposing solutions that are realistic and applicable in situations that are quite different from our own.


]]> 0
Opinion: Will African Leaders Fight for our Farmers? Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:04:19 +0000 Sipho Mthathi

Sipho Mthathi is the Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa.

By Sipho Mthathi
PRETORIA, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is changing the world we know and love. Our land, homes and food are at risk. With nearly a billion people already living in poverty, it is also the single biggest threat to the fight against hunger.

Sipho Mthathi

Sipho Mthathi

As world leaders gather in Paris this December to hammer out a climate deal at the Conference of the Parties (COP21), those representing Africa need to take a bold stance.

Pastoral and indigenous communities across Africa are highly vulnerable to changes in climate. In December, Africa needs to stand together and negotiate for more funding for adaptation that will be adequate, predictable and much greater than what has been forthcoming up until now.

Tough times

Across the continent of Africa, we are already seeing threats to our food supply due to less reliable rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and a greater number of extreme weather events. Millions of Africans are already living with extreme poverty and our future as a continent depends on their survival.

One such person is Mary Matupi, a farmer from the Rumphi district of northern Malawi. Matupi grows maize on a small piece of land, with a normal harvest yielding almost 80 bags weighing 50 kg each. However, in the last growing season she managed to produce only 15 bags due to a delay in the rains. Matupi told us that “if we don’t act to stop climate change, harder times are still to come and we will suffer.”

Women like Matupi are the majority of smallholder producers across Africa – they are the face of 60 to 80 per cent of food production labour across sub-Saharan Africa. Erratic rainfall substantially impairs their capacity to provide for their families and their communities. Like millions of others, Matupi is simply trying to feed her family, her community and, ultimately, her country.

Climate Change Impact

Many places in Africa could experience even greater warming than the global average – a 4C warmer world could potentially be 6C warmer in some African countries. According to the United Nations’ climate agency, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), changes in water availability and temperature will have a huge effect on African agriculture (where 97 per cent of production is rainfed and 60 per cent of the continental labour force works in this sector). With sea levels rising, many African low-lying countries are at risk of losing their farmland. The financial losses could be especially great in the coastal areas of Mozambique, Senegal and Morocco.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), if global warming exceeds 3C globally, maize, millet and sorghum cropping areas will be unviable across much of Africa. We can also expect more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, with huge social and economic costs. Extreme weather conditions will also affect our diets, and likely result in more undernutrition and disease – a fact which governments cannot ignore. Therefore financing for technology (i.e. new drought-resistant crops, new farming techniques, early warning systems, seed storage protection programs, etc.), which could help African farmers cope, needs to be top of the agenda in Paris.

One example of how technology and new methods have assisted farmers is the story of Kabugho Ruth from Uganda. Ruth says that adopting new methods of farming has already ‘done wonders for her’. By constructing terraces in her coffee/banana garden, Ruth was able to triple her production. Imagine what financing can do for other small-scale farmers across the continent.

Citizens are Taking Action

African farmers are demonstrating both their resilience and commitment to climate action and they deserve our support.

They are not alone. Across the continent the Africa People’s Petition is aiming to collect one million signatures ahead of COP21 to demonstrate African support to prioritize climate change. Across the continent, organizations are mobilizing on World Food Day this 16 October as part of the Women Food Climate campaign, which highlights the role of women small scale producers in meeting food needs in Africa and their struggle against the impacts of climate change.

Farmers like Matupi and Ruth need their governments to play their part by fighting for funds that can help mitigate the impact of climate change.

Conservative estimates predict that Africa will need approximately US$95 billion a year by 2050.

African leaders must avoid the same path of profit-led, destructive high-carbon development – formerly pursued by rich countries – which brought us to the current crisis.

To achieve this we need visionary leaders who will go to the Paris negotiations calling for a global shift to renewable energy use. And they should be unrelenting in claiming the climate financing and technology that we need.

Small-scale farming provides most of the food produced in Africa, as well as employment for 70 per cent of working people. On this World Food Day, we cannot allow our small scale farmers to be forgotten in Paris. A significant climate adaptation financing deal in Paris could change the lives of farmers like Mary Matupi and Kabugho Ruth forever and ensure the continent is able to feed itself.

We cannot ignore this opportunity.


]]> 1