Inter Press Service » Green Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 IPCC Climate Report Calls for “Major Institutional Change” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 23:41:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133668 Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions. The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental […]

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Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

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

Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions.

The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-overseen body. The new update warns that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed” two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, an internationally agreed upon threshold."The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels." -- Oscar Reyes

The full report, which focuses on mitigation, is to be made public on Tuesday. But a widely watched summary for policymakers was released Sunday in Berlin, the site of a week of reportedly hectic negotiations between government representatives.

“We expect the full report to say that it is still possible to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, but that we’re not currently on a path to doing so,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“Others have found that we’re not on that pathway even if countries were to deliver on past pledges, and some countries aren’t on track to do so. A key message is that we need substantially more effort on mitigation, and that this is a critical decade for action.”

The previous IPCC report, released last month, assessed the impacts of climate change, which it said were already being felt in nearly every country around the world. The new one looks at what to do about it.

“This is a strong call for international action, particularly around the notion that this is a problem of the global commons,” Levin says.

“Every individual country needs to participate in the solution to climate change, yet this is complicated by the fact that countries have very different capabilities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. We can now expect lots of conversation about the extent to which greater cooperation and collective action is perceived to be fair.”

Substantial investments

The full report, the work of 235 authors, represents the current scientific consensus around climate change and the potential response. Yet the policymakers’ summary is seen as a far more political document, mediating between the scientific findings and the varying constraints and motivations felt by national governments on the issue.

The latest report is likely to be particularly polarising. The three updates, constituting the IPCC’s fifth assessment, will be merged into a unified report in October, which in turn will form the basis for negotiations next year to agree on a new global response to climate change, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

While previous IPCC updates focused on the science behind climate change and its potential impacts, mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm.

In order to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, the new report, examining some 1,200 potential scenarios, finds that global emissions will need to be brought down by anywhere from 40 to 70 percent within the next 35 years. Thereafter, they will need to be further reduced to near zero by the end of the century.

“Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the working group that put out the new report, said Sunday. “All of these require substantial investments.”

The report does not put a specific number on those investments. It does, however, note that they would have a relatively minor impact on overall economic growth, with “ambitious mitigation” efforts reducing consumption growth by just 0.06 percent.

Yet they caution that “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”

The IPCC estimates that investment in conventional fossil fuel technologies for the electricity sector – the most polluting – will likely decline by around 20 percent over the next two decades. At the same time, funding for “low cost” power supply – including renewables but also nuclear, natural gas and “carbon capture” technologies – will increase by 100 percent.

“The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels. Yet the way the IPCC addresses this is problematic, and is a reflection of existing power dynamics,” Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank here, told IPS.

“While it’s positive that they point out that renewables are achievable at scale, they also talk about gas as a potential transition fuel. Yet many models say that doing so actually discourages investment in renewables. There are also problems with the tremendous costs of many of the technological fixes they’re putting forward.”

Equity and income

The policymakers’ summary is a consensus document, meaning that all 195 member countries have signed off on its findings. Yet it appears that last week’s negotiations in Berlin were arduous, particularly as countries position themselves ahead of the final UNFCCC negotiations next year.

Debate over how the financial onus for mitigation and adaptation costs will be parcelled out has played out in particular between middle-income and rich countries. While the latter are primarily responsible for the high greenhouse gas emissions of the past, today this is no longer the case.

Even as previous IPCC reports have categorised countries as simply “developing” or “developed” (similar to the UNFCCC approach), some rich countries have wanted to more fully differentiate the middle-income countries and their responsibility for current emissions. Apparently in response, the new IPCC report now characterises country economies on a four-part scale.

Yet some influential developing countries have pushed back on this. In a formal note of “substantial reservation” seen by IPS, the Saudi Arabian delegation warns that using “income-based country groupings” is overly vague, given that countries can shift between groups “regardless of their actual per capita emissions”.

Nine other countries, including Egypt, India, Malaysia, Qatar, Venezuela and others, reportedly signed on to the Saudi note of dissent.

Bolivia wrote a separate dissent that likewise disputes income-based classification. But it also decries the IPCC’s lack of focus on “non-market-based approaches to address international cooperation in climate change through the provision of finance and transfer of technology from developed to developing countries.”

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OP-ED: The World Bank’s Waste of Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-banks-waste-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:31:23 +0000 Janet Redman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133566 The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have […]

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By Janet Redman
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense.

Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.The programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme — like carbon trading — to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting their greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The U.N. established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM.

First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM, and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a U.N.-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013.

cdm graphThere was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations, and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in “least developed” (LDCs) and African countries by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments” — in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

The Bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits; and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one programme — the readiness fund — to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers.

The initiative has a second programme — the carbon fund — to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The Bank says it is prioritising support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar, and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management.

Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A better approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational, and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind, and small-scale hydropower projects.

The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children, and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean.

It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money, and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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As Planet Warms, Clean Energy Investments Take a Dive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planet-warms-clean-energy-investments-take-dive/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 17:28:58 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133489 Policy uncertainty and plummeting solar prices led to a 14-percent decrease in investment in renewable energy in 2013, according to a report released Monday. Investment fell across the globe, even in high growth regions like China, India and Brazil. But it was severe cuts in Europe – until recently a pace-setter for the rest of […]

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A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Policy uncertainty and plummeting solar prices led to a 14-percent decrease in investment in renewable energy in 2013, according to a report released Monday.

Investment fell across the globe, even in high growth regions like China, India and Brazil. But it was severe cuts in Europe – until recently a pace-setter for the rest of the world – that marked the retrenchment.“In the longer run, the market frameworks will have to change in order to integrate a large fraction of renewables into the grid.” -- Ulf Moslener

In 2013, the continent spent 48 billion dollars less than the year before.

The report, jointly released by the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Frankfurt School and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, painted a hopeful picture of an industry recuperating after a period of consolidation, but could only highlight a “trickle of significant” projects of the kind that possibly could supplant – not supplement – traditional power generation on a wide scale and curb carbon emissions.

“Lower costs, a return to profitability on the part of some leading manufacturers, the phenomenon of unsubsidized market uptake in a number of countries, and a warmer attitude to renewables among public market investors, were hopeful signs after several years of painful shake-out in the renewable energy sector,” said Michael Liebrich, chair of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in a statement.

Renewables constituted 43 percent of new power capacity and increased their share of global power generation from 7.8 to 8.5 percent. Still, they have not been able to displace rising coal consumption in the developing world and continue to staunch carbon growth rather than reduce it overall.

Though last year renewables prevented an estimated 1.2 gigatonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere, global emissions still grew by 2.1 percent.

“On their own, renewables investment will certainly not grow fast enough to put the world on a two-degree compatibility path,” said Ulf Moslener, head of research at the Frankfurt-School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, referring to the temperature threshold widely used by scientists.

A rise of more than two degrees centigrade over the year 1900 temperatures would have catastrophic consequences in much of the world.

Moslener says the post-crisis investment climate and the Basel III global regulatory framework makes investing in alternative energy less attractive to large funds and institutional investors who seek higher leverage to cover the higher up-front costs associated with renewable projects.

A study commissioned last year by the Norwegian government predicted “the capital and liquidity requirements of Basel III are likely to limit the amount of capital available for renewable energy financing from banks in the future.”

The Frankfurt report found that venture capitalists and private equity companies cut back considerably in 2013, reducing investments in specialist renewable energy companies to only two billion – their lowest levels since 2005.

But convincing global regulators to make room for the type of leveraged investments and bundled-and-chopped assets that caused the financial crisis will be a tough sell.

“It’s always faster for a government to say ‘we will put in a set price for energy’ than it is to change their financial regulations – which are essentially their entire financial system,” said Eric Usher, chief of the finance unit in UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics.

Despite uncertainty, Usher says larger investors are slowly – very slowly – starting to take notice as renewables increasingly become interchangeable with rent-paying assets like real estate.

“There’s been an uptick in green bonds and pension funds are starting to engage,” Usher told IPS. “In the U.S. and Canada you have tax-driven structures that group power plants together and sell them to investors. It provides very low cost financing.

“The investors with longer time horizons get interested in mature technologies,” he added.

Those companies that survived an extended period of consolidation and a recovery from over-capacity – primarily in the solar industry – saw their equity prices increase by 54 percent last year, roughly doubling gains in the market at large. But despite frothy returns for portfolio managers and a rash of IPOs, the main tracking index – The WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index (NEX) – is still 60 percent below its 2007 peak.

“In the longer run, the market frameworks will have to change in order to integrate a large fraction of renewables into the grid,” Moslener told IPS. “That will also need government attention – I would expect renewables to be only part of the solution.”

Unless significant cuts are achieved in existing emissions, the goal of renewables risks changing from serving as an avant-garde solution to just another corollary low-cost fuel for increased growth. Though most models predict global energy use tapering off by mid-century, without cuts or a rethinking of axiomatic growth, it will be too late by then to head off climate change’s most cataclysmic impacts.

“The financial system we have today is based on a construct that is not helpful to sustainable development,” says Usher. “The reality is a huge challenge – it will take some time to solve. Renewables are not the solution on their own.”

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Going Green Without Sinking into the Red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-green-without-sinking-red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:34:57 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133485 Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of […]

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Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of human capital."Rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions - or indeed other people’s mistakes." -- Dr. David Smith

The 53-member Commonwealth grouping is now trying to fill this knowledge gap with a new green growth analysis that circulated at last week’s third Biennial Conference on Small States in St. Lucia, although the formal launch is not until May.

Titled “Transitioning to a Green Economy-Political Economy of Approaches in Small States,” the 216-page document provides an in-depth study of eight countries and their efforts at building green economies.

Dr. David Smith, one of the authors, notes that none of the eight, which include three from the Caribbean – Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica – has managed on its own to solve the problem of balancing green growth with economic development.

The other case studies are Botswana, Mauritius, Nauru, Samoa and the Seychelles.

“What is useful about this book is that rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions – or indeed other people’s mistakes – and learn from those and try to tailor those to our own situations,” said Smith, the coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Smith said that all the countries studied revealed that high dependence on imported energy and its associated costs are major factors constraining growth of any kind. Progress in greening the energy sector would have the great advantage of benefitting other sectors throughout the economy.

“Within our constraints we have to try and change that. We have to try and make sure we are much more energy sufficient and our diversity in terms of our sources of energy is increased,” he said.

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been too dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell wants his country to become a “centre of excellence” for a clean and green economy that will result in the dismantling of an electricity monopoly with a high fossil-fuel import bill.

He said that despite help under the Venezuela-led PetroCaribe initiative – an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Caracas to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment – Grenada has one of the highest electricity rates in the region.

“We are now engaging with partners on solar, wind and geothermal energy to make Grenada an exemplar for a sustainable planet,” he told IPS.

Mitchell believes that the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa this September must advance small states’ quest for energy that is accessible, affordable and sustainable.

“The threat of climate change is real and poses a clear and present danger to the survival of SIDS. We call on the international community to release long-promised resources to help small states like Grenada move more rapidly on our disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts,” he added.

Last month, the University of Guyana announced that it was teaming up with Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS) and the Beligium-based Catholic University of Leuven to be part of an 840,000-dollar programme geared at capacity-building in applied renewable energy technologies.

The overall objective is to improve the capacity of the Universities of Guyana and Suriname to deliver programmes and courses with the different technologies associated with applied renewable energy.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud says that one of the biggest needs for the local manufacturing sector is the availability of cheap energy.

“For us, it is an economic imperative that we develop not only clean energy, but affordable energy as well, and we are lucky that we possess the resources that we can have both,” he told IPS. “The low-hanging fruit in this regard is hydro.”

When he presented the country’s multi-billion-dollar budget to Parliament at the end of March, Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said that with the intensification of the adverse impacts of climate change, the government would continue to forge ahead with “our innovative climate resilient and low carbon approach to economic development backed by our unwavering commitment to good forest governance and stewardship”.

Guyana has so far earned 115 million dollars from Norway within the framework of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Singh said that this year, 90.6 million dollars have been allocated for continued implementation of the Guyana REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) + Investment Fund (GRIF).

“Guyana is on track to have the world’s first fully operational REDD+ mechanism in place by 2015. This will enable Guyana to earn considerably more from the sale of REDD+ credits than we do today,” he told legislators.

But the case studies showed that locating suitable and adequate financing for greening was a major constraint, even in those countries that had allocated government resources to green activities.

The study on Jamaica for example, noted that the country is still dependent on natural resource-based export industries and on imported energy, with debt servicing equalling more than 140 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It said all these factors also contributed to constraining implementation of new policies.

With regard to financing, Smith argues that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the World Bank to consider allowing countries to access concessional financing up and until their human development index hits 0.8.

“We want to look at renewable energy and lower cost energy. We want to make sure that the human and environmental capitals that we have within our countries are maintained,” he said.

Smith said the countries could look at the payment for ecosystem services, charging realistic rents for the use of their beaches and looking at ways debt can be used creatively.

He believes that the repayment should “not always [be] to reduce the stock of debt but at least to use the payments for something that will build either human capital or financial capital…that can be used for real growth and development.”

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Hard-Hit CDM Carbon Market Seeks New Buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:21:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133457 Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2. The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for […]

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WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2.

The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for verifying carbon emissions reduction projects in developing countries."At some point the developed countries will wake up and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions." -- Dr. Hugh Sealy

According to Dr. Hugh Sealy, chairman of the Executive Board of the CDM, it has generated 396 billion dollars in financial flows from developed to developing countries.

“We are fairly proud of that. Very few development banks can say they have had that kind of investment,” Dr. Sealy told IPS.

The CDM, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), validates and subsequently certifies the effectiveness of projects in reducing carbon emissions.

Such certification can then be used as a basis for obtaining Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits that are sold to developed countries seeking to meet emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

The big problem for local entrepreneurs is that the market for CER credits has collapsed in recent years.

In the Caribbean, many of the emissions reductions projects tend to be in the area of windfarming, said Dr. Sealy, since wind technology is proven and banks understand the risks.

The Caribbean’s North-East trade winds make it a very viable one as well. Guyana also has a bagasse project for generating steam and electricity.

In the Caribbean, there are 18 CDM projects, but only one, the Wigton Windfarm project in Jamaica, has made an application for CER certification. Dr. Sealy said that Wigton, which was registered as a CDM project in 2006, reduced carbon emissions by more than 52,000 tonnes per year in its first phase, and then by 40,000 tonnes per year in its second phase.

The challenge facing the Wigton project, as with all CDM projects currently, is the steep decline in the value of CER credits over the past couple of years. Four years ago, Dr. Sealy said, the credits were worth about 104 each dollars. Now they are worth about 50 cents.

He said the actual value the Jamaican company obtains for its CERs “will depend on the contract between it and the buyer.”

Dr. Sealy said the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties agreed at a recent meeting to the sale of CERs to entities that do not have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, in an effort to widen the market for CERs. Under this new arrangement, “anybody, whether private or government, if they are going to voluntarily cancel the CER credits” can buy them as their contribution to the fight against climate change, he said.

The Brazilian government bought 40,000 CER credits to “green” the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and has done the same for the upcoming World Cup Football championship in that country.

Microsoft has done something similar under a different UNFCCC scheme for reducing emissions, known as REDD+, by buying an unspecified number of carbon credits from Madagascar generated by a rainforest conservation project in that country, according to a report by environmental news website Mongabay.com.

According to the report, attributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Microsoft bought the credits as part of its carbon neutrality programme.

Dr. Sealy attributes the steep decline in CER values to the downturn in the developed countries’ economies since 2008 that led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and thus to a decline in the need for carbon offsets. At the same time, the target set by developed countries for carbon emissions reductions was too low in the first place, he said.

“The EU is saying it will aim for 20-30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Science is saying we must peak emissions by 2020” in order to reach the target of less than two degrees global warming, Dr. Sealy said.

“At some point the developed countries will wake up to that and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he said, the carbon reduction projects in the region are still bringing the Caribbean many benefits. He pointed out that the increase in renewable energy projects means the energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters.

Landfill gas mitigation projects in the region are bringing health and environmental benefits, and projects such as one in Haiti for improved cooking stoves are resulting in less soot and less smoke that saves lives.

The UNFCCC’s Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) in Grenada is working to create awareness in the region of current opportunities available to the region through CDM, said Karla Solis-Garcia, the RCC’s team leader.

So far, she told IPS, the RCC has provided support “to at least 60 CDM stakeholders with renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), energy efficiency (improved cooking stoves, and efficient buildings) and landfill gas technology projects.

The RCC in Grenada is active in 16 Caribbean countries.

Solis-Garcia said the solid waste management sector and electricity sector were particular focuses of the RCC.

The solid waste sector was of particular interest since “Caribbean states share common challenges on how to deal with waste, considering especially the geographical limitations,” she said. “The waste challenge also represents an opportunity for investors, as emission reductions from landfill gas – methane gas – are significant.”

Regarding electricity, she said, the key issues are “the significant dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the increase of electricity demand, and the potential for renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave/tidal.”

Dr. Sealy said that the region was in a good place with regard to deriving benefit from CDM projects, since it is accepted that failure to deal with climate change means that many islands will cease to exist.

For that reason, he said, countries with obligations under the Kyoto protocol “are quite willing to assist the small islands in any reasonable way they can.” Caribbean islands can, therefore, negotiate for a good price on CER credits, he said, especially if these are from renewable energy projects.

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the […]

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Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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For Guyana, Energy Plus Efficiency Equals Common Sense Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/guyana-energy-plus-efficiency-equals-common-sense-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guyana-energy-plus-efficiency-equals-common-sense-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/guyana-energy-plus-efficiency-equals-common-sense-development/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 17:55:24 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133346 Guyana is shaping up to set a gold standard for the Caribbean in implementing a national energy efficiency strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. “Energy efficiency is the main method of fighting climate change and its impact [is global] since unclean energy is the main contributor,” the associate director of the Energy […]

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The rice industry is the second most important agricultural sector in Guyana, second only to sugar in foreign exchange earnings. An Indian think tank is helping the country to reduce energy costs in its sugar and rice sectors. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The rice industry is the second most important agricultural sector in Guyana, second only to sugar in foreign exchange earnings. An Indian think tank is helping the country to reduce energy costs in its sugar and rice sectors. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

Guyana is shaping up to set a gold standard for the Caribbean in implementing a national energy efficiency strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

“Energy efficiency is the main method of fighting climate change and its impact [is global] since unclean energy is the main contributor,” the associate director of the Energy Resource Institute (TERI) of India, Dr. Rudra Narsimha Rao, told IPS.“The political leadership here has shown vision and a commitment to the communities to make sure that they know what was going on." -- Jan Hartke

“While inefficiencies in the energy sector are a global challenge, Guyana’s efforts can better position it to battle the devastating impacts of climate change,” added Rao, whose group is helping the country to reduce energy costs in its sugar and rice sectors.

TERI is collaborating with the government under the framework of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) to carry out an energy audit of the industrial agricultural sector. Findings and recommendations were handed over to key stakeholders on Mar. 24.

According to the World Bank, energy efficiency measures can reduce carbon emissions in some cases by as much as 65 percent.

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) researchers estimate that the region could reduce its energy consumption by 10 percent over the next decade and save tens of billions of dollars by adopting existing technologies to increase efficiency.

IDB-financed projects have proven that the return on investment for efficient lighting and electric motor programmes, for example, is higher than building new energy capacity.

Now, the Bank is helping specific sectors – such as biofuels and water utilities – to reduce operating costs through investments in more efficient technology. It is financing programmes that will boost the electricity output and prolong the life of existing hydroelectric complexes by upgrading their turbines.

And it is underwriting programmes to reduce electricity transmission losses and build smarter power grids within countries and across borders.

Rao warned that ignoring the potential of energy efficiency will result in greater risks, in particular for developing countries.

Guyana’s annual energy consumption accounts for approximately five million barrels of oil, equivalent from a variety of energy sources – diesel, fuel, gasoline, avgas, LPG, kerosene, bagasse, fuelwood, charcoal, solar, biodiesel, biogas and wind.

Over the past few months, TERI has been spearheading a two-phase project which gives technical support to the government in the areas of climate change and energy. This second phase of the project was aimed at improving the output of the rice, sugar and manufacturing sectors.

Agencies which participated in the project include the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA).

About 80 percent of Guyana’s forests, some 15 million hectares, have remained untouched over time. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

About 80 percent of Guyana’s forests, some 15 million hectares, have remained untouched over time. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Rao said that the studies were conducted with rice mills, sugar estates, sawmills and manufacturing agencies to promote energy management and conservation and increase outputs.

The head of the Office of Climate Change, Shyam Nokta, said energy efficiency should also be seen as a lifestyle and behavioural approach, a concept that is advanced under Guyana’s LCDS.

The LCDS, a brainchild of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, sets out a vision to forge a new low carbon economy in Guyana over the coming decade. It has received critical acclaim globally.

“No responsible country should ignore this issue since energy efficiency adds to the development trajectory of Guyana’s LCDS,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told IPS.

Ramsammy also believes that the region’s development trajectory must reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint, reduce vulnerability to climate change, boost food security, and add to the energy stock through biofuel production.

He appealed to Caribbean nations to “consider climate-smart agriculture” if they want to sustain economic and social prosperity.

“Climate change is real, it is affecting our countries, it has already impacted on our countries,” Ramsammy told IPS.

Guyana is also benefitting from expert advice about all renewable energy possibilities through a pact with the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative.

The agreement includes a team of experts “to package programmes for renewable energy that have a commercial capability to attract major financing,” said Jan Hartke, global director of the Clinton Climate Initiative Clean Energy Project.

“We’re advisors, we recommend, we don’t make any decisions. The sovereign nation makes all of those decisions,” he stressed.

Hartke, who has travelled to Guyana on numerous occasions, said he is fully au-fait with the government’s renewable energy vision and the many interventions made through the LCDS.

Among them is a solar energy programme in the hinterland that has equipped about 15,000 households with photovoltaic systems that accumulate about two megawatts of power.

“The political leadership here has shown vision and has shown a commitment to the communities to make sure that they know what was going on… I think that kind of political leadership is one of the things that the Clinton Climate Initiative is all about,” Hartke said.

The Clinton Foundation had been a key supporter in the preliminary work on Guyana’s LCDS. The strategy seeks to strike a balance between sustained management of the country’s vast forests and unhindered economic development.

The Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP) is a key component of the strategy that is projected to account for 90 percent of the country’s energy generation and reduce the need for fossil fuel consumption.

“We are very deeply interested in renewable energy,” President Donald Ramotar said.

“Now that we have developed to such a stage… I think that we can benefit in cutting down that cost and using clean energy with what is now demanded of the world today, with all the problems of climate change and other issues,” Ramotar added.

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What Nepal Doesn’t Know About Water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-doesnt-know-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nepal-doesnt-know-water/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 06:00:30 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133337 Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September. Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists […]

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Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Farming in the monsoon season in Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

Water is a critical resource in Nepal’s economic development as agriculture, industry, household use and even power generation depends on it. The good news is that the Himalayan nation has plenty of water. The bad news – water abundance is seasonal, related to the monsoon months from June to September.

Nepal’s hydrologists, water experts, meteorologists and climate scientists all call for better management of water. But a vital element of water management – quality scientific data – is still missing.“If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” -- Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development

Luna Bharati, who heads the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Kathmandu, tells IPS, “If we don’t know how much water there is, we cannot manage it or carry out good water resources assessment.”

Shib Nandan Shah of the Ministry of Agricultural Development agrees that accurate and timely data, especially rainfall data, is important to rural farming communities. Thirty-five percent of Nepal’s GDP and more than 74 percent of its 27 million people are dependent on agriculture. And most of Nepal’s agriculture is rain fed.

“Reliable data is especially important for a farmer who wants to insure his crops,” says Shah. “If the information is lacking or if it is inaccurate, how is a poor farmer supposed to protect himself?” Every year, floods and landslides cause 300 deaths in Nepal on average, and economic losses are estimated to exceed over 10 million dollars.

Data becomes important in a country like Nepal that has large, unutilised water resources. At the local level, development work becomes harder, and there’s a risk that development is being based on “guesstimates”.

“Simulations without data to verify against are meaningless,” Vladimir Smakhtin, theme leader at IWMI, tells IPS from Sri Lanka.

Experts also argue that water data cannot be studied in isolation. “Data on rainfall, water resources, weather are all interlinked with hydro power development, road building and also aviation,” says Rishi Ram Sharma, director of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM).

One of the biggest challenges in Nepal, and the reason why collecting information is so difficult, is the country’s inaccessible terrain. About 86 percent of the land area is covered by hills, and steep, rugged mountains.

“Most of the high altitude data we have on water and climate change is not our own, it is based on global circulation models,” says Sanjay Dhungel at Nepal’s Water and Energy Commission Secretariat. “The more data we have the better, but in our context we don’t have much to compare with.”

Scientists believe it will take many years to establish better networks of measuring stations. Experts recommend the use of new technology such as remote sensing which can be used to measure evapo-transpiration, soil moisture and land use.

One of the most important reasons why scientists and Nepali policymakers need water and weather related statistics is to understand climate change.

“First of all we don’t have enough data, and what we do have is not analysed properly, which means a lot of climate change prediction relating to disappearing snow, glacial melt, water scarcity becomes misleading,” argues IWMI’s Bharati.

“If we find that glacial water is contributing to five percent of total water resources, then may be the effect is not as drastic as we have been made to believe,” says Bharati. “But we don’t know any of that because we don’t have reliable data.”

In one recent measure to address this problem, Nepal’s DHM introduced the climate data portal in 2012 where data relating to weather, water and geography is stored. Real-time information regarding flooding, water levels, precipitation is available through DHM’s website.

IWMI is also working on a portal to bring together data, including basic information on land use, census and migration, in order to aid researchers.

Anil Pokhrel, Kathmandu-based disaster risk management specialist with the World Bank agrees that making data public is a big and important step. This means that whoever is looking for information has access to it and can download it.

Pokhrel says data on water, climate change, weather and agriculture is so interlinked that it really needs to be open.

“We talk about ‘geo nodes’ – if DHM works on weather, water and climate change related data, the roads department can work on road data and mapping, another department can work on agriculture, but they have the ability to feed off each other,” says Pokhrel. “It is about creating synergies.”

For this he recommends that the portal be open source. “At the end of the day, there’s no other option – we have to make portals to consolidate data and make it accessible and user-friendly,” says Pokhrel.

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Organic Farmers Fight the Elements in Brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 14:16:28 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133292 Brazilian farmer Isabel Michi’s day starts before dawn, when she goes out to the organic garden on her small five-hectare farm that she runs with help from her husband and occasionally their children. Starting at 5 AM, the 42-year-old farmer of Japanese descent plows the soil, plants seeds and seedlings, fertilises, harvests, and carefully tends […]

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Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
SEROPÉDICA, Brazil , Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

Brazilian farmer Isabel Michi’s day starts before dawn, when she goes out to the organic garden on her small five-hectare farm that she runs with help from her husband and occasionally their children.

Starting at 5 AM, the 42-year-old farmer of Japanese descent plows the soil, plants seeds and seedlings, fertilises, harvests, and carefully tends the plants in her greenhouse.

She acquired the farm in 2002 thanks to a swap in a settlement that emerged 10 years earlier as part of the government’s agrarian reform programme.

The settlement, Mutirão Eldorado, is in the rural municipality of Seropédica, an area with 80,000 inhabitants located 70 km from Rio de Janeiro, a city that is home to agricultural research institutions and organisations that provide support to small farmers.

Six years ago, Michi took a radical step and decided to go 100 percent organic, abandoning all chemical products.

On average, chemical fertilisers and pesticides absorb 70 percent of the income of small farmers in Brazil, according to experts.

Michi is a cofounder of the group Serorgânico, made up of 15 small farmers, which has become a local leader in supplies of chemical-free seeds and seedlings.

The farmer, who is a Nisei – the term used for second-generation Japanese immigrants – said she was deeply affected by the death of one of her brothers at the age of 37. He died of lung cancer, even though he had never smoked. Michi blames his death on the intensive use of agrochemicals on the farm of their parents, who came to Brazil in the 1960s.

“In my family we worked the land with many pesticides. We were young and the damages they caused were not well-known then,” Michi told IPS during a visit to her farm.

She was one of the youngest of eight siblings, from a family who settled in another part of the state of Rio de Janeiro. “We were very poor; we managed to harvest a truckload of food, but we didn’t have money,” she said.

“It was a really hard life,” said Michi, who has worked in the countryside since the age of 13.

Michi stopped using agrochemicals on her crops when she married Augusto Batista Xavier, 51, who she met in 1992, the first time she visited an organic farm in a neighbouring state.

“When we moved to this land, I was already thinking about agroecology, because for me, it’s the future,” she said.

The land in Seropédica is good for growing mandioc, okra, maize, pumpkin, sweet potato and banana.

Besides these vegetables and fruits, Michi is also growing 25,600 organic seedlings in her new greenhouse, to supply Serorgânico.

Her husband’s job managing a cattle farm ensures them a steady income. But he helps her with the heaviest tasks in his free time. Their three children, between the ages of 14 and 16, also lend a hand when school is out.

On average, Serorgânico produces three tonnes of food a month, most of which is sold in the circuit of organic farmers markets in wealthy neighbourhoods in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

For Michi, chemical-free farming is part of a holistic philosophy, which also takes into account the social and economic welfare of farmers and of consumers of fresh farm products.

But many organic farmers find it hard to survive in the face of competition from those who use more conventional farming methods at a much lower cost.

Although ecological products in Brazil cost between 30 and 50 percent more than food produced with agrochemicals, demand has grown approximately 30 percent in recent years.

José Antônio Azevedo Espíndola, a researcher with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, pointed out to IPS that the number of organic farmers is still limited.

“There is potential for growth, but there is also a long road ahead,” he told IPS. “In the last few years, society’s concern about food quality has grown, from the point of view of the environment and of more sustainable, healthy production.”

Espíndola is a researcher in EMBRAPA’s agrobiological unit, which is dedicated to developing ecological farming techniques and methods.

Organic farmers represent a mere one percent of agricultural producers in Brazil. In 2006, when the last agricultural census was carried out, there were 5,000 certified ecological farmers, most of them small-scale family producers.

Espíndola estimates that there are now around 12,000 organic producers, who farm a combined total of 1.75 million hectares.

But threats loom on all sides.

Michi’s small farm is one illustration of the problems organic farmers face. It scrapes along, surrounded by quarries, cattle ranches, a sanitary landfill and a projected orbital motorway to be built just two km away.

In other words, the neighbourhood endangers her ecological production.

Trucks hauling rocks and gravel rumble up and down the dirt road in front of her farm, trailing clouds of dust, while the dump gives off a terrible stench and brings swarms of flies. Chemicals used at the dump are also in the air, causing skin ailments among her family.

Given these difficulties, Michi’s family constantly debates whether to move away.

“Besides the bad smell, there is the danger of water pollution,” Michi says. “There are days when I can’t stand working in the garden because of the odours and the flies. We’re an organic community directly affected by developments that arrived here after us.”

Family famers in Seropédica are worried about being hemmed in by industrial endeavours, while they put up with pressure from companies interested in setting up shop in the area.

“They made me an offer to buy my land, but I turned it down,” Michi said. “I’ll only leave here if I can buy the same thing elsewhere, where I can farm. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Besides the challenges of using green-friendly farming methods, small-scale organic farmers have to overcome other obstacles, Michi said, like difficulties in access to credit and technical assistance from institutions dedicated to agricultural research and development.

The solution, according to Espíndola, is for the different parties involved to be brought together by a public policy specifically providing support for the organic farming sector.

“If that doesn’t happen, there will always be a bottleneck limiting production levels,” he said.

Another EMBRAPA technician, Nilton Cesar Silva dos Santos, told IPS that organic farming was undergoing a major restructuring.

“The conditions still don’t exist in Brazil for a 100 percent organic chain of food production,” said Santos, who is earning a graduate degree in sustainable development in rural settlements that emerge from the government’s land reform programme.

Not only the ecological farming sector but family agriculture as a whole is suffering from a scarcity of resources, said Santos, who is behind the first project to set up greenhouses on family farms in the state, with support from EMBRAPA.

Michi’s farm was one of the first four to have a greenhouse installed.

Santos said it is possible to improve working conditions for organic farmers while at the same time getting the city “to look to the countryside once again.”

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Uruguay’s Public Transport Goes Electric http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/uruguays-public-transport-goes-electric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-public-transport-goes-electric http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/uruguays-public-transport-goes-electric/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:39:36 +0000 Ines Acosta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133184 Uruguay plans to gradually replace oil-based fuels with electric energy in its public transport system, and is currently assessing the costs and benefits of the shift. Tests indicate that the running costs of electric buses can be six- to eight-fold lower than for diesel buses. For the last two years, studies have been under way […]

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A K9 electric bus parked on a street in downtown Montevideo. Credit: Inés Acosta/IPS

A K9 electric bus parked on a street in downtown Montevideo. Credit: Inés Acosta/IPS

By Inés Acosta
MONTEVIDEO, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

Uruguay plans to gradually replace oil-based fuels with electric energy in its public transport system, and is currently assessing the costs and benefits of the shift.

Tests indicate that the running costs of electric buses can be six- to eight-fold lower than for diesel buses.

For the last two years, studies have been under way on the potential benefits of adding electric vehicles to the public transport fleet in Montevideo, where half the country’s 3.3 million people live.

In late 2013, performance and range trials were carried out on an E6 model car and a K9 model bus made by the Chinese company BYD. The results were presented on Mar. 13.

The economic analysis of the performance of the electric vehicles, carried out by the city government, was positive. But mechanisms must be designed to face the initial investment and redefine the scope of subsidies and taxes.

The overall economic advantage of an electric bus over one running on diesel is 1.7 to one, according to this study, which took into account costs of purchase, maintenance and operation of different types of vehicles under the present subsidies and taxes.

Taxis first

This year the first 50 electric taxis will ply the streets of the Uruguayan capital.

Taxi fleets in Bogotá and London are also incorporating electric vehicles, said Campal, and they are already in service in Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where they are made.

But in Montevideo, it has not yet been defined how battery charging points for taxis and buses will operate, said Méndez.

The state electricity company has acquired 30 electric Kangoo Maxi Z.E. vans from the French auto company Renault for its work fleet.

For taxis, the difference is 1.8 to one between electric and gasoline-fuelled vehicles, and 1.4 to one between electric and diesel taxis.

Electric motors expend six times less energy than diesel motors. But there is a state subsidy of 65 percent on diesel fuel for buses, so unless the subsidy structure is changed, bus companies will not find it profitable to switch to electricity.

The initiative is part of Uruguay’s energy policy, which aims for half of the country’s energy mix to be made up of renewable sources by 2015, much of that wind energy.

The Electric Mobility Group, made up of several national bodies and the Montevideo city government, has worked since 2012 on the introduction of this technology, which has the advantage of zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The electric vehicles in question function with a bank of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are biodegradable and do not include heavy metals. When fully charged, the cars and buses have ranges of 300 and 250 kilometres, respectively.

Charging them takes a 10-kilowatt power source, while Uruguayan homes are usually supplied with two to six kilowatts of power.

Electric vehicles cost up to five times more than those using conventional fuels in Uruguay. An electric bus costs 500,000 dollars and a car 60,000 dollars. But operating and maintenance costs are only 10 percent of those for diesel motors.

The national energy director, Ramón Méndez, told Tierramérica that fully charging a car battery would cost 10 dollars at standard Uruguayan rates.

He also said the country would be able to absorb the additional energy consumption, as by 2015 it would become an exporter of electricity.

Since 2005, “Uruguay has installed as much new electricity generating capacity as it did in the previous 100 years of history of its energy industry,” Méndez said.

Transport consumes one-third of the country’s energy resources. “Over two billion dollars a year are spent on fuel,” he said. For this reason, measures taken “in this sector could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in savings for the country,” Méndez said.

Electric vehicles “are the way ahead for the world in general and Uruguay in particular,” he said.

Transport is currently dependent on fossil fuels, but once electric vehicles are introduced it would be based on sources like wind energy, biomass and photovoltaic energy.

“That means lower costs and greater sovereignty,” stressed the head of the National Energy Directorate.

“Unless we strike oil in our country, instead of depending on what we have to import at high prices with complete uncertainty, we can guarantee our energy supply by installing more wind parks, and at the same time we can satisfy transport needs,” he said.

But further adjustments are also needed.

Uruguay spends 100 million dollars a year on diesel subsidies for public transport, Néstor Campal, the city government’s director of transport, told Tierramérica.

“If these funds were spent instead on, say, improving infrastructure for electric vehicles, which have lower operating costs, we would gain a technology with a great many environmental and other benefits,” he said.

In his view, the law should be changed “so that subsidies are applied in a balanced way to both systems.”

Transport Minister Enrique Pintado said “transport subsidies cannot be based on the contradiction that ‘the more you spend the more you are subsidised’; they should instead reward reductions in consumption.”

Bus fares “should come down not because of subsidies, but due to lower real prices. That means much more efficient management of bus companies and lower energy, parts and unit costs,” he said.

“We are laying the foundations for the next departmental (provincial) and national governments to be capable of bringing to fruition what we are launching today,” Pintado concluded at the presentation of the report on the evaluation of the electric vehicles.

Tax costs are another aspect that needs to be reviewed in order to promote electric transport.

Import duties on electric buses are 23 percent, compared to six percent for diesel buses. In addition, diesel buses are exempt from the domestic tax known as IMESI.

In contrast, imported electric taxis pay a preferential IMESI rate of 5.75 percent, compared to 11.5 percent for diesel taxis.

The Finance Ministry will be joining the Electric Mobility Group to contribute to decisions on tax benefits to promote the new technology.

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

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Carbon-Cutting Initiative May Harm Indigenous Communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 23:35:29 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133131 Civil society and advocacy groups are warning that a prominent carbon-reduction initiative, aimed at curbing global emissions, is undermining land tenure rights for indigenous communities, putting their livelihoods at risk. On Wednesday, an international dialogue here focused on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation Plus (REDD+) programme, overseen primarily by the United Nations and […]

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U.S. Native American leader Tom Goldtooth. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

U.S. Native American leader Tom Goldtooth. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

Civil society and advocacy groups are warning that a prominent carbon-reduction initiative, aimed at curbing global emissions, is undermining land tenure rights for indigenous communities, putting their livelihoods at risk.

On Wednesday, an international dialogue here focused on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation Plus (REDD+) programme, overseen primarily by the United Nations and World Bank.“As the carbon in living trees becomes another marketable commodity, the deck is loaded against forest peoples." -- Arvind Khare

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of organisations focused on land tenure and policy reforms, presented new research highlighting the lack of legal protection and safeguards for indigenous communities living in forests.

“As the carbon in living trees becomes another marketable commodity, the deck is loaded against forest peoples and presents an opening for an unprecedented carbon grab by governments and investors,” said Arvind Khare, RRI’s executive director.

“Every other natural-resource investment on the international stage has disenfranchised indigenous peoples and local communities, but we were hoping REDD would deliver a different outcome. Their rights to their forests may be few and far between, but their rights to the carbon in the forests are non-existent.”

REDD+ provides a series of financial incentives and rewards for developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions resulting from deforestation.

The World Bank plays an active role in REDD+ through its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the Forest Investment Programme (FIP), both of which are designed to encourage better forest conservation and stewardship.

However, watchdog groups say Latin American, African and Asian indigenous communities living in forests have yet to receive any REDD+ revenue streams from their respective governments.

“There has been no transfer of funds to the [indigenous] communities through the governmental REDD processes,” Khare told IPS. “And therefore, in most of these countries … no money has been transferred to the communities through these two major bodies [REDD+ and FCPF], which are actually piloting REDD in the world.”

RRI’s new research, which examines 23 countries, finds that only Mexico and Guatemala have laws meant to clarify tenure rights over carbon. Meanwhile, none of the countries have a legal framework or institutions in place to determine who receives REDD+ benefits for carbon emission reductions.

One-eighth the deforestation

In order to ensure that indigenous communities receive an appropriate share of the financial benefits from REDD+, many of the participants at Wednesday’s dialogue called on the programme’s overseers to explicitly link carbon rights with land tenure rights.

“Tenure must be a centrepiece of REDD …That recognition of local rights is essential to the viability of carbon markets,” said Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque, a tenure analyst at RRI.

“These observations are based not only on moral or legal grounds but on a growing body of academic literature demonstrating that communities with secure tenure have proven that they promote the permanence of forest carbon” – essentially, preventing deforestation – “often achieving better outcomes than state-protected areas.”

For instance, in areas of the Amazon where the land ownership rights of indigenous communities are respected and legally protected, the rate of deforestation is only one-eighth of the level in areas not under indigenous control.

When land tenure rights are not clearly recognised or legally protected, however, the potential for violent conflict, state repression and heightened deforestation increases.

“It’s also clear that insecure, unclear and unrecognised community tenure rights can lead to conflict and deforesting activities,” Corriveau-Bourque continued. “If governments decide that carbon is a public good and claim exclusive state ownership, as many have with mineral resources … it will add another layer of contestation and conflict in an already crowded field.”

In 2002, New Zealand declared state ownership of its carbon supplies, which actually resulted in an increase in deforestation. As a result, the government has since reformed the law to adapt a policy that gives communities and individuals more freedom to engage in the carbon trade.

According to RRI, 15 of the 21 countries with national planning documents for REDD+ noted that a major cause of deforestation and forest degradation was the absence of clear tenure policies.

Misattributed blame

In addition to the lack of clear land tenure rights, some analysts believe that the implementation of REDD+ will be detrimental to indigenous people as governments seek to misattribute and direct blame for deforestation towards local communities, rather than on the corporate interests operating in fragile forest ecosystems.

“The message coming from forest peoples is that they are being pressed from both sides,” Tom Griffiths, a coordinator with the Forest Peoples Programme, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“On the one hand, their forests are being given out without their knowledge and agreement to foreign companies for agricultural development and oil extraction. And on the other, they’re being pressed by these same climate initiatives, which are actually limiting their access to the forest.”

Griffiths suggested that the industrial sector is largely responsible for driving deforestation in many countries, but that subsistence farmers and poor people often get the blame.

He also notes that some analysts have characterised traditional rotational farming as “slash and burn” agriculture.

“There’s a deep prejudice in forest policymaking, and indeed the forest profession, against so-called slash and burn agriculture,” said Griffiths. “In fact, there’s a large amount of science to show that, with the right conditions, it is a fully sustainable form of land use and in fact can even enrich forest ecosystems.

“We’re very concerned that some of these REDD policies, forest climate policies, are not paying adequate attention to these obligations to protect customary rights to land and crucial customary systems or ways of using the land.”

Earlier this month, indigenous groups from around the world held an international conference on deforestation and local rights in Palangka Raya, Indonesia.

In addition to singling out agribusiness, infrastructure as well as mineral and energy extraction, they called for a halt to “green economy” projects, which they argued prohibit forest peoples’ “fundamental rights”.

In a declaration, the conference organisers directly criticized REDD+ both for its lack of progress on emissions reduction and for the restrictions it imposes on the rights of indigenous forest peoples to use their land.

“Global efforts promoted by agencies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), [REDD+] and the World Bank to address deforestation through market mechanisms are failing,” states the communiqué.

“Not just because viable markets have not emerged, but because these efforts fail to take account of the multiple values of forests and, despite standards to the contrary, in practice are failing to respect our internationally recognised human rights.”

Furthermore, the declaration indicated that organisations collaborating on initiatives like REDD+ have implemented development programmes that have themselves contributed to deforestation:

“Contradictorily, many of these same agencies are promoting the take-over of our peoples’ land and territories through their support for imposed development schemes, thereby further undermining national and global initiatives aimed at protecting forests.”

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Caribbean to Forge United Front on Elusive Climate Finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/caribbean-forge-united-front-elusive-climate-finance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-forge-united-front-elusive-climate-finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/caribbean-forge-united-front-elusive-climate-finance/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 18:19:47 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132829 Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, says the promises of money by the “biggest polluters in the world” for small island developing states (SIDS) like his to adapt to climate change are a mostly a “mirage”. But as chair of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, Gonsalves will be […]

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A man stands outside the ruins of a house in Buccament Bay, on St. Vincent’s southwestern coast, Dec. 26, 2013. Nine people were killed by Christmas flooding in St. Vincent and the damages estimated at millions of dollars. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

A man stands outside the ruins of a house in Buccament Bay, on St. Vincent’s southwestern coast, Dec. 26, 2013. Nine people were killed by Christmas flooding in St. Vincent and the damages estimated at millions of dollars. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, says the promises of money by the “biggest polluters in the world” for small island developing states (SIDS) like his to adapt to climate change are a mostly a “mirage”.

But as chair of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, Gonsalves will be playing a lead role in getting the region to coordinate a united front on climate finance."The big polluters, they make commitments of all sorts of monies but it is a mirage and the closer you get to it you realise it is not there, it recedes." -- CARICOM Chair Ralph Gonsalves

“We agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and small island developing states to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations,” he told IPS following the CARICOM summit that ended here on Tuesday.

Gonsalves said the region is now preparing for two important meetings in September – the U.N. Climate Change Summit and the Third U.N. SIDS International Meeting in Samoa.

Guyanese President Donald Ramotar, who made a presentation at CARICOM’s closed-door summit, told IPS that it was important for the leaders themselves to get involved in the negotiations “and to make our voices heard on this matter, because as you know we have been the least contributors to climate change, but we are among the first to feel the big effects.”

Ramotar said the tragedy that occurred when a slow moving low-level trough hit St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Lucia on Christmas Eve last year, killing more than a dozen people and leaving damages estimated at more than 100 million dollars, “is just the latest reminder how vulnerable our region is”.

The task force must now “find areas where CARICOM can agree on”, he said.

“This is a critical decision by heads [of state] at a time when efforts are underway through the U.N. to have a global climate change agreement by the end of 2015,” he said.

“We need to ensure that as a region, our voices are being heard on this important issue, and not only from our technical people, but from the collective political leadership in the region,” Ramotar said, stressing the need for a globally binding agreement.

“We have to ensure that we push for a climate change agreement by 2015 which is ambitious in terms of emission reduction targets and providing climate financing,” he added.

The communiqué that followed the summit here “lamented the fact that much of the promised resources had not been forthcoming but emphasised the need for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) to work with member states in order to have projects prepared to access financing when it did become available.”

Guyana, for example, has been playing a lead role with regards to climate change, and priority projects on adaptation are outlined within its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which seeks to address the effects of climate change while simultaneously encouraging economic development.

Gonsalves told IPS that on the question of adaptation, there is a whole menu of initiatives which have been established through discussions, technical reports and the like. What is needed most now is the money to pay for them.

“It is a lot a lot of money that is required so that is why…we have to work in a coordinated manner at the relevant international fora to see whether we could identify those areas where the money is more easily available for us to touch,” he told IPS.

“You get governments, the big polluters, they make commitments of all sorts of monies but it is a mirage and the closer you get to it you realise it is not there, it recedes.

“That’s the real difficulty with this and this is why we have to work better, harder on this because this is an exegetical issue it affects the very existence of our countries,” Gonsalves said.

Executive director of the CCCCC Dr. Kenrick Leslie says that waiting will only make solutions more costly.

“Climate change is here, you saw in terms of the frequency of extreme weather events, those are some of the indicators that the climate is changing. But more importantly, people don’t realise that the sea level is rising at this time, at a rate of five millimetres per year.

“They might say five millimetres, what is that? But in 10 years, five millimetrtes will become 50 millimetres, and in terms of the English system that’s two inches, in 30 years that is six inches, now consider the sea level rising a further six inches in Guyana or Suriname or Belize,” Leslie said.

“We need to have our political leaders become very knowledgeable of what is being negotiated…technical people can negotiate at the technical level but the final decisions are made at the political level, and therefore if our political leaders are not cognisant with what is going on, then we will fail in terms of getting what is needed for the adaptation that we have to make,” he told IPS.

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Mars Latest to Announce “No Deforestation” Palm Oil Pledge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/mars-latest-announce-deforestation-palm-oil-pledge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mars-latest-announce-deforestation-palm-oil-pledge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/mars-latest-announce-deforestation-palm-oil-pledge/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 23:01:43 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132637 The multinational food giant Mars, Inc. unveiled Monday a new set of guidelines aimed at ensuring that its palm oil supply lines are completely traceable and sustainable by next year. Global demand for palm oil has increased substantially in recent years, for use in both foods and household goods. Yet the industry, overwhelmingly centred in […]

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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

The multinational food giant Mars, Inc. unveiled Monday a new set of guidelines aimed at ensuring that its palm oil supply lines are completely traceable and sustainable by next year.

Global demand for palm oil has increased substantially in recent years, for use in both foods and household goods. Yet the industry, overwhelmingly centred in Malaysia and Indonesia, has been rife with environmental and labour problems."This isn’t an activist-led commitment. They’re doing it because they want to do it." -- Bastien Sachet

Recent months, however, have seen a cascade of major reform commitments from both palm oil suppliers and well-known consumer brands such as Mars.

“Rapid expansion of palm oil plantations continues to threaten environmentally sensitive areas of tropical rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands, as well as the rights of communities that depend on them for their livelihoods,” Barry Parkin, chief sustainability officer at Mars, best known as the maker of M&Ms and other candies, said Monday.

“We believe that these additional measures will not only help build a genuinely sustainable pipeline for Mars, but will also help accelerate change across the industry by encouraging our suppliers to only source from companies whose plantations and farms are responsibly run.”

Under the new guidelines, Mars will require that all of its suppliers have in place sourcing plans that are both fully sustainable and fully traceable by the end of this year, to be implemented by the end of 2015. The company, headquartered just outside of Washington, is also instituting a “no deforestation” pledge for its palm oil supply as well as its sourcing of paper pulp, soy and beef.

“Four years ago, Nestle decided to go for full traceability and no deforestation, but at the time that decision was seen as very niche because it was being pushed by environmental activists,” Bastien Sachet, director of the Forest Trust, a global watchdog group that focuses on responsible products and whose newest member is Mars, told IPS.

“The great thing about Mars, particularly in their push against deforestation across commodities, is that this isn’t an activist-led commitment. They’re doing it because they want to do it, which means that they see what’s happening.”

Workers on Bugala Island work to clear the rainforest to make way for an expanding palm tree plantation. Palm oil production is one of Uganda's rising industries. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

Workers on Bugala Island work to clear the rainforest to make way for an expanding palm tree plantation. Palm oil production is one of Uganda’s rising industries. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

In this, Sachet refers to a growing trend from both palm oil supply companies and major consumer brands to recognise that previous industry certification efforts to clean up palm oil supply lines have been relatively ineffective. Ensuring the traceability of palm oil, on the other hand, turns this certification model upside-down.

“Over the last four years, the general public, industry and the brands have struggled to make progress on sustainability with the tool of certification. Meanwhile, we saw forests being trashed in Malaysia and Indonesia, a process that’s also beginning in Africa,” Sachet says.

“But now they’re realising that certification is not the only way to go. Instead, we can get traceability first, figure out where it’s coming from and then figure out what’s happening around its production. Eventually we can incentivise those guys who are doing well with more market share – and penalise those that aren’t.”

While much of the industry is currently based in Southeast Asia, many observers point to looming problems in Africa, where land is starting to be snapped up by speculators. Yet Sachet says the new policies being put in place by the global food industry could be laying the grounds for finding a balance between development and conservation throughout the palm oil industry.

Half the supply

A voluntary certification process for responsible palm oil production, known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), has been in effect for a decade, and most of the major users of palm products do abide by its guidelines. Yet it’s become increasingly clear that RSPO certification has been unable to halt the industry’s mass deforestation and destruction of endangered habitat.

Mars’s Parkin notes that his company “recognised that even though we have already implemented a 100% certified supply of palm oil, this is not enough.”

Other major brands have made similar realisations in recent months, including Unilever, Hershey, Kellogg and L’Oreal. Perhaps more critically, this trend has now included some of the largest global palm oil suppliers, including Wilmar (in December) and Golden Agri Resources (GAR, just last week).

Wilmar alone accounts for more than 40 percent of the global palm oil supply. Altogether, companies controlling a bit more than half of that supply have now committed to having their products be deforestation free by 2015.

As recently as the middle of last year, that figure was zero.

“There has been progress and I definitely think we’re on the right track, though there’s still a long way to go,” Calen May-Tobin, lead analyst for the TropicalForest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“It’s also important to remember that these are still just public commitments. The action happens when these commitments get turned into policies and are actually implemented.

Last week, UCS released a scorecard that rated palm oil-related sustainability progress by the packaged food, fast food and personal care industries. May-Tobin, who was a co-author on the new report, notes that much of the new public pressure has been aimed at the packaged-food companies.

“On the one hand, it’s clear that when consumers speak up, these companies listen. On the other hand, I think the report’s major finding was how poorly the fast-food sector did,” May-Tobin says.

“Further, there are still a number of other large traders that now need to follow Wilmar and GAR’s example. We think the consumer companies are equally key in helping drive the traders, as the average consumer doesn’t necessarily know who Bungee or Cargill is, but they know Hershey and Mars.”

Advocacy groups are using the recent momentum to urge holdout companies to unveil their own commitments. Greenpeace, the group widely credited with pushing Nestle to make its landmark pledges in 2010, is currently focusing on the U.S. consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G).

“Mars joins a growing list of companies … that are finally promising forest-friendly products to their consumers. It shows that global public pressure is working, and is leaving P&G, which refuses to clean up their supply chains, increasingly isolated,” Areeba Hamid, forest campaigner at Greenpeace International, said Monday.

“P&G is relying on a certification scheme that has failed to prevent rainforest destruction in the habitat of endangered orangutans, or help reduce man-made fires like the ones that covered Singapore in smog last summer. It’s time P&G finally becomes proud sponsors of rainforests and commits to No Deforestation.”

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Sun Shines on Forest Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-shines-forest-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132514 Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads. She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.” Around her, women […]

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Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Sri Lanka Feels the Heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sri-lanka-feels-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-feels-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sri-lanka-feels-heat/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:14:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132196 Sri Lanka is heading into a major crisis under extreme heat, as the rains stay away. Fears are growing of power cuts and interruption to the water supply because reservoir levels are running scarily low. By the third week of February, the Ceylon Electricity Board said it was relying on expensive thermal generators for 76 […]

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arched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

arched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is heading into a major crisis under extreme heat, as the rains stay away. Fears are growing of power cuts and interruption to the water supply because reservoir levels are running scarily low.

By the third week of February, the Ceylon Electricity Board said it was relying on expensive thermal generators for 76 percent of the country’s power supply.

Around August 2012, extended dry weather almost dried up hydro-reservoirs. The country spent over two billion dollars to import furnace oil. The drought impacted over a million persons, according to the Sri Lanka Red Cross.Power supply and the vital paddy harvest are likely to be hit if the rains stay away for longer.

The 2012 dry spell was followed by heavy rains that allowed hydro-power to gain lost ground last year. That vicious cycle could be repeating itself.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said last week that changing climate patterns have had a serious impact on the country’s fortunes. “Sri Lanka also is impacted by climate change in the form of droughts, floods and other natural disasters. We take these matters into consideration when framing monetary policy,” he said during a live Twitter interaction.

According to experts, power supply and the vital paddy harvest are likely to be hit if the rains stay away for longer.

Asoka Abeygunawardana, executive director of the Sri Lanka Energy Forum and Advisor to the Ministry of Technology, told IPS that Sri Lanka’s power supply was too dependent on hydro-power or on costly coal and furnace oil.

“We are too reliant on these sources; one can be unpredictable while the other two can be quite expensive,” he said.

In a normal year Sri Lanka looks to harvest half of its power supply through hydro and the remainder through a combination of coal furnace oil and a negligible content of renewable sources. When the rains fail, as they have now, there is no alternative but to turn to more coal and oil.

Abeygunawardana, who is also a board member of the Climate Action Network South Asia, a grouping of over 100 civil society groups that studies climate change and impact, told IPS that Sri Lanka should look at investing more in renewable energy sources. Sri Lanka’s future energy policy is skewed towards coal, which Abeygunawardana said is expensive and polluting.

He advocates wind and solar use which could be cheaper in the long run despite the initial high expenses.

“We get sunlight and wind both free of charge all year round, making running costs quite cheap. In the event of a drought, the strong sun will naturally fill the gap created by lack of water.”

The other important factor is managing the meagre water resources that feed both the power supply and the vast rice fields.

There is some level of dialogue that takes place between government agencies reliant on reservoirs like the Department of Irrigation, and the Electricity Board. But Abeygunawardana said that these discussions lacked scientific basis and planning.

“These agencies have to come up with a process where the release of water is integrated and not done at the wish of one agency.”

Such policy changes are vital given the potential impact the scorching heat is packing. The current dry spell is likely to reduce the main rice harvest by seven to 10 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture. Sri Lanka’s main cash crop, tea, is also likely to get hit with rising temperatures reducing leaf quality.

Riza Yehiya, a climate risk management specialist, warned that policy makers are still not taking shifting climate patterns and their impact seriously. “Current spell of extreme heat experienced in Sri Lanka is considered a passing cloud. It is not discernible to those in power and decision making in their air-conditioned chambers,” he told IPS.

He said that discussions were taking place at policy level but what was lacking was adaptation and implementation on the ground level. “In a practical sense, making society climate change resilient requires putting the society almost on a war footing to prepare them to proactively respond.”

Water management is one area where experts say the country’s policy makers need to show urgent attention.  Irrigated water for farming is provided free in Sri Lanka but officials at the Department of Agriculture complain that it is almost impossible to get farmers to use water sparingly or to shift to more climate resistant crop varieties.

Yehiya said that people’s behaviour from watering plants to washing their cars or how they used electricity needs an overhaul.

“What is required to forestall this threat is to change the behaviour of people, their societies and economies to reduce their carbon footprint, and enable them to live sustainably without affecting the natural eco-system.”

No such seismic shift is in sight. The country is still facing each new climate threat in isolation, without linking the dots.

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Indoor Mini-Farms to Beat Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:29:31 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132201 Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says. Bhagwandeen told IPS that […]

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Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says.

Bhagwandeen told IPS that his hydroponic project was also developed “to leverage the growth of the urban landscape and high-density housing, so that by growing your own food at home, you mitigate the cost of food prices.”

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrients in water, is increasingly considered a viable means to ensure food security in light of climate change.

His project is one of several being considered for further development by the Caribbean Climate Innovation Centre (CCIC), headquartered in Jamaica.

The newly launched CCIC, which is funded mainly by the World Bank and the government of Canada, seeks to  fund innovative projects that will “change the way we live, work and build to suit a changing climate,” said Everton Hanson, the CCIC’s CEO.

A first step to developing such projects is through Proof of Concept (POC) funding, which makes available grants from 25,000 to 50,000 dollars to successful applicants to “help the entrepreneur to finance those costs that are related to proving that the idea can work,” said Hanson.

Among the items that POC funding will cover are prototype development such as design, testing, and field trials; market testing; raw materials and consumables necessary to achieve proof of concept; and costs related to applications for intellectual property rights in the Caribbean.

A POC competition is now open that will run until the end of March. “After that date the applications will be evaluated. We are looking for ideas that can be commercialised and the plan is to select the best ideas,” Hanson said.

The CCIC, which is jointly managed by the Scientific Research Council in Jamaica and the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in Trinidad and Tobago, is seeking projects that focus on water management, resource use efficiency, energy efficiency, solar energy, and sustainable agribusiness.

Bhagwandeen entered the POC competition in hopes of securing a grant, because “this POC funding would help in terms of market testing,” he explained.

The 48-year-old engineer says he wishes to build dozens of model units and “distribute them in various areas, then monitor the operations and take feedback from users.” He said he would be testing for usability and reliability, as well as looking for feedback on just how much light is needed and the best locations in a house or building for situating his model.

“I would then take the feedback, and any issues that come up I can refine before going into mass marketing,” he said.

Bhagwandeen’s model would enable homeowners to grow leafy vegetables, including herbs, lettuce and tomatoes, inside their home or apartment, with minimal expense and time.

The model uses smart electronics, meaning that 100 units can run on the same energy as a 60-watt light bulb, he said. So it differs from typical hydroponics systems that consume a great deal of energy, he added. His model can also run on the energy provided by its own small solar panel and can work both indoors and outdoors.

Bhagawandeen said his model’s design is premised on the fact that “our future as a people is based more and more on city living and in order for that to be sustainable, we need to have city farming at a family level.”

A U.N. report says that “the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050.” Most of that urban growth will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the world’s less developed regions.

To meet the challenges of climate change adaptation, the CCIC “will support Caribbean entrepreneurs involved in developing locally appropriate solutions to climate change.”

Bhagwandeen said that support from organisations like the CCIC is critical for climate change entrepreneurs. “From the Caribbean perspective, especially Trinidad and Tobago, we are a heavily consumer-focused society. One of the negatives of Trinidad’s oil wealth is that we are not accustomed to developing technology for ourselves. We buy it.

“We are a society of traders and distributors and there is very little support for innovators and entrepreneurs.”

He said access to markets and investors poses a serious challenge for regional innovators like himself, who typically have to rely on bootstrapping to get their business off the ground.

Typically, he said, regional innovators have to make small quantities of an item, sell those items, and then use the funds to make incrementally larger quantities. “So that if you get an order for 500 units, you cannot fulfill that order,” he said.

Fourteen Caribbean states are involved in CCIC: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean CCIC is one of eight being developed across the world.

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In Bali, a Pivotal Moment for Climate Postponed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/bali-pivotal-moment-climate-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bali-pivotal-moment-climate-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/bali-pivotal-moment-climate-financing/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 21:45:58 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131895 Facing a crucial meeting this week in Bali, the board of the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) once again postponed drawing out the bulk of policy that will guide the fund as it prepares to open later in 2014. Facing a yawning funding gap, the 24-member board said it would “aim for” splitting the financing […]

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Youth activists organised a mock lemonade sale to raise money for the Green Climate Fund in the absence of serious commitments at the Warsaw climate talks in November 2013. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS

Youth activists organised a mock lemonade sale to raise money for the Green Climate Fund in the absence of serious commitments at the Warsaw climate talks in November 2013. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 21 2014 (IPS)

Facing a crucial meeting this week in Bali, the board of the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) once again postponed drawing out the bulk of policy that will guide the fund as it prepares to open later in 2014.

Facing a yawning funding gap, the 24-member board said it would “aim for” splitting the financing it doles out 50:50 between mitigation and adaptation efforts and to devote at least half of adaptation monies to vulnerable regions. In a minor victory, members also clarified language over a mechanism for countries to seek redress with the fund."The corporate capture of the Green Climate Fund is deeply troubling." -- Sarah-Jayne Clifton

The GCF, formally established in 2010, is intended to serve as the primary vehicle for industrialised countries to pay for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world. Almost immediately after its creation, though, wealthy countries began backtracking on their original commitments and started pushing for a greater use of private funds to leverage their smaller contributions.

A paucity of pledges in Bali and a statement indicating the board would “maximize engagement with the private sector” bolstered concerns over the potential for a slow unraveling of donor promises and a watering down of what began as a clear-cut way of repaying developing countries for damages caused by carbon emissions.

“The GCF Board urgently needs to decide on the shape of the Fund, but progress is grindingly slow,” Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS from Bali. “Most of what was scheduled for decision in Bali has been postponed. Given the inability to decide on matters of substance, the chances of significant breakthroughs at the next Board meeting in May look extremely slim.”

That next board meeting will take place May 18-21 in Songdo, South Korea.

Aletter signed by 80 civil society organisations called for ensuring the fund “truly prioritizes and meets the needs of climate-impacted people in developing countries, free of undue business and industry influence.”

Credit: http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/

Credit: http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/

“Climate finance is compensation, reparations paid by those countries most responsible for the climate crisis to those worst impacted,” said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, a signee of the letter.

“It must be adequate and predictable and from public sources, and fully accountable to the developing countries who need it, not the profit-driven multinational companies of the rich world and their financial backers.”

After an original promise of 100 billion dollars was made at the 2009 U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen, climate financing dried up as governments facing austerity budgets at home chose to deprioritise it. The Overseas Development Institute estimates multilateral climate financing pledges fell by 71 percent in 2013.

When delegates met in Warsaw last November for the most recent U.N. Climate Summit, rich countries balked at a decreased 70-billion-dollar pledge.

It was hoped that the Feb. 19-21 meeting in Bali would clarify from where and exactly how the fund’s coffers will be filled. Prior to the meeting, the GCF had received 34 million dollars from Germany and South Korea, just enough to pay the staff at its Incheon headquarters.

Without clarification and donor guarantees, the U.N.’s 2015 comprehensive global climate conference in Paris could be thrown into disarray.

Attendees said they would have been happy with pledges of 10-20 billion dollars in Bali but donors offered up less than one million, just over a quarter of it in a highly symbolic donation from its host, Indonesia.

Though complete abandonment of the fund is a long way off, the slide towards private funding is causing concern among even the most cynical of observers.

“The vast body of that money should be from developed country’s budgets,” said Reyes. “It needs to be made political priority.”

The fund was initially intended to avoid replicating climate financing schemes already attempted by multilateral lenders and development banks – lenders who expect the return of at least their principal amount. Unlike those institutions, the GCF was meant not merely to achieve economic stabilisation in poorer countries or repair damage after storms. Instead, its genesis included the moral spirit of reparations for historic wrongs.

Yet like many international climate agreements, time has loosened memories and dampened initial euphoria.

“Our concern is that it doesn’t become ‘the World Bank for Climate Change’ and that it actually focuses on projects that can’t be done by private investors alone,” Reyes told IPS. “But what we see in particular is the [GCF] Secretariat is heavily staffed by people from the developed world where there is this tendency of seeing investment only as what can be leveraged from the private sector.”

Reyes says the 50:50 funding split should be binding and not aspirational. Money earmarked for mitigation in middle-income countries could potentially end up funding cleaner fossil fuel projects like natural gas installations. There had been hope that the board would emerge from Bali with stronger language limiting how much, if any, of funds could be spent on fossil fuels.

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Representation

In Bali, civil society groups called into question representation at the meetings, which they say gave the business sector and in particular large corporations too much influence.

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, non-governmental constituencies are split into nine groupings, only one of which is the business community. That the Bali meetings had only four active observers – two from the business community and two from civil society representing the other eight, including trade unions, farmers and indigenous groups – fueled those accusations.

“The corporate capture of the Green Climate Fund is deeply troubling and yet another example of the interests of private finance and multinational corporations being placed above the public interest,” Clifton told IPS.

A central unresolved point of contention concerns how much of the fund should be dedicated to grants and how much of it to loans, as well as how generous those loans should be.

“One of the issues that should be decided here are the terms and conditions of concessional lending,” said Reyes. “The terms that we were pushing for would be around not contributing to indebtedness –we think adaptation should be grant funding.”

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan – even as its delegates engaged in a hunger strike at the Warsaw summit – the Philippines government immediately took out one billion dollars in emergency loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Though both institutions provided smaller direct grants, the model troubles groups that have for years campaigned for debt forgiveness in the developing world only to see climate change potentially push those regions towards further loans.

“Climate finance should not be profit-driven, nor forced as loans or other debt-creating instruments on to countries already burdened by both the worst impacts of the unfolding climate crisis and the obligation to service existing unjust, illegitimate debt,” said Clifton.

Like moths to a flame, countries with large financial sectors like Switzerland and the UK have reportedly been talking up the benefits of sophisticated currency swaps as ways to safeguard private foreign investment. While such assurances will be required for certain outlays, groups are concerned that money being pledged does not become a pool for Wall Street to play in. In Bali they had hoped to set limits on the private sector’s involvement – that did not happen.

But Wall Street may end up footing much of the bill itself. Growing pressure in Europe has seen moves to use income generated by proposed Financial Transaction Taxes – levies on the buying and selling of assets – to fill gaps in climate financing.

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Obama to Tighten Fuel and Emissions Rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/obama-tighten-fuel-emissions-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-tighten-fuel-emissions-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/obama-tighten-fuel-emissions-rules/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 01:22:47 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131765 In an effort to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, President Barack Obama on Tuesday directed his administration to develop new fuel efficiency and emissions standards for trucks within the year. The new directives follow a previous mandate to set tightened emissions standards for cars and smaller vehicles and encompass the president’s next step […]

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The new directives follow a previous mandate to set tougher emissions standards for cars and smaller vehicles. Credit: Bigstock

The new directives follow a previous mandate to set tougher emissions standards for cars and smaller vehicles. Credit: Bigstock

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2014 (IPS)

In an effort to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, President Barack Obama on Tuesday directed his administration to develop new fuel efficiency and emissions standards for trucks within the year.

The new directives follow a previous mandate to set tightened emissions standards for cars and smaller vehicles and encompass the president’s next step in trying to address U.S. emissions without needing to go through the U.S. Congress.

Speaking Tuesday, he made a point of touting the successes of his administration’s previous fuel-efficiency standards.

“Our levels of dangerous carbon pollution that contributes to climate change has actually gone down even as our production has gone up,” the president stated. “And one of the reasons why is because we dedicated ourselves to manufacturing new cars and new trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas — and that saves families money, it cuts down harmful pollution, and it creates new advances in American technology.”

Credit: UCS

Credit: UCS

The president did not stipulate any specific fuel efficiency standards that his administration wants to establish. Instead he noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation would have until March 2015 to develop a proposal for the newest round of fuel efficiency standards.

The new announcement constitutes the third round of Obama administration fuel efficiency standards, the second of which came into effect only last month.

The EPA and Department of Transportation have already implemented standards for model year 2012 to 2025 passenger vehicles and model year 2014 through 2018 heavy-duty trucks and buses. The latest regulations will be applicable to model years from 2018 and onwards.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an advocacy group, anticipates that previously established fuel efficiency standards for trucks made between 2014 and 2018 will reduce oil consumption by 390,000 barrels per day in 2030. They will also cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 270 million metric tonnes.

“Oil is the biggest contributor to climate change emissions in the U.S.,” Don Anair, the research and deputy director of UCS’s Clean Vehicles Programme, told IPS. “The administration already finalised fuel-efficiency standards for cars, which are the biggest consumers of oil, and trucks are second only to those.”

Although trucks, busses and long-haul tractor trailers only comprise seven percent of traffic on U.S. roads, they account for more than 25 percent of oil used on the roads and contribute to about 20 percent of carbon pollution in the transportation sector. In total, motor vehicles emit a third of carbon pollution in the U.S.

“In terms of tackling the climate impacts of transportation, trucks are the next biggest thing, and we’ll have significant oil emission reductions,” Anair said.

UCS also foresees the new standards creating over 40,000 jobs by 2020 and over 70,000 a decade later.

In response to the president’s declaration, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), a trade association, indicated that it would continue to design more fuel efficient engines and vehicles.

“EMA and its members have a long and successful record of working cooperatively with … regulatory agencies,” said EMA President Jed Mandel. “Our past efforts have resulted in … lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty diesel vehicles.”

Some advocates of greater efficiency have suggested that research and development funding could potentially be raised by ending tax breaks on oil companies.

“There is potential for investing those funds in technologies that we know we need for addressing our oil consumption, climate change impacts, and air pollution,” UCS’s Anair said. “Making those investments in the technology of the future rather than continuing to provide tax incentives for established industries makes a lot of sense.”

Indeed, Obama himself has repeatedly called on Congress to end these subsidies.

“We need to get rid of, I think, the 4 billion dollars in subsidies we provide to oil and gas companies every year at a time when they’re earning near-record profits,” the president noted in 2011, “and put that money toward clean energy research, which would really make a big difference.”

Global challenge

As the United States seeks to ameliorate carbon emissions through fuel efficiency standards, the Obama administration is also trying to encourage developing countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions to ward off climate change.

On a visit to Indonesia on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged the country to take a more active role in combating greenhouse gas emissions, going so far as to name it as big a security risk as terrorism.

“In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” Kerry said in Jakarta.

Climate change poses a particularly acute risk to Indonesia, an archipelago composed of more than 17,000 islands, as higher temperatures melt glaciers and ice, causing the sea level to dramatically rise and putting many Pacific islands at risk.

“This city, this country, this region is really on the front lines of climate change,” Kerry said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say to you that your entire way of life that you live and love is at risk.”

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Fossil Fuel Subsidies Dampen Shift Towards Renewables http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/fossil-fuel-subsidies-dampen-shift-towards-renewables/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuel-subsidies-dampen-shift-towards-renewables http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/fossil-fuel-subsidies-dampen-shift-towards-renewables/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 19:17:14 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131401 Despite evolving public awareness and alarm over climate change, subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels remain a stubborn impediment to shifting the world’s energy matrix towards renewable sources. Collectively, fossil fuel subsidies amount to a nearly two-trillion-dollar oar left dragging in the water. Today, lawmakers hold routine hearings on climate change’s costs […]

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An offshore oil rig drilling platform. Global subsidies of fossil fuels rose to 1.9 trillion dollars in 2013. Credit: Bigstock

An offshore oil rig drilling platform. Global subsidies of fossil fuels rose to 1.9 trillion dollars in 2013. Credit: Bigstock

By Samuel Oakford
NEW YORK, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

Despite evolving public awareness and alarm over climate change, subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels remain a stubborn impediment to shifting the world’s energy matrix towards renewable sources.

Collectively, fossil fuel subsidies amount to a nearly two-trillion-dollar oar left dragging in the water.“The economic story around renewables has shifted." -- Dr. Daniel M. Kammen

Today, lawmakers hold routine hearings on climate change’s costs and mitigation, citizens in developing nations demand reparations for extreme weather, and even multinational corporations have tepidly begun advertising that rising seas could spill over onto their bottom lines.

But talk is one thing, money quite another.

“If you can remove fossil fuel subsidies, then renewables are the clear choice, they are far cheaper in the long run,” said Philipp Tagwerker, research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute and author of a recent report tallying subsidies. “Renewables are competitive at the moment, but it takes political will to change.”

After the 2008 financial crisis, subsidies fell along with plummeting energy prices, but by 2011 they had rebounded to pre-crisis levels. That volatility, whether due to supply and demand or geopolitics and speculation, is partly why countries are looking to lessen their exposure to carbon-based fuels.

Though definitions vary, in 2013 the IMF found that when “post-tax” externalities like carbon emissions, effects on health and resource scarcity were considered, global subsidies of fossil fuels rose to “$1.9 trillion worldwide – the equivalent of 2.5 percent of global GDP, or 8 percent of government revenues.” Estimates for renewable subsidies top out at a comparably measly 88 billion dollars globally.

“That’s a pretty hard equation to overcome,” said Dr. Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Fossil fuels not only have the advantage of subsidies, but they are the incumbent.

“That said we are seeing much faster growth in the renewable sector,” Kammen told IPS. “The economic story around renewables has shifted. It’s not just wind – solar is competitive now, and we are seeing big pushes for geothermal.”

Though critics of renewables often cite their higher cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) compared to traditional sources, when externalities are considered, that dynamic is reversed. According to the Worldwatch report, customary analyses find it can take up to 15 cents of a renewable subsidy to generate one kWh, far higher than the 0.1 to 0.7 cents per kWh for fossil fuels. But including externalities immediately tacks on an additional 23.8 cents per kwh to fossil fuels but only half a cent to renewables.

Tagwerker writes that “accelerating the phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies would reduce CO2 emissions by 360 million tons in 2020, which is 12 percent of the emission savings that are needed in order to keep the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.”

A mixed support system

Generally, consumption subsidies that lower prices at the point of sale have prevailed in the developing world, while producer subsidies have been more common in industrialised countries.

Over the past decade, while fossil fuel subsidies haven’t abated, their characterisation has shifted from one of necessity to troublesome vestige.

Last year, the G20 reiterated its pledge to “phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption over the medium term.” And during his January State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama told Congress “climate change is a fact” and called for the phasing out of an estimated four billion dollars in tax breaks and incentives – many dating back a century, when oil exploration was dangerous and far more expensive – that U.S. companies enjoy every year.

Yet politicians and investors alike still the find the long-term payouts from alternative energy projects don’t always jibe with their short-term electoral goals and the pressures of quarterly earnings – leaving policy to lag and projects wanting for infusions of cash.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in the developing world, consumption subsidies alone cost countries over 500 billion dollars.

Media coverage tends to focus on these parts of the world when unrest follows moves to remove or reduce fuel subsidies. Indeed, last year several dozen people were killed in Khartoum during riots after the Sudanese government, facing a fiscal crisis brought on by the annexation of the oil-rich south, eliminated subsidies. Meanwhile in India, where the government has been more cautious, the oil ministry predicts fuel subsidies for the fiscal year will end up 750 billion rupees over budget.

For years, poorer governments found lower fuel prices the simplest way to keep basic goods just cheap enough that the poorest in society could survive – a sort of broad-stroke welfare. Today, they remain fearful that reform runs the risk of triggering inflation, raising prices for food and basic goods beyond the reach of millions.

But unlike traditional forms of state welfare that attempt to target the needy, consumption subsidies are nearly always flat and regressive, funneling wealth to those who consume the most. The IMF has found that in low and middle-income countries, the richest 20 percent of households receive six times the benefits from subsidies as the poorest fifth. Among gasoline consumers alone, the disparity widens to 20 to one.

Tagwerker says governments can look to places like Indonesia, where, despite snags, subsidy curtailments were coupled with targeted cash-transfer schemes to assist those most affected by higher prices.

“You can avoid the period of unrest if you carefully plan it,” said Tagwerker, adding that all countries should consider carbon trading, which has a track record of reducing emissions.

“You are already spending so much on importing fossil fuels and subsidising them to keep them at a low price, why don’t you set up a fund that puts this towards renewable energy? China, of all places, has a consumption tax on fossil fuel and they put it towards renewable energy.”

Investment quibbles

In May 2013, Goldman Sachs announced it would finance more than 500 million dollars’ worth of residential solar panels for U.S.-based SolarCity Corp, allowing the company to offer homeowners zero down payments. The Wall Street firm, which pledged to put 40 billion dollars towards renewable projects by 2021, has also pumped 1.5 billion into a Danish wind farm and invested 340 million into an Indian wind venture.

But despite headline-grabbing deals like Goldman’s, overall investing in alternative energy sagged 12 percent last year to 244 billion. Investors remain skittish of the higher initial outlays required by renewable projects, a problem made worse by austerity in Europe and the winding down of stimulus in the United States. The U.N. found that “developers, equity providers and lenders were unsure about whether commitments to subsidise renewable energy deployment would continue.”

However, Kammen believes the next few years will see larger sovereign wealth funds financing more alternative energy projects. As the sector consolidates and interest rates remain low, Kammen says money earmarked for real estate may be shifted to renewable electricity-generating ventures which financially mimic the purchase of office space or other rent-paying assets.

“Because renewables have very low fuel costs the real issue is up-front financing. If one doesn’t correct this fundamental over-subsidy of the incumbent fossil technology, it makes the issues of renewables that much more difficult.”

Re-allocating subsidies to renewables would help investment get over the initial hump, says Tagwerker.

“You’ve got to shift the paradigm from paying every month to ‘we pay everything in the first month then we don’t have to pay for the following year’. If you could use all the money that is spent on fossil fuel subsidies for that, you’d have [renewable] plants popping up everywhere.”

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Vieques Goes from Bombs to Beets http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/vieques-goes-bombs-beets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vieques-goes-bombs-beets http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/vieques-goes-bombs-beets/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 15:42:59 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131384 A decade after the United States Navy’s departure, the Puerto Rican island town of Vieques faces new challenges, and the rebirth of its agriculture sector is hampered by a legacy of toxic military trash that has uncertain consequences. From 1999 to 2003, Vieques, which is just over twice the size of New York City’s Manhattan […]

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A group of visitors tours Jorge Cora's farm on Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: Elisa Sanchez

A group of visitors tours Jorge Cora's farm on Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: Elisa Sanchez

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

A decade after the United States Navy’s departure, the Puerto Rican island town of Vieques faces new challenges, and the rebirth of its agriculture sector is hampered by a legacy of toxic military trash that has uncertain consequences.

From 1999 to 2003, Vieques, which is just over twice the size of New York City’s Manhattan Island, was the site of a massive civil disobedience campaign to put an end to the presence of the Navy, which had used the island for bombing practice since World War Two. Puerto Rico is officially a commonwealth and territory of the United States.“The soils in Vieques could be safe for farming, or maybe not. There is uncertainty." -- Biologist Arturo Massol

In 2003, the bombing range was closed. But Vieques faces other challenges, like unemployment, crime, and basic infrastructure issues like health and transportation.

The principal means of transportation between Vieques and the main island of Puerto Rico is the ferry that travels the 30 kms between the town of Fajardo and the pier at Vieques’ Isabel Segunda village. The service is plagued by frequent breakdowns and delays, a situation which discourages tourism and makes life difficult for Vieques residents that need to travel to the main island.

“Transportation here is a disaster,” said Robert Rabin, a U.S. expatriate who moved to Vieques in 1980 and was a major figure in the anti-Navy movement. “This situation is an attempt against the island’s economic development and the health of its residents. When the elderly and sick have to go to the main island for medical appointments, they cannot arrive on time because of the poor ferry service.”

Rabin works at the Conde de Mirasol historic museum in Isabel Segunda and at the newly founded Radio Vieques community radio station. He pointed out that the island town of Culebra, some 15 kms to the north of Vieques, faces a similar transportation plight. “This shows the Puerto Rico government’s lack of commitment to the economic development of both Vieques and Culebra,” he said.

Local residents of both islands feel squeezed out by a large influx of wealthy new residents – mostly U.S. citizens – which is allegedly causing “gentrification”. Rabin says that this type of population displacement is also happening in the main island and in the nearby Virgin Islands.

“I see an increase in the control of foreigners, especially American, over local tourism. The government has not responded to this problem. And the local community has not been able to respond in a coherent way due to lack of organisation,” he said.

“There are some foreigners who set up businesses here and provide good jobs for local people, but they are the exception. Most of them employ friends they bring in from the U.S., and offer Vieques residents only the lowest paying jobs, like maintenance.”

Many of these migrants are “snowbirds”, the term used by local residents to describe people who come only for the winter, staying in Vieques no longer than six months a year. According to Rabin, “When they are away they rent their properties for as much as a thousands dollars a week, or even a thousand a night. Some of those houses are real palaces.”

Not all “snowbirds” are rich property owners. Some come for high-paying jobs in the tourism and construction sectors, others work as carpenters or electricians. The poorer ones live in camping tents in Sun Bay beach, in the island’s south coast.

Vieques has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts in its farming sector. New farm operations, both conventional and organic, have been sprouting up in recent years. One of these nouveau agricultural operations is the small company Hydro Organics, which is working a 30-acre farm called La Siembra de Vieques, located between the Lujan and Esperanza sectors.

La Siembra grows squash, green beans, papaya, moringa, avocado, coconut, eggplant, pineapple, guava and salad greens, among many other crops. Part of the labour is provided by woofers, international backpackers that travel from one farm to another, working in exchange for lodging and food. The farm is run according to the principles of permaculture, a discipline that combines ecological design and sustainable agriculture.

“We are getting started with community-supported agriculture,” said Hydro Organics farmer Vanessa Valedon. “We have consumer-investors who pay in advance for six months of our harvest.”

In Monte Carmelo, a hillside sector next to the old Navy firing range, is the farm of Jorge Cora. He has no running water or electricity and there is no paved road leading to his farm. He plants salad greens, okra, peppers, tomato, basil, neem, tobacco and beets, all without the use of agrochemicals.

“I get no government aid, not even food stamps,” said Cora, who prides himself on his independence. “If I can do all this with no chemicals or government help, I challenge conventional industrial farmers to do the same.”

But there is debate as to whether Vieques farm produce is safe to consume. Some point out that all of the island’s settlements are downwind from the old firing range, where shells of different calibres were exploded over 60 years, blowing up dust and debris contaminated with munitions toxic chemicals, which were carried by the winds and settled in the civilian area.

In the 1990s, the Puerto Rico Health Department determined that the cancer rate among Vieques residents was 26.9 percent above the national average. The anti-Navy movement attributed this anomaly to toxic pollution caused by military activities.

Biologist Arturo Massol, professor at the University of Puerto Rico and volunteer staffer at the non-governmental organisation Casa Pueblo, carried out peer-reviewed studies of military pollution in Vieques and how these toxins travel the marine and land food chains. He believes there is reason for concern, but advises that more studies need to be done.

“The soils in Vieques could be safe for farming, or maybe not. There is uncertainty,” he told IPS.

Massol declared that the Puerto Rican government has a duty to carry out soil tests to ascertain any toxic hazard. For its work with the people of Vieques and the anti-Navy protest movement, Casa Pueblo won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002.

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