Inter Press Service » Green Economy http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:30:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136650 Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Climate Summit: Staged Parade or Reality Show?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:46:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136627 Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The much-ballyhooed one-day Climate Summit next week is being hyped as one of the major political-environmental events at the United Nations this year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged over 120 of the world’s political and business leaders, who are expected to participate in the talk-fest, to announce significant and substantial initiatives, including funding commitments, “to help move the world towards a path that will limit global warming.”"What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries." -- Dipti Bhatnagar of FoEI

And, according to the United Nations, the summit will mark the first time in five years that world leaders will gather to discuss what is described as an ecological disaster: climate change.

The United Nations says the negative impact of global warming includes a rise in sea levels, extreme weather patterns, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, extinction of biodiversity species and threats to world food security.

But what really can one expect from a one-day event lasting probably over 12 hours of talk time, come Sep. 23?

“A one-day event was never going to solve everything about climate change, but it could have been a turning point by demonstrating renewed political will to act,” Timothy Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research for the GROW Campaign at Oxfam International, told IPS.

Some political leaders, he pointed out, will still use the opportunity to do that, “but too many look set to stay out of the limelight or steer clear of the kind of really transformational new commitments needed.”

Gore said the summit is designed as a platform for new commitments of climate action, but there is a real risk that even those that are made won’t add up to much.

“The focus on voluntary initiatives rather than negotiated outcomes means there are no guarantees that announcements made at the Summit will be robust enough,” he warned.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was launched in 2011, is expected to mobilise about 100 billion dollars per year from developed nations by 2020, according to the United Nations. But it is yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and Justica Ambiental (FoE Mozambique), told IPS, “On Sep. 23 we will see world leaders falling far short of delivering what we need to tackle dangerous climate change.”

The Climate Summit is completely inadequate and expected ‘pledges’ by governments and business at the Summit will be tremendously insufficient in the face of the climate catastrophe, she warned.

“The whole idea of leaders making voluntary, non-binding pledges itself is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people dying every year because of the impacts of climate change,” Bhatnagar said. “We need equitable, ambitious and binding emissions reduction targets from industrialised countries – not a parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good.

“But this fake parade is the only thing we will see at this one-day summit,” she added.

On Sep. 21, two days ahead of the summit, hundreds of thousands of people will march against climate change in New York and in cities across the globe.

Martin Kaiser, leader of the Global Climate Policy project at Greenpeace, told IPS, “We welcome Ban Ki-moon hosting a global climate summit this month and will be on the streets of New York on Sep. 21 as the largest climate march in history sends a loud and clear message that world leaders must act now.”

He said governments and businesses must bring concrete commitments to the summit: Corporations should announce firm deadlines by which they will run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy.

Additionally, “Governments need to commit to phase out of fossil fuels by 2050 and take concrete steps to get us there such as ending the financing of coal fired power plants.

“We also expect governments to announce new and additional money for the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate disasters and steer the world to clean and safe energy,” he added.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS: “We also need secure, predictable, and mandatory public finance from developed to developing countries through the U.N. system.”

Developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe. Their positions are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations, she added.

“What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries,” Bhatnagar added. “We also need a complete transformation of our energy and food systems.”

Oxfam International’s Gore told IPS there is also a need for more transparency to judge whether the announcements made are consistent with the latest climate science and protect the interests of those most vulnerable to climate impacts.

For example, he asked, “Are they consistent with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables and do they ensure improved energy access for people that need it? Or do they just add green gloss to business as usual?”

Asked about the role of the private sector, Gore said: “We need private sector leadership to tackle climate change, and there are good examples emerging of companies that are stepping up to the plate.”

In the food and beverage sector, for example, Oxfam has worked with companies like Kellogg and General Mills to make new commitments to cut emissions from their massively polluting agricultural supply chains.

“But overall this Summit shows that too many parts of the private sector are not yet up to the job, as the initiatives that will be launched fall short of the transformational change we need,” he pointed out.

“This serves to remind us of the critical importance of strong government leadership on climate change – bottom-up voluntary initiatives are no substitute for real government action,” Gore declared.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS the private sector cannot be trusted to address climate change. Dirty energy corporations have a huge voice in the private sector but their aim is higher profits, not a safe climate, she said.

“They make climate change worse day by day and on top of that they are still massively subsidised by the public unfortunately. These public subsidies must stop now,” she added.

Li Shuo, a senior policy officer with Greenpeace China, told IPS the Climate Summit will see the new Chinese administration make its debut on the international climate stage.

As China has made significant progress on ending its coal boom at home, the Chinese government should grasp this opportunity to end the current “you go first” mentality that has poisoned progress through the U.N. climate talks, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by announcing in New York that China will peak its emissions long before 2030?” Li asked.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

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

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mega does not mean good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the leaders of this struggle is Miriam Chible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New smaller-scale projects are also in the pipeline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin also agrees with the mixed-bag approach.

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

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

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

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

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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

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

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lima link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-thirds remaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the grid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthened support

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

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

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

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

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

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

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