Inter Press Service » Natural Resources News and Views from the Global South Mon, 30 Nov 2015 17:32:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Uganda, Tanzania Need Gender Sensitive Climate Change Policies Thu, 26 Nov 2015 09:24:57 +0000 Wambi Michael 1 Climate Refugees and a Collapsing City Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:25:54 +0000 Sohara Mehroze A Flooded Street in Dhaka

A Flooded Street in Dhaka

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

With multiplying impacts of climate change – increasing floods, cyclones, and drought – thousands of climate refugees are migrating to Dhaka. And the city, well beyond its carrying capacity, is bursting at the seams.

The word most often associated with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps, “overpopulated.” Supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 square kilometers (125 square miles) of land, the city’s drainage, waste management and transportation infrastructure is on the brink of collapse.

Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising to find the Bangladesh capital among the worst cities to live in on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 ranking.

To delve beneath the apparent reasons – overpopulation, waterlogging and congestion – is to reveal a major underlying cause: unsustainable levels of climate-induced displacement and migration.

And the problems are washing up along Bangladesh’s 700 kilometers of low-lying coast. Rising sea levels and cyclones heighten the risk of flooding, while riverbank erosion and seawater intrusion are set to have a devastating impact on the nation’s population.

“Over the next two to three decades millions of people will no longer be able to live and earn their livelihoods from farming and fishing as they are now,” said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the Climate Change Group of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Conversely, prolonged droughts are affecting arable land by causing soil erosion and damaging crops that depend on predictable monsoon patterns.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates 20 million people will be displaced in Bangladesh in the coming five years. That is more than the cumulative populations of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. And this should be very worrying.

Even now, many of the half-a-million-plus people who move their families – along with their hopes – to Dhaka, are driven there by the effects of climate change.

No streets paved with gold

But the Bangladeshi capital, which teeters on less than 1 percent of the country’s overall landmass, is far from being the promised land.

The combination of explosive population growth and land scarcity has sent its property and rental prices through the roof.

And given that most climate refugees come from humble financial backgrounds, they are left with little alternative but to join the estimated 3.4 million people who already live without gas or electricity in cramped and substandard squatter settlements, known as bosti.

Even in their new homes, they cannot escape the environmental disasters that drove them to seek shelter in the flimsy shack-like houses in this low-lying city on the banks of the Buriganga river.

The incidence of flooding in Dhaka is increasing, and the lack of water and sanitation facilities means waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid are widespread.

But health and pollution are not the only problems bosti-dwelling climate migrants face. Rahmat Ali, a resident of Dhaka’s biggest slum Korail, moved to the city when saltwater logged his farmland. Once an agricultural worker, he now scrapes out a living as a rickshaw puller.

“It is very hard work for little money. But there are few options for the likes of us, who have lost our lands and homes, and now have nothing left to go back to.”

Slow response to an urgent problem

With ubiquitous bostis and climate refugees dominating the cityscape, more affluent Dhaka residents are becoming increasingly desensitized and apathetic to their plight, and are coming to accept it as the norm.

This apathy is reflected in the country’s policy sphere. “People are migrating to cities because the nation is not responding to their risks,” says Aminul Islam, a member of the National Displacement Strategy Working Group under the Ministry of Disaster Management.

While Bangladesh has developed a solid strategic framework for tackling climate change – including its National Action Plan for Adaptation and the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan – it has not yet prescribed any adaptation programs specifically addressing climate-induced internal displacement.

And that, thinks Islam, is a failing.

“The country needs a long-term vision and adaptation plan for reducing displacement,” Islam said. “The provision of climate resilient habitat, livelihood opportunities and civil facilities for the vulnerable will reduce incentives to migrate to cities.”

Dhaka, precursor for catastrophe?

Even if Bangladesh were to increase its adaptation efforts 100-fold, it can only go so far in protecting its people. From a Bangladeshi point of view, what it desperately needs are mitigation efforts by major carbon-emitting nations.

At the end of November, the world’s leaders will congregate in Paris to try and achieve a universal, binding agreement for combating climate change. And for the millions of people living in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, their success at the negotiating table is crucial.

The situation in Dhaka illustrates how climate change is neither something that affects only polar bears, nor a problem only for future generations. Many fear that failure to act now will render the Bangladeshi capital a precursor for wholesale climate catastrophe.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Tamsin Walker and @DeutscheWelle.

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From Darkness to Light: Dramatic Rescue of Tanzanian Miners Trapped 41 Days in Rubble Wed, 25 Nov 2015 08:06:54 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Africa’s Climate Change Funding May Hit 100 Billion by Mid-Century Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:42:00 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Climate Summit opens in Paris next week, one of the biggest issues facing world leaders is funding: how best to raise the billions of dollars needed to prevent the devastating consequences of global warming worldwide.

A new plan unveiled Tuesday calls for 16 billion dollars in funding to help African countries adapt to climate change and build up the continent’s resilience to climate shocks, according to the World Bank Group and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

At current estimates, the plan says the African region requires 5-10 billion dollars per year to adapt to global warming of 2°C.

However, the cost of managing climate resilience will continue to rise to 20-50 billion dollars by mid-century, and closer to 100 billion dollars, in the event of a 4°C warming.

Titled ‘Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development’, the Africa Climate Business Plan will be presented at the Conference of Parties (COP21), the global climate talks in Paris Nov 30- Dec 11, and lays out measures to boost the resilience of the continent’s assets – its people, land, water, and cities – including renewable energy and strengthening early warning systems.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is highly vulnerable to climate shocks, and our research shows that could have far-ranging impact – on everything from child stunting and malaria to food price increases and droughts,” the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, said in a statement released here.

“This plan identifies concrete steps that African governments can take to ensure that their countries will not lose hard-won gains in economic growth and poverty reduction, and they can offer some protection from climate change.”

Asked for her response, Doreen Stabinsky, Zennström visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden, told IPS the costs of addressing climate change impacts on Africa are already huge and must be added to the current finance priorities of African countries of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

“Indeed these sums estimated by the World Bank are first needed just to protect the development gains of the past few decades and really emphasize the injustice of the climate crisis for developing countries: at a time when their own resources and foreign assistance should be invested in development, they must spend scarce funds on adapting to a problem they did not cause, and suffering losses and damages from impacts they cannot adapt to.”

She said the estimates also show the gross inadequacy of climate finance on the table.

The Global Climate Fund (GCF), she pointed out, has a meager 10 billion dollars pledged in its first tranche — to cover both mitigation and adaptation efforts across the entire developing world — and only half of that sum has yet been delivered.

If adaptation costs for Africa alone are currently 5-10 billion dollars per year, support from those responsible for climate change — developed countries — has to be scaled up significantly.

“Whether or not this scale of resources is pledged in Paris should be a significant determining factor of success at COP21”, said Stabinsky, who was also Professor of Global Environmental Politics at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Of the 16.1 billion dollars the ambitious plan proposes for fast-tracking climate adaptation, some 5.7 billion dollars are expected from the International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank Group that supports the poorest countries.

About 2.2 billion dollars are expected from various climate finance instruments, 2.0 billion from others in the development community, 3.5 billion from the private sector, and 0.7 billion from domestic sources, with an additional 2.0 billion needed to deliver on the plan, according to the World Bank Group and UNEP.

“The Africa Climate Business Plan spells out a clear path to invest in the continent’s urgent climate needs and to fast-track the required climate finance to ensure millions of people are protected from sliding into extreme poverty,” says Makhtar Diop, World Bank Group Vice President for Africa.

“While adapting to climate change and mobilizing the necessary resources remain an enormous challenge, the plan represents a critical opportunity to support a priority set of climate-resilient initiatives in Africa,” he noted.

Stabinsky told IPS the World Bank announcement, unfortunately, fails to lay out what proportion of this money will come from grants and from loans.

Adapting to climate change is an additional burden being placed on developing countries — it’s not a business proposition where profits can be earned. Loans are not appropriate for adaptation finance, she added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Sinking into Paradise: Climate Change Worsening Coastal Erosion in Trinidad Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:47:45 +0000 Rajiv Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

By Rajiv Jalim
PORT-of-SPAIN, TRINIDAD, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

As unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, a lagoon here was overwhelmed, flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities. As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.

The coastline of Trinidad is under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier, and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clear.

Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimeters every year — though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.

“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land, but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.

“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach, but there is less material available to replace it.”

In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.

According to the World Bank publication Turn Down the Heat, Earth is locked into at least a 1.5°C rise in temperature compared with pre-industrial times. Rising seas caused by rising temperatures, coupled with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, which also affect wave energy, are expected to accelerate coastal erosion. Such effects are of grave concern for small island developing states (SIDS).

With Trinidad’s east coast sustaining several developing communities, through income from tourism, agriculture and fishing, management of the coastline — which is also a nesting site for endangered leatherback turtles — is of utmost importance.

Subsequent to reports of the extensive damage at Manzanilla, emergency services responded through a coordinated effort between government agencies and ministries to bring relief to those affected.

Disaster management and response units, including the local Risk Reduction Management Centre, assisted residents by providing basic supplies to flood victims, while personnel from the University of the West Indies conducted site visits to assess the damage and collect data. The Ministry of Works was involved in trying to reconnect the main access route to the south-eastern community.

At an estimated cost of $US5.8 million, the rehabilitation work combined the expertise of academics and researchers with coastal management organizations and engineering firms, both local and international.

One year later, key learnings are still being generated from data collected after the event. It is from these analyses that gaps in the coastal management plans and developmental strategies for the east coast can be identified.

Perhaps the most significant gap has been the lack of sufficient hydrological and maritime data for the island, which could be used to develop models and improve the predictive power for rare disasters.

Extraordinary events such as the Manzanilla flood occur infrequently, but they can cause significant and expensive damage when they do occur. Predicting and preparing for such events based on scientific knowledge can reduce not only their impacts, but also the recovery time.

Looking beyond Trinidad to the wider Caribbean region, and to other islands across the world, coastal erosion linked to climate change can be extremely dangerous.

Experts say long-term strategies should go beyond revetment and seawall repairs, and consider policy support, planning strategies and contingency mapping. Additionally, there is a need for increased public-private partnerships across the globe, where resources, creativity, expertise and innovation can be expanded and exchanged to deal with coastal management in a sustainable manner.

“I’m more on the side of investing in state-of-the-art, long-term monitoring and innovative research,” said Christopher Daly, lecturer in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department of the University of the West Indies.

“There is no real profit to be made from this so it’s difficult to get private investment,” Daly said. “This has to be funded through a national or regional science board that has the long-term interest of society at heart. It also has to have full government support but be independent of political influence.”

Developed countries have pledged to begin providing $100 billion a year through the United Nations to help developing countries slow and adapt to climate change by 2020. During climate negotiations in Paris later this year, developing countries will ask wealthier ones to produce a roadmap for raising and providing those funds.

SIDS have also been calling during the United Nations climate negotiations for a “loss-and-damage mechanism,” which could help poorer countries cope with flooding and other impacts of climate change. The concept was first proposed more than two decades ago, but the wealthier countries that would be expected to provide the funding have opposed it.

In the meantime, the hastily built seawall, boardwalk and main road on the Manzanilla beach will again have to stand the test of the Atlantic and the effects of climate change. Only time will tell if feats of engineering can withstand the changing environment, or if the island of Trinidad will be left to slowly erode into rising seas.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to John Upton and @ClimateCentral.

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Against the Odds, Caribbean Doubles Down for 1.5 Degree Deal in Paris Mon, 23 Nov 2015 07:57:02 +0000 Zadie Neufville 0 Aflatoxins: Poisoning Health and Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa Fri, 20 Nov 2015 15:32:03 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Solar Power Keeps the Midnight Oil Burning at the University of Dodoma Thu, 19 Nov 2015 13:14:34 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Opinion: Risks? What Risks? Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:30:37 +0000 Hazel Henderson

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

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

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

Hazel Henderson Credit:

Hazel Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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“Bringing Private Funds into Land Restoration is Risky” Mon, 16 Nov 2015 05:59:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena 0 Drinking Water Shortages Plague Pakistan Region Sun, 15 Nov 2015 06:26:05 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 African Experts Say the Continent Must Address Livestock Methane Emissions Sat, 14 Nov 2015 07:58:19 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 One-Third of Papua New Guineans Suffering Drought Crisis Fri, 13 Nov 2015 07:22:16 +0000 Catherine Wilson 0 Improved Post-Harvest Fish Handling Brings Hope to Western Zambia Thu, 12 Nov 2015 11:45:48 +0000 Friday Phiri 0 Africa Demands for More Input to Save the Climate Sat, 07 Nov 2015 07:38:38 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu 0 Urgently Needed: Studies Linking Land Degradation, Migration, Conflict and Political Instability Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:14:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena 1 Open Data – Still Closed to Latin American Communities Wed, 04 Nov 2015 00:40:37 +0000 Emilio Godoy Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, and other heads of international agencies discuss the need for greater transparency on the part of governments, during the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico City. Credit: ECLAC

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, and other heads of international agencies discuss the need for greater transparency on the part of governments, during the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico City. Credit: ECLAC

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 4 2015 (IPS)

Open data policies in Latin America have not yet enabled communities to exercise their right to access to information, consultation and participation with regard to mining or infrastructure projects that affect their surroundings and way of life.

These rights are contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration states that “each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.

“States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”

“In Latin America, the lack of open, timely information is a widespread problem,” said Tomás Severino, director of the Mexican NGO Cultura Ecológica.

The expert explained to IPS that “information is technical and specialised. Open data gives us the possibility to generate accessible information, to break it down and to disseminate it.”“The problem is severe; it is not enough to just be transparent. There is a question of timing. When do citizens need that information? After the fact? That’s a mistake. We need to think about how to make information available before decisions are reached, as well as information about the impact of those decisions.” -- Carlos Monge

The link between open data and projects that have an influence on local communities and the environment was one of the issues at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City.

Taking part in the summit were representatives of governments and civil society and academics from the 65 countries participating in the Partnership, created in 2011 under the aegis of the United Nations. Of that total, 15 countries are from Latin America.

During the summit’s forums and workshops, the delegates of organised civil society called for a strengthening of open data policies and faster progress towards compliance with Principle 10, which cannot happen unless there is movement towards total information openness.

It is common practice in the region for communities to be uninformed about the very existence of mining, oil, energy and other kinds of projects even when carried out in their immediate vicinity, as they are neither previously consulted nor given access to information. Permits and concessions are off their radar.

Countries in the region ratified the declaration on the application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, signed during the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

According to information shared by participants during the open government summit in Mexico, the question of the environment is limited to instructions to disseminate public consultations in the environmental impact assessment process in the Second Plan of Action on open data 2013-2015.

Currently, Mexico is collecting proposals to design a third, more ambitious, plan.

One of its key focuses is “natural resource governance”, which encompasses climate change, fossil fuels, mining, ecosystems, the right to a healthy environment, and water resources for human consumption.

Representatives of civil society in Latin America discuss the application of open data policies and Principle 10 on access to information, participation and consultation on environmental issues, during one of the panels at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Representatives of civil society in Latin America discuss the application of open data policies and Principle 10 on access to information, participation and consultation on environmental issues, during one of the panels at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit held Oct. 27-29 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For its part, Peru has been discussing since May a “strategy on openness and reuse of open government data” for the period 2015-2019, which would include environmental questions.

In August, Argentina presented the first part of its “second plan for open government 2015–2017”, which also fails to include major environmental considerations.

“The problem is severe; it is not enough to just be transparent,” said Carlos Monge, the representative in Peru of the U.S.-based non-governmental Natural Resource Governance Institute. “There is a question of timing. When do citizens need that information? After the fact?

“That’s a mistake. We need to think about how to make information available before decisions are reached, as well as information about the impact of those decisions,” he told IPS.

Monge complained that since 2014 countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have reformed their legislation to lower environmental standards, with the aim of drawing investment in the mining and oil industries, due to the drop in global demand for raw materials, one of the pillars of their economies.

The “Global Atlas of Environmental Justice” lists 480 environmental conflicts in 16 Latin American and Caribbean nations, related to activities like mining, fossil fuels, waste and water management, access to land and infrastructure development.

The initiative forms part of the European project “Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade” and is coordinated by the University of Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology and drawn up by experts from 23 universities and environmental justice organisations from 18 countries.

The majority of the disputes, the atlas says, are concentrated in Colombia (101), Brazil (64), Ecuador (50), Peru (38), Argentina (37) and Mexico (36).

When they are in the dark about infrastructure or mining or oil industry projects in their local surroundings, communities suffer what U.S. Professor Rob Nixon calls “slow violence” from environmental problems arising from the exploitation of natural resources, which generates conflicts and further impoverishes local populations.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), complained during the summit that local communities are not previously informed about extractive industry projects and said the region is not yet ready to meet open data requirements.

“It’s important for them to have information on concessions, contracts, impacts, revenue, consultations, so they are aware beforehand of the effects,” she told IPS.

The countries of this region agreed in November 2014 on the negotiation of a treaty on Principle 10, in a process facilitated by ECLAC, which is about to open a regional natural resource governance centre.

The second round of negotiations took place Oct. 27-29 in Panama, and the third is to be held in April 2016, in Uruguay.

Severino, who is taking part in Mexico’s open data initiatives and in the Principle 10 regional negotiating process, stressed the need to modify laws to bring them into line with these schemes.

“We need participation and consultation mechanisms,” he said.

Monge cited two processes that he said should be given institutional structures. “Zoning and consultation imply the generation of a lot of information. If they want to carry out a project, the information on money, water and territory should be made transparent,” he said.

The first refers to zoning of residential, industrial or ecological areas, by the municipal authorities, and the second involves asking local populations whether or not they want a project to go ahead.

“Consultation is one of the most effective instruments. Principle 10 addresses it before a project is carried out,” Bárcena said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The company owes the power utility 150 million dollars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Opinion: The Broken Promises of the Peruvian Development Model Fri, 30 Oct 2015 13:40:45 +0000 Alice Martin Prevel

Alice Martin Prevel is a Policy Analyst at the Oakland Institute.

By Alice Martin Prevel
OAKLAND, California, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

Lima was the host, in October 2015, of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank annual meetings. The two Bretton Woods institutions, criticized for their record of lowering social and environmental conditions, seek to showcase Peru as a success of their neoliberal policies and reforms to the rest of the world.

Alice Martin Prevel

Alice Martin Prevel

In the 1990s, Peru embraced the Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program, with the aim to make the country more attractive to foreign businesses through a number of deregulation and privatization reforms, such as the lifting of restrictions on foreign land ownership.

Between 1990 and 2015, the World Bank’s loans to Peru increased tremendously, channeling over $7 billion dollars to the country during the period. In 2015, it ranks 35th in the Bank’s Doing Business survey, with the second highest score in Latin America, indicating that the government has “created a regulatory environment conducive to business.”

In 2008, Peru requested help from the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) advisory services for the design of a new reform agenda that was launched in 2009. As a result, the Doing Business survey recorded 15 pro-business policy reforms ratified between 2010 and 2013, including fast-track procedures at the land registry, cuts in workers’ social benefits and tax reductions for private companies.

Following the reforms, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) doubled from 5.5 billion dollars in 2007 to 10.2 billion dollars in 2013.

However, improving Peru’s business climate to attract foreign investment has had a severe toll on people, workers and the environment, resulting in rising social conflicts.

Simultaneously, Peru’s export-oriented economy has experienced a significant slow-down over the past three years, notably due to China’s lower demand for oil and minerals. The drop in the economy’s growth rate, from an average of 6.4 per cent in the 2000s to only 2.4 per cent in 2014, raises important questions about the high social and environmental costs associated with the country’s “development” path.

Current President Ollanta Humala follows a long tradition of neoliberal leaders implementing privatization and deregulation reforms with the objective of increasing private investment and corporate business in Peru.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori’s government implemented a train of reforms tied to the World Bank and IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs. The administrations that followed Fujimori’s adopted, with little variations, the same neoliberal model and further eroded workers’ rights.

Reforms have led to a win-win for corporations operating in Peru by reducing spending on both workers and taxes.

Peru has a long history of seizure, exploitation and destruction of indigenous communities’ territories that started with the Spanish colonization. Under the Fujimori government, the rights of indigenous peoples were further denied by laws that suppressed the indivisibility and inalienability of indigenous communal lands.

In 2014, there were 68 million hectares of forests in Peru encompassing some 350,000 indigenous residents. These self-sufficient communities care for and rely on these lands for food, shelter and medicine, but land grabbing and deforestation pose grave threats to their livelihoods and the regenerative health of the forests.

The average rate of deforestation between 2001 and 2012 was 123,000 hectares per year. Since 2012, the rates have doubled to 250,000 hectares per year despite Peru’s pledge to reduce deforestation to zero by 2020.

Indigenous people have been defending their territories against illegal activities, but lack a supportive legal framework to do so. While approximately 15 million hectares are officially recognized as indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon, indigenous communities claim they have rights over at least 20 million additional hectares, which remain unrecognized.

Since the 1990s, Peru has taken a clear shift towards large scale and export-oriented agriculture. In 2014, Peruvian exports from agriculture exceeded 5 billion dollars. The growth of the agribusiness sector, however, has not brought the expected benefits to the rural and indigenous populations. Whereas the poverty rate in the capital Lima is relatively low (14.5 per cent as of 2012), it is in stark contrast with the 53 per cent rate found in rural areas.

Unlike its neighbours, Bolivia and Ecuador, who have resisted the Bank’s push for reforms, Peru has fully embraced its neoliberal agenda. But while the World Bank tries to convince the world that Peru’s economic model has led to a miraculous growth and poverty reduction, the country faces tremendous social issues and inequality.

Small farmers, who provide 60 per cent of Peru’s basic food, have been negatively impacted by government policies that widely favour the development of a large-scale, export-oriented agriculture model, resulting in increased pressure on water sources and negatively impacting farmers’ livelihood and assets.

Many farmers have been forced to rent or sell their land, transitioning from a status of farm owner to farm worker, or migrating to urban areas. In the Andes and the Amazon, small farmers and indigenous communities are left with the toxic legacy and degradation of their lands by mining and oil companies.

Despite their region’s mineral wealth, many rural communities are victimized by extractive industries, remaining extremely poor and food insecure. Their lifestyle is highly threatened by national policies that have chosen to concentrate a tremendous amount of resources in the hands of a few private corporations.

With the dire situation only growing worse, workers, rural communities and indigenous people have expressed their anger and anxiety through protests. The World Bank’s projects and involvement with the private sector in the country have notably been associated with violent clashes with local communities. The number of social conflicts, already considerable, could rise even more with the slowdown of the Peruvian economic growth. To many, the Peruvian “miracle” promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions has a bitter taste.


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Cuba’s Extra-Heavy Crude Awaits Technology and Investment Tue, 27 Oct 2015 14:33:48 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez 0