Inter Press Service » Natural Resources http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 ‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kachipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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What the U.S. Should Learn from Russia’s Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 Miriam Pemberton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138354 Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

By Miriam Pemberton
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defence industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the 10-year cuts, many more communities will be affected. This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognising the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously. Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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GDP and the Unaccounted for 82 Percent of National Wealthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:20:42 +0000 Anantha Duraiappah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138348 Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Anantha Duraiappah
NEW DELHI, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

Virtually all countries use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as their primary measurement of economic progress and overall societal progress. At the same time, countries express allegiance to the doctrine of sustainable development. This exposes an obvious disconnect.

GDP measures the value of all the goods and services a country produces. Thus, maximising production is the best way of achieving high GDP. And increasing production is fine as long as it is within one’s means to maintain that production.When climate change, oil price fluctuations and total factor productivity is included, less than 50 percent of the 140 countries assessed are on a sustainable trajectory; more than half are consuming beyond their means.

But relate this in terms of personal spending patterns: our list of desirables are seemingly infinite –- the majority of us have insatiable appetites constrained only by personal budgets.

You can increase your spending by taking on debt, but this too is determined by your ability to pay. We are constrained!

At the country level, the situation is no different. A nation can’t produce goods and services without the required assets. It can borrow or buy from other countries but again, consumption is constrained by an ability to pay, which in a well-behaving market is determined by national assets.

Granted, the system of national accounts upon which GDP is computed tracks changes in capital assets such as infrastructure, transport and communications, among other types of national capital produced.

But the skills and education of people determine a country’s output. So too do natural assets, like land, minerals, fossil fuels, and forests, and the many other goods and services nature offers as direct production inputs.

Where are these assets accounted for in GDP?

The Inclusive Wealth Report, first introduced at the Rio+20 summit and welcomed by The Economist magazine as an ambitious effort, provides fresh insights.

This year’s second edition, IWR2014, created in a collaboration with the UN Environment Programme and the UN University, provides a comprehensive analysis of 140 countries, up from 20 two years ago. And the results are sobering, to say the least.

When climate change, oil price fluctuations and total factor productivity is included, less than 50 percent of the 140 countries assessed are on a sustainable trajectory; more than half are consuming beyond their means.

A key factor, according to the report: a lack of effort in promoting creativity and innovation, primarily in developed countries.

As well, the 2014 report further substantiates an earlier finding: Human capital in a country’s asset base is most highly valued by policymakers, followed by natural capital. Produced capital comes in third.

What does this mean?

Using a combination of market prices, when appropriate, and social prices when no market prices are available or are imperfect, the data shows people in most countries place highest value on human capital, key to which is education.

This is followed by natural capital — energy sources and timber, for example — but also the many ecosystem services nature provides to humankind.

Using these values, the IWR2014 report finds that the produced capital our national accounts help to track and manage only represents 18 percent of the total value of a country’s asset base.

In other words, some 82 percent of a nation’s productive base — its “inclusive” wealth — is not reflected in national accounts. This simply makes no economic sense. And, as the popular saying goes, “you manage what you measure.”

The remedy?

Let’s build momentum to revise the system of national accounts, expanding it to include education and natural resources as part of the core accounts.

While there has been some movement to develop satellite accounts for these categories, the scale of their contribution to the asset base of an economy makes it imperative that they be an integral part of core accounts. They can no longer be treated as externalities.

Developing inclusive wealth accounts is complex and challenging, involving some strong assumptions and projections of the future flows of existing asset bases for our offspring and theirs. Despite this degree of uncertainty, initial reactions from national statisticians have been positive.

The former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, a prominent economist, established a high level panel under his national statistics office and the intellectual leadership of Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta to explore the development of inclusive wealth accounts.

The initial report was a innovative and intellectually robust national document identifying possible actions over the short, medium and long terms.

If a country such as India with its myriad challenges can acknowledge such a need, every country can embrace the challenge and start to revise its system of national accounts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Changes to World Bank Safeguards Risk “Race to the Bottom”, U.N. Experts Warnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:11:37 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138341 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

An unprecedented number of United Nations special rapporteurs and independent experts are raising pointed concerns over the World Bank’s ongoing review of its pioneering environmental and social safeguards, particularly around the role that human rights will play in these revamped policies.

In a letter made public Tuesday, 28 U.N. experts raise fears that the Washington-based development funder could foster a “race to the bottom” if proposed changes go forward. The document accuses the bank of selective interpretation of its own charter and its obligations under international law.“The bank is not just any old actor in relation to these issues. It is the gorilla in the room.” -- U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston

“[B]y contemporary standards the [safeguards revision] seems to go out of its way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights and international human rights law, except for passing references,” the letter, addressed to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, states.

“[T]he Bank’s proposed new Safeguards seem to view human rights in largely negative terms, as considerations that, if taken seriously, will only drive up the cost of lending rather than contributing to ensuring a positive outcome.”

The World Bank says its safeguards constitute a “cornerstone of its support to sustainable poverty reduction”, and the institution is currently updating these policies for the first time in two decades. Yet when the bank released a draft revision of those changes in July, the proposal set off a firestorm of criticism across civil society.

Critics warn that the revisions would allow the World Bank to shift responsibility for adherence to certain social and environmental policies on to loan recipients, while prioritising self-monitoring over up-front requirements. The new guidelines could also exempt recipient governments from abiding by certain aspects of the policies.

The bank has since extended the period intended to gather response to the draft, which was supposed to end this month, through this coming spring.

“The bank is not just any old actor in relation to these issues. It is the gorilla in the room,” Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told IPS. “What it does on safeguards, and what it doesn’t do on human rights, makes a huge difference in terms of setting global standards.”

The letter, which Alston spearheaded, is a rarity in multiple ways. Not only are formal missives from the U.N. human rights system to the World Bank uncommon, but close observers say that no such previous letter has garnered the support of so many U.N. rights experts.

Those who signed the letter “are deeply concerned that the bank is planning to turn the clock back 20 years or more,” Alston says, “and replace its existing standards with a system that will simply pass the blame for ignoring human rights considerations on to others, thus letting the bank off the hook.”

Competitive pressures

Since the 1970s, the World Bank has been a pioneer in working to ensure that its development assistance does not lead to or exacerbate certain forms of discrimination or environmental degradation.

Yet the institution has never mandated that the programmes it funds comply with international human rights standards, largely on the concern that politicising the bank’s lending could complicate its country-by-country anti-poverty focus. (Others, including Alston, maintain that human rights can no longer be considered a political issue.)

Consensus is growing, however, around the idea that sustainable development is impossible without a specific focus on human rights. Other multilateral institutions, including the U.N. Development Programme, have explicitly brought their assistance guidelines in line with international human rights obligations.

At the same time, the World Bank is experiencing greater competitive pressure. According to many analysts, including this week’s letter, this is due to the recent creation of several new multilateral development lenders, funded particularly by fast-rising economies including China, Russia and India.

These entities are widely expected to put less emphasis on prescriptive and at times laborious requirements such as the World Bank’s environmental and social safeguards. In such a context, however, Alston and others say the bank has an added responsibility to focus on the results that, they suggest, only core respect for human rights can bring.

The bank’s management counters that the institution has been a leader in highlighting the interdependence between respect for human rights and development outcomes for at least two decades. Today, officials involved with the safeguard review maintain that both human rights and non-discrimination principles have been expanded upon in the new draft.

“Our draft proposal goes as far or further than any other multilateral development bank in the degree to which it protects the vulnerable and the marginalized,” Stefan Koeberle, the bank’s director of operations risk, told IPS in a statement.

“We are currently engaged in extensive consultations on the draft, and we have received a variety of constructive proposals to strengthen the language further. We will continue to carry out our role as an organization charged with achieving poverty reduction and shared prosperity, through sound policies that achieve beneficial environmental, social, and economic outcomes for all concerned.”

U.S. leadership?

The concerns voiced by the U.N. experts come just after three U.S. lawmakers told the Obama administration that the World Bank’s safeguards revision were resulting in a “dilution of existing protections”.

In a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, the lawmakers note that a November evaluation by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) auditor had “foreshadowed” some of these concerns. The trio urged U.S. intervention.

“The Department of Treasury has a history of successfully leading coalitions that call upon regional and national development banks to implement strong safeguards,” the letter states.

“We expect the Treasury to demonstrate similar leadership in this case, so that the World Bank’s safeguards are at least as strong as the strongest safeguards of the ADB and other multilateral financial institutions.”

The United States is the World Bank’s largest member, and watchdog groups say the new flurry of formal critical response is significant.

“U.N. human rights experts and the U.S. Congress have joined the chorus of voices trying to shake the World Bank into finally recognising that human rights should be central to all that it does, and particularly in safeguarding against harm,” Jessica Evans, a senior advocate with Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

If the bank refuses to institutionalise “rigorous human rights due diligence,” Evans continues, “the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the World Bank wants to retain an ability to finance violations of international human rights law while complying with its own policies.”

Bank officials say the next draft of the safeguards revision should be made public by mid-2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138330 Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and union organiser from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call “the green economy.”

“The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens,” says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. “They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities.”The whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

Referring to a state-run programme called the “Bolsa Verde” that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, “Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning. ”

Her words are especially chilling because Teles de Carvalho Cunha is not just any rubber tapper – she is the president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri – the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Mendes’ gains have been consolidated in tens of thousands of hectares of ‘extractive reserves,’ where communities earn a living from harvesting natural rubber from the forest while keeping the trees standing. But new policies and programmes being established to conserve forests in Acre seem to be having perverse results that the iconic leader’s union is none too happy about.

Conflicting views on the green economy

As Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of  public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation.

Over the past decade, Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have “begun to pay off abundantly”.

Especially as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to fail in its mission of bringing nations together around a binding emissions reduction target – the latest failure being COP20 in Lima earlier this month – REDD proponents highlight the value of “subnational” approaches to REDD based on agreements between states and provinces, rather than nations.

The approach is best represented by an agreement between the states of California, Chiapas (Mexico), and Acre (Brazil).

In 2010, California – the world’s eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state’s polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law.

Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist.

Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as “neocolonial,”:  “Once again,” the letter read, “the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the ‘theft’ of yet another ‘raw material’ from the territories of the peoples of the South: the ‘carbon reserves’ in their forests.”

This view appears to be backed up now by a  new report on the Green Economy  from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept “top-down” proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities’ ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions.

The Earth Innovation Institute, a strong backer of REDD generally and of the Acre-Chiapas-California agreement specifically, has thoroughly documented Brazil’s deforestation success, and argues that existing incentives – farmers’ fear of losing access to markets or public finance or of being punished by green public policies – have been powerful motivators, but need to be accompanied by economic incentives that reward sustainable land-use.

But the testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities.

“We don’t see land as income,” one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. “Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return.”

Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people’s opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects the report documents (also documented here) is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre’s Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012.

The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS).

But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected “the community’s lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts.”

One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, “I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn’t any good to us. It’s no use to us. They’re removing it from here to take it to the U.S… They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They’re going to make money, but we won’t?”

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as “fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion.”

The company’s apparent failure to leave a copy of the project contract with the community did not help to build trust. Like the Purus Project – and like many REDD projects in other parts of the world whose track record of social engagement is severely lacking – this project is also on the road to certification by VCS and CCB.

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil’s National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report’s conclusion sums up its findings: “In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption.

“Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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‘Record’ Illicit Money Lost by Developing Countries Triples in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:46:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138297 There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations.  Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

Developing countries are losing money through illicit channels at twice the rate at which their economies are growing, according to new estimates released Tuesday. Further, the total volume of these lost funds appears to be rapidly expanding.

Findings from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a watchdog group based here, re-confirm previous estimates that developing countries are losing almost a trillion dollars a year through tax evasion, corruption and other financial crimes. Yet in a new report covering the decade through 2012, GFI’s researchers show that the rate at which these illicit outflows are taking place has risen significantly.“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes.” -- Eric LeCompte

In 2003, for instance, cumulative illicit capital leaving developing countries was pegged at around 297 billion dollars. That’s significant, of course, but relatively little compared to the more than 991 billion now estimated for 2012 – a record figure, thus far.

In less than a decade, then, these illicit outflows more than tripled in size, totalling at least 6.6 billion dollars. GFI reports that this works out to an adjusted average growth of some 9.4 percent per year, or twice the average global growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

One of the most common mechanisms for moving this money has been the falsification of trade invoices.

“After turning down following the financial crisis, global trade is going up again and so it’s increasingly easy to engage in misinvoicing – a lot more people are coming to understand how to do this and are willing to indulge,” Raymond Baker, GFI’s president, told IPS.

“These rates are not only growing faster than global GDP but also faster than the rate of growth of global trade.”

Further, these estimates are likely conservative, and don’t cover a broad spectrum of data that is not officially reported – cash-based criminal activities, for instance, or unofficial “hawala” transactions.

Baker emphasises that these capital losses are a problem affecting the entire developing world. Yet given that illicit outflows run in tandem with a country’s broader interaction with global trade, these rates are particularly strong in the world’s emerging economies, led by China, Russia, Mexico and India.

There are also significant differentials between regions, both is size and the rate at which they’re increasing. In the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, illicit financial flows are growing far higher than the global average, at more than 24 percent per year.

Even in sub-Saharan Africa, home to some of the world’s poorest communities, these rates are growing at more than 13 percent per year. Such figures eclipse both foreign assistance and foreign investment – indeed, the 2012 figure was more than 11 times the total development assistance offered on a global basis.

“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes,” Eric LeCompte, an expert to U.N. groups that focus on these issues, said Monday. “Countries need resources and if we curb these illicit practices, we can get the money where it’s needed most.”

Lucrative misinvoicing

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. And for the first time, certain of these key issues are receiving new and concerted international attention.

Multiple nascent multinational actions are now unfolding aimed at cracking down particularly on tax evasion by transnational companies. New transparency mechanisms are in the process of being rolled by several multilateral groups, including the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based grouping of rich countries.

Such initiatives are receiving keen attention from civil society groups, and would likely constrict these illicit flows. Yet in fact, GFI’s research suggests that the overwhelming method by which capital is illegally leaving developing countries is far more mundane and, potentially, complex to tackle.

This has to do with simple trade misinvoicing, in which companies purposefully use incorrect pricing of imports or exports to justify the transfer of funds out of or into a country, thus laundering ill-gotten finances or helping companies to hide profits. Over the past decade, the new GFI report estimates, more than three-quarters of illicit financial flows were facilitated by trade misinvoicing.

And this includes only misinvoicing for goods, not services. Likely the real figure is far higher.

Experts say that stopping misinvoicing completely will be impossible, but note that there are multiple ways to curtail the problem. First would be to ensure greater transparency in the global financial system, to eliminate tax havens and “shell corporations” and to require the automatic exchange of tax information across borders.

Efforts are currently underway to accomplish each of these, to varying degrees. Last month, leaders of the G20 countries agreed to begin automatically sharing tax information by the end of next year, and also committed to assist developing countries to engage in such sharing in the future.

GFI’s Baker says that developing countries need to bolster their customs systems, but notes that other tools are already readily available to push back against trade misinvoicing.

“There is a growing volume of online pricing data available that can be accessed in real time,” he says. “This gives developing countries the ability to look at transactions coming in and going out and to get an immediate idea as to whether the pricing accords with international norms. And if not, they can quickly question the transaction.”

Development goal

There is today broad recognition of the monumental impact that illicit financial flows have on poor countries’ ability to fund their own development. Given the centrality of trade misinvoicing in this problem, there are also increasing calls for multilateral action to take direct aim at the issue.

In particular, some development scholars and anti-poverty campaigners are urging that a related goal be included in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), currently under negotiation at the United Nations and planned to be unveiled in mid-2015.

Under this framework, GFI is calling for the international community to agree to halve trade-related illicit flows within a decade and a half. The OECD is hosting a two-day conference this week to discuss the issue.

“We’re not talking about an aspirational goal but rather a very measurable goal. That’s doable, but it will take political will,” Baker says.

“We think the SDGs should incorporate very specific, targetable goals that can have huge impact on development and helping developing countries keep their own money. In our view, that’s the most important objective.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: The Sad Future of Our Planethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-sad-future-of-our-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:22:22 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138284

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that – in the light of the agreement reached at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – the world’s governments have once again demonstrated their irresponsibility by failing to come up with a global remedy for climate change.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

It is now official: the current inter-governmental system is not able to act in the interest of humankind.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – which ended on Dec. 14, two days after it was scheduled to close – was the last step before the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, where a global agreement must be found.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In Lima, 196 countries with several thousand delegates negotiated for two weeks to find a common position on which to convene in Paris in one year’s time. Lima was preceded by an historical meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the world’s two main polluters agreed on a course of action to reduce pollution.

Well, Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen, including the energy corporations.

This is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of an agreement, not one solution has been found. The “big idea” is to leave to every country the task of deciding its own cuts in pollution according to its own criteria.“Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen”

And everybody is aware that this is most certainly a disaster for the planet. “It is a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the Dutch diplomat who is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). ”But the great hopes for the process are also gone.”

To make things clear, all delegates knew that without some binding treaty to reduce emissions, there is no way that this will happen. But they accepted what it is possible, even if it does not solve the problem. It is like a hospital where the key surgeon announces that the good news is that the patient will remain paralysed.

The agreement is based on the idea that every country will publicly commit itself to adopting its own plan for reducing emissions, based on criteria established by national governments on the basis of their domestic politics – not on what scientists have been indicating as absolutely necessary.

This, of course, is the kind of treat that no country in the world objects to. The real value of the treaty is not the issue. The issue is that the inter-governmental system is able to declare unity and common engagement. The interests of humankind are not part of the equation. Humankind is supposed to be parcelled among 196 countries, and so is the planet.

This act of irresponsibility is clear when you look at all the countries producing energy, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, Iran or Ecuador, Nigeria or Qatar, whose governments are interested in using oil exports to keep themselves in the saddle. And take a look at what the world’s third largest polluter, India, is doing in the spirit of the Lima treaty.

Under the motto: “We like clean India, but give us jobs”, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving with remarkable speed to eliminate any regulatory burden for industry, mining, power projects, the armed forces, and so on.

According to the high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental law system, the country’s regulatory system ”served only the purpose of a venal administration”. So, what did it suggest? It presented a new paradigm: ”the concept of utmost good faith”, under which business owners themselves will monitor the pollution generated by their projects, and they will monitor their own compliance!

The newly-appointed Indian National Board for Wildlife which is responsible for protected area cleared 140 pending projects in just two days; small coal mines have a one-time permission to expand without any hearing; and there is no longer any need for the approval of tribal villages for forest projects.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar boasted: ”We have decided to decentralise decision making. Ninety percent of the files won’t come to me anymore”. And he said that he was not phasing out important environmental protections, just “those which, in the name of caring for nature, were stopping progress.” He also plans to devolve power to state regulators, which environmental expert say is akin to relinquishing any national integrated policy.

It is, of course, totally coincidental that Lima conference took place in the middle of the greatest decrease in oil prices in five years. The price of a barrel of oil is now hovering around the 60 dollar mark, down from over 100 two years ago. This price level has basically been decided by Saudi Arabia, which did not agree to cut production to increase the cost of a barrel.

The most espoused explanation was that the low cost would undercut schist gas exploitation which is making the United States energy self-sufficient again, and soon an exporter. But this will equally undercut renewable energies, like wind or solar power, which have higher costs and will be abandoned when cheap oil is available.

Again coincidentally, this is creating very serious problems for countries like Russia and Venezuela (U.S. irritants) and Iran (a direct enemy), which are now entering into serious deficit and serious political problems. And, again coincidentally, this is making use of fossil energy more tempting at a moment in which the world was finally accepting that there is a problem of climate change.

In March, countries will have to present their national plans and it will then become clear that governments are lacking on the very simple task of arresting climate change, and this will lead us to irreversible damage by our climate’s final deadline, which was identified as 2020.

Thus the exercise of irresponsibility in Lima will also become an exercise in futility.

Is there any doubt that if the people, and not governments, were responsible for saving the planet, their answer would have been swifter and more efficient?

Young people, all over the world, have very different priorities from corporations and industry … but they also have much less political clout.

 

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

 

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OPINION: How Shifting to the Cloud Can Unlock Innovation for Food and Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 12:57:25 +0000 Andy Jarvis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138266 Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

By Andy Jarvis
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The digital revolution that is continuing to develop at lightening speed is an exciting new ally in our fight for global food security in the face of climate change.

Researchers have spent decades collecting data on climate patterns, but only in recent years have cost-effective solutions for publicly hosting this information been developed. Cloud computing services make the ideal home for key climate data – given that they have a vast capacity for not only storing data, but analysing it as well.Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

This rationale is the basis for a brand new partnership between CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres, and Amazon web services. With 40 years of research under its belt, CGIAR holds a wealth of information on not just climate patterns, but on all aspects of agriculture.

By making this data publically available on the Amazon cloud, researchers and developers will be empowered to come up with innovations to solve critical issues inextricably linked to food and farming, such as reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

The first datasets to move to the cloud are Global Circulation Models (GCM), presently the most important tool for representing future climate conditions.

The potential of this new partnership was put to the test this week at the climate negotiations in Peru, when the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 24 hour “hackathon”, giving Latin American developers and computer programmers first access to the cloud-based data.

The challenge was to transform the available data into actionable knowledge that will help farmers better adapt to climate variability.

The results were inspiring. The winning innovation from Colombian team Geomelodicos helps farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

The prototype programme combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations. The vision is that one day, this information could bedisseminated via SMS messaging.

Runners up Viasoluciones decided to tackle water scarcity, a serious challenge for farmers around the world as natural resources become more scarce. Named after the Quechua goddess of water, Illapa, the innovation could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops.

The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. In times of drought, this application could prove invaluable.

Farmers are in dire need of practical solutions that will help protect our food supply in the face of a warming world. Eight hundred million people in the world are still hungry, and it is a race against time to ensure that we have a robust strategy for ensuring these vulnerable people are fed and nourished.

By moving agricultural data to the cloud, developing innovations for food and farming will no longer be dependent on having access to expensive software or powerful computers on internet connection speeds.

Making sense of this “big data” will become progressively easier, and one day, farmers themselves could even take matters into their own hands.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Renewable Energy: The Untold Story of an African Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:32:55 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138251 By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

Africa is experiencing a revolution towards cleaner energy through renewable energy but the story has hardly been told to the world, says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, who had been advocating for renewable energy at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, said Africa is on the right path toward a low carbon footprint by tapping into its plentiful renewable resources – hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“There is a revolution going on in the continent of Africa and the world is not noticing it. You can go to Egypt, Ethiopia Kenya, Namibia, and Mozambique. I think we will see renewable energy being the answer to Africa’s energy problems in the next fifteen years,” Steiner said in an interview with IPS.

Sharing the example of the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Steiner told IPS that the decision was taken that “if UNEP is going to be centred with its offices in the African continent on the Equator, there can be reason why we are not using renewable energy. So we installed photovoltaic panels on our roof which we share with UN Habitat, 1200 people, and we produce 750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, that is enough for the entire building to operate.”

He noted that although it will take UNEP between eight and 10 years to pay off the installation, UNEP will have over 13 years of electricity without paying monthly or annual power bills. “It is the best business proposition that a U.N. body has ever made in terms of paying for electricity for a building,” he said.

According to Steiner, the “revolution” is already happening in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia which are both targeting renewable energy, especially geothermal energy.

“Kenya plans to triple its electricity generation up to about 6000 megawatts in the next five years. More than 90 percent of the planned power is to come from geothermal, solar and wind power,” he said. “If you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country” – Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Kenya currently runs a geothermal power development corporation which invites tenders from private investors bid and is establishing a wind power firm likely to be the largest in Africa with a capacity of 350 megawatts of power under a public-private partnership.

In Ethiopia, expansion of the Aluto-Langano geothermal power plant will increase geothermal generation capacity from the current 7 MW to 70 MW. The expansion project is being financed by the Ethiopian government (10 million dollars), a 12 million dollar grant from the Government of Japan, and a 13 million dollar loan from the World Bank.

Renewable energy has costs but also benefits

Phillip Hauser, Vice President of GDF Suez Energy Latin America, told IPS that geothermal power is a good option for countries in Africa with that potential, but it comes with risks.

“It is very site-dependent. There can be geothermal projects that are relatively cost efficient and there are others that are relatively expensive. It is a bit like the oil and gas industry. You have to find the resource and you have to develop the resource. Sometimes you might drill and you don’t find anything – that is lost investment,” Hauser told IPS.

Steiner admitted that like any other investment, renewable energy has some limitations, including the need for upfront initial capital and the cost of technology, but he said that countries with good renewable energy policies would attract the necessary private investments.

“We are moving in a direction where Africa will not have to live in a global fuel market in which one day you have to pay 120 dollars for a barrel of crude oil, then the next day you get it at 80 dollars and before you know it, it is doubled,” he said.

“So if you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country,”Steiner added.

A recent assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of Africa’s renewable energy future found that solar and wind power potential existed in at least 21 countries, and biomass power potential in at least 14 countries.

The agency, which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, has yet to provide a list of countries with geothermal power potential but almost all the countries around the Great Rift Valley in south-eastern Africa – Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania among others – have already identified geothermal sites, with Kenya being the first to use a geothermal site to add power to its grid.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin told IPS that the agency’s studies shows that not only can renewable energy meet the world’s rising demand, but it can do so more cheaply, while contributing to limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius – the widely-cited tipping point in the climate change debate.

He said the good news in Africa is that apart from the resources that exist, there is a growing body of knowledge across African expert institutions that would help the continent to exploit its virgin renewable energy potential.

What is needed now, he explained, is for countries in Africa to develop the economic case for those resources supported by targeted government policies to help developers and financiers get projects off the ground.

The IRENA assessment found that in 2010, African countries imported 18 billion dollars’ worth of oil – more than the entire amount they received in foreign aid – while oil subsidies in Africa cost an estimated 50 billion dollars every year.

New financing models for renewable energy

According to Amin, renewable energy technologies are now the most economical solution for off-grid and mini-grid electrification in remote areas, as well as for grid extension in some cases of centralised grid supply.

He argued that rapid technological progress, combined with falling costs, a better understanding of financial risk and a growing appreciation of wider benefits mean that renewable energy would increasingly be the solution to Africa’s energy problem.

In this context, Africa could take on new financing models that “de-risk” investments in order to lower the cost of capital, which has historically been a major barrier to investment in renewable energy, and one such model would include encouragement for green bonds.

“Green bonds are the recent innovation for renewable energy investments,” said Amin. “Last year we reached about 14 billion dollars, this year there is an estimate of about 40 billion, and next year there is an estimate of about 100 billion dollars in green finance through green bonds. Why doesn’t Africa take advantage of those?” he asked.

During the conference in Lima, activist groups have been urging an end to dependence on fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered energy systems, calling for investment and policies geared toward building clean, sustainable, community-based energy solutions.

“We urgently need to decrease our energy consumption and push for a just transition to community-controlled renewable energy if we are to avoid devastating climate change,” said Susann Scherbarth, a climate justice and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told IPS that “we urgently need a transition to clean energy in developing countries and one of the best incentives is globally funded feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.”

He said policies that support feed-in tariffs and decentralized power sources should be embraced by both the most- and the least-developed nations.

Backed by a new discussion paper on a ‘global renewable energy support programme’ from the What Next Forum, activists called for decentralised energy systems – including small-scale wind, solar, biomass mini-grids communities that are not necessarily connected to a national electricity transmission grid.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Rapid Rise of Green Bondshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-rapid-rise-of-green-bonds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rapid-rise-of-green-bonds http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-rapid-rise-of-green-bonds/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 18:54:35 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138209 Hellisheiðarvirkjun is the second largest geothermal power station in the world. Iceland is a leader in geothermal energy, but other countries are starting to follow suit. Credit: Jesús Rodríguez Fernández/cc by 2.0

Hellisheiðarvirkjun is the second largest geothermal power station in the world. Iceland is a leader in geothermal energy, but other countries are starting to follow suit. Credit: Jesús Rodríguez Fernández/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Most countries joining the growing list of nations pursuing clean geothermal power have been confronted with a huge financial challenge.

But the director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin, said efforts by his organisation to “double renewable energy” and encourage investors have been paying off, including a new effort to promote geothermal in Latin America.

Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“We have new financing models that are de-risking investment and lowering the cost of capital, which has historically been a barrier to renewable energy,” Amin told IPS, citing financing through green bonds as one recent innovation for renewable energy investment.

Amin said green bonds reached 14 billion dollars last year and are estimated to reach 40 billion dollars in 2014 and up to 100 billion dollars next year.

“This is changing the expectations of the traditional model of investment where it was always the expectation that developing countries would be asking for multilateral cheap financing to develop their energy sectors,” Amin said.

“That’s no longer true. What is true is that the business case for renewable energy in many of these countries is now fully established, sources of financing are coming on stream and ambitious efforts to reform the legislative and policy framework are taking place, which are opening the market for renewables.”

The proposal for an international agency dedicated to renewable energy was made in 1981 at the United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in Nairobi."The business case for renewable energy in many [developing] countries is now fully established, sources of financing are coming on stream and ambitious efforts to reform the legislative and policy framework are taking place, which are opening the market for renewables.” -- IRENA chief Adnan Z. Amin

IRENA was officially founded in Bonn on Jan. 26, 2009. This was a significant milestone for world renewable energy deployment and a clear sign that the global energy paradigm was changing as a result of the growing commitments from governments.

“The reason that we are much more integrated in the climate discussion now is because energy is going to be a large part of the solution to carbon emissions in the future,” Amin said.

“We know that the current energy system accounts for 80 percent of the global carbon emissions. Just power generation by itself accounts for 40 percent of carbon emissions and we’re living in a dramatically changing world.”

IRENA has set 2030, when the planet will be home to eight billion people, as its reference point for full rollout of renewable energy.

“These eight billion people will demand about 60 percent more energy than we currently have available and at the current rate of emissions if nothing else happens, we will reach the 450 part per million tipping point [of CO2 in the atmosphere] beyond which catastrophic climate change is likely to occur in 2040,” Amin said.

“So we have this small window of opportunity to make serious efforts to control emissions that come from energy systems.”

A new programme designed to support the development of geothermal energy in the Latin American region was launched here Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Peru’s involvement in the Geothermal Development Facility is part of its plan to achieve 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Earlier this year, the Peruvian Government and IRENA cooperated on a renewable energy readiness assessment for the country. The assessment identifies actions needed to further expand the share of renewable energy in Peru, as well as how to better complement rural electrification and improve on-going efforts to support the development of bio fuel in the country.

The assessment determined that Peru’s vast, untapped renewable energy resources could play a key role in securing the necessary energy to fuel economic expansion while preserving the environment. It also highlights the need to prepare for renewable energy integration in transmission-grid expansion plans, particularly so that variable sources like solar and wind power can meet future electricity demand.

With the current share of renewable energy in the global electricity mix at 18 percent, IRENA hopes to see this doubled by 2030.

But an analysis of the plans on the table by all the major companies in the world to see what their current trajectory of renewable investment and decarbonisation is going to be found that they would be on “a business as usual scenario” with only a three percent increase to 21 percent by the end of 2030.

Amin has met with U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres to discuss the key role of renewables in addressing climate change.

During their talks it was noted that more than 80 percent of human-caused CO2 emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy. Of that, 44 percent comes from coal, 36 percent from oil and 20 percent from natural gas.

“As such, energy must be our priority in bringing down global CO2 emissions,” Amin said.

Ryan Gilchrist, assistant director of business development at UGE International, a renewables firm, said Caribbean countries could turn around their struggling economies by pursuing clean energy.

“Most Caribbean countries are currently relying on imported diesel for power, which is expensive, price-volatile, and produces CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change,” Gilchrist told IPS.

“Solar energy can solve these challenges in the Caribbean, providing a cleaner and cheaper alternative. Caribbean islands are particularly threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, but at the same time, they have much to gain, as they have abundant solar and wind resources that can provide clean sources of energy.”

UGE International provides renewable energy solutions for businesses and governments in 90 countries.

Gilchrist said that the high cost for energy on islands, coupled with the falling cost of solar technology, means that renewable energy is already cost-competitive in most Caribbean countries. And he agrees that there are a number of financing mechanisms that eliminate the upfront cost of the technology, creating energy savings from day one.

Meanwhile, an Atlanta-based syndicated columnist, who has written extensively on geothermal in the Caribbean, said geothermal energy could be linked to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, as a positive factor in fighting poverty in small island states and energy security.

“Geothermal energy can be the prospective to address economic development, climate change mitigation, and stipulation of affordable energy,” Rebecca Theodore told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138161 Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Divestment Campaign Aims to Bleed Dry the Fossil Fuel Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/divestment-campaign-aims-to-bleed-dry-the-fossil-fuel-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=divestment-campaign-aims-to-bleed-dry-the-fossil-fuel-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/divestment-campaign-aims-to-bleed-dry-the-fossil-fuel-industry/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:49:41 +0000 Leehi Yona and Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138158 A group of activists protests minutes before the start of an event organised by the oil giant Shell at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator

A group of activists protests minutes before the start of an event organised by the oil giant Shell at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator

By Leehi Yona and Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

Even as the presence of major oil and gas corporations is nearly ubiquitous at the U.N. climate talks in the Peruvian capital known as COP20, fossil fuel divestment campaigns have gained ground in various countries and are moving to counter the influence of the “dirty energy” lobby here.

As the COP20 enters its second and final week, delegates from 195 countries are still trying to address the urgency of climate change by reaching an international agreement to decelerate global warming. However, activists are worried that the influence of fossil fuel companies within COP20 might slow down an already sluggish process.The premise is simple, according to the movement organisers: if it is morally wrong to wreck the planet, it is morally wrong to profit from that wreckage.

In response to climate inaction, student organisers have called for fossil fuel divestment. The movement aims to disinvest endowments from a list of 200 companies that are ranked by the largest known fossil fuel reserves.

Divestment campaigns advocate full divestment from the list, which includes Gazprom, Petrobras, PetroChina, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, among other major companies. The intention of the campaign is both to erode financial support for major oil corporations, as well as revoke their own moral license.

Maddy Salzman, a former organiser of Fossil Free Washington University, sees divestment as a potential solution to the current stalemate on climate action. “The necessary legislation and investment decisions cannot and will not be made in our current political system, and as citizens we must play a role in making the changes we believe in,” she told IPS.

The motivation behind the campaign stems from a 2011 Carbon Tracker Initiative report which warned that about four-fifths of the total known fossil fuel reserves worldwide must remain in the ground in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The premise is simple, according to the movement organisers: if it is morally wrong to wreck the planet, it is morally wrong to profit from that wreckage.

There are hundreds of campaigns across four continents seeking fossil fuel divestment. While most of these campaigns target university endowments, they also include state pension funds, cities, and places of faith.

Some campaigns, including at U.S. and Canadian universities, have already succeeded in obtaining commitments from their investment officers to divest their funds.

Divestment campaigns, while local, connect to broader international issues. Students involved with fossil fuel divestment campaigns are quick to acknowledge that their movement is a global one – an international solution that parallels the stalemate at the U.N.

In fact, they’ve recently launched Global Divestment Day, a day of action to elevate the growing momentum around fossil fuel divestment campaigns.

In the case of the U.N. climate negotiations, divestment has helped shed light on the influence of the fossil fuel industry at these talks.

“Even here at the annual meeting to create global policy to respond to climate change, fossil fuel companies have an influential pressure and continue to dilute the strength of the outcome of the COPs,” Dyanna Jaye, chair of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, told IPS.

“While the science becomes increasingly alarming, we continue to be fed another profit-driven story about continuing the use of fossil fuels,” said Jaye, a youth delegate with the SustainUS youth advocacy group in Lima.

On Monday, climate activists at the U.N. talks protested outside an event hosted at the conference venue by fossil fuel giant Shell. The event, initially titled “Why Divest from Fossil Fuels When a Future with Low Emission Fossil Energy Use is Already a Reality?”, has since changed names and times on multiple occasions.

Sally Bunner, an organiser with Earlham College Responsible Energy Investment, explains why fossil fuel companies cannot be part of a solution at COP20.

“Fossil fuel companies are irresponsible, because it has been proven for many decades that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels poisons people, water, air, and soil,” she said, referring to human rights implications. “Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry hasn’t switched to a better form of energy production because it’s not profitable for them to do so.”

The Shell event is not the only example of industry presence at the conference. Oil companies have been meeting with delegations from numerous countries negotiating in Lima. On Saturday afternoon, the British Columbia Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, tweeted that she was going to meet the Climate Change Advisor for Chevron, a major player in the fossil fuel industry.

Questioned in the social network about the motives of their meeting, Polak answered that “you can’t change oil company behaviour if you won’t talk with them.”

Representatives from both Chevron and TransCanada have participated in closed stakeholder meetings with the Canadian delegation, designed to brief Canadian non-governmental organisations.

While they are allowed to be present in those meetings, many youth delegates have noted the disproportionate representation of a stakeholder that comprises such a small number of the general Canadian population.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Addressing Climate Change Requires Real Solutions, Not Blind Faith in the Magic of Marketshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-addressing-climate-change-requires-real-solutions-not-blind-faith-in-the-magic-of-markets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-addressing-climate-change-requires-real-solutions-not-blind-faith-in-the-magic-of-markets http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-addressing-climate-change-requires-real-solutions-not-blind-faith-in-the-magic-of-markets/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 13:41:27 +0000 Kristen Lyons http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138145 “The darker side of green” – plantation at Bukaleba, Uganda. Credit: Kristen Lyons

“The darker side of green” – plantation at Bukaleba, Uganda. Credit: Kristen Lyons

By Kristen Lyons
BRISBANE, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

Norwegians know something of life in a climate change world. Migratory birds arrive earlier in spring, trees come into leaf before previously expected, and palsa mires (wetlands) are being lost as permafrost thaws.

Norwegians are currently waiting while geologists try to predict if, and when, Mount Mannen might collapse, destroying homes in its path, after torrential rain in the region.

Kristen Lyons

Kristen Lyons

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this will be just the beginning for Norway – and the rest of the world – unless urgent and immediate action is taken to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While reducing our dependence on the dirty fossil fuel industries is widely lauded as representing the fastest and most effective strategy to reduce our global emissions, much of the world’s attention – including that of many governments and industry – has been captured by the promise of carbon trade markets.

There are hopes that pricing and selling carbon just might be the magic bullet to solve the crisis, while at the same time generating lucrative returns for investors.

Carbon markets are being established on the assumption that if the ‘right’ price is placed on carbon, private companies and their financial backers will be driven to invest in so-called ‘green’ projects that capture and store carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s atmosphere.“Expecting some of the poorest of the poor to carry the social and ecological burdens of monoculture plantation forestry projects for carbon offset is both socially unjust, and ecologically just does not add up”

Carbon markets are championed by those who believe that carbon emissions taking place in one part of the world can be offset by their capture or sequestration in another. Plantation forestry is a key sector in the carbon market, with many projects established in some of the poorest parts of the world, based on the assumption that they will confer benefits to the environment and the local people.

But does all the hype about carbon markets really stack up?

Research on the Norwegian company Green Resources – engaged in plantation forestry and carbon offset on the African continent – raises many questions about who benefits from the carbon market projects. In-depth research over two years in Uganda, where Green Resources has licence to over 11,000 hectares of land, demonstrates how local communities are the losers of such projects.

A recent reportThe Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda,  published by the Oakland Institute, contributes to the critical conversation about the role of carbon markets in addressing climate change.

The report identifies profound adverse livelihood impacts associated with Green Resources’ activities, including loss of land and heightened food insecurity, as well as destruction of sites of cultural significance. It also demonstrates the failure of Green Resources to engage in meaningful community engagement with affected villages, so as to deliver positive community development outcomes.

Yet this REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation] type project (referring to any project that involves forestry carbon credits), and the audit mechanisms to which it must comply, fail to detect and/or challenge the impacts of Green Resources’ activities.

Nor do they detect the extent to which environmental problems – including land clearing for animal grazing and crop cultivation – may simply be relocated from inside licence areas to other, often ecologically sensitive landscapes.

Importantly too, carbon market audits fail to consider the carbon capture enabled by local agro-ecological and organic farming systems, on which most subsistence and peasant farmers rely.

We are faced with a number of options in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, something we all know is urgently needed. Despite the promise by many that the magic of climate markets will solve the current climate crisis, the findings presented in the report discard this fairy dust, shining a light on the structural violence and inequities on which carbon markets are built.

Expecting some of the poorest of the poor to carry the social and ecological burdens of monoculture plantation forestry projects for carbon offset is both socially unjust, and ecologically just does not add up. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138141 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/feed/ 2 “What’s Good for Island States Is Good for the Planet”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:41:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138130 A group of activists at the COP20 climate change meeting in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A group of activists at the COP20 climate change meeting in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

The lead negotiator for an inter-governmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small island countries doesn’t mince words. She says the new international climate change treaty being drafted here at the ongoing U.N. Climate Change Conference “is to ensure our survival”.

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) told IPS she is hoping for “an agreement that takes into account all the actions we put in, ensures that the impacts that we feel we can adapt [to], we can have access to finance to better prepare ourselves for the projected impacts that us small islands are going to be suffering.”“We already know the CO2 emission levels are a train wreck right now, you are going over 450 parts per million. How do you reduce that? By ensuring that you build on the existing technologies that can between now and 2020 help reduce the emissions and stabilise the atmosphere.” -- Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong

The agreement is likely to be adopted next year at the Paris climate conference and implemented from 2020. It is expected to take the form of a protocol, a legal instrument, or “an agreed outcome with legal force”, and will be applicable to all parties.

Uludong said an ideal 2015 agreement for AOSIS would use the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the benchmark.

“If you create an agreement that takes into account the needs of the SIDS then it would be good for the entire planet. We are fighting for 44 members but if we fight for the islands, a successful agreement will also save islands from the bigger developed countries – for example, the United States has the islands of Hawaii,” she said.

“So an agreement that takes into account the 44 members can actually save not just us but also the other islands in the bigger countries.”

Established in 1990, AOSIS’ main purpose is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States to address global warming.

Uludong said their first priority on the road to Paris is progress on workstream one:  the 2015 agreement. This is followed by workstream two which is the second part of the ADP (the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), while the third is the review looking at the implications of a world that is 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C. hotter.

“Ambition should be in line with delivering a long-term global goal of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees and we need to consider at this session ways to ensure this,” said the AOSIS lead negotiator, who noted that finance is another priority.

“How do you encourage donor countries to revive the Adaptation Fund? How do you access funding for the new finance mechanism, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), especially with the pledges from the bigger countries that we’ve seen recently?”

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

With finance being a central pillar of the 2015 climate change agreement, the current state of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is another troubling issue for AOSIS. It was designed to encourage wealthy countries to offset their emissions by funding low-carbon projects in developing countries that generate permits for each tonne of CO2 avoided.

“The big picture is that the CDM is at a crossroads,” Hugh Sealy, a Barbadian who heads the U.N.-backed global carbon market, told IPS.

“The market has collapsed. The price of CERs has plummeted from a high of between 10 and 15 dollars per CER to less than 30 cents.

“The price of the CER is now so low that project developers have no incentives to register further CDM projects and those who already registered CDM projects have no incentives. So in five years we have gone a full circle,” Sealy added.

CERs (Certified Emission Reductions) are a type of emissions unit (or carbon credits) issued by the CDM Executive Board for emission reductions achieved by CDM projects and verified by an accredited Designated Operational Entity (DOE) under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol.

“We need a clear decision here in Lima in general, and Paris in particular, as to what the role of international offset mechanism will be in the new climate regime,” Sealy said.

“We need parties, particularly the developed country parties, to raise the level of ambition and to create more demand for CERs. Outside of that, we are searching for non-traditional markets and we are also looking to see what services we could provide to financial institutions that wish to have their results-based finance verified,” he added.

Sealy also said he wants “to go face to face with those technocrats in Brussels,” where he said “someone has made a dumb decision.”

The CDM, he explained, was being undermined by a Brussels decision to restrict the use of its permits in the EU emissions trading system.

He said personal attempts made to raise the problem with the European Commission have so far proved futile.

Uludong said that from the perspective of AOSIS, building up the price of CERs can be done “through green technologies and having incentives for countries to have greener projects” into the CDM.

Outlining medium and long term expectations for AOSIS, Uludong said these include work on improving the right technologies that would reduce emissions and have countries move away from fossil fuel technologies and go into alternative and renewables

“If we can do that between now and 2020 then we can drastically reduce the impacts by ensuring that these technologies meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gasses through mitigation,” she told IPS. “If we do that now, it will build beyond 2020. We have to have a foundation to build on post-2020 so you start by mobilising actions rapidly now.

“We already know the CO2 emission levels are a train wreck right now, you are going over 450 parts per million. How do you reduce that? By ensuring that you build on the existing technologies now that can between now and 2020 help reduce the emissions and stabilise the atmosphere,” Uludong added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

 

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Model Contract to Help Protect Developing Countries From ‘Land Grabs’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/model-contract-to-help-protect-developing-countries-from-land-grabs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=model-contract-to-help-protect-developing-countries-from-land-grabs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/model-contract-to-help-protect-developing-countries-from-land-grabs/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 19:01:35 +0000 Carin Smaller http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138123 The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

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

By Carin Smaller
GENEVA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

When the Korean company Daewoo attempted to acquire half the arable land of Madagascar for free, it unleashed a tsunami of investor interest in agricultural land, popularised as the ‘land grab’.

In the last 10 years there have been more than 1,000 large-scale foreign investments in agricultural land, covering almost 38 million hectares of landequivalent to eight times the size of Britain. Investor interest in farmland was triggered, in 2008, by a confluence of the biofuels boom, global food crisis, a sharp spike in oil prices and the financial crisis.There are over 800 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat. Seventy five per cent of those people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Many of these farmland investments have created untold problems, particularly related to land rights, social unrest, and in some cases political instability. Many projects have failed or investors have simply given up, either for lack of finance, inexperience, difficult environmental conditions, or unrealistic assumptions about the crops and locations they chose.

And yet many developing countries desperately need investment in agriculture. There are over 800 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat. Seventy five per cent of those people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Without increased investment in agriculture they will not be able to improve food security nor reduce poverty.

Improving the legal and policy environment in developing countries would do much to improve the situation. The most important step to ensuring positive impacts of foreign investment is the ongoing development of domestic laws and regulations. However, many states do not have all the necessary domestic laws in place and end up negotiating contracts.

Given this reality, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has recently created a practical guide to help governments in developing countries negotiate contracts with investors to reduce the harmful effects and maximise the benefits of farmland investments.

It is the first attempt to create a model contract for developing countries to attract investment for agricultural production, while at the same time promoting the needs of the poor and protecting the environment. It is based on a three-year investigation of 80 farmland contracts and is unique in that it was drafted by a team of lawyers, social scientists and environmentalists.

This model contract does not create a blueprint. Each contract will necessarily be different, depending on the size of the project, the domestic legal systems, and the country’s needs and realities. Deciding what to include in each contract is the job of the parties both before and during the negotiations.

Nonetheless, we believe there are three factors that are critical for success.

First is the process of preparing for negotiations. This involves identifying suitable and available land (both from an environmental and a land rights perspective). It requires meaningful consultations with and consent by communities living on and around the proposed project site. It is important for investors to assess the feasibility of the project to ensure it is commercially viable.

This assessment should be presented to the governments with a business plan. In this preparatory phase, investors also need to examine the potential social and environmental impacts and prepare a plan for how to manage and mitigate those impacts.

Second is turning investor promises into binding commitments. A major complaint from governments and communities is that investors make big promises to create jobs, to build factories, and to bring new technology; and that these promises rarely materialise.

Promises can be incorporated into the contract to make them legally binding. But they must remain realistic and achievable to avoid setting up the project for failure from the outset.

The third step is turning the contract into reality after it has been signed. A contract is not an endpoint: it is only the start of a long-term relationship between the investor, government and communities.

Implementing and enforcing the contract is a much tougher challenge. It requires regular reporting by the investors on how they are implementing their promises and managing the social and environmental impacts. It requires monitoring and evaluation by governments.

And finally, all steps taken around a potential investment should be open and transparent to minimise the risk of corruption and ensure greater acceptance.

Improving the legal and policy frameworks for investment will help governments maximise the benefits and minimise the risks associated with investment in farmland and water. They will support efforts to strengthen food security and achieve sustainable rural development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesia’s New President Promises to Put Peat Before Palm Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 18:33:50 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138120 Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan (centre) come to Sungai Tohor village. Credit: Walhi/Friends of the Earth Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan (centre) come to Sungai Tohor village. Credit: Walhi/Friends of the Earth Indonesia

By Jeff Conant
JAKARTA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

Last week, Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo, ordered the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry to review the licenses of all companies that have converted peatlands to oil palm plantations.

If the ministry follows through, this will be one of the most important actions the Indonesian government can take to begin truly reining in the destruction reaped by the palm oil industry there – and to address the severe climate impacts of peatland destruction.“The best thing to do is to give the land to people... They won’t do any harm to nature. However, if we give the land to corporations, they will only switch it to monoculture plantations.” -- President Widodo

The Indonesian Forum on the Environment, known as WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, has been pushing for this initiative, and the announcement was made in the village of River Tohor, in Riau Province, where WALHI has long worked with the community.

Walhi had invited Jokowi, as the president is casually known, to come to Riau because the province is ground zero for Indonesia’s massive haze crisis that comes from the near-constant burning of carbon-rich peatlands in order to convert these fragile ecosystems to plantations.

“We invited him to River Tohor to demonstrate the community’s success in preserving the peat forest ecosystem,” said Zenzi Suhadi, forest campaigner for Walhi.

“We hoped this visit would show the president that community management can protect forests, and that granting concessions to companies is the wrong approach,” Suhadi said.

The strategy appears to have succeeded, as Walhi hailed President Jokowi’s Riau visit as proof of his commitment to solving ecological problems.

“The best thing to do is to give the land to people,” the president told the Jakarta Globe. “What’s made by people is usually environmentally friendly. They won’t do any harm to nature. However, if we give the land to corporations, they will only switch it to monoculture plantations.”

“I have told the minister of environment and forestry to review the licenses of companies that have converted peatlands into monoculture plantations if they are found damaging the ecosystem,” Jokowi said. “There is no other solution to the issue; everyone understands what must be done.” 

Peatlands – waterlogged vegetable soils that make up a significant portion of Indonesia’s rainforests – are great storehouses of carbon dioxide. The widespread practice of draining and burning peat to develop palm-oil and other plantation crops makes Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of global warming pollution, after China and the United States.

Taking strong measures to prevent this practice may be the single best action Indonesia can take in the fight to curb the climate crisis.

Palm oil producers have fought long to preserve the ability to clear peatlands. When Wilmar International, among the world’s largest palm oil traders, announced last year that it would stop trading palm oil grown on cleared peatlands, some suppliers pushed back, saying it would not only harm the industry, but would set back the economic development of smallholder farmers.

Jokowi appears to have taken the economic argument to heart: he made the announcement to audit palm oil concession licenses after joining the local community to plant seedlings of sago, a native palm species that is harvested for its starchy tapioca-like pith, a food product that can be sold locally or for export.

“The president’s decision to audit concession licenses to protect peat puts the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of the industry,” said Suhadi.

“This is an acknowledgment that the people of Indonesia have been waiting on for decades,” Suhadi continued. “Finally it is recognized that government must foster trust in people to be the first to protect forests.”

Jokowi’s move came shortly after his government announced a four- to six-month moratorium on all new logging concessions. That prohibition goes beyond the 2011 nationwide moratorium on new concessions across more than 14 million hectares of forests and peatlands

The move also comes on the heels of Jokowi’s announcement that the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment would be combined into one ministry, headed by Siti Nurbaya – a move that not all see as positive but that does signal a radical effort to restructure the way the government manages lands and resources.

Jokowi has also pledged to clean up Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt forestry sector as a step toward reducing deforestation.

Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan says the president must soon follow up the visit with “concrete actions” in the form of firm law enforcement.

“Among the concrete actions that President Jokowi can immediately take is ordering the termination concessions for companies proven to have been involved in forest and land fires,” Abetnego said.

“Law enforcement must continue legal action against companies that have been named suspects, as well as develop investigations into companies that civilians have filed reports against,” he added.

The environmental and social degradation caused by the palm oil is founded upon corruption and illegality, Walhi argues.

“In order to begin restoring forests and returning rights to the people,” says Suhadi, “the large companies need to be the first target of the government. President Jokowi needs to streamline the ability of law enforcement to take action against these companies as part of a national movement to reclaim citizen’s rights to lands and livelihoods.

“As it is now, law enforcement agencies are part of the corporate crime wave that undermines peoples’ rights. The first duty of the government is to improve law enforcement in the forest sector.”

It appears that, after decades of growing corruption and the massive deforestation, climate pollution and social conflict that has followed from it, Indonesia’s new president may be serious about bringing much-needed change.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iraqi Kurds Seek Greater Balance between Ankara and Baghdadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 20:09:59 +0000 Mohammed A. Salih http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138098 A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Mohammed A. Salih
ERBIL, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

After a period of frostiness, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey seem intent on mending ties, as each of the parties show signs of needing the other.

But the Kurds appear more cautious this time around, apparently leery of moving too close to Ankara lest they alienate the new Iraqi government in Baghdad with which they signed a breakthrough oil deal Tuesday.It’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

The agreement, which will give Baghdad greater control over oil produced in Kurdistan and Kurdish-occupied Kirkuk in exchange for the KRG’s receipt of a bigger share of the central government’s budget, may signal an effort to reduce Erbil’s heavy reliance on Turkey.

The warmth between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey was a rather strange affair to begin with. It emerged unexpectedly and evolved dramatically, particularly after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Whereas Turkey is a major player in the Middle East and Eurasia regions, Iraqi Kurdistan is not even an independent state. The imbalance of power between the two parties made their development of a “strategic” relationship particularly remarkable.

And given the deep historical animosity in Ankara toward all things Kurdish, the change of heart on its leaders’ part seemed almost miraculous, even if highly lucrative to Turkish construction companies in particular.

But those ties suffered a major blow in August when the forces of Islamic State (IS) swept into Kurdish-held territories in Iraq.

With the IS threatening Kurdistan’s capital city, Erbil, Turkey did little to assist the Kurds. Many in Kurdistan were baffled; the overwhelming sense here was that Turkey had abandoned Iraqi Kurds in the middle of a life-or-death crisis. KRG President Masoud Barzani, Ankara’s closest ally, even felt moved to publicly thank Iran, Turkey’s regional rival, for rushing arms and other supplies to the Peshmerga in their hour of need.

In an attempt to simultaneously develop an understanding and save face, some senior KRG officials defended Ankara, insisting that its hands were tied by the fact that more than 40 staff members in its consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul himself, had been taken hostage by the IS. Other officials were more critical, slamming Ankara for not having acted decisively in KRG’s support.

And the fact that Turkey was experiencing elections where the ambitious then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was running for the newly enhanced office of president was also invoked as a reason for his reluctance to enter into war with such a ruthless foe.

It also appeared to observers here that Erdogan did not want to do anything that could strengthen his arch-enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even if that meant effectively siding with the Sunni jihadists.

But last month’s visit to Iraq by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to have helped repair the relationship with the Kurds in the north. Davutoglu turned on his personal charm to reassure his hosts, even visiting a mountainous area where Turkish special forces are now training members of Peshmerga and a Turkish-built refugee camp for Iraqis displaced by the war.

The question of how long it takes for the relationship to bounce back to the point where it was six months ago is anyone’s guess.

But it’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

Focused on laying the foundation for a high degree of economic and political autonomy – if not independence — from Baghdad, the Kurds’ strategic ambition is to be able to control and ideally sell their oil and gas to international clients. And geography dictates that the most obvious and economically efficient route runs through Turkey, with or without Baghdad’s blessing.

As for Ankara, Iraqi Kurdistan is now its only friend in an otherwise hostile region. Once upon a time, not long ago, politicians in Ankara boasted of the success of their “zero-problems-with-neighbours” policy that had reshuffled regional politics and turned some of Turkey’s long-standing foes in the region, including Syria, into friends. But that era is now gone.

Ankara has come to see Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential major supplier of its own energy needs and has generally sided with the KRG in its disputes with Baghdad.

At the same time, however, Kurdish leaders have been criticised here for putting most of their eggs in Ankara’s basket.

The last time Kurds invested so much of their trust in a neighbouring country was during in the 1960s and 1970s when the Shah of Iran supported their insurgency as a means of exerting pressure on Baghdad. When the Shah abruptly abandoned Kurds in return for territorial concessions by the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the Shatt al-Arab River separating southern Iran from Iraq in 1975, the results were catastrophic.

Turkey’s indifference and passivity in August when all of Iraqi Kurdistan came under existential threat by IS jihadists reminded many here of the consequences of placing too much trust in their neighbours. The hoary proverb that “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” suddenly regained its currency.

IS’s siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani – just one kilometre from the Turkish frontier – compounded that distrust, not only for Iraqi Kurds, but for Kurds throughout the region, including in Turkey itself.

Turkey’s refusal to assist Kurdish fighters against IS’s brutal onslaught has made it harder for the KRG to initiate a reconciliation.

Although Ankara has now changed its position – under heavy U.S. pressure — and is now permitting the Peshmerga to provide limited assistance and re-inforcements for Kobani’s defenders, the process of mending fences is still moving rather slowly.

While that process has now begun, it remains unclear how far both sides will go. Will it be again a case of Ankara and Erbil jointly versus Baghdad, or will Erbil play the game differently this time, aiming for greater balance between the two capitals.

Indeed, the much-lauded oil deal struck Tuesday between the Baghdad and the KRG may indicate a preference for the latter strategy, particularly in light of their mutual interest in both confronting IS and compensating for losses in revenue resulting from the steep plunge in oil prices.

Still, given the history of deals sealed and then broken that have long characterised relations between the Kurds and Baghdad, nothing can be taken for granted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Finance Flowing, But for Many, the Well Remains Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 13:25:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138082 Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

For more than 10 years, Mildred Crawford has been “a voice in the wilderness” crying out on behalf of rural women in agriculture.

Crawford, 50, who grew up in the small Jamaican community of Brown’s Hall in St. Catherine parish, was “filled with enthusiasm” when she received an invitation from the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) to be part of a civil society contingent to the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP20), where her voice could be heard on a much bigger stage."Many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them." -- UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres

But mere days after arriving here for her first-ever COP, Crawford’s exhilaration has turned to disappointment.

“I am weary, because even in the side events I don’t see much government representatives coming to hear the voice of civil society,” she told IPS.

“If they are not here to hear what we have to say, there is very little impact that will be created. Already there is a gap between policy and implementation which is very serious because we talk the talk, we don’t walk the talk.”

Crawford said women farmers often do not get the attention or recognition they deserve, pointing to the important role they play in feeding their families and the wider population.

“Our women farmers store seeds. In the event that a hurricane comes and resources become scarce, they would share what they have among themselves so that they can have a rebound in agriculture,” she explained.

WFO is an international member-based organisation whose mandate is to bring together farmers’ organisations and agricultural cooperatives from all over the world. It includes approximately 70 members from about 50 countries in the developed and emerging world.

The WFO said its delegation of farmers is intended to be a pilot for scaling up in 2015, when the COP21 will take place in Paris. It also aims to raise awareness of the role of smallholder agriculture in climate adaptation and mitigation and have it recognised in the 2015 UNFCCC negotiations.

The negotiations next year in Paris will aim to reach legally-binding agreements on limits on greenhouse gas emissions that all nations will have to implement.

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Diann Black-Layne speaks for a much wider constituency – Small Island Developing States (SIDS). She said adaptation, finance and loss and damage top the list of issues this group of countries wants to see addressed in the medium term.

“Many of our developing countries have been spending their own money on adaptation,” Black-Layne, who is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador on climate change, told IPS.

She said SIDS are already “highly indebted” and “this is borrowed money” for their national budgets which they are forced to use “to fund their adaptation programmes and restoration from extreme weather events. So, to then have to borrow more money for mitigation is a difficult sell.”

The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres agrees that such commitments by developing countries needs to be buttressed with international climate finance flows, in particular for the most vulnerable.

“There is no doubt that adaptation finance needs to increase. That is very clear that that is the urgency among most developing countries, to actually cover their adaptation costs and many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them (so) they are actually already doing it out of their own pocket,” Figueres said.

Loss and Damage is a facility to compensate countries for extreme weather events. It also provides some level of financing to help countries adjust to the creeping permanent loss caused by climate change.

“At this COP we are focusing on financial issues for loss and damage,” Black-Layne said. “In our region, that would include things like the loss of the conch industry and the loss of the fishing industry. Even if we limit it to a two-degree warming, we would lose those two industries so we are now negotiating a mechanism to assist countries to adapt.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In 2012, the conch industry in just one Caribbean Community country, Belize, was valued at 10 million dollars.

A landmark assessment presented Wednesday to governments meeting here at the U.N. climate summit said hundreds of billions of dollars of climate finance may now be flowing across the globe.

The assessment – which includes a summary and recommendations by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance and a technical report by experts – is the first of a series of assessment reports that put together information and data on financial flows supporting emission reductions and adaptation within countries and via international support.

The assessment puts the lower range of global climate finance flows at 340 billion dollars a year for the period 2011-2012, with the upper end at 650 billion dollars, and possibly higher.

“It does seem that climate finance is flowing, not exclusively but with a priority toward the most vulnerable,” Figueres said.

“That is a very, very important part of this report because it is as exactly as it should be. It should be the most vulnerable populations, the most vulnerable countries, and the most vulnerable populations within countries that actually receive climate finance with priority.”

The assessment notes that the exact amounts of global totals could be higher due to the complexity of defining climate finance, the myriad of ways in which governments and organisations channel funding, and data gaps and limitations – particularly for adaptation and energy efficiency.

In addition, the assessment attributes different levels of confidence to different sub-flows, with data on global total climate flows being relatively uncertain, in part due to the fact that most data reflect finance commitments rather than disbursements, and the associated definitional issues.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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