Inter Press Service » Natural Resources http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:40:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 U.S. Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:26:56 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133733 An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy. The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.

The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the U.S. government. Onondaga representatives are calling on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights arm of the pan-regional Organisation of American States (OAS), to intervene.“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS, but I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.” -- Onondaga leader Sid Hill

In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a case against New York State, stating the state government had repeatedly violated treaties signed with the Onondaga, resulting in lost land and severe environmental pollution. Yet advocates for the trips say antiquated legal precedents with racist roots have allowed the courts to consistently dismiss the Onondaga’s case.

They are now looking to the IACHR for justice.

“New York State broke the law and now the U.S. government has failed to protect our lands, which they promised to us in treaties,” Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Onondaga people, told IPS.

Hill and others from the Onondaga Nation gathered outside the White House, located near the IACHR’s Washington headquarters, on Tuesday. Hill brought an heirloom belt commissioned for the Onondaga Nation by George Washington, the first U.S. president, to ratify the Treaty of Canandaigua, affirming land rights for the Onondaga and other tribes.

In their petition to the IACHR, the Onondaga quote sections from the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. Signed by George Washington, this law assured the Onondaga that their lands would be safe, and if threatened, that the federal courts would protect their rights.

Yet since then, tribal advocates say, their 2.5 million acres of land has shrunk to just 6,900 acres. And rather than helping the Onondaga, the courts have ignored their case.

“We filed the original case in 2005,” Joe Heath, the attorney for the Onondaga Nation, told IPS.

“We did not sue, did not demand any return for original land. It was more aimed at protecting sacred sites and environmental issues … Our case was dismissed in 2010, so we appealed to the Second Circuit.”

The Second Circuit, and finally the Supreme Court, dismissed the case.

Landmark law

Since 2005, the U.S. courts have designed a new set of rules, called “equitable defence”. This now arms New York with a two-part defence in the Onondaga case. First, officials are able to argue that too much time has passed since the 1794 treaty was signed to when the case was filed, in 2005.

Second, equitable defence also states that the court is able to determine on its own whether the Onondaga people have been disturbed on their land.

“The legal ground on which [the Onondaga] claims rest has undergone profound change since the Nation initiated its action,” the District Court concluded. “The law today forecloses this Court from permitting these claims to proceed.”

The Onondaga Nation and other Native American nations are now fighting to change Native American land laws.

Current legal precedents go back to the 1400s, when Pope Alexander VI issued a papal decree that gave European monarchs sovereignty over “lands occupied by non-Christian ‘barbarous nations’”. In a case in 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court applied this principle to uphold the possession of indigenous lands in favour of colonial or post-colonial governments.

The Supreme Court again revived this doctrine as recent as 2005, when another New York tribe, the Oneida Nation, refused to pay taxes to the United States, citing its status as a sovereign nation.

“Under the Doctrine of Discovery … fee title to the land occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005 decision.

This doctrine still underpins Indian land law and the dismissal of the Onondaga Nation’s case.

“This is the Plessy v. Ferguson of Indian law,” Heath told IPS, referring to a notorious landmark judicial decision that, for a time, upheld racial segregation in the United States.

Most polluted lake

Heath and others say the goal in “correcting” the U.S. legal system would be to provide the Onondaga Nation and other tribes more say in environmental decisions. Front and centre in this argument is the travesty they say has been visited on Onondaga Lake.

“Onondaga Lake, a sacred lake, has been turned into the most polluted lake in the country,” Heath says. “Allied Corp. dumped mercury in the lake every day from 1946 to 1970.”

In 1999, Allied Corp., a major chemicals company, purchased Honeywell, a company popularly associated with thermostats, and adopted its name, to try and shed its association with pollution. However, this merger has made it more difficult for the Onondaga Nation to get the company to clean up the lake.

“Before the Europeans got here, we had a very healthy lifestyle,” Heath said.

“All the water was clean and drinkable … With the loss of land, pollution of water, and loss of access to water, health has been impacted negatively.”

Another problem is salt mining.

“Only one body of water flows through the territory, Onondaga Creek, and this creek is now severely polluted as a result of salt mining upstream,” Heath says. “The salt mining was done over a century, and so recklessly that it severely damaged the hydrogeology in the valley.”

Heath says elder members of the Onondaga community can remember clear waters that supported trout fishing.

“Now you can’t see two inches into the water, it looks like yesterday’s coffee,” he says.

The Onondaga Nation is now waiting to see whether IACHR will hear the case.

This normally takes several years, however. And even if the court hears the case, it has no formal enforcement mechanisms, but can only make recommendations to the United States.

“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS,” Onondaga leader Hill said. “But I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.”

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Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:14:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133691 The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa. The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by […]

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National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa.

The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by the end of May. The statute, known as Section 1502 and covering what are referred to as “conflict minerals”, became law in 2010, but the details of its actual implementation have remained up in the air ever since.The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States.” -- Holly Dranginis

“There are very encouraging aspects of this ruling, and the bottom line is that the rule hasn’t been overturned and now companies will need to move forward,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the Washington office of Global Witness, a watchdog group that supports Section 1502, told IPS.

“The heart of this statute is companies carrying out due diligence on their supply chains so they can figure out whether their minerals are coming from conflict areas. Due diligence is a process – first knowing the supply chain and then taking action to address any problems. This ruling has upheld the due diligence and reporting aspects.”

The U.S. Congress hoped Section 1502 would help quell the violence that has wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for the past decade and a half. Findings by the United Nations, rights groups and others have warned that rebels in these areas have funded their operations in part by mining and selling any of five minerals that have become particularly sought after by the international electronics industry.

The rule has come under attack by U.S. business groups who say the requirements would be onerous and infringe on their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, by forcing them to label their products “conflict free”. But agreeing with previous rulings, a three-judge bench on Monday dismissed most of these concerns.

The dismissal included business concerns that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not adequately analysed costs and benefits of the regulation.

“The rule’s benefits would occur half-a-world away in the midst of an opaque conflict about which little reliable information exists, and concern a subject about which the [SEC] has no particular expertise,” the court stated in its decision.

“Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

Compelled speech

Yet the court also offered a split decision in favour of the manufacturers on the free speech concern, allowing both proponents and critics of Section 1502 to claim victory.

U.S. law allows for certain “compelled” public disclosures, but generally only if those are recitations of straight fact. However, the court found the issue of conflict minerals to be far more complex.

“[I]t is far from clear that the description at issue – whether a product is ‘conflict free’ – is factual and nonideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts,” the court stated.

“The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups … By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will appeal this part of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (the agency says it’s reviewing the ruling). For now, the decision undermines a key strategy for groups hoping to use a labelling requirement to shame companies into compliance, though related information will still be publicly available.

The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States,” Holly Dranginis, a policy associate with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, said Monday.

“The court’s proposal that a conflict-free determination is ideological is unfounded and undercuts the power of society’s growing awareness that global markets and security in fragile states are in fact linked.”

Meanwhile, a separate case before the same court could soon undermine the free speech finding. A smaller bench has already ruled in favour of requiring meat producers to include “country of origin” information on their products, and the case is now slated to be heard by the full court in mid-May.

A dissenting opinion in the conflict minerals ruling noted that the meat-labelling decision could have a significant impact on Monday’s ruling.

6,000 reports

The complexities of implementing Section 1502 remain highly problematic in central Africa, and some are warning that the law could soon collapse under its own weight. Yet others say the regulation is already having a noticeable impact, with the Enough Project suggesting that “over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [are] now free of armed groups.”

Monday’s ruling should now allow the U.S. side of the statute’s implementation to proceed. This means that around 6,000 U.S. companies will need to file reports with the SEC, and post them to company websites, by the end of May.

The lawsuit against Section 1502 was brought by three of the United States’ largest business lobbies, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. In a joint statement sent to IPS, the three lauded the decision.

“[W]e are pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s decision … finding the statute and regulation are unconstitutional,” the groups stated. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and abhor the violence in that country, but this rule was not the appropriate way to address this problem.”

Yet other businesses are already complying with the spirit of Section 1502. Perhaps the most significant of these companies, Intel, is actually a member of NAM.

In January, the company pledged to remove all conflict minerals from its microprocessors. It says it now has no plans to change course.

“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to do our part to achieve conflict-free supply chains and to report publicly on these efforts,” Lisa Malloy, an Intel spokesperson, told IPS.

“The challenge of responsible minerals sourcing requires a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies in the U.S. and internationally, non-profit groups and industry. We urge all partners to continue the momentum towards a solution.”

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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U.S. Urged to Push World Bank on Human Rights Safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:25:27 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133578 Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance. The World Bank has been a pioneer […]

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Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

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

Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance.

The World Bank has been a pioneer in working to ensure that its assistance does not lead to or exacerbate certain forms of discrimination or environmental degradation.“No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.” -- Rep. James P. McGovern

Yet the Washington-based institution has long been criticised for refusing to institutionalise a specific focus on human rights, and is currently involved in a major review of these policies.

“I recognise that constructing sustainable relationships between development priorities and human rights can be a challenging endeavour for the World Bank, but it is a crucial endeavour to undertake,” James P. McGovern, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Wednesday at a hearing he chaired on the subject.

“Human rights due diligence and assessments would ensure that each project is properly vetted and that possible violations of human rights are acknowledged beforehand and can be prevented. This not only protects the integrity of individuals but also ensures the sustainability of a project, which means more people will benefit from the World Bank’s investment long term.”

The World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are currently meeting in Washington for a semi-annual summit.

McGovern warned that important bank policies on rights, the environment and indigenous peoples are often treated as “little more than one box that needed to be checked” by project managers. Further, he said, “No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.”

The World Bank has long been barred by its membership from engaging in overtly political issues. Yet many say rights issues need not be considered political, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation.

Kim “responded very well” to the Uganda issue, Barney Frank, a former member of Congress, told the hearing Wednesday. But he warned that “it’s not good when things are done ad hoc.”

“Some of the countries can complain they weren’t warned,” Frank said.

“That’s why it’s important to have a framework in place, so any country contemplating brutal actions in the future will be on notice … I think it’s reasonable to say, ‘If we’re going to punish you, we should let you know in advance what the rules are.’”

Review opportunity

A two-year review of the bank’s safeguard policies is currently underway, and could be finished by the end of the year. Proponents of these reforms say the review offers an important opportunity for leverage, particularly by the United States.

“It’s really incumbent on the United States and the U.S. Congress, as large shareholders with strong influence, to take a very progressive and aggressive role on promoting human rights standards at the bank,” Arvind Ganesan, director for business and human rights at Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog group, told IPS.

“This is critically important because, increasingly, governments such as that of China have influence over the bank, and they’ve been very clear they don’t want human rights standards incorporated into the bank.”

Ganesan, who also testified Wednesday, says the bank needs to incorporate human rights-focused due diligence into its vetting of potential project funding, and to show that its projects are mitigating human rights concerns.

On questioning from lawmakers, Ganesan noted that several European countries on the World Bank’s board have offered strong support for such changes. But he warned that other governments have been “hostile” to the idea.

Certain parts of the bank’s staff are sympathetic to the idea of greater human rights focus in the institution’s lending, Ganesan says. But he cautions that “the staff in general needs to be far more motivated to include human rights.”

A bank spokesperson told IPS the safeguards review is “making good progress”, with a public update due Saturday.

“We are ramping up our standards to ensure the delivery of a strengthened policy framework which is more efficient and comprehensive; a system that will enable the Bank to assert its position as a force for good in sustainable development; a new policy framework that is clear to implement and to hold us accountable for,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“[W]e are looking at how most appropriately to address the adverse impacts of discrimination and exclusion … along with how to cover vulnerable/disadvantaged issues such as sexual orientation.”

Lessons learned

Lawmakers on Wednesday also heard testimony about three past World Bank-supported projects: agricultural development initiatives in Uzbekistan, despite widespread findings of child and forced labour in that country’s important cotton industry; an oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon that saw bank funds diverted by a corrupt and oppressive government in N’Djamena; and a series of palm oil plantations in Honduras that have led to the takeover of indigenous lands.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, worth some seven billion dollars “was meant to be transformational. Yet even an internal bank evaluation found the project had not contributed to poverty reduction but rather enriched the government of Chad – meaning more and more corruption and human rights violations,” Delphine Djiraibe, an attorney with the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, told the hearing.

“We hope the U.S. Congress will put pressure on the World Bank Group to learn from the fiasco of this project and not keep repeating the same mistakes that lead to serious human rights violations and environmental degradation.”

On Thursday, over 180 global civil society groups accused the World Bank of directly facilitating a spate of large-scale land acquisitions through its annual publication of business-friendliness metrics known as the Doing Business index, as well as a new initiative called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. While such rankings measure how a country’s regulations impact on industry, critics say the widely watched indicators push governments to prioritise industry over poor and marginalised communities.

“The [Doing Business] framework is creating competition between nations to cut down economic regulations as well as environmental and social safeguards in order to score better in the ranking,” the Oakland Institute, a watchdog group, says in a new report on the issue.

“[T]he … ranking has the collateral effect of facilitating land grabbing by advocating for ‘protection of investors’ and property reforms that make land a marketable commodity and facilitate large-scale land acquisitions.”

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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Mercury Still Poisoning Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-still-loose-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:08:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133493 Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry. After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in […]

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Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry.

After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in the metal shot up in the region.

“Mexico’s exports have tripled in the last few years,” Ibrahima Sow, an environmental specialist in the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Climate Change and Chemicals Team, told Tierramérica. “And activities like the extraction of gold from recycled electronic goods are on the rise.”

The global treaty on mercury was adopted in October 2013. It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, control measures for air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

But of the 97 countries around the world that have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury – including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean – only one, the United States, has ratified it, and 49 more must do so in order for it to go into effect.

Minamata is the Japanese city that gave its name to the illness caused by severe mercury poisoning. The disease, a neurological syndrome, was first identified there in the 1950s.

It was eventually discovered that it was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation. The local populace suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish and shellfish containing a build-up of this neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical.

The contamination occurred between 1932 and 1968. As of 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised; at least 100 of them died as a result of the disease.

In Latin America, mercury is used in artisanal gold mining and hospital equipment. And emissions are produced by the extraction, refining, transport and combustion of hydrocarbons; thermoelectric plants; and steelworks.

It is also smuggled in a number of countries.

“It is hard to quantify the illegal imports,” Colombia’s deputy minister of the environment and sustainable development, Pablo Vieira, told Tierramérica. “Everyone knows that artisanal and small-scale mining uses smuggled mercury, mainly coming in from Peru and Ecuador, although hard data is not available.”

According to Colombia’s authorities, the mercury is smuggled through the jungle in the country’s remote border zones.

Mercury Watch, an international alliance which keeps a global database, estimated Latin America’s mercury emissions at 526 tonnes in 2010, with Colombia in the lead, accounting for 180 tonnes.

In an assessment published in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that mercury emissions caused by human activities reached 1,960 tonnes in 2010, with artisanal mining as the main source (727 tonnes), followed by the burning of coal, principally from power generation and industrial use.

Artisanal gold mining is practised in at least a dozen Latin American countries, largely in the Andean region and the Amazon rainforest, but in Central America as well, UNEP reports.

Some 500,000 small-scale gold miners drive the legal or illegal demand for mercury.

Mexico and Peru have mercury deposits, but there is no formal primary mercury mining in the region. The extraction is secondary, because the mercury tends to be mixed with other minerals, or comes from the recycling of mercury already extracted and used for other purposes.

The biggest producers are Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while the main consumers and legal importers are Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In 2012 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia headed the regional list of exporters of mercury and products containing the metal, according to Mercury Watch.

Mercury is naturally present in certain rocks, and can be found in the air, soil and water as a result of industrial emissions.

Bacteria and other microorganisms convert mercury to methylmercury, which can accumulate in different animal species, especially fish.

Mining industry laws in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Honduras ban the use of mercury.

And last year Colombia passed a law that would phase out mercury in mining over the next five years and in industry over the next 10 years.

Since November 2013, the Peruvian Congress has also been debating a draft law to eliminate mercury in mining and replace it in industrial activities.

According to UNEP, there were a total of 11 chlor-alkali plants operating with mercury technology in seven countries in the region in 2012. But several of the factories plan to adopt mercury-free technologies by 2020.

“The mercury content in products, the replacement of mercury, and the temporary storage and final disposal of mercury waste are significant aspects of mercury management,” Raquel Lejtreger, undersecretary in Uruguay’s ministry of housing, territorial planning and environment, told Tierramérica.

Uruguay imports products that contain mercury. But a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant operating in the South American country plans to convert to mercury-free technology, although financing to do so is needed.

GEF has provided funds to Uruguay and other countries in the region for the negotiation of the global treaty on mercury and for the adoption of alternative, mercury-free technologies. But there is still a long way to go.

This story was originally published Apr. 5 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.N. Aims at Treaty to Protect Marine Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 21:03:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133406 At a political level, when the United Nations speaks of a “high seas alliance”, it is probably a coalition of countries battling modern piracy in the Indian Ocean. But at the environmental level, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) is a partnership of more than 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), plus the International Union for the Conservation […]

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Yellow fish swarm Australia's Ningaloo reef. Around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Credit: Angelo DeSantis/cc by 2.0

Yellow fish swarm Australia's Ningaloo reef. Around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Credit: Angelo DeSantis/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

At a political level, when the United Nations speaks of a “high seas alliance”, it is probably a coalition of countries battling modern piracy in the Indian Ocean.

But at the environmental level, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) is a partnership of more than 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), fighting for the preservation of marine biodiversity.

As a U.N. working group discusses a proposed “international mechanism” for the protection of oceans, the HSA says high seas and the international seabed area, which make up about 45 percent of the surface of the planet, “are brimming with biodiveristy and vital resources.”

But they are under increasing pressure from threats such as overfishing, habitat destruction and the impacts of climate change.

The HSA has expressed its strong support for negotiations to develop a new agreement to establish a legal regime to safeguard biodiversity in the high seas.

Fisheries at the Tipping Point

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), cited by Greenpeace International, around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted.

Some species have already been fished to commercial extinction; many more are on the verge.

And according to the World Bank, the lost economic benefits due to overfishing are estimated to be in the order of 50 billion dollars annually.

The value of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) on the other hand is currently estimated to amount to 10-23.5 billion dollars per year.

The deep ocean seafloor has also become the new frontier for major corporations with mining technology, promising lucrative returns, but not counting the impacts of such a destructive activity on other sectors, ecosystem services and coastal communities.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says, the impacts of climate change are causing dead zones in the ocean, increasing temperatures and causing acidification.

Any such treaty or convention will be a new implementing agreement under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Working Group, which is expected to conclude its four-day meeting Friday, says it is at a critical juncture of its work, and discussions are expected to continue into the future.

“The next three meetings present a clear opportunity to try and overcome remaining differences and to crystallise the areas of convergence into concrete action,” U.N. Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares said in his opening remarks Monday.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior advisor on Oceans Policy at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “Our oceans are in peril and in need of urgent protection.”

Faced with multiple threats, including climate change, ocean acidification and overfishing, the oceans can only provide livelihoods in the future if governments establish a global network of ocean sanctuaries today, she added.

“It’s simply scandalous that still less than one percent of the high seas is protected,” Tsenikli said.

She said governments must listen to the call by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and act urgently to protect marine life in the oceans by setting up a U.N. high seas biodiversity agreement.

On Monday, Ban said, “If we are to fully benefit from the oceans, we must reverse the degradation of the marine environment due to pollution, overexploitation and acidification.”

He urged all nations to work towards that end, including by joining and implementing the existing UNCLOS.

As of last year, 165 of the 193 member states have joined UNCLOS.

Friedrich Wulf, international biodiversity campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe, told IPS, “I can say the open sea is an area of dispute and is a major obstacle for designating the 40 percent protected areas target” – called for by the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – “and that this area is not feasible under this convention.”

“The issue has now been moved to the rather old UNCLOS but was quite heavily debated and I am not sure UNCLOS covers it well,” he said.

“So I think a new effort to have a U.N. regulation is very helpful. I don’t think it will be possible to reach Aichi target 6 on marine biodiversity without it, as there is a legislative gap in the open sea,” he added.

Aichi targets were adopted at a conference in Aichi, Japan, back in 2010.

Target 6 reads: By 2020, all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

At the June 2012 Rio+20 conference on the environment in Brazil, member states made a commitment to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction on an urgent basis.

“Healthy, productive and resilient oceans, rich in marine biodiversity, have a significant role to play in sustainable development as they contribute to the health, food security and livelihoods of millions of people around the world,” the meeting concluded.

The Working Group says it will present its recommendations on the scope, parametres and feasibility of the instrument to the General Assembly to enable it to make a decision before the end of its 69th session, in September 2015.

The meetings are being co-chaired by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, Ambassador Palitha T. B. Kohona, and the Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Liesbeth Lijnzaad.

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Fracking, Seismic Activity Grow Hand in Hand in Mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/fracking-seismic-activity-grow-hand-hand-mexico/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 13:08:39 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133399 Scientists warn that large-scale fracking for shale gas planned by Mexico’s oil company Pemex will cause a surge in seismic activity in northern Mexico, an area already prone to quakes. Experts link a 2013 swarm of earthquakes in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Burgos and […]

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Map of seismic activity from October 2013 to March 2014 in the state of Nuevo León in northeast Mexico. Credit: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León

Map of seismic activity from October 2013 to March 2014 in the state of Nuevo León in northeast Mexico. Credit: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Scientists warn that large-scale fracking for shale gas planned by Mexico’s oil company Pemex will cause a surge in seismic activity in northern Mexico, an area already prone to quakes.

Experts link a 2013 swarm of earthquakes in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Burgos and Eagle Ford shale deposits – the latter of which is shared with the U.S. state of Texas.

Researcher Ruperto de la Garza found a link between seismic activity and fracking, a technique that involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, opening and extending fractures in the shale rock to release the natural gas.

“The final result is the dislocation of the geological structure which, when it is pulverised, allows the trapped gas to escape,” the expert with the environmental and risk consultancy Gestoría Ambiental y de Riesgos told IPS from Saltillo, the capital of the northern state of Coahuila.

When the chemicals are injected “and the lutite particles [sedimentary rock] break down, the earth shifts,” he said. “It’s not surprising that the earth has been settling.”

De la Garza drew up an exhaustive map of the seismic movements in 2013 and the gas-producing areas.

His findings, published on Mar. 22, indicated a correlation between the seismic activity and fracking.

Statistics from Mexico’s National Seismological Service show an increase in intensity and frequency of seismic activity in Nuevo León, where at least 31 quakes between 3.1 and 4.3 on the Richter scale were registered.

Most of the quakes occurred in 2013. Of the ones registered this year, the highest intensity took place on Mar. 2-3, according to official records.

De la Garza said the number of quakes in that state increased in 2013 and the first few months of this year.

The Burgos basin, which extends through the northern states of Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, holds huge reserves of conventional gas, which began to be tapped in the past decade.

Since 2011, PEMEX has drilled at least six wells for shale gas in the states of Nuevo León and Coahuila. It is also preparing for further exploration in the southeastern state of Veracruz.

The company has identified five regions with potential unconventional gas resources from the north of Veracruz to Chihuahua, on the U.S. border.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ranks Mexico sixth in the world for technically recoverable gas, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, based on examination of 137 deposits in 42 countries.

The recovery of shale gas requires enormous quantities of water and a broad range of chemicals. The process generates large amounts of waste fluids, which contain dissolved chemicals and other contaminants that require treatment before recycling or disposal, according to the environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

The study “Sismicidad en el estado de Nuevo León”, published in January on seismic activity in that state, concluded that the quakes in northeast Mexico are associated with both natural structures and human actions that modify the rock layer and the pressure in the fluids near the surface.

The report, by academics at the Civil Engineering Faculty of the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, attributes several earthquakes that have occurred since 2004 to activities such as the extraction of unconventional natural gas in the Burgos basin.

Other factors mentioned by the study are the overexploitation of aquifers by potato producers along the border between Coahuila and Nuevo León and barite mining in Nuevo León.

The total number of water wells drilled in the basin has risen from just under 5,000 in 2004 to 7,000 today.

A study on the environmental impact of the Poza Rica Altamira y Aceite Terciario del Golfo 2013-2035 regional oil project, which extends across the states of Veracruz, Hidalgo (in the centre) and Puebla (in the south), anticipates a rise in demand for water for fracking in the north of the country, where water is scarce.

The 844-page document, to which IPS had access, was sent by Pemex to the environment ministry for approval on Mar. 10, and enumerates projected works like the construction of roads and installation of large steel water storage tanks.

The study states that over 12,700 cubic metres of water are needed for every 10 multi-stage fracking jobs.

It also estimates that Mexico’s natural gas production will reach 11.47 billion cubic feet a day by 2026, which would come from the higher levels of shale gas production at the Eagle Ford and La Casita deposits stretching across Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.

By 2026, non-associated natural gas will represent 55 percent of total gas production. The rest will come from unconventional deposits in the north of the country, whose production is projected to grow at a rate of 8.6 percent per year up to then.

Production of unconventional gas is expected to be in the hands of private companies, since the energy reform approved in December opened up the oil and electric industry to foreign investment.

Studies carried out in the United States have also attributed earthquakes in that country to fracking-linked wastewater injection

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have found that in some areas, an increase in seismic activity has coincided with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

“Earthquakes will increase as a result of the higher-scale shale gas production. The government is misguided. Fracking should be banned,” de la Garza argued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IPCC Climate Report Warns of “Growing Adaptation Deficit” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 22:53:56 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133328 The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging. These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging.

These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Monday in Japan, warns that these shortfalls are growing.

“Global adaptation cost estimates are substantially greater than current adaptation funding and investment, particularly in developing countries, suggesting a funding gap and a growing adaptation deficit,” the report states."We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable.” -- Pramod Aggarwal

“Comparison of the global cost estimates with the current level of adaptation funding shows the projected global needs to be orders of magnitude greater than current investment levels particularly in developing countries.”

Further, the report underscores that adaptation shortfalls, as with the broader impacts of climate change, would most significantly affect communities that are discriminated against, particularly in developing economies.

“The report makes very clear what a large adaptation deficit there is while also recognising that, though there’s been a lot of progress on vulnerability, people who are marginalised tend to be the most vulnerable,” Heather McGray, director of vulnerability and adaptation at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS.

“This plays out in the debate between developing and developed countries, covering the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and fisherfolk, small farmers dependent on climate-sensitive environments, as well as children and the elderly, those with constrained mobility or higher health risks. More thorough and nuanced treatment of these issues is certainly a step forward.”

Medium agreement

The IPCC, which is overseen by the United Nations, has been publishing climate-related assessments since the early 1990s. The new report is the work of nearly 2,500 authors and reviewers, and constitutes part of the IPCC’s fifth such assessment.

The report is actually made of three sections, with the one released Monday, the second, focusing on impacts and adaptation. It differs from previous iterations in its far robust understanding of the current state of climate change, describing its ramifications as widespread and consequential.

Yet it also warns the world is “ill-prepared” for these changes, and places far more focus than in the past on adaptation. In part, this is because global mitigation efforts have thus far been relatively ineffectual, thus requiring planning for significant impact at least in the near term.

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“The global community seems to be spending a lot of time on issues around mitigation issues, whereas many developing countries need significant investment in adaptation. We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable,” Pramod Aggarwal, an IPCC author and reviewer, told IPS.

“Governments [in developing countries] have been sensitised on this for some time, and where possible most are already taking action. But it’s been clear for some time that significant international support is also needed.”

For the moment, however, the IPCC report suggests little agreement on that assistance.

IPCC reports are consensus documents, and hence require meticulousness over both scientific evidence and concurrence around that evidence. For this reason, important points in the report include reference to a corresponding strength of agreement.

Yet such concord appears to have broken down over the amount of funding required for comprehensive global adaptation initiatives. The quoted material at the beginning of this story, on the adaptation-related “funding gap”, comes with the onerous warnings “limited evidence” and “medium agreement”.

Putting actual dollar figures on the issue of adaptation appears to have been particularly contentious. “The most recent global adaptation cost estimates suggest a range from $70 billion to $100 billion per year globally by 2050,” the report notes, “but there is little confidence in these numbers.”

Source: CCFAS

Source: CCFAS

Further, even these estimates and their caveats were removed completely from the widely read summary for global policymakers. This is almost certain to strengthen a fight at the next global climate summit, in September.

In 2009, leaders of developed countries pledged to make available 100 billion dollars a year for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries by 2020. The United Nations flagship programme to facilitate this pledge, the Green Climate Fund, recently opened its new headquarters in South Korea.

Yet by all accounts, the initiative remains painfully slow in getting off the ground, and some analysts worry that momentum could soon wane. A series of procedural hurdles remains in coming months, including agreement on the particularly contentious role of private versus public funding.

Early warning

The new report suggests that agriculture and food security-related issues will likely see some of the most immediate and monumental impacts of a changing climate. Technical interventions thus hold out the opportunity to help the farmers that constitute the backbone of rural societies across the globe, as well as the societies that depend on them for food production.

“We really need to speed up our adaptation at the local scale, particularly with increased investments in climate monitoring,” Aggarwal, the agriculture expert who reviewed the IPCC report’s chapter on food security, told IPS.

“The IPCC emphasises that climate extremes will be the order of the day, so early-warning systems are critical so that entire farming communities can know what to expect and take action. That, however, requires a lot of infrastructure and capital investment.”

Aggarwal says that while certain governments have begun to start taking significant action on issues of adaptation, poorer countries have not been able to do so. (He contributed to a related analysis that will be released on Thursday by CGIAR, a global agriculture consortium.)

Yet echoing the debate over the type of funding that will fuel the Green Climate Fund, some groups are increasingly worried about the approach that will be adopted in reacting to the needs of agriculture in a changing climate.

The IPCC report “is a wake up call for governments to invest in agricultural systems that are effective and sustainable far into the future,” Emilie Johann, a policy officer with CIDSE, a global Catholic anti-poverty network, said Monday.

“So far, solutions pushed at the international level … will do more to increase company profits than provide lasting and achievable solutions for the small-scale farmers and their communities who produce the vast majority of the world’s food.”

The third part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is to be released next month, focusing on pollution. A final synthesis of each of these three sections will be released in October.

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Commonwealth Works to Raise Climate Resilience on Global Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 14:07:50 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133315 As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face. “One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic […]

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Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face.

“One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic in terms of the international arena is because of the advocacy of island states,” Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams told IPS at the 53-member Commonwealth‘s third Biennial Conference on Small States last week."We are vulnerable, but we are not weak." -- Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams

“I think we are vulnerable, but we are not weak. We’ve got a lot to offer, we have a lot of strengths and we must use those strengths,” he said.

The two-day meeting targeted five key areas of concern for small states, including redirecting funding for climate change initiatives.

“Exposure to environmental shocks, together with the deeply integrated nature of small states’ economies, social wellbeing and the natural resource base, make environmental management an important element of resilience building in these countries,” the Commonwealth said in an outcome statement.

It said the meeting shared ideas on environmental governance indicators for resilience-building and reviewed approaches to ocean governance to maximise the benefits accruing to small states from their extensive marine areas.

St. Lucia’s Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste said it was impossible to speak about development “if we do not consider sustainability and protecting our patrimony for succeeding generations.

“Less than 20 years ago, some of the most powerful nations on the planet were trying to dodge the warnings about climate change because they felt it was a problem of poor countries, but today as the devastation of climate change continues its decimating march across Europe, North America and other parts of the globe, the inescapable reality seems to be finally hitting home,” he said.

“So America has acknowledged that colder winters are not climatic accidents. Russia has accepted its warmer winter as a phenomenon of climate change, and Europe has recognised its wetter rains as climate change in action,” he said.

“There must be a recognition, especially among the richer nations, that regardless of our GDP (gross domestic product) status, we are resource-poor and in need of financial resources to undertake resilience-building work,” he said.

Delegates also highlighted the need for ocean forecasting to predict impacts from climate change; action on land-based sources of pollution; and efforts to strengthen oceans and seas issues in the Third International Conference on SIDS process (SIDS 2014).

Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat has the capacity to represent small island states within the international community on their concerns.

“The Commonwealth is the preferred interlocutor for the group of 20 working group on development and they look forward to all the input that we can bring from the outer world,” he told IPS.

“We say very often that 90 percent of the world’s GDP is on the table of the G20, but 90 percent of the world’s countries are outside [that bloc of large economies]. So who is going to make available the dilemmas and the anxieties and the expectations of the outside world? The Commonwealth does it in a variety of ways.”

Sharma said the grouping is in the process of developing a financial instrument that would stem the economic “free-fall” of any economy should it suffer from the downsides of global development.

“The instruments that we are developing now…are both on the concept of resilience as well as the practical tool kit for various types of counter cyclical loans; which means that once an external shock is experienced, your financial obligations get naturally and immediately readjusted’, Sharma said, hinting at a debt swap for climate change, “a practical suggestion now being considered by the international community at large”.

Adams said that small island states are among the first to feel the impact of climate change “whether it be through extreme weather events or sea level rise or other issues that affect basically how we are able to create wealth that can be shared amongst our people.

“We don’t have huge natural resources that we can suddenly start exploiting. We don’t have huge populations to get economies of scale so we have to look at the things that we are able to offer…and create a framework which is more conducive for those issues,” he told IPS.

Recalling the devastation caused by heavy rains to his island, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the Christmas holidays, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said the question remains how much longer small states will have to lobby for an internationally accepted differentiated approach to aid for small states.

“You can turn to Grenada with Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, where damages were well over a billion U.S. dollars, or nearly 200 percent of GDP,” he said. “You can go through nearly all the islands of the Caribbean and you would see the impact of such extreme weather events.”

The problems confronting the region are not limited to extreme weather events, he noted. Last week, the regional countries participated in a simulation for a tsunami.

“We have seen the earthquake destruction of Haiti in the year 2010 and the volcanic disaster of Montserrat. We have been warned to expect a ‘big one’, an earthquake of immense destructive power,” he added. “In response to these calamities, the pledges are often many; the delivery of the promises, not so many.”

He said the realities of climate change must catapult small states to be leaders in climate change adaptation, “because we exist largely as coastal populations threatened by sea-level rise, the bleaching of coral reefs and the desertification of some territories.”

“The economic and environmental imperative is that we commit more forcefully to renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Anthony said.

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ExxonMobil to Disclose Carbon Emissions Risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/exxonmobil-disclose-carbon-emissions-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=exxonmobil-disclose-carbon-emissions-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/exxonmobil-disclose-carbon-emissions-risk/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 22:44:41 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133214 As the international community and the U.S. government place a heightened emphasis on reducing carbon emissions as a way to combat global climate change, shareholders have convinced the oil-and gas giant ExxonMobil to publicly disclose the risk that strengthened regulation could pose to its profits. The Texas-based company announced its intentions last week and agreed […]

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Activist shareholders hope that publicly assessing and disclosing the financial risk associated with certain carbon-intensive operations will dissuade Exxon and other energy companies from extracting oil and natural gas in high-risk, environmentally sensitive areas like deep water and tar sands. Credit: Bigstock

Activist shareholders hope that publicly assessing and disclosing the financial risk associated with certain carbon-intensive operations will dissuade Exxon and other energy companies from extracting oil and natural gas in high-risk, environmentally sensitive areas like deep water and tar sands. Credit: Bigstock

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

As the international community and the U.S. government place a heightened emphasis on reducing carbon emissions as a way to combat global climate change, shareholders have convinced the oil-and gas giant ExxonMobil to publicly disclose the risk that strengthened regulation could pose to its profits.

The Texas-based company announced its intentions last week and agreed to publish a carbon asset risk report on its website by the end of the month.“If Big Oil can’t redirect capital to low-carbon energy alternatives, investors will.” -- Natasha Lamb

“Investors … are looking at the energy market and starting to see shifts that they’re concerned about,” Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, an advocacy group that spearheaded shareholder pressure on the issue, told IPS.

“Those range from the potential for carbon regulations to what happens if the world actually gets smart and works to limit carbon in order to prevent global warming. The investors are looking at increasing cost curves for non-conventional fuels.”

Activist shareholders hope that publicly assessing and disclosing the financial risk associated with certain carbon-intensive operations will dissuade Exxon and other energy companies from extracting oil and natural gas in high-risk, environmentally sensitive areas like deep water and tar sands.

Exxon’s decision was largely due to pressure from As You Sow and a key shareholder, Arjuna Capital. In return, Arjuna Capital and As You Sow dropped a shareholder resolution that would have put the issue to a vote at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting.

“If we are going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we can only burn one third of [known] carbon reserves,” Natasha Lamb, the director of equity research and shareholder engagement at Arjuna Capital, told IPS. “So the big question is, if regulation market forces prevent oil companies from burning that other two-thirds, why are they spending so much in shareholder value exploiting more?

“As investors, we want to understand what kind of scenario analyses they’re running taking these huge risks into account, and if they’re profitably allocating shareholder capital.”

Investors ultimately hope that a combination of increased regulations on carbon emissions and subsequent shareholder concerns will prompt large energy firms to diversify their assets and invest in more sustainable forms of energy.

“Forward-thinking companies need to re-assess how they allocate shareholder capital and act strategically to shift their business models,” said Lamb. “If Big Oil can’t redirect capital to low-carbon energy alternatives, investors will.”

Lamb also believes that Exxon’s decision will set a precedent and encourage other companies to similarly disclose their carbon asset risks, lest they alienate their investors.

“There are 10 other shareholder proposals this year asking companies to report on carbon emissions risks,” Lamb said. “I would expect that, after Exxon’s announcement, you’ll see increasing disclosures from fossil fuel companies.”

The move also signifies that Exxon, which has a history of lobbying against climate change legislation, may start to take the issue more seriously in public – particularly as shareholders become concerned about the effects of carbon emissions regulations on the energy giant.

“I think it’s important that Exxon has questioned whether climate change is occurring, and I think the company’s finally saying, ‘Yes, climate change is real,’” said As You Sow’s Fugere.

While Exxon initially challenged the resolution with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the country’s main corporate regulator, the SEC overruled the challenge. Although the SEC had instituted a requirement compelling companies to publicly report on the impacts of climate change on their businesses, Congress passed legislation that blocked that mandate in 2010.

Stranded assets

Along with the rest of the international community, the United States and European Union have agreed to limit the average increase in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Yet climate scientists calculate that if humans burn more than a third of the world’s current proven carbon reserves between 2000 and 2050, there is a 20 percent risk that the global temperature will rise beyond this level. Non-profit advocacy groups like the Carbon Tracker Initiative have thus coined the term “unburnable carbon” to describe the excess reserves that would raise the global temperature by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Nonetheless, in 2012, the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies invested approximately 674 billion dollars to discover and develop new carbon reserves. Because companies cannot utilise new reserves without breaking the international community’s agreed-upon standards, some shareholders consider the exploration and development of additional carbon reserves to be a “stranded asset”, an asset that is obsolete and must therefore be recorded as a loss on a company’s balance sheets.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative’s 2013 report on unburnable carbon and the large amount of shareholder money invested in new carbon reserves prompted Ceres, a group of 70 international investors with more than three trillion dollars in assets, to pressure the top 45 energy companies to assess and report on the risks that a global decrease in carbon demand could pose.

Such initiatives are already starting to have a public impact. Last January, for instance, Ceres’s shareholders successfully pressured FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based utility company, into studying and reporting on what it could do to reduce carbon emissions in line with President Barack Obama’s goal of reducing total U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Additionally, last year As You Sow filed a vote with shareholders at CONSOL Energy, a natural gas and coal firm, requesting that the company report on the risk of stranded assets derived from carbon emissions. While CONSOL was resistant to the request on the grounds that it already produces a corporate social responsibility report, nearly 20 percent of CONSOL shareholders voted in favour of the proposal, a figure that Fugere deems significant.

“Over a billion dollars in investor assets voted in favour of that,” said Fugere. “That was about a 20 to 22 percent ruling, depending on who you ask. When you have over 20 percent of your shareholders indicating it’s a concern, companies are going to take note.”

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U.S. Joins Global Transparency Tide in Extractives Sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:57:05 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133189 An unusual combination of industry, government, investors and civil society here is celebrating the United States’ initial acceptance into a prominent global initiative aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability in the extractives industry. Last week, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) board accepted the U.S. application to become a candidate country in the grouping. The […]

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Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. So-called ‘blood diamonds’ helped fund civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but now provide much-needed jobs as well as revenue for the government. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. So-called ‘blood diamonds’ helped fund civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but now provide much-needed jobs as well as revenue for the government. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

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

An unusual combination of industry, government, investors and civil society here is celebrating the United States’ initial acceptance into a prominent global initiative aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability in the extractives industry.

Last week, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) board accepted the U.S. application to become a candidate country in the grouping. The United States thus became the first Group of Eight (G8) wealthy nation to formally become part of EITI, and joins around 41 other countries that have already done so.“We’re at the end of the era of easy access to resources, where operators have to go further afield and at greater risk." -- Paul Bugala

EITI, based for the past decade in Oslo, promotes a set of global standards for the oil, gas and mining sector that works to reduce corruption and promote good governance. Proponents say the United States’ participation underlines a strengthening global trend towards transparency, particularly in the extractives sector.

“This is just another part of the wave of transparency – recognition that this information is important not only to investors but also to countries in which industry operates and to the communities that share their environment with mines and drilling,” Paul Bugala, a member of the panel that drew up the U.S. EITI application and an analyst at Calvert Investments, a socially responsible firm, told IPS.

“We’re at the end of the era of easy access to resources, where operators have to go further afield and at greater risk. If investors don’t have project-level payment information, we’re flying blind in many ways.”

The EITI process offers equal voice to government, industry and civil society representatives, and the United States’ application was jointly fashioned – and approved – by broad representation from each of these sectors.

“The oil and gas industry has worked with civil society groups and governments for over a decade through EITI to promote payment transparency in various countries,” Stephen Comstock, an official with the American Petroleum Institute (API), a central industry lobby group, told a trade journal last week.

“Expanding this effort to the United States will hopefully provide U.S. citizens with a new perspective of the significant revenue and economic impact generated from U.S. exploration and production.”

Project-level information

At its base, the EITI standard mandates that governments and companies provide regular disclosure of royalties and revenues from natural resource extraction. The idea is that these parallel reports will allow for easy understanding of money local communities may be owed – and where any discrepancies may be coming from.

The U.S. application will go beyond the standard, to include renewable energy sources and additional minerals. In 2013, the U.S. federal government collected some 14 billion dollars from companies involved in natural resource extraction, typically the country’s second largest source of revenue.

Yet critics say domestic accountability mechanisms are too opaque.

“The kind of information that’s available for the public is aggregated, searchable only by year and state and some commodities,” Mia Steinle, the U.S. EITI civil society coordinator and an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Coal mining communities, for instance, can’t really tell whether they’re getting the money due to them by the federal government. If industry wanted to work in a community that had project-level information, however, its members could make a decision based on whether a previous project had been worthwhile or not.”

Empowering the public with such data is, of course, of particular importance in developing countries, where extractives contracts have often been struck between powerful companies and governments that can be oblivious to local benefit. EITI currently lists 26 countries as compliant with its standards, and another 18 countries as candidates.

The initiative is being bolstered by landmark though pending legislation in the United States and the European Union. Due the E.U. moves, Tullow Oil, a British company, on Tuesday became the first drilling company to offer project-level payments reporting in every country in which it’s operating.

“Tullow’s move shows that global oil companies can disclose such information at little cost and without fear of competitive harm,” Ian Gary, a senior policy manager at Oxfam America, an anti-poverty campaigner, said Tuesday. “The disclosures … show that some oil and mining companies are embracing – rather than fighting – the global transparency tide.”

1504 pending

Yet even as the E.U. moves towards implementation of its new transparency requirements, known as the Accounting Directive, by next year, a similar proposal in the United States remains stuck in litigation. The provision, known as Section 1504, became law back in 2010, but its implementation has since been held up by regulators and industry pressure.

Last year, a proposed Section 1504 rule, which would require disclosure of all payments made by U.S.-listed extractives companies to foreign governments, was struck down in the courts. Campaigners are now pointing to the United States’ EITI candidacy as added impetus for the main regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to speed up its work rewriting the rule.

“The new EITI standard … calls for fully public reporting, by company and by project. This is what the SEC proposed in its 2012 rule,” Jana Morgan, coordinator of Publish What You Pay USA, a pro-transparency group, told IPS.

“The EITI board’s decision puts additional pressure on the SEC to prioritise scheduling a rulemaking for Section 1504. U.S. government support for the Section 1504 rule released in 2012, coupled with its advocacy for U.S. candidacy in the EITI, makes clear that the [Obama] administration views these initiatives as complementary.”

Interestingly, the legal challenge to Section 1504 was spearheaded by the American Petroleum Institute, the group that helped fashion the U.S. EITI application and which has welcomed the country’s new candidature. POGO’s Steinle says that, given the recent court decision, EITI-related project-level reporting for the United States remains unresolved and will be discussed this year.

Nonetheless, she stresses that the EITI discussions between civil society, industry and government representatives were surprisingly fruitful.

“It’s so useful and powerful for those three sectors to be face to face for these types of discussions. We’ve broken down a lot of walls, simply having people get together who would normally never talk to one another,” she says.

“As other countries are committing to EITI or similar initiatives, it’s very important that the United States is now following these good international examples. Hopefully this will help to set an example for those countries that aren’t yet on board.”

The United States will now have three years to bring its reporting into alignment with the EITI standard. U.S. officials say they plan to file their first report in 2015.

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Port Development Brings Progress to Brazil – At a Price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 09:05:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133135 “We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast. The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation […]

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View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SÃO LUIS, Brazil, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

“We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast.

The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation since 1986, has strengthened the influence of its owner, the giant mining company Vale, in São Luis. The terminal currently exports 110 million tonnes a year of iron ore, consolidating a logistical corridor of decisive importance for local economic development.

Ships too big for China



The 23-metre draught in Ponta da Madeira allows Valemax ships to dock in the harbour. They are the largest mineral cargo vessels in the world, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, and have been in operation since 2011.


China, the principal customer for Vale’s iron ore, should be the main destination of these megaships, but it banned them from its ports as too large. However, a Chinese shipyard is building 12 of these vessels for Vale. South Korea is building another seven.


Vale’s goal is to have 35 Valemax ships, 16 of which would be chartered. Their size cheapens transport costs and helps the company compete with Australia, a mining power that is closer to the large Asian market. Moreover, the giant ships reduce greenhouse gas emission per tonne of mineral transported by 35 percent, Vale said.

To get its ore to China, Vale, the world’s second largest mining transnational,
uses transfer stations in the Philippines, and will shortly open a distribution centre in Malaysia to transfer goods to smaller ships. Two Brazilan ports and six abroad currently accept Valemax vessels.

Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajás, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made Vale the world leader in iron ore production. The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.

Beside it, a Vale plant converts iron ore to spherical pellets.

These activities create thousands of jobs, especially in Vale’s area of direct influence, Itaqui-Bacanga, an area of 58 poor districts in the southwest of São Luis.

Young people aspire to work there because the pay is good, and Vale’s human resources policies, inherited from its long life as a state company (1942-1997), guarantee job stability. An employee “is only fired if he or she really messes around a lot,” an executive told IPS.

Vale also offers a lot of temporary work for the expansion of the port, and its railroad track, so far one-way, is in the process of being made two-way, with the aim of doubling mining exports from 2018.

Because of these and other local projects, the economy of the surrounding neighbourhoods is booming, said George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB). Three plants are planned, for pulp and paper, cement and fertilisers, as well as a coal-fired thermoelectric station, among others.

Some 55 kilometres further south, in the municipality of Bacabeira, the state oil company Petrobras will build the Premium I refinery, which will be the largest in Brazil when it opens in 2018. The project will be put out to tender in April, and at its peak will employ 25,000 workers, the company says.

The employment boom boosts consumption, trade and services, “but this is not the development we want. We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” Pereira said.

Sanitation, drinking water, transport, teachers and doctors are scarce, while there is an excess of violence, drugs and prostitution in the poor districts, where the population is soaring, he said. Close to 200,000 people already live there, and two more housing estates are under construction, he said.

In this context, Vale “does good works, but in isolation, without transformative programmes to develop the entire area,” Pereira criticised. The priorities are education and sanitation, he said.

Ironically, the association that criticises and puts pressure on Vale is its own creature. It arose from the company’s social investment, required by the state National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) as a condition for financing the iron ore pellet plant.

ACIB is governed by representatives of the five divisions that make up Itaqui-Bacanga and was created 10 years ago to mobilise the local population for an urban clean-up project. Its overheads and its headquarters, a two-story building, are funded by Vale, Pereira said.

Among the company’s numerous social action projects, some are outstanding for their effectiveness, such as extensions to the Itaqui-Bacanga Centre for Professional Education, an educational centre belonging to the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service (SENAI).

This year the centre is providing technical education for 10,000 students, twice the enrolment it had in 2013 and five times that of 2010, thanks to 14 new classrooms and five new laboratories.

Three other centres along the corridor between Carajás and São Luis are supported by similar partnerships between Vale and SENAI, Janaina Pinheiro, Vale’s human resources manager, told IPS.

In 2013, SENAI trained 65,000 students in Maranhão, compared to 10,000 a decade ago, state director Marco Moura told IPS.

Industrialisation in São Luis is concentrated around the ports on São Marcos bay. Near Ponta da Madeira is the state port of Itaqui, which has handled cargo of all kinds since the 1970s, and this year will see the addition of a grain terminal to export soya and maize from the new agricultural frontiers in the centre and north of the country.

Some of Brazil’s new ports were created with the goal of becoming industrial hubs, including Suape and Pecém, in the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Ceará. They were planned as industrial-port complexes and have been boosting the local economies for the past decade.

Both these ports have Petrobras refineries, and Suape has a petrochemical plant and eight shipyards, while Pecém has a steelworks and electricity generating plants. Many companies are locating in the enormous industrial zones on the landward side of the two ports.

The São Luis ports were unconnected to that wave of industrialisation because they belong to the poorest Brazilian region, which is backward and neglected compared to other hubs in the northeast.

The bay’s deep water, suitable for large-draught vessels, its location facing the North Atlantic, and the Carajás railway link, were advantages for the Ponta da Madeira terminal.

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But there have been victims, the 73-year-old Santico reminded IPS, for instance “between 80 and 100” artisanal fisherfolk from Boqueirão, who were evicted from their fishing village on the beach and resettled in different districts.

A few years later, many of them have returned to fish in the São Marcos bay, in spite of this being banned, and they have settled on a small stretch of beach not occupied by the port, he said.

“We had no other trade, and we were hungry,” he said. They eventually built eight rough cabins from poles and palm leaves, some for living in and others just for fishing equipment.

Santico has a house in a nearby district and a cabin on the beach for the gear he uses for his sporadic night-time fishing expeditions. “There are hardly any fish left, and only a few prawns,” after new underwater concrete breakers were built to control tidal currents, he said.

As a result, fisherfolk negotiated with Vale and three years ago the company donated food baskets for 52 fisherfolk, worth between 308 and 725 dollars. “That’s how we survive,” Santico said.

Thousands of other families were evicted to make way for docks and port installations. Itaqui was, in fact, the name of a district that disappeared.

More city districts are now threatened by the industrial zone under construction next to the highway. Vila Maranhão fears extinction, squeezed between the railway and the new industrial hub, and only a few kilometres from a coal-fired thermoelectric plant, a large aluminium industry and stockpiled minerals.

“There is no official word yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we are evicted from here,” predicted Lamartine de Moura, a 71-year-old ACIB director who has lived in Vila Maranhão for 23 years. “If we’re not forced out by expropriation, we will be by the pollution,” she told IPS.

A university study found heavy metals in the local stream, and mineral dust in the air stains the houses and spreads respiratory diseases, she said.

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Egypt Gets Muscular Over Nile Dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/egypt-prepares-force-nile-flow/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 07:55:50 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133136 When Egypt’s then-president Mohamed Morsi said in June 2013 that “all options” including military intervention, were on the table if Ethiopia continued to develop dams on the Nile River, many dismissed it as posturing. But experts claim Cairo is deadly serious about defending its historic water allotment, and if Ethiopia proceeds with construction of what […]

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Houseboats line the Nile bank in Cairo. Some 85 million Egyptians depend on the Nile for water. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

Houseboats line the Nile bank in Cairo. Some 85 million Egyptians depend on the Nile for water. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

When Egypt’s then-president Mohamed Morsi said in June 2013 that “all options” including military intervention, were on the table if Ethiopia continued to develop dams on the Nile River, many dismissed it as posturing. But experts claim Cairo is deadly serious about defending its historic water allotment, and if Ethiopia proceeds with construction of what is set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, a military strike is not out of the question.

Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have soured since Ethiopia began construction on the 4.2 billion dollar Grand Renaissance Dam in 2011.

Egypt fears the new dam, slated to begin operation in 2017, will reduce the downstream flow of the Nile, which 85 million Egyptians rely on for almost all of their water needs. Officials in the Ministry of Irrigation claim Egypt will lose 20 to 30 percent of its share of Nile water and nearly a third of the electricity generated by its Aswan High Dam."Hydroelectric dams don’t work unless you let the water through.” -- Richard Tutwiler, a specialist in water resource management at the American University in Cairo

Ethiopia insists the Grand Renaissance Dam and its 74 billion cubic metre reservoir at the headwaters of the Blue Nile will have no adverse effect on Egypt’s water share. It hopes the 6,000 megawatt hydroelectric project will lead to energy self-sufficiency and catapult the country out of grinding poverty.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim tells IPS. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

The dispute has heated up since Ethiopia began diverting a stretch of the Nile last May, with some Egyptian parliamentarians calling for sending commandos or arming local insurgents to sabotage the dam project unless Ethiopia halts construction.

Ethiopia’s state-run television responded last month with a report on a visit to the site by army commanders, who voiced their readiness to “pay the price” to defend the partially-built hydro project.

Citing a pair of colonial-era treaties, Egypt argues that it is entitled to no less than two-thirds of the Nile’s water and has veto power over any upstream water projects such as dams or irrigation networks.

Accords drawn up by the British in 1929 and amended in 1959 divvied up the Nile’s waters between Egypt and Sudan without ever consulting the upstream states that were the source of those waters.

The 1959 agreement awarded Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile’s 84 billion cubic metre average annual flow, while Sudan received 18.5 billion cubic metres. Another 10 billion cubic metres is lost to evaporation in Lake Nasser, which was created by Egypt’s Aswan High Dam in the 1970s, leaving barely a drop for the nine other states that share the Nile’s waters.

While the treaty’s water allocations appear gravely unfair to upstream Nile states, analysts point out that unlike the mountainous equatorial nations, which have alternative sources of water, the desert countries of Egypt and Sudan rely almost entirely on the Nile for their water needs.

“One reason for the high level of anxiety is that nobody really knows how this dam is going to affect Egypt’s water share,” Richard Tutwiler, a specialist in water resource management at the American University in Cairo (AUC), tells IPS. “Egypt is totally dependent on the Nile. Without it, there is no Egypt.”

Egypt’s concerns appear warranted as its per capita water share is just 660 cubic metres, among the world’s lowest. The country’s population is forecast to double in the next 50 years, putting even further strain on scarce water resources.

But upstream African nations have their own growing populations to feed, and the thought of tapping the Nile for their agriculture or drinking water needs is all too tempting.

The desire for a more equitable distribution of Nile water rights resulted in the 2010 Entebbe Agreement, which replaces water quotas with a clause that permits all activities provided they do not “significantly” impact the water security of other Nile Basin states. Five upstream countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda – signed the accord. Burundi signed a year later.

Egypt rejected the new treaty outright. But after decades of wielding its political clout to quash the water projects of its impoverished upstream neighbours, Cairo now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of watching its mastery over the Nile’s waters slip through its fingers.

“Ethiopia’s move was unprecedented. Never before has an upstream state unilaterally built a dam without downstream approval,” Ayman Shabaana of the Cairo-based Institute for Africa Studies had told IPS last June. “If other upstream countries follow suit, Egypt will have a serious water emergency on its hands.”

Ethiopia has sought to assure its downstream neighbours that the Grand Renaissance Dam is a hydroelectric project, not an irrigation scheme. But the dam is part of a broader scheme that would see at least three more dams on the Nile.

Cairo has dubbed the proposal “provocative”.

Egypt has appealed to international bodies to force Ethiopia to halt construction of the dam until its downstream impact can be determined. And while officials here hope for a diplomatic solution to diffuse the crisis, security sources say Egypt’s military leadership is prepared to use force to protect its stake in the river.

Former president Hosni Mubarak floated plans for an air strike on any dam that Ethiopia built on the Nile, and in 2010 established an airbase in southeastern Sudan as a staging point for just such an operation, according to leaked emails from the global intelligence company Stratfor posted on Wikileaks.

Egypt’s position was weakened in 2012 when Sudan, its traditional ally on Nile water issues, rescinded its opposition to the Grand Renaissance Dam and instead threw its weight behind the project. Analysts attribute Khartoum’s change of heart to the country’s revised domestic priorities following the secession of South Sudan a year earlier.

According to AUC’s Tutwiler, once Sudan felt assured that the dam would have minimal impact on its water allotment, the mega-project’s other benefits became clear. The dam is expected to improve flood control, expand downstream irrigation capacity and, crucially, allow Ethiopia to export surplus electricity to power-hungry Sudan via a cross-border link.

Some studies indicate that properly managed hydroelectric dams in Ethiopia could mitigate damaging floods and increase Egypt’s overall water share. Storing water in the cooler climes of Ethiopia would ensure far less water is lost to evaporation than in the desert behind the Aswan High Dam.

Egypt, however, is particularly concerned about the loss of water share during the five to ten years it will take to fill the dam’s reservoir. Tutwiler says it is unlikely that Ethiopia will severely choke or stop the flow of water.

“Ethiopia needs the electricity…and hydroelectric dams don’t work unless you let the water through.”

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World Bank Clears Congo’s Controversial Dam Project http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/world-bank-clears-congos-controversial-dam-project/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 00:04:19 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133133 The World Bank Thursday approved a 73.1-million-dollar grant in support of a controversial giant dam project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With another 33.4 million dollars approved by the African Development Bank late last year, the grant, which is being provided by the Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), will […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank Thursday approved a 73.1-million-dollar grant in support of a controversial giant dam project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With another 33.4 million dollars approved by the African Development Bank late last year, the grant, which is being provided by the Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), will be used to help establish the legal framework and state authority that will oversee the dam’s construction and operations.“If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.” -- Atif Ansar

It will also finance a number of environmental and social assessments to shape the development of the multi-billion dollar Inga 3 Basse Chute (BC) dam project.

“By being involved in the development of Inga 3 BC from an early stage we can help ensure that its development is done right so it can be a game changer by providing electricity to millions of people and powering commerce and industry,” said Makhtar Diop, the Bank’s vice president for Africa.

“Supporting transformative projects that expand people’s access to electricity is central to achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of helping to end extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity,” he added.

But the Bank’s support for the project drew criticism from some environmental and civil-society groups that have long opposed a project that is expected to cost at least 14 billion dollars.

“By approving Inga 3, the World Bank shows it has not learnt lessons from the bad experience of previous dams on the Congo River despite its claims to the contrary,” according to Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director of the California-based International Rivers (IR).

“The Bank is turning a blind eye to the DRC’s poor governance and is taking short-cuts to the environmental assessment of the project,” he added.

That view was echoed by Maurice Carney, executive director of the Friends of the Congo, a Washington-based organisation with ties to community and environmental groups in the DRC.

“We see this decision as consistent with past World Bank projects that wind up as white elephants,” he told IPS. “There are a number of other alternatives for developing the DRC’s enormous energy capacity, including solar, wind, smaller-scale hydro and biofuel.

“The project is being presented as if it will help the population, but more often than not, these big dam projects end up serving industry at the expense of local communities many of which will be displaced once Inga 3 is fully developed.”

As currently envisioned, the Inga III dam would be the first in a series of hydroelectric installations along the Congo River, collectively referred to as the Grand Inga project. This would include a single 145-metre dam, which would flood an area known as the BundiValley, home to around 30,000 people.

The full project could provide up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, a power potential that has been eyed hungrily by the rest of the continent for decades.  The DRC’s total hydropower potential is estimated to be the third largest in the world after China and Russia.

While DRC’s chaotic governance, however, has stymied forward progress on the project for years, the Grand Inga vision received an important boost last year when the South African government agreed to purchase a substantial amount of power produced by Inga III.

The dam is now supposed to be built by 2020 and, according to Congolese government estimates from November, would produce around 4,800 MW of electricity. Of this, 2,500 MW would go to South Africa while another 1,300 MW would be earmarked for use by mines and related industry in the province of Katanga.

Construction is scheduled to begin by 2016. The Bank will rely heavily on its private-arm facility, the International Finance Corporation, to help DRC’s government establish an autonomous Inga Development Authority which will, among other things, be charged with deciding on construction bids and negotiating purchasing deals for the electricity generated by the dam.

According to Peter Bosshard, IR’s director, the selection of the contractor to build the dam could prove problematic.

He told IPS three consortia are currently in the running: SinoHydro and China Three Gorges Corporation from China, a Canadian-Korean consortium, and a third made up primarily of Spanish companies.

But one of the Canadian companies involved has been barred from receiving any support from by the Bank for past corruption, while SinoHydro has been suspended pending the outcome of a corruption investigation by the Bank, according to Bosshart.

“This means that, unless the DRC government picks the Spanish consortium, it won’t be able to get any World Bank Group loans for the actual construction,” he noted.

That could be a problem. According to Bernard Sheahan, the IFC’s director of infrastructure and natural resources, “the level of investment for Inga 3 BC is so high that neither the public sector nor the private sector alone could finance the full cost of development of the project.”

Huge hydro-electric dams have long been a controversial issue at the Bank which, for most of its history, was an enthusiastic supporter.

Protests by local communities and international human rights and environmental groups that documented the massive displacements and environmental damage these mega-dams often caused – not to mention their failure to deliver electricity to those most in need – resulted in a halt in approving new projects in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, while the 50-year-old Inga 1 and 2 dams were supposed to provide power to much of the country, only ten percent of DRC households have electricity.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed a landmark new law requiring the U.S. Treasury, which represents Washington on the Bank’s board, to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydro-electric projects in developing countries.

The U.S. representative abstained on the vote Thursday, according to knowledgeable sources.

Earlier this month, four researchers at Oxford Unversity Said Business School released a major study based on data from 245 large dams built since 1934 in 65 different countries.

It found that they suffered average cost overruns of more than 90 percent and delays of nearly 50 percent inflicting huge additional costs in inflation and debt service for the mostly public entities that built them.

“Proponents of mega-dams tend to focus on rare stories of success in order to get their pet projects approved,” said Atif Ansar, one of the Oxford researchers. “If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.”

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

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

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

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-eighth the deforestation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misattributed blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Accepting Ethiopia, Transparency Group “Sacrifices Credibility” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/accepting-ethiopia-transparency-group-sacrifices-credibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=accepting-ethiopia-transparency-group-sacrifices-credibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/accepting-ethiopia-transparency-group-sacrifices-credibility/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 22:43:40 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133130 A major international initiative aimed at promoting transparency in the extractives industry is coming under harsh criticism for accepting an application from Ethiopia, despite significant ongoing legal restrictions on the country’s civil society. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a standards programme based in Oslo, had declined a previous application for candidature from Ethiopia, in […]

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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

A major international initiative aimed at promoting transparency in the extractives industry is coming under harsh criticism for accepting an application from Ethiopia, despite significant ongoing legal restrictions on the country’s civil society.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a standards programme based in Oslo, had declined a previous application for candidature from Ethiopia, in 2010. The previous year, the Ethiopian government had passed a law widely seen as repressive, and the EITI board stipulated that the country’s application would be deferred until that law was struck down."The simple fact is that the EITI process won’t be able to advance any improvements unless civil society is at the table and has a voice." -- Lisa Misol

Yet despite the fact that the law remains in place, on Wednesday the EITI board voted to accept Ethiopia’s application to become a candidate for full membership in the organisation. Some say the group has now violated its own rules.

“We’re very disappointed by this. If these people don’t follow the criteria, what’s the point of having criteria?” Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a Washington-based advocacy group, told IPS.

“Today it is impossible for civil society to function in Ethiopia, because of this bill. We can wait for years for changes, but as long as the current government is there I can’t foresee any tangible change. This decision [by EITI] is not going to be productive.”

The law in question is known as the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP). Ethiopia’s first comprehensive legislation to regulate the registration of civil society groups, the law places onerous restrictions on groups that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources.

It also forbids organisations from engaging in a range of activities central to ensuring public oversight over the government and its officials. The United Nations has warned that the law has “devastating” ramifications for the ability of Ethiopians to effectively form and operate civil society organisations.

Such concerns are particularly relevant for EITI, which, since its founding in 2003, has offered a unique platform for cooperation between the extractives industry, government and civil society. Importantly, each of these elements is to receive equal voice within the EITI system, with the immediate aim of sector-specific transparency meant to translate into broader strengthening of good governance.

Thus, if the civil society component isn’t able to function effectively, the entire process would cease to function. That, anyway, was EITI’s own concern in 2010, when it rejected Ethiopia’s application – the first time the board had ever taken such an action.

The EITI “board concluded that Ethiopia’s [CSP] would prevent civil society groups from being sufficiently independent and meaningfully participate in the process,” Anthony Richter, a member of the EITI board, stated in 2010. “The board decided, in effect, not to admit Ethiopia ‘until the [CSP] is no longer in place’.”

The EITI board made another high-visibility decision on Wednesday, voting to accept the candidature application of the United States (as well as that of Papua New Guinea). Yet if EITI has gone back on its own rules, critics say, the standard’s important overall potential will have been weakened.

“Before this decision, EITI was a prominent global initiative, considered to be one of the leading efforts to increase transparency and give citizens a chance to have a voice in important matters in their countries,” Lisa Misol, a senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Now I think all governments need to ask themselves what’s the value of being part of an initiative that allows in a country that doesn’t allow its citizens to make any use of this transparency. Unfortunately, EITI has sacrificed its credibility and irreparably harmed its own reputation.”

Neutered criteria

EITI currently lists 26 countries as compliant with its standards, and another 18 countries, including Ethiopia and the United States, as candidates. In total, 35 countries have produced formal EITI reports over the past decade.

Yet the decision to move forward with and approve Ethiopia’s application during this week’s EITI meeting reportedly led to deep divisions in the group’s board. While the EITI secretariat did not respond to a query from IPS, it has been quick to note that acceptance of Ethiopia’s application to become a candidate country means that the Ethiopian government now has three years to come into full compliance with EITI’s standards.

“Some opposed this decision, but it should be remembered that becoming a candidate does not mean that any country has met the EITI Standard,” Clare Short, the EITI chair, said in a statement after the board’s meeting.

“In the case of Ethiopia, the decision shows that the Board was convinced by the government’s commitment to the EITI’s principles. Membership of the EITI will mean that all stakeholders, including civil society, will have a better platform to hold the government and the companies to account and ensure the better management of the burgeoning sector.”

For its part, the Ethiopian government states that it has already set up a national steering committee made up of government, industry and civil society representatives, and has begun a series of trainings on the EITI standards. Its most recent application, from October, also deals directly with concerns over the CSP.

“In our view, the proclamation is not meant to restrict the operation of the civil society,” an introductory letter, presumably written by Minister of Mines Sinknesh Ejigu, states, “rather to create conducive environment for their activities as well as ensure transparency and accountability, establish a legal framework for their operation.”

Yet critics are pushing back strongly against the suggestion that EITI will now have more leverage to effect positive change in Ethiopia.

“The simple fact is that the EITI process won’t be able to advance any improvements unless civil society is at the table and has a voice,” HRW’s Misol says.

“It’s shocking to me that the board of an initiative that values civic participation has just endorsed Ethiopia as a candidate when there is no ability to have a functioning civil society in that country. The moment of leverage was before joining Ethiopia to join the club – not once it’s in. In effect, EITI has now neutered its own civil society criteria.”

Ethiopia will now be required to submit its first formal report to EITI by March 2016.

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