Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:58:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138330 Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicting views on the green economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cuba’s Reforms Fail to Reduce Growing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:21:58 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138300 Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality.

Inequality has been growing since the start of the crisis triggered by the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. The “special period” – the euphemistic term used to refer to the lengthy recession – “has even morally affected the concept of inequality,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS.

To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel Castro (1959-2008) opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality.: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.” -- Cuban schoolteacher

However, María Caridad González appreciates the sense of equality that still exists in Cuban society, which she says has made social inclusion possible for her 10-year-old son, who knows that “to do well in life he just has to study and become a professional.”

Since the 1959 revolution, free universal healthcare coverage and education have been important tools for achieving social equality in Cuba.

González, who comes from a family of small farmers, moved to Havana in the mid-1990s. “It was hard at first. There were shortages of everything, but I stayed anyway and got married here. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, and what is lacking is money to buy things,” said the 36-year-old, who works in the cleaning service at a company that is partly foreign owned.

Other people are worse off than González, who manages to add to her monthly income working as a domestic in the homes of families she knows, which brings her another 80 CUC – the Cuban peso convertible to dollars – or 1,920 pesos.

That is more than four times the average public sector salary of 470 pesos (19 dollars) a month. “Thanks to my income we survived the months when my husband, who is a cook in the tourism industry, was out of work,” said González.

She is in a much better position than her neighbor, a 55-year-old primary schoolteacher who earns 750 pesos a month and has no source of dollars or other foreign currency – a mainstay for many Cuban families, who receive remittances from relatives abroad or who work in tourism, where they earn tips.

The teacher, who is married and has two adult children aged 20 and 25, told IPS: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.”

The inequality gap has widened as the differences in incomes have grown.

Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba.

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

However, Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system, and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles, and were key to Cuba’s ranking in 44th place on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) this year.

The HDI is a composite index that measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.”

Morales agrees with the government’s aim of “equal rights and opportunities” rather than egalitarianism. In his view, the distribution of income based on work is still unequal. “It would be ethical if people received in accordance with what they contributed, and those who needed assistance would receive it through social spending, to balance out the inequalities,” he argued.

The academic defends the idea of subsidising specific people rather than products, which is still being done through the ration card system that distributes a certain quantity of foodstuffs at prices subsidised by the state, to all citizens, regardless of their income.

The system covered the basic dietary needs of families until the 1980s. But that is no longer the case, and Cubans now have to complete their diet with products sold in the hard currency stores and the farmers’ markets, where one pound (450 grams) of pork can cost 40 pesos (1.60 dollars) – the same price fetched by a pound of onions at certain times of the year.

In its 2014-2020 pastoral plan, the Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.”

That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals.

After acknowledging that the expansion of opportunities for self-employment and for setting up cooperatives in non-agricultural sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for some, the church warns that the current economic reforms “have failed to reactivate the economy in such a way that it benefits the entire population.”

Not all segments of society are in equal conditions to take advantage of the changes that have been ushered in. Researchers like Morales or Mayra Espina say women, people who are not white, and young people are at a disadvantage, whether due to a lack of formal training and education, or of assets and resources for starting up their own businesses.

According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher, and they say decision-makers need to know the exact percentage in order to properly tailor social policies to the actual situation.

But Espina and other academics say the reforms approved in April 2011 do not put a high enough priority on social aspects, ignore the questions of poverty and inequality, and contain weak measures for guaranteeing equality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucrative misinvoicing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Development goal

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Dirty Energy Reliance Undercuts U.S., Canada Rhetoric at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dirty-energy-reliance-undercuts-u-s-canada-rhetoric-at-climate-talks/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 14:53:53 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138270 Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

Young protesters at the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru highlight out-of-touch North American energy policies. Credit: Adopt a Negotiator.

By Leehi Yona
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

While U.S. and Canadian officials delivered speeches about how the world needs to step up to their responsibilities at the U.N. climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, activists from North America demanded clear answers back home on their governments’ relationships with fossil fuel corporations, as well as the future of several major oil projects across the continent.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Thursday about the role each country should play on tackling climate change and referred to the U.S.-China agreement announced in November. The agreement, which pledged unforeseen emissions reductions for both countries, has been lauded by many countries as a progressive step forward at the U.N. negotiations.“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations.” -- Canadian MP Elizabeth May

However, civil society delegates have expressed concern over the disconnect between the messaging the United States has been taking in Lima, and its domestic fossil fuel reliance.

This international discourse collides with Washington’s hesitance to repeal the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed project that would transport over 800,000 barrels of bitumen a day from the Alberta tar sands to Texas oil refineries.

“The best way the U.S. can support progress in the U.N. Climate Talks is to start at home by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now,” said Dyanna Jaye, a U.S. youth delegate attending the conference with SustainUS.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been stalled in political procedures since 2011. Once considered to be a done deal, the project has grown to be a bone of contention among environmental groups, who have mobilised to put pressure on President Barack Obama to reject it.

Having been presented as a bill to Congress numerous times, it most recently passed a House of Representatives vote but failed in the Senate by only one vote on Nov. 5.

Youth have taken a leading role on been pushing for Kerry to reject Keystone XL, shining a spotlight on the influence of the fossil fuel industry in hindering progress.

Following Kerry’s speech to the U.N. on Thursday, Jaye and other U.S. and Canadian youth activists organised an action in protest of proposed pipelines through the two countries.

Calling for the industry to be kicked out of the negotiations, youth have highlighted that a successful deal in Lima would necessitate a phasing out of fossil fuel use to zero production by 2050, as stated in a World Wildlife Fund report.

“Dirty fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL clearly fail the climate test,” Evan Weber, executive director of US Climate Plan, told IPS. “We’ll be drawing the line on any new fossil fuel infrastructure and calling for investment in renewable energy solutions.”

Protesters emphasised the need for domestic action at home in order for there to be any progress at the United Nations

The United States, however, isn’t the only country whose domestic issues directly contradict their statements here at COP20. The Canadian government has been criticised for their lack of domestic ambition and their close relationship with fossil fuel companies at this conference.

At the talks, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated on Dec. 9 that Canada is “confident [they] can achieve a climate agreement” at these talks, “however it will require courage and common sense.”

While the government has attempted to portray itself as a climate leader in these negotiations, members of civil society have pointed out discrepancies between the emissions goals they are promising and the emissions trajectory the country is actually on track to produce.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada has no climate policy beyond public relations,” said Elizabeth May, a Canadian Member of Parliament and leader of the Canadian Green Party attending COP 20.

“The zeal to exploit fossil fuels has led to the evisceration of ‎environmental laws. We have distorted our economy in the interests of exporting bitumen,” she told IPS.

Canada has once again entered into the non-governmental spotlight at U.N. climate negotiations. On Tuesday, uproar ensued when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that any regulation of the oil and gas industry would be “crazy” considering the industry’s current financial state.

On the conference’s last day, Canada was also awarded a Fossil of the Day, a daily non-prize awarded by civil society during the Climate Talks to the most regressive country, for its consistent meddling with and lack of participation in the U.N. process.

“As members of civil society, we’ve seen Canadian negotiators prioritise fossil fuel companies over public interest time and time again in Lima,” Catherine Gauthier of ENvironnement JEUnesse, a Québec youth environmental organisation, told IPS.

Both countries have come under scrutiny for their promotion of climate action on the international level while promoting tar sands expansion and shale gas fracking projects at home. Shale gas has particularly been promoted by both governments as a bridge fuel to help wean societies off fossil fuels with the goal of increasing renewable energy sources.

“The use of fracking as a bridge fuel is the biggest lie the American public has ever been fed,” Emily Williams of the California Student Sustainability Coalition told IPS. “It poisons our health and our communities, and destroys our environment. It cannot be part of the climate solution as it starves the renewable energy revolution of the investment it needs.”

Both Canada and the United States have been active in calling for swift action on the international level when it comes to climate change. The U.N. negotiations are currently running over time in Lima as countries work towards a compromise agreement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewable energy has costs but also benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New financing models for renewable energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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What Future for the ACP-EU Partnership Post-2015?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138244 The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

“There are still prospects for a meaningful ACP-EU partnership, capable of contributing and responding concretely and effectively to the objectives of promoting and attaining peace, security, poverty eradication and sustainable development,” according to the top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni was speaking at the 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers held here from Dec. 9 to 12, during which ACP and European Union representatives took the opportunity to renew their commitment to working closely together, particularly in crafting a common strategy for the post-2015 global development agenda.

Besides discussing trade issues, development finance, humanitarian crises and the current Ebola crisis, the two sides also tackled future perspectives and challenges for the ACP itself and for its partnership with the European Union.“We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda … is so valuable” – European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica

It was agreed that comprehensive cooperation built on collaborative approaches, creative methods and innovative interventions in all the countries of the ACP will be the inspiration for a joint initiative in 2015, in the context of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lomé Convention, the trade and aid agreement between the ACP and the European Community first signed in February 1075 in Lomé, Togo, and the forerunner to the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Union will also be celebrating European Year for Development in 2015, which is also the deadline year for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The convergence of these three events, and the anticipated adoption by the international community of the development framework which is to replace the MDGs, “together represent a unique opportunity for the ACP and the European Union to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that they have and continue to strive for impactful relations in the future,” said Bhoendratt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, who chairs the ACP Ministerial Committee on Development Finance Cooperation.

While acknowledging the current economic and financial difficulties being experienced by the European Union and the efforts under way to address them, it was stressed that these do not undermine the validity and strength of the ACP-EU partnership, that the rationale behind the partnership remains valid and that efforts must be redoubled for mutual benefit.

Proof of the commitment to help ACP countries meet the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement was identified in the concrete efforts being undertaken by both sides to improve the quality of life of the most impoverished and vulnerable countries – as  well as other countries, including middle income and upper middle income countries – of the ACP which continue to experience serious developmental challenges.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said that the post-2015 development agenda and the post-Cotonou framework – to succeed the current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000 – “will shape development policy for the next decade.”

“We can agree on the need for an enhanced approach, building further on our partnership, incorporating overarching principles, such as respect for fundamental values, and taking account of specific realities in countries and regions,” he told the meeting.

The New EU Commission and EDF Programming

The Council of Ministers’ session was also the occasion for ACP members to meet with members of the new European Commission, which took office on Nov. 1, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Development Commissioner Mimica as well as European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

Under the new Commission, the eleventh edition of the European Union’s main instrument for providing development aid to ACP countries, the European Development Fund, has been approved for the period 2014-2020 fora total of 31.5 billion euro, but has not yet entered into force.

Pending a further six ratifications on the European side, which are expected by mid-2015, a “bridging facility” amounting to 1.5 billion euro sourced from unused funds from previous EDFs, will allow priority actions to continue in ACP countries in 2014 and 2015.

To date, 53 national indicative programmes (worth up to 10 billion euro for the period 2014-2020) have been signed, with the remaining programmes to be signed by early 2015.

At the regional level, there is broad agreement on the content – sectors and financial breakdown – of the programmes, which should be signed by the first semester of 2015. The Intra-ACP cooperation strategy will be also be adopted and signed during the first semester of 2015.

“But we must not be complacent,” said Mimica. “We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was adopted last June in Nairobi, is so valuable.”

The Joint Declaration represents the springboard for building greater consensus and contributing towards meaningful and ambitious outcomes in July and September next year, looking forward to a post-Cotonou framework.

“Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player”

Meanwhile, the ACP Group is currently reflecting on its institutional aspects, such as leadership, organizational mandate, and implementation of reforms which aim at making it a more effective and accountable stakeholder in the international political context, while working on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development in member states.

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Dr Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

An Eminent Persons Group has been established and a report will be presented to the next ACP Summit with the aim of identifying the most suitable strategic approach for ACP to be more effective, more visible, more accountable in a world of partnership and ownership, incorporating overarching principles such as respect for fundamental values and taking into account the specificities of the realities in countries and regions.

An important sign of the ACP institutional change was also launched during the 100th Council of Ministers with the appointment of the new Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, who will head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a landmark period covering the latest part of the ACP partnership agreement with the European Union.

Appointment of the Secretary General generally follows a principle of rotation among the six ACP regions – West Africa (currently holding the post), East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Gomes is the Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium and the country representative to the WTO, FAO, and the IFAD.

Gomes has led various high-level ambassadorial committees in the ACP system, currently serving as Chair of the Working Group on Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, which transmitted a final report on “Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player” during the ACP Council of Ministers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sobering results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“What’s Good for Island States Is Good for the Planet”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:41:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138130 A group of activists at the COP20 climate change meeting in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

 

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

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

By Carin Smaller
GENEVA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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OPINION: Japan’s Misuse of Climate Funds for Dirty Coal Plants Exposedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 21:51:07 +0000 Dipti Bhatnagar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138077 Photo courtesy of FoEI

Photo courtesy of FoEI

By Dipti Bhatnagar
LIMA, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

World governments gathered in Lima, Peru for the latest round of U.N. climate negotiations should have finance on their mind.

Making a just transition to a climate-safe future means helping developing countries to deal with damage from climate change, equipping them with the technology and skills to adapt to new circumstances, and to continue to develop on their own paths in the face of the climate crisis.The GCF still suffers from dismally low finance pledges compared to what is really needed to stop the climate crisis. The lack of rules for what constitutes as climate finance is the most worrying.

This is the repayment of the ‘climate debt’. All this requires money – money which developed countries, as the largest historical contributors to climate change – should provide. Some countries have already made announcements about the finance they are contributing.

But guess what? Some of this funding is being spent on projects which worsen and compound the climate crisis.

Let’s take the Cirebon power plant in Indonesia as an example. By some truly confusing logic, this pollution-belching coal-fired plant counts as part of Japan’s efforts to combat climate change. Why? Because Cirebon and two others like it in Indonesia were funded by Japan using climate finance funds, according to a Dec. 1 report by the Associated Press.

In other words, Japan financed a coal-fired power plant in a developing country using money that was supposed to help developing countries tackle climate change. The flimsy reasoning behind this claim is the idea that because this plant uses newer, more expensive technology than Indonesia would have afforded alone, the emissions are somehow ‘cleaner’.

Coal is by far the carbon heaviest fossil fuel, posing multiple dangers to the environment, atmosphere and human health. The Associated Press goes on to say “Villagers nearby also complain that the coal plant is damaging the local environment, and that stocks of fish, shrimp and green mussels have dwindled.”

Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI has been campaigning against these plants, and condemning the warped thinking that this plant is marginally better than some hypothetical dirtier plant. It is dirty and it contributes to climate change and wrecks local livelihoods. Financing should not go to dirty energy.  Simple as that.

Japan plans to finance more of these projects in other parts of the world. Japan’s dirty energy corps seems to have done an impressive job of convincing the government that financing their polluting activities is actually helpful for developing countries.

Friends of the Earth Japan is also campaigning on this issue at home, pressuring the Japanese government to be more responsible with their financing and not fund dirty energy.

The lack of coherent rules defining proper  climate finance is very worrying. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been set up to manage the transfer of much needed finance from developed to developing countries.

But the GCF still suffers from dismally low finance pledges compared to what is really needed to stop the climate crisis. The lack of rules for what constitutes as climate finance is the most worrying.

In a letter sent to the GCF in May 2014, social movements and civil society organisations, mostly from the Global South, urged that dirty energy be excluded from the GCF funding list and stressed the importance of real climate finance.

“The Green Climate Fund is of vital concern for us, as the mobilization of unprecedented levels of finance is urgently needed as part of an immediate as well as strategic response to the climate crisis. We urge you to make it an explicit policy that GCF funds not be used for financing fossil fuel and other harmful energy projects. We note with grave concern and alarm how other international financial institutions have been financing these types of projects under their ‘climate’ and ‘clean energy’ programs,” the letter said.

Yet the atmosphere at the climate talks in Lima, and in much of the reporting on the talks so far, is shockingly optimistic. The recently announced US-China deal has been celebrated by many, but the deal is hollow. It provides paltry insufficient, non-binding pledges to reduce emissions that are completly out of sync with what scientists tell us is needed to stop catastrophic climate change.

As long as deals and promises are made more for their symbolic nature than for their actual substance, we will continue to undermine real climate action and we will miss real opportunities to overcome the climate crisis and create a just and secure future for everyone.

Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared the lack of a regulatory framework with binding emissions targets and meaningful financial commitments to the ‘Wild West’, where countries are free to reduce or not to reduce emissions and to finance polluting activities in the pursuit of profit, as if our planet was not experiencing a grave start of a massive climate crisis.

Worse than the empty efforts of some rich countries is the absence of meaningful oversight of climate finance. Without adopting a shared understanding that climate finance is to help developing countries implement renewable, community-owned energy and to tackle climate change, and without clear guidelines on how the money should be used, we will continue to see half-hearted measures at best and countries exploiting the crisis for their own profit.

“Climate finance is such a mess. It needs to get straightened out,” said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S. “It would be such a shame if those resources went to fossil fuel-based technologies. It would be counterproductive.”

Not only should this round of U.N. climate talks emphatically refute fossil fuels and explicitly rule out any further use of climate funding for dirty energy projects, but they should also adopt real, meaningful clean energy solutions.

The GCF should be funding energy transformation ideas such as the Global feed in Tariff (GfiT), which would subsidise renewable energy until such time as it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel energy through wider adoption and improvements in technology.

Within the U.N., rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts in line with science and equity and without false solutions such as carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes.

They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in the developing world so that they too can tackle climate change. This means transferring adequate public finance, technology and capacity to developing countries so that they too can build low carbon and truly sustainable societies, adapt to climate change already occurring and receive compensation for irreparable loss and damage.

But the U.N. talks are heading in the wrong direction, with weak voluntary non-binding pledges and pitiful finance pledges from developed countries, with huge reliance on false solutions like carbon trading and REDD.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will Rollout of Green Technologies Get a Boost at Lima Climate Summit?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:16:08 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138052 A ferry about to dock on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, whose volcano is being tapped for geothermal energy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A ferry about to dock on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, whose volcano is being tapped for geothermal energy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

The road towards a green economy is paved with both reward and risk, and policymakers must seek to balance these out if the transition to low-carbon energy sources is to succeed on the required scale, climate experts say.

“I think what is important is that in most of these processes you will have winners and losers,” John Christensen, director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Centre on Energy, Climate and Sustainable Development, told IPS.“Right now we need to talk about what will happen if countries don’t move along. Like all islands, you will be facing increased flooding risks. So in the green transition, countries need to look at how to make themselves more resilient." -- John Christensen of UNEP

“So you need to be aware that there are people who will lose and you need to take care of them so that they feel that they are not left out.

“You need to find other ways of engaging them and help them get into something new because otherwise you will have all this resistance from groups that have special interests,” said Christensen, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 20) which got underway here Monday.

The climate summit convenes ministers of 194 countries for the annual Conference of the Parties to negotiate over 12 days the legally binding text that will become next year’s Paris Protocol.

It will provide an early insight into what may be expected from the agreement with regard to the long-term phase-out of coal-fired power plants, the rate of deployment of renewable energies, and the financial and technological support for the vulnerable and least developed countries.

Nevis, a 13-kilometre-long island in the Caribbean, recently announced that it was “on the cusp of going completely green.” Deputy Premier and Minister of Tourism Mark Brantley outlined the Nevis Island Administration’s vision for tourism development and in particular, replacing fossil fuel generation with renewable energy resources.

“Besides reducing a country’s carbon footprint, concern about waste management is a particularly challenging issue for all nations” he said, sharing Nevis’ initiative to create an environment-friendly solution for its waste management with the Baltimore firm, Omni Alpha.

Brantley said the waste to energy agreement will be coupled with the construction of a solar farm to ensure that a targeted energy supply is met.

“It is these developments, along with the progress that has been made on developing our geothermal energy sources, that promise to make Nevis the greenest place on earth,” he told IPS.

Christensen said as they embark on the road towards green economies, Caribbean countries could take lessons from his homeland, Denmark.

“You had shipyards for years and years and they couldn’t compete with Korea and China when they started building ships so the government for a long period kept pouring money into them to try and keep them alive instead of trying to transition them into something else,” he explained. “Now they are producing windmill towers and other things that are more forward-looking.”

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the COP20 talks in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the COP20 talks in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the countries in the Caribbean, Christensen said a lot of them now use fuel oil or diesel for power production plus a lot of petrol for cars, all of which is imported.

But he said few of the islands have the necessary financial resources for the yearly fuel import bill, which is “quite expensive.”

He said these countries should capitalise on their geographical location, which offers “lots of sunshine, potential for biomass and wind.”

He pointed to Cuba, which “has made quite a transition using solar energy in the energy sector,” adding that other countries in the Caribbean have moved to forest conservation and are using more of the resources from the environment that wasn’t considered of value.

“Right now we need to talk about what will happen if countries don’t move along. Like all islands, you will be facing increased flooding risks. So in the green transition, countries need to look at how to make themselves more resilient, look at water for your agriculture,” he said.

“I think there are ways of improving efficiency because it’s getting warmer and because of where you are [you need to] look for new opportunities in the green economy that can also protect you against future climate change,” Christensen added.

The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), the operational arm of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism, promotes accelerated, diversified and scaled-up transfer of environmentally sound technologies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, in developing countries, in line with their sustainable development priorities.

The CTCN works to stimulate technology cooperation and enhance the development and transfer of technologies to developing country parties at their request.

“We see CTCN as a motor, a vehicle for helping countries achieve green economies,” Jason Spensley, Climate Technology Manager, told IPS.

“One specific request which is forthcoming in the following days will be from Antigua and Barbuda, a request on renewable energy development, specifically wind energy development,” he said. “The government of Antigua and Barbuda has set green ambition commitments; the price of energy [there] is very high.”

Spensley said the Dominican Republic is also in discussions with CTCN on submission of a request on renewable energy production.

In recent times, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the region’s premier lending institution, has been stepping up efforts to attract investment in green energy and climate resilience projects in the Caribbean.

The Bank’s president Dr. Warren Smith said much of the eastern Caribbean – the smallest Caribbean countries – have large amounts of geothermal potential, allowing them to dramatically reduce their fossil fuel imports and put them in a position where they could become an exporter of energy because of the proximity of nearby islands without these resources.

Smith is confident the countries are buying into the idea of transforming the region into a prosperous green economy that reduces indebtedness, improves competitiveness, and starts to tackle climate risk.

As countries get down to the business at hand here in Lima, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged the 12,400 attendees to aspire to great heights, drawing several critical lines of action.

“First, we must bring a draft of a new, universal climate change agreement to the table and clarify how national contributions will be communicated next year,” she said.

“Second, we must consolidate progress on adaptation to achieve political parity with mitigation, given the equal urgency of both.

“Third, we must enhance the delivery of finance, in particular to the most vulnerable. Finally, we must stimulate ever-increasing action on the part of all stakeholders to scale up the scope and accelerate the solutions that move us all forward, faster,” Figueres added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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First Phase of Global Fracking Expansion: Ensuring Friendly Legislationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/first-phase-of-global-fracking-expansion-ensuring-friendly-legislation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-phase-of-global-fracking-expansion-ensuring-friendly-legislation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/first-phase-of-global-fracking-expansion-ensuring-friendly-legislation/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 23:31:58 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138042 Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes are dumped into an unlined pit located right up against the Petroleum Highway in Kern County, California. Credit: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking

Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes are dumped into an unlined pit located right up against the Petroleum Highway in Kern County, California. Credit: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Multinational oil and gas companies are engaged in a quiet but broad attempt to prepare the groundwork for a significant global expansion of shale gas development, according to a study released Monday.

Thus far, the hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) technologies that have upended the global gas market have been used primarily in North America and, to a lesser extent, Europe. With U.S. gas production in particular having expanded exponentially in recent years, however, countries around the world have started exploration to discern whether they, too, could cash in on this new approach.Argentina has put in place a new law guaranteeing a minimum price for fracked gas. Further, this minimum price is some 250 percent higher than the previous valuation – a sweetheart guard against the bottomed-out prices that are currently impacting on gas production in the United States.

According to an estimate published last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, some 90 percent of the world’s shale gas could be found outside of the United States – an incredibly lucrative potential. “It’s likely there will be a revolution,” Maria van der Hoeven, the executive director at the Paris-based International Energy Agency, has said.

Yet according to the new study, from Friends of the Earth Europe, a watchdog group, only Brazil has strengthened its regulatory regime in anticipation of this expansion. Of the nearly dozen countries the new report looks at, most are doing the opposite.

“Under pressure from the fossil fuel industry – which has deep pockets and promises employment and investment – several governments have already started to weaken their environmental legislation, alter their tax regimes and put in place industry-friendly mining licensing and production processes, in order to attract foreign investors and expertise,” the report states. “This is often at the expense of the public interest.”

In terms of production this remains a nascent industry. Nonetheless, neither governments nor companies appear to have undertaken efforts to guard against the complexities that will arise, including around the potential for social, environmental and even political tensions.

“The industry is trying to change the legislation in those places where they want to operate, to try to repeat as much as possible the favourable policies we’ve seen in U.S. energy policy,” Antoine Simon, a shale gas campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe and lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“The key here is to ensure that the legal frameworks are as friendly for the industry as possible. That’s the first phase of this global strategy, and we’re seeing it in each country we studied.”

No safeguards

Outside of North America and Europe, Argentina has moved forward the quickest on shale gas development, and thus offers a key example on legislative action for which companies may be looking.

For instance, Argentina has put in place a new law guaranteeing a minimum price for fracked gas. Further, this minimum price is some 250 percent higher than the previous valuation – a sweetheart guard against the bottomed-out prices that are currently impacting on gas production in the United States.

Simon says this law has a telling nickname in Argentina – the “Chevron Decree”, a reference to the U.S. oil and gas company. The day after the law was passed, he notes, Argentina’s main state-backed oil and gas producer signed a long-term production deal with Chevron.

Other countries have put in place favourable new tax policies for oil and gas investors. In Morocco, for instance, producers will be exempt from corporate taxes for the first decade of operation, while Russia has created similar policies for oil production over the next 15 years.

Yet the lack of action to simultaneously put in place environmental or social safeguards in most countries runs a variety of risks, Friends of the Earth Europe and others warn. Hydraulic fracturing requires massive amounts of water, for instance – up to 26 million litres per drill site.

The new report finds that a significant proportion of shale gas reserves around the world are located in areas that are already experiencing significant water shortages and even related violence. Likewise, many of these shale basins are beneath major cross-border aquifers.

Even before these issues are addressed by national governments, then, the oil and gas industry could gain influence in setting policy on the notoriously contentious issue of freshwater use.

Alongside concerns about the local impact of shale gas development is a broader lack of clarity today on the extent to which developing countries would be able to benefit from any new gas-related revenues. Thus far, only Brazil has specifically addressed this issue.

“In our research, Brazil was the only exception in terms of passing legislation that ensured they would get some significant revenues,” Simon says. “Really that doesn’t seem to be happening in other countries, where instead we’re seeing a lot of legislation that offers state aid to push investors to come to their countries.”

Beyond a few notable exceptions in Latin America and South Africa, Simon suggests that this issue has not yet seen significant opposition by civil society. Still, advocacy groups do point to a growing trend of global understanding and mobilisation on fracking concerns.

“As more and more studies confirm the risks of air pollution, water contamination, increased earthquake activity and climate change impacts from fracking, the more people oppose this destructive and intensive process,” Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, a U.S. watchdog group, told IPS.

“The movement to ban fracking has resulted in hundreds of local communities taking action to stop fracking, several states and countries instituting moratoriums, and the movement continues to grow.”

In October, Food & Water Watch organized an international day of action to ban hydraulic fracturing. Hauter notes that the event featured “over 300 actions in 34 countries, from Australia to Argentina, even Antarctica, calling for a ban on fracking”.

Food & Water Watch reports that France and Bulgaria have already banned hydraulic fracturing, while local moratoriums have also been passed by hundreds of communities across the Netherlands, Spain and Argentina.

U.S. government promotion

Meanwhile, the drivers behind fracking-related pressures are not simply multinational companies and national governments keen on investment. It was in the United States where hydraulic fracturing was invented and proved its potential, and today the U.S. government is reportedly taking a central role in promoting these techniques worldwide.

In almost all of the countries studied for the new report, researchers found the development of shale gas to be “closely linked” to a U.S. government agency, the U.S. Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program (UGTEP). Housed within the U.S. State Department, since 2010 the UGTEP has engaged in a wide variety of technical assistance around gas development.

“Governments often have limited capability to assess their own country’s unconventional gas resource potential or are unclear about how to develop it in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner,” UGTEP explains on its website. “The ultimate goals of UGTEP are to achieve greater energy security by supporting the development of environmentally and commercially sustainable frameworks.”

While U.S. diplomats are specifically tasked with strengthening U.S. business prospects abroad, critics say UGTEP’s activities constitute the broad promotion of hydraulic fracturing under the guise of U.S. diplomacy.

“UGTEP uses official government channels and US taxpayers’ money to promote high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing worldwide, opening doors for the main global players in the oil and gas industry,” the Friends of the Earth Europe report states.

“Through UGTEP, the US is also actively engaged in re-shaping existing foreign legal regulations to create the desired legal framework for the development of shale oil and gas in the targeted countries.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: Climate Justice Is the Only Way to Solve Our Climate Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:13:54 +0000 Jagoda Munic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138033 Jagoda Munic

Jagoda Munic

By Jagoda Munic
LIMA, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

In November, the world’s top climate scientists issued their latest warning that the climate crisis is rapidly worsening on a number of fronts, and that we must stop our climate-polluting way of producing energy if we are to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Science says that the risk of runaway climate change draws ever closer. Indeed, we are already witnessing the consequences of climate change: more frequent floods, storms, droughts and rising seas are already causing devastation.Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction.

Around the world people and communities are paying the cost of our governments’ continued inaction with their livelihoods and lives and this trend is likely to increase significantly in the future.

Good energy, bad energy

The fact is – our current energy system – the way we produce, distribute and consume energy – is unsustainable, unjust and harming communities, workers, the environment and the climate. Emissions from energy are a key driver of climate change and the system is failing to provide for the basic energy needs of billions of people in the global South.

The world’s main sources of energy like oil, gas and coal are devastating communities, their land, their air and their water. And so are other energy sources like nuclear power, industrial agrofuels and biomass, mega-dams and waste-to-energy incineration. None of these destructive energy sources have a role in our energy future.

There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation.

Surely, a climate-safe, sustainable energy system which meets the basic energy needs of everyone and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world is possible: An energy system where energy production and use support a safe and clean environment, and healthy, thriving local economies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods. Such an energy system would be based on democracy and respect for human rights.

To make this happen we urgently need to invest in locally-appropriate, climate-safe, affordable and low impact energy for all, and reduce energy dependence so that people don’t need much energy to meet their basic needs and live a good life.

We also need to end new destructive energy projects and phase out existing destructive energy sources and we need to tackle the trade and investment rules that prioritise corporations’ needs over those of people and the environment.

So the goals are set, and it is time to act immediately towards a transition period in which the rights of affected communities and workers are respected and their needs provided for during the transition.

Climate politics at odds with climate science

So how are our governments tackling the issue? In the 20 years of the U.N. negotiations on climate change, we haven’t stopped climate change, nor even slowed it down.

Proposals on the table, negotiated by our governments, now are mostly empty false solutions, including expanded carbon markets, and a risky method called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), which will not prevent climate change, and will impact and endanger poor and indigenous communities while earning money for big corporations.

Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction. The reason is that, unfortunately, the U.N. climate negotiations are massively compromised because the corporate polluters who fund and create dirty energy are in the negotiating halls and have our governments in their pockets.

Major corporations and polluters are lobbying to undermine the chances of achieving climate justice via the UNFCCC. Much of this influence is exerted in the member states before governments come to the climate negotiations, but the negotiations are also attended by hundreds of lobbyists from the corporate sector trying to ensure that any agreement promotes the interests of big business before people’s interests and climate justice.

If we want any concrete agreement that would ensure the stopping of climate change for the benefit of all, we must stop the corporate takeover of U.N. climate negotiations by those corporate polluters.

There is also an issue of historic responsibility. The world’s richest, developed countries are responsible for the majority of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 15 percent of the world’s population.

They emitted the biggest share of the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere today, way more than their fair share. They must urgently make the deepest emission cuts and provide the most money if countries are to fairly share the responsibility of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Of course, tackling climate change and avoiding catastrophic climate change necessitates action by all countries. But the responsibility of countries to take action must reflect their historical responsibility for creating the problem and their capacity to act.

While the emissions of industrialising countries like China, India, South Africa and Brazil are rapidly increasing, these nations made a much smaller contribution to the climate problem overall than the rich developed countries, and their per capita emissions are still much lower.

Industrialised countries’ governments are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe and their positions at global climate talks are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites and multinational corporations. These interests, tied to the economic sectors responsible for pollution or profiting from false solutions to the climate crisis like carbon trading and fossil fuels, are the key forces behind global inaction.

This year in Lima there are big plans to expand carbon markets. Friends of the Earth International argues that carbon markets are a false solution to climate change that let rich countries off the hook and do not address the climate crisis. Expanding carbon markets will make climate change worse and cause further harm to people around the world while bringing huge profits to polluters.

The U.N. climate talks are supposed to be making progress on implementing the agreement that world governments made in 1992 to stop man-made and dangerous climate change. The agreement recognises that rich countries have done the most to cause the problem of climate change and should take the lead in solving it, as well as provide funds to poorer countries as repayment of their climate debt.

But developed countries’ governments have done very little to deliver on these commitments and time is running out. What’s more, rich countries continue to further diminish their responsibilities to tackle climate change and dismantle the whole framework for binding reductions of greenhouse gases, without which we have no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

What needs to happen in the climate talks?

Within the U.N., rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts in line with science and justice and without false solutions such as carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes.

They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in the developing world so that they too can tackle climate change. This means transferring adequate public finance and technology to developing countries so that they too can build low-carbon and truly sustainable economies, adapt to climate change and receive compensation for irreparable loss and damage. This will help ensure a safe climate, more secure livelihoods, more jobs, and clean affordable energy for all.

For now, the U.N. talks are still heading in the wrong direction, with weak non-binding pledges and insufficient finance from developed countries, and huge reliance on false solutions like carbon trading and REDD.

Unfortunately, if the U.N. climate negotiations continue in the same manner, any deal on the table at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris next year will fall far short of what is required by science and climate justice.

To achieve a binding and justice-based agreement based on the cuts needed, as science tells us, our governments must listen to those impacted by climate change, not to corporations, which, by definition aim at more profits, not a safer climate.

Movement building and climate justice

Preventing the climate crisis and the potential collapse of life-supporting ecosystems on a global level, requires long-term thinking, brave leaders and a mass movement. We have to challenge the corporate influence over our governments and exert real democratic control over the energy transition so that the needs and interests of people and the planet take priority over private profit.

And at the heart of this movement we need climate justice – action on climate change that is radical, that challenges the system that has led to the climate catastrophe, and that fights for fair solutions that will benefit all people, not just the few.

It is already happening. In September we saw massive mobilizations around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people marching and actions across every continent, including 400,000 people on the streets of New York.

And at the latest U.N. talks in Lima, we see people from all walks of life – indigenous people, social movements, youth, farmers, women’s movements – from across Peru, Latin America, and around the world joining together in the People’s Summit to collectively articulate the peoples’ demands and the peoples’ solutions to climate change.

But we need to grow much bigger and much stronger. We are calling on people to join the global movement for climate justice, which is gaining power and integrating actions at local, national and U.N. level. The solution to the climate crisis is achievable and it is in our hands.

This article originally appeared on Commondreams.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Illegal Logging Wreaking Havoc on Impoverished Rural Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 08:37:00 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138026 Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Rampant unsustainable logging in the southwest Pacific Island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, where the majority of land is covered in tropical rainforest, is worsening hardship, human insecurity and conflict in rural communities.

Paul Pavol, a customary landowner in Pomio District, East New Britain, an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland, told IPS that logging in the area had led to “permanent environmental damage of the soil and forests, which our communities depend on for their water, building materials, natural medicines and food.”

Four years ago, a Malaysian logging multinational obtained two Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) in the district, but local landowners claim their consent was never given and, following legal action, the National Court issued an order in November for the developer to cease logging operations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption." -- Spokesperson, Act Now PNG
According to Global Witness, the company had cleared 7,000 hectares of forest and exported more than 50 million dollars worth of logs.

“We never gave our free, prior and informed consent to the Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) that now cover our customary land … and we certainly did not give agreement to our land being given away for 99 years to a logging company,” Pavol stated.

One-third of log exports from PNG originated from land subject to SABLs in 2012, according to the PNG Institute of National Affairs, despite the stated purpose of these leases being to facilitate agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Pavol also cited human rights abuses with “the use of police riot squads to protect the logging company and intimidate and terrorize our communities.”

Last year an independent fact-finding mission to Pomio led by the non-governmental organisation, Eco-Forestry Forum, in association with police and government stakeholders, verified that police personnel, who had been hired by logging companies to suppress local opposition to their activities, had conducted violent raids and serious assaults on villagers.

Papua New Guinea, situated on the island of New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but is also the second largest exporter of tropical timber.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

Papua New Guinea recently pledged to bring forward plans to end deforestation by a decade at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit held in Sydney, Australia, but indigenous activists remain unconvinced.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for the non-governmental organisation, Act Now PNG, said.

“We do not have tough penalties for law breakers and our laws are not enforced,” Pavol added, a view supported by London’s Chatham House.

Environmental devastation and logging-related violence is increasing adversity in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain, where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation. Life expectancy is 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

In the neighbouring Solomon Islands, where 2.2 million hectares of forest cover more than 80 percent of the country, the timber-harvesting rate has been nearly four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year.

While timber has accounted for 60 percent of the country’s export earnings, this is unlikely to continue, given the forecast by the Solomon Islands Forest Management Project that accessible forests will be exhausted by next year.

High demand for raw materials by growing Asian economies is a major driver of legal and illegal logging in both countries, with the industry dominated by Malaysian companies, and China the main export destination.

Unscrupulous practices, including procuring logging permits with bribes and breaching agreed logging concession areas, are extensive. More than 80 percent of the wood-based trade from PNG and Solomon Islands derives from unlawful extraction with illegal log exports from both island states worth 800 million dollars in 2010, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Since 2003, international companies, most involved with logging, have gained access to 5.5 million hectares of forest in PNG, in addition to the 8.5 million hectares already subject to timber extraction, through fraudulent acquisition of SABLs, according to a Commission of Inquiry and study by the California-based Oakland Institute.

The UNODC highlights the collusion between transnational crime networks, logging companies, politicians and public officials.

“In Solomon Islands the links between politicians and foreign logging companies are complex and well-entrenched. We regularly hear stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influence police and give tax exemptions to foreign businesses. In return, loggers fund politicians,” a spokesperson for Transparency Solomon Islands said.

Many national forestry offices in developing countries lack the technical and human resources to adequately monitor logging operations and are ill-equipped to deal with organised crime networks that facilitate the extraction and movement of illicit timber. Associated money laundering is also an issue with the Australian Federal Police estimating that 170 million dollars of funds deriving from crime in PNG are laundered through banks and property investment in Australia every year.

But while an Illegal Logging Prohibition Act recently came into force in Australia, making it a criminal offence to import or process illegal timber, no such legislation exists in the main market of China.

Transparency Solomon Islands says that government accountability needs to be strengthened and rural communities educated about their rights, the law and affective action that can be taken at the local level.

Inequality and low human development among the rural poor is further entrenched by the failure of both countries to channel resource revenues into provision of infrastructure, basic services and equitable economic opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, one of the most unequal nations with a Gini Index of 50.9, poverty increased from 37.5 percent in 1996 to 39.9 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank.

In the Solomon Islands, logging has been the government’s main source of revenue for nearly 20 years, with GDP growth reaching 10 percent in 2011.

But the Pacific Islands Forum reports that “strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged”, with the country ranked 157th out of 187 countries for human development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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